How can I get more exposure for my music?
March 29, 2007 3:12 PM   Subscribe

Help me expose myself! How can I get my music heard?

About 6 months ago, I released my second album, which has received some excellent feedback from press and listeners (including Sean O'Hagan of Stereolab and High Llamas). I have it available on CD Baby, iTunes, Amie Street, and whole bunch of other music download services. Some of my tracks are on Podsafe Music Network and have been used in 10 or so podcasts. I have had several tracks do pretty well on Garageband (one track has been in the top 20 of the indie-rock genre for 5 months and is currently in round 3 out of, I think, 4 rounds). I have sent it to terrestrial and Internet radio stations. The result so far has been, well, minimal. I get no comments on my website and, if I have any fans, I don't know about them. I have made less than $20 on digital downloads and have sold 10 copies of the album through CD Baby -- 6 of which were to my mom.

Thanks, Mom.

Despite this, I still feel very good about the music and think it is deserving of fans. It's not for everyone, but I believe that a certain (small?) percentage of people will really love the stuff. The challenge has been getting it in enough ears that that small percentage becomes meaningful. I'm not looking to sell a zillion copies of this, my second album; If I sold 100 and made some fans out there, I would feel pretty thrilled that I had taken a significant step forward in my music career. Actually, at this stage, the fans are more important than the sales. Between selling 100 copies to people who disappear and selling zero but getting some kind of buzz going, I'll take the latter for sure.

So, the question is, where are my resources best spent? I know I could do more cold mailings, but the effort to return ratio on that has been pretty abysmal. What if I was going to spend a little money on -- I don't know -- a radio promoter? A publicist? A something else?

What's "a little money," you ask? Well, I'm really not sure. Depends a lot on the potential for return, the risk, etc. $1,000? $5,000? Honestly, I don't even know what's a reasonable ballpark.

Please share things that have worked for you, guerilla marketing techniques, crazy ideas that pop into your head, etc. I won't self-link here, but my website is in my profile if you want to hear what the music.
posted by SampleSize to Media & Arts (29 answers total) 14 users marked this as a favorite
There's this.
posted by Steven C. Den Beste at 3:19 PM on March 29, 2007

Where are you touring? You don't mention touring even once!

Play out, play out, play out.
Aside from that, knock up a kickin' myspace page (which is the devil, but necessary for marketting now), don't bother with a publicist or promoters (you're not at the level where they'll do more than eat your cash), and try to get a buzz going through your network of musicians. You say you're already doing OK on the press, and have a good critical response.
So... Did I mention that you have to put your dues in and play some live shows?
posted by klangklangston at 3:24 PM on March 29, 2007

Oh, and don't bother sending out cold mailings to places outside of, say, Pitchfork or a few other medium-major national magazines (Pop Matters, Pop Culture Press) unless you're playing a show and know their publication schedule. And don't count on radio to get you more listeners— college radio can get people to show up at your gigs, but will sell very few records, and there's very little chane of getting on commercial radio.
Once I can get my damn computer to work so that I can listen to your music, I can give you better advice based on places you might want to look.
posted by klangklangston at 3:27 PM on March 29, 2007

Where do you live, man?
posted by phaedon at 3:29 PM on March 29, 2007

What kind of music is it? My radio station will gladly take new submissions and play them if they fit our format (post-punk, indie, etc) : ) Email's in my profile.
posted by autojack at 3:31 PM on March 29, 2007

Have you submitted it to CMJ? (site seems to be down at the minute?)

