What Working for a Rock “Star” Taught Me: How to Promote Your Music Online

Three summers ago I had the pleasure experience of working for a rock & roll singer.

The man in question had an amazing talent for singing classical rock, but lacked the knowledge to translate his career to the virtual world (for sensible reasons, he shall remain unnamed).

Back then, I was an intern at a consultancy firm that had literally been hired to make him famous — quite an ambitious goal considering that A, we had a very small budget and B, we had absolutely no idea of how the music industry works.

As a social media enthusiast I had the goal of handling his online channels: this meant website, social media and anything in between. Even though our project was short, a little over two months, we learned a great deal about online music promotion and now I’m here to share those tidbits with you…


Part I:

The Drawing Board


Before any big project (and what project could be more important than your career), you need to sit down and make a plan — otherwise your efforts could be worthless.

Research

Make a quick list of artists and bands that are similar to your music style or that you would like to emulate. What are they doing? Where are they (virtually speaking)? How are they communicating? Checking out the competition will give you an idea of how the music world works online and what you can do. It will also let you know what’s been done before so you don’t repeat anyone else’s mistakes.

Plan your strategy

In order to execute a successful online promotion plan, you need to set up your goals first. You may think that you already know what they are, to become a celebrity! Yes, that’s quite all right, but do you want to become famous just for the sake of being famous? or do you want people to get to know your music? Do you want to launch your first EP or do you have a single that you want people to listen to? Or do you just want to fill concert venues? Whatever your ultimate goal is will define your future movements. For example, a person who just wants to become popular may only decide to do viral videos and may not concentrate composing as much.

Create a persona

Lady Gaga, Bruce Springsteen, the Foo Fighters. What do they all have in common? They’ve created a persona to sell themselves. Much like a brand, a music group or a solo artist must market themselves to know how and when to distribute their music, and most importantly, to whom. A persona doesn’t have to be fake, in fact it shouldn’t be, it’s more like a heightened version of someone rather than anything else. You can go as far as to create your own logo, slogan and even corporate colours. It might seem like an overkill, but it will help you in the future.

Come up with a username

This step is crucial. In order for people to find you more easily, create a username for yourself that’s both short and easy to remember. Now, the most important part is that it should be the same name for every social media network and website. Use tools like checkusernames.com to make sure the username you’re after is available on all platforms. 

For a band it’s easy since it will be just the group’s name, but for a singer it might be more complicated specially if they use their birth name.

Gather graphic material

When we started working with the “Rock Star” we were handed a healthy amount (around 50) of professional pictures of the Elvis Presley enthusiast. These included black and white, colour, full body, close-up portrait, with background, no background, playing live, in a studio and anything in between. These proved to be invaluable when it was time to create profiles on social media or fill the website with content. Reasons why I recommend having professional pictures taken:

  • It saves a lot of time!
  • It gives a cohesive visual style throughout different platforms making a brand more recognisable and therefore stronger
  • People will take an artist more seriously if they look professional
  • When done correctly, there will be enough content for months — maybe even years
  • Thanks to retouching and lighting, people often look better on professional photoshoots

A social media profile picture doesn’t need to be changed very often, in fact it is considered detrimental to do so as it will only make it more difficult to recognise someone. Things to keep in mind:

  • Invest on a good photographer
  • Use the same image throughout different platforms (or at least a very similar one)
  • Don’t change profile images too often

Professional photographers are expensive, but it must be seen as an investment.

Come up with a decent bio

Hold on there, we know what this sounds like. We’re not encouraging you to hire a freelance writer and come up with a fantastical tale of how you ended up becoming a musician. There’s no need to lie or to come up with convoluted narratives a-la Taylor Swift to make yourself noticed.

TaylorGif4

What we do  recommend is to have a nicely written biography at your disposal so you can send to any blogger or online magazine whenever they ask. Sort of like when you’re looking for a job, it is always a good idea to have your CV updated to send at short notice.

* Note: It might be a good idea to have short version and a long version of your biography. Short version could be anywhere between 50 and 100 words while the long one between 400 and 500 words. Any longer than that and you might risk boring people.


Part II:

Setting up


How to promote your music online: Live performance 2

Create a website

By now, you already have a clear idea of who your persona is and what your goals are, so the next logical step is to create your website.

1 – Buy a domain

If these sort of things go over your head, worry not, websites like WordPress and Squarespace make it really easy to set it up. No programming skills necessary!* Whatever you do, don’t forget to use the username you’ve chosen for yourself.

