The rise of digital music in recent years has brought about a thrilling democratisation of the music industry. Artists these days are able to bypass traditional industry gatekeepers like record labels and management and promote their records on their own terms.
Promoting yourself as a musician needn’t be a complicated process but it certainly requires plenty of planning, as freelance consultant and music industry expert David Riley explains. ‘The relationship that an audience has with music is very different to the one it has with washing-up liquid or mobile phones’
David, who has been working in marketing within the music industry for 11 years, including stints with independent record label Cooking Vinyl, Marilyn Manson and The Prodigy, explains that music marketing is unique because it’s all about fostering a relationship between artist and audience.
He outlines four types of people a band or artist will be seeking to reach and how to engage them:
- Hardcore fans (for those just starting out, these will be friends and family members) stay up to date with news, buy everything that is released and can be an excellent resource for recruiting more fans.
- Average fans, probably listen to your music regularly, follow you on social media and will likely be willing to pre-order new releases.
- Heard of the band but not yet fans need to have their passive interest turned into active interest.
- Never heard of the band, you’ll need to expend a lot of time and effort before they’ll even think about buying anything.
Creating your marketing plan
‘Understanding why you want to put this record out and what would be your envisioned best-case scenario for doing it is really important in terms of how you plan a whole campaign,’ David explains.
This might include making money, getting good reviews in the press (that might enable you to attract a booking agent that will get you gigs), increasing awareness of your band, and attracting new fans. Planning should begin at least three months ahead. Plans can change once the campaign has begun but don’t leave anything to chance.
Deciding on a budget is the first step – it’s important to look at any money you spend as an investment in the goals that you want to achieve and understand that you might not make that money back.
Telling your story
The next step is getting your assets together: the finished record; artwork for every element of the release; a press release, which is a great way of articulating a story you and others can tell about your music; biography; and video content.
Plan ahead and you’ll be able to compile a great range of assets that you can put out on your own and other social media channels and websites. Take photographs or film video clips while making your record, David suggested, and consider making bonus tracks to offer exclusively to streaming services like Spotify. Begin putting out these assets around six weeks before your release date to encourage fans to pre-order the record. Pre-orders typically make up around a third of total sales, so this is a big opportunity.
Additionally, pre-orders raise money that can be ploughed back into the marketing campaign.
‘Video unifies the concept, the message and artistry of the new track into an all-encompassing media experience which can be shared and enjoyed anywhere’.
Using video to promote your music
Don’t underestimate the potential of music videos in a marketing campaign, it’s the idea that’s important, not the technology used or the money spent.
Sweat your assets by:
- Releasing snippets on Snapchat or Instagram before the video is released
- Consider other video content like lyric videos, which help people remember a track they’ve heard
- Produce 15-second interviews that can be serialised in the run up to a release
- Release an acoustic version
- Share fan footage
You’ll want to get a digital distributor on board at around six weeks out from release too, said David. A company like Tunecore or Zimbalam will make your music available to fans via all the places they usually listen to and buy music. You can also sell direct to fans via sites like Bandcamp and MusicGlue, as well as your own website, which has the added benefit of allowing you to collect customer data from fans when they buy. Key when it comes to selling your music is making things as convenient as possible for customers.
Social media is an important tool in promoting yourself as a musician – encouraging sharing key content by fans, rewarding fans for their loyalty with content, welcoming new fans, and demonstrating a fanbase – but advance planning is crucial in terms of making the most of your time and energy. Put some thought into which social media platforms will be the best fit for you and your audience – Snapchat, for example, is great for younger audiences. And while mainstream media advertising will be beyond the scope of most musicians early in their careers, David explains, there are great opportunities for targeted advertising on social media platforms like Facebook and YouTube.
Keeping in touch
No matter how effective you are on social media always strive to get fans’ email addresses too. ‘Email is our most secure contact with fans,’ David explains. Not only does email allow you to keep fans updated with regular e-newsletters from services like Mailchimp, it means you won’t lose touch with your fanbase if a particular social media platform goes down or falls out of favour.
Working with a public relations (PR) company is by no means essential but can be very useful in terms of getting people talking about you and your music, said David. The company will need all the assets you’ve pulled together already and must be kept in the loop with information around sales, social media followers, etc, so they’re telling the right story about you to fans and the media.
‘It doesn’t end when the record comes out – that’s just the first step.’
The climax of your campaign is release week, during which time you should put out special content, share positive stories about pre-order sales and spend the majority of your advertising budget, if you have one. But don’t forget to keep up the momentum up to keep your fanbase interested in the weeks and months that follow, so that the next time you put out a record you’re in a better position than when you finished the last one.
Words by Jo Caird