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The Best Way to Promote Music in 2020

The Best Way to Promote Music in 2020

Over the past few months, I’ve received a handful of emails asking me the same impossible question:

“I love the blog, I’ve read all your articles, you’ve given me so many things to try… but if you had to pick just one, what’s the best way to promote my music?”

I bet you know the answer. Say it with me:

It depends.

Are you just starting out, or are you an established artist? Are you trying to turn a profit, or just build awareness? Are you promoting a new record, planning a tour, building a social media following, or trying to blow up on Spotify? What’s your promotion budget? Do you even have a promotion budget?

I’ve done Skype consultations with a handful of artists, and while it’s nice to know that I could still earn a living if something happened to my hearing, my top priority right now is to make music.

So let’s answer that impossible question by exploring some of the resources I’ve written about that are still relevant in 2020. Next time someone asks, I’ll point them here.

Unless otherwise mentioned, all links direct to my articles on the subject.

Conquering Spotify

Let’s start with what most of you care about the most. For better or worse, these days it feels like an artist’s success or lack thereof boils down to one number: Spotify monthly listeners.

To nudge that number up in any meaningful way, you’ll almost certainly have to spend money, and it’s unlikely that you’ll make that money back in streaming royalties.

If you’re more interested in social proof than in making fans, Virtuoso can deliver big numbers fast, but like Cinderella’s carriage, they’ll disappear in a puff of smoke once your campaign ends.

Playlist Push can put your music in front of an extraordinary number of playlist curators, but there’s no guarantee that any of them will add your track. I suggest testing the waters with curators on SubmitHub first, where you can spend as much or as little as you’d like before deciding if a Playlist Push campaign makes sense.

Midnite Blaster offers a more personalized approach to playlist pitching. They’ll work with you towards whatever goals you have in mind. Historically they’ve specialized in EDM but they’re branching out to other genres (no hip hop yet).

Ideally you want to reach people who genuinely want to hear your music, on playlists alongside artists you’d like to see in your Fans Also Like. Therein lies your best chance at algorithmic success.

At the very least, the services I recommend here are safe and won’t jeopardize your Spotify standing like others that use bots might. Be especially wary of any service that promises to deliver followers.

Instead of, or in addition to, hiring a Spotify PR company to get you on playlists, you can reach music fans on Spotify’s free tier directly through Spotify Ad Studio.

Speaking of which, the nice folks at Spotify liked my article enough to fly me out to Brooklyn for an interview!

What isn’t mentioned is that my ad wasn’t properly targeted due to a bug on their end, not my ineptitude. But hey, the advice still holds.

Here’s the main video. I first show up at 2:35, but don’t skip. It’s all good stuff.

Longtime readers of the blog will also recall that I spent $500 on a Deezer campaign, with promising short-term but nebulous long-term results. Until Deezer rolls out comprehensive artist analytics, I wouldn’t recommend it unless you really want to target France.

Building relationships

To make any money, you don’t just need listeners, you need actual fans, and a cost-effective way to put offers in front of them.

You know what that means: a mailing list! I recommend starting with Mailchimp, which is free up to 2000 subscribers. Beyond that, the price ramps up fast, so I use FanBridge. Passive Promotion readers can get a free 60-day trial here (normally it’s 30 days).

Both allow you to set up a drip campaign, which is an automated series of emails sent to new subscribers. It’s a great way to introduce people to your world in measured doses.

Selling music is tough these days, though some genres still do well on Bandcamp. Bandcamp can also handle merch, or alternately, you could set up a Shopify store. I haven’t had much luck in the merch department, but then again, I don’t perform.

The best way to find potential new fans is through Facebook and/or Instagram ads. Both are managed through the same interface.

One approach is to use download gates to gather email addresses, as John Gold of Hypeddit details in his Fans on Demand Formula course. The same method can be used to build an audience on Spotify, SoundCloud, YouTube, and social media.

