Estimated reading time: 7 minutes
If a musician falls in the forest and nobody is there to hear it, did they make a sound? Translation: If you don’t tell people about your music, they most likely won’t ever know about it and you’ll never build a fanbase. Additionally, not only are you competing with a glut of other bands and music artists trying to be seen and heard, now you have to compete with the algorithms baked in to all social media platforms with their implicit biases and incomprehensible functioning.
So how do you, the independent artist, rise above the background noise, attract listeners, and build a fanbase? Creating excellent, well-recorded music is a start, but as Thomas Edison said, genius is “one percent inspiration and 99 percent perspiration.” In today’s world and current entertainment climate, it’s important to know how to promote your music effectively to make the most of your promotional budget and reach your target audience.
Set the foundation
To build a fanbase, you will need to reach people, and setting up a robust and consistent music platform is the start. That means getting active on social media, building a strong network of allies, and having music to promote.
Get active on social media
Where can you find loads of people? Through social media, of course! Get active and engaged on all the main platforms. You’ll want to learn specifics of how each platform works, make sure you keep a consistent look and feel between your accounts to maintain your brand image, and provide a mix of entertaining and informative posts.
Once you are familiar with the various social channels, it’s most productive to focus on one or two platforms where you are getting the best response rather than spread yourself too thin. And while it is worthwhile to plan your social media strategy, don’t overthink it. Deliver value while valuing those who interact with you and social media can pay dividends.
Build a fanbase through interactions
If you’ve spent time on social media, you know the frustration of one-way parasocial relationships with large accounts or celebrities. This is a huge difference between you and a larger artist: you can be approachable and responsive! Use that to your advantage.
As a music artist learning how to promote your music, you’ll want to make sure your social media conversations are interactive, two-way streets; be authentic, show interest in other people, and interact on more levels than just promotion. There are no shortcuts to building a true network, but once built, it will last.
Have CDs and merch for sale
Ariel Hyatt of Cyber PR Media recommends self-promoting in one of every 10 social media posts. But that still means you’ll use social media for promotions, so you’ll need to have something to sell. For those posts, promote CDs and vinyl LPs and music merch (t-shirts, posters, etc.), along with your streams and digital music.
Online promotion strategies
If you’re looking to grow your fanbase, your online promotion won’t just include pushing posts to your existing list. You can benefit from cross-channel marketing, engaging with your followers, and using streaming platforms to increase discovery.
Leverage cross-channel marketing
Cross-channel marketing is the process of reaching listeners through different channels, including email marketing, the web, social media, via apps, and through texts. The intent is not only to reach new fans but also to retain the ones you have via all their channels of choice.
For the purpose of promoting your music, you want to make sure that you have complete data on your fans through all their channels. Don’t worry about bothering them — if they have given you their info freely, you should put it use because people might miss your promotion if you only present it through one channel.
Engage with fans on social media
Kevin Kelly wrote a blog post called “1,000 True Fans” in 2008 which posited the theory that to make a living as an artist, all you need is 1,000 super fans who will each give you $100 in profit a year as long as you have a direct relationship with them. To build this, you will need to directly engage with your fans on social media. Make sure you are not just posting content but responding to their comments and commenting on their content as well. Be responsive and they will respond!
Utilize streaming platforms
One way to grow your fanbase and listenership is to plug into streaming platforms. If you think of Spotify, Apple Music, and the rest as promotional vehicles rather than income streams, they can become an effective tool for an independent music artist to gain followers. Make sure your fans know you are on the platforms and encourage them to add you to their own playlists. You’ll also want to learn the ins and outs of getting added to curated and editorial playlists.
Offline promotion strategies
Online promotion is important, but there’s no replacing the impact that face-to-face, in-the-same-room connections bring.
This is the reason most artists get into the music business, and there still is no substitute for the excitement and impact of a live performance. This is where your fans will experience the strongest emotional connection with your music and take home moments they will remember for a lifetime. And these moments will hopefully inspire them to purchase your products in person!
Even if some of your elements are pre-recorded (such as a singer who performs to tracks or an electronic musician), it is worth getting yourself in front of actual people to grow your fanbase and connect with people.
Most cities and towns around the US and Europe allow for busking — a live performance in a public location. In the US this is generally very informal; you show up to a public square, subway platform, park, outside of an arena, or some other public location, set out your tip jar, and start playing.
In Europe, it tends to be more formal, e.g., in London there is an application process with a waiting list and a busking license. New York City’s busking permit rules are also becoming more formalized; make sure you check the legality of and rules for busking in the area for where and when you plan to perform. You can earn good tips from busking, and if you busk in the same location regularly, it can be a legitimate way to grow a fanbase.
Pitching to radio
The radio used to be the single most important vehicle for new audience members to hear your music. Though its importance has diminished with the changing times, radio is still a crucial method for music promotion. Between college radio, independent stations, internet radio, satellite radio, and local/indie music programs on commercial terrestrial radio, there are numerous paths to get airplay and build a fanbase. When pitching to radio, aim to contact the music director of each station or contact the DJ directly for shows you already know where your music might fit well.
Crafting a press release is an art form, and there are many professional PR people and firms out there who make their living doing so. If you can’t afford to hire pros and you have great music or a tour to promote, do-it-yourself PR is the next best thing, and a solid press release is where it starts.
It’s crucial to have something specific to promote — an album, single, tour, big show — and a good story or hook to draw your intended target in. A simple Google search will find you a template you can use to format your press release properly and professionally.
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