Six Ways to Pursue Success in Music Marketing and Promotion
There’s no exact science in music promotion and music marketing, but in the 21st century, there is some data science.
Streaming, playlists, and social media have all made it possible for emerging artists and music industry professionals to use data to “prove the ROI [Return on Investment] of marketing,” as Billboard charting rapper Call Me Ace puts it.
But not all music marketing strategies are unique to the digital era. In fact, many are tried and true in the music industry, thanks to 100+ years of A/B testing and expertise. As such, the question of how to promote your music today involves old principles, new techniques, and a whole lot of creativity.
By now, you’re probably well aware of some practical steps to take when it comes to getting your music heard — from electronic press kits to independent playlist curator lists and social media marketing — but how do you approach music marketing from a strategic standpoint? Here are six music marketing strategies and expert music marketing tips to consider when planning out the music promotion and music marketing timeline for your next release.
- Put Your Music First
- Understand Your Market Place
- Recognize Your Strengths
- Set Goals For Yourself
- Use Your Creativity
- Engage Your Audience
Keep in mind that many of these marketing strategies can happen concurrently or totally out of order, so don’t feel bound by linearity. This is the music industry, after all, so rulebooks aren’t really our thing.
Put Your Music First
Successful music marketing starts with music you believe in.
When it comes to music marketing and music promotion in the digital era, it’s easy to put the cart before the horse — to get so caught up in music marketing strategies that you forget about what really matters: your music.
But if Fyre Festival taught us anything, it’s that marketing is only successful if you have something genuine to communicate with an audience, whether it’s a legitimate music festival lineup or, in this case, your meaningful new track.
Granted, you might not find success right out of the gate, but if you do have something organic to communicate with a receptive audience, your chances of long-term success are that much better.
In other words, hone your craft, commit to your craft, and then start thinking about how to get your music heard.
Music making tips from the experts … to help you put your music first.
- Quincy Jones: "You make your mistakes to learn how to get to the good stuff."
- Nile Rodgers: “"I think the hardest thing to overcome is judging yourself and being your own worst critic."
- Matt McGreevey, General Manager at Epitaph Records/ANTI-: “Anytime I see an artist worried about how their music will be received, [I say] they should continue to create — and not let any success or failure trip you up.”
Understand Your Market Place
Learn from other artists in your market.
While we can’t stress enough how important it is to put your music first, once you’re ready to get your music heard, developing market intelligence, or an understanding of your market — and your place in it — is absolutely essential.
So, how exactly do you do that? Fortunately, in today’s digital music industry, data analytics has opened up a world of market intelligence for everyone. From platform-owned dashboards like Spotify for Artists to our own music data analytics tool, data is arguably the great leveler in the music business today — especially when it comes to music marketing.
And that’s largely because music data analytics can help you see not only who and where your audiences might be but also how you stack up against similar sounding artists who might already be two steps ahead of you. Knowing these key points can help you think about how to model your music marketing strategies after your successful neighboring artists — not to mention what markets will and won’t be particularly important for your music.
Music marketing tips from the experts … to help you understand your market place.
- Ariel Chichotky, Director of Lauria’s Dale Play Records: “I find that data is fundamental in order to make marketing useful and make it matter.”
- Jackson Bull, former Program Director at SiriusXM: “How do I know that this song is really sticking? From the moment I put this song into rotation to now, how fast did it grow? Velocity metrics, or how quickly it [the song] grew, that KPI [Key Performance Indicator] is so much more important than total streams. Eventually, if you're an artist and you release a song, it will get to a million streams. It might take you a million years, but eventually, it will get there. But if you can get to a million streams from zero faster than Artist B, then obviously Artist A is much more influential.”
- Josh Hayes, former Data Scientist at Chartmetric: “Of course, there are many ways to slice and dice artist performance, but there is near universal consensus on some general, undeniably good indicators for artists’ success. Using those indicators to identify a “best case” scenario, we can then compare all artists on a scale of how close they got to the “best” artist according to today’s stats. We concluded that a hypothetical best case scenario for performer success is exemplified by…. Broadest exposure to audiences.… Healthy fan engagement.… Success across multiple platforms.… Having longevity with audiences, rather than just being a flash in the pan: While we want to catch viral sensations as they’re happening, the best artists don’t just have a lucky hit and then fade into obscurity. They leverage that hit’s momentum to keep producing, keep engaging, and keep growing.”
Recognize Your Strengths
Know where to take off and where to back off.
