In today’s music industry, knowing how to promote your music is perhaps the most important skill you can have, controversially it’s perhaps even more important than even the quality of the music that you can produce.
In this article we’ll take a look at why music promotion matters and how building your promotion skills can actually make you a better musician overall.
What is music marketing?
Music marketing is the process of getting your music in front of new listeners and converting those listeners into an engaged fanbase.
That second part (converting those listeners into an engaged fanbase) is very important and often overlooked – a common mistake people make is to only focus on getting in front of new listeners without being aware of how well these listeners are engaging with the music.
This is something that will become more apparent when you start to look at streaming algorithms, PR and paid marketing, but for now just try and think of effective music marketing as being the process of building a fanbase, not just getting your music heard.
Passive listeners are worth only a fraction of the value of converted fans. Passive listeners don’t share your music with their friends, they don’t follow you on social media, they don’t buy your merchandise or come to live events.
Getting this distinction clear in your head will make sure you stay focused on the right things.
Adopting a marketing mindset
When you start to focus on marketing your music you adopt a different mindset.You’re no longer just a musician – you become a salesman with a product to sell. You start to look at your music career as more of a business than a hobby.
You define your product, understand your audience and how to connect with them. You measure the ROI from your marketing activity and use this data to shape your strategy going forward.
This approach to music may not align with your views as an artist, and I get that – you’re not a salesman, you’re a musician.
But I can assure you that pretty much anyone who has seen any success has invested into their marketing, either by themselves or with a team that does it for them (most often via their label).
When you take marketing seriously you move way beyond just putting your music out on streaming platforms – you start building a fanbase that can help you achieve your music goals.
Music marketing isn’t for everyone
As a creative endeavor, making music can be therapeutic and an empowering form of expression. And for a lot of musicians they have no desire to share their music and build a fanbase in any way.
For those people, marketing isn’t something that even needs to be on the radar – just stick to doing what you love. But for those who want to share their artform with the world you’re going to have to learn how to get it out there.
And for those that start the process, you’ll notice there are a lot of benefits that come from adopting a marketing mindset.
Marketing your music forces you to take things seriously (and get your tracks finished!)
As soon as you start the process of marketing your music you’re forced to create your music in a different way.
A marketing strategy places constraints on your production which can actually be quite liberating. As an artist it’s easy to fall into the trap of forever perfecting a particular song, and allowing an infinite amount of time to tweak things that the average listener is never even going to notice.
This cycle can be a time sink and provide very little return past a certain point.
But as soon as you have a structured marketing approach that encourages you to get things completed by a deadline, you no longer have that infinite time to spend on the minute details.
You’re forced to come to terms with imperfection in your music, which is something you will need to do. You’d be hard pressed to find a single artist who’s 100% satisfied with everything they have put out, so having this pressure to wrap things up and get the track out in the world can actually massively improve your rate of production.
Marketing gives you feedback
You’re no longer creating for an audience of one, but instead you’re looking to create something that will resonate with people on a wider basis.
No doubt you will have had the disheartening experience of being so obsessed with a track you have created, convinced it’s a hit, only to play it to someone and be met with a lukewarm reaction.
You’re not alone.
You need to get used to this. And you need to get used to this on a big scale.
Not all music is going to resonate with everyone. Not all of your songs are going to resonate with even your diehard fans.
But the more feedback you get the better you will be able to judge how well your music is resonating with people, and it will help you define your audience.
In my experience with marketing campaigns, you rarely make decisions based on a small data set. This is because the more data you have, the more accurate the results will be.
If you play your music to 10 people and none of them like it, that doesn’t mean much. If you play it to 10,000 people and none of them like it then that is more revealing.
This data can help you adapt as an artist, understanding what resonates with your fans and what they want more of. This is such an important skill to have when it comes to music – the culture changes, and your ability to move with the culture is vital.
Marketing helps you diversify
A marketing strategy can help you identify overreliance on one particular channel to promote your music.
Focusing on one channel isn’t always a bad approach, in fact a laser focused effort on one channel at the start can often be a very effective strategy, but long term you will want to have an eye on everything.
Platforms change and new technologies emerge. MySpace came and went, artists that built an audience on Facebook found that algorithm changes meant they could only content with a small percentage of their fans, and labels are now echoing frustrations with the inability to replicate viral successes on TikTok.
And remember, it’s not just about getting heard, we want to turn listeners into fans and nurture connections. A marketing strategy helps you look at other aspects of this – how do you communicate with these fans directly, how do you sell merch, tickets, let them know a new track is dropping.
As soon as you start thinking with a marketing mindset you start to consider getting your online profiles up to date, asking for emails or phone numbers, gathering details in a CRM tool so you can manage your communications, and everything else that can help grow your audience.
The music industry moves so quickly, and one of the number one rules is what works today won’t necessarily work tomorrow.
Take nothing for granted.
How much time should you spend marketing vs creating music?
This is a tricky balance to get right.
When you look at the major artists there is often more spent on promotion and marketing than actual production – so you can get an idea of how important it is.
But this isn’t without controversy, with burnout often being discussed in the industry due to excessive promotional obligations put on artists today.
But on a smaller scale, for artists just starting out there is going to be a concern that any time spent marketing music is time that isn’t spent on making music.
One thing is clear though, if you want people to hear your track you’ll need to do some form of marketing. Marketing is a multiplier of the quality of your music. Lower quality songs can get more views and interaction than great ones just because they have factored marketing into the mix.
There’s no right answer on how much time to spend on creating vs promoting – it’s going to be down to the individual. A great place to start is divide your time up 50/50 between creating and marketing and see where you need to go from there.
When to start Promoting Your Music
Another big hurdle for a lot of artists is never feeling ready to promote their music. They worry that it’s not good enough.
So they practice by creating more tracks but never actually taking the plunge and starting to promote them.
On the other hand there’s plenty of people who make one track and shout about it to everyone that will listen.
Music is subjective, so it’s very difficult to determine what makes a song ‘good’ or ‘bad’. But one thing I have noticed is the occurrence of the Dunning Kruger effect when it comes to music promotion.
To quote the Wikipedia page:
The Dunning–Kruger effect is a cognitive bias whereby people with low ability, expertise, or experience regarding a certain type of task or area of knowledge tend to overestimate their ability or knowledge.Wikipedia
And the reverse is often true, people who have a good understanding of what it takes to create music can often underestimate their skills.
So the chances are if you have been creating for a while and still don’t feel confident enough in your music then it’s definitely worth testing it out with a bit of promotion. If you’ve only just started out, and you’re convinced that your music is better than most out there, it’s probably a bit too early.
Be honest in your judgment of yourself.
Time to Get Started
So hopefully that’s convinced you of the value in learning how to market your music.
It’s an exciting journey that can add a whole new dynamic to your artform and help you connect with your fans.