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How to Get on the Billboard Charts as an Indie Artist

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Estimated reading time: 6 minutes

Getting your music on the Billboard charts can significantly boost your music career — whether you’re a signed or indie artist. It opens doors to new opportunities, increases your visibility, and could be the thing that makes a record label take notice of you.

While it may seem out of reach, independent artists make it onto the Billboard charts all the time — Frank Ocean, Chance the Rapper, and Mya among them. If you can figure out how to get on the Billboard charts, you can achieve chart success as an indie artist.

How do the Billboard charts work?

Billboard provides various charts that rank music based on different criteria and charting metrics. The Billboard Hot 100 is the best-known chart, which ranks songs based on a combination of radio airplay, streaming, and sales data. There are other charts for album sales, digital downloads, streaming, and more. Each chart has its own set of criteria and metrics that determine chart positions.

How many albums do you need to sell to land on the Billboard charts?

You don’t have to push millions of records to get on a Billboard chart; you only need to sell about 500 albums in the first week or pull between half a million and 1.5 million streams (or a combination of the two). You may even wonder how many streams to go gold are needed. Certainly, with album sales, the numbers are not out of reach, which is why unsigned artists can and do make it onto the Billboard charts.

Strategies to achieve chart success

To maximize your chances of getting on the Billboard charts as an indie artist, consider the following strategies:

  1. Release high-quality music and engage your fans. It should go without saying, but creating exceptional music is the foundation of any successful music career. Focus on producing high-quality songs that resonate with your target audience. In addition to creating great music, prioritize building an engaged fan base. Converse with your fans on social media, perform live shows, and create a sense of community around your band and artistic brand. 
  2. Choose the right release date. Timing is crucial when it comes to releasing your music. Consider the release dates of other major artists and try to avoid heavy competition. Choose a date that allows your music to gain traction without being overshadowed. It’s also essential to plan your release strategy in advance, including pre-release promotions, teasers, and collaborations, to generate buzz and anticipation. 
  3. Consider which Billboard chart to target. Based on your music style and goals, identify the most relevant Billboard chart to target. If you primarily release singles, aiming for the Billboard Hot 100 could be a suitable choice. If you’re focusing on an album, consider the Billboard 200 albums chart. Research and analyze the specific chart’s requirements to understand what you need to achieve to secure a spot.

    Our friends at the DIY Musician blog have profiled this, telling the story of Tyke T, a hip hop artist who targeted the Billboard Heatseekers chart in a successful effort to get on the Billboard charts. According to that post:

    Shannon [Curtis] sold 227 albums, which seemed like a reasonable and attainable goal. We decided to aim a little higher, wanting to try to break into the top 25 on the new artist Heatseekers chart. This chart was the most feasible because it is reserved for new artists who have not been featured on any other chart. After some additional research, we found that in order to break into the top 25 on the Heat Seekers chart, we would need to sell approximately 750 albums in the first week of release.  

  4. Monitor radio and streaming plays. Billboard considers radio airplay and streaming data for many of its charts. It’s essential to promote your music to radio stations and streaming platforms to increase your plays. Build relationships with local radio stations, online radio platforms, and curators on streaming services. Encourage your fans to request your music on the radio and create playlists featuring your songs on streaming platforms. 
  5. Leverage promotion and distribution services. Use music promotion and distribution services to amplify your reach and increase your chances of charting on Billboard. These services help you get your music in front of influential industry professionals, playlist curators, and potential fans.

Common challenges indie artists face

The reality is it takes time to chart — it’s difficult to make it onto the Billboard charts in your debut week, especially without major label support. Keep the following advice in mind to stay motivated.

  1. Create great music. The quality of your music should always be top priority. Refine your musical chops and songwriting, experiment with new sounds, and hone your craft. Consistently create music that inspires you and resonates with your audience.
  2. Engage with your fans. Your fans are your greatest supporters. Pursue an active social media presence, respond to messages and comments, show appreciation for their support, and follow and like others in your genre and scene. You can even utilize streaming algorithms to gain more traction or understand how to promote your music on YouTube. Building a strong connection with your fans and other artists keeps everyone aware of your activities — including when you have new music.

How to find the right niche and increase streams

Finding your niche as an indie artist is essential for sustained success. Here are a couple of strategies to help you find your niche and increase your streams.

  1. Get creative with social media and your music connections. Share behind-the-scenes content and collaborate with other artists or influencers in your genre. Focus on local promotion, perform live shows, and stay connected with local music communities. Make a concerted effort to personalize your promotions and let your fans and potential fans know what you’re trying to accomplish.
  2. Leverage music streaming services. Streaming platforms are powerful tools for indie artists. Create an artist profile, optimize your presence, and engage with playlist curators. Encourage your fans to stream your music and add your songs to their personal playlists. Consistent streaming numbers can boost your chances of charting on Billboard.

Boost your career: Make CDs!

With determination, perseverance, and a well-executed promotion and release strategy, you can take significant steps forward in your music career — including hitting the Billboard charts. One big step is to make professional CDs for your next EP or album release. Disc Makers has been in the business of helping independent musicians make their mark since 1946. Go to how to promote your music on YouTube to see all our CD and vinyl packages.

Philip Kinsher is a writer, editor, and musician with a predilection for YA Sci-fi Fantasy books and rock and roll. And golf and pickleball.

Get Your Music Noticed!

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About Philip Kinsher

Philip Kinsher is a writer, editor, and musician with a predilection for YA Sci-fi Fantasy books and rock and roll. And golf and pickleball.

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