In the early 2000s just as the internet began to blossom, undiscovered artists rejoiced because they had a new way to reach the public without relying on elusive major label contracts. As this caught on, the internet became over-saturated with artists, and a new challenge appeared: how does someone stand out in this crowd of artists and break through the noise?
1. Know Your Audience
What you know about your audience will dictate everything that follows in your promotion strategy. For this reason, you cannot skip or neglect this step. It is critical to understand:
- Who your audience is (and in the music industry, this also means knowing the exact genre(s) and sub-genre(s) that apply to your music)
- Their general age demographic
- How they think
- What things they like
- What hobbies they have
- Where they like to go
- Which social media sites or apps they tend to use (if any)
- What unique qualities your music offers to this demographic group
Take as long as you need to research your audience. Think of real world examples: people you've known who love your music. Interview fans about what makes them tick and why they like your music and compile an audience profile folder with their answers.
Once you've got a long list of traits that describe your audience, you'll be better prepared to craft an effective promotion strategy.
2. Look for Ways to Connect With Your Audience
The band Shiny Toy Guns is a superb example of a band that knows how to connect with its audience. If you study their method and the method of other successful bands, a few things pop out:
- The band members are aggressive about talking to their fans and being available to them before and after shows.
- They become well-known for personally responding to their fans messages on social media and even having meaningful heart-to-heart conversations with them. This produces a fiery loyalty among the fan base.
- The band is especially alert to responding to fans before and after shows to maximize the enthusiasm that live shows produce.
- Many artists will play "living room concerts" for fans in intimate performance settings. For example, Green Day offered, through the Los Angeles station KROQ, to play a show in a fan's garage as a prize.
- For a contest in the 1990s, Metallica once spent a day hanging out the contest winner's house-playing basketball with the fan, getting a tour of the fan's house, hanging out--and then capping it all off with a personal concert in the fan's garage.
Try creative ways to reward your fans and connect with them. As Jeremy Dawson of Shiny Toy Guns says, "(t)hey found out that we actually care about who they are and what they are doing in life."
3. Establish an Online Home Base
Of course, the basic step for promotion is creating an online home base, which will include a combination of a website and social media presence. Fortunately many options exist to do this, and the competition has made it cheaper and simpler to set up your home base online.
The Website: Your Customized Home Base
A website is an essential marketing tool.
- Use a free web page builder to launch your website. You can also try the popular paid site builders such as Bandzoogle, Squarespace, and Band Vista, which make it quick and easy to build a website and get it live, though each one costs a monthly fee (averaging around $10-$15/month).
- Don't be afraid to keep it simple and make your site a single landing page with sparse design and a minimalistic feel. Internet users get fatigued with cluttered sites and prefer simplicity.
- Make sure your site is mobile-first, meaning it's designed for easy navigation on a mobile device. The majority of visitors come from mobile devices.
Social Media Home Bases
Social media has one purpose: personalized engagement. The moment your social media becomes impersonal or stops attempting to engage your fans, then it loses its purpose. That being said, you will have to answer the crucial question. Which social media sites should you use?
- A huge majority of social media users across all demographics use the big name locations, such as Facebook and Instagram.
- Most people, even if they no longer think Facebook is "cool," keep their profiles active because it's convenient. There are just too many valuable family and friend connections to be had on these mega-sites.
- For this reason, you should have a presence on the big social media sites, as well on smaller, more focused sites.
However, this is also where knowing your audience comes in. If you've done your homework and created a detailed audience profile, you already know which social media sites your fans love the most.
4. Use Smart Social Media Engagement Tools and Techniques
You've laid some important groundwork by this point:
- You've charted out a detailed understanding of your audience.
- You've worked hard to connect with them (or you've made plans to do so at future shows and events).
- You've created an online presence where you can interact with fans through your website and social media.
Now it is time to begin trying some innovative strategies and using some fun tools, such as Thunderclap, a great way to involve your online fan base.
What Thunderclap Is and How It Works
When you sign up for Thunderclap, which is free for a basic campaign, you're able to do the following:
- You can invite your fans through social media to join you in a Thunderclap campaign.
- If a fan agrees to join the campaign, Thunderclap is given permission to post a message on their social media page in the fan's name as if the fan had written a new, original post on their timeline.
- You then craft the message--i.e. an announcement for a new show or an album release date or link--and finalize the campaign by setting the precise date and time for the "Thunderclap" to be heard around the internet.
- When the time and date of the Thunderclap comes, the Thunderclap site will instantly post your campaign message on all the social media accounts of your fans who joined the campaign. It will then seem as if many people simultaneously and spontaneously decided to create a post to promote you.
- This online version of a promo flash mob creates a spike in publicity for your band and can often generate buzz in a short amount of time.
Thunderclap, while it offers a free basic campaign, does have pricing tiers (a one-time fee per campaign, not a subscription) that offer enhanced functions for your campaigns.
