Releasing music today goes much further beyond the traditional format of putting out an album on a major label and getting radio play. As an independent musician, you get to decide when you release, how often, on what platforms, and more. You also get to craft a narrative of where you came from and who you are.
What’s more is that your listeners have more control, too. Rather than being passively fed music by the majors, consumers can seek out new music and curate their own playlists with ease. But that means you need to activate your entrepreneurial prowess to make sure your music is discoverable.
While on one hand, this is freeing, on the other hand, DIY (do it yourself) is also DIA (do it all). Because: You decide to market yourself however you want, but it also means you have to do the hard work. And part of that hard work of learning to promote your music is first learning how to build your own brand.
While labels or artists with big budgets have agencies developing and driving their PR, you’re on your own. Luckily, platforms like iMusician know how to help with the digital marketing part so that you can focus the bulk of your creative efforts on making music.
You may think of this as a downside, but the truth is that it’s good news for you! Why? You don’t need to rely on radio play for reach. Instead, you can get your music to more ears, in more places, and on more platforms. And you can do it in a way that doesn’t compromise on your values, because people can tell when you’re authentic. That’s because effective music marketing happens when you do it in a way that stays consistent with your identity and maintains your artistic integrity.
To aid you in getting started, we wrote this guide on how to find your niche, craft your persona, and build your brand. So what are you waiting for? Time to dive right in!
Identify your audience and find your niche
What is your genre?
Before you do anything else, figure out exactly what kind of music you’re making and whom you’re trying to reach.
Your first step might just be defining what kind of music you make. While it’s cool to defy genres and do your own thing, labeling your music will help people find and identify it. There are so many genres and subgenres out there, so start big and go smaller.
Begin by figuring out the overarching kind of music you make, and once you’ve zeroed in on that, narrow it down to the most specific kind of music. Or maybe you’re a cross-genre musician, in which case, own it! At the same time, you don’t want to try and cover all ground possible, so think about what makes your music unique, or consider coming up with your own hybrid label.
Exercise: Create a Word Cloud
If you’re stuck trying to classify your music, consider creating a word cloud, with your main genre(s) in the middle, big and bold, and all the interconnected styles that you dabble in floating around it. This may seem like a simple mental exercise, but it will later come in handy as a reference tool to help you figure out who your fans are.
And that’s why, once you’ve identified your sound, it’s time to move on to your targeted audience. That means researching the music they listen to and finding out how they discover it.
Who is your target audience?
Not sure about your target audience? Start seeking out music that’s similar to what you make. Subscribe to newsletters, bookmark review websites, and join forums where people talk about it. If there are magazines or websites that share new music, find out what they’re looking for, how they get music, and if you might fit their demographics.
At the same time, be realistic and stay relevant. You can’t cover every base and you shouldn’t want to. Someone living in South America won’t be interested in upcoming shows on a tour of Japan, just like promo for your new hip-hop album won’t make sense in a magazine about punk rock.
If you’ve been releasing music for a while and already know who your fans are and where to find them, then it’s time to dig deeper. Learn about analytics tools available to you and use them. They can tell you everything from the demographics and location of your listeners; to the number of followers, favorites, streams, and saves; to web and social media mentions. Use this information to better understand the people listening to your music, and meet them where they are by engaging with them in the places they hang out.
The kind of data you can uncover varies from platform to platform, and it can tell you things like which search terms and channels helped your fans discover your music. If you already have music up on Spotify and Deezer, you can access their analytics tools to find out everything you need to know. Getting to know your data means getting to know your fans.
Once you’ve determined who your fans are and where they spend their time, focus your efforts on meaningful connection. There’s no point in spending all your energy trying to build up a fanbase when you already have an existing one that’s eager for more from you. So pay attention to your loyal audience and engage with them in a meaningful way, and you might just be surprised at how it spreads from there. Like the saying goes, “If you build it, they will come.”
Craft your narrative and share your story
Just like stories have a hook and new businesses have a pitch, figure out what makes you unique and go with it. It could be anything — like how you got into music, or what obstacles you’ve overcome to get where you are.
Try to focus on something that brings up more questions and makes people curious about you. And if you’ve already written and released some music, think about how it can fit into your narrative. After all, you’re already telling stories with your songs.