2 – Choose a template

Pre-designed website templates have a bit of a bad rep among programmers and designers, but in my experience they’re life savers. There are even some of them that have been specially designed for musicians with built in tools to sell tickets and the likes. In the long run, if you’re really interested in pursuing a career in the music industry then eventually you’ll hire a web designer to build you a website from the ground up with all of the amenities you want, but for the meantime a pre-design one is more than enough.

3 – Make sure it has a blog!

We’ll talk about this later. Just make sure it does.

* We don’t get paid to promote these websites. Although if WordPress or Squarespace would like to sponsor us, they can send us an email at harald(@)printsome.com *wink*.

Dive into social media

Create accounts on every single social media platform, and as soon as one starts to become famous, jump on it before anyone steals your account name. This might seem a bit paranoid, but worry not, you won’t be using all of those profiles. What you’re doing is “saving” your name on a particular network so if it becomes the new “must-have” then you won’t have to worry about someone else stealing your name.

What social media platforms you use is completely up to you, but personally I recommend:

Facebook

It’s true, that it is not what it used to be and fan pages (unless you pay) don’t reach all of your followers, but it is still one of the most important online tools. Facebook has got more built in tools and apps than any other social media, take advantage of that.

Frequency: Update it at least twice a week and once a day, tops.

Twitter

Even though celebrities use it to get into petty discussions with one another. Taylor, we’re looking at you.  

TaylorGif3

Twitter shines the most when it is used as a micro-blog. After all, that’s what it was designed for. Tweets have a very short life (20 minutes) so you don’t need to worry about spamming your followers. Use it to keep them informed on what you’re doing rather than sharing content.

Frequency: In my experience, Twitter should be updated at least once a day, and as for a maximum, I don’t think there’s any. As long as you’re not tweeting every five seconds, you shouldn’t worry.

Instagram

Out of all the social media platforms, Instagram is probably the one that reaches followers the most. Images on the photo platform have a longer life span than tweets and reach more people than Facebook posts. 

Frequency: Since images on the platform tend to reach followers pretty efficiently, I’d suggest updating it at least once a week and once a day tops.

YouTube

Producing good quality videos for YouTube can be time-consuming and expensive, but it is worth it. YouTube is not so much about being seen, but about being found. Must don’t know this, but the video platform is the second most powerful search engine in the world, behind only Google. Unlike content on other social media platforms, videos on YouTube may be found since the moment it is uploaded and then again years later. 

Frequency: YouTube channels should be updated at least once a month and once everyday tops.

Other popular social media platforms that you might want to consider include Snapchat and Vine.

Approach platforms for musicians

Along your regular social media, nowadays there are many platforms that have been exclusively designed for bands and singers. Some of the ones I’ve worked with are:

Bandcamp

Geared towards independent artists, the platform allows each band or solo artist to create their very own micro-site for them to upload their music. The website allows for users to stream the songs for free and for a price to download.

Soundcloud

While the streaming site has had problems with turning a profit lately, it is still one of the most popular of its kind. With a 175 million user base, it is one of the best places to build a fan base.

Reverbenation

What makes this platform different from the rest is the built-in tools that allow you to synchronise other profiles like Facebook and YouTube, on top of a very strong community that’s always willing to support and help each other. Expect to spend a lot of time networking with other artists and browsing their profiles. It’s got a free version and a paid version with more options.

Nextbigsound

This one is not a social network, but an analytics tool of online music. Use to it analyse the popularity of musicians through different platforms and networks. Learn what listeners are looking for and what they don’t want to hear.

Stageit

Also known as the Skype for music artists, Stageit allows you to set up a live performance whenever or wherever, all you’ll need is a computer with working Internet. Followers can also tune in anywhere and you can even choose to charge or ask for a tip. 

Managing Help

With all of these social media platforms and profiles, it wouldn’t be strange to get overwhelmed. This is where help comes in.

Create a calendar

A calendar will allow you to save time by planning in advance and also prevents the dreaded “What should I post today?” moment. A social media calendar doesn’t have to be fancy, you could use a regular Google Calendar or do something like this.

Set up a social media manager

Tools like Buffer and Hootsuite are managing platforms that allow you to control several social media profiles at once. Combined with your calendar, you’ll become a social media pro in no time.


Part III:

Start Promoting


How to promote your music online: Live performance 3

Now that we have a website and have set all of our tools up, it is time to start using them! 

