I have recently had a fair amount of people asking me about how I have gained my online following, so I decided to write a blog about it in the hopes that it might help some unsigned musicians who are just as I was at the beginning of this crazy musical journey – clueless, but highly motivated and hungry for information.
Before I start there are a couple of things I feel I must state. Firstly, touring is essential. Getting out there and playing shows, perfecting your live performance and selling CDs and merchandise is a must. There is no substitute for touring if you are a live, DIY musician.
Secondly, this is a cold hard business blog, so please don’t confuse this with fan interaction. That is something that is intertwined, much more fun and COMPLETELY ESSENTIAL at your shows and online. Some of my best friends are people I met that came to my shows (they still do thank goodness). However, this is about the branding and marketing side of building your fan base.
The first thing you need to realise is that if you are a DIY artist or band YOU ARE A BUSINESS. YOU ARE THE RECORD LABEL. YOU ARE THE MANAGER.
What do I mean by this? I mean you can’t put up a couple of videos and release an EP, have a few statuses or photos on social media websites and think people are going to come flocking to you. It’s not someone else’s job. It’s yours. This is going to be hard work, and you are going to be spending all of your time and all of your hard earned cash making this happen.
WHAT?! YOU HAVE TO SPEND MONEY? Yes. Lots of it. As much of a budget as you can muster. Any record label/management label etc worth their salt will have a marketing budget. That record/management label is you. Welcome to the World of business. In this case, the music business. and YOU are your business. your music is a commodity, you are a brand and this is the start of you becoming an entrepreneur.
Lets talk branding first.
“The process involved in creating a unique name and image for a product in the consumers’ mind, mainly through advertising campaigns with a consistent theme. Branding aims to establish a significant and differentiated presence in the market that attracts and retains loyal customers.” Business Dictionary 2017
What makes a brand? What makes you buy into a new product or music? How many times do you have to hear about a new band or artist before you bother having a listen on Spotify or going to a gig to check that band out? Most people need to see your brand around 7 times before they are going to bother trialling it.
To create a consistent and recognisable brand as a musician you are going to need:
- A logo – Get something professionally done and Vectored. It needs to be easily readable as your band or artist name, and you need hi res PNGs with no background, preferably in a couple of colour-ways that can be distributed to venues, promoters, bloggers, magazines etc and anyone else who might be designing a poster or giving you some airtime.
- Consistent image – This is your onstage image but its also your image in general. Get some promotional photos done. Get them done well. Make sure you have hi res versions as well as low res ones you can use for social media (you can only use pics up to 2MB on Twitter for example). The images you use should be THE SAME on every platform you use and in your press packs. So, if you update your promo pics, update every single website and platform you are on to reflect that.
- Recognisable sound – Yes, your songs are important. You need to develop and craft them. But a recognisable sound is a different thing. If you heard a new song by Adele, Pink, Enter Shikari, Pharrell Williams, Bruno Mars or any one of a plethora of known artists the chances are you would guess who it was even if you hadn’t heard the song before. Craft your sound. Make it intrinsically you. Get the exact amps/instruments/microphones etc and work on the effects you want to use and cultivate that sound. To begin with you might not be able to tour with all your gear but as much as you can, do.
- Slogan/Recognisable quotes – this can be as simple as a name for your fans (Think Lady Gaga and her “Little Monsters”) or a name for your sound that becomes synonymous with you (Check out Louise Distras, The Kenneths and Riskee and The Ridicule currently heading up a wave of “Nu Punk”)
- Biography – Get a good biography written and update it regularly, especially if you have tour dates coming in, new releases coming out and any reviews happening. Have your journey documented and have choice quotes from blogs, interviews, radio presenters and anyone else singing your praises. To begin with you may only need to update your bio once a year. Eventually it will be every few months if not more.
- A WEBSITE!! Having a professional website is essential!! Make sure it has a webstore for your merch. Have a shows and tour dates page. Mine is linked to BansInTown so that I can update instantly every show that comes in and it goes straight onto my website. Have a video and music on the home page along with hyperlinks to each of your social media platforms. Similarly, have a link to your website on every social media platform you have to send people BACK to your website. You’re basically creating your own web within the web.
