Music Promotion
Music self-promotion is a topic that has been explored extensively over the past 20 years. Some of the basic ground rules are the same that apply to any business or freelancer. Most people in the industry, however, bands included, don’t know a whole lot about it. Many prefer to hover around the topic of social media because it’s all they know. After all, once you call yourself a “social media coach”, there’s really not much room for expansion besides posting an analysis of every new Twitter or Facebook development/etc.  Artists flock to new music technologies, discovery platforms, unsigned networks, indie authorities, and crowd funding platforms looking for the answer, and yet, the message generally being sent to the artists tends to do them a disservice. Promises, promises. Even the term “submit your music” can be very misleading. Submit it where? Well…the junk folder, to be blunt.

Just as people starting businesses often under-estimate the amount of work necessary, so do unsigned musicians and bands. A quick disclaimer: it IS possible to be very successful as a musician. You can do it. It’s helpful, though, to do away with some of the lies that we typically accept from today’s music authorities, and I’ll go over some of those here. The intention isn’t to be overly blunt. Just to tell the truth. Below are some reasons why your music self-promotion may not be working.

1) You’re waiting in line.

It’s wonderful that there are so many services for artists to use to send their music to either industry professionals, festivals, blogs, magazines, and radio promoters such as Sonicbids and Music XRay. Mixed feelings abound about these sites, but to call them positive or negative would be a snap judgement. Does it suck that it costs $40 to simply apply for X music festival given that this is a digital submission we’re talking about, and chances are your music will not receive a fair listen? It sure does. Would it possibly be a life-changing experience if you were chosen? It certainly would. Musicians today are accustomed to waiting in line for just about everything. After all, it’s busy as hell out there. While it’s necessary to wait in some lines, and good results can come of that, if you merely play by the rules and wait in lines you’ll get stagnancy, and that isn’t a very fun gift to open up for Christmas.

Artists need to think as creatively in their promotions as in their songwriting. Outsource your duties. Get momentum by getting freelancers on your side. Promote outside of the music blog arena. Hire people to promote your music; preferably a lot of them. Get the forums buzzing. Get people requesting your music. Get people writing about your music. Donate to blogs you like. Use Fiverr and similar micro-job sites. Don’t simply rely on music self-promotion ideas, because the professional world isn’t segregated like that. Read Tim Ferriss and his book “The 4 Hour Workweek“. Read Seth Godin or check out his TED Talks. Read Ryan Holiday’s controversial book “Trust Me I’m Lying“. Read business books. Get out of the “band” mentality. Ignore the music authorities and start infiltrating.

2) You’re only promoting on social media.

Don’t get me wrong. Social media, when used correctly, can have a massive effect on your success. The only problem is, since most industry guru’s and music marketing publications tend to focus on social media exclusively, the current generation of artists are spending all of their time posting, pinning, tweeting, hashtagging, reblogging, liking, sharing, tagging, stumbling, digging, and cultivating the perfect “reddiquette“, but in the end, without the proper balance, the result is something close to a Warcraft or Angry Birds addiction. Time down the memory hole.

It’s easy to forget that not everyone hangs around on these networks, and even if they do, they’re often tuned into only what their personal perceptual filters will allow; not something new. It’s important to keep your communication skills in tip-top shape, to send actual, conversational emails, make phone calls, and speak with promoters in person. The worst faux pas is messaging companies or industry people through networks such as Facebook. These often go unanswered, as these networks are riddled with spam, and real messages get lost in the shuffle. Send a real, personalized email and notice the difference.

3) You’re on automation.

Thought it might be a good idea to outsource your music marketing to a robot? Some of the most heavily advertised automated services such as Beatwire/Rapping Duck and Musicsubmit look very attractive to most artists. They promise to send your music to X number of journalists, radio hosts, and industry professionals, and charge a flat rate for doing so. The rates are often less than what most publicists charge, making it even more enticing. But how are these emails received? For one, most journalists and bloggers receive dozens, if not hundreds, of real emails daily from promoters, labels and artists who either wrote the message personally or at least prepared a proper email and clicked the “send” button. How much respect do you think they have for the “easy way out”, an automated press release, or possibly a Reverbnation profile delivered to their inbox? If your music submissions say anything along the lines of “powered by…”, you can expect little to no results. I’ve been added to lists by companies like these without so much of a “Hello” or “Would you like to be added to our recipient list?” You know what that’s called? Spam.