Social Media

Be consistent

Have you ever tuned in to watch your favourite TV series only to find out that’s been canceled for that day to show a football game instead? That’s how followers feels when their favourite artist has been posting for a while and then suddenly stops. The golden rule of updating is that it is more important to be consistent than to be frequent. If you can’t keep up with daily updates then pick once a week or once every two months! Pick whatever works for you and stick to it.

Engage

Its first name is Social for a reason. People get turned off by salesmen and artists that are only interested in self-promotion, look to engage with people for a warmer and more genuine reaction.

Pay attention

Sometimes we miss messages or comments that have been made. These can be networking opportunities or a chance to win a fan. Be on the lookout for them!

Stay updated on events and news

One of the biggest faux pas you can commit on social media is to post “self-promoting” or “cheerful” content when a tragedy like a terrorist attack has occurred. You’d be surprised by how often this happens. Stay updated on the latest news to avoid this kind of amateurish mistakes and to give you subjects* on what to talk about.

* I encourage you to see your content calendar as guidelines rather than set in stone. If something major has happened in the world that you need to talk about it, then modify the calendar to make space for the new stories.

Social media is for creating a community — not selling!

Keep this one in mind when approaching other users online. Strike a conversation not an elevator pitch. If you don’t care to talk to other people then maybe you shouldn’t be on social media.

Blogs

Even though the blog is no longer the king of content marketing it used to be, it is still a powerful tool that can do wonders for a musician’s career when approached correctly.

Write a blog

Don’t groan. Writing a blog doesn’t have to be a rigorous task. The great thing about a blog is that it is very customisable. It doesn’t necessarily mean lengthy posts or insightful reviews, posts can be short 300 words updates on your latest album or a place for you to share your latest videos or images. As with social media, pick a schedule and stick to it. Don’t promise to update once a week if it’s not doable — sometimes once a month is more than enough.

Approach bloggers

As you may already know, there are countless music bloggers out there. More often than not, they have a contact information on their website with an email address you can write to. For example, you can ask them to review your demo. Sometimes bloggers won’t charge you for their services, but they may ask you for something in return (free tickets to a performance, or something else). 

Content Ideas

Some content ideas for your blog could be:

  • Singing tips
  • Guitar (or another instrument) playing tips
  • Go over your live performance ritual
  • Talk about that moment when you realised you wanted to do music for a living
  • Write about the inspiration behind a particular song
  • Review the latest album of a famous artist
  • Create a post about your first experience in a professional photoshoot

Don’t forget about your website

With so many social media networks, platforms and what not, it is easy to forget about ones website. Ideally, your website would be your hub, what all of the other outlets will be connecting to, the final stage where people will get to and buy your music or a ticket to one of your performances.

A website must be updated constantly

The website is the business card of the online world, if it’s not updated it will send the wrong impression. Make it a habit of updating it every time there’s something new to communicate.

Sell merchandise

A website is a perfect place to sell merchandise. If your selected template does not support an online store, you can always link one to places like Shopify.

Stay in touch

One of the most important tactics when promoting your music online is to keep in touch with the people you meet. Little does is it worth to introduce yourself to someone if you won’t contact them again later. Here are a couple of ideas to stay in touch with your new friends:

Get into email marketing 

Get those emails! Independent artists usually don’t appreciate the power of email marketing — and they shouldn’t have to. They’re not marketers, after all. That’s why I’m here to tell you that it’s a great tool to keep your followers updated on your latest actions. Forget about the spammy messages you get from Amazon or that department store that forced you to give them your email address when you bought your mum’s mother day gift — Email marketing that’s well done only provides valuable information when it’s necessary. Personally, I recommend Mailchimp for several reasons: one, it is simple to use, two, it creates good looking newsletters, three, it is free* until you reach 2000 contacts and four, it offers easy-to-implement tools to gather contact information from your website’s visitors.

* Be warned that once you go over 2000 emails, the price starts to stack up.

Engage on forums

While not as popular as they once were, forums are still the place where hardcore fans meet to discuss their favourite subjects. Even though they’re a good place to meet potential future fans, forums must be approached carefully since they do not appreciate ulterior motives (and for good reasons).

