Thoughts on Internet Marketing for Musicians / Bands
Many of my online friends are professional, working musicians, so I find myself reviewing their online marketing from time to time — not to judge, but more to see what they’re doing, what sites they’re using, and so forth. I have a good mix of friends in this area, too — ranging from those who do almost nothing marketing-wise to those with ubiquitous profiles and music for sale, from buskers to solo artists to full working bands.
Regardless of status or stature, administration is a great equalizer of all businesses. It doesn’t matter if you’re an insurance agent or a rock star; either way, if you want exposure, you have to put in the time for marketing — that or hire it out. At the end of the day, every musician or band is going to do whatever they feel is best for them, or perhaps (more realistically) whatever they have the time and/or budget to do. Or maybe the label handles it.
In any case, it seems like a primer on what could be done is in order. So, if you’re one of my friends in this business, or if you just happened across this piece, take it in that manner — thoughts from an Internet marketing professional on what’s possible and recommended.
🥁Build Out Social Media Profiles and Get Active
To begin, let’s look at some popular places where bands and musicians often have profiles. Usually, these profiles are used to promote, network, and (hopefully) link-out to places where tickets and/or recordings can be purchased. I’ll try to order these from most important (or relevant) to least.
It’s a bit beyond the intention of this introductory article to provide instruction on how to best use these profiles, but in general I’d say the more active you are, the better. For example, Facebook should be used to post events, to post pics, to thank attendees, and to actively engage with fans as much as possible. Same for the others listed below.
So, let’s list the major ones. Keep in mind that, this isn’t a “pick one or two” list. This whole listing is a “pick as many as you can practically maintain” kind of list.
- Facebook. This would be the must-have profile for anyone serious about marketing. You may be surprised at how many bands or solo musicians consider their Facebook page to be their primary online presence. I’ve seen countless bands with no formal web site, but with well-developed, active Facebook pages. It’s essential. (And, please, make it an actual Facebook page; don’t use a personal profile.)
- Twitter. Quite often, people are either Facebook or Twitter types. But, if you’re serious about band / musician marketing, you’ll probably want both. Basically, you have to meet your listeners where they are, and if they’re not on Facebook, then they’re probably on Twitter …
- … or they’re on Instagram. Similarly, I’d recommend a profile here, especially for working bands that play out frequently, as this would be an ideal medium for performance photographs.
- Youtube. These days, this is also essential. Yet, only about half (actually, less than half) of the bands I’m seeing these days have dedicated Youtube channels. Again, I realize this is all a giant time-suck viewed by many as soul-crushingly administrative, but nonetheless Youtube provides an outstanding marketing opportunity. Not only is Youtube actually the #2 search engine (yes, people use it to search for information, not just to watch videos), but it can easily be leveraged to link out to other resources such as your web site and/or iTunes, etc. People can literally listen to something and then purchase that track or album. So, it’s a key internet marketing component. (More about video marketing, below.)
- Tumblr. This is kind of the weirder step-cousin of the social media space. Some bands prefer to keep a tumblr instead of (or in addition to) a blog or other presence. Not as popular as the above-mentioned outlets, yet still massively popular.
- Soundcloud. Most artists use this to simply post music that can be played online. But, they also offer monetization options. Personally, I’m not a huge fan, as the content never seems to embed well on Facebook, for example, and I’ve not seen many successful monetization efforts using this. Still, some bands have presences here.
- PureVolume. A site to host MP3s for exposure, catering to unsigned and independents.
- SonicBids. A site that helps bands with bookings, press kits, and so forth.
- BandsInTown. I’ve seen a lot of bands using this mainly to announce tours and promote events. But, it has some other tools as well.
- LastFM. Mostly a listening site, but has some band marketing opportunities by “claiming” your name and posting online.
- Myspace. I actually thought myspace was dead, but it’s still there. Years back, this was *the* site for stuff like this. Today, I imagine it’s nothing to waste time with. Yet, there it is, still lingering…
🎹 Get Your Music Onto Sites Where Online Music Sales Happen
- iTunes, Amazon, Spotify, Google Play, Deezer, etc. Bands can sell directly through sites like these with individual accounts there. But, quite often, outside services are used to get bands onto a selection of these sites. (See iMusician, CDbaby, ReverbNation, Tunecore, etc. below.)
