Some Initial Thoughts On Marketing Your Music
The word “marketing” is likely to cause more than a few eyes to roll back in their heads. I get it. First, most folks will conflate the word with advertising. But they aren’t one and the same. Second, these days, when bands are told to market their band, it often starts with the whole “band as a brand” discussion. If you’re like me and that phrase makes your skin crawl, I still may have some tips to help you out.
First things first, I see marketing, simply, as problem solving. Whether you’re trying to bring an idea, a piece of art, or a product to another person, group of people, or, cough, “market,” marketing is the process of figuring out how to do so while ensuring that you’ve achieved what you set out to. Want people to hear your music? What can you do, within your means, to make that happen? Want people to come to your shows? How can you get them out? That’s all marketing. If done right, it isn’t about tricking people, and it doesn’t have to be about “selling,” strictly speaking.
I always try to think about marketing music in these problem solving terms, because it opens up possibilities beyond seemingly arbitrary rules that might not be a one-size-fits-all solution for many bands. I’ve been to too many music conferences where bands are told that they should think about creating short, personal videos to “engage” with their fans, and then thought to myself how funny it would be for a band like Godspeed You! Black Emperor to be in the room hearing that. I also get a giggle out of imagining an ultra serious black metal band being told to heart comments on their Instagram. If you’re on this site, you probably want people to hear your music…but you also probably want to do it in a way that makes sense for your situation.
Photo: Hero Images
Which takes us to the whole bands-as-brands discussion. Listen, I hate it. You probably hate it too. But there’s an element of truth lying underneath the buzzy wording. I simply choose to re-frame the idea as: every choice you make as a band reflects on your band and its music. So, deliberate choices about how you describe your music, what your album artwork looks like, who you play with, how you present yourself…matter. Slick and glossy is right for some bands. Not caring is right for others. Constant updates are equally as valid as rare appearances that count. You can just eliminate the buzzwords and replace them with “just be consistent and authentic to your own music and selves.”
Tip: your album’s promotion doesn’t start and stop with the release date. Make sure to continue posting about your album, release a second or third single, remind people where they can buy it or when a Bandcamp Friday is around the corner. Too many musicians see their album release as day, not a months long project.
You’ve Already Been Marketing Your Release
Some good news: most of the sections you’ve already reads through on Trickle Down qualify as marketing. Everything from the songs you chose to include on your release, how you chose to record them, the physical or digital distribution means you chose to release them, the album artwork, press photos, and videos you chose to represent them, not to mention the reaching out to magazines, websites and radio stations to cover you…it’s all marketing. You came here with the problem of “I want to release my music,” and have made choices in a number of areas to get to the point where you’ve done just that. So…you’re almost there!
A Typical Marketing Schedule For A Release
When you’ve got most of your ducks in a row for your release, it’s time to announce it. The ol’ shadow drop (release it the same day you announce it) has its champions, even for artists not on Beyonce’s level, but for the most part, you’ll want to get word out well in advance of the album. Doing so help to generate some pre-orders (which may help you to pay for release day expenses), to act as a leveraging tool when trying to book shows/tours (album release shows tend to do better than a “regular” show), and to give you lead time on trying to generate interviews, reviews, features, etc.
What should be included in your announcement? Ideally, you’d include the name of the album, the release date, and a link to where it can be pre-ordered in conjunction with the premiere of the album’s first single or music video. A little write-up on what makes this album special (is it your debut? If it’s not, what is different about this collection of songs?) is a great idea too.
Album announcement on Facebook for Napalmpom’s sophomore LP.
A typical schedule I might follow:
- Decide on a release date + book some release shows (completed 4 months prior to release).
- Announce album with a single or music video (3 months prior to the release) – ideally this is through a website like Exclaim, Cups N Cakes, etc., but you can also just announce it on your own social media.
- Announce shows/tour (this can either happen at the same time as the album announcement, or as a way to remind people you have an album coming out. I’d recommend 2-3 months before release day).
- Release 2nd single or music video (1 month prior to release) – ideally you choose another strong showcase song to release into the wild, generating a little more excitement for the album, and ideally, a few more pre-orders.
- The big release day – let the world know the album is out, ask friends & family to post about it, share peoples’ reactions, etc. The release day is typically the biggest day of sales an album will get, so it’s worth going all out here.
- Play shows/tour to support the album (from release day to years after release) – ultimately, independent album success is often a long-game, and selling a few copies of your record at each show is a big part of getting people to hear it.
- Release a 3rd single (1 month post-release) – this is a good way to remind people that your album came out/catch any sales that fell through the cracks to date. You might have heard feedback from friends or other bands on the songs that stick out to inform your single choice, even.
Tip: Tag your bandmates in your posts. A particular member of your band may be most equipped to handle your social media posts, making it look all profesh and such…but what’s better than reaching your bands’ audience on these platforms? Reaching your bands’ audience and all of the members’ friends & families as well.
