What are the basics of music marketing?
There is so much more for musicians to know today than in the past, in large part due to the growth of the internet and mobile devices.
And while the online proponent of music marketing isn’t the only part, it certainly can’t be ignored.
Therefore, I will be looking at various aspects of digital marketing. What you learn here could just as easily apply to your offline efforts though.
So, let’s get into it. Here are 10 music marketing basics you should be aware of.
1. You Need a Website
It’s something I’ve been teaching musicians for a long time, and even in this post-social media world, it’s hard to dispute the importance of building your website.
First, while it’s fine to build a following on a local level, ultimately, you must figure out how to build your global audience too. A website will help you do that.
Second, social media is too ephemeral to be dependable. Platforms come and go (Myspace, Vine, etc.), and you never know when the terms and conditions or algorithms could change either.
Third, if you have your own domain name, you can set up a unique email address associated with that domain name (e.g. firstname.lastname@example.org). A custom email address appears more professional than a generic one (e.g. mark @ gmail . com).
Fourth, you can customize your website’s layout, monetize it how you choose to and hand select the content you want users to see.
Finally, the press, the media, reviewers and other industry people will take you more seriously when you have a website.
2. Social Media is Not a Sales Engine
It’s true that you can take advantage of social media to market your content, your music, and other assets.
But this doesn’t mean that it’s a great place to sell stuff and market your wares.
Social media is primarily for conversation and community. You can use it to build new connections, meet people and share interesting things with them.
This is more of a mindset shift than anything else. If you go to social networks hoping to get a lot of money, you will probably be disappointed. If you go there to have a conversation with friends, your expectations will be met and even exceeded.
I’m not saying that you can’t promote product, and I’m certainly not saying that you can’t send people to your website from social platforms (you should!).
But just keep your motives in check. If your purpose is to engage and connect, you’ll have a hard time not meeting your goals. If you use it to try to meet a sales quota, you’re probably going to be disappointed.
3. Music is Not a Consumable but a Commodity
There is no arguing that music is a product. It can be bought and sold.
But unlike toothpaste or shampoo it doesn’t deplete over time – it can’t be purchased, used up and replaced. It’s not a consumable.
So, repeat business is usually a matter of coming out with more product, because once someone has your album, they have your album.
This is the tricky part about selling music – the value that you’re selling, in most people’s eyes, is just entertainment.
We both know music is beautiful. It unites people, it encourages and lifts up, it makes people dance and all that wonderful stuff.
But to the average person, music is just music. If you don’t make new music for years, no big deal – they can find their fix elsewhere (and they will!).
So the value proposition is the hard part. If you can figure that out, you can sell more music.
Just keep in mind that if music is all you make, you’re not going to have repeat buyers. You must create more.
4. You Must Build Your Email List
Building an email list is getting harder than it used to be, but you’ve still got to do it.
Until we (the collective we) figure out a way to get more eyeballs on things (social media isn’t the answer), email still has the best return on investment.
Yes, it’s even better than social media – by a huge margin!
Though you might get casual fans following you on your blog or social networks, you’re going to get more serious people opting in for your email list.
Getting right to the point, what does that mean for you? More sales!
I know, I know, we’re good people and we don’t use dirty words like sales, right?
But isn’t that the whole reason you’re here? Isn’t that what music marketing is all about?
5. Live Performance is Still the Best Way to Make Fans
The best way for you to get people excited about what you’re doing is live performance.
Even skeptical, cynical people sometimes get pumped up after seeing and hearing you play!
So you must these opportunities wisely – it isn’t just about playing tons of shows.
When you’re just getting started, sure, you want to get out as much as you can, because playing live is just going to make you so much better as an artist (really).
But there comes a time when it’s stupid to repeat that process, because you’ll tire out your local fans, and you’ll probably catch yourself playing in less-than-ideal venues.
And even though you can showcase bits and pieces of your live performance through video (YouTube or even LiveStream), it’s still best to get in front of people when you can.
Touring is necessary. Creating a lasting fan base is about getting people to experience your music.
So, if you’re looking to make more fans, get out there.
6. You Must Create Your Own Opportunities
The days of waiting around for someone to “discover” you are over and have been over for a while.
I’m not saying that you won’t get a few people reaching out to you here and there, but ultimately it’s unwise to sit around waiting for the call.