“Your entire image online should have the same ‘look and feel’, regardless of where the content sits. This same branding should apply to anything you publish in print, any artwork you use, or any merchandise you produce for sale.” Riches, 2012
Think of all your favourite and best known brands. Think of what you know about them; Nike, Adidas, Heinz, Coca Cola, Tesco, iTunes, Rolling Stones, Pink Floyd, British Gas. All of these brands will have instantly made you think of slogans and logos that are recognisable Worldwide, and you are on a journey to make your brand be as recognisable as that. At least, thats the goal, right?
So Marketing then….
Most people need to see your brand around 7 times before they are going to bother trialling it.
“You cannot just run a couple of advertisements one time and expect the customers to buy the product. The hidden message of rule of seven is the continuous and repetitive effort that should be put in for marketing. 80% of sales are made on the 5th – 12th contact.” Catamount Marketing, 2014
So how do we find out about new music? And what makes us engage with it? There are multitudes of ways you can engage an audience and you should be aiming to do as many of those as possible.
- Word of mouth – If you are good at what you do and you engage well with people, they will talk about you. They will share your posts if you have interesting content. Word of mouth is your biggest currency, wether organically or through advertising. Aim to make it both.
- Shows – Get out there and tour. Play support shows. Play to one man and his dog in a tiny pub in Wiltshire. Understand that your first couple of tours YOU WILL LOSE MONEY. But think of this as an investment. Both big and small companies when trialling new products give out hundreds of thousands of samples. Think of your first coupe of tours like that. You are getting your music out to new audiences and if people like that free stuff they are likely to buy that stuff. Promoters, venues, agents that see you working hard for little to no return and putting on great shows will want you to come back. That one man and his dog might bring a few friends next time. Do it.
- Magazines/blogs – Got a new release coming out? Make sure it’s ready at least THREE MONTHS before the release date. If you can afford to, hire a PR agency to push it for you. They have access to the gatekeepers of national and international press, large blogs, radio stations and all sorts and they will plug you. If not, start making a spreadsheet with lists of bloggers, small radio stations etc and start chatting to them. engage with their content. Check out the bands they are talking about, and when you have a new release, send it to them. They may well review it for you.
- TV – PR. You are unlikely to get national air without a major label and/or a really good PR company. But there are local TV stations and you should absolutely send your high quality video in.
- Radio – See Magazines/Blogs
- Spotify weekly playlists/Apple Music recommendations – PR can do this but so can getting loads of plays. How you get onto Spotify/Apple Music etc is through distribution. Thats a whole ‘nother blog that I haven’t written yet but a quick google will find you a bazillion upload platforms you can check out.
- Social media (including adverts) – I’ll go into this more in the marketing section of this blog but have interesting/engaging content, have a strategy and use the marketing tools available to you.
- YouTube – See above.
The majority of your marketing is going to be through social media. Once you hit the big time TV adverts, large spreads in National and International media and other things will start to happen, but right here, right now social media is where it’s at.
The first thing you need to do is decide which platforms are best for you. There are loads out there – Instagram, Snapchat, Twitter, YouTube and Facebook being just a few and not all of them will necessarily be right for you. I personally use Instagram, Facebook and Twitter so I am going to talk about those here but you might be a God or Goddess of Snapchat, or a budding YouTuber. Whatever you use, each platform has a different type of fanbase and you will need to interact with each of those groups of people in the way THEY like to be interacted with and regularly.
Your second task is to have a strategy:
- Who is your audience?
Each social media platform interacts and works differently and you will have what is called a demographic on each that you can track. Knowing which countries and towns you are most popular in, what age and gender they are and their interests can help you decide what content to post and who/where to target your campaigns so that the people that want to see your music and those likely to enjoy it will see it.
- When are they active?
