With so many bands vying for attention from fans and record labels, standing out from the masses has always been a challenge. So in the wake of illegal downloading, streaming services and the devaluation of indie label artists by Internet giants YouTube, what can be done? How can smaller labels and burgeoning artists even begin to get noticed by anyone, let alone develop a loyal fan base or make a living from their music?
Here are a few ideas for rock star marketing, along with examples of different musicians who are “doing it right” despite the challenges the industry is experiencing.
Online Marketing Essentials
Bringing your music to the masses can – in some ways – be a lot easier thanks to the prevalence of the Internet, although it does pose its own unique challenges. Focusing on the positives, the net provides up and coming bands with the opportunity to promote themselves to a seemingly infinite audience for a relatively low cost. While a lot of resources are available for free, in some cases it’s worth spending a few quid. Your website is one of those cases.
Rock Your Web Presence
A website gives you the opportunity to have freedom over your online image and identity. While Facebook and Tumblr are cheap or free, there is less choice over what your presence there can look like. While your music is your medium and you don’t want to risk your artistic integrity, to get ahead you need to consider your band is your brand. A website that reflects your unique style is a massive step in the right direction, towards building up familiarity. No one is suggesting that when you’re playing for tips you should also try to fork out for a site that costs thousands of pounds, but a decent, well-designed site is a worthwhile investment. Having a custom site will build up your profile, particularly if you blog, as fresh content will increase your online search results and boost your visibility. It will also aid in a greater number of industry professionals and fans taking you seriously.
Get Social With Fans
As important as a website is, you need to do something to drive traffic to it and further promote your music. This is where social media, like Facebook and Twitter, come in. They are free and simple outlets for keeping your existing fans up to date with your band and hopefully attracting new ones. Through social media, you can post band news and photos, sound clips, promote upcoming gigs and festivals and hold contests or promotions.
Social media is also just that – social – and it offers musicians and their fans the opportunity to connect in a way that may not be possible at a show. Connecting with your fans online is easy and costs nothing. While trying to respond to everyone who comments on your Facebook page is unreasonable, spending a few minutes in the tour van checking tweets here and there goes a long way towards building rapport and loyalty. A great example of this for me, personally, are the interactions I’ve had with London-based rock band The Dash. Before my first Dash show, I tweeted that I had just come from Canada and couldn’t wait to see them play. To my surprise, they tweeted me back – and then their lead singer recalled the interaction when I met him in person after the gig. Quite consistently since that date, the band has either retweeted or responded to my mentions of their music or gigs, and interacted with me online.
I would have gone to the shows and listened to the records anyways, as I never expected a response from a set of busy rockers, but the fact they bothered to engage with me online certainly increased my loyalty to the group and inclination to see them play, buy their merchandise and recommend them to my friends.
Capture Data Effectively
It’s hard to feel encouraged that your online marketing is paying off if you can’t measure any of the results – and that’s why, as great as social media is, having an e-newsletter too can’t hurt. Time and circumstances may dictate that you duplicate some of the content from your social media, and that’s ok, as e-newsletters can reach out to those who aren’t into Facebook or Twitter. They also make it easy to track your results, and are typically a more reliable way to reach out, that doesn’t leave it up to an ever-changing Facebook algorithm to determine whether your fans are even going to see your posts. A fun idea for an e-newsletter is to offer some type of “exclusive content” as a prize or incentive for subscribing. This could be something free, like early access to listen to a new track.
Market To Smartphone Users
An increasing number of fans are using their smartphones to access the music they love, and savvy bands, promoters and labels are catching on. Not only are mobile-optimised websites and easy access to social media excellent in this regard, but some festivals are even creating apps to connect fans with music. Of course, there are also a number of music services that stream tracks or videos, but they can be controversial amongst artists. While services like Bandcamp and Deezer are often great for promoting new music, other mobile apps have come under fire for making profitability and success more difficult for emerging musicians. Ultimately, the decision to utilise certain music apps or rally against them depend on what each artist or label feels is right for them, but the opportunities are there for those who want to take them.
Most unsigned bands have an active SoundCloud profile, which allows them to post songs online without having to worry about illegal downloads and interact with their friends and fans – in addition SoundCloud is free.
Expanding Your Reach
Once you have the promotional basics nailed down and a solid online presence, it’s time to branch out. Rock star marketing is about more than just a website and printing posters for gigs – as important as they are. Taking the next step will continue to build up awareness of your band to the general public, plus strengthen the bond with your existing following.