- Bandcamp. This one is pretty popular. It allows you to sell music directly to fans.
- Your label (if you have one). As far as this one goes, it would depend on the label’s strategy for its web site. At a minimum, the label should work with artists to point out to any and all places where an artist’s music can be purchased. Other labels may also sell music directly (as CDs or digital downloads).
- Your web site (if you have one). Same principle here. Solo artists may elect to sell MP3s or albums (or physical CDs) directly on their sites, or they could use their sites to link out to online stores such as those in the first bullet. I tend to recommend the latter, as it’s so much easier to link out to a sales outlet than to create a home-brewed infrastructure. Plus, all of the time you’d spend creating and maintaining a shop could be spent on marketing.
- Others… Of course, there are many other places to sell tracks and albums online. I’ve seen links to Barnes & Noble, for example. But, the above ones seem to be the leading marketplaces. In most cases, if you use a site like many of the ones listed below, that’s how you’re going to wind up on some of the more obscure sales platforms.
🎵 Leverage Web Sites that Handle Online Music Sales Setup For You
- Reverbnation — a popular full-service site that lets you build a web site, sell music at all of the major outlets (iTunes, etc.), sell music via direct download, and more;
- CDbaby — tools to help musicians sell and stream music;
- TuneCore — tools to help musicians sell music online at the major outlets, promotion tools integrated with social media sites, and other tools such as help with licensing and royalties;
- iMusician — similar tools for selling online via major outlets, additional tools such as assistance with Youtube monetization;
- Others… Many others exist here, as well, and new ones are popping up all the time. I welcome comments and suggestions for other resources.
Don’t forget: With online sales becoming more and more the norm, one opportunity for bands or artists who have older / out-of-print albums would be to get those albums digitized and onto these digital platforms. Even if all you have is vinyl, it’s pretty simple to either have it converted to high-quality MP3s or do it yourself. That, plus decent scans of your cover art and liner notes, and you’ve got a product to sell online.
It surprises me at how many artists have out-of-print catalogs still, if only because digital sales is such a great avenue for passive income. (Of course, I do understand quality concerns and so forth; sometimes if all you have is something with considerable hiss or warping, it may not always be feasible to revive older work.)
📤 Make Sure to Build Out Your Email List
Another important consideration is email list building. Even if you’re truly active on many of the above-listed social media platforms, there’s still a good chance that your fans will not see your posts about upcoming shows and/or releases. So, it’s a good idea to have a mailing list so that you can email your announcements to them directly.
Being a musician or a band, you probably already have what it takes to put together a spectacular promotion as an incentive to get people to sign up. For example, offer a free exclusive track download (or anything else you like) as an incentive. You’ll be surprised at how many sign up just to get that! Check out MailChimp, aWeber, and Constant Contact for solution providers — and then be sure to blast your list from time to time to keep in touch and announce gigs, tours, new recordings, new merch, web site updates, videos, and more.
👕 Handle Your Merch Sales with Ease
Some bands try to add this onto their existing web sites, but I generally do not recommend that. For artists with merchandise — including physical CDs, sheet music, posters, t-shirts, etc. — I recommend a solid, dedicated ecommerce shopping platform like Shopify, Squarespace, etc. Those sites make ecommerce incredibly easy, as all of the usual hassles involved in online shops (e.g., software setup and configuration, credit card issues, etc.) are handled by the platforms.
📯 Implement Cross-Promotions All the Time
Once you have all of that setup, one of the key concepts in Internet marketing is to gather all of your information onto a dashboard — could be anything, such as a text file on your machine, or maybe a dedicated page on your web site just to organize everything. What you want to do is create a list of all of your marketing presences and assets. Mainly, you want a list of places where you’re listed, and links directly to the most relevant page.
The reason for this is that, for example, if you’re posting videos on Youtube, then you want to include relevant links in the description for your vids. Imagine that, below all of your descriptions, you’d have a standard citation that said something like:
Find Us Everywhere!
