Here are six music marketing tips to get more fans:
- Focus on true fans.
- Create and distribute merchandise.
- Use music distribution platforms wisely.
- Find the right spots on social media.
- Take advantage of YouTube.
- Build an email list.
Let’s dig in.
It’s never been easier to make and market music in all of human history.
That may sound like hyperbole, but with platforms like Spotify, SoundCloud, Youtube, iTunes, Bandcamp, Vimeo, Tidal, AudioMack, and many more, there’s no shortage of ways to share and promote your music. Additionally, now that record labels are no longer gatekeeping for the industry at large, droves of newly empowered musicians are ready to take their web presence, marketing strategies, and careers into their own hands.
However, even with all of this accessibility and opportunity to connect with new audiences, that still doesn’t guarantee your tunes will reach eager ears. Streaming services are saturated, genres are overflowing from Indie Rock to Vaporwave, and over-stimulated listeners have more content competing for their time and attention than ever before.
At first, this sonic snapshot might make your head spin, but hear me out for a few minutes while we delve into a handful of actionable music marketing tips and strategies. Let’s stop your head from spinning out of control so you can start headbanging alongside your growing audience.
This might be the single most important music marketing tip you’ll ever get: Build and focus on true fans.
What comes to mind when you envision one of your biggest fans? Is he dressed head-to-toe in your musical merchandise? Is she continually humming your melodies and imploring all of her friends to tune-in? Are they anxiously awaiting your stream to start half-an-hour before you go live?
These are all signs of a true fan, a term coined by Wired co-founder Kevin Kelly, meaning “someone who will buy anything you produce.” These fans are devoted, fanatical followers of your music, eagerly awaiting you to drop your next song, album, t-shirt, collaboration, or any piece of content that will temporarily satisfy their obsessive itch.
According to Kelly, you don’t need millions of fans to reach your definitions of success. What you need are 1,000 true fans to entirely and wholeheartedly buy-in to your work, no questions asked. Don’t get too attached to the number of true fans, either. Kelly uses 1,000 as a rough estimate to illustrate the idea that a small group of captivated fans is more important than large swarms of casuals.
The most obvious way to gain a troop of true fans is through the inherent quality and appeal of your music. However, converting casuals to true fans often takes a little extra elbow grease on the marketing side of the equation. This meta-tip should underlie everything else you’re doing on the music marketing frontlines, from social media engagement to interacting with your live-stream chat on YouTube. True fans are the bedrock of your success as a musician.
Takeaway: Focus on building your base of true fans early and often in favor of reaching the masses.
You’d be hard-pressed to find a music fan who doesn’t have at least one band-T in their wardrobe. I don’t know about you, but when I go head-over-heels for new music, I immediately check out what merchandise they have to offer.
The reason? Now more than ever, fans need outlets to show financial support to musicians they admire. Music consumers are widely aware that top streaming services don’t pay artists nearly enough to make a living from streaming alone, hence why so many of them actively look for other ways to put their money where their ears are.
Not sure how to get your music merchandise operation off the ground? Have no fear, Imra Merritt, from Rush Order Tees, offers a wealth of free knowledge on the subject.
For example, Imra sheds some light on the importance of the “humble T-shirt,” stating that “every band out there is going to have T-shirts to sell, and if they don’t, someone should call them and make sure they are ok. T-shirts are essential. And I’m not saying that because I love them (although I do) or because it’s my business (although it is).”
He goes on to underline merch as a mainstay of any music marketing strategy, asserting that “ever since the 1960s, T-shirts (and band merch in general) have been a staple of every young American’s wardrobe. The concert tee has been the best way for fans to say I was there, to take a piece of the band home with them, and give them something to wear at future concerts.”
Dovetailing on the idea of prioritizing your true fans is the principle of scarcity in marketing. Once you have a captive audience of avid fans, releasing limited runs of clothing, vinyl, and other collectibles will heighten the urgency and demand amongst your supporters.
Cherie Hu of The Industry Observer aptly notes that “if you’re developing a more limited-run item or experience for a specific community or subculture, it often makes sense to super-serve that singular community instead of looking outward for promotion.”
Of course, for most musical outfits floating around in the sonic ether, the goal is not to remain a small, insulated community forever. Still, scaling-up only becomes possible after establishing a firm foundation.
Takeaway: If you’re not offering merchandise, you should start immediately. Fans are always seeking alternative ways to support their favorite artists in the current streaming era.
This particular music marketing tip is more timely than most, as Bandcamp recently extended its Bandcamp Fridays initiative to the end of 2020. If you’re unfamiliar with Bandcamp Fridays, then you’re in for a treat, whether you come to us as a musician, fan, or both. Bandcamp Fridays started at the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic back in March to financially assist artists by waiving Bandcamp’s revenue share on the first Friday of each month.
One Friday per month doesn’t sound all that significant, right?
Well, since March, Bandcamp Fridays have generated more than $75 million in sales of music and merchandise as fans eagerly flock to the platform to show their support.
That’s a mountainous pile of cash that’s being placed directly into the pockets of artists. In a time when countless artists (and their respective teams) find themselves disproportionately dependent on touring dollars to survive, Bandcamp offers a direct path from consumers’ wallets to artists’ bank accounts.
