Before you can learn how to market your music, you should understand that marketing is not the same as public relations – not traditionally, at least. The former understanding was that public relations handles press and public reputation, and marketing is responsible for advertising and encouraging sales. Nowadays, the two often overlap, particularly when social media comes into play. For independent musicians operating DIY style, the lines can be even blurrier.
So let’s clarify what marketing means here, in this specific context: It’s the shaping and maintaining of your brand as an independent band or artist, and the subsequent advertising of that brand to listeners who you’re ultimately selling to. And don’t forget the factors implied by independent – many of you are working with limited to nonexistent budgets, so methods need to reflect that.
This guide outlines the best practices for marketing music, from mapping out your M.O. to paid social media posts to on-the-ground advertising, with both the needs and the limitations of an independent and DIY band or artist in mind.
What are you marketing?
Before you can even contemplate how to market your music, you need a clear understanding of what it is you’re offering.
Part of being in the music business is learning how to sell your music, and a vision statement will help you get started. Your vision statement serves as the guiding light of your career. It should cover what kind of music you want to create, what you hope listeners will get from your music, what type of merchandise you’ll sell, the level you want to reach, and how you want to represent your image – your brand – overall.
Because your vision statement includes your goals, it’s not totally static. You should be open to adjusting it to accommodate new goals and ideas that come up along the way.
Defining your ideal fanbase
Sure, you want everyone, people of all ages and from all walks of life, to enjoy your music. But that’s too broad a crowd to market efficiently. If you narrow it down a bit, you’ll be able to better target your advertising, and you’ll see significantly better results in your music marketing.
Keep in mind that this group is elastic, changing – you can always fine-tune as you progress.
Branding your band
Once you’ve worked out your vision statement, you can shape your branding to fit. This includes logos and design for posters and flyers, your press kit photos, what you wear on stage, the style of your performances, the way you interact with your fans online, and anything else that shapes the image you hope to portray.
Advertising on social media
Before anything else, consider the timing when deciding to advertise. This isn’t the same as your regular posts on social media, as we’re talking about actual angled advertisements here. If you’re going to stretch your budget to pay for any kind of advertising, it should be when you’ve got something fresh to market: a new single, an album, new T-shirts, an upcoming tour.
Facebook’s algorithm limits the reach of pages so users are encouraged to pay for promotion. In fact, they’ve recently de-emphasized marketing posts, period.
A caption about buying your album with a link to your iTunes store simply won’t appear in newsfeeds as often anymore. Link posts are now actually favored, but you’ll need to rethink the caption to make it more engaging. Video is also a newfound favorite after the platform’s latest updates.
Newsworthy stories are still rewarded, too. The takeaway here is that the more engaging your content is, the more likely it is to make the rounds in newsfeeds.
Luckily, though, it doesn’t cost too much – between $25 and $50 – to extend your reach when you want to. There are advertising options for individual events, your Facebook page, or a website (e.g. online merch shop, iTunes store, Bandcamp). You set a budget and lifespan for your promotion, define its targets (here’s where the importance of a target audience comes in!), then Facebook rolls it out incrementally, reporting your campaign’s results throughout the process.
Advertising on YouTube is similar to Facebook in its budget and lifespan, the ability to target the campaign, and reporting of results. Here, though, only video content can be used. Your ad will be shown to users between videos, and it can be linked to any website.
Twitter offers an option to advertise on its platform, and again, it uses the budget and lifespan model mentioned above.
An often overlooked but vital tool for music marketing is the email newsletter. It’s considered permission marketing, meaning everyone on the receiving end actually wants to know about whatever you’re pushing. There’s something more personal about it, too, which can encourage sales.
Posters and flyers are still viable methods of marketing your shows – and your music, too. The latter especially is appropriate for providing downloads or QR codes to free streams. To make the most of the money you spend printing (and possibly designing) those flyers, be methodical in your placement: record stores, clubs and bars, coffee shops and anywhere else your fanbase hangs out.
Performing in public areas – busking – is a totally free way to market your music. Interactions with people who stop to listen are individualized, often one-on-one, and can create genuine fans.
Check local laws regarding sales, though. If no selling is permitted, don’t test your luck. Instead, have a stack of flyers with information about where to hear your music ready for anyone who’s interested.
Also, look up all of the local laws regarding busking in general. Some cities require permits, while others don’t, and there are typically laws against amplification – so prepare for a stripped-down set.
Turning your fans into your marketing team
Your fans can be a huge asset to your marketing strategy. These are people who support you already; they’re probably willing to help you spread the word. Throw in incentives like free merch and guest list spots, and you may have even find yourself a few brand evangelists.
Analyzing your marketing efforts
It’s hard to quantify the results of physical marketing, but as far as online marketing goes, there’s Google Analytics. Check your results regularly.