One of the best things about the internet is that it’s led to increased connection. Not only do audiences have new ways of finding and following music, but musicians can connect with their audiences in new ways as well. This has caused a shift in the way artists — especially independent ones — promote their music. Instead of vying for the attention of major labels to gain exposure, independent musicians can now market directly to their fans, making themselves heard in a world full of noise.
It’s great that there are so many options, but you may be wondering how to promote your music. More specifically: Where do you start? We already shared tips on how to build your brand, and as a companion to that guide, we created this one to help answer all your burning questions about promoting your music. Hopefully by the end of it, you’ll have everything you need to get out there and market your music to the masses.
So whether you’re reaching people by connecting with other musicians and influencers, by getting playlisted or featured on blogs, or by performing regularly, what’s important is engaging and informing your fans so that they’re interested in what you’re doing.
Without further ado, it’s time to get into details of how to get your music heard. From creation to promotion, this guide consists of the most up-to-date information on how to market your music independently.
Identify your goals
It’s natural to be thinking of the bigger picture and where you want to end up, but to get there, you need to take it one step at a time. Avoid trying to cover too much ground all at once and instead pick a focus and build from there.
Think about your favorite musicians and how they do promotion — they have targeted campaigns that promote things like a music video or single, a new album, an upcoming tour, or a special live streaming appearance. What’s the next exciting thing on your musical horizon? Hone in on that and build up some hype for it. There will always be opportunities to focus on new things.
Promote your music
Once you have a finished product, it’s time to share it with the world! It’s easy to jump the gun here in a rush to get it out there, but it’s important that everything about the release is exactly as you envisioned. If you have a perfectionist streak, now is the time to let it run wild.
Mastering is key
The most important thing is that your single or album sounds amazing. And unless (and even if) you’re making lo-fi bedroom pop, you’re going to want to have your music mastered.
There are a couple of routes you can take, and they depend upon time and budget. If you want something quick and affordable, online mastering is your best bet. This makes use of AI technology, which relies on machine learning: You upload your song, choose a genre preset, play around with mastering options to tweak it just the way you want, and then save the finished product. Think of it as Instagram filters for your sound.
If you have a bit more money to spend and want to be blown away with a professional sound, then studio mastering is the way to go. This involves a real person with years of experience who will take a hands-on approach to mastering your music and working with you to fine-tune until it sounds better than you could have imagined.
How to make an album cover
Equally important is how your release looks. As mentioned before, the aesthetic you decide on will tell potential listeners a lot about who you are. So you want something that lines up with the image of yourself that you’re presenting elsewhere. Are you artsy and abstract? Enigmatic and soulful? Funky and bright?
You’ll also want to do some research about technical requirements, such as what makes a good image. Especially if you’re releasing music in both the physical and digital format, the specifications for versions may vary, so invest some time in finding out what each platform’s requirements are.
And of course, if you already have an idea in mind, the next step is bringing those ideas to life. That’s where Canva comes into play.
You also want to think about when to release. In the past, new releases came out on different days of the week, depending upon the country. Now, the globally agreed-upon release day is Friday, but as an independent artist, you have the freedom to do what suits you best. And it can even play to your advantage to drop that new single on a Tuesday instead of a Friday. This is because fans are always searching out new music, and releasing the same day as everyone else might cause your music to get lost in the shuffle.
How to pick a release day
Just as important as when you release is also the planning behind it. If your music will be on streaming sites, you need to consider lead time to get the music up and distributed. Or, if your newest single has the potential to be the feel-good hit of the summer, plan for a corresponding release, because it’ll land better if it hits all the right vibes. And think about big artists who have music similar to yours. Are they coming out with something anytime soon, and if so, will it hurt or help you to put your music out at the same time?
Another thing to consider is which release strategy you want to pursue. While the historical approach is that of an album release cycle, many fans want new music constantly, which means coming out with singles and EPs over a short period of time and then possibly collecting them all into an album (that maybe features a few new songs too). Since you are limited by how many songs you can pitch for playlists, a drip campaign can play to your advantage by giving you more chances to get playlisted.
Once you’ve selected your release day and have all the details in place, be sure to create a checklist or run through a preexisting release checklist to ensure you have all your ducks in a row.
