Music marketing is dead.
It’s time to give up, pack your bags, and forget every single thing you thought to be true about music marketing.
2020 was a whirlwind for the music industry. We lost venues, jobs, and our sanity.
But one thing still remained consistent throughout all of this – the infinite growth opportunities musicians have at their disposal through the online world.
And I get it – some people are genuinely terrified of trying to learn the ins and outs of the digital realm (I know I was).
But there is no getting around it.
We need the digital space as musicians.
We need the digital space as creators.
And that’s the mindset I would like for you to have when reading through this guide.
This is the most in-depth and comprehensive music marketing guide you will read for 2021 and beyond.
You will learn:
This post contains affiliate links and I may earn a small commission when you click on the links and purchase at no additional cost to you.
What is Music Marketing?
Music marketing is increasing awareness around your music, and piquing new and existing listeners’ interest.
Simple as that.
But how do you market your music?
There are different approaches to marketing, whether it be through paid or organic social media, PR, word of mouth, billboards – the list goes on.
Marketing is crucial to any release strategy.
Long gone are the days of “just put it out there and see what happens”.
EVERYONE is “putting something out there.”
And guess what?
Because they don’t market themselves.
Think of it this way – if I create a brand new Instagram page for my music, how will anybody find it if there is no marketing involved?
Word of mouth only gets you so far nowadays, especially with the low real estate that our News Feeds have.
Not to mention that with music continuing to grow, tools, DAWs, and plugins being readily available like there’s no tomorrow – there is a slew of artists continuing to release music.
And it is becoming difficult to stand out among the crowd.
In fact, according to Spotify themselves cia their Stream On conference, there are about 60,000 songs uploaded to Spotify every single day.
This is insane.
However this also raises some questions – how will my music stand out amongst the rest?
With the constant push of music from other creatives, can’t it become overwhelming and competitive?
Yes, music is very competitive. But that doesn’t mean that you should give up after a failed attempt.
We’ve all had failed projects or members that are not on the same page as you. Music is all about experience and trial and error, but most importantly, it is about hard work and dedication.
Many up and coming musicians are blinded by the “overnight” success of others and become frustrated when their release does not go as planned – they don’t get signed to a record label, they don’t land huge tours.
We tend to expect too much from little to no effort.
In the real world, releasing music effectively takes time and requires a strategy in place.
These are all things that I learned from my projects, failures/successes and all.
I heard a lot of no’s, spent a lot of money – and I keep thinking to myself “man, I really wish someone was there to guide me through everything”.
That same thought is what resulted in simpl. being born.
I’ve learned a lot over the years, and have had the opportunity to work with some amazing artists, labels, and everything in between.
If there’s one thing I’ve learned from my journey, is that it is one thing understanding your mistakes, but it is a whole other thing taking action because of your mistakes.
And because I took action, my music project was able to be featured in Alternative Press and many other reputable publications, get signed to Tragic Hero Records, chart Billboard on our debut record and other amazing things.
Because I took action, I have had the opportunity to run digital campaigns for contradash (Interscope Records/Ourros), Fly By Midnight (Snafu Records), Whethan (Atlantic Records/Good Luck Have Fun), Body Meat (AWAL/In Real Life) and many more wonderful artists.
I tell you this because what we are doing here (together) is taking action, and preparing ourselves for the future.
Paid vs Organic Social
A musician’s ultimate marketing channel will always be social media. Social Media offers many benefits to musicians, such as finding new prospective fans, engaging with existing ones – the list goes on.
But first, let’s talk about the two different types of social media marketing – organic and paid social.
Organic Social Marketing
I’m not talking about the organic fruit at your local supermarket – I’m talking about creating social media content that will naturally bring fans (future and existing) to your social profiles without directly advertising to them through paid media. If you’re reading this, you may have just been engaging in organic social marketing for your project, which is completely okay.
Organic social is tough, but it is most definitely possible to see some amazing results from it.
Examples of Organic Social
“What do i even post” – every musician ever.
I know, I know, you may be scratching your head not knowing wtf to post on Instagram or TikTok.
I’ll give you some examples in a second.
But before that, let’s talk about the elephant in the room.
The most common problem that I find with artists is that there is a fundamental misunderstanding about what their role is as the artist.
Beyond the creation and production of the artists’ music, there must be a concentrated effort in creating content that helps build their brand and continue to form relationships with new listeners and strengthen their relationship with their current listeners.
Tldr: music is not enough.
Yes you are a musician, and yes you make music – but what else are you?
