GROSS! I hate promoting my own music, yet I am so alone!
February 23, 2015 9:19 PM   Subscribe

In this day and age (2015), how should a happily obscure musician promote his music to a small audience?

I have a feeling a lot of musicians have encountered this dilemma. I am no longer an ambitious and delusional young sprite thinking the music industry is anything but a snake pit. I have zero interest in courting labels, touring, etc. I'm a veteran of the 90s music scene, I'm married and have a good job that takes up plenty of time. In my spare time I still write and record, mostly experimental, weird, noisy stuff. It pleases me to do so. Some folks enjoy it, who like such things.

I have no problems recording, mixing, mastering (har har, let's just call it that), designing packaging and art, etc. I use CreateSpace for physical CDs, because I just like them, and a digital distro for getting my stuff on iTunes, Spotify, et al. I prefer to direct people to my Bandcamp to download for free or a donation. I expect no financial rewards. I am happy when someone hears one of my songs. All is well.

Yet, with all this ease of distribution at my disposal, and my very low ambitions, I still balk at when it comes to actually promoting myself. Reading other people's self-promotional tweets/emails/facebooks/etc. makes me wince. Writing promotional emails to music blogs that do cover experimental and odd music puts me on edge, and I usually default to self-deprecating quips, which is just stupid, and shows how uncomfortable I am hawking my own goods.

The Question:
In this day and age (2015), how should a happily obscure musician promote his music to a small audience? We all know the usual "promote your band!" sites and books are nonsense, and that the music industry is crumbling, which gives us non-ambitious types a bit more leeway.

Let us say that I currently have, oh, 50 total listeners based on FB posts, tweets, Soundcloud visits, a compilation appearance or two. How would one bump that up to 1000 listeners who enjoy this sort of experimental music? If you've done this, what worked for you? Was it low key in a way that didn't make you feel 21 and desperate for attention?

Thoughts I've had and things I've toyed with:

1. Identify music blogs with this sort of focus, as small as they may be.
2. Join tumblr communities, fb groups, etc. dedicated to the genre. Share music.
3. Locate and contribute to compilations (I've found people assembling them as Bandcamp albums)
4. Network with other musicians (without feeling opportunistic)
5. Discussion boards, mailing lists, software/instrument related forums.
6. A live performance or two (tricky in my case but not impossible)

I welcome any ideas that float by. Feel free to Message me if you want to hear some of the music, but I'd rather make this a more generic and anonymous question that would benefit others.
posted by There Go the Warm Jets to Media & Arts (19 answers total) 26 users marked this as a favorite
The people I've seen do it still go out and perform, and thereby get hooked in with a network of other people (promoters, bloggers, musicians, listeners) who do at least some of the social media stuff for them (for their own reasons).
posted by cotton dress sock at 9:29 PM on February 23, 2015 [2 favorites]

Plixid and are places you can share your work for people to download. It'll get you some more exposure.
posted by irisclara at 9:39 PM on February 23, 2015 [1 favorite]

and my very low ambitions

If you had low ambitions, you would be fine with this state of affairs. Be honest with yourself, and realize that marketing and promotion are a skill like any other.

Get a spiel together, treat the emails to blogs and whoever like cover letters. If you yourself like your stuff, then put that down. Why are you making music? You want people to listen to your music, other musicians want to listen to good music and have people listen to theirs. This isn't opportunism, they aren't going to drop everything to promote you, but word of mouth is a thing.

It sounds like you want to do the minimum of work, but you have to realize that this strategy is guaranteed to result in a minimum of reach.

Step 1 is to like what you're putting out, though, and to be able to express that your music is a good thing for the reasons you're making it.
posted by rhizome at 9:55 PM on February 23, 2015 [1 favorite]

What an interesting question, and one that I wish I had a solid answer for. I'm in a nearly identical boat, demographically, (seemingly) technically, and philosophically. I make sort of left-field, quirky takes on various underground dancefloor electronic genres, resulting in music that basically appeals to neither mindset. Oh well, it sounds true to me, and I like doing it when the spirit moves and time allows.

