Why Promote Music

Why Promote Music?

A How I’m Promoting My Music This Month email subscriber recently asked:

I would personally be really interested in an overview post of where you are at and what you are trying to achieve with your promotion. Both in terms of fans, reach, impact and financial side – I’d love to understand the big picture of music promotion for you better.

You’d think that a hyper-organized guy like myself would have a mission statement written on a whiteboard next to my desk, but nope.

I rarely ever stop to think about what I’m trying to achieve. So let’s work through it right here, right now.

Keep in mind that I’m entirely making this up as I go! Apologies in advance for what promises to be a convoluted and potentially inconclusive exercise.

Let’s start by “trying on” two popular goals that I routinely hear from my mastering clients:

I just want to be heard.

It’s easy to relate to this one! As stoic and idealistic as it might sound to only make music for yourself, that’s not where I’m at. Music is about connecting with other people.

That said, simply being heard isn’t the same as connecting.

Case in point, anyone can get YouTube views with in-stream ads for less than a penny, but the odds of reaching genuine potential fans are slim.

I want to make a living from my music.

A far higher bar to clear. As luck would have it, I kinda sorta already do.

I’ve always worked in music: piano teacher, accompanist, producer, mastering engineer, and of course, recording artist.

I also make some referral income when you use the affiliate links in my posts. Thank you!

Oh yeah, and some curation money from SubmitHub, but not enough to cover my playlist ads at $10/day.

How much do I make solely as a recording artist? Looking at 2022, here are some rough monthly averages:

$700 Patreon
$340 streaming
$170 Bandcamp
$100 merch
$50 YouTube
$30 Songtrust

That’s about $1430 per month, or $17K per year. I’m certainly not making “a living” here in Southern California. Granted, I haven’t made any offers or run any substantial promotions so far in 2022.

Hence the mastering engineer gig. These days I do nearly as much production and mixing as mastering.

So, what do I actually want?

As a thought experiment, would I be happy having just 40 super duper mega fans who paid me $2000 every year? (setting aside how uncomfortable I’d be with any fan paying me that much)

No, I wouldn’t. I’d want a bigger audience.

On the flip side, would I be happy having 100,000 monthly listeners on Spotify who never bought anything?

Again, probably not. I want fans who show a deeper level of interest.

Would I be happy with 1000 “true fans” paying $80 per year?

Y’know… I think I would!

Currently, I’ve got 160 patrons on Patreon. I recognize every name and enjoy our interactions. I’m confident it could scale to 1000 patrons before becoming a faceless crowd.

I’ve also got 16K YouTube subscribers, and 34K Spotify monthly listeners. Of those, 11K stream my music from their “own playlists or library.”

The question is, how can I convert those casual listeners to patrons? Or do I just focus on building my audience and hope that a small percentage of listeners will make the leap on their own?

That’s been my anti-strategy so far. I’ve yet to find a way to boost my patron count reliably, and it’s not for lack of trying!

So what am I trying to achieve?

I’m growing my audience across platforms knowing that some small percentage of listeners will join my mailing list and ultimately become patrons.

I could also build my mailing list through opt-in ads. I already offer five free songs to anyone who subscribes on my home page.

I could also run another free + s/h offer and make a sale in the process, but it’s incredibly time-consuming.

Before Patreon, my measure of success was how many mailing list subscribers I had. Over the past few years, I’ve removed thousands of subscribers who didn’t open or click on my emails. I’m down to 1500 subscribers from a high of over 10K.

Today my primary metrics are number of patrons followed by Spotify monthly listeners. Any musician who tells you they don’t care about their Spotify numbers is lying!

What are you hoping to accomplish with your music? Bare all in the comments below!

Photo by Alexander Shatov on Unsplash

27 Comments

  1. Thanks for this! Patreon has definitely changed how I view my success – if folks aren’t willing to shell out a few bucks every now and then, they don’t care about my work.

    Then of course, there are patrons who care about me personally as an artist who don’t much listen to my music, they just want to wish me well.

    So I am on the same page as you, Patreon first and then Spotify numbers. But YES, 1K true fans is where it’s at. My Patreon has been stuck for a while but I know that if I can grow my top of funnel with the RIGHT people the rest will fall in place…right?

    1. Thanks for the comment Brett!

      While I can relate with the sentiment, I might push back against your first point. I’ve got fans that email me regularly, or comment religiously on YouTube, that are seriously into my music but never spend a dime. You’d think they’d be super gung-ho about getting an unreleased song every month for $3, but I guess not!

      I’ve also got patrons who clearly just want to support my efforts, including fellow musicians who appreciate what I’m doing here with the blog.

      If you figure out how to grow your Patreon without adding more work for yourself (made-to-order songs, etc), I’d love to hear about it! I have yet to crack the code.

