Why is self-promotion important for creators? What channels are available to them, and how can they market themselves effectively?
In an ideal world, the quality of a music creator’s work would be enough for them to make a name for themselves and earn a living. In the real world, however, this is simply not the case, and who the creator knows—and who knows them—is often just as important as how capable and talented they are.
Why is Self-Promotion Important?
The music-creation industry is exceedingly competitive. People are excited by the prospect of supporting themselves through their art and creativity, and they have more access now than ever before to the tools and resources needed to succeed. But in order to “cut through the noise” and earn a sustainable income, creators need to market themselves (in ways both subtle and overt) to other industry entities who will pay for the right to use their music and/or hire them to create more. (Developing a broad public reputation is less important for behind-the-scenes players like music creators than it is for frontline artists like performers, but a fan base can garner industry attention as well.)
Before creators spend any time, money, or effort on marketing themselves, however, it’s imperative for them to determine what their professional purpose and creative niche are. In other words, they need to figure out where and how they fit into the marketplace, who their audience is, what unique value they offer them, and how to tell a compelling story about why their target market should care about them and their work (particularly if they’re entering a service-oriented profession).
For example, if a creator decides to specialize in one particular musical genre or style, they’ll need to adopt a different approach to telling that story than if they’d opted to be a generalist. The audience, clients, and collaborators are likely to be different as well. So knowing their niche right out of the gate will allow creators to be more laser-focused with their promotional strategy, and ultimately more successful.
Further, self-promotion is hardly a one-and-done undertaking. Putting themselves and their work out there is something that needs to be done consistently by emerging and established creators alike—or publicists who can do it on their behalf. Otherwise, they may be drowned out by the more visible and vocal competition.
How to Effectively Market Yourself
Though it may be tempting to do so, creators shouldn’t put their eggs in every promotional basket. The “spray and pray” method is hugely time consuming, potentially expensive, and not particularly strategic. Instead, they should identify the channels that will allow them to connect, in a meaningful and authentic way, with collaborators who are on the same creative page as them.
And rather than simply adopting a “Look at me” approach, creators should present themselves and their work in the context of how they can meet the other person’s needs (i.e., “Look at what I can do for you”). The relationship needs to be mutually beneficial.
The promotional avenues that may benefit music creators include networking opportunities; digital channels like websites, email, and social media platforms; and press/traditional news media. Each presents its own advantages and challenges:
Networking can be a tremendously successful way for creators to promote themselves to their peers and other players in the industry. Because it’s so direct and intimate, it gives participants the opportunity to really get to know each other. In fact, it’s most effective when the conversation isn’t just about work, but also about both parties’ interests, experiences, values, and goals. That’s one way to create a genuine connection that can eventually lead to a fruitful collaboration. And follow-up is key. It often takes years of staying in touch to effectively cultivate a relationship.
There are many networking opportunities available to music creators:
- Awards dinners
- Parties, mixers, and other social events
- Group exchanges/chats on social media (e.g., Facebook, Reddit, etc.)
While music-industry associations, performing-rights organizations (PROs), and trade associations regularly hold or sponsor these events for their members and/or the wider creator community, it’s also beneficial for creators to be present at events attended by a larger cross-section of the music and entertainment world. For example, songwriters should go to music festivals attended by producers, music publishers, record labels, and/or recording artists; and screen composers should go to film, video game, and other visual-media festivals.
It should be noted, however, that simply attending a festival, conference, or other event isn’t necessarily the only option (although showing up consistently on these occasions may demonstrate to potential collaborators that you’re an industry “fixture”). Creators should also consider volunteering and/or participating on panels, in workshops, etc. This will not only connect them directly with other participants, but it will also help them to stand out in the crowd. And they’re likely to have more success if they seek out other professionals who are at the same level as them or a little higher.
The challenge with networking, however, is that, unless a creator is an extrovert who enjoys meeting new people and talking to them, the experience can feel awkward, forced, and even downright terrifying if one suffers from social anxiety disorder. To mitigate this somewhat, the creator can consider attending these events with someone they know well in the industry who can introduce them to people and facilitate conversations. They may also just feel more comfortable interacting with others in writing, which is why taking part in group discussions on social media platforms like Facebook or Reddit can be a sound alternative to in-person networking.