Except, yeah, I wouldn't mind a few more strokes, right? But I don't have the time or energy (particularly regarding the learning curve/challenge of gearing up again and playing out) to do much about that. And, pushy networking makes me feel weird.

Of your listed approaches, I've personally had the best luck with meeting the occasional individual (usually online) who has a similar level of ability and a similar not-quite-"correct" sound, slowly getting to know them, and eventually doing the occasional remix, collab, or comp release. At my general networking/production pace, this amounts to an external project every year or so. It's never going to make me a dime, but at least I know that an additional few people have heard what I'm doing.

There is some potential in soundcloud for this sort of activity, although there's a lot of the same dumb self-promotion and false-fallows that ultimately made myspace useless. People definitely have success by working specialty forums, but the level of effort -- and dealing with the lengthy hazing process -- makes that a steep climb for many. Your idea of going straight to minor/niche blogs sounds like it might be more satisfying and have a better return on investment.

Anyway, I hope someone here can be more helpful than me (I'll be watching the thread). I mostly just wanted to say you aren't alone on this kinda-conflicted self-imposed island.
posted by credible hulk at 10:04 PM on February 23, 2015 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: Rhizome, totally agree, which is why my ambitions are low. I'm realistic about how much energy I'm willing to put into the process, and I recognize that skillful promotion is a remarkable skill that takes time and effort and will. But I like your suggestion about writing the emails as cover letters. Lord knows I've written enough of those for job searches. A smart email/cover letter is a hundred times more effective than a press release.

I sense that small communities are forming online around the love of listening/recording in a non-commercial genre, and I should keep hunting for them. Credible Hulk make good point.
posted by There Go the Warm Jets at 10:12 PM on February 23, 2015

You could start by linking to your bandcamp in your profile and perhaps post a few songs to MeFi Music - same goes for the credible hulk above. It's what I do in the hope that someone will click through and like what they hear - I'm sure there are a lot other people here who like discovering music in this way.
posted by srednivashtar at 10:47 PM on February 23, 2015 [1 favorite]

If you have any kind of college/co-op/community radio in your area, have you considered reaching out to someone who hosts or programs a show that features content you feel your music might fit in with? I hear lots of very eclectic stuff from local artists on a co-op station in my small-ish city. The hosts tend to be pretty chill and engaging with listeners and the community.. some of them I have listened to on the air now for nearly a decade if not more. If I were a musician myself, I wouldn't hesitate to get in touch with a few of them, build a rapport, and send my work their way. Not a guarantee of course, but it might be a good way to get your work out there, start to build a local following, and network all at the same time.

Is there a reason you don't mention much in your post about any kind of local music scene? I'm not sure what it's like where you are, but in any case my advice would be to use these lower-stakes internet/networking/social media approaches you mentioned to focus on promoting yourself to more of a local audience, rather than "the internet" at large. I think with the amount of effort you are prepared to put in, you might see more traction by focusing this way as opposed to fighting like hell to get your work noticed above the millions of other songs on bandcamp/soundcloud/everywhere else.
posted by wats at 10:54 PM on February 23, 2015 [2 favorites]

Would your spouse be more comfortable writing your advertising spiel than you are? Or a friend/collaborator, in return for a beer or a credit on your next CD?
posted by dvrmmr at 1:03 AM on February 24, 2015 [1 favorite]

My band gave a shot at doing this a while ago. I also wrote for a music publication for a bit. First my thoughts on your ideas, then some stuff that I've seen work or not work.

1. Identify music blogs with this sort of focus, as small as they may be.
2. Join tumblr communities, fb groups, etc. dedicated to the genre. Share music.
3. Locate and contribute to compilations (I've found people assembling them as Bandcamp albums)
4. Network with other musicians (without feeling opportunistic)
5. Discussion boards, mailing lists, software/instrument related forums.
6. A live performance or two (tricky in my case but not impossible)

