How to market your music (…and how to make it look like you're not even trying.)
Updated: Sep 22
This article was originally published in the Indie Music Feedback blog.
A theoretical case study. Disclaimer: I have a digital marketing background, but I am in no way claiming to be an expert on the subject. I just want to share and document my own personal findings on what is working for me and what are the results I have seen so far… So first, let’s start this off with a small video from Mr. Jordan Peterson:
“…don’t confuse your ignorance of something important (sales and marketing)
with your moral purity… “
I have always noticed that people with creative backgrounds are adamant about the idea of selling themselves. That the very idea of ‘marketing’ their product or their craft is always seen as something ‘evil.’ But yet there is this lingering desire or yearning to be seen or heard.
So let’s say, you do want to be heard, and you do want people to listen to your music, you set up the basic requirements; Write. Produce. Record. Distribute. Share. And hope it spreads out like wildfire…
And, that’s the end of the line.
(Well, there’s friends and families to share, but we all know how that turns out…) You also have to be honest with yourself at least that the “…spreading like wildfire” bit is not really going to happen.
But, don’t fret. If you feel that you are not good at marketing, I believe there is still a fighting chance… and you can do it for free.
So first a little story…
It was a real thrill to see them release their first-ever music video in 2014. This was after 14 years of them being disbanded and decided to get back together.
So I watched this repeatedly from when it first came out. Then one day, I saw this thumbnail being suggested repeatedly by Youtube…
At first, as the smug little snob that I am, I scoffed at it… Who wouldn’t? So I try to brush it off as best as I can. But that artwork was very curious and totally enticing. So I gave in… My curiosity came over me. So I listened, knowing what to expect.
I thought to myself, “Emo sound, but only in Chinese…” so no harm, I clicked on it and true enough, the first track was totally familiar and it was exactly what I was expecting…
But came in the 2nd song…
Sing with me now: “Xiāoshī de guāngyǐng cáng zài shǒutào lǐ cóng wèi lí qù…” Suddenly, I am addicted to their music, listened to the rest of the album, and was on a search frenzy trying to find more about them.
Here’s another fun little music video…
I believe they released their music in 2015, but I never heard of them until 2017. Long story short… I’ve been converted.
Story over. But did you see how did that work!?!
The best part of it all was that it was really, very, organic. I didn’t get a silly bot-message in Chinese suggesting that I listen to their music.
Another fun fact: These guys got a chance to play with American Football.
You can read articles here if you need more convincing…
So let’s try to analyze what happened here…
I am on YouTube, aside from the usual meme and cat videos I regularly watch, I’m also a regular browser of music. Over time, the YouTube algorithm figured out what kind of music I listen to.
Looking back at the video tag for the album, here’s what I see:
Without a doubt…
Looking at the American Football video, here are the video tags:
You should also listen to Owen.
So what can we take away from here?
Straight to the point, the YouTube algorithm can help your music reach people you don’t know in a very organic way. If you find the time to set it up properly and go through it, your music can start creeping out and possibly be heard by the right people. The kind of people you want to listen to your music.
Back then, one way of discovering music organically is when you hear it over the radio or a PA system, but even during that time, you have to either ask someone nearby to know who’s playing or wait for a DJ to pop up near the end of the song to say who was playing. Another way of discovering music is through trading cassettes through friends or while channel surfing over the TV.
In some ways, YouTube kind of works that way… it has 2 billion users worldwide. Your chances of getting at least 100 from that number are really high if you at least try to work on your tags. Think of tags as spiders that crawl the web suggesting your content to people who will potentially lend you an ear. Instead of running around the web, looking for places to share your work, SEO technology can do the work for you. Even at a slow pace.
Does this mean you will blow up? No. But over time, maybe… who knows? I don’t know. I cannot really guarantee you anything.
But giving it a shot won’t harm. At least you are giving your music a chance. Sure it might take some work, but it can be really worth it in the long run.
But don’t get me wrong, this does not only apply to Youtube. I am only using Youtube as one example. Tagging your work is applicable to a lot of platforms you are in. You just need to study a bit and figure out what you think would work best for you. But I am pretty sure, the basic principles can be the same.
Another thing… You have to be accepting of the fact that, not everyone will like your work. Embrace that thought. But with this, at least you are reaching out to a core audience. Possibly real fans.
I think blowing up is highly dependent on whether you want it hard enough or not. What’s good about this is, your music has a good chance of reaching out to people who regularly browse music. Out of 2 billion users, try to imagine how many of those are browsing the same music that you are making?
I believe that putting in the work, can slowly, but surely, reach out to the right people. That one or two plays a day can compound and pile up over time. And you are not even trying.
Another Day, Slackerman