Lay the groundwork and build up the hype
So, you’ve nailed down your dates and the work you need to do prior to your release. Now, it’s time to begin building hype by being your own publicist.
Spread the word
Start by preparing a press release. If you haven’t already, look up the contact information of people you want to reach out to — this could be people who cover your style of music, or even local outlets that want to feature the area’s rising stars. Send the polished version out, and schedule follow-up emails to gauge their interest. If you can, try to personalize the email as much as possible; a writer will be much more inclined to read a mail that has their name (spelled correctly even!) than something that is addressed to everyone.
Next, send your music to blogs and magazines that review music. Steer clear of the mass blast and make sure you read individual submission guidelines. Every outlet has different rules for sending in music, and you don’t want to be blacklisted from the get-go for sending it to the wrong email address or using the wrong file type.
Build momentum with pre-saves
You can also build momentum by running a pre-save campaign, which is like a save the date for music. This is where you make it easy for listeners to save your music to a playlist or queue so that they’re notified as soon as the music is available. In turn, the more streams you get, the higher your music goes up in the algorithm, which makes it more likely to be added to playlists. One of the best ways to convince fans to do this is by offering incentives in exchange for pre-saving.
You’re probably tired of hearing it, but it’s important to focus on getting your music added to playlists on as many streaming platforms as possible because it drives up your exposure, and in turn, your fanbase and your income!
The ultimate playlists are ones curated by editorial teams at Apple Music, Spotify, and Deezer, but don’t discount independent curators. Often, these people focus on a particular genre, so you don’t want to pitch any and everyone, but rather think about your audience and the music you make and pitch to curators who cover these demographics. Getting playlisted on its own is a big feat, but it can also help you reach more people. That’s because the more you’re added to playlists and streamed, the more likely you’ll be added to an algorithmic playlist.
Submit your track for iMusician's playlists.
Connect with musicians and influencers
Another great way to market yourself is to try the B2B route and talk to other musicians. Seek out Facebook groups, Reddit forums, Twitter hashtags, and more to connect with like-minded music makers. If your music is similar and you get along, it could be a win-win situation where they hype you up and you hype them up. You could even go as far as collaborating on your next release, which means both parties get their music exposed to a wider audience.
In addition to making friends with artists, get to know music influencers. Find out who is creating interesting promotional content on YouTube, Instagram, and elsewhere, and see what you can offer them. Maybe you can be a guest on someone’s podcast and talk about your process, or send audio to reviewers who will talk about your latest single in their regular music roundup.
Make some noise on social media
Now that you have a plan in place, it’s time to start executing it with your social media marketing plan. Now’s when you want to pull out the stops with engaging content. Think less about what you’re releasing and more about the surrounding context. So, some examples of this could be snippets of a song, a behind-the-scenes look at the making of your music video, or a highlight reel of your studio setup.
You may have the capacity and desire to push content on every platform, but think about how realistic that is and what your end goal is. It may be that some platforms are better for certain things, so be strategic and don’t over-exhaust yourself trying to do everything at once. Instead, narrow down your focus based on what you want to accomplish.
Promote your music on Instagram
To get started on Instagram, first things first: choose your name, include a picture that shows who you are and lines up with your visual brand, create a short and snappy bio, and add in a link. Where that link goes depends on where you want to direct traffic to, so an all-in-one page like your Artist Hub is a great choice. But if you’re promoting a new video or you were featured on a playlist, it’s a good idea to build off that promotion and temporarily link, as you can always change your link back when the hype dies down or you have something new to promote.
Next, decide what you want to post and how often. You probably already have a good idea of who your fans are and what they like, so play into that. Maybe they want to see outtakes from a shoot, clips of you practicing, a look at your studio space, or even a sneak peek at your lyric-writing book. Fans love behind-the-scenes posts, so don’t be afraid to show your work in progress. And be sure to utilize relevant and popular hashtags to make your posts more easily discoverable.
If you don’t have interesting photos or inspiration for captions on a particular day, don’t force it. Instead, consider posting a story. This is your chance to share snippets that don’t necessarily translate to a great picture. You can post polls, ask questions, share more about your personal life, or use it as a teaser space to show off short clips of upcoming singles or videos. Or, if you’re feeling brave, you can do an Instagram live where you play music, take requests, answer questions, or just talk about whatever your fans are interested in hearing about.
