What are the basics of music marketing?

There is so much more for musicians to know today than in the past, in large part due to the internet and mobile devices.

And while the online proponent of music marketing isn’t the only part, it is quite significant.

Therefore, many items on this list have to do with online marketing, though they could just as easily apply to your offline efforts as well.

So let’s get into it. Here are 10 music marketing basics you should be aware of.

1. You Need a Website

It’s something I’ve been teaching musicians for a long time, and even in this post-social media world, it’s hard to dispute the importance of having a website.

John Oszajca's Website

John Oszajca has an excellent looking website.

First of all, while it’s great to build a following on a local level, ultimately, you’re going to need to figure out how to build your global audience too. A website will help you do that.

Second of all, social media is too transient to be dependable. The terms and conditions on these sites could change tomorrow and there’s nothing you can do about it.

Thirdly, if you have your own domain name, you can set up a unique email address associated with that domain name (i.e. mark@yourbandname.com). This helps you to appear more professional.

Fourthly, you can set up your website however you want to, make money with it however you want to, and choose what call to actions to emphasize.

Finally, the press, the media, reviewers and other industry people will take you more seriously when you have a website. I happen to think that’s pretty important.

2. Social Media is Not a Sales Engine

Social MediaIt’s true that you can take advantage of social media to market your content, your music, and other assets.

But this doesn’t mean that it’s a great place to sell stuff and market your wares.

Social media is primarily for conversation and community. You can use it to build new connections, meet people, and share interesting things with them.

This is more of a mindset shift than anything else. If you go to social media sites hoping to get a lot of money, you will probably be disappointed. If you go there to have a conversation, your expectations will be met and even exceeded.

I am not saying that you can’t promote product, and I’m certainly not saying that you can’t send people to your website.

But just keep your motives in check. If your purpose is to engage and connect, you’ll have a hard time not meeting your goals. That will keep you focused over the long haul too.

If your goal is to shout “Buy this!” from the rooftops, don’t be surprised when people think you’re crazy.

3. Music is Not a Resource

There is no arguing that music is a product. It can be bought and sold.

But unlike toothpaste or shampoo it doesn’t deplete over time; it can’t be purchased, used up and replaced. It’s not a consumable.

So, repeat business is usually a matter of coming out with more product, because once someone has your album, they have your album.

This is the tricky part about selling music; the value that you’re selling – in most people’s eyes – is just entertainment.

Now you and I know that music is beautiful, it unites people, it encourages and lifts up, it makes people dance, and all that wonderful stuff.

But to the average person, music is just music. They like some, and they don’t like some of the other stuff.

So the value proposition is the hard part. If you can figure that out, you can probably sell more music.

Just keep in mind that you won’t have a lot of repeat buyers on a single product. You have to keep creating more.

4. You Have to Build Your Email List

EmailThis seems to be getting a little bit harder than it used to be, but you’ve still got to do it.

Until we (the collective we) figure out a way to get more eyeballs on things, email still has the best return on investment.

Yes, it’s even better than social media; by a huge margin!

I’m not necessarily great at email; after all, I’m just one person, and realistically I can’t be great at blogging, podcasting, social media, video and everything else on top of email.

But I still do it all, and I still strive to learn and to be better at it.

Though you might get casual fans following you on your blog or social networks, you’re going to get more serious people opting in for your email list.

Getting right to the point, what does that mean for musicians? More sales!

I know, I know, we’re good people and we don’t use dirty words like sales, right?

But isn’t that the whole reason you’re here? Isn’t that what music marketing is all about?

5. Live Performance is Still the Best Way to Make Fans

Live PerformanceEven though we live in a world with a lot of noise and distraction, the best way for a musician to get people excited about what they’re doing is live performance.

Even skeptical, cynical people sometimes get pumped up after seeing and hearing you play!

So you have to use these opportunities wisely; it isn’t just about quantity.

When you’re just getting started, sure, you want to get out as much as you can, because playing live is just going to make you so much better as an artist (really).

But there comes a time when it’s stupid to repeat that process, because you’ll tire out your local fans, and you’ll probably catch yourself playing in less-than-ideal venues.

And even though you can showcase bits and pieces of your live performance through video (YouTube or even LiveStream), it’s still best to get in front of people when you can.

This is why touring is necessary. Creating a lasting fan base is about getting people to experience your music.

So, if you’re looking to make more fans, make sure to get out there.

6. You Have to Create Your Own Opportunities

The days of waiting around for someone to recognize you are basically over.

I’m not saying that you won’t get a few people reaching out here and there, but ultimately it’s unwise to sit around waiting for the call.

You have to meet people, book shows, record albums, and come up with unique marketing campaigns.

If no one’s going to recognize you, what do you do? You recognize yourself!

You see yourself and your music as being worthy of attention. You recognize that you have something that others need to be exposed to.

