In a recent How I’m Promoting My Music This Month email newsletter (subscribe here), I mentioned that I was working through a long to-do list to promote my new album. Several subscribers emailed to ask for a copy of that list. It’s full of abbreviations, acronyms, and other indecipherables, so I figured I’d break it down here.
The items are mostly specific to my situation, and as such, this isn’t intended as a how-to guide. Instead, think of it as a brainstorming session. You’re likely to find at least one or two new weapons to add to your arsenal.
Keep in mind that I started album promotion about two weeks before release, with no aspirations of mainstream press coverage. This is more of a “get my shit together” list than a legit campaign.
Have your expectations been sufficiently lowered? Alright, let’s get started…
Optimize Bandcamp tags. I surveyed similar releases and put together a list of tags that accurately describe my music, that also match their genres in search. For example, “synth pop” is a subgenre of Pop, and “synthwave” is a subgenre of Electronic. Why there’s a space in one but not in the other is beyond me.
Send teaser email with artwork. Sam Todhunter, art director at NewRetroWave, designed the cover art. He’s well known in the synthwave scene, and many of the outlets I promoted to are familiar with his work. As soon as I received the final artwork, I sent out individual emails to about 30 YouTube channels, blogs, and radio shows to show off Sam’s latest and to let them know the album was coming their way soon.
Ask about vinyl on Facebook. I’ve never pressed vinyl and I’d really like to, but I didn’t know where to start, so I joined the Synthwave Vinyl Collectors group on Facebook and asked for their advice.
Ads on teaser and single. I ran Google Ads to run on YouTube for the teaser video, and for the static cover art video for the lead single, “The Future You is Forever”.
Compose pre-order announcement. I enabled pre-orders on Bandcamp, and announced it in an email blast, a Patreon post, and on socials (which I pinned on Twitter and Facebook).
Send private streaming emails with Dropbox link. I planned to use Bandcamp’s private streaming feature to share the album ahead of launch, but the option wasn’t available. An email from Bandcamp support explained:
Private streaming currently isn’t available for pre-orders, but that’s something we may consider for the future. If you don’t want to deal with track/album codes, you could instead create a duplicate private copy of that album and then send out private streaming links to that copy.
I went ahead and created download codes and emailed them individually to my pitch list of about 80 outlets, nearly all of them synthwave-specific.
Update Show.co for site embeds. There’s a Show.co player in the sidebar of Passive Promotion, in the middle of the homepage of colortheory.com, and on the about page of my mastering site. The advantage of using Show.co versus hosting the audio myself is that their player streams through SoundCloud. I typically get around 3K plays per week between the three embeds, and I’d just as soon have that reflected in my play count on SoundCloud.
Update bio on site. My old bio, while professionally written, was long and unfocused. I borrowed bits of various earlier bios and composed a few new sentences of my own to create the compact version that currently appears at colortheory.com.
Submit to NRW. NewRetroWave is an influential network in the synthwave scene, that only accepts submissions during short windows of time, every few weeks or months. They featured a couple of my songs on their WeRuleNation YouTube channel, but never the main NRW channel, where 20K views is all but guaranteed. Still, they dutifully PayPal me $0.19 or so every month as a share of advertising revenue.
Update YouTube song titles and direct to Bandcamp. Most of the album tracks had already been released as singles, but I spent a solid 100 hours reworking them for the album, including recording all the vocals again from scratch. I went back to each of the YouTube videos I made for the singles, appended “Single Version” to the title, and linked to the Bandcamp pre-order in the description.
Approach Lipstick Crush. Remember how I asked about vinyl on that Facebook group? Several people referred me to Lipstick Crush, a new synthwave label that has so far reissued four classic albums on vinyl. I emailed, and Adam wrote back that they aren’t taking on any new artists at the moment. It’s okay, I can wait… 😜
Update avatars and banners. New album, new look. I hired Illumi Media to rework my social media presence around the album art. He created a new avatar and new banners at the optimal dimensions for each of my networks:
Adam (not the same one from Lipstick Crush) even made a special avatar just for SoundCloud that blends into the banner:
Pitch SubmitHub. Glutton for punishment that I am, I like to submit to curators on SubmitHub (my review) in two rounds: two weeks before release to bloggers, radio, and YouTube channels, and on release day to Spotify playlisters. This goes for my pitch list as well. I wait to hit up a couple dozen playlisters on Facebook Messenger until I can send them a Spotify link.
Ask for Bandcamp recommendations. This was a promotion unto itself! I asked friends, Color Theory remixers, mastering clients, and even my HIPMMTM subscribers to recommend the new album on their Bandcamp page. I started by sending a download code to artists who were already recommending my previous releases, asking if they would swap in the new one.
33 recommendations was enough to put me at #2 on the artist-recommended Bandcamp charts for Electronic. Unfortunately the artist-recommended charts aren’t broken down by subgenre, or I’d be #1 in synthwave. That Minecraft guy has 63 recommendations, so I’m not going to be overtaking him anytime soon.
Was it worth it? Hard to say. The Buzz section of my Bandcamp stats shows only 13 plays from “Bandcamp embedded players” over the past 60 days, out of 1107 plays from all embedded players (most of them from the exclusive embed at Vehlinggo two days before release). Obviously 13 plays in and of itself doesn’t justify the effort. Maybe “charting” wasn’t a worthwhile goal, but hopefully the recommendations themselves will make a difference over time.
Announce single. I treated the single release as distinct from the album release for promotional purposes, even though they are effectively one and the same. It provided another angle from which to promote the release.
Replace Radio Airplay songs. Remember Radio Airplay (affiliate link)? I last wrote about it in the summer of 2016, but I’m still using it, on and off. I replaced the four singles I had in rotation with the lead single from the album.
