It’s hard to actually get a music project off the ground without digging into your pockets a little bit. All of the top independent guys from the last few years have done it, Macklemore, Mac Miller, Odd Future, they didn’t do ALL BY THEMSELVES. That’s not what being independent is about. Everyone gets a little help and that’s fine.
But, with the power of the internet and the most basic social skills, you can create significant buzz for yourself without spending a dime. The catch here is, the music has to be good. You can pay all the bloggers you want and relentlessly email blast your sick-of-your-shitty-music email list all you want but when there’s no money involved, nobody will hold your hand or lie to you. This is really the best way to get honest, real feedback and opinions on your music. They don’t have incentive to coddle you so you’ll come back, they getting nothing from you and taking a risk listening to your music.
So, here are some good free promotional routes you can take.
Reddit is one of the most powerful websites on the internet. It’s a social bookmarking site but it’s really much, much more than that. There are millions of individual Reddit communities. From frontpage juggernauts like /r/AskReddit to small communities like /r/media to great musician communities like /r/makinghiphop, you have completely new sets of rules and completely new people across each subreddit. It’s a great place to learn about an ideology, get a job, or talk about your favorite show.
With that in mind, lets look at creative ways we can use Reddit as a promotional vehicle for our music while still respecting the etiquette and attitude of redditors.
You might be tempted to go straight to /r/music and post your new single or album, waiting for a plethora of upvotes and Reddit carrying you to the front page. But, that probably won’t happen, especially at /r/music. /r/music is a subreddit for talking about Jack White’s new album or the latest Paul McCartney TV concert, not a place to post your new rap single. You have to learn to only submit your music where it is expected and wanted, or else you’ll be downvoted and be worse off. While /r/music isn’t the place you’re looking for, they posted a great and long list of musical subreddits, of all genre.
Find subs that relate to your music and follow the specific rules for each subreddit. They all have different protocols to follow while submitting music and some don’t want user submitted music at all so watch out for that.
Here are some excellent Reddit communities. Read their rules before submitting them your music.
Online forums are also a great place for promotion, if you use them right. It’s really easy to go to seven music forums, copy and paste the same message and than leave it. But, that won’t do much for you. The members of these forums usually don’t take kindly to a new user signing up, posting their music and leaving and never coming back, just a stop in your music promotion journey. You have to become part of these communities. If nothing else, critique other people’s music. Leave real feedback. Listen to the whole song, not the first 30 seconds. Tell them how they can improve or if they’re a better musician than you, ask for tips! Be a person, not a username spamming music.
With that being said, here’s a list of music forums, mostly hip hop. Most have specific places for posting music, others don’t. In the ones that don’t, I’d suggest you post a little bit, put your link in the signature and after settling into the forum a bit, introduce yourself in an off topic section and casually mention you make music, if you’re real about it, some people will listen and give you feedback.
- IGN Hip Hop
Submitting to Music Blogs
Getting blogs to post you on their site is pretty hard but as long as your music is good, eventually the blogs will post you. Now, it may be tempting to get a big email list of Praverb’s Big Blog List (he removed the email list for this reason) and send out your music in one big message to all the blogs you can. This is a very appealing idea but it isn’t as effective as making a message personal, even if it’s little as just addressing the blogger by name and making a comment about a nice write up they did on the site. You’re asking them to promote for you, the least you can do is actually look at their content.
If you do decide to do big email blasts though, at least use the BCC function. Instead of putting emails in the “To” field just put them all in the BCC field.
As for sending the actual email. It’s a good idea to have a bit of a press release. Even if it’s not as corny and pretentious as professionally written press releases (or more corny, if possible) it’s nice to have a little bio that explains you as an artist. Your influences, your sound, who you’ve collaborate with, your location, why you’re doing this, etc. Even if its’ really badly written. Bloggers know how to write. If they like your music, they’ll do a quick rewrite for you.
Always make sure to include your network links of course. Your Twitter, Soundcloud, whatever link you would want a potential fan to have. And a good photo to go along with the post is a must. Cover art is usually best but if it’s an interview or something different, a picture of you might suit better.
Ideally, you want to form relationships with bloggers. It’s a mutually beneficial relationship. They give you promotion and you give them good content to post. Don’t abuse the relationship though, there are plenty more thirsty musicians that will take your spot on a blog in a second.
All in all, be respectful and honest.
Finding Your Demographic
Posting your new grunge song on a bubblegum pop forum will just result in angry forum users and a bad link for you. Not only do you need to find the type of music fans who are listening to you but, the type of people listening.