How to write a bio
If you don’t already have a bio, it’s a great place to start. Not only can it be the centerpiece of your EPK or PR pitches; it can also help you see you and your story in a new way. But keep in mind that people don’t want facts and figures as much as they want a story they can relate to or feel inspired by. Think about the who, what, when, where, what, and how of things.
Some things you might want to include are where you grew up or where you now live, what brought you to music, what your music sounds like, any career highlights, and what’s planned next. Try to be as specific as possible, and don’t be afraid to be a bit quirky.
For example, was Prince’s “Sign O’ the Times” the soundtrack to your childhood? Did you see Bruce Springsteen live and know you had to be like The Boss? Or maybe you grew up watching MTV and VH1 or singing in the church choir and it sparked your love of music. Whatever it was, try narrowing down that artist or musical memory that marks the point when you knew music was your destiny, and tell that story.
French lo-fi hip-hop artist DLJ is someone who has used his unique biography to share how he got where he is today. Although he grew up playing classical piano, his music studies at university introduced him to a whole new world of sound. As he tells it, “I experimented with several styles of production, hip hop, synthwave, house. I really got hooked on hip hop and boom bap and I discovered little by little the world of ‘lo-fi’, all these tracks sampled from vinyl, passed through samplers like the SP404 or produced with MPC 2000XL…” This journey across genres and the melding of different sounds is part of what makes DLJ’s story extra special.
How to write an artist statement
Next, think about going beyond your biography and write up an artist statement. This is less about you, the music maker, and more about the art you’re creating. Is there a certain aesthetic you’re hoping to capture, or a mood you want people to associate with your music? Do you have a goal of what you want to accomplish with your music?
Maybe you write philosophical songs with lyrics that you want to inspire people to think more deeply about society. Or maybe your purpose is to help people take a break from the seriousness of life and just have fun. It could also be that people have misconceptions about you and you want to set the record straight. Your artist statement is your mission statement, and it’s your chance to let the world know what you’re all about.
Meanwhile, if you have a single you’re pitching or trying to get attention for, think beyond the song itself and focus on its story. This could range from talking about the songwriting process itself — what inspired your song, how you pieced it together, who you collaborated with, and how you recorded it — to what the song is about on a lyrical or emotional level. Does it tell a story? Does it capture a moment in time? What mood are you hoping to evoke or message are you wanting to spread to your listeners? The way you pitch a song should tell playlist editors why they should pay attention to you.
How to build your visual identity
Once you’ve established who you are, it’s time to start aligning it with your visual identity. It’s true that you shouldn’t judge a book — or an album, for that matter — by its cover. But the truth is that you need something visual to connect with potential listeners because they will judge you by your artwork.
In this way, branding is important because it sends a signal to listeners about who you are, and they will make connections or come to conclusions about you based on your visual presentation — often even before that first listen.
How to make a good design
So think about how you want to present yourself to the world. It’s not only about determining what makes a good design, but also what kind of design appeals to your potential market. Is there a kind of artistic style that’s representative of the music you make? Is there a color palette or font style that’s associated with your genre or that somehow communicates something you want to say about yourself? Does it make sense to have pictures of you or your band, or should the art be abstract? Think about if you want to make the art yourself, hire a photographer or graphic designer, or some combination of the two.
Consider diving into creative networks like Behance or Dribbble, where designers showcase their work. Follow Instagram pages that tap into the aesthetic you’re going for. This is especially helpful if you don’t quite know the direction you want to take; if you invest time in pouring through pages and surrounding yourself with art, eventually you’ll come across something that speaks to you. And of course, if you feel like doing some research on the ground, go to your local record store and flip through the vinyl or check out the posters for upcoming shows to see if something catches your eye or inspires you.
Often, genres — and subgenres especially — have a unique look. For example, the lo-fi house trend loves to use vintage images and videos that look like they were taken from a family collection. More experimental electronic music uses abstract imagery. And of course, the classic pop look is photographic and larger than life. Listeners of a genre who are familiar with that genre’s “design” are attracted to it, and identifying with it is a way for them to indicate their allegiance. Of course, you can also always come up with your own visual style — just make sure it’s consistent and unified.
Once you’ve narrowed down your design language, think about how you can apply it across the board so that everything visually associated with your name has a throughline. Your cover art is important, but there’s merchandise (posters, stickers, clothing) to think about, and you also can’t disregard how you’ll present yourself on social media. Tools like Canva and SparkAdobe can help you create multiple visual assets, save templates, and easily use and reuse content.