Create Smart Link for presave and re-announce. I created a Feature.fm Smart Link to capture presaves on Spotify, Apple Music, and Deezer, then crafted a second release announcement to drive both pre-orders and presaves. Here’s how the smart link for my album looks post-release:
Explore other synthwave outlets. With what remaining time I had before release, I searched for other blogs, radio shows, YouTube channels, and playlisters in the synthwave scene, and where appropriate, sent them download codes.
Day Before Release
Compose release announcements for email and socials. I wanted the release announcement to be in fans’ inboxes when they woke up, so I crafted my announcements the day before.
Compose Patreon announcement. Same idea, but I highlighted the differences between the singles patrons already had versus the album versions, and thanked them for making this album happen in a mere 18 months, versus six years for the previous one!
Add album to official playlist. 9 pm on the West Coast is midnight on the East Coast, which is when the album appeared on Spotify. I deleted the singles from my official playlist and swapped in the album tracks.
Update Smart Link. I marked the release as live on Feature.fm, and it found it on all the other services via the Spotify URL.
Add Spotify graphic and schedule email blast. The item that gets the most clicks in most of my emails is this Spotify graphic, which I create by plugging in the embed code on one of my sites, previewing the result, and taking a screenshot:
I placed it at the top of the email just below the featured image, and scheduled the email blast for 5 am PST.
Schedule Patreon post. Same idea. I waited to schedule the post until I had links to Spotify and Apple Music.
Release pre-orders. Bandcamp requires you to do this manually, or else I’d have set it to fire off at midnight. I wake up at 5:40 every day, and had no problem setting pre-orders live a couple hours early so I could get to bed.
Announce album. I announced the release on Twitter, Facebook (page, profile, and a few groups), Instagram, Google+, Google Posts, LinkedIn, ReverbNation, Shazam, and a couple relevant channels on Discord.
Update YouTube descriptions. I went back to the single releases and updated the descriptions to reflect that the album was now available, and no longer in pre-order.
Pitch playlisters. Spotify link in clipboard, I shared the album with playlisters on my pitch list and braved a second round of SubmitHub rejections.
Ads. I created ads on Facebook (see my guide here), Google, and Reddit. At some point I may write about advertising on Google and Reddit, but for now suffice to say I’m not thrilled with the results.
Record Pandora artist message. If your music is on Pandora, you’re probably familiar with Pandora AMP, which allows you to record a message that plays before any or all of your songs. Here’s mine, if it hasn’t already expired.
Submit to Pandora. They’ll receive your music for their on-demand service through your aggregator, but if you want it analyzed for radio, you need to submit your music directly.
Add to Resonance Mastering. I added the album to the recent projects section of my mastering site. I did master it, after all!
Update Songtrust. I added the one missing song that wasn’t a single, and updated the rest of the songs with the album recording, on Songtrust (my ancient review here).
Replace SoundCloud tracks and update ISRCs. Pro accounts have a “replace audio file” feature, which I used to update the single versions to the album versions without losing my play counts or comments.
Submit for SoundCloud monetization. Repost Network lets you monetize your SoundCloud plays. I’ve been meaning to write about them, but they’re constantly adding new features and there never seems to be a right time. Not that SoundCloud pays well. My current earnings since April 2016, including royalties for a single that Repost distributes, amount to $42.59. I’m not sure I’ll ever reach the $100 payout threshold.
Years ago I entered a non-exclusive sync placement deal with a company that disappeared. The owner covertly added my music to AudioSparx and was making a regular paycheck off it it through their RadioSparx in-store service. A various artists release on Spotify containing my song tipped me off. A few hours of detective work led to AudioSparx, and the powers that be allowed me to take over the account.
I made a little over $200 there last year, all through RadioSparx, and my earnings continue to increase as I upload new songs. Adding new music involves multiple layers of descriptions and tags, and I dread it every time, but I’ll begrudgingly concede it’s worth the effort.
Send originals & instrumentals to Marmoset. I haven’t seen any sync action in a couple years, but Marmoset is still the only other music licensing company I work with besides AudioSparx.
Tweet Bandcamp download codes. Maybe it’s just a synthwave thing, but I see a lot of these sorts of giveaways in my Twitter feed. All the codes were snatched up and redeemed quickly, with plenty of thank yous and even more “aww I missed it” replies. I’ll have to try it again soon.
Create YouTube videos and thumbnails. My YouTube channel is chock full of “videos” featuring my music over static cover art, created in iMovie. I rendered a video for each song and one for the full album, with thumbnails I made in Canva as 1920 x 1080 JPEGs, and scheduled them to trickle out over the coming weeks.
Pitching follow-up. I went through my pitch list again and pestered non-responders a second time.
Schedule thank yous for Bandcamp recommendations. Remember how 33 artists recommended my album on their Bandcamp page? I’ve been slowly returning the favor via Twitter shoutouts to their Bandcamp pages.
Patreon Special Offer. Last but definitely not least, I launched a special offer on Patreon and spent the entire next week promoting it. Read the full play-by-play here.
The album was released less than a month ago, yet I’ve already done all of the promotion I plan to do. Realistically it’s all I can handle while keeping up with my mixing and mastering work, and writing and recording a new song for my patrons every month.
It’s hard to nail down what works and what doesn’t, but I’m pretty sure that promoting to YouTube channels offers the most bang for the buck. I’ve had my music featured separately and within setlists on some of the bigger synthwave channels, which often results in thousands or tens of thousands of plays. One placement on a big channel can easily eclipse my entire advertising reach.
Is there anything here you found particularly useful? Anything I missed? Let me know in the comments!
UPDATE: Be sure to check out my latest advice here: The Best Way to Promote Music in 2020