Indie music promo, 2017 Edition
April 30, 2017 4:02 PM   Subscribe

I last released an album in 2001, when there was still some semblance of a (dys)functional music industry. I'm back in the game and trying to wrap my mind around ethical and effective music promotion in the digital space in 2017.

I'm a 40yo dude whose last (wide-scale release) album came out when I was 24. For various creative and personal reasons, it's been a long stretch since I've had a proper go, but suddenly I have a new record coming out. It's damn good and I'm utterly confident that it will find an audience, with some strong elbows in this or that direction.

Let's assume I have shed the delusions of my youth and I'm not aiming for Taylor Swiftian mega-stardom or anything too outrageously out of reach for someone of my age and musical proclivities. (For reference, I'm more in line with a Robyn Hitchcock / Aimee Mann / New Pornographers / Richard Buckner-style brainy cult art-pop thing.) But my dream situation includes an active and enthusiastic audience, a healthy number of Spotify plays, and the ability to call a time-out on my freelance/self-employment to play house concerts around the country for a few months every now and then.

Assume also that I haven't been living under a rock as a music consumer or creator, and I am aware of (and already using) Spotify, SoundCloud, Tunecore, Bandcamp, and all the baseline-level digital tools and platforms available to modern musicians, so I don't need an How To Internet Music 101 tutorial.

So: from a "work smarter not harder" approach, what are the best approaches to getting your music into new ears in the modern age, as someone who has vaulted back from passive to active music creation and promotion?

Back in my day (stomps cane for emphasis), I would hire a national college radio promo team, a publicist/press person, and spend insane amounts of my own money to get my records on the air and in all the right publications. It was modestly effective from an "exposure" angle, but I was bleeding cash all the time, and I have no evidence that getting reviewed in Spin or Rolling Stone etc. ever really sold more records or got me better gigs.

By contrast, my life partner, nine years my junior and also a singer-songwriter, is an obsessive Instagrammer who spends hours every day gamifying the social media system and fretting over metrics and followbacks and so forth. He insists that I need to get on the wagon and start following total strangers in huge numbers, posting daily, cultivating a concrete social presence for myself, etc. I respect his beliefs and methods, but I'm already exhausted by the funhouse mirror distortions of social media on a personal level, and I would far prefer to spend that time riding my creative wave and making more music. But I recognize there is a degree of truth, and perhaps necessity, in his suggestion.

So, obviously must be a world between 24/7 social media overload and paying out the nose for (outsized and somewhat anachronistic) promotional partners. I'm not averse to some from Column A and some from Column B, but help grandpa indie-rocker understand: what does that model look like nowadays?
posted by mykescipark to Media & Arts (6 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
I don't have the answer for you, but suggest you don't lose sight of the big picture; Is your market Instagrammers? Because that's who's going to see you on Instagram. It's not universal. None of the social media outlets are. If it's not really the people you are trying to reach then it's like an electronic dub act partnering with Tractor Supply.

I also believe there has to be a cost/benefit calculation. At some point you are a marketing person who happens to be pushing their own record. How much do you want that to be your job?

Hire your partner to do your social media if they're good at it.
posted by bongo_x at 4:39 PM on April 30, 2017 [3 favorites]

I actually had dinner with the manager of an indie label and a band I would consider successful this weekend and they were discussing this very thing, my main takeaway was that they use Facebook ads pretty extensively! I bet your partner could help you mess with that in an effective way and it is apparently pretty cheap and easy to target really specific audiences. Apparently "premieres" are also a huge thing, where a website premieres your new song or video. But they seemed bummed about how hard it is to get to new listeners and the lower numbers of sales compared to even like ten years ago.
posted by leesh at 7:25 PM on April 30, 2017 [2 favorites]

Like bongo_x says, it's not a universal thing, and really seems almost generational. I have only anecdotal evidence to back this up, but in my observations of people my age (early to mid-50s), people in their mid 30s to mid-40s, and then people younger than that, music discovery happens in very different places for each group.