4) You’re not “showing them the money”.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve submitted an artist to X Magazine or blog and received enthusiastic response back from their sales department, who conveniently request that I pay an exorbitant rate for an online or print advertisement. When I mention that I’m unable to advertise but would still appreciate editorial consideration, I’m told that the sales and editorial departments are separate. For one, this is the public statement of many publications, but it’s simply not true in many cases. If you don’t buy their advertising, which is often over-priced given that you’re at times the only income stream, your submission goes mysteriously missing. Now, most artists can’t afford to advertise on multiple major magazines, nor is it usually worth it if I’m being honest.

This can be the same with music blogs, and any kind of music service, which makes sense to a particular degree. If you think about it, no one really has all the time in the world to sit around listening to and reviewing albums. There needs to be an exchange, whether it’s properly priced advertising, blog donations, paid reviews, crowd funders or anything else. If a paid review scenario is fair, do it. If it’s outrageous, move on. Remember, you can always find freelance writers who may be interested in writing about your music by advertising on Craigslist.

5) You’re not already on their playlist.

The front door appears to be open, but it’s all for appearances. Many music blogs featured in the coveted directories/aggregators (Hype Machine, Elbo.ws) are closer to personal blogs than anything else. Hundreds of artists submit music to them every day, but chances are they’ll never post a single one. The blog owner simply posts their favorite artists periodically. So why all this misleading the public then? Well, blog traffic is always a good thing for the webmaster, leading to advertising and potentially other partnerships, so cultivating an audience of indie musicians to rack up the hits isn’t a bad thing from their perspective. It ends up being wasted time for the artists, though. Some blogs are good enough to post a simple statement such as “Don’t send me your music. I only post my own findings.”

6) You’re not famous or gossip-worthy.

Which brings me to my next point. Many supposed “indie darling” blogs and publications have, over the past 10 years or so, turned into gossip rags, and you’d be hard-pressed to find any content outside of Lana Del Rey and ASAP Rocky (and not their new albums). Take these off your media list and don’t give them your traffic if they’re of no use to you.

7) You have nothing to barter with.

Put yourself in the blogger/editor/etc’s position upon opening your email. Why should they take an hour of their time to promote you? At the very least, you should have built a large network, and offer cross-promotion for the post. This shows respect on your part. The reason good indie labels, radio promoters and PR companies typically get much better results when promoting artists than the artists themselves get is because of leverage and long term relationship building. They’ve built up their networks and regularly cross-promote. They may have arranged other partnerships or deals with the publication as well. You scratch my back. I’ll scratch yours.

8) First-time introductions.

If you’re emailing someone for the first time, it’s a lot like making a cold call telemarketing. You can’t expect the results to be overly high. This is another reason why good labels, radio promoters and PR companies get better results. They’ve established those relationships and they’re not saying “hello” for the first time. You are selling door to door while they’re stopping by visiting friends.

9) You didn’t appeal to their ego (in the right way).

There is no one rule. Some bloggers want personal messages while others would blacklist you for attempting chit chat. Some want you to tell them how much you just loved their recent piece on Daft Punk’s new album (the 633rd one you’ve read), while others would see that as a trite move. There’s no way to win here. What I do, myself, is provide absolutely everything the blogger may need in a concise way, so no Googling is required, as well as sending a personal note going over why I connect with the artist being submitted. If you’d like an idea of how to do this, check out my music blog promotion template.

10) There’s no time.

I was horrified when I first learned that many music blogs and publications often receive hundreds, sometimes thousands of submissions a day. Once again, we’re waiting in line in the review queue. You can’t expect time to magically appear for these people. If I were in their position, I’d shut down. I’d take more time offline and leave the disappointed in my wake. Instead, many pretend that the door is open while they enjoy the advertising revenue.

