How to promote your music in 2021 w/ music industry insights

The past decade has been the era of unsigned artists. Today, every independent artist – solo. producer, or band – needs to build and sustain their public image. There are dozens of platforms at your fingertips to get the word out.

From strategically sculpting your image to the planned promotion of an upcoming album, music marketing can feel like a many-headed dragon to an independent musician. How, when, and how much to liaise is beyond out artistic skill set. It needs some time and effort to get good at.

There are countless posts on how musicians ought to mastermind their promotions. Unfortunately, a lot of it is a ‘one-man summary’ of rudimentary information. It can be useful if you are a rank novice, but I’ve found it too ‘all-purpose’ to translate into any tangible success.

So, instead of another post that is much of the same, I interviewed some of the most experienced personalities in the music PR industry to put together a post with their valuable insights.

Place the horse before the cart: Focus on the music

How much can you fix a terrible source signal in the mixing and mastering stage?

Similarly, you have to focus on creating a good song/album before you venture out to market or promote it. Making music – meaningful music – is the groundwork for everything that we will address in this post.

I’ll work with the assumption that your primary focus is creating music with all the professional means at your disposal. With that given, let’s explore what it takes to successfully create your brand and reach out to potential audiences.

A 5-Step guide to promoting your music online

Start With A Website

#1 Start with a website

As an artist, creating your website is the most basic thing you can do – even today. Platforms like Wix, Squarespace, WordPress, and others provide the means to do this quickly and on the cheap. It is the most elementary aspect of online presence and arguably the most impressionable one.

A website isn’t just about the semantics of ‘looking professional’. It’s a one-stop destination for your fans that can turn into the ultimate expression of your aesthetic. After all, unlike other platforms that pose as a marketing vehicle, it places no restrictions on the music, bio, images, and information you upload.

Too many artists focus on social media platforms and find websites redundant. Several artists declared websites to be redundant as they invested all their efforts into MySpace, Orkut, and other trending social platforms in the past decade. Websites still stand, they always will – as long as you renew your domain name and hosting. MySpace and Orkut, however, did not.

Your website should center around the image you want to create while remaining easy to navigate and optimized for smartphone users. Yes, smartphones. We are past the era of PC and laptop users driving traffic. Mobile devices accounted for roughly two-thirds of all users in 2020.

Email Marketing

#2 Direct voluntary access: Email marketing

Email marketing and newsletter subscribers were all the rage in the past decade. In recent years, however, many pundits refer to it as some antiquated or outmoded faux pas. In my conversation with Anita Baker, she laid my qualms about email marketing to rest.

Ms. Baker is a Nashville based media planner-turned-consultant who has worked with well-known rock and country musicians, ranging from Grammy-winning to on the up and up – via the many firms that employed her over two decades.

“It’s hilarious when people assume that mailing lists are out of vogue since the arrival of social media. I’m not postulating that. Even the most recent surveys indicate that mailing lists are forty times more effective. Consumers are thrice as likely to buy or use something they see in a newsletter as compared to social media,” Anita illuminates.

Audiences voluntarily give you their email because they want to know what you are upto. It’s one of the most accurate metrics to track the efficiency of your website and music. Unlike social media ads or posts, your newsletter is not competing for anyone’s attention.

“Email marketing is interested audiences,” Anita explains. “You can leverage it to promote your upcoming tour, EP/Album, or video release. It offers direct access to people who have a verified interest and a history of engagement with your talent. It’s not to be taken lightly.”

So, it does hold water. You should focus on getting people to ‘join the club’ using website opt-ins, hosting events, subscribing to a newsletter, or organizing a giveaway. As you do this, bear in mind that people tend to unsubscribe if they don’t receive anything of value for a prolonged period.

Don’t obsess about growing at the cost of retaining what you have. Throw in a giveaway, free downloads, or concert tickets to your upcoming show to keep your followers engaged. And, do not, I repeat – do not –  overdo it. It’s the #1 reason people unsubscribe from newsletters.

social media long game

#3 The long game on social media

Phil Osmond of Cyber PR from Brooklyn who’s worked with artists such as Duran Duran and Imagine Dragons. He points out how musicians constantly see viral content all around them and presume that it has to be a part of their strategy. He calls this the Silver Bullet Syndrome. This, he opines, results in imprisoning your creativity to a one-piece short-term strategy.  

It usually gets you nowhere.

“Ask yourself this – did your singing, composing, or playing get anywhere in a week or month? Wasn’t it drastically better after one year after you started learning? The same goes for your social media promotion strategy. It takes time to shape things, but you will be rewarded if you persevere,” says Phil.

Point taken, but what is a good social media approach?

Start with a solid plan. A solid marketing/promotion strategy is one that has reasonable goals, realistic expectations, and an authentic brand.  Use it to explore all the platforms and stick to the ones where you see returns. Be mindful of your actions and use statistics to know what sticks.  