1. Yes great idea, should be highest priority. Even better if they are local. Are you near a big city? Are you near a college town? These are 100% going to have bloggers or small publications that cover live music all of whom would welcome a personal email from a musician to check out their music. Not every day, and not demanding anything but an initial "Hey I'm a musician in the __ area here's my music links. Hope you like it, love the blog/paper/magazine." You really don't need to be witty and please don't be self-deprecating. Then when you release something new or play a show reach out too. As someone who received hundreds of promo emails a day from labels at one point, when they came from a musician themself I would always at least listen and give it a shot. The simpler the message, the more likely I was to listen.
2. Sure. This can suck up a lot of time tho. I'd rank it last on the list. The main reason to network is to get people to come to shows. See #6
3. Again, as long as it's not taking up more time this is OK, but nobody is buying compilations any more for music discovery. Bandcamp comps included.
4. Same as 3.
5. Same as 2.
6. Very important. Playing live gives you an opportunity to reach out to everyone in an area that you know, hit up your facebook friends and post on Metafilter IRL and college alumni network and whatever other community you belong to and cajole people to come to the show. This is very draining, I know, but it's the highest ROI. The good thing is, the more rarely you play (say 5x a year) the more people will want to come (and the more time you will have to make sure the venue and your set are perfect).

Other ideas: Twitter. Are you funny at all? Are you at least opinionated or take a lot of instagram photos of random crap? Bands tweeting are some of my favorite accounts to follow. Facebook is fine, but they make it hard for your content to spread easily. Twitter is much more about "Hey strangers check out this thing I like" which is perfect for bands. Again, takes up a lot of time but can be rewarding for breaking out of your friend group. And for being able to talk shit about how terrible pop music is. People love that.

Newsletters: Do you record and release things often? Even if it's once a month this can be useful for keeping track of people. Bandcamp allows you to take emails of people who buy or DL your stuff for free. Upload that to Tinyletter or some other newsletter service and drop the 50 fans a note every 2 weeks or so (or less, they don't care). Collect emails at shows. Etc.

Videos. Know any wannabe filmmakers? Feel like messing around on Imovie? Making videos has never been easier and many people are more willing to watch or repost even a totally ambient video of blinking lights with music under it than they are to click a spotify link or DL a bandcamp song for free. Every new Youtube upload is again a chance to email everyone who might care.

Good luck!
posted by Potomac Avenue at 5:57 AM on February 24, 2015 [7 favorites]

I'd encourage you to check out Mefi's own Vaporcake and maybe release an album through them. It might only get you 30 more listeners, but it's a bit of buzz and experimental/noisey is in their wheelhouse.
posted by Juliet Banana at 7:12 AM on February 24, 2015 [1 favorite]

Oh, and I recommend this to musicians a lot - go read through the archives of Fan Landers. Jessica Hopper, current editor for Pitchfork, was a promoter and played in bands for years and wrote an advice column for musicians, often those looking to promote their music or book shows. Lots of what not to do as well as advice on crafting your spiel and selling yourself.
posted by Juliet Banana at 7:17 AM on February 24, 2015 [2 favorites]

If I can answer the question somewhat with my own experience, I have done projects where I have done almost no promotion and they found a pretty decent audience and projects I have promoted the hell out of, managed to get international coverage, and they barely found an audience. Promotion is important, because the world is so glutted with stuff right now that you need to make yourself as easy to find as possible, but the world is also glutted with promotion, so it's possible to just spin your wheels, pushing the hell out of something that no amount of promotion is going to do much for. And sometimes the attention successful promotion has brought has been relentlessly negative -- a smaller audience might have appreciated what I was doing, but a larger audience didn't.

Lately, I have been experimenting with simply making my stuff easy to find online (through a website and by having it on the major outlets, like Amazon, and then just trying to build my audience person by person. Who might like this? How do I tell them about it? I guess I'd rather have 20 people who really love what I'm doing than a million who don't care or don't like it. And so I have been doing a lot more of handwriting letters, emailing people with similar interests, and just trying to be part of a community of like-minded people than a machine of promotion. If you produce something that starts connecting with a lot of people, the promotion professionals who know how to sell to a large number of people will come find you.
posted by maxsparber at 8:16 AM on February 24, 2015 [6 favorites]

For what it's worth, the music groups I subscribe to on FB have a lot of folks who put links to their stuff on Soundcloud or whatever without a lot of promotional fluff in the links. I mean, really minimal commentary along the lines of "I just put this up, give it a listen". If all you want to do is put it out there, just find your people or at least your general neightborhood and put it out there.
posted by Sublimity at 8:40 AM on February 24, 2015 [1 favorite]

Since you have free/pay what you like music on Bandcamp, look for college/community/co-op radio station, especially with programs that play music like yours, and look beyond your local area. If you want to spend some money, send out physical CDs, but be ready for radio silence, even with follow-up emails or whatnot.

