Effective artist promotions in the music industry?

I’m currently engaged in doing a lot of research about effective artist promotions and this is resulting in some really interesting feedback. I’m lucky to have access to a number of professional artists who I can talk to about this as well as having the means to gather really good information on how the market is changing.

Its clear to me that with musicians, the actual music itself is only one of many ingredients needed to generate any kind of useful profile. I have seen and heard some fantastic artists who have only ever reached a very small audience. It may be that this is 100% their choice of course. In this fast changing world its important to have a multi layered delivery system to connect with a wider audience. These are my personal opinions and of course everyone will have their own views about what works for them!

Focus on quality and detail – sound and vision

When my band “The Small Change Diaries” were due to record our first album, a now departed member from the first lineup suggested we get a bunch of microphones and do all the recording and mastering ourselves! My background in successfully creating spoken word and ambient music from 2000 – 2006 told me that this was at best optimistic and to be frank, totally delusional. Yes, we might record some tracks, BUT the art of “music production” is about capturing the best sound and then ensuring that the mastering and mixing is to the highest standards. Working with a producer with decades of experience ensures that there is a good chance for this happening.

Of course this route means an investment of time and money, but that’s always going to be needed at some level if you want to produce something of a very high standard. When promoting your music its always a good idea to have the best possible representation of your sound. This  means paying proper attention to the recording process. Fortunately there are all manner of inexpensive options alongside getting an actual producer. Programs like Reaper will do everything you could possibly want in terms of recording.

Just as the sound needs to be of a high quality, the visual element needs also to be really good. I’m amazed at how many artists pay almost no attention to this and forget the old saying “You never get a second chance to make a first impression” Good professional make all the difference, especially when used online. I’m amazed at how poor some photos are on artist websites. With my own band we have always made a point of using great photos and this has really helped promote the band to a wider audience.

Video is also a great example of a medium to connect to a wider audience, BUT my advice is again to ensure its of the best possible quality. In the era of the mobile phone often audience members can enthusiastically film artists. The problem can be that this usually looks and sounds terrible and not create the best impression. One launch party in particular showed a huge venue with a very small group of people. Nothing wrong with that of course, it looked like a fun event, BUT I suspect the promoters would have preferred not to have this aspect highlighted on social media. 

Sony MV1 units or similar units are highly recommended and in my view its better to have a less video of a higher quality rather than a mass of poorly recorded material posted online. The challenge with video recordings is to get both great sound and vision . This is why the MV1’s are so excellent. They do just one job brilliantly. At the time of writing I hear Sony have stopped making these, but Zoom have similar options worth looking at.  

Online presence – social media and web presence

Every festival application for artists I have seen asks for the band’s social media and website details. In my view if you have a few hundred likes on FB, the chances are you are not going to get the same attention as if you have ten times this amount. Whether we like it or not, social media and online presence is crucial for artist promotion. This means a lot of work behind the scenes and keeping everything current.  Often “band news” on sites is out of date and again attention to detail is everything. I blogged in the past about one artist who had an entire page almost begging for financial contributions to “help her art” This again does not send out a very good professional message to the wider world. The internet has been a game changer for musicians, BUT it can result in over saturation if you are not careful and the habit of enthusiastically taking live poor quality video with mobile phones does little to present a great image.

In terms of web presence I highly recommend Steve Krug’s book “Don’t make me think” Its a goldmine of useful information. With my own band we have been invited to a number of overseas opportunities to play, mostly based on our web presence and social media presence. A longtime USA music producer paid us this compliment on seeing our site “You look very established and like you have been around for a very long time. 

Balancing time and money

There’s a saying in show business – “It takes ten years to become an overnight success” This means playing the long game when it comes to promotions. The challenge for most artists is to balance time and money.  Artist promotion requires time and money in order to be effective, Its also essential to know what to do with your time and money. You can have all the time and money in the world and never achieve anything. Good information is invaluable. 60 second music marketing is another invaluable resource for artists.

Take a look at https://www.facebook.com/60secondmusicmarketing for some really invaluable concise practical advice.  Many musicians can be great creatively but lack essential basic business skills. This can result in all kinds of problems including a real downturn in reasonably paid work. The professional musicians I know work really hard to earn a living from their craft. 

Getting played on the radio

BBC Introducing is a great platform for independent artists. When they played over 50% of our first SCD album I fully expected a big jump in public attention. Guess what? It made no difference whatsoever in terms of sales, web traffic and live requests. Similarly I have seen other artists get similar exposure and this factor alone not make a significant difference. My point is that radio play is simply one of many ingredients in effective artist promotion, BUT no single ingredient alone will make the difference. My own experience is that its best to have a coordinated approach across many platforms. This takes time and patience and in this X Factor era where instant fame is the new mantra, many artists don’t have the stamina for this.  

Festival Opportunities? 

The term “festival” describes a multitude of experiences that are so varied that its almost impossible to define the term these days. Most artists I speak to lament the lack of playing opportunities at such events and experiences can vary massively. There are of course many excellent established festivals that have great reputations. There are also many events described as “festivals” that are not such great opportunities for effective artist promotions. The festival application process can at times be quite bewildering and some artists seem desperate to have any playing opportunity even if its for a few minutes and they pay to be there. In short it can be a great deal of work for little gain, so its really work doing your research ahead of time.

My own experience is that “appreciative audiences” vary massively and a lot of the festival organisation can be at times chaotic which is one of the reasons why many events fail to succeed. Niche music festivals may attract a few hundred customers at best and in recent times there is a noticeable downward trend in numbers attending such events. Some of the communication from festival promoters to the wider world of artists may also be well intentioned but in my view often not well thought through. One of many examples of this is the message below 


Working with like minds

The “music business” is like any other business and a great deal of success depends on connecting with the right people. When I was in Nashville this year I spent an afternoon with Van Fletcher who is Jake Shimabukuro’s manager. My friend asked him about the relevance of record companies in this day and age and he pointed out that such companies can be invaluable in generating audience reach. Ditto Music is a good resource for getting global digital distribution which is essential for “reach” to a wider audience.

One of my golden rules these days is to work with like minds and people who have shared values. This includes promoters, musicians and create teams. The best relationships are where both parties benefit. Those who know me appreciate that I will happily give my time and energy to help others who do the same. I like straight talking folks who have a point of view, even if its different to my own.

My advice is stay away from people who can’t separate social interactions and business transactions.  I had a conversation recently with a very established artist about this exact same subject and his advice mirrored totally my own thoughts. I am hugely grateful for all those people who had engaged in conversations around this subject. There’s no substitute for personal experience and its clear to me that the music market is changing at some rate. This means paying careful attention to how as an artist you connect to the wider world. 

Final Thoughts

Effective artist promotion requires a great deal of dedication and investments in time and money. In my other life I set up and ran two major business concerns and have realized that the principles in making any project successful are very similar. As artists we are all in a process of learning and of course if you want to get audience attention you need to spot and seize opportunities. In recent times its clear to me that niche musical genres can be a lot of fun, but there is a massive limitation on audience reach and often these musical trends will ebb and flow. Similarly its smart to think about international artist reach and that requires some strategic thinking. 

The UK in particular is in my view going to see some very tough times as the public increasingly have less disposable income. That factor alone will affect artist promotion as well as the whole Brexit situation and how this affects subsequent European artist opportunities. In 2018/2019 I’ll be unveiling a new musical initiative and continue to work with some really great folks who give me hope that its still possible to get great music to a wider public. The OUS platform has done well to date in the first two years. The next project is much more ambitious and more expansive…