Social media is a window to your (potential) fan base. Your branding and content need to be consistent. Surveys show that audiences are more likely to abandon (or never follow) an artist who seems disingenuous. Whether you pick quirky or boy/girl next door, you must be convincing. 

Secondly, don’t do things because you are on a schedule, especially if it is hollow, meaningless fluff. At the same time, each expert unanimously opines that you need to be thick-skinned. Don’t let the negative feedback ruin your day. Focus on the good to get better. You can’t please everyone.

Streaming Music

#4 Get spotted on the stream

You need to get your music on playlists across iHeartRadio, Pandora, Spotify, Apple Music, and every other platform with a sizeable chunk of the market. Don’t do it for the revenue. Do it for the ability to reach out to millions of users in every habitable continent.

Every platform has its version of a ‘Featured Artist’ or ‘Discover New Music’. That is the real prize – a comprehensive one-piece playlist feature strategy.

“You need to understand the difference between streaming and playlisting. Users spend a third of their time on Spotify listening to curated playlists. They spend almost the same amount of time on user-generated playlists,” says Mia Williams of Organic, the firm behind rap legends like Migos and Wiz Khalifa.

Mia is emphasizing the statistics that demonstrate user behavior and how to leverage it. People have a predilection for playlists from record labels, influencers, in-house teams, and algorithms. You need to make inroads into that. All you need is a simple plan. Get verified, be active/consistent, and send pitches upon every new release to the platform’s editorial team.

“A fifth of all pitches Spotify received in 2019 were featured in a playlist. Imagine that – if you take a few minutes to submit your release to their editorial team, there is a one in five chance that you’ll get featured. Those are odds I would certainly pursue,” adds Mia.

If you get any such algorithmic playlist that is popular, you’ll be raking up new fans and stream counts. You can then use your social media mentions to grow your Spotify popularity and the Spotify feature to grow your social media fan base. Now that’s what I call good marketing and promotion.

Strategy

#5 Dive deep and diversify

I asked Jeff Anders from Earwig PR what he thought was the best platform to gain followers and fans in 2021. Despite my attempts to pick his brain, he refused to call a specific platform the ‘Holy Grail’ of promotion and marketing.

“We’re in 2020, for God’s sake. There are all kinds of technologies based on geo-location and hyper-segmentation. Nothing is impossible… except keeping up with the trends,” says Jeff who has worked with an impressive list of Pop and RnB divas since 1998.

“Think of it this way – female audiences range from nuns ‘n nans to steampunk soccer moms to dewy-eyed teens, and everything in between. There never was a ‘one size fits all’ solution and there never will be,” he says. He’s right. There are so many ways to do it. As a beginner, you have to dabble in everything and take advantage of all the tools available.

You never know what clicks. For that reason, don’t put all your eggs in one basket simply because it is the current fad. Audiences are fickle. Fads are volatile. Think wide for the long game and narrow your focus only to capitalize on a platform that is showing favorable activity.

Contrary to people’s belief, you don’t get a pot of gold if you hit a home run with one episode of your overall strategy. Many artists start strong and falter because they simply can’t figure out how to sustain a viral moment and transform it into a successful long term campaign. What ensues, it them grasping at straws with desperate attempts to recreate a fleeting moment.

How to promote your music: Summary

  • Build a dynamic and thriving website
  • Email marketing is NOT dead
  • Think long-term, be consistent & authentic on social media
  • Get into playlists via streaming platforms
  • Diversify to improve your chances of success

Success mantras from music industry experts

Before concluding, I asked each PR veteran to share the one thing that every up and coming artist should keep in mind as they strive to make their mark in the world. Here are the mantras that they wanted to share:

Phil Osmond:One genuine fan is more valuable than several casual onlookers. Real fans, at heart, are a megaphone that will do your work for you.

Mia Williams: In my career, I’ve worked with over one hundred artists. The common traits in the successful artists I have encountered is the ‘4Ds’ – Desire, Drive, Disciple, and Dedication. If you have those four things and they are genuine, you’ll find a way – no matter what!

Jeff Anders: Engagement is not about foisting mediocre content on social media platforms. It is about building a deep and meaningful connection with fans and expanding it.

Final Thoughts

I hope, through this article, I’ve shared some prized insights that will elevate your music promotion strategy. To end, I would like to emphasize the ability to learn from your failures. Take time to study the impact of each promotion you run. Refine, redress, and renovate your ideas. Before you know it, you’ll understand how to tweak, tune, and design your campaigns to get the returns you desire.

Martin Holland

Growing up in rural Australia, there wasn't much to do but play guitar and stare at the red dirt. When things broke, the only person to fix them was fifty miles away, and eventually fixing gave way to building, giving me my career as a luthier. I wouldn't have it any other way.

Martin Holland has 81 posts and counting. See all posts by Martin Holland