Connect With Other Artists
While virtually nothing beats a good old fashioned band rivalry, many artists these days are finding they’re better off collaborating with and encouraging one another than battling their way to get ahead. Even if you’re not inclined to write and record music together, getting on the bill together for gigs can be an effective way to sell more tickets – as fans of both artists will want to come out. And after the show, they might discover they have a new favourite group, too!
Some musicians may wind up in a mentorship-style relationship with other artists, too. A great example of this is the friendship and partnership between Billy Bragg and Frank Turner, and the further connection with young singer Sean McGowan. Bragg and Turner have performed together on several occasions, notably in support of the charity Shelter. In turn, as McGowan is forging his own successful career he has also performed and formed a strong relationship with the two. The opportunity to connect with longer-standing artists that can offer advice and encouragement may often prove valuable for emerging bands. Rock star marketing, in this sense, may involve networking and forging relationships with other artists, which in turn can promote your own music.
A great way to promote an upcoming show or EP is to hold a contest that lets fans design your cover or poster art. It’s an effort easily spread online and will give the winner a great sense of pride to see their art featured in support of a band they love. Furthermore, it’ll result in you getting some incredible material! If that’s not your thing, you could always commission a print company to design custom wristbands for your upcoming gig – while it’ll cost more, it’ll also be memorable.
Another good idea is to take part in as many competitions as possible. For example, Glastonbury Festival offers unsigned bands the opportunity to play on one of the smaller stages at the festival. Keep your eyes peeled and don’t be shy.
Make A Trade
If you’re struggling to build up a wider audience on Facebook, you could always offer an incentive to encourage followers to join you there. For example, every new “like” on your page between a certain date range will gain entry into a contest for free show tickets, or a link to download exclusive tracks.
Turn The Camera Around
An incredibly quick and easy way to create great content that your fans will love is to swap the “selfie with a celebrity” for a photo taken by your band. This is a quirky practice that fans love. While many will still crave the opportunity to meet a beloved singer and have a photo to post on Instagram, they’ll also be delighted by the moment the band takes a selfie on stage with the audience behind them. Some musicians even pull out their own cameras and grab snaps with fans that they post to their social networks – imagine their followers’ joy at picking themselves out on their favourite group’s Facebook page.
Host A Special Event
This idea is nothing new, and countless musical idols have done it in one form or another. Call it a special event or a publicity stunt, but there is no doubt that many special and unique events hosted by musicians are effective and memorable. From John Lennon and Yoko Ono staging a sit-in for “hair peace” and “bed peace” to the Sex Pistols’ celebratory Thames River cruise, unusual events attract attention.
Recent examples of this are Arcade Fire playing pop-up gigs and George Ezra holding a competition for fans to join him on a train trip to Budapest, but other ideas may include hosting a one-night-only “guitar lesson” at a popular live music venue or a band-hosted new album listening party.
While ideas and suggestions abound, and creative minds will be sparked to generate more, in closing there are a few best practices that bands can keep in mind when working on their marketing:
- Regarding social media, beware of “overcommunicating.” Yes, your fans want to hear from you, but strike a balance between posting infrequently and oversharing. Say something when it counts.
- Promote more than just your music. Talk about life, and be real. Regardless of the extent to which your fans put you on a pedestal, they will always appreciate an insight into the authentic you.
- Consult with your bandmates regarding your marketing. Being in sync will keep everyone happy and on the same page.
- Plan ahead. If you know what festivals or gigs you have coming up, start thinking of ways to promote your involvement and consider scheduling online updates, flyer printing and e-newsletters now. It’ll save you some stress when it comes to crunch time before your next tour or album release.
- Update your bio. This is basic and often overlooked, but people want to know. They’re curious about where you’re from, which bands inspire you and what your favourite food is. Give your fans a little insight into who you are.
Offline Marketing Essentials
Even in this modern, techie age the power of the poster and flyer still has significant impact. Letter drops are a great way to get your voice heard – The Direct Marketing Association (DMA) discovered that almost 50% of consumers respond to an item through the letterbox, but keep reading for more promotional print tips.
You could ask venues where you are going to play to put these up a couple of weeks before the gig. Many pubs and smaller venues will welcome some well-designed and attractive wall deco as it makes them look good too. This will make folks recognise your band name, which is half the way to making a fan – now they just have to like your music! Have a look – large format poster printing is a lot cheaper than you might think.
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