I was once a college radio program director, in charge of listening to all general submissions, then the electronic music show host/program director. Given my love of most things "electronic," I was happy to get something beyond indie rock to the general submissions, but I was critical of trying to push my own preferences on the station, so I held back some things and funneled them to the appropriate electronic shows. As the electronic PD/host, I would play most anything once, unless I really, really didn't like it, so my shows were really eclectic. Others are very genre or style-focused, but I'm sure you could find dozens of appropriate shows around the US, not to mention international shows.

That said, radio audiences are tricky. I dealt with a lot of promotions companies, along with individuals and bands who self-promoted. I remember finding an EP I really liked when I was general PD, and I befriended the band on MySpace (it was in the early 2000s). They were an indie-rock/pop group, but they were surprised to get someone beyond their region finding them on MySpace. They asked how I found them, and I told them college radio, and they said I was the first person to say that, despite paying a promotions company who checked in with each station a few times a week to see how their albums were doing in rotations.

There are also torrent communities that promote music makers in their ranks, which often results in more dialog with the artist/band, even some more remote sounds.
posted by filthy light thief at 8:45 AM on February 24, 2015

Why not find someone who wants to get into working as a publicist/promoter and barter for each other's services. That person gets some experience and can claim you as a client, and you get the promotion that you want.
posted by Ideefixe at 9:28 AM on February 24, 2015

I still balk at when it comes to actually promoting myself. Reading other people's self-promotional tweets/emails/facebooks/etc. makes me wince. Writing promotional emails to music blogs that do cover experimental and odd music puts me on edge, and I usually default to self-deprecating quips, which is just stupid, and shows how uncomfortable I am hawking my own goods.

It seems like you know what needs to be done. If you hate promoting and suck at it, the options seem to be:

a) Get over yourself and get better at it
b) Get someone else to do it
posted by DarlingBri at 9:52 AM on February 24, 2015

Yeah, I have this problem, recognizing that self-promotion is a skill and something I should really be doing but not really wanting to divert the time/energy/resources to doing it right, because I'd rather be working on the stuff I need to promote!

In terms of social media, I find that my own response to other peoples' Twitter and Facebook presences and promotions is much more positive when they mix up their "here's a link to buy my stuff!" content with curated links and shout outs to other, related artists/shops/etc. I'm guilty of just making infrequent and somewhat repetitive "Here's a new thing I made that you can buy!" posts, and always feel kind of lame about it. I keep telling myself that I need to set up a semi-weekly reminder to find a cool and relevant link/song/blog/whatever and share it via social media, because that's how I stumble across a lot of things relevant to my interests; somebody will share a cool thing and I'll follow it back to its source, which is often some neat company I wouldn't have come across otherwise.
posted by usonian at 10:24 AM on February 24, 2015 [1 favorite]

I realize you're asking for practical advice, but Amanda Palmer's book Art of Asking and ted talk deals a lot with the reluctance of artists to self-promote and how society has this love/hate relationship with artists. She posits that society is constantly telling artists making art is noble and selling said art is not. She talks about how messed up that dynamic is and talks about her and other musician's strategies for navigating the weird limbo space that is asking people for their time, attention and money when interacting with your art, and also how to feel okay about asking for time, attention and money from people. It's not a practical guide to Web/crowd-source marketing or anything, but it might help move you past the statement you express in the title of this post that asking for those things is GROSS.
posted by edbles at 11:26 AM on February 24, 2015 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: These are fantastic answers. Great insights and some great concrete advice. I'm glad I posted this! Thank you everyone.
posted by There Go the Warm Jets at 4:12 PM on February 24, 2015

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