The final piece of the puzzle is to connect and interact not just with your fans, but with other musicians, influencers, record labels, and venues. This can drive new views to your page. So respond to comments on your Insta, but also leave some love on other peoples’ pages!
How to promote your music on TikTok
TikTok is special because even though it’s not about music exclusively, almost all the content on it is set to music of some sort. And what’s more is the platform makes it super easy for people to use and reuse audio content so that once you start to gain traction, your music can easily go viral.
The best way to use it to your advantage is to choose tracks that have catchy hooks or beats and add them to the TikTok library so that users can discover and share them. You can also easily follow people to build an audience, interact with other peoples’ content, use hashtags to your advantage, and eventually create challenges involving your music.
How to promote your YouTube channel
We all know how video killed the radio star, and in turn, YouTube capitalized on that. Video has always been popular, and especially if you want to reach a younger audience, a professional-looking video will carry you a long way.
YouTube in particular is a valuable tool because it’s a large search engine, and so following best practices for SEO will help you rank high on Google search results.
The most important things to keep in mind are to find your niche, be authentic, engage with your audience, and keep finding ways to give them the content they look to you for.
How to promote your music on YouTube Shorts
Somewhere in between the realm of TikTok and YouTube lies YouTube Shorts. Just like with TikTok, you can share snippets of your music so that it’s discoverable for people to use in videos. This helps you grow the reach of your music and gain new fans, and you can do it without the pressure of having a perfect production. All you need is your smartphone, your music, and some inspiration.
How to promote your music on Facebook
Unlike the social media platforms mentioned before, people don’t discover music quite as organically on Facebook. But that’s OK, because this is the space where your existing fanbase is already spending time, so you’ll want to give them more in-depth access to you and your work. You can share more long-form content here, such as deeper musings or “behind the music” thoughts that don’t work on other platforms. And if your fans engage with you in the comments, it’s your chance to have some authentic relationship building.
But that doesn’t mean you have to limit interactions to people who have liked your page. If you have the time and the budget, you can pay to boost posts or create targeted ad campaigns to reach potential fans in your hometown and beyond.
How to promote your music on ClubHouse
The newest kid on the block, Clubhouse, is an audio chat app, but its use for your marketing can’t be overlooked. That’s because more and more people are interested in authentic connection — especially in the age of COVID — and Clubhouse offers exactly that.
For example, you can visit chat rooms for networking and connecting with others in the industry, join a panel where you talk about your process with other artists, or even host your own room where you invite your fans to talk to you or listen to what you’re working on. And it doesn’t just have to be talk — you can host workshops, jam sessions, release parties, band practice, and more.
How to plan your advertising
You’re probably looking at this list of todos and wondering how much money this will cost. But the good news about being an independent musician is that if you’re willing to put in a lot of the legwork yourself, you can save your budget for spending on things that will make a difference.
Depending on your genre, you may go for the less expensive self-promotion route not only out of necessity but because it’s how your scene operates. Adi Kum, co-founder of Baby Satan Records, explains how her label “We are super DIY so we always invested whatever we could from our own pockets. Sometimes even the income from our band went straight to the label,” she said. “Luckily for us, the lo-fi look really suits the general vibe so it’s half intended and half from circumstances.”
If you have any friends who are talented videographers or photographers, ask them if they can help you with press materials. If you’re really tight on money, consider bartering with them — maybe your photographer friend who spends a couple hours taking pictures of you will be happy with guest list spots and free swag or drink tickets at your next performance.
Other artist friends might want to trade or just do you a favor. For example, an established musician might bring you on as an opening band, or if you have friends who write about music and like yours, perhaps they’ll want to do you a favor by pitching a piece about you to an outlet.
If you’re taking the paid route, digital advertising is a great way to go — by paying for ads on your Facebook and Instagram business pages —because you can choose in advance how much you want to spend on ads and promoted posts and only increase that limit if you’re seeing measurable results. Another option is Google AdWords, which uses a cost-per-click model, which means you’re only charged for the times your ad is clicked on and not how many times it’s shown.