      1. Oh, absolutely and those fans matter too, not everyone digs Patreon and not everyone can afford a few bucks but as someone who needs to ultimately run a business (at some point!) I need to know to direct my attention to those who are going to ‘convert’. If I’ve been engaging with them for years and they won’t ever buy merch or jump on my Patreon, unless we’ve really developed a deep relationship or they are promoting me some other way, I have to look at the time/value component.

        1. For sure. You know, I had the thought this afternoon to target ads to people interested in crowdfunding, if that is indeed a targetable interest on Facebook. Or Kickstarter. I doubt Patreon is on there. Probably a long shot, but perhaps worth a try!

  2. Hi Brian, any tips for converting Spotify followers into Patreon patrons? Its tough with Spotify because theres no way to interact, at least not that I know of. So any general tips you have for converting fans (not limited to Spotify) into subscribers eg Patreon patrons would also be greatly appreciated. I have the same issue with asking fans for money, and obviously this is harming me immensely

    1. The only thing I’ve got is to mention Patreon in your bio. I stopped doing even that, because I doubt that the road from Spotify to Patreon is a straight line. Instead, I mention that you can download five free songs at colortheory.com. Then once they do that, they get my email welcome series which of course explains Patreon.

      I doubt this would work, but in the interest of completeness, you could run a Spotify Ad Studio campaign directing your listeners to your Patreon. It would have to be one hell of an offer!

  3. Great way to tell it like it is! Enjoyed reading it and glad to see you still pushing the envelope to new journeys.

    lol I think overtime, we all have to hustle to get the kind of income that we would like but most importantly, it never disappoints when you have someone discover your music for the first time.

    Let’s catch up soon Brian, and keep up the amazing work!

    1. I agree! Hearing from new fans is the best. At the same time, I know it’s not smart to focus all my energies on top-of-funnel.

      Yeah, we should definitely catch up! I could use some help with my playlist ads. 😉

      1. Absolutely! Who said it wasn’t smart? You are doing a great job, and honestly even if you are focusing on top of funnel, you are still building data that you can use for MOF and BOF.

        Most definitely! Let me know when you have time to chat and we can go from there bro!

  4. Wow, Brian! Thanks for your transparency. What are we hoping to achieve by promoting our music?? I don’t know sometimes; maybe, like you, to find a few folks who dig the way we think and the music that comes from a lifetime of loving a variety of genres.

    –But, also like you, the thought of performing in someone’s home for $10k is scary as f*ck! –So, I guess, now that we KNOW that we can grow our own creative empire OURSELVES, our goal is to gather our tribe a few folks at a time. Thanks to you, we’re learning as we go.

    I’ll DEFINITELY share this post to our Facebook group, because this is gold to folks wanting to do the same thing as you.

    1. I don’t perform at all, so it’s even harder to imagine that $10K home performance. I’d probably fall ill from the stress and have to cancel!

      Thanks for spreading the word!

      1. That “performing” suggestion was one from our artist mentoring folks. We’ve been trying to find our way into what actually works for us. –We don’t “perform” either…..

        Thanks for holding down the D.I.Y. music promotion space! We are trying to follow in your footsteps, but in a way that works for our personalities and our music.

        1. In days of yore, musicians were quick to criticize my lack of touring as THE ONE THING holding me back. Fortunately we’ve become less rigid about what it means to be a recording artist.

  5. I just want to be heard by a decent number of people who genuinely like and connect to my ‘legacy’ (I am very lyric based and my tracks are narratives with messages). I don’t care about the money at all! Haven’t earned a dime and don’t expect I ever will, but I don’t want my music to be floating in the sea of billions with no one even knowing it’s there or having the chance to listen once and decide if it’s for them. And there is the crux of the matter; getting it to people in the first place is so frigging hard and if we Indies were better able to reach more ears instead of being suppressed by the big machine of label artists that are shoved into people’s faces through humongous budgets (and essentially ‘tell’ people who to listen to without people even knowing that they are being guided in this way), we would find our share of more than enough listeners, but it’s the vicious cycle… hence why we have you to make the task easier to navigate!!! In terms of connecting personally with listeners, it’s not for me. I am a very private person and I do not like to put myself ‘out there’ so I prefer that listeners just listen because they like the music, (everything you could know about me is in the honest lyrics) and like me, don’t want to make it about anything more! I know that this is considered to be anathema for all the trainings that are built upon creating this relationship so that listeners will want to invest in more of the artist, but it just isn’t what I am aiming for – I don’t think I could cope with it very well being a low-key person, and I am sure that Patreon and buddy systems etc take up an enormous amount of time, but also mental energy, and I am too emotionally fragile for that!!! So, in short, if 50,000 people listened regularly because they actually LIKE my music I would be a happy little (private) bunny and would need nothing more to fulfil me musically.

    1. I hear you Paula! If you had 50K people listening regularly, you’d probably make some money whether you wanted to or not! 😉

      You know I completely relate to your introversion, but I have to confess that the more I come out of my shell, the better things seem to go. It can be very draining though, so I pick my battles.