Our web site / blog: [link to your site]
Youtube: [link to your channel]
Facebook: [link to your page]
Twitter: [link to your profile]
Instagram: [link to profile]
iTunes: [link to relevant page]
Amazon: [link to relevant URL there]
Official Merch: [link]
Official Mailing list: [link]
When you do this, for each link you offer, make sure to include the full URL, including the “http://” part. Similarly, on each of those places listed, you’ll want to link out to ALL of the other places, as fully and completely as you can.
The idea is to create massive numbers of hyper-linked web URLs associated with your brand. This helps your SEO, for one, but is also helps your friends and fans find you in the places where they prefer to congregate and/or purchase.
After all, if a visitor visits your web site to learn more about you or your band, but doesn’t see links to, say, Amazon or iTunes, then you may very well have lost a sale.
🎤 Pursue Other Exposure Opportunities
Another great promotional tool is looking into what existing video channels (think YouTube) are showcasing artists in your genre. Quite often, this is the type of work that labels do for their signed artists, but the idea is to get those channels to run your videos online. It’s a great way to reach your target audience. One of my own clients is such a channel on Youtube. They feature punk rock videos from all over the world. They get content; the bands get exposure. Everyone is happy, especially the bands that have fully developed social media profiles.
💫Do Some Covers
I’ve been recommending this for ages, although it usually falls on deaf ears. But … try doing some covers. I’ve always believed, for many psychological reasons, that covers are a fantastic way of gaining an audience. Here’s some great reading on that from Rolling Stone magazine:
Weezer's version of Toto's "Africa" is one of several high-performing rock covers that are reaching an audience outside…www.rollingstone.com
🎻Engage with Your Fans; They Are Your Customers
I think bands are getting better at this, as they’re increasingly embracing the Internet as a marketing vehicle. It didn’t seem long ago, however, when you’d come across performers who’d become angry at things like fans videotaping them or snapping photos during a set.
If things like that bother you as an artist, I can at least somewhat understand, especially if the fans are disruptive, or up to no-good of some sort. There’s a bit of a sociological “free market” out there, though, that tends to educate groups over time — meaning that social norms tend to evolve. After a while, groups such as concert attendees collectively decide what’s okay and what isn’t behaviorally.
For example, it’s perfectly common to see everyone at a show taking video clips and various shots of the band during a performance. But, if a fan is standing there the whole time obstructing views of others, it’s to the point now where someone will probably say something to that person.
Whatever the negative sides are, the positive side is that, of all of the videos and photos being taken, a decent percentage will make it to social media, where the reach is potentially immense. If you’re playing to 2,500 people, and 500 of them post a pic on Twitter, tagging your band, then it works out potentially like this:
500 people [times] the average # of followers or each person (707 according to this site) [equals] ~350,000+ mentions.
Don’t quote me, though; I don’t know the actual average percentage of fans who Tweet. But, it’s safe to say that you just can’t buy that kind of publicity, at least not cheaply. Just as public performance is your lucrative friend, every photo opp you allow potentially spreads the word on Facebook, Twitter, Youtube (for video clips), and so forth … where, if you have the aforementioned social media ducks in a row, fans can purchase your music.
Or, even if you don’t yet have your social media presence fully established, at least they can become aware of you and follow you on perhaps Facebook, which may well convert them into a ticket-buying fan next time you’re in town.
The days seem well past when bands were over-protective about photos and videos. Heck, even piracy has sometimes been reported as beneficial to the bottom line. That may well be debatable, but certainly some highly popular bands have all actually promoted bootlegging (the Grateful Dead being the most noteworthy example).
Heck, I remember a decade ago walking into a small venue with a portable studio in hand. These were some guys from Frank Zappa’s band. I said, “Hey, do you guys care if I record the set?” They said, “No, man… in fact, do you want a lineout from our board?”
So, really, that’s the media-embracing attitude I think is necessary for successful music marketing. Other than that, well, I suppose you need to be good, and/or have some catchy gimmicks! But, look at what’s popular out there. Do you suppose marketing had anything at all to do with that, or is the world a pure musical meritocracy?
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