20 Biggest Indie Artist Marketing Mistakes
At the end of every year I ask y’all to respond to me about your feelings on the article content. I also ask for any suggestions on what you want me to write about moving forward. Many of you responded with requests for help.
You asked for answers to some of the common problems I’m expressing; especially with marketing your music.
Much of the content in this article was posted in a June 25, 2014 article simply as an articulation of the mistake. Here is a revved up version of that same content with some ideas and direction towards solutions. I hope this helps.
Please let me know what you think.
1. Misguided Language – Too many of you are telling people what to do on your CTA’s (Calls to Action) and failing to get conversions. Example: “Check out my new single” or “Hottest new rap artist spitting real life, yo, check him out now” or “Donate to our Kickstarter campaign”.
Hype on social media is as useless as screen doors on submarine. What you should be doing is making it about Say something like, “Wow, thank you for the follows #grateful, I want you to have a free download of my first single in return”. When someone engages YOU, respond with a similar message. Your conversion rates will skyrocket and people will begin to actually give your song a listen. This is a social media adaptation of paraverbal communication.
2. Paying For Discovery – Imagine a late night infomercial starting off with “Just $19.99!!!” Asking for the money and then attempting you to get excited about the product.
Would you watch?
Would you care?
Every day I see a tweet that says something like “Discover us on iTunes” or “Download our first single on iTunes”. Indie artists are misguided into thinking that giving music away is devaluing it somehow and “good business” means collecting money.
Listen, I’m all about collecting money, but just like you, I have NEVER, EVER, EVER, paid to discover an artist in my life.
Think about it, your favorite iconic artists came into your awareness for free. You discovered them on the radio (while you were waiting to hear your “jam”), a friend turned you on to them after he/she found them on the radio, or you paid to see a headlining act that you knew was worth the money and were pleasantly surprised by the opening act.
Without terrestrial radio, marketing means you are going to have to get people interested in you and emotionally involved in your artistic journey before you shake them down for the cash.
In simple sales terms, you have to build desire first.
3. Likes and Follows Are Strong Connections – This is the biggest common fallacy.
Likes and follows are NOT strong connections in any way, shape, or form. If you ask for money directly after a like or follow it’s the same as meeting someone at a cocktail party, handing them your CD and asking for $10.
Can you imagine? “Hi, I’m Johnny D, here’s my CD. You’re going to love it! That’ll be 10 bucks.”
You KNOW that won’t work.
It doesn’t on social media either.
A like or a follow is a handshake after an introduction at best.
If you’ve toured at all you KNOW that you cannot possibly remember everyone you meet. Something else needs to happen for you to remember a fan, right? You need to remember that when you networking on social media.
4. Selling, Selling, Selling – Too many indie artists just ask for money or hype themselves on social media with every post. This is the equivalent of digital panhandling.
You’ve got to give to receive, man.
Create content that is focused around YOU that can be offered for free to potential fans (make sure they know you’re benevolent) to get them interested in YOU first. THEN about every 4th post, serve up a CTA but give them the single.
You want to space out your CTA’s (where they need to act) with cool content that is about you and your brand. Read Gary Vaynerchuk’s Jab, Jab, Jab, RIGHT HOOK for more ideas on this subject.
5. Old School Marketing Methods – Look, I get it. Every artist we love was marketed to us via the radio, that’s where we most likely discovered them and that’s certainly where their music was driven into our brain enough to become familiar after we discovered them.
It stands to reason that is how you would fashion your marketing plan because that is all you know. Listen, radio is no longer effective for exposing new artists.
The power of radio to introduce a new artist into a market is over because consumers don’t have to suffer through the “getting-to-know-you-process” of listening to unfamiliar music.
Even if you have 1 million dollars to spend on a P1 radio campaign, they have Wi-Fi in the car, man.
They’re going to change the channel when faced with an unfamiliar tune to find their jam because, well, now they can.
While there are always exceptions to the rule, I submit to you that outside of country music no new artists have broken on rock or pop radio in the last 5 years. Any artist that has their very first single on radio in the last 5 years broke somewhere else and THEN radio started spinning them.
