From the outside, it might seem like the music industry is all about creating music: being inspired, writing songs, recording singles, making albums. And, of course, all of this creative stuff is a huge part of it. But music industry insiders, especially record labels, know the real truth: the music industry is all about promotion.
Because it doesn’t matter how earth-shatteringly, groundbreakingly life-changing an artist’s music is if nobody ever hears it. That’s why promotion is so important. For music to achieve everything we love about it, like awakening emotions and telling stories and creating community and making people feel understood, somebody (or more likely a team of somebodies) first has to put lots of very intentional effort into promotion.
To give you a head start in the music promotion game, here are ten different strategies you can use to promote music, whether that be your own or of artists on your record label.
Keep reading to learn how to promote music, 10 different ways!
1. Go Viral on TikTok
It’s 2021 and we would be absolutely remiss not to mention the major impact TikTok is having on the music industry right now. (For those of you who don’t have any Gen Z-ers in your life, TikTok is a video-based social media platform in which users can make videos up to 1 minute long, and it is huge right now.)
As one of the fastest-growing apps around and a central focus on music as part of its culture, TikTok has a massive ability to give songs a major boost – and that’s not theoretical. TikTok is at least partially (if not mostly) responsible for the chart-topping success of songs such as Doja Cat’s “Say So”, The Weeknd’s: “Blinding Lights”, and Roddy Rich’s “The Box.” It’s so impactful that artists as big as Justin Bieber are creating music with TikTok in mind, hoping to leverage the platform for promotion.
If you want to give it a shot yourself (which you should), you can help increase the chances of a song doing well on TikTok by creating a challenge or dance that go along with the song, encouraging users to create their own videos using your song. If you do it right, you might just get a Billboard number one. But, actually.
2. Send out Emails
Okay, enough with all of that new-fangled stuff. Let’s pivot to a classic digital marketing strategy: email lists. See, email marketing is incredibly common and that’s because it’s effective. Building up an email list of music industry contacts like DJs, journalists, and media outlets allows you to reach exactly the right people when you’re seeking reviews, features, and airtime as part of your music promotional campaign.
With a tool like Promoly, you can easily deliver music to your email list, giving each email recipient the option to directly download your new music to their computer or Dropbox account in whatever file format they prefer, making it easy for them to listen to and promote your new songs.
3. Use Spotify Pre-Saves
Remember when Spotify was once as much a revelation for the music industry as TikTok is now? Today, utilizing music streaming platforms like Spotify as part of music promotion is a must. One great way to do so is to use the pre-save, which helps you build up excitement and hype about your new music among your listener community before its release. This is a great way to ensure that when your music drops, there will immediately be people who listen to it.
Spotify pre-saves are exactly what they sound like: users who opt in will have your song, EP, or album saved and waiting for them the moment it’s released. It’s streaming’s answer to pre-ordering an album. To incentivize users to pre-save your upcoming music, you can run competitions, do giveaways, and offer exclusive content in exchange.
4. Get on Spotify Playlists
Another way to promote your music on Spotify is to get your songs included on the featured playlists that Spotify makes available to all of its nearly 300 million users. As you can imagine, this is a great opportunity for exposure to a new audience.
The best way to do this is to use Spotify for Artists, which allows you to directly submit your unreleased music for consideration for inclusion in Spotify’s playlists. To increase your chances of being chosen, provide as much information as possible about the songs you are submitting, including instruments used, genre, mood, cultures the song or the artist belong to, whether or not it’s a cover, and so on. If your song gets chosen, it will also receive the added benefit of being included in your followers’ weekly Release Radar playlists.
You can also get songs that have already been released added to Spotify playlists, though this isn’t as straightforward a process and requires a lot more promoting your music on social media platforms (see number 10) and maybe even hiring a Spotify promotion company. You can also create your own playlists which, if they are made well, with a good cover image, a compelling title, and quality song choices and order, maybe organically found by Spotify users. As long as you include your own music in the playlist, it’ll get heard that way.
5. Take Advantage of Influencer Marketing
Another modern classic of digital marketing is influencer marketing, where you work with people who have large followings on social media to help you promote your music. Influencer marketing is most effective when you do it within certain niches and communities.
Do your research and find influencers who are already making content about music or, even better, your genre of music. That way, them promoting your content will feel natural and not like a forced advertisement, and you’ll know that their audience is already interested in the kind of music you have to offer.