Posting at the right times throughout the day will ensure more people will see your posts. I find 8:45am, 11:30am, 12:30-1:30pm, 3:30pm, 5:45pm, 7:30pm and around 10pm are all good content posting times for various reasons depending on demographic. There are scheduling tools you can use for this sort of thing.
- What are your goals?
Are you trying to promote a video? New release? Tour? Trying to get people to follow you or like your page? Have a clear set of goals for your campaign and aim to have those goals stretched out over a six month to year plan. If you have goals you can create content. If you have content you have engaging posts.
- Who are your peers/influencers?
Look at the people you admire. How are they using their social media? Can you use that to your advantage? Are you able to interact with them and get some advice?
Competitions are a great way to interact with your fans and gain new ones. Just reached a follower milestone? Give away a t shirt. Got a new EP dropping? Competition to win a merch bundle and CD before it drops. There are loads of ways you can do this and its fun for you as well as giving something back to one of the people who are constantly supporting you and spreading the word.
Lets take a look at the three main social media platforms and go through the main points of how to use each.
- Use the analytical tool. It will give you great information of where people are who are liking your page. This can be super useful when you are looking to book tours – you can prioritise areas where people already like your music. You can also set up adverts for followers in areas you feel you’d like more people to know about you.
- No hash tags! While they can be used on facebook, most people really don’t like to see them on there. It’s an instagram or twitter thing and the general opinion is that’s where they should stay.
- Don’t repeat yourself. The algorithms set up by facebook will push down any similar posts to ones you have already put up. They will send you messages to tell you they have done so. That includes the same photograph or similar wording, so if you want to post about a gig with a poster, sponsor it, don’t repeat it.
- Advertising is essential. As I mentioned before, you are your record label, and all labels will have a marketing budget. You can set up adverts for as little as £1 a day. I always have a perpetual facebook likes advert running. I will then sponsor posts about tours, single gigs, new videos and merchandise or anything else important. You can start off small but as your brand grows, so will your need to advertise.
- Interaction is key. If people are bothering to comment on your posts, respond! Apart from anything else this is polite. Your fans spend time and money coming to your shows and buying your music. The LEAST you can do is talk to them online and at your shows.
- Visual content on your posts will make them more interesting and get more responses. This can be a promo pic, a live shot or a video. Try to upload your videos direct to the page rather than using youtube links – you will get more views because its instantly playing and easier to access and share.
- Hashtags work, but only if you are using ones that are relevant and popular. Using #mycousinsdogisthebest isn’t going t help you. It might have been used before but probably not much. Using tags that are in their millions is a great way to push your post to the top of peoples suggested posts which will help you get more likes and more followers, so research them and when tagging use the most popular ones as they come up that are relevant to you. #gig #music #singer so on and so forth.
- Chang your biography link regularly. You can’t put live links in the blur under your bio, so if its new merch send them to your web store. If its a gig send them to your shows and tour dates. Video? YouTube. Always put “link in bio” if thats the case so they know where to go for more information.
- Tag your photos. If you are doing a show with other people, tag them. If you are posting a live photo or video from a show you just did, tag the venue, the promoter and the other acts. Say thank you! If you always wear a certain brand, are sponsored by someone or would like to be, tag them.
- There are multiple functions that you can use to interact. One minute videos, multiple photo/video posts, stories and live feeds. Use as many of them you can in different ways as often as possible. I will keep your feed interesting and your audience entertained.
- You can now sponsor posts on Instagram. Sponsor a poster for a gig or send them to your website to pick up some merch… You can have multiple photos and functions on these adverts and if you are a successful Instagrammer these can be really useful for generating more music sales and getting people to shows. The only difference from facebook is that you have to post before you can sponsor.
- One big DON’T for instagram: DO NOT connect your instagram to twitter and facebook. Twitter only shows a link not the photo – frustrating for twitter users. Just post the photo on twitter separately. Facebook shows all the hastags and we already know that a no-no.