They broke first on YouTube, American Idol, The X Factor, The Voice, TV show soundtracks (theme song music), some anomaly that created attention, or great online marketing.
Most of you don’t have 1 million dollars so relying on radio to break you is a convenient cop out that ensures you won’t make it and it’s not your fault.
Spend your money putting your promotional content in front of a targeted set of eyes. Spend your money on a PR launch for your record to get some valuable press that you can use for social proof. Spend your money either on a company that can help you find your audience on social media OR learning to do it yourself. (Gasp!!)
6. Directing Traffic to Digital Distributors – If you’ve marketed correctly, you’ve influenced a consumer buying decision and they will find a way to purchase your product line.
Digital distribution has exactly ZERO effect on sales today.
No artist broke on iTunes and nobody is stumbling across cool music there either. They’re buying what they went to iTunes to look for.
So, if you’re spending the money and busting your butt to influence buying decisions and drive traffic, why send them to a digital distributor and give up such a huge percentage on purpose?
YES, OF COURSE, you need to have a presence on all DD’s but drive them to your webstore and let the consumer decide to go somewhere else. At least 45% of them will probably go somewhere else, the rest will buy directly from you where you get 100% of the money.
BTW, don’t be afraid to offer packages and products that aren’t available on digital distribution making it sexier and smarter to buy direct.
7. Zero Bundling On Artist Webstore – Let’s be honest, most of you don’t have a webstore which is incredibly idiotic. You’re giving at least 30% of your hard earned revenue to a company to access essentially free 1’s and 0’s.
Those of you that do have a webstore (Kudos!), don’t have bundles.
FACT: 30% of your buyers are willing to be upsold and will purchase more while their credit card is out. That is as long as there is something for them to purchase!
There is a 70% chance you are NOT one of these kinds of people who can be easily upsold, but don’t that be your erroneous, short-sighted reason for leaving money on the table.
8. Ignoring YouTube – YouTube is probably the biggest marketing asset you have available to you and hardly any of you are using it. The ones that do use it aren’t consistently posting videos.
YouTube is your own private TV network, treat it as such.
Many artists break on YouTube.
Hardly any have broken on the radio in the last 5 years with the exception of country music and those days are numbered.
Our artist Bailey James is 13 years old and has over 260K views on her YouTube channel and I assure you that was from consistent content with ZERO paid promotion.
That’ll change soon but 260k views and 2,900+ subscribers from just hard work and intelligence isn’t too bad.
There’s at least 2,900 people that want to see her next video enough to subscribe. How many do you have?
9. Zero Marketing – Sadly, MOST indie artists spend every dollar of their precious, limited financial resources making the record and ZERO dollars marketing it.
If they do spend any money marketing it is horribly misspent and proportionately upside down.
Good music has rarely if ever found its own audience “organically”.
Somebody, somewhere, somehow was putting the artist works in front of the right group of people to create a little fire in the grassroots.
Whether they PAID for radio promotion, or they PAID for PR to get them on Letterman, Oprah, Jimmy Fallon, Leno, GMA, Rolling Stone, Spin, or they PAID for tour support, or they PAID for a radio promo, these were all strategic calculated marketing plans.
If you got a record deal tomorrow the label would spend around 10% of your total budget making the record and 90% promoting it. Try adjusting your budget to get closer to spending 9 times the recording funds on marketing and see what happens. Even if it means recording just one song.
Any other approach is as asinine as flip flopping the salt and the sugar amounts in any given dessert recipe. If you don’t follow the recipe you’re masterpiece is going to taste like crap.
10. You’re Not Asking the Right Questions – Too many of you are asking yourselves “How can I get my music to the right industry people so I can make it?” or “How do I get 1 million dollars so I can get my shot at fame”.
The questions indie artists should be asking are “Who is my audience?” “Where can I find them?”, “How can I connect with them?” “What can I do to get them to seriously listen to my music with an open heart and mind?” “Where can I learn the right questions to ask?” and “Where can I learn the answers for the right questions?”
All the marketing power you require is available on your computer and it’s mostly free.
The only thing missing is a good, creative attitude about the project, some education to get you accurately inspired, and then the gumption to get started!
