The Case for Online-Only Promotion

I promote to establish and nurture a genuine relationship with my fans. I measure my success by the number of subscribers to my mailing list. Notice I said mailing list, not Twitter followers or MySpace “friends.” I’m talking about the people who grant me permission through a double opt-in process to email them directly on a regular and consistent basis. Right now there are just over a thousand, but there are plenty more out there who might love my music if they heard it. So how do we reach those potential fans?

In the pre-Web 2.0 days, you’d court a label, or if you were really adventurous, you’d hire a PR firm yourself. The PR firm would leverage their relationships with press and radio, which in turn maintain relationships with their audiences. That left you three degrees removed from your potential fans, the vast majority of whom you’d never hear from. Today, social networking allows us to cut out the middlemen and establish those relationships directly. Let’s dispel a couple of myths:

  1. It’s all about exposure. My bullshit detector goes off whenever I hear the word “exposure.” It’s nebulous and generally worthless. I’ve spent a lot of time and money courting press and radio, resulting in bucketloads of “exposure” but few sales or follow-up contacts. While “you never know” who might be listening or reading, chances are good that nothing will come of it. The best promotions are targeted to as specific an audience as possible.
  2. You need to impress the gatekeepers. No, you really don’t. You’re better off letting them come to you. Bloggers, DJs, music supervisors, labels, and the rest of the industry want to discover you for themselves. Grow your fanbase and the rest will follow. I know that may seem counterintuitive, but one small leap of faith could save you years of rejection and frustration. It is my sincere belief that lasting success comes from the bottom up.

While your goals may be different from mine, they probably involve more fans and more money. You already communicate with your fans and sell your music online, perhaps exclusively. It’s difficult and in some cases impossible to convert an offline fan into an online one, so why waste your energy? Promote where the action is: online.

Let me be clear – I’m not suggesting Dave Matthews stop touring and start blogging instead (he should do both). While you may consider your live show or your latest album to be the best promotion of all, performing and making records is what musicians do. For the purposes of this discussion, the term “promotion” refers to the many non-musical efforts you make to raise awareness of your music.

You might feel like you need to promote both offline and online to “cover your bases,” but there are an infinite number of bases to cover! You’ll never run out of things to do online: your web site, blog, podcast, remix competition, iPhone app, Facebook, Twitter, MySpace, YouTube, Flickr,Β  iMixes, thesixtyone, Jango, Stereofame,, OurStage, Pandora, Amazon, iLike, Podsafe Network, ccMixter,, Music Xray, Bandcamp, and a hundred others.

Of course, you don’t want to spread yourself too thin. There’s no point in setting up profiles you aren’t going to maintain. A web presence is not enough – you have to actively promote. You’ll need to come up with your own promo combo platter and make it part of your regular diet. I’m busy recording a new album, so my bare bones routine consists of regular updates to my mailing list, blog, Facebook, and Twitter, plus a daily check-in at thesixtyone.

Photo by Ruben Schade


  1. This is a very good argument for keeping your promotion efforts online. I have had many a conversation about this with you. I think one thing you missed that I have gathered from these talks, is that if you are going to do some other kind of promotion it should be something someone else isn’t doing already. Because, all the typical “bases” …thousands are doing already. I’m curious how others feel about offline promotion, though. I am still wondering how useful it might be to do some offline promoting to for instance college radio.

  2. Good point Rain! One crazy stunt can have a bigger impact than doing everything on my list.

    I started writing about my early experiences with college radio, and realized that should be my next article. I hope you’ll at least hold off until you get the chance to read it! It doesn’t end well. πŸ˜‰

  3. first off, feel free to add me to your mailing list. This is an expertly written article, and you clearly have your goals well-defined and prioritized. I’ve been brainstorming new musical “game changers” much like James Cameron did with Avatar (ie made you go to a theater to experience it in 3D). Ive been thinking about doing different pricing plans for albums, the higher the price, the more benefits you recieve: a concert at your house, having lunch with the band, etc. unfortunately im not going to divulge my better ideas for fear of the internet stealing them. im sure you understand.

    i think Trent Reznor had it right by suggesting giving away the CD for free in exchange for email addresses. But thats the real debate now isnt it?

  4. Hi Brian, I’ve been waiting with baited breath for this post – so I had to comment on this one, didn’t I.

    I liked the post, but thought it was a little thin, sorry.

