Creating and releasing Music has never been easier, but promoting your work has never been more confusing. Should you focus on TikTok or touring? And when you don’t have many followers, is online promotion worth your time?
We talked to indie musicians, marketers, tastemakers, and a professor to crack the code. While there’s no guaranteed formula for success, we’ve found tips and tricks for all types of musicians. Let’s dive in.
Go to playlists
Streaming is the most popular way people consume music today, and getting the right playlists can make your music career. Although anyone can create a playlist on Spotify or Apple Music, only a small percentage have a large following. If you don’t have your own popular playlists, how can you get to the big playlists?
Services like SubmitHub and Playlist Push allow you to submit to playlist creators, music blogs, and social media influencers. SubmitHub has free and paid submission options, but only Playlist Push is paid. Playlists like IndieMono and Alexrainbirdmusic have free submissions in a variety of genres. Although Spotify does not allow playlist owners to charge for inclusion, it appears to allow (or at least tolerate) submission fees.
Do these strategies work? Yes, but artists should be prepared to “go through a lot of rejection,” says Jonathan Teeter, of the Charlottesville, Virginia, indie band Films in Song. A singles add to playlist BIRP.FM led to over 10,000 streams for his band’s single “Ritual Day”. “Paying $1-3 to submit through SubmitHub isn’t ideal, but if you know which blogs and influencers like what, it can be helpful.”
Rejection is part of the game, and keeping your chin up is important. “Music is art. Art is hard,” says KCRW radio DJ Jason Kramer, who was one of the first tastemakers to discover Billie Eilish and the Finnish. “Artists just need to be who they are. Play something they need to play,” he continues, “take a chance, don’t be afraid.”
Create your own playlists
You don’t have to rely on someone else’s playlist to listen to. In both Spotify and Apple Music, if a playlist is public, anyone can find it and follow it. The exact algorithms aren’t public, but playlists with popular songs, new albums, places, or names based on emotions (for example, “New York Autumn Vibes”) sometimes perform well on Spotify, even for users with no existing following. Seemingly without trying, some users have created playlists that have gained thousands of listeners. Artists can post their favorite playlists on their artist profile, gain new followers and showcase their favorite tracks. Apple Music doesn’t display playlist follower counts, making it difficult to decide which strategies work there.
What playlist are you on? The Apple Music for Artists and Spotify for Artists apps will give you song play counts, playlists you’ve been added to, and other useful information.
Use resources from streaming services
Apple Music for Artists has a page with tips and tools to promote your work. You can also create your own QR code that links to your song or album. Spotify has a similar resource called Code Creator, and they also explain how you can submit songs for playlist inclusion. SoundCloud also has a page with tips to help creators monetize and promote their music. QR codes that link to streaming or social are great for placing on stickers, posters or other promotional materials.
Collaborate on tracks and covers
Features and collaborative songs are probably the most common in hip hop, but can be a great way to expand your audience regardless of the genre. For example, indie rock band Surfer Blood released an EP called EP over boiledin which other artists covered their songs. The tracks appeared on Surfer Blood’s page in addition to the cover artists’ pages, maximizing exposure for everyone.
Another great way to gain new listeners is to cover a famous song. This article is not legal advice, but remember, if you cover a song you owe royalties to whoever wrote the song. Fortunately, services like DistroKid can handle that for you.
Cultivate your image
Social media has become so essential to music promotion that even artists who have died decades ago have an active Instagram presence. Although it’s a powerful tool for artists, music influencer Ari Elkins warns artists not to neglect their music. “Getting thousands of followers on TikTok is exciting but it’s important that these followers are there for your music and not just because of unrelated viral videos that have nothing to do with you as an artist.”
While social media may lead to success, the game is always changing. Hong Kong-based indie pop artist Cehryl started by uploading self-recorded tracks to SoundCloud, and now has a record deal on Spotify and 100,000 monthly listeners. But he warned that what used to work before may no longer work. “If I were to start from scratch today, I wouldn’t start on Soundcloud. I would distribute it to all the streaming platforms and promote it on Instagram.
When you are on TikTok or Instagram, what strategies should you use? “It’s not just about likes,” says Cass Robinson, a social media strategist in Sydney, Australia, who notes that social media algorithms look at a variety of factors such as “time spent on your content, engagement rate, and number of shares and saves.” If you’re not sure what to do, Kas recommends that you just start. “Give yourself a starting position and work to improve your content over time.”