11) You haven’t differentiated yourself.

This is a big one. You’re lost somewhere in the supermarket, and it’s tough for the store manager to find you because you look similar to every other child there. You’re certainly not “the blue child”. If anyone ever told you to “appeal to the industry” or write songs for the radio/etc, it’s time to throw away those silly notions because they’re destroying what your art could be. Often, the reason an artist goes unnoticed isn’t mysterious at all. You may have, in an attempt to be “heard by the masses”, crafted yourself into a generic package. You’re not really yourself. You’re playing to someone…a hypothetical creation. Be yourself, the weirder and more original, the better. If there are two people doing what you do, the odds are already against you. Be the only one.


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19 thoughts on “11 Reasons Why Your Music Self-Promotion Isn’t Working

  1. Great article. It’s really tough marketing music, always has been. You can do everything right but just not have the right record and in the online world the right record has nothing to do with how it sounds. People forget that people are on social networking sites which are dominated by discussions. Most of the people on them are attention seekers and once a topic starts floating around it becomes a means of attracting attention. For Indies it’s really tough because it’s like this cake trick I saw on brain games. They gave people two cakes with one priced at $15 and the other priced at $55. They were the exact same cake but everyone said the $55 cake tasted better. Their brains weren’t allowing them to enjoy the $15 cake as much as it was the $55 cake because of perception of the price.

    I feel like Indies suffer from that a lot. People hear your music but they won’t allow themselves to become fans or respond to it like they would an established artist. They’re not going to talk about it on social media because it’s not going to get them attention, it’s not something their friends will have an opinion on, it’s not something that will drive a discussion.

    I haven’t seen an album do good in social media because it sounded good. It was always about something else like they said something racist, sexist, or homophobic. They tackled some hot social issue like Gay marriage. They made songs addressing gossip or something else.

    A good record could be a number of things online today. It could be Rebecca Black’s Friday and be entertainingly terrible, It could be J. Cole’s Be Free or Macklemore’s Same Love, it could be the Harlem Shake. You just don’t know. All you can do as an artist is get your music heard and live with the results. The bottom line is that if people are moved by it, they’ll tell other people. There’s a small percentage of people who’ll be moved enough to share so you either need to spend a lot of money to reach a lot of people quickly or have a lot of patience.

    With things like Soundcloud and Youtube people will find you. I’ve had songs on Soundcloud was promoting perform poorly. My most successful song was a poorly recorded track performed at a time when I was very emotional One of the comments said “This got mad heart yo” That track ended up on playlists, it got reposted a few times, I’d login and see a ton of streams on it without knowing where the hell they were coming from. It wasn’t on to the extent of a hit but it showed me that people will respond to what they like all I have to do is keep putting out music until something sticks. Record companies sign thousand of acts, only a small few get major and for most that group it’s the only one they get for their entire careers

  2. It just all seems like its not even fucking worth it.. Lets put this into perspective.. Scott Fitzgerald at the end of his life was the only person purchasing his own novels… he gave them as gifts to friends and recieved literally pennies at the end of the year from Scribers Publishing until his death.. His books now sell more that 300,000 copies per year … one hundred years later.. Fuck the music industry.. It’s a business model that is due to completely implode in 15 years.. My band and I have spend nearly $30,000 on one of the best neo-psychedelic records to ever come out.. and it’s ours and if some fucking blogger gives a shit… good for us….if not it’s there loss.. Artists shouldn’t have to sell their fucking soul to be successful. “The world has gone to the dogs.. when everybody wants to be a star.. has the world gone insane? When celebrity is everything.. EVERYONE PAYS” -THE ORANGE

  3. I agree with you C Bret Campbell. I like Taylor Swift and I am nearly 50 years old ( I cannot believe I am that old ). I do agree however, that artists need a broad appeal. I got to meet you during the Artists In The Plus live event at Robert’s house (my daughter is in Butterfly Corpse). The struggle remains how to get the word out without spending a fortune.