Once you have an idea of the Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) that tend to be most relevant to similar sounding artists, it’s time for some deeper self-reflection. Understanding your own strengths — and, by extension, your potential weaknesses — can show you both where to invest more of your music marketing energy and also where to put on the brakes.
It’s totally okay if you’re not everything to everyone. Because niches win in today’s music industry, you can be successful by just being something to some people. Maybe you’re heavily influenced by gaming culture and your music reflects that. When it comes to marketing your music on social media, you might consider doubling down on YouTube and Twitch instead of trying to split your resources across Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook. Just like artists, every social media platform has its strengths, so it’s best to start with the platforms that complement yours and grow from there.
By the same token, you can take a look at your historical demographic data through your Spotify analytics, Instagram analytics, or YouTube analytics. Are your followers and subscribers mostly in the 18-24 age range or the 35-44 age range? In what cities do you tend to generate most of your followers, streams, and views? Which of your posts tend to get the most engagement?
Consider how you might be able to use these strengths to reach the listeners who are most likely to connect with you and your music.
Music marketing tips from the experts … to help you recognize your strengths.
- Ross Nicol, Founder of Off Season Creative: “On the management side of my work, it's [data] largely considered with touring, looking at markets where a specific song, sometimes, or an artist as a whole, really resonates.... I've mostly used that data to map out tours, to route tours to cities that make the most sense based on listeners. Also with age groups, deciding whether or not to set your show as all ages, 18+, or 21+. That affects the deals that you have to strike with buyers in each market.”
- Call Me Ace, Billboard Charting Rapper and Global Program Manager at YouTube: “Seeing how people are discovering my music from different [Pandora] stations.... If it's the Eminem radio or whatever, that should be a metric that I use in my YouTube videos or IG [Instagram] targeting."
- Mike Warner, Artist and Label Relations at Chartmetric: "Know your value. Whether it’s an engaged audience on TikTok, lots of active listeners on Apple Music, or a synch on a popular TV series. Know where your value lies and use it to your advantage. It’s possible to share this as information, instead of 'bragging.' If a DSP sees you being supported, they are more likely to listen and consider adding you to their programming as well."
Set Goals for Yourself
Make reasonable, concrete objectives that you can measure and ultimately reach.
So, you have your music, you understand your place in the market, and you have a pretty good idea of what individual strengths you can leverage…. What now?
If you don’t set some measurable benchmarks that take your music, market intelligence, and strengths into account, you won’t really know what you’re actually trying to achieve and whether or not you’re succeeding in getting there.
The odds of achieving Lil Nas X-like virality are astronomical, so the smarter strategy is to focus on hard won incremental gains. This month, that might mean growing your follower base by 5 percent and landing three new non-editorial playlists. Next month, that might translate to one editorial playlist and 20K more streams than the month before. Next year, that might mean selling out a 250-cap room in your hometown.
If you’re not hitting your objectives, then it’s back to the drawing board. Maybe you need to focus more on your strengths or consider how you might improve some of your weaknesses. It also couldn’t hurt to get some inspiration from other artists in your market who have managed to hit those objectives. Or, maybe some new music is the answer.
Don’t be afraid of iteration. If you commit to meeting incremental music marketing objectives like these and make the necessary adjustments along the way, you’ll likely increase your chances of sustainable success.
Music marketing tips from the experts … to help you set goals for yourself.
- Christine Osazuwa, Director of Data and Insights at Warner Music Group: “What is your actual goal? Do you just want more streams? Do you want to sell out your local arena? Do you want to blow up in Tokyo?” Once you know your goals, then you can start to let data enter the picture and drive your strategic decision-making — especially when it comes to global music marketing.
- Diana Gremore, Business Intelligence Analyst at Paradigm Talent Agency: Start small, and don’t skip steps. “It's happened a lot where an artist is streaming super super well, but nobody wants to go see them at a show ... which goes a lot more into the touring strategy than it says about the artist.... It speaks a lot to the agents and the strategy that they've developed through intuition and trial and error.... When you have an artist like that, it's really important to start small: "Don't skip steps." There are important venues that you don't want to skip, because if you play there and it's small, first of all, you get touring experience ... and you get to really hone your live performance and figure out what you and an audience look like together. And then if that sells well, you can kind of graduate to the next sized room.... So, it's important to not skip those steps, and in those ways, you can kind of not have the experience of being a wildly successful streaming artist and then not being able to sell a ticket.”