Using This General Framework For All Marketing
This schedule also represents a general approach to every announcement you might make. It follows a path of – announce, re-enforce, push and remind.
- Announce the release/song/show/event/news in a splashy way.
- Re-enforce the announcement at a later from a different angle (in case you missed it…or pairing it with more information, a new song or video).
- As you get close to the announced release/show/event, etc., push it harder and more frequently, pitching folks on why they should care.
- Then, when the music has been released or the show has happened, remind folks in some way.
Example of a show announcement on Facebook. We included the date, venue and bands on the bill (we thought it was stacked).
Same show, same venue, different approach. We posted live video, this time linked directly to tickets and giving some more time sensitive info (pun intended – our set time).
So, if you’re looking at a show announcement, you wouldn’t just announce it once and assume folks’ll show up. You’d announce it and try to get folks excited enough to buy a ticket. Then, a week later, you might nudge folks again to buy their advance ticket, by emphasizing the bands you’re playing with, or how excited you are to debut new material. As the show gets closer, you’d maybe post about how there’s just one week until the event, or share photos or videos of you rehearsing for it. Day off, you’d go hard on social media: “tonight’s the night!” emphasizing details like door and set times. After the show, sharing any photos/videos you’ve been tagged in can be nice for folks to re-live the show, or for those who didn’t make it out, can be the little extra nudge to come to the next one. But maybe don’t share videos where you’re super out of tune 😉
If you’re reading this site, then chances are you won’t have to worry much about your advertising budget, because, well, you probably don’t have one. Upside: one less expense! While some of the grants may give you the opportunity to print and distribute street posters, or take out small ads in music monthlies, for the most part, you’ll be relying on mostly free promotional tactics like social media, word-of-mouth, and posters printed by the venues you’re playing.
Social Media Tips
Below are some basic social media tips that can go a long way in making sure your most important announcements, release plans and show promotion get seen:
- Use all of your social media accounts. Yes, Facebook is dying out, yes Twitter’s future is a big question mark, yes, Instagram’s algorithms are pushing more and more sponsored content to the top, and yes, if you’re like me, TikTok is still a younger persons’ game. BUT, if you have these platforms for your band already, post on all of them. Everyone has their own social media habits, and while to you it might feel redundant to announce a show on 3-4 platforms, you can’t know which platform someone else is going to log onto on a given day. Folks are used to being bombarded by the same content over and over. I assure you that posts about the album you’ve worked your ass off for, and that you’re genuinely proud of, won’t feel like spam to most folks who have chosen to follow you for a reason.
- Speaking of bombarding, if you’re worried about cluttering up your Instagram profile with 2-3 posts about the same show, turn to your Instagram stories. A story will likely reach the same number of people, but will only be visible for 24 hours. If you need to send the same message out continuously, it’s a great way to do so without compromising what someone visiting your Instagram page for the first time will see.
- You’ve probably noticed a lot of music venues posting to various social media platforms with images that cut off key text because of the different formats each require (Instagram needs a square format, while Instagram stories do better as portrait style rectangles, etc.). Canva is free for phones and computers, and can let you reformat your posts for each platform. Have a traditional show poster you need to make fit and Instagram post? Simply add the poster to a square template with an appropriate background for the best of both worlds.
- Tag your bandmates in your posts. A particular member of your band may be most equipped to handle your social media posts, making it look all profesh and such…but it shouldn’t start and end with them. What’s better than reaching your bands’ audience on these platforms? Reaching your bands’ audience and all of the members’ friends & families as well. By simply tagging your bandmates, you’ll nudge them about the announcement, and make it easy for them to re-post/share/retweet at the press of a button, instead of relying on them to meticulously craft their own posts.
- Tag others! Whether it’s the venues you’re playing at or the bands you’re playing with, it follows that a quick and easy way to reach more people is to…again make it quick and easy for your post to be shared with new audiences. Your new band might have amassed a following of just 100 people, but the venue you’re playing at that’s been doing this for 15 years may be reaching thousands with each post. But please, don’t be that band that tags hundreds of folks in each post, including people who are not directly involved in a given show or album.
- Share stories/posts by others: you’ll quickly get sick of trying to find new ways to post about the same thing (“come to our show!” “Buy our album!” “Check out our single!”). But, if anyone else posts those things, sharing them is a two birds, one stone kind of deal. On the one hand, you don’t have to exert energy to sell yourself again. But more importantly, it means a lot more when someone else says the show is going to rule, the song rules, or they are excited about the album. Unless/especially if it’s your mom?
- Your album’s promotion doesn’t start and stop with the release date. Make sure to continue posting about your album, release a second or third single, remind people where they can buy it or when a Bandcamp Friday is around the corner. Too many musicians see their album release as day, not a months long project, etc.
An example of using Canvas to fit a rock poster into a square Instagram post by adding it to a template with background.
I’ll say it again: the only thing more humiliating than promoting your own band is…not promoting your own band. For the most part, if you aren’t excited about your songs/album or shows, don’t expect anyone else to be.