Another technique is detailed in the Fan Finder Method from Indepreneur, which I’m currently working through. Essentially you run a Video Views campaign to a handful of mutually exclusive audiences in order to optimize Facebook’s targeting, then create a lookalike audience from those who watch a certain percentage of the video. Membership is cheap at only $37 per month for their entire suite of trainings, and you can get half off the first month with my affiliate link.

When it comes time to ask those potential fans to listen to your music, I use a Feature.fm Smart Link, which offers deeper analytics than competing services. You can create custom links for each of your campaigns to A/B test, and even create a conversion campaign optimized for clickthroughs to Spotify.

An alternate way to jumpstart your fanbase is to run a contest like I did with Gleam.

Other resources

We could all use a little perspective on our music. I don’t know about you, but when I finish a new song I almost always feel like it’s my best work yet. A couple weeks later, I’m not sure if I even want to release it!

If you can stomach a hearty dose of brutal honesty, I recommend two resources:

Drooble Reviews tend to be supportive, as they’re written by other independent musicians. They often include detailed technical suggestions to improve your track, so I recommend submitting works-in-progress.

ReverbNation’s Crowd Review works best as a market research platform. You’ll receive some uneducated and even downright rude comments, but it’s an inexpensive way to see how your song stacks up against others on the platform, or to pick which track from an album to promote as a single.

At some point you’ll want to sign up with Songtrust to ensure you get all the royalties you’re due.

Don’t try this at home

I’ve told you what to do, so now I’ll tell you what not to do: banner ads.

Seriously, don’t waste your money on banner ads of any kind, including Promote on Soundcloud. They don’t work.

This may come as a surprise, but I wouldn’t recommend Patreon for most artists.

Yes, it’s been my primary focus for almost three years now, but it’s a ton of work. You may think “if only 1% of my Instagram followers became patrons” but they won’t. I’ve seen artists with hundreds of thousands of Spotify monthly listeners launch pages with patron counts in the single digits.

How many fans do you have that reliably buy everything you put out? Maybe half of them would support you on Patreon if your offer is compelling enough. Less than 100 patrons probably isn’t worth your time and energy to maintain.

Last but not least, how many times have you scrolled through Instagram or Facebook to see an ad from an artist you’ve never heard of, announcing their new release? And how many times have you clicked through to listen?

Don’t be that artist. If you’re going to run that sort of ad, restrict it to warm audiences only. Strangers don’t care.

Conclusion

So yeah, that’s a lot of stuff. While I haven’t tried everything, I’ve also tried plenty that wasn’t worth writing about. As always, I’ve got a bunch of experiments in the works, and I’m totally open to your ideas.

Lay your suggestions on me in the comments and I’ll try out anything that sounds promising!

If you’d like to hear more of my promotional escapades, be sure to subscribe to my How I’m Promoting My Music This Month email newsletter.

Better yet, join me on Patreon for a behind-the-scenes look at my creative process and promotional efforts!

Artwork by Ody from an upcoming Color Theory release.

14 Comments

  • Reply
    Apostola
    January 27, 2020 at 8:44 am

    You’re on a Spotify vid – yay! Thanks for consolidating everything in one article. Still a couple of methods in there I haven’t tried yet… Wishing you a musically successful 2020 and looking forward to your next insights.

    • Reply
      Brian Hazard
      January 27, 2020 at 8:50 am

      I still feel a little self-conscious about the video! I’m smiling so much because the interviewer was looking at me directly through the camera lens with a huge smile, and I couldn’t not respond in turn.

      Thanks for sharing your experiences with the stuff you’ve tried!

    • Reply
      Mike(Hef) Hefner
      February 11, 2020 at 1:44 pm

      Brian, thanks for all the insight as I am struggling like many artist to maximise my return on my money spent. Its a sad state of airfairs when every musician I know has a day job so they can support their music careers. Have you tried sites like Jango? Which offers to put your music in front of listeners listening to bands you pick? Ive just started my 2nd 6 months and I’m hesitant to say if what they are reporting is really turning into more fans. Either way I would to hear your thoughts on Jango or service like them.
      Thanks
      Hef
      Singer/Guitarist for VeiN
      http://veinmusic.rocks

      • Reply
        Brian Hazard
        February 11, 2020 at 3:52 pm

        Hey Hef!