If you don’t know, LEARN. Yes the education is going to cost some money but somehow you managed to get your music recorded and that wasn’t free. If it was free the recording equipment you used wasn’t.
You’re resourceful, when you really decide to make it happen you’ll find a way, believe me. Some good books to start getting intelligent, accurate marketing strategies are:
Jab, Jab, Jab, RIGHT HOOK: How to Tell Your Story In A Noisy World by Gary Vaynerchuk
Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Other Die by Chip Heath & Dan Heath
Contagious: Why Things Catch On by Jonah Berger
Music Marketing on Twitter: How To Get 1,000 Loyal Music Fans Every Month in Just 15 Minutes a Day by yours truly , Johnny Dwinell (this one is free so just click the link and tell me where to send it. You’re welcome)
11. Consistency – Most indie artists are not consistent with social media marketing.
Twitter, Instagram, YouTube, Periscope, Facebook, and all social media platforms require consistency and content.
If I were to grow a client’s account without adding content the followers will soon unfollow because there is nothing to consume.
I would be like going to party and the host never shows up so nobody has cocktails and there is no music playing. See Ya! You have to provide regular consistent content or you’ll lose them regardless of how captivating you are.
12. Engagement – The days of the mysterious rock star have been over for quite some time now.
Indie artists need to engage EVERYBODY that engages them.
People still admire creatives but they require more if they meet you through their device.
My amazing 13 year old client Bailey James interacts with every single person that reaches out to her on social media.
They can’t believe it when she does that which makes her look genuine and makes them feel special.
She has over 30k followers on Instagram and every post that little girl puts up averages a SOLID 600 likes and 85 comments per post.
The difference between you and Bailey is she gets it and you’re still making excuses as to why you can’t, why you shouldn’t, or why you won’t.
You’re meeting people for the first time on social media, think of it like a cocktail party.
FACT: When you meet someone for the first time they won’t remember what you said so much as they will remember how you made them feel. Remember that and your fan responses will instantly change.
13. Lack of Aggression – You can’t seriously believe that being antisocial on social media is a smart idea.
Too many Indie artists wait around for people to follow them in a misguided attempt to grow their social media accounts “organically”.
Your favorite iconic artists have massive social media followers because they’re famous. Paying millions of dollars to promote these major label artists all over the world is what made them famous which means it was man-made, not organic. Consumers were exposed to an artist and liked what they saw or heard the music and chose to follow that artist.
This approach doesn’t create “organic” traffic, rather it’s targeted to strategic groups of people they think will like the music. The PR convinced them it was cool.
You can promote yourself online via social media and create a similar effect but you have to follow somebody first for crying out loud.
And why not be aggressive this way?
When you do the initial following you are handpicking the people most likely to connect with you.
You’re targeting (remember picking teams on the playground when you were a kid? Some of you did the picking and you picked in a certain order for a reason. Some of you were always the last to be picked you felt horrible. Well, now you’re doing the picking. Pick intelligently and make them feel welcome or they’ll feel like you when you were passed over).
Essentially, you’re deciding who gets invited to your cocktail party. A bunch will follow back if you’re not a douchebag and they’ll stay if you have regular content.
14. Overthinking YouTube – Save the super creative, expensive, big time videos for the single promotion.
The “I can’t afford a good video” routine is a cop out.
Every week you should be gleaning potential fans from popular videos by doing regular cover songs. Do this via low-cost, easy-to-shoot, one-shot, smart phone videos of you putting your artistic spin on whatever the most popular video will be that week regardless of genre.
In fact, the more disparate your version of the hit song/video is from the original artist, the more compelling it will be.
Study and compare Noah Guthrie’s version of LMFAO’s “Sexy and I Know It” or The Gourd’s version of Snoop Dogg’s “Gin and Juice” to get an idea of what I mean by different.
BTW, Bailey James’ YouTube channel at this moment has one professionally done video with about 3,500 views. 99% of the content is shot with an iPad camera. The most popular videos were shot this way as well. Just sayin’.
15. Annotating YouTube Videos – Here it is plain and simple.
They won’t subscribe if you don’t ask.
They won’t download that free single if you don’t ask.
