1. The Standing-Out Strategy
The first thing most musicians think of when they want to promote their music is to get it reviewed by a music publication or played on the radio.
Don’t start there. Publications and media that cater solely to music are probably the hardest place to get your music noticed.
The competition for attention in music publications and sites is overwhelming. For instance, National Public Radio’s “All Songs Considered” receives 200 to 300 CDs submitted a week. Out of that, there are only eight that get featured. And those are sandwiched in between other songs, and played just once. The same is true with music reviews. Although they are good for getting quotes for your press kit, it probably won’t get you many new fans, since it’s a music review in a pile of music reviews.
Instead of focusing on music publications and media, think in terms of audiences. Put your music where it will stand out from the crowd. As an example, consider one of the biggest sellers in the early days of CDBaby.com: an album about sailing. Instead of following the crowd and sending the album to a music magazine, the band instead cleverly sent their album to a sailing magazine.
The sailing magazine, which wasn’t used to receiving music, much less an entire album dedicated to exactly what the magazine was about, ended up getting reviewed in the magazine. The band’s CD stood out. It didn’t have to compete against stacks ad stacks of other CDs to get noticed. And because the magazine had a large audience and the CD got a great review, sales shot through the roof.
This is what we call the standing-out strategy, and the great thing about it is, there is room for everyone. While your music is in a musical niche, targeting the people that like that kind of music directly, represents only one, highly competitive channel for your music. By putting your music where there usually isn’t any, your music can get noticed.
2. The Piggybacking Strategy
When you’re not well known, the quickest way to get the word out there is to piggyback on something that people already know about. One the best known forms of piggybacking is listing out the bands you “sound like” on your web site. This gives new listeners a clue as to what to expect by drawing on what they already know. Of course, another popular piggybacking tactic is to cover a well-known song. Often, these covers become your initial best-sellers. But they also act as a gateway. If listeners like your version, they’ll likely check out your original material.
But piggybacking on other bands or cover songs isn’t the only thing that you can piggyback on. You can piggyback on anything that already has an audience.
For example, our own band, Beatnik Turtle, wrote a song called “Star Wars (A Movie Like No Other)”. It summarized the entire original Star Wars trilogy in a single song. Around the same time, StarWars.com released a video mashup tool and so we decided to make a video for the song. The video ended up getting played over fifteen thousand times thanks to the active community at that site. That popularity led to it getting picked up by Atom.com which in turn led to it being aired on SpikeTV to celebrate the Star Wars 32nd anniversary.
Current events and popular culture provide opportunities for piggybacking as well. When a topic is hot, a large number of people will be searching for information about it. For instance, The Brobdingnagian Bards, a Celtic Renaissance musical duo, are always looking for trends to ride, so when the Monty Python musical Spamalot got popular, they posted a blog entry about Spamalot and also mentioned that they covered a Monty Python song previously. The post got a ton of hits, got them noticed by new fans, and resulted in sales.
But piggybacking isn’t always about how to get publicity. It can be for a good cause as well. Grant Baciocco of Throwing Toasters put together two compilation charity albums called Laughter Is a Powerful Weapon, with music donated by himself and many other well-known comedy artists. The money from one went to the Twin Towers orphans fund and the other went to the Red Cross for Katrina victims.
3. The Agent Strategy
Most bands start out promoting and representing themselves because they start out small. But it’s human nature to think more of someone when they have someone acting on their behalf. In fact, it’s been shown to be true in various psychological and sociological studies. Even if you’re just starting out, find someone to represent you and you’ll have more successes.
Having an agent is even more useful during negotiations, because they can be as tough as they want to. If you negotiate for yourself and you give the other side a particularly hard time, they might start to dislike you, rather than your agent.
4. The Multi-Tasking Strategy
The musicians that have the most success don’t just rely on one project for their income. Most of them work on many things beyond playing live, selling albums, and selling merchandise.
– Jonathan Coulton participates in the Popular Science magazine podcast at popsci.com and licenses his music.
– Brad Turcotte of Brad Sucks maintains multiple Web sites including stripcreator.com and also licenses his music.
– Grant Baciocco of Throwing Toasters writes and produces the multiple-award-winning podcast “The Radio Adventures of Dr. Floyd,” does voice-over and acting work, and produces a podcast for the Jim Henson Company, among other projects.
– George Hrab is a drummer in a popular cover band that plays at weddings and corporate events, writes and produces his Geologic Podcast, and has written a book.
– The members of Beatnik Turtle have day jobs, run IndieGuide.com, and write books like The Indie Band Survival Guide and articles like this one.
Not only do musicians like these have a lot of projects going on, they use the projects to promote the others.
5. The Long-Haul Strategy
While major labels had to focus on making one-hit-wonders because of their business model, that was never the best situation for the musician. Furthermore, it’s not even similar to the way that most businesses work: build their name over the long term, and eventually get consistent income over time. A band or artist can be just like any other business that starts out small, and eventually becomes solidly established.
For example, in 2001, Brad Turcotte released his first album online as a downloadable set of MP3s. The money he made from this allowed him to do a run of CDs, which got him another surge of new fans. Later, he released the source tracks to his music, this time making new fans among people who enjoy remixing songs. After he packaged the best remixes into another CD, he got a new surge of fans who loved both the remixes and the original material. By the time he released his second album, it not only did well in its own right, it generated interest in his previous albums.
6. The Street Team Strategy
Today’s artists are more connected with their fans than ever. And in these days of social networks, word of mouth is many times more powerful than it’s ever been. Every fan you have is connected to many more people, and sometimes, all you have to do is ask in order to get their help in spreading the word.
A street team in the past was all about putting fliers in coffee shops. Today, with the Web, they can distribute your music to new fans, get the word out about your shows through their social networks, or even get people to sign up to your mailing lists.
The key to a successful street team, is to be explicit in asking what it is you want them to do. Then, be sure to give them the tools that they need to be successful. And of course, reward them for their help. If you need some practical advice on how to create and manage a street team, there’s step-by-step instructions here.
7. The Stay-Tuned Strategy
Before radio DJs head into the commercials, they announce what they’re going to play after the break. This keeps people tuned in during the break. You can adopt the same technique. Always talk about your next project when you talk about your band, whether you’re talking to the press, your fans (your blog, Twitter, Facebook), or other musicians.
– Your fans will keep tabs on you until that next project is released.
– The press might ask questions about your upcoming projects and write future stories.
– It gets people involved: If you don’t announce what you have planned, you might miss out on a fan that can help.
– It keeps your own band members motivated and working toward the same goals.
So it helps to have a sound bite on the tip of your tongue about what you’re doing next. Movies have trailers, and a band should have announcements of what’s to come.
As you can see, many different strategies are available to help you get noticed. There are no rules to this new music business, so we suggest experimenting with as many strategies, projects, and ideas to see what works best for you and your music. When you find something that works, keep it up; and when you find something that doesn’t, just move on.
To learn more about how to strategize and run a PR campaign, see How To Run a PR Campaign at IndieGuide.com for detailed, step-by-step instructions. It’s a great way to get started getting noticed, selling music, and winning fans.
Randy Chertkow and Jason Feehan are authors of The Indie Band Survival Guide: The Complete Manual For The Do-It-Yourself Musician, The DIY Music Manual, and founders of the free and open musician resource, IndieGuide.com.