How To Promote Your Music On A Shoestring Budget (2021 Update)
For any artist or band starting out, just getting your music and brand noticed is a difficult task indeed. I’m sure most of us have experienced the difficulty of gigging in front of stony-faced punters, balking at having to listen to some act they’ve never heard of before. Or maybe you’ve been tweeting out a link to your amazing new tune or music video and the response is a symphony of crickets.
So how do we make this easier? Especially as we’re way past the era where artists and bands can rely on word-of-mouth and gig reputation alone to promote themselves. Here are a few great ways of generating a buzz and creating an audience without breaking the bank!
Free for all
It’s easy to see why some artists would be resistant to the idea of releasing songs or albums for free; after all, it seems counter-intuitive. Yet there is a reason why in the hip-hop / R&B genres, the mixtape (which is essentially just a free album) is seen as a promotional rite of passage, and not just a source of comedy memes.
Current household names like Drake, Kendrick Lamar, Frank Ocean, The Weeknd, J Cole, Nicki Minaj, Chance the Rapper, Logic, etc, all built their reputations and a ride-or-die fanbase off the strength of one or more free projects which — and this is key — had high production values and well-crafted songs and therefore received critical acclaim.
Today’s listeners are less likely to part with hard-earned money for someone they don’t know; whose story they have no connection with and whose musical quality they can’t guarantee. At the same time, they will never get over this hurdle if they can’t hear enough of your music to build this connection of trust. So simply put, a free project presents no risk to a listener, except the time it takes to download and listen to your project. If they feel their valuable time has been rewarded with great music, yours will be a name they will remember when it’s time to pay for music or even merch.
There are various ways to distribute your music freely, but if you are not going to get hard cash, then you should at least get something in exchange. You could ask for an email address, postcode, or a follow/post on social media in exchange for your free single or album. This means you can immediately build your fan base and use the data as a promotional tool. For example, if a large number of the postcodes are in one particular area, then you know that gigging in that area is a valuable strategy. It will also serve as a great means of notifying fans about concerts because you can send out a promo email to everyone on your list.
At this stage of your career, think of social media more as striking up conversation at a bar or a watercooler rather than posting an advert or a diary entry. Rather than just throwing out your links at people and getting no response, try interacting with likeminded fans or artists on existing posts or tweets about something you’re passionate about.
As well as the traditional platforms like Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, Instagram, etc, make the most of sites like LoudUp.com where you can network with other acts and spread genuine positivity and encouragement. You never know, it might be reciprocated.
Give other artists constructive feedback on their latest song or video when they ask for it, without agenda or malice. Perhaps share their music with your listeners if you like it. Who knows, they may respond in kind in the future. Anything is possible; you could end up remixing each other’s music, collaborating, gigging together and developing a whole new army of fans who might never have discovered your music without the site.
Remember, potential fans will judge you by association, so don’t be so focused on competing with similar bands that you forget the power of building such bridges.
It goes without saying that bloggers and playlist curators are the radio DJs of the internet age of music. With FM radio playlist being as homogenized and tightly programmed to squeeze out as much ad revenue as humanly possible, they really don’t have a reason to take risks on new artists who are still trying to establish a fanbase. From a listener’s point of view, if we can’t trust radio anymore, who better to curate new and exciting music for us than blog sites started by fans for fans?
Take some time to research and approach blog sites with an interest in your genre — that’s where your fans will be, so go to where they are. Some niche blogs actually have a worldwide audience and are paid close attention to by industry insiders and producers.
The best way to approach them is to send an introductory email. Rather than overload them with information, just give a short but confident outline of what you are about with a link to the song you are most confident about (only send one, remember their inbox is likely to be flooded with submissions so respect their time), and then include a link to a YouTube video and your artist/band website so they can find out more if you have piqued their interest.
While radio is not the be-all-and-end-all we once thought it was, there is still some place for radio as an indie artist. Local radio stations are not very likely to play your music, but if you can link your music to a local news story, playing at a charity fundraiser for instance, your music may get airplay or a mention as part of the news coverage of the event.
Commercial radio is especially hard to break, but there are still some avenues available for getting your name out there. For example, the BBC have their Introducing website which curates new music for their audiences and feeds into new music promotion on their local radio network and stages at major UK music festivals.
You can get your songs played to millions of Internet Radio Listeners with Radio Airplay, a promotion platform that allows you to get your music placed within sites like Jango.com.
You can target your music at people already listening to the same genre or similar artists. The thinking being that such an audience would be extremely receptive if something new suddenly came on that had a similar vibe to what they were currently listening to.
They offer 10 free plays every week, after which you can pay for more if you wish to. They also provide analytics that allows you to see what works and what doesn’t and amend your target settings to match.
You can get 100 free plays when you sign up using this link.
Covering a song by an artist you love can be tough. Most likely, you’re a fan of the original artist and you really want to do their song justice. We’ve all seen X-Factor / American Idol / YouTube covers that take a classic pop song and turn it into a dumpster fire, and no-one wants to be the one responsible for that! However, do it well and you’re sure to make new fans out of others who feel the same way you do about that song.
Many music fans search for covers of songs they are familiar with because a new interpretation often adds a greater emotional depth or unique nuance of performance to the song. This is why simply re-singing the song rarely achieves this. Instead, listen to and analyse all aspects of the song and think of something new you can bring to it. Tempo (within reason), arrangement, harmony, groove and vocal interpretation should all be up for grabs. However, your version must honour the emotional intent behind the lyrics and original performance. Some artists have even ended up winning the approval of the original artist, because they were moved by someone else’s interpretation of what they were going through when they wrote or performed the song.
Fiverr bills itself as “the world’s largest marketplace for digital services”, essentially it’s a site where people offer said services for rates as low as $5. As an artist/band on a budget, you can get a lot done just by hiring people on Fiverr.
You can find low cost promotional deals where the potential contractor will send your music to hundreds of college radio stations. Others can shop your music to influential blogs, while others can do something as simple as designing you a logo or business cards that can prove valuable in marketing yourself, or making you a lyric video. Browse the services currently available here.
These are just some quick ideas to get you started and we’ve barely even scratched the surface of what is possible.
We know it’s difficult, and sometimes disheartening to even know where to start in finding and reaching your audience, so we hope these ideas inspire you. Not just to try these for yourself, but to think outside the traditional and come up with new and exciting ways to promote yourself or your band.
If you do discover some brave new frontier that works for you, feel free to share it on our forum. As we mentioned earlier, collaboration is key, so let’s give each other a leg up and potentially create a wave of exciting independent music getting the audience and recognition it deserves.