A content creator.
Musicians are no different than podcasters, vloggers, video game streamers, bloggers, influencers.
They all create content.
“OKAY BUT WHAT DO I EVEN POST” – every musician ever pt. 2
Here are some examples of organic content my client contradash has posted on their TikTok.
Interest: post about the things you love outside of music. Whether you’re a CoD nerd, love anime, or enjoy plants, showcase your other interests to your potential fanbase. It is amazing content and usually does very well, because you are showing your human side to your fans and potentially relate to them.
Music video clips: these are great for social platforms that have a limit on your video clip length (TikTok, IG posts, etc.). You can use these clips to drive users to the full video on YouTube or even be the first touchpoint to your social profiles.
Cover/explainer: this particular post was a “two in one.” The first being cover videos. This is essentially you making your own rendition of a track from another artist. These are great, and gives you a chance to highlight your talent among casual music listeners that are a fan of a particular artist. The other part of this example is an explainer or a how to video. This is essentially the process of breaking down your writing process, or recording process for your fans. I always urge artists to tread lightly when it comes to explainer/how to videos because what you don’t want to happen is get a lot of followers on your profile supporting your knowledge, rather than your music.
Parody: this is an example of dealing with trolls/haters and turning it into a parody post. Don’t instigate arguments with them, don’t cuss them out or anything, just use it as a means to create content. Aside from trolls/haters it is always great to make content that relates to real world problems, such as missed notifications from a text message, or things you parents say that others can relate to. Again, you’re adding to the “realness” of you as a person.
“How do I create content?”
Shooting a music video?
Make sure to take some photos to use as promotional items leading up to your release.
The biggest mistake musicians make is taking a break from social media when writing, recording, or anything else. You gotta keep yourself top of mind, even when you’re “off-cycle”.
If you’re just starting out, yeah, maybe no one will notice your hiatus from social media, but the social media gods do take notice.
Facebook and other social mediums know if your Page gets engagement or if there is a lack thereof. When your page has not been receiving any interaction for quite some time, it takes a toll on your account’s overall organic reach when you are wanting to announce something.
All in all, have a strategy in place for when you are off-cycle, or on-cycle for a release.
Paid Social Marketing
If your organic reach is down, or if you just want a little push to reach more people, paid marketing is a fantastic marketing channel for you to engage in. Paid marketing is when you use social media channel’s advertising platforms to either target new potential fans of your music, or re-engage with your existing fan base. As opposed to organic social marketing (where you naturally reach users), paid social marketing requires you to, well, pay to reach users.
Now, now, I understand that most musicians look at Instagram and YouTube Ads in disgust because they don’t have a good understanding of it. If you know what you’re doing – it can be a game changer (our music marketing academy teaches you on setting up campaigns from A-Z).
You can reach an insane amount of people through ads platforms and strategically reach the right audience (and no, it isn’t as simple as throwing in a bunch of artists you think you sound like as Interests).
There has to be a foundation, including tons of research that need to go into it to ensure that the money you do invest in advertising does not go to waste.
Examples of Paid Social
Social proof/music video growth: These are one of my favorite types of campaigns to date. These work extremely well if your music video is interesting and gets right into it within the first three seconds. Keep in mind, these are meant to be on News Feeds, and when a potential listener is scrolling through their News Feed, their phone is more than likely on silent (which is again, why it is important for your video to be interesting and get into it within the first three seconds).
Pre-save campaigns: I have my own thoughts on the purpose of pre-save campaigns. Very seldom do I engage on these nowadays, but they are a great tool to collect the emails of your warm audiences (users that are in some way shape or form familiar with you).
Direct to DSP Growth: I use these in story placements (sometimes News Feeds, but again, has to be attention grabbing). These are great because if you think about the average social media user on their phone, they more than likely have their audio turned on when they are swiping through their stories. This is great to draw them into your music and have them take the desired action (check out your tunes on Spotify, Apple Music, etc.)
D2C/Ecommerce Campaigns: These campaigns are created to drive purchase conversions for an artist. Typically you see these during sales, pre-orders, or even ongoing retargeting/remarketing efforts to reach an artist’s most engaged fans.
Paid advertising is great. It is actually the bread and butter of what we do at simpl. and it is what we are really good at – and I mean REALLY good.
Playlisting in 2021
Ahh yes – playlisting. My old friend.
I’m not entirely sure where the idea that playlisting is the “best way” to market your music came from.
But whoever started this culture (or is still beating this dead horse of a promotional method) sucks.