Websites & Email
Many professionals wrongly believe that digital promotion begins and ends with social media. And while it’s true that these platforms can be very powerful marketing tools, there are other digital channels—like websites and email lists—that can also contribute to a music creator’s success in significant ways.
One of the things that makes these tried-and-true tools so valuable is the fact that the creator has full control over their own messaging. In other words, they’re not beholden to the ever-changing guidelines and policies (not to mention solvency) of an online media company.
If a creator doesn’t have much of a marketing budget, they can build a simple yet visually engaging website quickly, easily, and inexpensively. In addition to standard page templates that music creators can use to feature their bios, work experience/credits, award nominations and wins, and headshots and other promotional photos, subscription-based website builders allow for the sharing of demos (either directly or by pulling them in from a hosting site), videos, and blog posts. In other words, almost everything found in a traditional press kit can be made available on a creator’s website, and they can direct potential clients and collaborators there at any time.
In the case of email marketing, the creator has a direct line of communication to their target audience and can employ it at the most strategic times (e.g., just prior to the release of a recording of one of their songs, the premiere of a film or TV show they worked on, or a live performance of a piece they composed). And using the design templates provided by email platforms, which creators can subscribe to for a nominal fee, will only serve to underscore the creator’s professionalism.
One needs to be cautious with email marketing, however. Canada’s anti-spam legislation (CASL) prohibits businesses of any size from sending “commercial electronic messages” to anyone who hasn’t consented to receiving them. If a creator is simply sharing interesting content—like an e-newsletter or a behind-the-scenes video—without any sort of explicit promotion attached to it, it’s likely acceptable. But it’s often not worth the risk since CASL violations can result in hefty fines. Instead, creators should encourage interested parties to “opt in” to receiving emails from them (typically via an “email club” sign-up form on their websites), and provide an incentive for doing so—like the promise of receiving exclusive content.
It’s more likely than not that most of the people music creators are trying to reach are active on at least one social media platform, if not multiple. And many of these users are seeking out the type of content that creators are able to provide. This is one of the primary reasons why social media often feels like a gift from the marketing gods. The audience is already there and eager to consume—so it’s often just a matter of giving them what they want.
That being said, there are far too many social media platforms in existence for creators to establish a meaningful presence on each one. Moreover, not every creator’s personality or promotional style is well suited to every platform. That’s why, before jumping in, it’s important for creators to make an effort to determine what their goals are. And these may be anything—from increasing traffic to their website to developing a reputation as an industry expert through instructional videos to boosting their public profile by gaining followers who will share and engage with their content.
Then, once they’ve defined their objectives, creators should identify which social channels are best suited to helping them promote themselves effectively.
- If they’re adept at using visuals like photography, illustration, and/or short videos, they should consider Instagram.
- If they gravitate toward creating lengthier videos (and potentially monetizing them), they should consider YouTube.
- If they want to share or reshare news, they should consider Twitter.
- If they want to engage in a detailed conversation with music geeks, they should consider Reddit.
- If they have a constant supply of short and fun behind-the-scenes videos, they should consider TikTok.
- If they have an on-camera presence and wish to engage with people in real time, they should consider Twitch.
- If they want to set up and manage a fan page or serve more targeted content to their audience, they should consider Facebook.
What’s important for creators to keep in mind as well is that different social media platforms appeal to people of different ages. If they’re hoping to target a younger audience, they should focus on Instagram, TikTok, Switch, and other newer channels. If they’re trying to reach an older demographic, then Facebook and Twitter are probably the best bet.
Moreover, until a creator understands how a particular channel works, they should stay away from it rather than wading in and potentially embarrassing themselves publicly. For example, a lot of people over a certain age simply don’t understand TikTok and the culture surrounding it. And for it to be used effectively, the creator needs to have a goofy side they’re willing to share with the world and the ability to nurture the community they develop on the platform, which will move on very quickly if they aren’t engaged.
Content Marketing 101
Regardless of the platforms they choose to employ, a music creator’s success on social media is ultimately dependent on whether or not the content they share is compelling to their audience. And though each creator earns their living by developing engaging content on a regular basis, it can take a lot of extra time and effort to put together creative assets for social channels on top of one’s day-to-day work. And yet it’s vital to post on a consistent basis (Facebook, for example, will stop showing your posts to users who like your page if they haven’t interacted with you for 30 days.)