You must meet people, book shows, record albums, and execute unique marketing campaigns (don’t be boring!).
If no one’s going to discover you, what do you do? You discover yourself!
You affirm your own value. You begin to see your work as being worthy of attention (if it’s any good, it is!).
When reaching out to others, you must create win-win opportunities. And, you must give others the raw materials to work with. Don’t expect reviewers or festival organizers to do all your work for you!
Follow-up and follow-through are crucial to your success.
7. A Long List of Credentials Doesn’t Make a Bio
You must have a bio. It’s a non-negotiable.
But most musicians miss the point of the bio altogether.
Your bio shouldn’t start with you, it should start with them. And, by them, I mean your fans (or anyone else reading the bio).
Your focus is the reader, who in many cases doesn’t know anything about you.
You’re short-changing yourself if all you do is list your credentials, because it doesn’t say anything about you; it just shows that you’ve done stuff.
So, what you need to do instead is:
- Tell a story. People love stories and they connect with them.
- Explain who you are, where you’re from, what you’re doing and where you’re going as an artist or a band.
- Make sure your bio has been spell-checked.
I’m also a believer in including photos of the band members, along with their names and their roles within the band.
After the bio, it’s wise to include your contact information so your fans, the press and venue owners can get in touch with you easily.
8. You Must Provide Options
You’re almost certainly going to lose sales unless you provide your potential buyers with options.
What does that mean?
It means that your music must be available in a variety of places (online and off) in different formats.
I know that this is a sticking point for some musicians, because they resist the thought of making their music findable through major distributors like iTunes, Amazon, and so forth.
They want to use sites like Bandcamp, which allegedly offer more control.
But I don’t see this as a battle between good and evil (Amazon isn’t all evil and Bandcamp isn’t all benevolent).
I see proper music distribution as a necessity. If you want to sell music worldwide, you must make it accessible in as many places as possible.
Why? Because not all streaming platforms and stores can be accessed across the globe.
If you just want to make fans in North America, then don’t worry about it, but if you want to create fans across the world, you need to go a step beyond.
Creating options can also extend into things like album bundles, promotional packages or VIP fan packs. This is up to you, and should probably be informed by conversations (or surveys) with your fans.
What do they want? How do they want to consume your music? Get to the bottom of this and provide the right options.
9. Distributed Music Needs to be Promoted
For better or for worse – in most cases – the music you distribute won’t sell all by itself.
Unfortunately, musicians tend to miss this when they release their music for the first time.
They distribute their music, and it doesn’t sell, so they assume there’s something wrong with the distribution system.
I don’t think there’s anything wrong with the distribution channels that are out there. If you don’t believe me, check out this Google search I did for my first solo album, Shipwrecked… My Sentiments.
As you can see, you can get the album on iTunes, CD Baby, Google Play, Amazon, CD Universe and many others.
Does this mean that I sell hundreds and thousands of copies every single day? I wish! I do see a trickle of sales here and there, which is nice.
You must make people aware of your release – that’s called marketing!
Ideally, you should have a clearly defined marketing plan, and you should be ready to act on it before you ever put any music out into the world.
Pre-release is the best time to tease the release – that opportunity won’t come around again, so take advantage!
10. Marketing & Sales is Your Top Priority
Music is a commodity, not a consumable.
There are plenty of ways to market your music, but none of them guarantee success.
Does this mean that you should give up on marketing altogether? Quite to the contrary!
Whether you do it yourself or get someone else to do it for you, you need to make it your first priority.
After all, you can’t get people to your show without marketing. You can’t get people to buy your music without marketing.
Most things you want in your music career lie on the other side of marketing.
You must study and remain open-minded to the possibilities.
Again, if you aren’t strong in marketing, or you just can’t see yourself getting into it, you must find someone that can help you.
Either way, remember that it’s something that must happen.
You can’t have a profitable music career without marketing.
The good news is that there are more marketing channels available to you than ever before.
These are just some of the things all musicians – especially beginning musicians – should be aware of.
This isn’t to say that there aren’t other topics you should know about, but if you understand everything on this list, you’ll be miles ahead of most.
Is there anything else musicians should be aware of?
What important lessons have you learned from your music career?
Let us know in the comments section below!