You can do a lot of different types of influencer marketing campaigns, from asking somebody to post a screenshot of them listening to your new song on Spotify on their Snapchat or Instagram story to having somebody create a YouTube video of them reacting as they listen to your song or album for the first time to having a blogger or YouTuber review your new music to asking a dancer to post choreography to your song. The options are endless.
6. Make Videos
Though videos have always been a part of the music industry, they are even more powerful a tool now than ever as video slowly grows to become 82% of all internet traffic. While the decreased popularity of previous cultural juggernauts like MTV and TRL may have changed the landscape of music videos, it certainly hasn’t killed them; a good music video will still get millions and even billions of views online.
In addition to music videos, online video viewers are interested in other types of content from their favorite artists, too, and this is where you can really have fun and be innovative. From tour video diaries to backstage vlogs to workout videos set to your new song, there are a lot of ways that you can promote an artist’s new music – or the artist themselves – through online video.
7. Play at Festivals
Among all this talk of digital marketing, let’s not forget the mainstay of music promotion: playing concerts and touring. Because in order to post backstage videos online, you have to actually get out there and play music first. While every new artist may dream of going on a headlining tour, a good place to start is actually to play music festivals.
Now, obviously we’re not talking about headlining Coachella here, unless your artist is Beyonce or Ariana Grande, in which case – I am honored (and confused) that you are reading this article. But if you’re promoting a newer or smaller artist, a good direction to go is to look into smaller, more genre-based music festivals like the Newport Folk Festival (folk) and Warped Tour (rock) and the Movement Music Festival (electronic). Not only are these easier to get into, but they also give you access to an audience that is already interested in the type of music you’re releasing.
8. Open for a Bigger Artist
Another way to get a smaller or newer artist on the road touring music is to have them open up for a bigger artist. If you can pull this off, you are really hitting the promotional gold, as it exposes you to an audience of music lovers who are in a good mood and primed to enjoy what they’re listening to. You also benefit from the explicit or tacit endorsement of the bigger artist and a lasting association with them.
There is, of course, a caveat here. It’s crucial that there is a good match between you and the artist you’re opening for. If the kind of people who love their music and are willing to buy tickets to their show is not also the kind of people who will love your music, you’re setting yourself up for everything from awkwardness and disappointment to heckling and ruining the vibe of the whole show. Not pretty.
9. Get Reviewed
While news publications may seem kind of old-school, getting a solid review in the press can still be fantastic promotion for an artist. Just think about the reaction to Fiona Apple’s new album Fetch the Bolt Cutters getting Pitchfork’s first 10 rating in nearly ten years; it was huge. So it’s definitely worth your time to try and get music journalists to review your new music.
To pull this off, you have to do some research and find journalists who are reviewing artists like you, whether that’s artists of your size, your genre, your location, or something else. Compile a list of these journalists and their contact information. You can then use Promoly to easily send all of them your new music at once.
10. Use Social Media
Though we could dedicate an entire guide just to ‘how to promote music’ on social media alone, here are some quick tips because, let’s be honest, if you’re not promoting your music on social media in 2021, what are you even doing?
Use hashtags. Hashtagsare a must for social media posts, as they are a free and easy way to get new people to see your post. Make smart choices about which hashtags you use, choosing both popular ones with large audiences and more niche ones where you won’t get lost in the fold. Don’t use too many hashtags per post so as not to seem annoying.
Post outside the box. If you haven’t learned anything from our first tip about TikTok, the most unexpected social media platforms can blow up out of nowhere and make a major impact. So don’t just post on the obvious platforms like Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. Give other ones like YouTube, Reddit, Snapchat, TikTok, Tumblr, and Pinterest some love, too.
Be consistent. When it comes to social media platforms, the more you give, the more you get. Audiences want to see consistent content posted frequently. You’ll be rewarded for posting often, as much as multiple times a day for certain platforms like Instagram and Twitter.
Engage with fans. It’s not enough just to post on social media and leave it at that. Audiences want you to be a part of their community. So follow people, post comments, ask questions, create new hashtags, and so on. Engagement goes both ways.
Be real. Authenticity is key on social media. Social media users are not interested in content that feels corporate or tryhard or overtly promotional. Instead, they want a sense of real connection. So be jokey, use your voice, and build an authentic brand.
So, there you have it. Ten relevant, effective ‘how to promote music’ strategies for music that you can use to grow as an artist or to help an artist on your label grow. Now, what are you waiting for? Get out there and promote.