This post is for producers who are working towards making music as a living. You've probably "released" a song on Soundcloud before only to see it get 100 plays. Clearly artists that are getting hundreds of thousands of plays on a single track are doing something different than you, but what is it? What should you be doing that they're doing?
1. Create Professional Quality Music
Although I’m about to gloss over the fact that you should have a catalog of professional music that you’ve already produced, mixed, and mastered, it’s incredibly important that you don’t rush past this step! If you compare your tracks to others within the genre you make, do they stack up? Have a good honest talk with yourself before you go and invest a whole bunch of time and money into promoting your music. Deep down you’ll know if it’s time to release music, or if it’s time to head back to the drawing board.
2. Build a Promoter Contact List
The first thing you need to do is build a contact list with every blog, YouTube channel, Spotify playlist, and Soundcloud network you can find (that promotes the genre of music you make). You’ll want to make sure your list includes the networks' name, contact email, as well as the name of whoever the person it is you’re submitting music too.
So you sent your song to 3 networks and they all said “no”? Well, I just sent my track to 500 networks and 490 of them said “no”, but wait… that means 10 of them said “yes”! If you aren’t promoting your music harder than everyone else you know, someone is going to simply outwork you. The upside to this is that you can also outwork the next person in line; no skill required.
The majority of people make music because it’s fun, but stop when real work is involved. Take advantage of this and exploit it; the music business is cutthroat and the sharks are the ones that survive. The scale of your marketing campaign matters and the victories are a fraction of what you would expect. Plan big and expect moderate results. Plan bigger and expect moderately bigger results.
3. Submit Music to Blogs, YouTube Channels & Spotify Curators
I’ve seen a lot of people submit music online (myself included) and receive either no response from blogs or receive a message saying something along the lines of “Sorry, we don’t think your song is a good fit for our network.” Sound familiar? The reality is that these blogs receive an absurd number of submissions every day. Your email either gets lost in their inbox, or it really is just not a good fit for their network.
It’s important to send a professional, short, and descriptive email to these bloggers. They don’t want to read an essay about how you were tripping balls at Coachella and had this revelation that made you realize you needed to make the most future bass/dubstep/trap/deep house remix of whatever the hell that new song is by Katy Perry. They want you to do the following in your email:
- Address them by name
- Provide them with the track’s release date
- Tell them what type of track it is
- Tell them what you would like them to do with it
- Provide a private Soundcloud streaming link with free download enabled
- Provide your contact information
Additionally, you should provide the following in the description of your private Soundcloud link:
- Release date
- Private download link for promoters (without a follow gate)
- Public download link (with a follow gate)
- Press release
- Cover art link
- Press photo link
- Social media links
Once you’ve sent your initial email it’s important that you follow up with the blogs that didn’t respond to you a week later. Some of them may have missed your first email, and they’ll appreciate you reaching out to them again! Just let them know that you’re following up on your last email, and provide them with all the information they need for the release (as listed above).
Some blogs charge a submission fee. They guarantee, “someone from our team will listen to your track, and if we like it we’ll promote it.” Avoid these blogs like the plague. These blogs will most likely respond to your music with pretty generic feedback and pocket your cash. Some of them charge $49+ just to submit a song!
SubmitHub seems to be rather popular, so I think it’s worth mentioning it in this post. SubmitHub works on a credit system. You pay for credits which allow you to submit music directly to various different blogs. Some of these blogs have no other way to submit your music and use SubmitHub as their sole submission platform. However, the blog is forced to listen to your song for a certain number of seconds and provide feedback.
The feedback I’ve received from these blogs is pretty useless, as most of the bloggers contradict each other, or provide feedback that doesn’t make any sense. The blogs do seem to find music via SubmitHub which they share on their websites. I think paying for credits could be worth it under one condition; you only target the blogs that share your particular type of music. This doesn’t mean target all of the electronic blogs if you make Dubstep. It means target all of the blogs that specifically promote Dubstep because you’ll be wasting your credits otherwise.
4. Pay for Promotion
How many industries can you think of in which a company creates a product, and then puts it out into the world without putting any money into promoting it? Not very many. People are a lot more willing to promote your music when cash is involved. Not only does a budget set you apart from the hobbyists, it can get you on speaking terms with the tastemakers and industry influencers.
There are many companies that specialize in music promotion, but you need to make sure that the ones you contact are capable of promoting the genre of music you make. Perhaps the company you reach out to has helped an artist like Lights (my favorite Canadian artist) reach millions of fans! Hang on a second, you make Noisecore… she makes Pop music. You’d need to ask the promotion company if they have any case studies available for artists within your genre. Just because a promotion company is capable of promoting one genre of music, doesn’t mean they’re capable of promoting all genres of music. Spend a couple weeks talking to promotion companies, comparing them, and finding one (or a couple) that are relevant, and have a proven track record.
These promotion companies act as a bridge between artists and music outlets. The blogs, YouTube channels, Spotify curators, etc., are on speaking terms with these companies and trust that they’ll provide them with high-quality music. When first starting out, getting the assistance of a company like this can be extremely beneficial if you lack your own industry connections.
