Getting noticed as an emerging, independent artist is not easy. Thankfully, there are opportunities for you to get exposure to be discovered and potentially grow your fan base. The best part is it’s FREE to apply!
In this blog, I share 5 live performance discovery platforms that basically any musician can apply for a chance to get featured in front of new potential fans.
Before You Apply
Even though these live performance discovery platforms are free to apply, make sure you’re giving yourself the best chance to succeed. You don’t want to waste your time, or anyone else’s, by submitting when you’re clearly not ready.
Here are some things you should do and have ready beforehand:
- Read the directions and requirements carefully to see if you’re eligible.
- Explore and research each of these platforms to make sure your music is a good fit.
- Have experience performing live. After all, these discovery platforms are based on performance, whether in person or on video.
- Released music on major streaming platforms. At the very least an EP and/or a handful of singles. If you need some help, here’s my free guide and checklist for releasing singles.
- Establish a web presence like a website with all of the essentials and active social media profiles.
- Offer a way to collect emails to build your email list.
It’s really important you have this online marketing foundation, just in case you do get accepted for one of these platforms. Getting discovered by new fans won’t do much for you if you don’t have the follow up ready so they can continue the fan journey. You want to have your marketing and branding systems in place to develop and strengthen that fan relationship once they discover you. On the other hand, without these elements, you may not get selected in the first place.
If you don’t have much money to work with, here’s are tips to market with little to no budget.
NPR’s Tiny Desk Concerts
Origin Location: Washington D.C.
About: This contest needs no real introduction. You may have seen your favorite artists perform on Tiny Desk Concerts at some point. For those not familiar, it is a video series of live concerts that started in 2008 and hosted by NPR Music and All Songs Considered host Bob Boilen.
Although the Tiny Desk series is often reserved for more established and popular artists, there’s a “tiny” chance for you to get on there.
Starting in 2015, NPR Music hosts an annual contest from February to March where judges select one winner to play their own Tiny Desk concert set. In addition, they get to headline NPR Music’s Tiny Desk Contest On The Road tour and get featured on NPR’s All Things Considered radio program. Over 6,000 videos are submitted each year, but there can only be one winner.
BUT… just because you don’t win the contest, doesn’t mean you still can’t get exposure from it.
In 2018, I wrote about an artist in my city who blew up from his Tiny Desk Contest submission video. Even though Hobo Johnson didn’t technically win the contest that year, he still ended up performing on his own Tiny Desk Concert session because of how memorable his submission was. As of this writing, his “Peach Scone” submission has received over 22 million views on YouTube alone.
My Comments: I would encourage anyone who plans to submit a video to watch the submission videos of the past winners, which you can find on their contest page. This is so you can get a feel for the diversity of the artists and range of styles that get selected. You don’t have to be a super confident and polished rock star to win. Nor do you have to conform to a certain image or body type.
In terms of the video submissions itself, one common element I see in these videos is that it’s often a one-shot, one-camera video. I feel like anything with multiple camera angles and high production value may be too polished for the judges. I think that one of the key elements that the judges look for in these submissions is raw authenticity and high production video can contradict this. Just my personal observation.
Second, you don’t need fancy or expensive video equipment to win. As you’ll see, some of the submissions were shot with a smartphone by themselves. If you plan to shoot your own video, you can use this guide I created to help you get the best quality video from a smart phone.
COLORS x STUDIOS
Origin Location: Berlin, Germany
About: COLORS is a unique aesthetic music platform showcasing exceptional talent from all around the globe, focused on promoting the most distinctive new artists and original sounds. In the context of an increasingly fragmented and saturated scene we seek to provide clarity and calm, offering a minimalistic stage to shine a spotlight on the artists and give them the opportunity to present their music without distraction.
Genres: Any, but they seem to lean a bit more towards R&B, Soul, Hip Hop and singer/songwriter types.
My Comments: It’s likely you may have seen a COLORS x STUDIOS video at some point with their signature single color background and microphone hanging from the top. Although their focus is to showcase newer, emerging artists, there have been plenty of established artists who have performed like Billie Eillish, Doja Cat, FKA Figs, J.I.D. and Quavo & Takeoff.
Although their main studio is in Berlin, they have set up temporary studios in different countries to focus on curating local talent for their editorials and videos. More recently as of this writing, they were in Vietnam and published videos for Vietnam-based artists Suboi and Low G. So even if you aren’t based in Berlin or not able to travel there, it’s still worth submitting from other countries in case they want to focus on seeking artists in your country.
Origin Location: Chicago, IL
About: Audiotree showcases talented musicians and bands from around the world. Originally created to give young bands a platform to be seen and heard, the Audiotree Music channel has become a cornerstone in the music world. The concept is to capture intimate performances from diverse artists in a professional studio at no cost to them.
Origin Location: United Kingdom, but available worldwide
About: Sofar Sounds is a global community of music lovers creating space where music matters. Through curating intimate performances in unique locations, Sofar shows create lasting connections between artists and fans.
Sofar brings artists and guests together in intimate settings without distractions, pretense or crowds. Sofar shows transform everyday spaces — from living rooms and rooftops to boutiques and museums — into captivating venues for secret, live shows, creating inclusive experiences that bring people closer together.
Founded in London in 2009, Sofar invites guests to discover new artists, places, and people, whether at home or abroad, in over 400 cities around the world.
Audience Reach: These are numbers for their main global channels, but each city or chapter of Sofar Sounds will have their own social media accounts to cover their local area. For example, the ones in my area are Sofar San Francisco and Sofar Sacramento.
My Comments: I’ve had a chance to attend a few of these shows many years ago because my friends performed. You can check out their videos here:
Origin Location: Bonita Springs, FL
About:Sugarshack music channel is an entertainment and discovery platform for live music lovers. Built upon the foundation of a multimedia company, the Sugarshack Music Channel uniquely connects people with artists through audible, visual, and real life experiences.
The Sugarshack Sessions was started as a digital music series that featured unique and intimate acoustic sessions filmed/recorded in a backyard in Bonita Springs, FL in 2014. The idea: to do something we loved with people we cared about to create something positive for others.
The Sugarshack Sessions is now one of several programs featured on the Sugarshack Music Channel. The channel has grown from a backyard hobby into a full-time business that includes an online community of more than 350K+ subscribers and 400M lifetime views who tune in to watch our acoustic sessions, live music videos, documentaries, and podcasts that feature local, emerging, and national bands.
Genres: There’s definitely a certain musical style and vibe that they cater to as opposed to genres. Everything is acoustic and leans more into the island and reggae vibes. However, you will see some rock, country and hip hop artists as well but it’s gotta have that feel good vibe and sound good acoustically.
My Comments: They have multiple different content series, but their main discovery series is called Sugarshack Sessions. Plus, I love how they will include “For Fans of…” in their social posts to help viewers get a sense of the type of artist someone is.
There are a number of ways to get exposure as a musician but nothing beats seeing a performance in person. Although it’s not exactly scalable, I’m a big believer this is the most impactful way to gain fans.
Unfortunately, these opportunities don’t come easy for newer, emerging artists. This is why you want to take advantage of these live performance discovery platforms as they can potentially bring in more gigs in the future.
If you’re still new to performance, I would recommend avoiding these live performance mistakes.