Note – the following notes on playlisting are not about Spotify’s editorial playlists, algorithmic playlists, or radio playlists. More info on those here.
What is Playlisting?
Playlist promotion is the concept of pitching your music to independent/third party playlist curators. When you get placed on a playlist with a good number of followers, you get your music in front of thousands of listeners. In theory, it sounds like a great idea.
However, as the saying goes, all it takes is one person to mess it up for the rest of us.
In case you haven’t heard, Spotify removed thousands of artists tracks from their platform due to “fraudulent stream”.
This is due to the amount of bogus promotion services and playlists that have come out of the woodwork, taking advantage of musicians, big and small.
We touched base on playlisting here, but the long and short of it is: do NOT rely on playlisting services.
Find your own playlists and follow our best practices for auditing BS playlists.
Even beyond the dangers of being added to botted or fake playlists, regular “legit” independent playlists still have their cons, such as:
Passive Listeners – those who “passively” listen to music when working out, driving, etc. These are great, don’t get me wrong, but these will most definitely not become your most engaged fans that will throw you on the aux every chance they get.
Fans of the playlist – yes this is a real thing. Some music fans really like a playlist and that is how they consume music. Nothing wrong with that, they just really like the playlist/curator.
Low fan conversion rate – this groups the aforementioned. Very seldom do playlist listeners go out of their way to follow you on social media, or go out of their way to purchase a Merch item, or enroll in your email list.
Like any music marketing effort, there is no “end all be all” but playlisting just ain’t it. Your time and efforts could be better put towards creating a really good content strategy for TikTok or IG.
Spotify has an impressive 286 million users on its platform.
And they all love music – like really love music.
One of the biggest reasons why so many music lovers lean towards Spotify is personalization.
Because let’s face it – Spotify isn’t just about playing music; it’s about discovery, curation, and social interaction too.
The biggest differentiator between Spotify and other music streaming/discovery services (both past and present) is the fact that they use not one, but multiple revolutionary recommendation models to increase user engagement.
Some of these are:
Collaborative Filtering (analyzes user behavior to make better recommendations)
Natural Language Processing (NLP) (scans the internet for blogs and other metadata to determine artist popularity)
Audio models (CNN/Convolutional Neural Networks) which analyze the raw audio waveforms
Now remember – Spotify isn’t just about playing music. In fact, Spotify’s mission statement is to match fans and artists in a personal and relevant way. There’s a reason why Spotify has made so many investments ranging from acquisitions to partnerships – it really is all for the artist as well as the user. Spotify as a company wants more users so they can make more money, users want more from Spotify to enjoy a great listening experience, and musicians want the benefits of both to grow, etc etc.
As mentioned, Spotify has three main types of playlists:
Listener Playlists (generated by users like you & me)
Algorithmic Playlists (Discover Weekly, Release Radar)
Editorial Playlists (New Music Friday, New Punk Tracks)
And while everyone is focused on the outdated method of playlisting (which is not scalable, has a low listener to fan/follower conversion rate), musicians need to pivot their efforts towards driving qualified traffic to Spotify to trigger algorithmic growth.
This can be done through paid or organic marketing channels (ie influencer marketing, TikTok marketing, paid ads, etc.)
How iOS 14 Affects Music Marketing
Facebook’s Ad platform is arguably one of the most powerful and common methods of modern music marketing.
Whether you actively use Facebook as a social platform for your project, there is no denying that their targeting options and capabilities are amazing (for Facebook, Instagram and its audience network).
When we start talking marketing, you hear these amazing and groundbreaking things about pixels, conversion tracking, land leveraging data to build lookalike audiences.
But now, you begin to hear murmurs of the same false statement that “Facebook Ads don’t work”.
Yes, change is scary.
And yes, iOS 14 most definitely will impact our music marketing efforts.
“Apple’s proposed changes will limit your ability to effectively reach, understand and engage people on mobile devices and across the web. They will impact your ability to understand performance, control who sees your ads and make informed decisions about your advertising budgets. As these changes take effect, over time you may see an overall decrease in ad performance and personalization and an increase in cost per action.”
Essentially, users will be getting this little pop up when they update/install any new application that uses Facebook Pixels and other means of tracking user activity:
Pretty lame, right?
At least, for us. But let’s not forget about the user experience, or the consumer.
They are bombarded by ads left and right when they go onto Facebook, Instagram, YouTube – you name it.
And it feels like big brother is watching over your shoulder, trying to convince you to just do it and purchase those sneakers you were eyeing last week.