Anonymity is more of a threat than piracy. Are you using lots and lots of ID3 tags in your MP3s?
posted by Alt F4 at 3:37 PM on March 29, 2007

The main distribution channel for indie music is your local scene. Start playing shows at local venues - as small as they need to be. Someone somewhere will book you. Make cool posters advertising shows and put them around town. Set up a merch table; if people there really like what you're doing, they might buy a CD. Get the local campus radio station playing your stuff, and do interviews and in-studio sessions to promote your shows. If you are in Canada, set up a New Music Canada account and try to get your stuff played on Radio 3. Get a myspace and add everyone you know who like your music, and add people and bands whose music you like. Get the local alternative weekly to review your stuff. If you can get local fans, you can start playing larger venues and reaching an increasingly larger audience. Sooner or later you could open for a bigger band and acquire a bunch of the bigger band's fans.

Remember that indie scenesters are actively hunting for cool music. It is a point of pride to be the one to turn one's friends onto a new band *before* they make it big. If your stuff is good enough they will tell all of their friends, and that's how you reach a wider audience.

Myspace may be the devil but if I heard and enjoyred one of your songs on the local radio station, the first place I would look for is your myspace, so I could go and listen to a few more tracks and get a better feel for your music. I would also then notice if you have any upcoming shows, and if you have any albums out I might consider buying, and so on. It is also a convenient link to send to my friends if I like your music so much that I want to share it (I do this quite a bit).
posted by PercussivePaul at 3:38 PM on March 29, 2007

You haven't provided your website or your email address. Do so please and I'll contact you with some practical advice.
posted by unclemonty at 4:05 PM on March 29, 2007

Response by poster: Thanks for the responses so far and keep em comin'!

Just to respond to a few posts...

I'm in Fort Lee, NJ (just over the George Washington Bridge for NYC).

On the plus side: Very easy to get gigs.

On the negative side: People come out to hear their friend's band and then leave. In the gigging bands I've been in, including my own, it's been extremely difficult to build an audience due to this fact. That said, yeah, I should probably get back out there again and do it anyway.

I do have a MySpace page with 165 "friends" FWIW.

Genre is mainly indie-pop with some electronic/folk/indie-rock mixed in. Jon Brion, The Talking Heads, The Kinks, They Might Be Giants, Wilco, Brian Eno, Brian Wilson, Air, and The Beatles are some influences.

Website is in my profile, email is on the website.

Thanks again. Looking forward to continued suggestions!
posted by SampleSize at 4:13 PM on March 29, 2007

I'll second klangklangston -- the primary way to sell one's music in any form and advance your career is to play out.

FYI I tried to d/l tracks 1 & 4 from your latest release and the links did not work, so I gave up on trying to listen.
posted by omnidrew at 4:20 PM on March 29, 2007

you could try to work myspace... Look for your favorite bands on the same local scene, send them messages and try to get shows with them. Getting in with other bands is a good way to bump up your friend count to something much bigger.
posted by magikker at 4:23 PM on March 29, 2007

MySpace, local scene—and contact your local Village Voice Media weekly. (The actual Village Voice looks to be your closest one.) They're pretty much one of the best ways to get your stuff reviewed locally—and as an added bonus, a brief review/blurb about your music could potentially be added to their national review queue. (Village Voice outlets swap reviews a lot, though mainly within the same geographical region of the country. The Riverfront Times in St. Louis, for instance, shares/borrows reviews with/from the Cleveland Scene, The Pitch in Kansas City, and Westword in Denver.)
posted by limeonaire at 4:35 PM on March 29, 2007

I would also recommend contacting some of the bigger music blogs that cover your style of music - espeically ones that write good detailed reviews, and offer lo-fi or single track downloads (as opposed to full album downloads). I guess these are the equivalent of 'zines nowadays for finding music.
posted by p3t3 at 4:38 PM on March 29, 2007

Connect with indie filmmakers and give them access to your entire catalog. Forget radio, your song used in a film would start a buzz.
posted by davebush at 4:54 PM on March 29, 2007

Yeah. You have to gig. Get hooked up with similar acts; promote your gigs. Make friends, ask them to come. People often leave when their friend's band is done, yes, but I am interested in new and local music, I stay for the other bands and give 'em all a chance, and I'm not the only one. Expand your network, and the fans will come!
posted by pazazygeek at 5:05 PM on March 29, 2007

It won't cost you anything to put some stuff on jamendo, too.
posted by flabdablet at 5:09 PM on March 29, 2007

Seconding klangklangston's advice: play out, play out, play out.