    Having spent the last five years examining this very topic, I’ve come to the conclusion that a band should take every marketing and promotional opportunity open to them, and that means online and real world. There is a mix: website, email, social networking, word of mouth, snail-mailshot, posters, performance… And a balance, if you concentrate all your efforts in one area, you will probably fail – finding the right balance is the key. And the right balance depends on what you are aiming to achieve.

    Brian’s right, your mailing list is pure gold. And don’t spread yourself too thin, especially when it comes to social networking profiles. Start off with, MySpace, Facebook, Twitter,, ReverbNation, WordPress/Blogger and YouTube, add other profiles when you work out where your future fans are – note: target your audience, don’t use the same content throughout.

    Another important point is your goals and plans. There is no point in just wanting to be famous. One has to have a target to aim at and a plan of how to get there. I’d say most bands don’t have a plan of how to achieve their goals. Then again, most bands don’t know the difference between a MySpace Profile and a Website!

    If I sound like I’m rambling, it’s the christmas spirit!

    [when I use: you, your and yourself, I’m talking generally, I don’t necessarily mean you Brian πŸ˜‰ ]

  5. Well, promo online only… It makes probably sense when you begin into music promotion… when you begin as a musician… because it’s probably the easiest way to go, thanks to all those tools we can find around….

    Let’s say it’s the first stone of the pyramid. Depending on what you try to achieve of course… Online and offline promos are both worth it. Don’t expect anything in both of them, especially when you’re a beginner… We’re all supposed to try and find the best way to find an audience. For some it might be offline only.

    So it depends. Offline works, online works, experiment and find the best ways which suit your goals…

    I guess experienced promo acts already know where to go… or not if they don’t succeed πŸ˜‰

  6. First off, I would like to say this is a great post! Great read…that being said, I’m not sure I ‘fully’ agree with online promo only. Unfortunately in this day and age of the music business, there is no one size fits all solution (boy how I wish there was though….or do I?).

    I think what works for one band differs from what will work for a musician which differs from what will work for a producer. I do find myself believing 90% of the time that I only need to stick to online promo but I often wonder if I can be doing more/creative offline promo….

    I think in your case Brian, you are focused and know exactly what you want to achieve through promotions which most bands haven’t a clue as to what they would like to achieve. Keep writing great posts like this… definitely got my brain awake during the middle of my workday (don’t tell my boss).

  7. Hey, you guys are diluting my argument! πŸ˜‰

    Kidding of course. I appreciate the kind words and criticisms alike. Still, I don’t agree with the “try everything” or “whatever works for you” approaches. Some methods are genuinely more effective than others, regardless of the artist or target demographic.

    That said, if I hadn’t tried it for myself, I’d probably wonder “what if” and be tempted to give offline promo a shot. The sad truth is that I really have tried basically everything over the past (gulp…) 16 years, and should probably share more of my experiences rather than just saying “trust me.”

  8. This isn’t a comment about this one article in particular-

    About a year ago I went through and subscribed to a ton of music marketing/artist success blogs in Google reader. The majority of them just re-post content from each other or are just a bunch of hype.

    Your blog is one of the few that I return to consistently. Your articles are well researched, written, and have ACTUALLY helped me promote myself online. Thank you for all your hard work.

  9. this is a hard one. I have seen it work on college radio…I mean, there was some powerful moments at my last station/show. The real danger is sifting through the less committed or listened to shows on college stations and the like.

    People in big biz listen to the college stations, fairly often in fact.

    Now I can reach more people with an interest in the genres of tunes on the show because of social networking. I look forward to meeting these new friends with the new program. Exciting times in 2010.

    I think everyone finds their own groove if they are not being handled by a major label.

  10. Just in case “try everything or whatever works for you” was aimed at me for saying “a band should take every marketing and promotional opportunity open to them”, I’m not talking about going around blindly and giving everything a go. All promotional efforts must be part of an overall strategy.

    Anyway, the online and off-line worlds have merged, I watch YouTube videos on my television and read the newspaper online! –is that good or bad? Over the next decade it will become even more so.

