You made your songs available on every digital platform. You have a presence on every popular social media channel. Yet, no one’s listening to your songs.
One of the biggest questions I get, a very common problem for new musicians, is how do I promote my music?
It can be a frustrating experience, but there’s a lot more that goes into releasing music than just making it widely accessible and making a couple of social media posts.
Sometimes, musicians who have this problem are looking for free exposure or shortcuts to build up vanity metrics like views or followers. This type of mindset leads to bad habits and tactics that just don’t work.
In this blog, I will go over the best and worst ways you can promote your music. If you haven’t seen much engagement or traction with your songs, maybe you’re guilty of one of these bad promotion tactics.
Although I get this question about music promotion a lot, I was inspired to put this blog together from the Super Duty Tough Work podcast where they covered this topic. I borrowed some of their points, but I also included some of my own. I recommend giving it a listen for the musicians and creatives out there.
I embedded each episode in their respective sections for you if you want to listen.
Worst Promo Strategies and Tactics
To start it off, we will go through the worst promotion tactics and strategies that you want to avoid or completely stop. Some people just don’t know any better, but it’s time to change things up if you are guilty of these.
Spamming is when you contact a group of individuals to promote your music when they did not ask for it. This is commonly done by copy and pasting a generic message to send out through email or direct messages on social media. Adding email addresses you come across to your newsletter list without the person’s permission, also counts as spam.
Most people don’t like to get random messages unsolicited. Not only is it annoying to receive, it’s also against the law. Social media platforms also have ways to detect if someone is spamming messages. If you get reported enough times, it may lead to account termination.
Hijacking a post is basically promoting your song by commenting on someone else’s post. This could be Instagram, Twitter or even in the YouTube comments. You might think that the person whose post you’re commenting on has a large following so if you comment, a lot of people will see and check you out. The reality is no one’s going to care, and it makes you look desperate.
Although not as annoying as straight up spamming, this is definitely not an effective way to get exposure. Others may report you, or the person may just end up blocking you. It could lead to account suspension or termination as well if you are commenting on too many posts in a certain time frame. Don’t do it!
Follow / Unfollow
This is something I see a lot on Instagram. Chances are this has happened to you many times. The way it works is you click on a hashtag that might contain people who might like dig your music. You click ‘follow’ on someone so they get a notification that you just followed them. If you’re lucky, they follow you back because they want to return the favor. Days later, you unfollow them. Repeat.
There are bots that do this, which is why it’s a more common practice. I think it’s fair to say most people are aware of this tactic, so it’s less likely to work anyways. Not to mention, Instagram has limits on how many follows and unfollows you can do each day.
The real problem is you’re not actually promoting your music, or engaging with anyone. You’re simply trying to build up vanity numbers.
Buying Fake Followers
Speaking of vanity numbers. There are a lot of people who feel that the best way to promote their music is to create the impression of being popular, without putting in the actual work of earning it. This type of impatience is partially a byproduct of our instant gratification / magic pill culture. The belief is that if it looks like a lot of people follow, then it must mean I’m good. Although there is some truth to it, buying fake followers is not the way to go, for a number of reasons.
First, it’s easier to figure out who has fake followers. Second, it makes your promotional efforts even more ineffective when your following consists of bots that don’t engage with your posts.
Random Surprise Releases
This is when you release music at some random day or time without any lead up. This was a tactic that Beyonce did years ago in 2013. The problem is that most musicians or artists aren’t on Beyonce’s level, and don’t have the brand or following she has.
Whether you do this as a promotional tactic or out of pure laziness, just don’t do this!
Using Social Media as Broadcasting Tool / Repeating Same Post
Just posting the same cover or photo with the same exact caption to tell people to check out your music is not effective. It also looks messy on your Instagram profile. The worst part is when it’s the same photo with a bunch of text on it, like a flyer.
You have to understand that social media is not a broadcasting tool. If you’re only using it to push, promote, pitch and sell yourself, then you’re likely not to see any results. No one likes to be around that 24/7 sales person.
There’s certainly nothing wrong with promoting a new song or project multiple times. In fact, it’s encouraged because not everyone will see your posts now that most social media platforms use algorithms to control what shows in your newsfeed.
You just need to switch up, so try using a different photo or video. Provide insight or tell a story. Make them more engaging or interesting than just “check out my new song!”
Best Promo Strategies and Tactics
Here are better strategies and tactics that you should be doing instead.
Find Your Niche / Target Audience
If you want to promote your music right, the first step is to identify your target audience. Posting a new song on Instagram and using hashtags is not going to do anything if you haven’t built a following in your niche.
This is not so much of a tactic or strategy, but a fundamental step you should have established before trying to promote your music.
Make a Plan / Start a Campaign
To properly promote your new music, you should have a plan and strategy in place for a campaign. In this campaign you want to establish what the goal is, create a list of tasks, schedule out action steps and gather all the assets you would need to execute. I believe the best results come when you’re more intentional with your efforts, rather than doing things last minute or with no plan.
Provide Value / Free Music
When it comes to marketing for any type of business, you often have to give more than you receive first to build that relationship. Or as Gary Vee likes to say “Jab, Jab, Jab, Right Hook” or “Give, Give, Give, Ask.”