Your music, when sold anywhere, is a consumer good. People won't buy it blind (at least most won't) and even random snippets are just a sampling of your wares; unless it's a surprisingly hooky hit that they sample, they'll have no easy emotional connection to your music.

Poscasts are a good start -- because you'll be heard by people who are listening to music instead of shopping -- but still nowhere near the emotional impact and connection you can form during a live show.

As an example, I've been a huge fan of Soul Coughing since their first album. I happened to walk into a nightclub where they were playing -- I had no idea why the place was so packed that night -- and they were onstage playing. The song was great, nobody can argue with that, but the energy of the room absolutely contributed to my decision the next day to buy their album (and, eventually, all of them.)

In summary: people are most likely to enjoy your music when they form an emotional connection, and are also most likely to purchase it. The strongest emotional connection for a stranger who has never heard you perform will be a live show or radio play, and since you can't get thellatter, get the former.

Good luck!
posted by davejay at 5:46 PM on March 29, 2007

Er, "the latter." As in, "how many freudians does it take to screw in a light bulb?" "Two: one to install the bulb, and the other to hold my penis -- my mother -- THE LADDER!"
posted by davejay at 5:47 PM on March 29, 2007

Well, just listened to the Friendly Fire song. Have a couple suggestions—
First off, if you want people to hear your music, don't make it so they have to scroll past a broken flash player that thinks it's loading. It's a pain in the ass (Firefox 2, mac).
Second, if you start with that first song, it's just not all that great. I don't mean to be a jerk, but here's some (hopefully constructive) criticisms— The vocals are too high in the mix, the keys get annoying, the lyrics are pretty pedestrian. It's an OK song, but it lacks depth and, frankly, I couldn't make it all the way through. Sure, you cite The Beatles, and the Beatles are right there, but there's nothing that makes this song stand out from the million other songs influenced by the music-hall British invasion, and mentioning influences like Eno and the Talking Heads is wishful thinking that immediately sets you up to be disappointing.
That's something that I wish more bands would realize when preparing press packs— influences that obvious don't need to be cited, and are generally a detriment, because they remind the listener that they could just be listening to the Beatles. It makes your music superfluous. (And, c'mon, TMBG should have knocked it off years ago).
Piano pop is fine and good, but doing a decent, workmanlike job isn't going to win you enough fans with the amount and quality of home-recorded (and I assume this was, if it wasn't, you should cudgel your producer for making it sound more like a radio ad for a TGIFridays than a compelling pop tune).
And leading off with that song means that if I was reviewing it, I'd only hear the rest of your album if the eject button was somehow out of reach and I was doing something else.

Again, I don't mean to come across as dickish, but the music SOUNDS like you don't play out. It's easy to think of this as your second album, but it's not trimmed down enough to be even a strong debut. Grab your songs and your band and gig until you're sick of hearing about half of 'em. Then you'll have a better idea about how they should be arranged (that Friendly Fire could've used more counter-melody lines, and it really needed to have the voice dropped back with probably some reverb or something to give the recording more warmth).

So, those are some things to think about as far as expanding your audience.

Did I mention to gig gig gig?
posted by klangklangston at 6:34 PM on March 29, 2007

mentioning influences like Eno and the Talking Heads is wishful thinking that immediately sets you up to be disappointing

This is so true. I review a metric fuckload of music annually. Don't do the "elevator pitch"... I can't tell you how many times I've heard people describe themselves as Pavement meets Cut Cut Chemist meets Motzart or something similary outlandish.