Data privacy and tracking has been a hot topic for a minute (watch The Social Dilemma on Netflix if you haven’t), and it won’t be dying down anytime soon.
We live in a world where “gate keeping” is a thing of the past, and sharing how these things work is great. (The normalization of non-gate keeping is actually why you’re reading this – I would’ve been shunned if I was sharing “secrets” and “advice” on navigating the music industry 20 years ago)
There are tons of resources out there positioned to help you, and also those can can exploit the delicacies that is data privacy and security.
The issue here is not the fact that Facebook tracks your every like, comment, interest and then some.
The issue here is a knowledge gap.
Users don’t know what they are opting into half the time.
And while yes, I agree, we shouldn’t have to dig through a long terms of service agreement that says that my phone will track my every move and serve me personalized ads, but there has to be another solution.
What is the solution? Only time will tell.
Creating An Ad Campaign in 2021
Whether you’re a pro or beginner with running paid media campaigns through Facebook, you know that things change all the time.
Which is okay. Change is good, and makes things more exciting.
If you’ve been running conversion campaigns through Business Manager, you’ve probably seen this error:
Moving forward, in order to run conversion campaigns, you will need to verify your domain through Facebook Business Manager.
Here are the steps you need to take to create a Facebook Ad Campaign for promoting your music in 2021 and beyond (whether you’re running them yourself, or hiring someone to run them for you).
How to Set Up Facebook Business Manager
Facebook Business Manager is your one stop shop for all of your Pages, Ad Accounts, and Pixels.
To set up your Facebook Business Manager:
1) Visit business.facebook.com/overview
2) Click Create Account (if you don’t have one already)
3) Enter a name for your business (your project’s name, management/label name etc.), email address and click “next”
4) Enter your business details and bam – that’s it.
How to Verify Your Business & Domain
To verify your Business:
2) Select your Business Manager
3) Fill out your Business Details
4) Scroll down to “Business Verification Status” and click “View Details”
5) Click “Start Verification” and fill out the information
To verify your Domain:
2) Select your Business Manager
3) Click “Add” Domain and enter it in the field
4) Follow the DNS Verification or HTML File Upload instructions through Business Manager to verify your domain
Note – domain verification must be done for the top level domain plus one (eTLD+1).
For example, for artist.smartlinkservice.com, link.smartlinkservice.com, smartlinkservice.com/artist and smartlinkservice.com the eTLD+1 domain is smartlinkservice.com
This means that if you are using a smart link service for your marketing efforts, you need to make sure you are using a custom domain if you are wanting to run conversion campaigns.
There is no way for you to “verify” the smart link service’s domain on your end since you do not have DNS access or the ability to upload a HTML file to said smart link service.
So again – make sure you are using a custom domain and verify said domain if you want to run conversion campaigns (recommended).
Alternatively, you can continue to use music smart link services without domain verification, however, you will not be able to run conversion campaigns.
You can learn more about smart links here as well as find the right one for you. Just make sure you can use a custom domain NOT just a subdomain.
Your Domain Options for Music Marketing
Okay, so you have a couple of options here for your domain.
Option 1 – create a website for your project. This can be done via DreamHost in which you would be able to purchase a domain and a hosting plan. Through here, you’d be able to create a site which would contain your music and social links, photos bio etc.
Then, you could have a specific page (yourdomain.com/links) that would serve as a “smart link” and link to your Spotify, Apple Music, etc.
Note – Let’s say you do roll with this option and still eventually want to use a smart link service. You would have to create a subdomain for your domain. (I.e – “link.yourdomain.com”). Your main site will be on yourdomain.com and your smart link would be link.yourdomain.com
Option 2 – purchase a domain just to use for a smart link service. I opted for this option because of my unique situation as a music marketing agency. But this is also a great option for those who do not have a need for a website. Or just plain and simple do not want to deal with creating a website via Squarespace/Wordpress and then creating a subdomain just for smart links. You can purchase a domain through Hover and call it a day.
This is great because if you work with multiple artists, you just have to worry about verifying one domain versus multiple domains for your roster for DSP conversion campaigns.
However, the only caveat to this method is the fact that because of Facebook’s Aggregated Event Measurement, we are limited to configuring 8 events per domain. (More on this later).
Having a smart link service paired with a custom domain will allow you to plug and play in your Pixel IDs vs adding each Pixel code snippet to specific pages that pertain to each artist via a website.
In the event your smart link service does not provide this or is too expensive, you can opt in to purchase a domain and hosting plan via DreamHost.