5. Setup Follow Gates
Follow gates allow you to trade a like, follow, favorite, repost, comment, etc., in exchange for a free song download, or some other incentive. Most people will be happy to support you by showing you a bit of love online. One thing to keep in mind is that each action you ask a listener to take creates friction. When too much friction builds up, they’ll exit the download page.
Although the websites I’m about to mention allow you to integrate a huge array of different platforms, it’s best to keep your gate down to one required action, and one optional one. Typically this is a follow/repost on Soundcloud, and an optional follow on Spotify. Most people have a Soundcloud account, and the die-hard music lovers are likely going to have a Spotify account. Gaining Spotify followers is what you want because artists are making quite a substantial income from Spotify. Every 100,000 plays on Spotify can generate around $400 in revenue.
The Artist Union is its own music platform. People can follow you and keep up-to-date on your music. You can directly import songs from Soundcloud and create follow gates seamlessly. The Artist Union's features include:
- Collect donations
- Collect email
- Soundcloud follow, favorite, repost, and comment
- Follow collaborators
- Facebook integration
- Spotify integration
- YouTube integration
- Snapchat integration
- Download URL override
- $49 paid submission that can get you featured
Tone Den is great if you’re willing to pay for it. The download gate page looks sharp, clean, and professional. Unfortunately, you can only implement one follow action if you’re using the free version. Tone Den is meant to be used in conjunction with your Facebook and Instagram account to run promotional campaigns. It has more features than The Artist Union in terms of marketing, but would only be worth your while if you aren’t already organizing social media marketing campaigns on your own. Tone Den's features include:
- Collect email and send email campaigns
- Facebook integration
- Facebook Messenger integration
- Twitter integration
- Soundcloud integration
- Spotify integration
- YouTube integration
- Charity integration
- Custom landing page
- Display social links
- $49/month subscription fee (for multiple follow gate actions)
The Husk is interesting because it allows you to make money when someone follows you. This seems impossible, but there’s another side to the coin. The Husk also allows you to add funds to your account which you can choose to invest into Soundcloud, Spotify, and YouTube promotion. If you choose to pay for promotion, listeners will be required to follow you when trying to download someone else’s music. The users of this platform can generate funds using the follow gate, and then spend the funds promoting their profiles as apart of other artists follow gates.
I think the business model here is great, although I’m still skeptical about the quality of followers you build by doing this. If you’re looking to boost your numbers a bit when getting started, this may be a good option for you. All the followers you gain are real people, downloading real music, who could potentially turn into real fans! This platform is still rather new and I think it’s worth investigating for yourself.
6. Build a Mailing List
One thing that gets overlooked by artists a lot is a mailing list. Do you have one? It’s so important because it allows you to communicate directly with your audience, and makes sure all of your content gets delivered to them. Posting exclusively to social media means that a lot of your music, merch, etc., gets lost amongst other noise.
MailChimp is by far the most user-friendly option when it comes to building a mailing list. It has a bunch of templates that allow you to quickly put together newsletters and other promotional content.
ConvertKit is for those of you that want to run some serious email marketing campaigns. It allows you to tag subscribers, push them through different mailing sequences, and automatically update their tags based on actions they take. It really does just completely outperform MailChimp… if you manage to figure out how to use it. Its interface is slightly intimidating at first and you can’t create pretty emails (unless you have a good understanding of coding in HTML and CSS). Having said this, I use ConvertKit to run email campaigns for Black Ghost Audio. If you want to see Convert Kit in action, sign up for the Black Ghost Audio Newsletter.
7. Market on Social Media
Whether you love or hate social media, the reality is that you’ll need to become familiar with Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. These are the 3 major platforms that artists are using to promote themselves and their music. Facebook Ads can be massively successful if you pinpoint your target audience. You can target people by age, location, page likes, etc... the list goes on forever. I could write a whole article about this alone, but just be aware that Facebook Ads are an extremely powerful tool that you should be putting to work.
If you aren’t naturally drawn to social media, and you don’t spend that much time on it, I would recommend you schedule your social media posts. This is a good way to build hype leading up to the release of your music. The following three services can help you schedule posts in advance.
Buffer is extremely simple and easy to use. You select certain times of the day/week that you want to post at, load Buffer up with content, and then let it post to your social media profiles. You can add web pages to your Buffer cue at any time using their handy browser extension.
HootSuite is similar to Buffer, but with a couple different ways of posting content. I would try out both Buffer and Hootsuite to get a feel for the two of them and see which works better for the type of content you post.
Meet Edgar rings in at a killer $49/month, but it allows you to recycle evergreen content, on top of features found in Buffer and Hootsuite. This means your newsfeeds will never go dry; even if you leave your desk for a week.
What Can You Expect from Promoting Your Music?
Truthfully, you can expect only a tiny percentage of your efforts to be fruitful. This doesn't mean that you shouldn't put any work into promotion; quite the opposite actually. Promote your music as hard as you can, get it into the hands of industry tastemakers and give it time. Although, at this point you've put all this work into promoting your music, luck still plays a huge role things. It comes down to whether or not these tastemakers "like" your music. Even if your music is great, they could just simply "not be feeling it". This is just how the industry works. Be resilient, accept it for what it is and move onto the next person. The more opportunities you create for yourself, and the more people you contact, interact with and invite to listen to your music, the more opportunities there will be for your music to get heard and promoted.
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