  4. I’ve been playing music for over 25 years and I’ve seen maybe a handful of people in my area find success in the industry, whether it is joining an already established big name act or getting discovered at a band competition or joining an established act as a supporting band, and it’s always the same, they simply were in the right place at the right time and got noticed by some big name person and/or made connections and met the right people along the way. The music world today has become overloaded with pro tools polished, auto-tuned bands looking to become instant rock stars without paying any dues, but only a few seem to get signed these days and usually only last about month or so on local rock radio then they are gone, it’s sad.

  5. Hey, Janet! Long time no see… Hope you are well 🙂
    You may be surprised at how many 40-50 year old women in this area just love Taylor Swift…. don’t ask me why.
    Aside from that, I have to agree with you and I think that’s what James was getting at in a couple of points above.

  6. James this is one of the best bits of yours I’ve read, yet! You don’t mind too much if I attach it to the business end of my jack-hammer, do you?
    Wow, do some people need to read this!
    Josh and I appreciate all you do for the community and particularly your friendship. Stay in touch man!

  7. It pisses me off to no end when the promoter of a show promotes by making a facebook event. FUCK THAT! Fuck facebook, fuck myspace, tumblr, etc none of those fuckers will show up or give a shit about your music because they are just sitting on their ass. You may have 10,000 LIKES but that doesn’t mean all 10,000 of those fucks will actually buy an album, no only one buys it and shares it with everyone else. Keep music real sell at the venues you play.

  8. The radio station is Bolton FM it’s just a small community station i do concentrate on acts that are local or regularly play local but yeah if you want to send me you music i will give it a listen send it to kieran.lee@boltonfm.com

  9. Very good article. I think if you’re a talented musician, it’s easy to get off the ground, but difficult to break the glass ceiling. It all comes down to getting signed at the end of the day if you want monitory success

  10. As a unsigned radio host i am usually the first point of media attention for bands or artists . The best way to get your music on a show like mine is to make a nice package out of it tell me stuff about the band make the letter to me and get the name right. Don’t use generic letters and send them out to all the stations. If you are sending in a c.d. (although not many do now)

    Make sure it looks nice not just a blank c.d. written on in biro or whatever, and put contact details on it, c.d. may get separated from cover etc. I have put bands on my show just because i liked the package that they have sent me and i have rejected bands just because they didn’t spell my name right, if you cant be bothered spending the extra minute getting the simple things right why should I be interested in your music (you might be the best new band but i won’t be listening to it)

    Be patient as well, believe it or not we presenters get sent lots and lots of music and i am only on a small local station so imagine how many the BBC or the like get

    If you are lucky enough to get onto the station be friendly and forthcoming when asked questions the days of the dark moody musician are long gone i’m afraid people want to identify with their idols the shows are as much about entertaining the listeners as much as getting what ever message across to them your latest e.p. etc.

  11. I agree with number 11. It takes more than just talent to become a power house brand like the musicians we see today. You have to be able to grab your audience attention and keep it. People want to be constantly entertained and it up to the musician to find and new cool ways to do it. I wrote a blog about this at http://diamondsanddisaster.wordpress.com/ . Check it out!

  12. Almost all indies are vying for the same audience. Broaden the scope to include an older age range than the industry targets and you’ll probably achieve more much faster. Think about it. Taylor Swift only appeals to young girls, but women in their 30s, 40s and 50s buy all kinds of music, attend shows, and they bring their friends and husbands along with them. Music is about the human condition, not the teenage condition.

  13. I recently much like the useful details anyone source on your content. I am going to save your blog post plus check yet again below regularly. We’re somewhat i might be explained to quite a few fresh information the following! Good luck for the next!

  14. There’s always hope, Steve! Especially when people let the music play them as opposed to trying to play the music. I think being blunt about how the business really operates helps the journey. All the best!

  15. Depressing reading as this brilliant article makes, it is the truth because it is the reality of the music industry today! The bit at the end about the “weirder and more original” you are the better your chances gives me hope though!

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