Use Tweet for a Track
Tweet For a Track allows you to exactly what it says: run a Twitter campaign in which fans will get a free track sent to their email when they tweet about your campaign. It's free to use, and it's a fun incentive to give to music fans who don't mind spreading the word about your music.
Understand the Rules of Genuine Fan Engagement
Part of the reason people tune bands out on social media is simple: the bands spent all their time talking about themselves only. While it may seem counter-intuitive, direct self-promotion should be minimal. Instead, do these things that focus on others while only indirectly tying it to your band:
- Spend time promoting other bands in your genre and networking with them. They will love you for promoting them, they will likely return the favor someday, and their fan base will eventually hear about you too. This is a crucial way to get new followers and grow when you're just starting out.
- Promote your fans. This is basic human nature: people love talking about themselves. Give opportunities on social media for fans to share about themselves. Ask them what their favorite track is on your new album or do a fun survey about their favorite movie and why. As a side-benefit, you learn more about your audience.
- Talk about organizations or events in the community as tie-ins to your music. For example, your new album has a song called Rescue Dog, and for its release you hold a crowdfunding event raising money for local animal shelters. You even do benefit shows and create Facebook Events for them to raise awareness.
- Use social media to share content you know your audience would love, even if the content isn't about you. Did you just read an amazing article about trends in your genre of music? Share it on social media. A clever way to promote your band indirectly through shared content is using Sniply, which places little call-to-action blurbs about your band on any page you've shared.
- To be clear, there are times when you should talk directly about your band, such as when you release something new or if some new change is happening to the band that you know will interest your audience. Just make those posts the minority of your content and try to tie other things or people into it.
Do Facebook Events
When it does come time to do direct promotion of your band, such as when you're releasing something new, always take advantage of Facebook Events, which makes it easy for bands to invite fans to events. Make every release an event. Do a release party or show in some place where you know your audience will want to attend.
Involve Fans in Your Band's Creative Process
Another fun social media tool is involving your fans in your band's creative process. Do Facebook Live sessions in the studio so fans can watch the album take shape in real-time, and then ask the fans watching what they thought of the music or take polls about which artwork to use and let fans pick the look of your next album.
Share Your Band's Story, Brand, and Personality
Although most content you share shouldn't be naked self-promotion, it should be carefully chosen to fit with the story and personality of your band as defined as follows:
- Story: Does your band have an interesting backstory about how it came to be? Did the band face serious adversity either as a group or among its members? How did the band meet? What was the musical vision that brought the band together?
- Personality: Is your band a raucous party band? Is it a deep-thinking circle of intellectuals who see their songs as philosophical statements?
Depending on your story and personality, you'll want to share content that fits. If your band loves to joke around and it has a big sense of humor, holding a spontaneous dance off backstage and streaming it on Facebook Live so fans can judge the best dancer might make sense for content.
Alternatively, if your band is contemplative and serious and your audience is that way, you can use social media to share thought-provoking essays or videos that tie into the themes you discuss and write songs about in the band.
5. Do Targeted Advertising
One of the most powerful tools online today is targeted marketing via social media. Facebook and Instagram both have targeted marketing tools, which allow you to post advertisements on social media that target specific people who have certain likes or demographic characteristics.
For example, if you want to publish an ad about your new album via Facebook, and you only want it to be seen by women in their twenties who live in Houston and who love the bands Nirvana, Garbage, and Nine Inch Nails, you can do that, thanks to Facebook's incredibly powerful, reasonably priced targeted advertising tool.
6. Be a 'Thought Leader' and Music Curator
In marketing, an oft-used buzz word is "thought leader" or "influencer." This is typically someone who works in a certain industry, but they also write about the industry online or produce a podcast. Their content becomes popular, and they become a mini-celebrity in their niche market--i.e. a thought leader or influencer.
If your band plays in the music genre of Americana Singer/Songwriter, for example, you can launch a blog, Internet radio station, or podcast that covers that type of music-either discussing trends in the genre or curating playlists.
The best part: if the content you create catches on, not only will you be exposing more people to who you are as a musician, you will become regarded as an authoritative voice in that world of music.
Don't Rush Your Song Craft
Although it might be discouraging to hold off on the exciting promotion stage of your music, it is always better to invest in much time into the product as possible before taking it to the public.
This holds true for promoting your band too, not just playing live. Don't rush to promote your band if the product itself is underdeveloped. A truly great product--a band or solo artist who writes incredibly powerful songs and plays them extremely well with a unique sound--does far more to get word-of-mouth going for your music than any promotional trick.
Make It a Journey Worth Remembering
The lifespan of any band, no matter how good, is never guaranteed to be lifelong. For that reason, make the marketing fun and creative. Not only will that make your promotion strategies more effective, it will make your time in the band worth remembering for both your band mates and your fans.