Do you make psychedelic rock? Maybe the guys over at Grasscity Forums or Shroomery would enjoy your music. Do you make 180 BPM dance music? I’m sure some of the guys at Bodybuilding.com really need some more workout music. Possibly you make indie folk music? Well, I’m sure there’s some hipster Tumblr that would love your music. The point is, you shouldn’t only be putting your music on places that people look for music. Most people don’t go on music sites regularly to find new music, they usually stick with their favorite artists. These people may be potential fans but just don’t know where to look. Why don’t you go to them?
First off, look at what social groups and such you fall into. Maybe you’re an exception and the music you make doesn’t reflect any of the demographics that you fit into but you should try. Than, maybe go to a concert or festival for your genre, see what types of people are there and attempt to market your music to them. (If you really do this, you should also take the opportunity to burn some CDs and flyers to give to them.)
If you’ve done anything outlined in this post, you’ve probably heard lots of other up and coming musicians that are in your situation as well. You should take the opportunity to collaborate with them.
Not only is it beneficial from a promotional standpoint but also on a musical one as well. The best way to improve is to play with other people, even if you guys aren’t playing together and recording from miles away, you learn about each others process and musical identity.
It’s easy to find artists to collaborate with, regardless of your skill level and how far along you are in your career because there’s always tons of people on the same level as you looking to rise up. I would post some topics on forums and such looking for artist to get together with.
I know this post said online promotion but hey! There’s people outside too!
Doing a little offline marketing can really help you in your local scene. If you can get your music to the local DJs and artists, even better.
Some creative methods of offline promotion:
- Stickers. I’ve seen them put on street signs, sides of buildings, windows, bus stops and everywhere else. They stay there for a long time they are constantly being seen by all different people. Be careful not to vandalize
- Flyers. Get some nice graphics and print up some nice flyers with your music info, promoting whatever new thing you’re doing and put them on local bulletin boards at town halls, sports arenas and universities.
- CDs. If you go to your local record store (if you have one), you can ask the owners to keep some of your CD in the store for free. You can also give them out at shows, festivals, malls, etc. You can get cheap CD sleeves here.
- Shirts. Wearing a shirt with your website and logo on it will make some people curious enough to check it out. You can also make shirts and give them out to fans of your music who will convert their friends.
- Business cards. Business cards are really cheap and you can usually get some free from most sites.
- Car. Okay if you’re really serious, you can put some decals on your car with whatever relevant info.
- Gigs. This is pretty obvious. Try to form a relationship with local bars, restaurants, and clubs to play there. You can have a table with your CDs and such as well.
- Local gigs. If your gear is small enough (really ideal for hip hop) you can just start performing in parks and certain public areas where you think it’d be acceptable as well as doing parties and performing at friend’s houses.
Online radio is a great source to find music fans and hook em to your music. There are tons of online radio stations out there that would love to play your music if they heard it. Jango Airplay is offering 100 free plays plus 10 free plays a week to all unsigned musicians, that is a great entry into online radio and immediately after you put your plays live you’ll notice new people listening to it, some becoming fans.
I can’t put it much better than this list of radio stations put together by Praverb. Submit to all of those that you can.
There is also this Fiverr gig (costs $5 though) that sends your music to 300 college radio stations. Put together by PurplePistol.
This is the most cliche “how to promote music” tip but it’s pretty essential to at least have social media accounts that you periodically update.
Not only that, you should use sites like Twitter to network. Talk to bloggers, other musicians, upload exclusive sneak peeks at cover arts and songs before they come out etc. Of course, I’m most guilty of doing none of these things but I’d be happy to tell you to do them.
And don’t have those auto-direct message features on Twitter, where you send an automated message to someone as soon as they follow you. I’m much more likely to just unfollow you after that rather than click on your links because seconds into following you, you’re already spamming my inbox without even knowing it. Stay away from these systems if you ask me.
In recent years, there have been some really innovative online music startups like Stageit and Gigee that allow you to air live concerts from your computer or smartphone and collect donations. These are especially great for artists who are only local and can’t get much further than a couple towns away to gig. Personally, I’ve never used these so there’s not much I can say about them but the concept is simple enough.
There are so many other creative and useful ways to promote your music online without spending any money, these are only the few that I thought of while writing this post. So, if you think you have a better method, leave it in the comments! Maybe I’ll add it to the post.
Checkout my media analysis blog at http://backspacez.net
And check out my new mixtape with Toker P at https://tokernspace.bandcamp.com/album/toker-n-space-ep