- Call Me Ace, Billboard Charting Rapper and Global Program Manager at YouTube: "I studied the Billboard methodology for how songs chart ... all the different data points that they put in there.... [Pandora's] Next Big Sound [has] a key metric that's used in the computing process. Fam, I'm not even on Pandora! I should get on Pandora. I should get the metrics on Pandora to grow, cause that will help this stuff…. They use Twitter mentions.... 'Oh hey, I should use Twitter more.... Oh wow, they look at Wikipedia.... Thankfully, now I have a Wikipedia page.... Now, I'm a Promising Artist [in terms of Next Big Sound's artist stages].'"
Use Your Creativity
Make your marketing work for your music and not the other way around.
At the end of the day, the music industry is a creative industry, so harnessing that creativity is absolutely essential when you’re thinking about how to promote your music.
While data can help guide your decision making, resource allocation, and strategic execution, the essence of your marketing should ideally be an extension of the narrative you’re trying to communicate with your music. In other words, there is no one-size-fits-all formula to follow, and that’s because not every artist’s story is the same.
Think about what your music is trying to say and use your social media messaging, curator outreach, and press releases to reinforce that. It doesn’t have to be personal or political or any explicit “message” per se; it just has to be true to your music and your story as an artist.
And that individualism doesn’t mean, by the way, that you can’t learn from the creative ways in which other artists have told their own stories.
Music marketing tips from the experts ... to help you use your creativity.
- Elliott Althoff, Associate Manager of Digital Strategy at Republic Records and former Digital Marketing Coordinator at Mom + Pop Music: “Right when I got to Mom + Pop, we were diving into the Courtney Barnett campaign, the ‘Tell Me How You Really Feel’ campaign. That was probably one of the coolest uses of data and email captures.... She basically started out her campaign with a splash page on her website that was just like, ‘Tell me how you really feel’.... Some people would write, ‘I feel sad today, or I feel happy’ ... but then some people would go super in-depth and write paragraphs.... Afterwards, we took all of that data, we took all of those emails and all of the responses and built our campaign around those responses.”
Engage Your Audience
Connect with the people who love your music.
Generally speaking, the more you make your music marketing about organic communication and the less you make it about self promotion, the better.
Sure, generating more streams matters, but stream counts aren’t everything. What’s really important is the ears behind those streams. And having millions of ears on you will only benefit you if the fingertips — and heart and minds — are there to follow.
In marketing, we call this engagement. The more engaged your audience is, the more enduring success you’ll find with your music. It’s one thing to be able to reach American audiences in music industry hubs like New York City and Los Angeles, but if listeners there aren’t taking the time to follow you or share your music, then that momentary success will ultimately fizzle.
However, if listeners in Mexico City or Jakarta are all about your music, then figure out what’s resonating with them. Open a dialogue and foster a relationship with your audience first, and then start thinking about how to find similar audiences in other places.
Music marketing tips from the experts ... to help you engage your audience.
- Christine Osazuwa, Director of Data and Insights at Warner Music Group: “If you think about it from the Trigger Cities perspective, because of the listening behavior of people in these cities, they are influencing the way DSPs tend to prioritize music, which might help trigger placement on playlists.”
- Call Me Ace, Billboard Charting Rapper and Global Program Manager at YouTube: "If you have a bunch of fake followers that don't interact with your content, then you obliterate your engagement rate, and your engagement rate is probably the most valuable asset you have on your social media platforms.... [My engagement rate] goes from 7 percent on an average day to 20-25 percent if I'm doing something super dope. For a male social media account that's not half-naked all the time, that's a big deal to me.... I don't want to look poppin'.... I want to be poppin'!"
If at First You Don’t Succeed ...
That’s okay! Music marketing is equal parts talent, strategy, and luck. (But a big ad spend budget doesn’t hurt either.) Sometimes the timing is right, and sometimes, it just isn’t. Don’t let it get you down about your music or about what it is you’re trying to communicate.
Instead, think about what successes you did have and how you can improve on the few hiccups you might have encountered. For all of the cards stacked against independent artists today, we’re lucky enough to be in a moment in the music industry where data and music data analytics can act as the great levelers, breaking down walls between artists and their audiences and empowering artists to take control of their own careers.
It’s important, however, not to rely only on one source of information for all of the answers. Data can be “dumb” and marketing strategies are malleable, so they require creativity and flexibility to both interpret and also apply them to each particular circumstance. If a music career is something you’re committed to pursuing, learning as much as you can from a number of different resources is absolutely essential.