Five years ago, we were asked to write a simple marketing guide for unsigned bands and independent artists. We came up with ten principles for success and it was shared on the Unsigned Guide Music Blog. Since then the music industry has changed dramatically with the shift from music sales to music access. iTunes has been replaced by Apple Music and downloads with streaming. Spotify is increasingly becoming the default music service for the masses. With these developments ringing in our ears, we decided to update our principles for success.
1. Write, record and play high quality music
It seems like an obvious thing to say, but everything starts & ends with the music. If the songs are poor, the recording is bad, and the live show is dull don’t expect to make a living from music. Most people expect unsigned bands to be naff, always challenge the stereotype there is no reason why you can’t look and sound as professional as a signed artist.
2. Continue to only deal in high quality music and content
Some of the best new unsigned bands and independent artists are let down by terrible videos, bad photography and shocking design. Remember music blogs are unlikely to post demos, so unless it’s finished, don’t share or post your music online. Yes it is fickle, but judging a book by its cover is a reality. When you are choosing which artist to review, book, or even sign you are invariably drawn to the most attractive presentation. So why not increase your chances of being heard? Remember, you can have the best music in the world but if nobody listens ,you get nowhere. Great videos and artwork don’t have to cost the earth. Take advantage of services like Spark Video, Canva and Seenit to bring effortless style to your design. Red Red Video also offer a special video and media package for solo artists.
3. Be your own biggest critic and biggest promoter
Continue to critique everything you produce, and ask yourself: Is this good enough? Does it communicate who we are? Would I really recommend, share or buy our music? Conversely to keep on promoting your music, be opportunistic but never annoying. Remember, nobody is ever likely to care as much about your music as you do. So before you pay anyone else to promote your music, think what else you can do yourself. Who have you told about your music today?
4. Register with the PRS For Music
Register your music with your local market collection agency to ensure you are receiving the money you are legally entitled to from radio, TV or live appearances. In takes minutes to ensure you get what is owed to you.
5. Plan to release music with a story – never just release it
If may have taken you months or years to produce your music, so don’t just rush it out without giving the promotion due care and attention. Plan what to release, how, when and who will be interested (industry and fans). Create a content calendar, planning what you are going to release and post on social media each day. Use services like Tweetdeck, Later and Facebook scheduled posts to plan in advance. You don’t need to spend hours on social media every day, what if you plan all of your week’s posts on a Sunday afternoon? Remember as an unsigned band, you control the timelines, there is no label pressure to release music on a certain day.
6. Use targeted paid social promotion before considering pluggers or PR
If you have an artist page on Facebook you can claim your Facebook Business account. Visit the audience insights tab to build an audience of people interested in music like yours. Who do you most sound like or get compared to? Type the name of this artist into Music Map to discover musical connections. Then add these artists to your Facebook audience in the interest section. Use small budgets and test out two different adverts to see which one works best. Facebook ads don’t appear on your wall, and allow you to promote your music beyond your existing fanbase. Remember, when you pay a PR company there is no guarantee they will place your music anywhere. With Facebook ads, your music is guaranteed to be seen by the people you target in the locations you choose at the time your choose.
7. Don’t create fake hype – be honest and humble about your music
Don’t waste your time saying you are the best band since The Stone Roses. Only ever include quotes from recognised music sources. Fake hype gets you nowhere. As a music blog when we see fake hype, we switch off.
8. Understand the rules and the realities of music consumption
It’s great to think differently but remember most people don’t. Most people use Facebook, most people stream music from Spotify and most people watch videos on YouTube. Start by making sure you have your music in places where people are guaranteed to go. Then work out how to make your content stand out. Get this right before starting to create your own music store or asking people to change their consumption habits.
9. Fan relationships aren’t built with a Like or a Follow
Fans are like friends, and you need to work hard to maintain great friendships. So when you get a new Like or Follow consider it the start of the conversation not the end of it. Support other bands, share their content, promote blogs, and club nights and you’ll find they are much more likely to support you.
10. Think in stories and cycles
It’s important to maintain momentum, so plan the next 6 months, don’t think about one release – think about two or three. Always know what is coming next, but be open to change and modify plans. There is very little interest in the headline ‘unsigned band releases new single.’ Think creatively, how can you make your story more interesting? What is it about the video, the lyrics, the inspiration, the day of release that makes this worth clicking on?