While most artists aren’t holding their breath for streaming service revenues (or lack thereof), many are supplementing the exposure they’re generating through streaming services with platforms like Bandcamp.
And given the uncertainty of the pandemic’s true time-horizon or ultimate impact, I wouldn’t be surprised if Bandcamp extended this initiative through 2021 as other platforms rush to launch their versions of it (mind you, that’s just a prediction).
Takeaway: This is just one example of leveraging a platform – be on the lookout for others. They’re out there waiting.
Want to learn how to do music marketing yourself?
I’m writing a book on it.
It’s called How to Promote Indie Music (pretty straightforward, I know), and it’s based on four years running a music blog and three years of experience doing indie PR. It covers deep strategy and tested tactics to do indie promo well on the channels that matter most. And it helps you cut out the tactics that won’t work. Basically, it’s a roadmap to getting your releases heard.
If you want to learn how to promote your own stuff or if you’ve got nothing better to do, check it out here.
Social media is a divisive topic in the music promotion sphere. Many artists swear it off from the get-go because it can be seen as inauthentic, superficial, and can even be toxic at times (we’ve all seen internet trolls in action).
However, as Patrick McGuire of Bandzoogle points out, while “social media platforms are packed with problems, and it’s becoming harder and harder to reach fans through them, marketing strategies for musicians are sadly much less impactful without them.”
When it comes to marketing your music, the reality of social media is this:
It’s a potent tool that can bring you closer to your audience.
For instance, have you ever tried reaching out to an artist you admire and received a response? It not only feels good; it practically propels you into a state of ecstasy. Here’s this artist you’ve been listening to for years, an artist you’ve elevated to the status of a gilded, guitar-wielding god, and that artist just personally acknowledged your existence.
That’s how to recruit life-long fans.
Gary Vaynerchuck lays out a litany of hyper-actionable tips for engaging on social. He calls it the two-cents strategy, which consists of interacting with other artists, fans, and trends across social platforms (hence offering your two-cents aka your thoughts, opinions, and support).
And that’s the tip of the iceberg when it comes to getting your name out there on social. Direct interaction, while essential and powerful, can be time-consuming and difficult to scale-up.
Aside from direct interaction, the real draw to social media is the massive advertising engines, which have become increasingly user-friendly and intuitive.
Once you’ve set up your shop and given life to a body of work, you’re ready to start investing (even if it’s a small investment at first) in social media marketing.
Takeaway: Regardless of your personal opinions of social media, it’s an essential gear in your music marketing machine.
YouTube’s reach has climbed to truly staggering heights, boasting over one billion users as the second most visited website in the world (second only to Google). They also claim to reach more people between 18 and 34 than any TV network currently on air.
That’s some significant traffic right at your fingertips.
YouTube is the ideal basecamp for music videos, album playlists, concert promotions, live-streaming, and getting messages out to your audiences directly from your seat in the studio. It’s an indispensable aspect of your music’s online ecosystem, and it’s all upside.
Take live-streaming, for example.
When you first start out streaming, the live viewership isn’t going to be all that impressive. However, even with low live viewership, you now have large swaths of video that you can edit down into additional, targeted content for your channel.
So, before you attempt to launch marketing campaigns and strategies, you should consider pairing your website (whether a custom site or a Bandcamp), social profiles, streaming services, and YouTube into one interconnected web of offerings.
Takeaway: Even if your YouTube profile is bare-bones (just playlists of your albums or individual songs), it’s worthwhile given the astounding number of people who hang out there.
Email marketing shows up on every single annual compilation of music marketing tips, and it’s no wonder why. When fans like your work enough to fork over their email, they’ve essentially opened up a window directly into their lives. It’s a deeply personal gesture, especially nowadays, when people are carefully curating their inboxes to escape unnecessary noise and information.
Remember, an email list is one of the only marketing assets that is yours and yours alone. Whether you have fifty subscribers or 5,000, you have full volition of how and what you choose to communicate to them.
Email marketing, similar to social media marketing, carries a strong stigma in the eyes of many musicians. Ariel Hyatt of Cyber PR debunks two of the most common arguments musicians make to avoid starting their email marketing list.
She states that “the first excuse is you don’t want to send newsletters because you don’t want to bother your fans. The second excuse is you think you have ‘nothing to say,’ or that you hate the way other artists communicate with their email newsletters, and you don’t want to be like them.”
Does either of those excuses ring true for you?
If you just nodded yes, let me offer a counterexample to illustrate how email marketing can be sincere and packed with informative and entertaining content.
Take a wildly popular newsletter like James Clear’s 3-2-1 Weekly Wisdom. His entire angle is providing “the most wisdom per word of any newsletter on the web.” A bold claim, right? Yet, week after week, he consistently delivers a concise product that includes three thoughts from him, two thoughts from others, and one question for his readers to mull over.
It’s a brilliant example of how people looking to break into email marketing, including all of you musicians out there, can meaningfully promote your music while simultaneously providing value to your readers.
Sure, your template’s going to look different than Clear’s does, but that customization and curation are what’s going to get your audience looking forward to periodically hearing from you.
After all, who knows your audience better than you?
Takeaway: Newsletters are a crucial cornerstone of any music marketing strategy. Think long and hard about what your audience values and how you can deliver that to them consistently over time.