This is actually what I did for Letters to Part.
How to Purchase A Custom Domain
You can purchase a domain from various different domain providers, however for this example we used Hover.
Remember – this domain will just be used for our smart link service. And this will just walk you through purchasing a domain, not a hosting plan.
With a custom domain, you will be able to add your custom domain to a smart link service to use for your marketing efforts. Click here to compare the smart link service as well as see which plan and service fits your needs and budget.
To Purchase a Domain Through Hover:
1) Visit Hover
2) Search for a domain you’d like
3) Add to cart and then purchase if available
4) Verify your account/information via an email
5) That’s it!
You now are a proud owner of a domain that is ready to be verified through your Business Manager as well as set up as a custom domain through your smart link service.
Pricing for custom domains through a smart link provider can be found here.
For ToneDen users looking to set up a custom domain, all ya gotta do is message their support and they will take care of the rest.
How to Create A Custom Website
If you’re looking to create a website for your music project, you would need both a domain and a hosting plan.
The best place to purchase both of these is through DreamHost.
This is the most economical way to create your “own” smart link via your website. DreamHost plans start at $5 per month, whereas purchasing a custom domain and verifying it through a smart link service can be 10x that.
Creating a Website With DreamHost
1) Sign up for a DreamHost account
2) Choose a plan, and select your domain
3) Install WordPress
4) Create your site
5) Create a specific page (or use your homepage) to display your links
6) That’s it
When you have your website ready, you would then verify your domain through Business Manager, slap a Pixel on your site (or specific pages), create your conversion events using the Event Setup Tool, and you’ll be running in no time!
How to Setup Aggregated Event Measurement
Another crucial step to get proper attribution and conversion tracking through your paid media campaigns is setting up your conversion events through Facebook’s Aggregated Event Measurement tool.
To setup Aggregated Event Measurement:
1) Go to Events Manager.
2) Select your Pixel, and go to Aggregated Event Measurement.
3) Click “Configure Web Events”
4) Next, select the domain that will be associated with this Pixel/has the events, and click “Edit Events”
5) Once your domain is selected, click on “Add Event”
6) Finally, select your Pixel, and your Event, and bam – that’s it.
Note – you can only configure 8 conversion events at the moment. So if our conversion event is “View Content” for example, per Pixel/client, we would be limited to eight total artists/clients. If we had two conversion events (I.e “View Content” and “Lead”) per Pixel/Client, we would be limited to four total artists/clients.
Define Your Marketing Goal
Paid advertising is great, but the most important thing to establish in the beginning of any campaign is the goal – what is it that we are defining as “success”?
Or what metric will be our KPI (key performance indicator)?
Whether your goal is to generate more streams, increase social media followers, or drive purchase conversions, your overarching goal needs to be fan acquisition and owning your audience.
Whether it is through paid or organic social channels, it is without a doubt the most important KPI to establish.
The New Focus for Music Marketing
So we’re screwed right?
No, my good friend, not entirely.
Music marketing is one of the niches in the world that may not have a direct positive ROAS in the beginning (i.e spend $1 to get $10 back). Our ROAS compounds over time, whether it be through streaming, merch and other revenue streams. Music is an expensive hobby and career to pursue, and rather than defining your “return” as monetary, your “return” can be thought of as the number of followers you have gained, or the number of emails you have acquired.
The biggest focus for any music promotion strategy in 2021 should be fan acquisition, and actually owning your audience.
Whenever you hear “fan acquisition” your mind drifts to thinking about followers on TikTok, Instagram etc.
But let’s divert our definition of fan acquisition more towards owning your audience through means of an email list, text message list, or Discord Server.
This is your owned audience.
Owning your audience has nothing but benefits.
For example, if a new social media platform starts to pop off, rather than starting from 0 followers, you can send your owned audience a targeted message saying “yo we are on this new platform, follow us”.
Or, in the case of what many of us music marketers faced in 2020, if your advertising platform gets temporarily disabled or banned, you can target your owned audience on different platforms using custom audiences or just sending them a campaign via email or text.
Owning your audience has been the same song I’ve been singing for the longest time, but it is inevitable moving forward.
I cannot stress this enough – own your audience and put your focus on this.
Whatever player you are in the industry: artist, label, distributor, manager – build an email or text list.
You’ll thank me later.
Ready to Get Your Music Heard?
“My numbers have never been this good” – Bansheekid
All you need is an email address to get started (we won’t be spammy).
Or if you’d like to work with me directly, you can contact me here.