      Fwiw I actually don’t feel suppressed at all! There are more opportunities than ever for artists to be heard without a label. On the radio, not so much, but I gave up on that a long time ago.

      1. I have so enjoyed watching your rise since I started following you about 5 years ago! I admire how much you have achieved and how proactive you are… I wish I could be the same but I just freeze every time I put one of the trainings I have invested in on to watch!!! I use Facebook more than anything for social media and post little vids and info about tracks, but I don’t really post myself. I do attempt to use FB ads but I am certain I am not using the platform correctly. I am still waiting for the very easy, very cheap and very effective method to be launched (which I am sure you will trial for us when it does!).

        To @cDub – I think sites like BandCamp are good for putting your music out there without the social media presence, but if you can at least set up a FB page and just post pics of your music cover art and lyrics with an explanation what they are about etc, that is something. I tend to put little audio pics of the cover art playing the chorus of a track and add an animation effect and add the background story in the post text. I have a couple of pics of myself but I don’t generally post them.

        1. That’s a very generous assessment Paula! I’m not sure how much I’m rising, but I’m certainly at least treading water.

          On Facebook, there’s nothing easier than boosting a post. It’s not maximally efficient, but it’s better than nothing!

          When it comes to social media (which I am very much lagging at!), consistency is key. If I were you, I’d devise a content strategy and a calendar and stick with it, with whatever self-imposed limitations you feel are necessary to maintain your sanity.

          Ads can take up some of the slack, but you need to at least have optimized profiles so potential fans can get a better idea what you’re about.

    2. This is very much how I feel: I would like to be anonymous but have my music easily found by the people that will like it. I’m struggling to even start marketing, but am very intrigued by the ideas Brian puts out here.

      I have an added complication: I am not on Facebook or Instagram, or really any other social network.

      After reading pieces on this site for the last few weeks, I was getting ready to rejoin Facebook after disabling my account like three years ago — but more news bubbled up even today about more disturbing things FB/Meta has done.

      Is it possible to have a marketing approach that avoids most social networks, FB in particular? I would think there would be a group of artists that would feel similarly, looking for alternative ways to connect with an audience.

      Anyhow, appreciate your ideas and the comments I see on the site. Very thought-provoking.

      1. I avoid social media as much as I can get away with, but I know it’s not optimal. Still, it’s kind of silly that I spend a lot of time writing updates that only go out to email subscribers.

        For better or worse, Meta has the best ads platform on the planet. As much as I’d like to take a stand and #DeleteFacebook, I think our presence there is mandatory.

        1. So I went back on FB, set my band page and started a campaign through Toneden…and had my account restricted in about 24 hours. Couldn’t tell why. Appealed it. Was denied. It was made permanent. Spent the last 72 hours running in circles about it.
          Obviously I did something wrong but they won’t explain.
          So, are there any services that you can recommend that I can outsource this to?

        2. Yikes. So sorry to hear that!

          You could use Hypeddit instead of ToneDen next time, but I suppose that doesn’t help much now.

          If you’re looking for someone to run ad campaigns on your behalf, a friend whose account was permanently disabled tried Noiselash, but he wasn’t very happy with the results. Unfortunately that’s all I’ve got off the top of my head!

  6. You know, I’ve really struggled with this in all realms of “making it”. I wouldn’t say I’m making it with my music yet with a monthly streaming income of $20-$30, but with all my other incomes I am making a comfortable living from the things I create. It feels like a pit of not making it when you try to say what is making it. Do we all need to be so famous they are making Netflix series about us? Or is a comfortable living from our endeavors where it is at? Or does that leave us without another goal to reach for? Whatever our goal is, once we achieve it, shouldn’t we move the needle to give ourselves something else to strive for? All the questions!

    On some level my favorite songs are the ones I make me for (maybe I should call them meditation tracks instead of songs). I go to listen to a song, because I want the message it carries and I hope that the song can find the people who also connect with it and reach for it in a time when they want to relax or uplift themselves.

    I do know that I don’t want to start trying to make a living from doing gigs and performing in public, I’ll stay safely behind or in front of the camera thank you very much!

    1. I’m sure you’re absolutely right that success is a moving target, and we’re unlikely ever to feel like we’ve arrived.

      You’re braver than I am to get in front of that camera. 🙂

      Great to hear from you Jenna!

  7. I’m relatively new to making music, so I have the lowest bar for ‘success.’ While it’s been great to get playlist adds and scraps of change from bandcamp — super great, actually, and encouraging given my neophyte status — my bar for ‘success’ is just honing my craft until I can make consistent pro-quality productions.

    One part of that is learning an adequate amount of musical vocabulary to properly express my ideas as they appear in my head and the other part is the technical music production knowledge.

    I feel that if the primary focus is on always honing the craft, the other traditional metrics of success will start to follow (after promotion of course!)

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