An Effective Marketing System for Independent Artists
Simple contact lists still work, here’s a system you can use
Some creatives prefer to work on commission or to publish their work through established, institutional channels. Musicians, for example, may choose to submit their latest demo to a record label. Writers may submit their latest manuscript to publishers, and so on. However, it is not always easy to get the attention of a “middle man”.
After failing at finding a record label interested in my music, I decided to go completely independent in 2015. I have self-released three albums since then and I am currently working at my fourth one. Most importantly, what seemed like a forced decision in the beginning (since nobody showed any sign of interest in me) became a value and a method.
I had to reshape my mindset and realize I had to strengthen my entrepreneurial and marketing skills to have a chance, but, with this approach, I managed to navigate the music industry, saving some energies, time, and resources for new projects. I made quite a few mistakes, of course, but I succeeded in publishing my songs, without the help of labels nor sponsors.
In this article, I am going to share the process I use to promote my new releases. This process doesn’t work just for musicians like me, but also writers, filmmakers, and any other artist who has a new product to showcase.
1. First Things First
To establish yourself as an independent artist, you will need to work on your brand and your social media presence on an ongoing basis.
While the rest of the system is useful when you have a new product to promote, the first set of tasks outlined in this paragraph should be part of your daily routine.
There are tons of articles out there reminding you how important it is to build a brand. I am not great at it, because I don’t think artists should necessarily stick to a specific identity. However, having a way to present yourself, something the audience will instantly recognize in you, surely helps.
It may be something about the genre or the style of your work. It may be something about your personality. It may be something about your values or the messages you want to deliver through your art. It could even be the choice of simply being yourself and come across as authentically as you can.
On top of a brand, you will also need a digital hub, your website, where you can present this brand from. You will need to keep it updated, maybe through a blog or by putting on fresh videos every week.
You will also need a strong social media presence, a result you will achieve by building and sticking to an effective content calendar.
Last but not least, start building a mailing list as soon as possible. By owning the contacts of your listeners/readers/followers, you will be able to let them know you have a new product they might enjoy.
2. Make a List
Let’s get to the juice now. What is the first thing to do when you’re done with your beautiful new project?
You will need as much information as you can about any blog, magazine, radio station, venue, or festival that could promote your latest effort or host you.
First of all, prepare one spreadsheet for each category. For example, I have a spreadsheet with all the information about radio stations, another one about blogs, one for venues, and so on.
After preparing the spreadsheets, start your research.
Firstly, Google some straight-forward queries like “literary magazines” or “music blogs”. Include the genre of your book/music or the word “independent” to filter the results more efficiently. Alternatively, you can find precious resources by looking at your social media contacts. Is there any fellow artist posting a review about their latest work? Take note of that. If you know them personally, ask them how they landed on that blog, who they got in contact with, and so on.
At this point, you can start filling up your spreadsheet. For the sake of this example, I’ll assume you are a musician researching radio stations to send your music to.
Under the first column, you’ll write the name of the radio station. That’s pretty straight-forward, right? For the second column, ask yourself: “who is in charge of receiving and evaluating new material?”
Radio stations often have an artistic director who picks the songs to put on rotation. Literary magazines often have writers and editors who focus on a specific genre or topic. In other words, there might be a specific person you should present your work to. Getting in touch with the right person might be the reason behind your success.
Store websites and email addresses (the one belonging to the main contact should ideally be included) under the third and the fourth column.
Look for some submission guidelines, usually listed on the “Contact” or the “About” web page, and take note of them. These are extremely important because you will want to avoid irritating the receiver! Some people prefer to receive new music or books digitally, while others want to see the physical product.
Quite often, blogs, radios, and festivals list a submission form right on their website. This way, they can handle the various submissions they receive and ask you what they need to know. Whatever the guidelines are, follow them if you want to be taken seriously.
Back to our spreadsheet, under the “Notes” column I would add any relevant information, any point of contact between me and them, or how I discovered them in the first place. These tiny pieces of information are extremely valuable as they allow you to connect with the person who is reading you. This is the most important investment to build your network.
To keep track of your efforts, list the date of your first contact under the seventh column, the date of their reply (if it occurs) under the following one, and lastly the date of your first follow-up if there is no answer.
This system requires quite a lot of hard work and maintenance, but it pays off in the long run. For each new book or album, you can get back to your old list and simply make the necessary updates, without having to start from scratch. You can also remove the contacts who are not interested or highlight the ones who actively became part of your network.
3. Get in Touch
At this point, you may wonder: “what am I going to say to these people?”
You will need to send them a complete press kit, which will cover who you are as an artist and what your work is all about.
Whether you’re a writer, a musician, a filmmaker presenting a movie, you will need a one-sheet that will cover:
- a short description of your work (blurb)
- any artwork related to it
- its release date
- a tracklist (for albums)
- any previous press quote you can add
- a short biography
- links to access your work
While the one-sheet traditionally accompanied a physical product, in the digital world you can include links to your book, album, or movie right after the blurb.
Links should be clear and easy to access. People in our industries are busy and they won’t waste their time with you if they don’t understand how to get to your material in a few seconds.
Include a cover letter, ideally a personal one (now you can see why it is so important to list as much information as possible in your spreadsheet!). This is not always possible, as some blogs, radio stations, festivals, or venues do not share information about their staff. When it is impossible, just write a general, polite letter in which you highlight why you want to work with them. Always think of ways to connect to the person who is going to read you, even if you don’t know who he or she may be.
For this reason, I would avoid using services like Mailchimp, writing individual emails instead. However, mailing list services can be useful if you can group your contacts under specific variables, keeping in mind what could connect you to your reader.
For example, you could create a group called “Radio stations recommended by fellow artist XYZ” or “Festivals I have personally attended”, and so on.
The best way to promote your work is by personally presenting it to potential readers, viewers, and listeners. That’s why it is very important to organize launch parties, readings, presentation events.
To do that, you will need to get in touch with venues who could host you. Writers should get in touch with libraries and bookshops. Musicians should get in touch with music venues. Painters should get in touch with galleries. And so on.
However, most of the time you succeed at this by thinking outside the box. For example, I have performed in libraries, art galleries, and bookshops. I know writers who presented their books in museums. Painters could do some live painting during concerts. You can get super creative about this!
If you can’t find venues interested in your work, there are two other solutions: busking and live streaming events.
Busking is not for everyone, as it requires quite a lot of courage, but it is a viable solution for mostly any art form. If you’re a writer and think writers can’t write on the street, have a look at Luke Winter’s website.
Live streaming is probably less scary and open to anyone, as all you need to get started is just a smartphone and a Facebook account.
Both solutions will give visibility to your work, expanding your audience and helping you succeed.
It is more important than ever to consider your promotional efforts as an integrated system.
If you think about every little step as a connection toward the next one, then you have the right mindset to succeed.
To sum up, here’s a little list of takeaways:
- build your brand and social media presence on an ongoing basis
- start building your mailing list as soon as possible
- build an efficient database of useful contacts (blogs, magazines, radio stations, influencers in your field, venues, festivals,…)
- prepare your press kit and send it out with a polite cover letter
- try to build a connection with the person who will receive your material
- use live performances as a marketing tool.
Do you have a similar system for promoting your work? What do you think of this one? Feel free to share your experience in the comments!