My nieces, aged 15, 9, and 7, live on Youtube, Instagram, and Facebook. Unless you're a cute boy band or a spunky teenaged girl singer who also happens to have a show on Disney or Nickelodeon, the two younger ones will never know you exist. The oldest one, though, will click through some of the related videos that come up on Youtube for the bands she already likes, so if you're able to catch her attention there you might have a chance. She also looks at what her friends are liking on Facebook and Youtube and has found several bands that way. She'll also check out bands on Instagram that the bands she follows mention, or that her friends mention, and then head to Youtube to see what they sound like.

My BIL and his wife, who are in their late 30s and early 40s, are in a band, mostly goth-metal stuff. They post a lot on Instagram and Facebook, not so much on Twitter, and they're active in the Steampunk community and play a lot of Steampunk cons. From talking to them, I think that they get most of their fans in a round-about manner - play at a con, someone likes them and follows them on Facebook, Youtube, and Instagram, that person's friends discover them, etc. I think most of their fans are in their mid-30s to early 40s. They generally discover new music from what their friends / followers on Facebook are listening to, and to a lesser extent from Spotify.

For me, someone in his 50s, I mostly discover music via places like Spotify Radio channels built around artists I like, or from listening to SiriusXMU or SomaFM. The only bands I follow on Instagram or Facebook or Youtube are bands I already know, it would never occur to me to seek out new music there. This is the same for most people my age that I know (but again, that’s just anecdotal). But if you were to show up in my usual places to listen to music, I'd probably notice, especially given your description of your music. I've got tickets to see the New Pornographers on Tuesday, so you're probably right up my alley. But I'm only looking for new music in a few places because I grew up listening to the radio. If your presence was totally on Instagram or Youtube or Facebook, I'd probably never hear about you unless someone I know happened to mention you, and then I’d go looking on Spotify before I looked anywhere else.

My suggestion - figure out who you want to market to, and go where they are. I know that bands have fans across all age ranges, but I also know that when I went to see Neko Case the other month a lot of the people in the room were my age, and when I go see the New Pornographers on Tuesday most of the folks there will be close to my age too. I saw Explosions In The Sky a few weeks ago, and even though they were playing in a college town a lot of the people there were around my age. I discovered all those bands either on SomaFM, SiriusXMU or Spotify. Another suggestion - think about where you discover new music, and see if your peer group is similar. That will at least give you a way to narrow your focus, at least at first. You can easily broaden your scope later on if needed.
posted by ralan at 7:04 AM on May 1, 2017 [4 favorites]

I think it would really help to do a lot of shows, and get hooked in with local promoters, who would do *some* of the social media stuff for you (via promotion of said shows, on Facebook and wherever else). And get to know and support other local musicians. At least, that's what the younger musicians I'm aware of are doing (as well as the social media stuff your partner's into).

(I think the other thing is just to be lucky and have the thing you do be what enough [for given values of "enough"] people want to hear at a given time.)
posted by cotton dress sock at 7:52 AM on May 1, 2017

I can't answer you from a musician's perspective, but from a fan perspective, the best thing you can do to jump up a level is get a live gig on KCRW, KEXP or Tiny Desk or land on All Songs Considered. Maybe this is incredibly obvious, but I get a lot of music from Cheryl Waters, Jason Bentley, Robin Hilton and Bob Boilen. The other thing I could see being helpful is getting shoutouts from known musicians who have their own followers. I'll admit to being really out of touch - my peers don't listen to the same music I do and I don't even have a Facebook or Instagram account, so I don't tend to get music from social media at all, and I also don't listen to FM radio.
posted by cnc at 8:54 AM on May 1, 2017 [2 favorites]

You might be able to glean some good advice from the Bad Christian podcast. Two of the three hosts have been in moderately successful bands, and now they started their own label and put out music on a regular basis for other bands. They crowdfund everything and do smaller shows across the U.S. in ways that turn a profit.
posted by tacodave at 3:11 PM on May 1, 2017 [1 favorite]

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