    I really do agree with one point, it Is the secret to success, connect and communicate with your audience – I suppose that’s called a conversation. And that is what we’re doing πŸ™‚

  11. Strong post Brian. I’ll have to agree with Fresh Nerd on this one.

    “I think what works for one band differs from what will work for a musician which differs from what will work for a producer…”

    …but you happen to be all of the above. Is it possible that the offline (non musical) promotions you speak of were administered incorrectly? It is difficult to argue my points on effective college radio promotion until I hear your experiences, but my point is….maybe….just maybe you are too close to the project (i.e. your music) and approach your offline promotions emotionally. You need someone reliable, honest and experienced to look at your art as a small business. Someone who can remove the passion out of the equation. You can’t do everything, which is why DIY is such a misnomer.

  12. I agree with that statement to an extent, but for the most part, I don’t see why what works for a musician wouldn’t work for a band. My work as a producer and mastering engineer has always been 100% word-of-mouth (well, I do allow my info to be included in the relevant Billboard directories, but I don’t think those have brought in any work).

    I’ve hired professionals for three of my radio campaigns: The Planetary Group, Music Media Network, and DSBP (who admittedly is a friend and more of a club promoter). I promise to share my experiences soon!

    I must admit I feel a little torn discussing this with you guys, my promoter and DJ friends! My intention isn’t to devalue or disparage what you do, but to share my honest opinions forged over years of trial and error.

    @Ian – My statement wasn’t aimed only at you, but also at emails and Facebook comments I received. Still, “a band should take every marketing and promotional opportunity open to them” sounds a little bit like “try everything” to me! πŸ˜‰ Thanks for clarifying.

  13. online promo for the mots part is free so it’s great, but if somebody hit the streets again real hard with unique strategy ppl would take notice because who comes up like that anymore

  14. @Audio Truther – bands who promote locally often do it by “hitting the streets” with flyers. That is not unusual at all, however, it’s very unusual for brian. It might be odd thinking local with a World Wide Website, especially when you have fans from every corner of the globe downloading your music! – but it’s usually only the locals who are going to turn up at your gig and support you – Brian does not gig anymore. And if you don’t gig it’s Online Only πŸ˜‰

  15. Brian I love your style man. Your synth pop music is fresh indeed. I have one thing to add to the mix which as far as I can see is missing with your music.

    A lot of sites online are variants or repetition of sites already there. Everyone is on Facebook and everyone is on Youtube and everyone who isn’t on either is on Google or has access to Google.

    My opinion is less is more and you only join a service if it is adding to your efforts in a monetary sense. For me having done heaps of research I am concluding that (Jango excepted) you only need to run on Facebook, Twitter and Youtube and Myspace Music. Jango is another kettle of fish because that is pure marketing and I read with keen interest your experience therein.

    Oh and Blip TV as an alternative to Youtube is a must because you can limit people to watching your videos from your site. Incidently I am listening to a Jango classical station as I am working and haven’t looked at the site once so I think when I run the ultimate test between Google and Jango I will have to announce the artist name and website before the music finishes.

  16. Brian I meant to add that video is missing on your site. I don’t think I have seen a single video of yours πŸ™‚

  17. I agree completely! Focusing on too many sites dilutes your efforts.

    At this point, I focus on my web site. When I post new content, I link to it in a status update through that hits Facebook, Twitter, MySpace, Google Buzz, and the rest. Important updates go out to my mailing list, and I may also post them on iLike, MySpace, and Jango (as a mass email).

    So while my net is a little wider, I think an artist could get away with a web site, mailing list, Facebook, and Twitter. YouTube is definitely important too, and I really do need to get some videos up! For now, there are plenty of fan videos, many of which I linked to here:

  18. Making a living as a recording artist can be a tough way to earn a buck. The dream of playing for millions of fans will always be just that if you do not take proactive steps in finding and keeping an audience. Today YouTube is one of the best places to turn to build a quick following. But before you take to the popular video sharing service, keep in mind that the same rules of marketing still apply. In other words, you can't just throw your video up on the site and expect great things to happen overnight. If you are considering this step, you need to start with your content.

  19. Hi Brian, I'm a music student from New Zealand and have been given an assignment in making a blog to use to explore how to promote myself as an artist through the medium of blogging. I really enjoy reading your pages and would love it if you would visit my blog and share your thoughts on blogging to promote an artist. πŸ˜€

  20. On the old interface, it was separated out. Now it just shows plays and credits used, which match for me. So I guess I'm not getting organic plays anymore!

    I actually haven't promoted myself using the technique you describe. Not that I don't think it's a good idea!

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