I'm a DJ at WRFL, a pretty eclectic and, if I do say so myself, fantastic radio station (excuse the present state of our website). I must say, I only got through one or two of your songs (My Pet Cow is good), but we've got a lot of DJs and if your stuff has any merit someone here will like it. Send a CD to:

C/O Music Director
777 University Station
Lexington, KY 40506-0025
posted by phrontist at 9:37 PM on March 29, 2007

Somehow my buddy who does the same thing got hooked up with some bizzare 'zine scene in the Benelux countries. They play his music a little there and that's where his sales are decent.

Do something similar, send them E-mails, etc.

Plus tour, that's where the musician is made.
posted by Ironmouth at 10:03 PM on March 29, 2007

Don't forget that your friends have friends, who they will make come to gigs. So invite everyone you know, every time (actually handing them a flyer definitely helps). If they like it, they will be back, especially if you can offer an incentive (such as offering to share your rider, if you get one, or covering the door charge for a few of them). When you get a gig, use MySpaz to advertise it.

Definitely seconding the film thing— a lot of student film makers are in dire need of good soundtracks, try putting up posters offering your services at the local film school.

Send out your CD to any contacts you have.

A good (if not totally legal/recommended) way of getting your name known amongst local music afficionados is toilet door graffitti. Every dive in my town that plays to upcoming bands has a motherlode of graffitti on the doors, walls, floors and ceilings of their bathrooms, all of it saying "so and so is the best band EVER! so and so is HOT!! I want so and so's babies!" blah blah blah. Be outrageous with it, and have fun coming up with different ways of pretending you're a teenage girl who loves the band. it'll get your name noticed by those who go to gigs at least! NB: IANYL and I do not endorse this action in any way. Aherm.
posted by indienial at 12:53 AM on March 30, 2007

Don't waste your money on a publicist or a radio plugger at this point. You've got no story or following behind you and the money will just go to waste.

You need to build up a fan base and maintain a relationship with those people and the best ways to do that today are through the internet and playing live.

I'm of the school that says giving away your music is a good idea at your stage. I was reading yesterday about a band that has a box of CDs beside the stage when they play live. Fans are invited to take one for free and if they feel so inclined, to put a small donation in the box. Many people leave a buck or two which in the end is the cost of manufacture anyway so you're not going to lose much money here (certainly less than hiring a plugger). The upside is that many of those people will probably give your CD a listen. That's what you're trying to accomplish.

Make sure you have a mailing list and hand out flyers at your gigs that display your web address. Update your website every day if you can to encourage people to return to the site. Give away MP3s on your website as well and keep track of the site traffic so you can see if it's growing.

That should be your start. Create and build a relationship with fans and keep them hooked. If you're successful in that, you can then look to press and radio.
posted by gfrobe at 3:49 AM on March 30, 2007

You could send your CDs to Pandora.
posted by Martin E. at 5:32 AM on March 30, 2007

Give the music away - free mp3s, free CDs, whatever. Then sell your next album, once you've built a decent following.
posted by reklaw at 6:51 AM on March 30, 2007

I'm from pal park, so I know the area. I'm pretty sure you can find a place to play, since that seems to be the prevailing advice.

The Borders in Fort Lee is always looking for people to play there. And I know that LOCO (Livingston's Own Concert Organization) at Rutgers is always looking for people..

But yeah, probably the best way to get more hits is to play around the area
posted by carpyful at 6:55 AM on March 30, 2007

Response by poster: Thank you for so much great feedback and many actionable ideas! I have some work ahead of me -- in particular, have to get back in performing shape and get some gigs!
posted by SampleSize at 7:49 AM on March 30, 2007

toilet door graffitti

I know of a lot of venues who don't appreciate this and I doubt it will do you much good.
posted by ludwig_van at 10:48 AM on March 30, 2007

And I think giving away free CDs potentially cheapens your product somewhat. Give stuff away for free on the internet, but charge people a couple of bucks for a CD (assuming it looks nice, which it should).
posted by ludwig_van at 10:51 AM on March 30, 2007

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