How to create an EPK
So you’ve got your music, you’ve got your bio, you’ve got your artist statement, and you’ve got your visuals. Next step: electronic press kit. Your EPK is like your artist resume with everything people need to know about you and your music. Just like a regular CV has all the information potential employers need to know to hire you, your EPK tells journalists, promotors, labels, music supervisors, and anyone else who’s interested who you are, what you’ve accomplished, and what you can offer them.
Your EPK should include your bio, your artist statement, photos, videos, album art, your latest single or a few songs from your album, select press, social media links, and contact information. If you’re a more established artist, you might also include a calendar of upcoming shows or your tech rider.
And of course, the best way to share your EPK is on your website.
Build your website
Building a professional website is an important part of content marketing. Think of a band website as your home on the web, or a headquarters of sorts. Having all your information in one easily accessible place is one of the best things you can do in your marketing efforts. And it’s the best place to have your electronic press kit so that it’s easily discoverable.
Create your own Release Page
If a website seems like too much time, money, or effort, you can always look for a simplified solution. For example, at iMusician, we created Release Pages, a promotional tool that has everything fans, influencers, and the press need to discover and learn about you and your release. Anyone who visits has access to everything they need to know about you and where to find your music — all in one place. And of course, it’s designed to look good on every device.
You can also update and customize it with ease. Each time you release, simply update what you want (bio, photos, streaming links, upcoming shows, and more). The process is straightforward and seamless, and you won’t have to spend time figuring out things like CSS and HTML to have a clean presentation. The focus is on your and your music, and it always stays fresh.
Get to know website builders
Of course, if you have experience building websites and you want to spend a bit more time customizing the look and feel and contents of a website, you can explore website builders. Sites like Wix, Squarespace, Weebly, and WordPress offer various tiers (free or paid) depending on the number of pages, the URL, the amount of space you’re using, and more. And they offer a variety of templates you can use to easily customize the look and feel of your site.
Things you’ll want to consider include the ability to easily link to or embed music, social media feeds, tour dates, a shop, contact information, and whatever else your fans want to access without much effort or clicking around.
Start a mailing list
Another underrated and often overlooked part of a website is the mailing list. While social media offers direct access to your fans, not everyone sees everything, and you’re often vying for the attention of everyone else on a specific platform. But with a mailing list, your fans have intentionally signed up to hear from you, and there’s no way they’ll miss that email in their inbox. And despite the ubiquity social media has in our lives, email is still the best way to reach your fans directly
To start an email list, get out there and advertise it! Ask your friends and family if you can add them. Post on other platforms with a reminder that you have a mailing list, along with a link for easy signup. If you’re not certain people will want to give you their email address, give them a reason, such as access to an unreleased video or song if they sign up.
- These are your fans. They love your music. Don’t feel shy or embarrassed to email them.
- That said, nobody likes spam. Be sure to only share content your fans want to receive.
- People love regularity. With that in mind, think about a monthly email instead of just sending emails every time you want your fans to do something.
- Obviously you’ll want to share when you have an upcoming release or show, but if you’re in the middle of a creative or recording cycle, share your process! What are you listening to? Are there pics from your studio sessions? Share it!
Optimize your assets
Finally, now that you have a presence on multiple platforms, reuse your assets across them all. Not only does this make things a bit easier for you, but it also creates consistency across your brand. If fans see the same images and graphics used across all your platforms, they’ll come to associate you with the way you present yourself. Plus, when people are consistent in how they present themselves, it helps build trust.
Ready, set, go!
Determining your brand identity and building it is an essential first step of being successful as an artist. That’s because people are drawn to both style and substance — and so while it’s all about the music, that doesn’t mean you can’t (and shouldn’t) have a strong aesthetic associated with your sound. Being consistent in how you show yourself to the world communicates to your fanbase that you’re authentic.
If you’ve followed all the steps above, it’s safe to say you’re well on your way to building your brand. But the next step is brand recognition. That means when people see your name, they’ll know what you’re all about. To get there, you need to shift the focus to the heart of it all: the music. If you’ve got everything set up and ready to go, you’re ready for our How To Promote Your Music guide.
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