There’s no denying that the realm of music promotion has changed drastically from the surge of popular music to now. Today there are several creative and free ways to promote your music, and new avenues and methods are opening up every day. This wasn’t always the case, though.
In the early and mid-20th century, the primary channels for promoting music were via radio and television. Of course, these were limited forms of media controlled by strict gatekeepers. In other words, not any average Joe could unleash their art into the airwaves. Record labels, advertisers, and corporations collaborated to construct the most profitable artists, songs, and images possible.
It used to be the case that artists with unique sounds, styles, and niche appeal couldn’t break through and make their art their living. There were some exceptions here, namely in the punk, hardcore, and underground hip-hop scenes. Street promotion, word of mouth, and cultural forces took hold in these cases (at least until record labels got their hands in the pot). But in general, if you couldn’t fit the mainstream enough to land a record deal, you could hardly promote your music, and you had to keep your day job until then.
It’s true, these barriers still exist today. In fact, there are more active record labels now than ever before, some owned by large media groups, others independent. And while popular music is still inextricably linked to corporate advertising and interests, the internet has vastly changed this landscape. Those barriers of the past are becoming decreasingly relevant. Now we find ourselves in the Wild West of music promotion. Here we’ll explore this new frontier and look at five ways to promote your music or band for free.
1. Use social media (wisely)
In the past decade, social media has become ubiquitous; so much so, it’s like air. Social media is necessary to promote your music, but it’s also taken for granted. Because of this, you have to be thoughtful with how you use the platform, and not expect it to do all the legwork.
That being said, there are a few notable facts about social media algorithms. Firstly, images and video content reach more people than text posts. We’re visual creatures, which is why Instagram quickly became one of the most effective social media platforms. Facebook is still relevant, but it’s not without its faults. One thing frustrating many musicians today is how Facebook’s algorithms favor those who pay for advertising. While the platform itself is free to use, many artists find themselves paying to boost their posts in order to reach and engage more people.
There are other ways to organically reach people, however. Post consistency and hashtags help boost engagement. You don’t want to exhaust people with frivolous daily posts and hundreds of tags, but posting on a regular basis keeps your name relevant and enhances visibility. Using social media to promote your music isn’t just about steady posting or dishing out dollars, though, it’s about the content itself. How do you want to brand your art?
If you want to form a close community of fans, commenting on others’ posts, sharing things from other pages, and acting personable can help. If you want your art to speak for itself, you might take a different approach, like creating a color scheme for your Instagram posts, keeping text posts short and cryptic, etc. It’s all about how you want to present your music. Your social media presence should complement and enhance your art, not detract from it or clash with it.
2. Explore different music hosting platforms
Ever since the digital revolution, the gatekeepers of music distribution have become far less powerful. While the megalithic iTunes and Spotify dominate the digital purchase and streaming markets, it’s easier than ever before to get your music on these platforms. You can even make money off royalties if enough people listen to your stuff.
Websites like Tunecore and CDBaby make it easy to sell your music on these larger digital distributors, including Amazon Music and Google Play. And while this is one route for publicizing your songs, it’s not the only one. There are several other sites that allow you to promote your music and publish your work for free. SoundCloud has become hugely popular, especially in the Trap, EDM, and Rap scenes. Grammy-award-winning Chance the Rapper, for instance, found massive success by putting out his music for free on Soundcloud without a record label.
Bandcamp is another music hosting site which is especially big with Indie Rock artists. YouTube has also become popular among musicians for not only music videos but songs and full album streams. All these sites are free to use, and most will even pay out if your music is streamed enough. Many bands and artists use several of these avenues to promote their music and ensure the most reach possible.
3. Promote your music with your own website
With the power and prevalence of social media, it might seem old-fashioned to make your own domain name. On the contrary, however, having an official website is a great way to supplement your social media presence while creating a hub for those who want to know more about you. With sites like Facebook and Twitter, you have to rely on their formatting, parameters, and terms of service. With your own website, though, you have full control.
In the early days of the web, creating a website required a good deal of coding and technical knowledge. Today, however, sites like Squarespace and Wix have made the process so much easier. With these platforms, all you need to know is how you want your page to look. They provide you with the tools you need and the customization options to make a site that’s unique and completely your own.
There is a slight disclaimer here: these sites are “free” to start via trial period, though there are monthly or yearly fees beyond this to keep your domain name. Still, once you have your domain name, you can do whatever you want with your site at no extra cost. You can link to your social media profiles, host your music and videos, embed a merchandise store, and so much more. Having a site also helps with your search engine optimization (SEO), another important aspect of online marketing.
4. Create a mailing list
Mailing lists, like web domains, seem like an outdated marketing tool. However, they can still be effective, especially for keeping your biggest fans up to date. Those who sign up for your mailing list are coming to you. So these newsletters can be more focused, specialized, and even personal. Social media, on the other hand, is better for broader, more general posts.
By using mailing lists to promote your music you don’t have to rely on the algorithms of Facebook, Twitter, or the like. People won’t miss your email unless it gets sent to their spam folder or they delete it by accident. Rather, they’ll be able to check out the letter on their own time. With social media sites, they might miss a post due to timing or algorithm issues. And people like the personal aspect of receiving an email from their favorite artists. It helps strengthen the bond between you and your fans. Just be sure to not overdo it with sending out these emails. A monthly newsletter is typically a good pace.
5. Build an electronic press kit (EPK)
As previously mentioned, record labels are still relevant and influential in funding musicians and promoting them. While getting signed shouldn’t be the end goal of every artist, it can certainly open some doors. So if you feel like you’re ready to start sending your music to labels, you’ll want to supplement it with an electronic press kit.
To put it simply, EPKs are resumes. They outline your band’s history, accolades, musical style, contact information, links to social media pages and websites, and anything else relevant for those in the industry to know. This is essentially how you promote your music and your brand to professionals. So, a regular fan won’t be seeing your EPK. Labels, management companies, booking agents, and promoters will most likely want to see one, however.
Since your EPK is your resume, make sure it’s well written and free of spelling and grammatical errors. Also, make sure it presents your band in a positive, professional way. Feel free to include high-quality pictures of yourself as well. It might not feel natural to sell yourself in this way, but anytime you’re promoting your music that’s what you’re doing, after all.
These are just a handful of ways to promote your music in today’s age. People are coming up with new and clever ways to get more music out there every day. It might be overwhelming, but it’s also exciting that so many artists now have a platform that was previously unavailable to the majority of them. Don’t be afraid to try new things, and remember that it’s okay to sell yourself a bit. Just make sure you’re doing it right, and don’t give up!