Fortunately, there are a number of strategies that creators can follow to make content marketing more manageable for themselves while remaining effective. They include the following:
- Set aside a block of time on a regular basis—biweekly, monthly, or even yearly—to map out a content calendar and generate assets.
- Begin by identifying the broad categories of posts that will be shared (e.g., instructional and educational, behind-the-scenes, reviews and recommendations, stories and anecdotes, shoutouts, etc.).
- Within each main category, identify potential subcategories (e.g., “behind-the-scenes” could include posts on your process and approach to work, day-in-the-life videos, interviews with collaborators, project sneak peeks, etc.).
- Come up with specific post ideas, and slot them into the calendar where they make the most logical and/or strategic sense.
- Create all the assets and either upload them to platforms that allow you to schedule posts in advance or simply have them ready to go so you can post them manually based on the calendar.
- Be careful not to make every post about you. As a general rule, consider devoting one-third of your content to promoting your work; one-third to acknowledging or thanking other people, like those who have mentored and assisted you throughout your career; and one-third to everything else—including your personal story.
- Measure the success of your posts and adjust your content strategy accordingly. All social media platforms provide some reach and engagement metrics (and there are third-party tools like Hootsuite that do the same). You should use these regularly to identify what your audience wants and then give it to them.
Press/Traditional News Media
It’s well known that, globally, as the popularity of social media has soared, public engagement with traditional news media and press has declined sharply, and many companies have gone out of business. And while there are now fewer outlets that run music-focussed stories or reviews than there once were, they do exist, and even some small coverage can help to raise a music creator’s profile.
For creators who are just starting to make a name for themselves, a story in a trade publication or hometown newspaper can be just what they need to pique the interest of a music publisher, agent, or manager who can help them take their career to the next level. Not only does the coverage identify them as someone worth paying attention to, but it also demonstrates that they’re actively seeking to market themselves—which is hugely attractive to business partners. And for established music creators, the occasional story reinforces their industry credibility and shows potential clients and collaborators that they’re talented and capable.
There are also advantages to receiving press coverage that are often invisible to music creators. For example, some digital service providers (DSPs) like Spotify assemble many of their algorithm-based playlists by mining data from various online sources—including news media sites—to identify people who are “trending.” If a creator’s name comes up a lot, they may find that a song they’ve written has been added to a highly popular playlist.
It’s entirely possible for music creators to successfully pitch stories to news outlets. But doing so often takes a fair amount of time and effort. Here are some best practices:
- Think about what would compel a journalist or editor for a particular publication to write a story about you (what’s the hook for them and their audience?).
- Consider current and popular industry topics and buzzwords that might be relevant to the story as well.
- Look at examples of media pitches online to get a sense for how yours should be structured, what the length should be (usually very brief), and what tone to adopt.
- Write your pitch!
- Identify the different audiences your story might appeal to and come up with a list of the media outlets that cater to these audiences (whether that’s music blogs, entertainment news, the local press, or another outlet).
- Put together a mailing list—as an Excel document or Google Sheet—of the journalists or editors at the outlets you’ve identified and who have written stories that are similar to the one you’re pitching. (If their email address isn’t publicly available, you can often deduce what it is by looking at how the addresses of other people at the same outlet are formatted.)
- Write a thoughtful, personalized email to each person on your list, opening with a reference to one or more articles they’ve written or run that are relevant to your pitch. Continue by noting that you have a related story they may be interested in, and then paste in your pitch (don’t include it as an attachment). Finally, add a polite sign-off that leaves the door open for a reply—something like “Let me know if this might be of interest to you” can work nicely.
- Send out your pitch email accompanied by a punchy and personalized subject line that either references the contact’s past work or briefly alludes to something you think they’ll find interesting about the story you’re pitching.
- If you hear back from them, congratulations! If you don’t, it’s advisable to write them a quick follow-up email at least three days and up to a week later.
If you never receive a reply, don’t despair—it’s not necessarily a reflection on the quality of the pitch itself. There are simply some journalists and editors who will not accept direct pitches from subjects. This is one of the areas where publicists can be helpful for creators.