        I’ve covered Jango aka Radio Airplay many times! Most recently here: https://passivepromotion.com/radio-airplay

        In fact, I even have an affiliate link that’ll give new signups 100 free spins: https://airplay.jango.com/music+promotion?source=Passive_Promotion&pc=100

        I may revisit once they launch the new features I’ve been told are coming soon. It’s definitely legit, though whether or not it’s your best option depends on your goals.

        If you just want people to hear your music, it’s totally viable. On the other hand, if you’re trying to grow your Spotify following, you’re not likely to find those folks on Jango.

  • Reply
    Jim Davis
    January 27, 2020 at 2:38 pm

    virtuosomusic.net is either down, moved or gone.

    • Reply
      Brian Hazard
      January 27, 2020 at 6:50 pm

      Must have been a temporary outage? It’s working for me.

  • Reply
    son
    January 27, 2020 at 9:00 pm

    How does save rates affect the algorithm and fans also like and discover weekly?

    • Reply
      Brian Hazard
      January 28, 2020 at 8:02 am

      My understanding, mostly through Indepreneur, is that presaves don’t do much of anything, but a save during or after listening to the track is a positive signal that can boost your algorithmic playlist placement. Just theorizing here, but I’d think that getting saves on playlists with similar artists might signal that those artists are candidates for your Fans Also Like. There are bigger factors though, like relative popularity.

  • Reply
    Mike
    January 29, 2020 at 7:00 pm

    As always, I so appreciate your sharing your wisdom with all of us. I can’t wait to test some or all the above, some time this year.

    One question, Brian — when you complete a new track that’s not yet part of an album, is it ever problematic later when you actually complete an album, to link all those previously released tracks to the album you just completed? Both in consumer platforms like Spotify, distributor platforms like DistroKid, and royalty tracking platforms like SoundExchange or SongTrust? (That wasn’t very well-articulated, but hopefully you know what I mean..! 🙂 )

    • Reply
      Brian Hazard
      January 30, 2020 at 10:00 am

      I know exactly what you mean Mike!

      You need to make sure the recording and ISRC are identical between the single and the album. Then Spotify will match them and you’ll see the stats aggregate in Spotify Artists.

      I released six singles before my last album, and I was able to pull all of them after the album release except two, which had a lower volume. I ended up assigning new ISRCs to those two and their stats started fresh. In the end I pulled their singles anyway, so a few minor playlist placements were lost.

  • Reply
    Ashley Smith
    January 29, 2020 at 10:27 pm

    Hey Brian nice summary, have you reached any conclusions in relation to Instagram/FB ads to promote a new release what ARE good headlines, taglines etc? Assume the major goal is to get new listeners and then new fans etc

    • Reply
      Brian Hazard
      January 30, 2020 at 9:55 am

      Hey Ashley! I suggest using Dynamic Creative Ads to test out variations on headlines, calls to action, etc. Super handy! My main concern is that you advertise to a warm audience, like people who’ve engaged with your page in the last 90 days.

  • Reply
    Nicola Boschetti
    February 3, 2020 at 12:13 pm

    Hi Brian, thanks for the nice collection of resources and to have told us your experiences. What do you think about Twitter? Can still be used – in your opinion – with some remarkable results in promoting music? All the best from Italy!

    • Reply
      Brian Hazard
      February 3, 2020 at 12:48 pm

      I’m sure it can, but I’m so, so sick of it. Of all social media really. I’m really close to just leaving a note on my profiles saying “this is for announcements only – for the real scoop, sign up for email updates.”

      Even for posting announcements, I just try to get in and get out. It’s so easy to fall prey to distraction. Once you get involved in a conversation you want to check back again and again.

      For now I try to check Twitter and Facebook once a day at most, after 5 pm when I’m not so productive. I may dial that back further.

      While I see artists doing some amazing things on social media, I’m not sure it’s really necessary. Most of all, I just want to get things done this year.

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