Approach other artists

Collaboration with other up-and-coming artists is a valid strategy for mainly two reasons: One, you expose yourselves to each others followers and two, the creative possibilities are huge. There are many ways in which two artists can collaborate with each other. Here are some ideas:

  • Upload a video to YouTube where you chat about — anything you want
  • Guest post on each other’s blogs
  • Have a discussion on Twitter
  • Tag each other on Facebook
  • Create a Tumblr where you both upload content that inspire you

Upload your music to Spotify and iTunes

Aside from Soundcloud and Bandcamp you may also consider uploading your music to Spotify and iTunes to expose yourself to millions of potential listeners. These type of platforms have their fair share of controversy, specially when it regards to how much they pay artists, but it is undeniable that they can be a great tool to approach potential new listeners. Right, Taylor?

TaylorGif

For example, both Apple Music and Spotify offer recommendation services where they suggest artists based on your listening history. This is great news for new artists since there’s always the possibility that they may compare you to someone a lot more famous who sound similar. To upload music to Spotify check out the official Spotify page and iTunes’.


Part IV:

Tips and tricks


How to promote your music online: Live performance 4

Hire someone

As you may have noticed, keeping up with your online brand can be quite a time consuming task so hiring someone to do that job for you may not be such a crazy idea. We’re not telling you to outsource your networks to a professional agency (although, at some point you might have to consider it) but a person that works for a few hours a week on promoting your music online can lift a huge weight off your shoulders.   

In my case, I spent my mornings dealing with community managers from record labels in Nashville while “the singer” was busy rehearsing.

Pay for ads

Paying to promote your content on social media can be the difference between gaining hundreds of fans every week and remaining in obscurity. Most social media networks allow you to pay for promoted content and they usually have a pay-per-click option which means you only pay when someone clicks on your post. This allows you to be in control of your budget.

Create a press kit

Once upon a time, press kits used to be sent to magazines and newspapers via mail. Nowadays the Internet has changed all of that allowing us to add more content like audiovisuals. A press kit will allow both casual listeners and music professionals to find the most important things they need to know about you. A good press kit should include:

  • Your biography
  • Images
  • Video(s)
  • Music samples
  • Links to social media profiles
  • Contact information
  • Notable achievements
  • Clippings

And remember to always leave it at a place that’s easy to find on your website for people to download.

Give your music away for free

This one is a bit controversial. You might think, why should I work so hard if in the end I’m going to give away my product for free? And you’re right! But there’s no denying that when music is shared for free it’s got the potential to go viral. Back in 2006, Taylor Swift’s (her, again) first single “Tim McGraw” was downloaded like crazy from torrent sites because people thought it was an actual song by the country singer the tune was named after. If it was a strategy to get her sound out there we’ll never know, but it certainly worked for the “Shake it off” singer. The lesson here is to have technology and trends work for you and not the other way around.

TaylorGIf2

Don’t spam

Whatever you do — don’t spam. Nobody likes a spammer. When we first start to promote our content it is very tempting to spam. We want numbers fast so we normally think that by spamming we will get there sooner, but it is in fact the opposite. Once you earn the reputation, it is very hard to get rid of it — so be weary.

Use hashtags — sparingly

Hashtags are a great tool when used correctly. If you choose the right one, it’ll expose you to a large group of potential new followers  through a hot topic. The rules of hashtag etiquette are simple enough:

  • Less is more — in my personal experience when you use more than three, you seem desperate
  • Don’t use a hashtag if you don’t know what it means or where it comes from (you’d be surprised)
  • If you create one, show it to different people to make sure it doesn’t read something else
  • Keep them short and sweet
  • Stay on topic, don’t just use a hashtag because it’s trending and then talk about something else

Part V:

Final Thoughts


How to promote your music online: Live performance 5

Be patient!

There’s a vinyl on one of our office’s wall that reads “There’s no elevator to success; You have to take one step at a time.” Some pop singers may seem to become overnight sensations, but there’s usually a lot of work behind and years of rejection that we don’t see. If you believe in your craft and work hard, I’m pretty sure you’ll make it. 

As for the singer, after those couple of months I never heard from him again. Maybe he didn’t reach Elvis Presley levels of fame, but at least I hope he can still make a living our of what he liked doing most.

Do you have any experience promoting music online? If so, please let us know. We are always looking to improve our content so leave us a comment below or reach us via any of our social media outlets if you have anything to say. In the meantime, keep reading the Printsome Blog for more awesome content.

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Printsome is an online t-shirt printing UK agency providing printed T-shirts for events big and small, all across the UK from Hull to York and everywhere in between. 


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