Often times, when people don’t get results with their music promotion, it’s because they are asking before they give or offer anything of value first. When you put yourself in the shoes of someone who has never heard of you, you have to ask “what’s in it for me?”
The fact is, we are really good at tuning out advertising messages in today’s society. Even in traditional advertising, you rarely see companies just blatantly promote their product or service. Ads have become a form of entertainment in ways and have mixed value with promotion.
One way to provide value is putting out content that aims to entertain, educate or inspire. Offering your music for free to download is another way.
Share Your Story / Document Your Journey
Use social media as a platform to tell your story as an upcoming musician, producer, performing artist or rapper. I believe there’s more value in documenting your journey and sharing your experiences in music, rather than fronting like you’ve already made it.
There will be some who are fooled by the “fake it ‘til you make it” types who want to give the impression they are big time (but buy fake followers), and you don’t want to go down that path.
If you’re able to tell a good story, it allows followers and new potential fans to feel more emotionally invested in your journey. Your music is able to promote itself because it’s tied to something relevant. After all, we all like a good underdog story of someone who’s trying to make it.
Everyone’s got a different story and goals so it’s up to you on how you go about telling it through social media. In addition to your music, this is where you want to get creative.
One of the more traditional ways to promote your music is to find opportunities to perform live. Not everyone wants to be a performing artist, but you’d be missing out on a much needed income stream and platform for exposure in today’s music climate.
Live performances aren’t a scalable medium for music promotion, especially for emerging artists, but it’s more effective in building relationships because of the direct human to human interaction.
Opening up for a more established artist is probably the most favorable opportunity, but that’s not accessible for most new artists. To work up to that point, you should try as many things as you can to practice from open mics, talent shows, local community events, etc.
Even if it’s not to get exposure or promote music, you should be doing live performances as much as you can for the experience, to get better. If the goal is to be a full time musician, I feel mastering the live performance is key.
Pay for Social Media Ads
When it comes to music promotion, I’m a big advocate of paying for social media ads to get proper exposure to your target audience. I know it costs money and it can be hard to come by as an independent artist, but it’s one of those investments you need to make if you’re serious about a music career. In order for this to be most effective, you need to have good video content to promote, especially if your goal is to raise brand awareness and exposure yourself to new potential fans.
I understand that many may be intimidated by this as well because there is a learning curve to understand how to use something like Facebook and Instagram Ads effectively. Once you get the hang of it and see results, it should be a foundational piece of any music promotion efforts.
Sweepstakes / Contests
Depending on where you are in your career and the following you have, hosting a sweepstakes or contest could be a fun way to promote your music. Sweepstakes is when you offer something of value as a prize to your audience that the winner is chosen randomly. You can have people tag a friend on your Instagram post for a chance to win a merch pack, or tickets to a show.
On the other hand, a contest is where the prize is decided and given based on skill or talent. For example, a remix or lip sync contest. These are more advanced tactics that require a lot more planning and execution, but just thought I’d put it out there.
Compelling Video Content
One of the reasons why I personally decided to focus on producing video content for artists is because it’s a key medium in today’s culture. Promoting a song with just a photo isn’t going to gain much traction compared to something like a music video. Video is much more engaging and shareable when you understand the science of social transmission that fuels word of mouth.
In addition to having high quality photos to use for your marketing, you should really invest your time and money into creating good video content and promoting it with Facebook, Instagram and YouTube ads. If there’s anything you have to spend money on when it comes to music promotion, it’s these two things – video and social media ads.
Here’s a great example of compelling, but simple, video content from an artist named Tobe Nwigwe.
The beauty of this live video series is that it’s not highly produced and somewhat simple. I find his videos to be powerful and engaging, especially “What It’s For.” The point is you don’t need fancy and expensive video content to promote your music. However, just keep in mind that the most important element of a good music video is the song itself!
Activate Word of Mouth
One of the most powerful ways to promote your music is having others do it for you by leveraging word of mouth. People are more likely to trust a friend’s suggestion than you promoting your music directly to them. The big question is, how do you get people to talk about you and your music?
The short answer is, you need to make really good music that people genuinely want to share with others.
Pitch to Music Blogs / Publications / Playlists
Pitching your new releases to music blogs and playlists can be an effective way to promote your music. Personally, I’m not the biggest advocate for it compared to social media ads, but nothing wrong hitting different angles if it’s free or has minimal costs.
The problem is it’s not the easiest thing to do and it often requires someone, like a publicist, who has previous connections or strong relationships to bloggers, publications or playlisters. Using a publicist to promote your music isn’t the most cost effective route for most musicians because a good publicist is expensive and they are very selective with who they work with.
If you have the budget, you can work with a company that will pitch your song to playlists. A free option you should always consider is to submiting your music to Spotify to be considered for one of their editorial playlists. Amazon Music allows you to pitch your new release for their curated playlists.
There’s no real secret or shortcut to music promotion. Effective tactics and strategies around promoting your music often takes time, effort and money. You just need to really treat your music career as a legitimate business as well as establishing a strong marketing and branding foundation.
With that being said, remember that the most important element in good music promotion is having good songs in the first place to promote. No matter how good your marketing, video and promotional efforts are, it won’t matter unless you music is actually good. What is considered “good” is also subjective, so that’s why you need to promote your music to the “right” people and see how they respond.