“Using Twitter effectively requires you to put in time, effort and sometimes even money to reach your goal..” Jackson, 2015
Twitter is a tough cookie, but if you can work it, it can be great. It’s more like a continual mini conversation in bitesized chunks and has a lot of networking and business opportunities. Booking agents, photographers, PR, promoters all frequent. I have met web designers, got modelling jobs and music collaborations, met artists (including the person who does all our artwork) and got multiple gigs through twitter. It’s worth it. I’ve also made a tonne of wonderful friends.
- You have 280 characters now (it was 140) to work with, which isn’t a lot but it’s enough. You need to be punchy with your information. Get it all in there in a bitesized chunk.
- Use only one or two key hash tags. In 280 characters reading a post that says “Got a #gig in #worcester #tonight and we are super #excited. come #drink and #dance the #night away” is just an eyesore and not an easy read at all. One or two is good and easily searchable. Make sure that like instagram you are using the most popular and relevant ones.
- Tag the other bands, the venue and the promotion company into your posts wether you are advertising the gig or saying thank you afterwards. You are then advetising them too and that will be appreciated. They are also likely to retweet you, as you should be doing if anyone mentions you. You can also tag up to 10 people on a photo.
- Have a link to whatever event you are promoting. That can be a ticket link, the link to the facebook event page, your website or whatever. Put a link. It gets more clicks.
- Retweet and reply anyone and everyone who is interacting with you. Again, they are spending time and effort getting in contact. You should be doing the same in return. Build relationships with your fans. It’s so important.
- There are scheduling tools for twitter and facebook. I only use one for twitter. It’s called Tweetdeck and when I have tours and things coming up its amazing. I can schedule the same tweet once a day at different times to hit those target audience engagement points in the run up to all my gigs as well as talking about any videos, merch etc I have happening.
- DON’T have an automatic reply system or instant DM when people follow you or get in contact. It’s cold, it’s annoying and people know it’s not a genuine response.
- You can advertise on Twitter for a minimum of £1.50 a day. If you choose to do so, you can link yourself to similar artists/interests which will put your advert in the fans of those peoples feeds. Choose or create your most engaging tweets as part of your campaign and as always have links to your website/merch store/spotify/events/youtube videos
- Make sure you have a link to your website in your biography.
In conclusion, here is a summary of what I’ve just gone through, and some other things you can do in order to grow your fanbase and online presence.
Social Media Musts
- All profile and cover photos, biographies etc should be the same
- Use engaging content – links, videos and photos in your posts
- Post at strategic times during the day
- Target your audience
- Respond to your fans
- Interact with your peers
- Say thank you publicly
- Tag in other artists/promoters/venues
- Have exciting news – releases, new merch, shows to talk about
- Don’t link your profiles, link your website
Other Marketing Strategies
- Networking – Go to gigs. Talk to people. Direct contact. I have been played on Radio X because of networking. I have had modelling jobs, played major festivals and seen and done amazing things as a musician because of networking. I have some of the best friends and most unbelievable colleagues because of networking. Network. GO MAKE FRIENDS.
- Cross branding: My sponsor is King Cnut. My fans who wear the brand are the Cnut Crew. The owner gives us awesome threads and hats to wear on tour and we put his brand in our artwork and sell his hats on tour which makes us money too. My artist is a comic book writer and illustrator. I am a character in his award winning comic and his art is on almost every t shirt design and poster we have. All of this is mutually beneficial to both parties and exponentially helps grow both businesses.
- Start making a spreadsheet of e-zines, music blogs and online radio stations. Read them, listen to them and interact with them. When you have a new release, send it to them.
- Free listing sites for gigs are everywhere. When you are planning a tour put your gig on every local free listing site in the vicinity of each of the venues you will be playing. It’s time consuming but worth it.
- Use PR companies. Yes it’s expensive, but again, think record label. They pour millions into the PR of a single song. Having a three month campaign professionally PR’d is a must. They have the contacts to the gatekeepers of national and international press, hundreds of music blogs, commercial radio pluggers and all sorts. Do it.
If you got this far and actually read the whole thing I applaud you. I wish you all the best on your journey and if you have any questions feel free to shoot me an email. I will try to answer as best I can, as quickly as I can. Big love, and good luck!