13 Marketing Tactics For Artist Scale

Pouring new listeners on an artist toot sweet

Amber Horsburgh
Apr 2, 2019 · 6 min read

I write about music strategy via my semi-regular newsletter, Deep Cuts, Subscribe.

This piece is pt.II of Playing to Strangers — why your most profitable fans are those that haven’t heard of you in which I debunk the myth of fan loyalty in building an artist’s brand arguing that scale comes from amassing many light, casual listeners. You can listen to me break this down in depth with Cherie Hu on her Water + Music podcast.

Here are 13 ways to market to light listeners, engineering demand for an artist’s work without diluting the integrity of their core product and creative vision.


1. Collaborations

Making music with artists whose audiences overlap, thus gaining exposure to a captive audience of similar minded, potential fans.

Check out Spotify’s Today’s Top Hits where 20 of its 63 tracks are collaborations (as of April 2nd, 2019). The top artists/labels use this tried and true tactic to get a second wind out of a single, surge streams by getting placement on another artist’s profile and crossover to adjacent genres, e.g.: rap/hip-hop to pop, dance to pop.

2. Brand partnerships

Working with companies with bigger platforms, media budgets, and audience reach who share similar values to the artist.

Moby released his new album exclusively through the Calm meditation app. This worked because it was a concept album — a collection of songs Moby made because he couldn’t find songs to sleep to. He tapped into a wider cultural moment by launching on World Sleep Day, thus getting coverage in cultural, tech and music circles.

3. Support tours

Opening for another artist with audience overlap gets free media impressions through tour advertising the headliner, as well as on show night a captive audience to play to.

4. Festival appearances

Festivals are the clearest example of light listeners — thousands of music fans going to experience the day, some seek out their favorite artists but many are there for the vibe. Festivals give artists larger audiences than many would pull alone, promotion through festival advertising and other artists promoting the event.

5. Radio play

People sitting in their cars or at home listening to a radio station with broad enough taste to enjoy catch-all rhythm, pop or indie etc. music but not pointed enough they’re putting on a specific artist.

6. Sync

Solid sync can propel a track to gold with the right placement in film, TV or advertising. Think Robyn’s ‘Dancing on My Own’ perfectly placed at the season finale of Girls while Hannah and Marnie dance like crazy people after finding out Hannah’s boyfriend is gay. So much emotion.

Empire of the Sun’s 8-year-old ‘Walking on a Dream’ hits #1 on Billboard Dance Chart after placement in Honda commercial airs.

7. Mass-comms

Advertising that targets the masses rather than hyper-targeted and retargeted ads to the already aware or converted. E.g.: Radio ads, billboards, subway advertising, street posters, street chalking

8. TV performances

Playing shows to TV viewership in the millions.

Karen-O and Danger Mouse not only crushed their Colbert TV performance but used the media slot to shoot a delightful music video directed by Spike Jonez. The earned media in press and social the day after extended the TV opportunity. Other TV includes Late night TV like Jimmy Kimmel, James Cordon, and Awards performances i.e.: Grammys, MTV VMAs.

9. Creative release strategies

Releasing music in unexpected ways through unconventional platforms get people going “mmm, that was cool”, sharing it and generating trial from new fans.

Tierra Whack’s Whack World — an album of 15 x 1-min songs released on Instagram (and later to DSPs) got everyone’s attention including the NYTimes. Released as 1 min tracks because people’s attention spans are now zilch and Instagram caps videos at 60 sec. The album later went to DSPs.

10. Playlists

If there were a pinnacle of light listeners, playlists would be it. Millions of people listeners to music to catch a vibe, trigger a mood, or help with whatever they’re doing be it set a scene for a coffee shop, soundtrack their dinner party or get them through a workout. The user is not intentionally playing any single artist.

11. Algorithms

Building upon playlist marketing is having platform algorithms do your marketing. Algorithmic-generated Spotify playlists like ‘Release Radar’ can dramatically increase 1st-week streams and YouTube can send up to 30% more traffic to videos by way of recommendations.

Working the algorithms by direct marketing campaigns for follows, subscribers and streams/watches helps.

12. Influencers

Working with influential personalities online with adjacent interest verticals like gaming, make-up tutorials, aesthetic videos, and workouts have been the launching pad for emerging genres like bedroom pop and artists Clairo, KhaiDreams, Beabadoobee, and Conan Gray.

A recent Guardian article points to the generation gap in music caused by teens discovering new artists through YouTube influencer channels, giving insight for how marketers should speak to these audiences.

Underground bedroom pop, an alternate musical universe that feels like a manifestation of a generation gap: big with teenagers — particularly girls — and invisible to anyone over the age of 20, because it exists largely in an online world that tweens and teens find easy to navigate, but anyone older finds baffling or risible. It doesn’t need Radio 1 or what is left of the music press to become popular because it exists in a self-contained community of YouTube videos and influencers; some bedroom pop artists found their music spread thanks to its use in the background of makeup tutorials or “aesthetic” videos, the latter a phenomenon whereby vloggers post atmospheric videos of, well, aesthetically pleasing things.

13. Retail marketing

Placement on Apple, Amazon, Spotify, and retail stores like Urban Outfitters and Target attract light listeners who are seeking out competitive artists upon release. I.e.: if I go to iTunes to get the new Billie Eilish record but see Logic, I could be prompted to get both or try other titles.

Amber Horsburgh

Written by

Music marketing consultant. Downtown Records & Big Spaceship alumni. Writes about music, strategy and feels at Deep Cuts http://bit.ly/2yphFYx

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