Play it so everyone can hear it
Once your music is out and you’ve started getting shares on social media, it’s time to start playing. If you still haven’t booked a show or you’re unable to take time to go on a tour, consider moving it online. This might mean hosting an online listening party, doing a live stream, or even setting up a virtual tour in which you play “in” different cities.
For example, in light of COVID-19 forcing them to cancel their tour, the band HuDost streamed live performances from different rooms in their house, sharing them on a variety of platforms and mixing things up with a fun spin on playing.
There are a lot of livestream platforms out there, and many of them are on platforms you might already be using, such as Facebook, Instagram, and YouTube. So if you already have a lot of followers, it might make sense to use the platform that reaches the most existing fans.
How to plan a tour
If you’re planning on hitting the road with your act, there are a lot of moving parts to think about, so be prepared to do a lot more work in advance as compared to an online show. Some things to think about include planning dates, finding bands to share the stage with, putting together a street team in the cities you’ll play, drumming up press in local news outlets, planning your setlist(s) and doing some practice run-throughs, and getting some merchandise to sell after the show.
There are also the logistics of how you’ll travel and who will be with you, so you’ll need to think about vehicles, routes, drive times, space for gear, who drives, where you’ll stay, and so much more.
How to promote your music offline
Now that you know all about promoting your music online, don’t forget about the tried and true method that has worked for years: offline promotion. This doesn’t mean you have to stand in a grocery store parking lot trying to sell your mixtape to be successful.
Instead, use those visual assets you created online and translate them to physical items you can distribute. This might mean posters you hang around town or in local cafes, flyers you pass out outside another show, or even stickers you distribute to your friends for them to leave in public places like the record store counter or on poles and fences around town. If you have fans in other cities, they might also be interested in passing out promo materials in exchange for exclusive swag like their own stickers or a signed poster.
And once you’re ready to take things to the next level, we’ve got your merchandise needs covered.
Keep creating compelling content
Once you’ve released that first piece of music and seen some success, it’s not time to rest on your laurels. Instead, keep the momentum going by planning for what’s next. Of course, this means more singles, videos, and albums, but in between the releases, you’ll want to feed your fans and reward them. Examples of this could be sending out emails, interacting with them personally on social media, crowdsourcing assets by introducing fan competitions, planning a meet and greet in cities you tour in, or taking part in regular Facebook and Instagram lives.
And of course, the ultimate goal is to put out new music, so whether you’re releasing multiple EPs in a row, putting out lots of singles, or sticking to the traditional method of a new album every couple of years, make sure you keep creating.
Predictions for 2022
There’s no denying that the past year has been a difficult one for musicians. With COVID-19 keeping everyone at home, artists have not only had live performances canceled, but many have struggled to find a creative spark while living in lockdown and with so much uncertainty in the world.
That’s not to say it’s all been doom and gloom though. For example, while live music has taken a hit, streaming continues to climb. The recordings industry is thriving as well, and with independent musicians making more and more music, distribution platforms are rising to the occasion to meet them. And while many musicians had to cancel shows, and many venues find themselves worried about if they’ll be able to reopen after shuttering their doors for so long, socially distanced outdoor concerts with safety protocols in place have been happening and will likely continue to happen as more people are vaccinated and places begin to open up.
We prefer to see the silver lining in all of this: namely, that this forced break has leveled the playing field in many ways. Instead of having to focus on the hustle, this past year gave indie musicians the unique opportunity to focus on brand building and music promotion. And it’s not too late to get on board.
Furthermore, now is the time to start planning for when we get a hint of normalcy back. Just like the Roaring Twenties saw an economic uptick that spilled over into the arts, it’s not unlikely that the 2020s will, similarly, see people voraciously consuming music — and not just via streaming or buying records. People will also be chomping at the bit to go back to the live concert format, so if you haven’t yet thought about hitting the road, now might be the time to start planning.
All in all, it’s been a rough year for everyone, but it’s also given artists time to rest and recharge and rethink their strategies. And if you’ve spent that time exercising your creativity and honing your art, you’ll be all the more prepared to promote your music both online and in person. We predict that in 2022 and beyond, indie musicians will thrive. You’ve been forced to be more creative than ever with the constraints of the COVID era, and now it’s your time to shine.
Stay in the loop
Keep up to date on all the latest music business news, tips, tricks, and education. Everything you need to grow your music business straight to your inbox.