FACT: You get 80% of what you ask for in life so why not do it? The worst thing that could happen is they say “no” but then, since its social media, you’ll never deal directly with the rejection.
I recently got the opportunity to work with an AMAZING 14 year old artist name Erin Kinsey. She had 3 videos on her YouTube channel with a total of around 250k views and 1,224 subscribers. They added a 4th video just before Christmas and I annotated all 4 asking for subscriptions.
That 4th video has over 113k views now and her subscriptions jumped 41% in 3 weeks adding 503 new subscribers for a total of 1,727.
All I did was ask.
All the info you need to learn to do this is on the YouTube “Creators” tab.
16. You Think You Own The Information – You don’t own the information.
Don’t fool yourself.
All your likes and follows may be from your real fans but you don’t own that information, and as such, somebody is going to charge you to access that data at some point if they haven’t already begun to do so (ahem, Facebook).
You need to be regularly trading free downloads in exchange for email addresses and/or phone numbers via squeeze page technology or text capture technology.
Facebook charges you for access to your following. Twitter will do the same, so will Instagram and so on. You have to own the information so you can reach them whenever you want for free, on your terms.
17. Ignoring Periscope – Why?
This is the most amazing app with the most amazing reach and the BEST capability of showing your true soul to your fans.
Be consistent and you’ll build an audience.
Remember, if you’re a pro artist you’re living a life most people only read about in books.
What would it be like for your viewers to experience walking onstage to a packed house of people?
How would your audience react if you told them they were live worldwide on Periscope?
Case Study: With Bailey James we created an interactive exercise where we asked her social media following to help us pick the 5th song on her upcoming EP. They responded in droves with their choice between 2 songs.We announced the winning song live via Periscope from inside the recording studio on the day we tracked it accomplishing social proof and cool interaction. There were fans from Brazil, Canada, United States, and England on that broadcast. (Boom, drops mic).
Another neat idea is to ask for requests on your social media throughout the week and play 3 of them live at the same time on the same night, every week. When you play a request show a printed S/O to the requestor’s handle and thank them. This adds a vanity aspect to your weekly draw. They’ll want to see if you play their request and mention them. The ones you don’t mention will be excited for their opportunity next week.
18. Missing Live Show Contact Capture – Live shows have the best conversion rate if you’re good.
My good friend Wade Sutton at Rocket To The Stars recently worked with a band that tours so much they have performed over 1,000 shows in 4 years. They had 300 people on their mailing list. That’s like 1 person every 3rd show!
On the contrary we did 1 show with Bailey James at a middle school and received 160 contacts!! We gave away a free download and they just needed to tell us where to send it (translation: we got their email address or phone number).
It was easy.
Is it wrong that when I see a crowd in front of a stage I envision everyone with credit card heads?
Not for nothin’ but the more you do this the more you can reach out to individual markets to let them know you’re coming back to town. Your live draw will increase if you do it until you outgrow the venue. Just a thought.
19. Social Proof – 2 things to consider with this.
One is that most of you aren’t putting up enough social proof if you putting up any at all (no doubt because you don’t want to come off as bragging).
Two, you’re putting it up incorrectly and you come off as bragging.
Social proof is anything that proves you’re really doing it and other people are into it.
This includes, reviews, interviews, fan comments from your social media platforms, emails, live show clips, BTS clips (Behind The Scenes), etc. Rather than implying “I’m awesome, check me out” which is bragging, why not give a “Shout Out” to the source of the content?
For instance, “S/O 2 Honkeytonk Central in Nashville for letting us play #Grateful We had a BLAST partying with all of you” with a 15s clip of the show.
20. Not Promoting Interactivity – People want to feel like they’re a part of something.
Get them to interact. You can do this by engaging them.
You can accomplish this with controversial content. For instance, Bailey James posted a YouTube video of Luke Bryan’s “Kick the Dust Up” and it was controversial. I convinced her parents to LEAVE THE NEGATIVE UP and her fans defended the attackers. The result was deeper fan relations.
Also ask to be interactive. Have them send pictures of themselves and POST those pics with a S/O to the fan. This adds a “vanity” aspect to your web traffic. They want to see themselves, man.