It used to be the case that unless you convinced a record label to take a chance on your music, your odds of getting anyone to hear your stuff was a very slim to a more likely none. The internet has changed all that. A few clicks of the mouse can cut out the middleman and allow you to engage in the musical equivalent of "For Sale By Owner" - but if you build it, how do you know they will come? There are a few things you can do to help increase your profile, and increase the chance that someone will come looking for your songs.
Build a Website
And this does not mean a profile on MySpace. Your website doesn't have to be fancy - the most important thing is for your website to inform people about you, your music, your upcoming shows, your upcoming recording plans, a way to join your mailing list - all the things you would want to know if you were visiting a band's site. Update it regularly. Let people download tracks from your site…and let them download the songs for free. Adding a "buy a track" function to your website will come - later. Right now, the idea is to build a name for yourself, so when the time comes to turn over some cash, the people will be happy to oblige.
Play Your Music Live
Whenever you get a chance, get out there and do some shows. Play at your local club, open mic night, unsigned band night - whatever. Whenever you have a show planned, contact the local radio stations and the listings guide(s). Put up posters promoting your show. Invite local journalists to come along and review your performance. At the show, have people sign up for your mailing list, and keep them informed about where they can see you next. Do whatever you have to to keep your name out there - and take every opportunity as a chance to send more people to your website.
Once you have mastered the hometown crowd, it's time to tour. It is important to spend some time playing out of town to spread the word about your music. Look at tour dates of bands you like, contact the venues they'll be hitting, and find out if they need an opening band. Or, find out who books the bands at those venues, and see if you can get a show. Promote those shows as you did the shows in your hometown - contact their local media, send some posters to clubs and record stores. Promote your website. But think of this as an internship - you are doing this for the experience, not the cash right now. You might not get paid anything at all; you will probably spend much more money than you make even if you do get a small fee. You've heard the saying "you have to spend money to make money" - this is especially true of music when you're doing it yourself. Be patient, it will be worth it in the end.
A side note on touring - behave yourself! A good rule of thumb is don't throw the TV out of the hotel room window before you can at least afford the TV. Nothing will ruin your chances faster than getting a reputation for behaving badly. No one will want to work with you, and sure, people may watch, but for the same reason the best part of "American Idol" is the bad auditions. That's not what you're going for.
Don't Be Afraid To Ask For Help
If you're making music, then you love music. You know of musicians you admire, labels you love, producers you think are great - approach them! Send them an email and ask for advice. Send them a link to your website. Add them to your mailing list. The worst they can do is ignore you, and you might be surprised how willing to help some of them will be.
Even if they do ignore you, remember that they have been in your shoes. Read their bios, look at the places they have played, and take a page from their book.
Advertise Your Website
Set a little time aside every day, and link your website to every other music related site that will have you. Find out advertising deadlines for music magazines, and call them the day of the deadline - you might find yourself getting ad space for a fraction of the cost because they have space to fill. You might also join forces with other musicians to buy some advertising space together.
So, the name of the game is letting people know you are out there. By starting small, and repeating these steps over and over, on a larger scale each time, you will be increasing your audience. Once you have that audience, it is time to take your game to the next level and start getting paid. But more on that next time.