This is why it’s important to be proud of your work. You shouldn’t put anything out there that doesn’t meet your standards, unless you’re just doing it to grow and gain experience.

I have people reaching out to me pretty frequently. Some want to guest post. Some want to be reviewed. Others want coverage for their projects.

I’m glad to see you all reach out, and I’m happy to oblige whenever and wherever I can, but ultimately you have to provide me with the raw materials to work with.

Follow-up and follow-through are crucial to your ultimate success. It’s good to initiate, but don’t stop there; do what you said you were going to do!

7. A Long List of Credentials Doesn’t Make a Bio

If you’ve been around in the music scene long enough, you already know that you need a bio.

But most musicians miss the point of the bio altogether.

Your bio shouldn’t start with you, it should start with them.

Your focus is the reader, who in many cases doesn’t know anything about you.

You’re short-changing yourself if all you do is list your credentials, because it doesn’t actually say anything about you; it just shows that you’ve done stuff.

So what you need to do instead is:

  • Tell a story. People love stories, and they connect very well with them.
  • Explain who you are, where you’re from, what you’re doing, and where you’re going as an artist or a band.
  • Make sure your bio has been spell-checked.

I’m also a believer in including photos of the band members, along with their names and their roles within the band.

At the end, it’s wise to include your contact information so your fans, the press, and venue owners can get in touch with you easily.

8. You Have to Provide Options

OptionsYou’re almost certainly going to lose sales unless you provide your potential buyers with options.

What does that mean?

It means that your music needs to be available in a variety of different places (online and off) in different formats.

I know that this is a sticking point for some musicians, because they resist the thought of making their music buyable through major distributors like iTunes, Amazon, and so forth.

They want to use sites like Bandcamp, which allegedly offer more control.

But I don’t really see this as a battle between good and evil.

I see proper music distribution as a necessity. If you want to sell music worldwide, you need to make it accessible in as many places as possible.

Why? Because not all stores can be accessed across the globe.

If you just want to make fans in North America, then options like Bandcamp might be fine, but if you want to create fans across the world, you need to go a step beyond.

Options might also extend into things like album bundles, promotional packages, or VIP fan packs. This is up to you, and should probably be informed by conversations with your fans.

What do they want? How do they want to consume your music?

Get to the bottom of this.

9. Distributed Music Needs to be Promoted

For better or for worse – in most cases – the music you distribute won’t sell all by itself.

Unfortunately, musicians tend to miss this when they put out their first release.

They distribute their music, and it doesn’t sell, so they assume there’s something wrong with the distribution system.

I don’t think there’s anything wrong with the distribution channels that are out there. If you don’t believe me, check out this Google search I did for my first solo album, Shipwrecked… My Sentiments.

As you can see, you can get the album on iTunes, CD Baby, Google Play, Amazon, CD Universe and many other places.

Does this mean that I sell hundreds and thousands of copies every single day? I wish! I do see a trickle of sales here and there, but it isn’t much.

You need to make people aware of your release; that’s called marketing!

You need to be smart in how you go about marketing your music, because ultimately it’s the only way you’re going to sell more.

Ideally, you should have some kind of marketing plan, and you should be ready to act on it before you ever put any music out into the world.

Pre-release is the best time to tease; that opportunity won’t come around again once your music is available for purchase.

10. Marketing & Promotion is a Top Priority

MarketingFor some of the reasons already mentioned – in general – music is much harder to promote than other products.

There are plenty of different ways to market your music, but none of them guarantee success.

Does this mean that you should give up on marketing altogether? Quite to the contrary!

Whether you do it yourself or get someone else to do it for you, you need to put a high priority on it.

After all, you can’t get people to your show without marketing. You can’t get people to buy your music without marketing.

Most things you want in your music career lie on the other side of marketing.

You need to study and to be open-minded to the possibilities.

Again, if you aren’t really strong in marketing, or you just can’t see yourself getting into it, you need to find someone that can help you.

But either way, remember that it’s something that has to happen.

You can’t really have a profitable music career without marketing.

The good news is that there are more marketing channels available to you than ever before.

Conclusion

These are just some of the things all musicians – especially beginning musicians – should be aware of.

This isn’t to say that there aren’t other topics you should know about, but if you understand everything on this list, you can bypass years of trial and error.

Is there anything else musicians should be aware of? What important lessons have you learned from your music career?

Let us know in the comments section below!

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David Andrew Wiebe

David Andrew Wiebe

Founder & CEO at The Music Entrepreneur
David Andrew Wiebe has built an extensive career in songwriting, live performance, recording, session playing, production work, investing, and music instruction. In addition to helping musicians unlock their full potential, he also continues to maintain a performance schedule with Long Jon Lev and Adrenalize. If you'd like to be notified whenever the blog is updated, click here to subscribe.
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