Disclaimer: The information provided in this article may vary from country to country and is US-centric. Songtrust cannot provide marketing or creative advice but does encourage you to do as much research as possible, ask questions, and review any agreements closely.
According to the IFPI, record labels worldwide spend over $5 billion, and over 30% of recorded-music revenue, on marketing and A&R every year. This figure has been steadily increasing in recent years, as artists and labels try to break through the noise and compete with the 40,000 tracks uploaded to Spotify daily.
It can be difficult enough to get your music heard and understood even with major label backing and a substantial budget, let alone with more limited resources. However, it is still possible to build a sustainable career even with a small marketing budget, as there is no one-size-fits-all formula to music marketing success. As each artist has different goals, audiences, brands, and styles of music, we’ve outlined below important items to consider when working with a limited marketing budget.
Setting Your Budget
Some things to consider when setting a budget include: your overarching goals in the short and longer-term, having an idea of how much the services you’re interested in might cost, and whether you are looking for a direct return on investment on this particular project.
If you’re working with a label or artist services partner (such as a distributor), then a minimum marketing spend may be baked into your contract already. This is an important consideration for an artist team when entering into any deal. If you’re unsure, review your contract and check with your label or artist partner to confirm. Even though these teams should be working in your favor, it’s a good idea to ensure they have a plan in place that reflects what you’ve agreed upon in your contract for marketing your music’s release(s).
If you’re going the fully independent route, you can still create a marketing plan and set a budget accordingly. There is plenty you can do to build your profile and market yourself without breaking the bank, and without relying on a label partner. Regardless of the budget you’ve outlined, consider setting aside something extra, in case you start to see momentum and you want to invest it further to keep it going.
Understand Your Goals and Target Audience
To establish goals for your release, ask yourself some key questions about what you want from the release campaign. These questions can be as basic or specific as you need, such as:
How do I want people to receive and experience this release?
What does this release convey about me as an artist?
What type of music fans am I trying to reach with this project?
What might be an attainable but optimistic streaming goal for the release?
Furthermore, you need to understand your existing and target audiences as you set these goals. Most digital service providers (DSPs) and social media platforms offer basic analytics which should help you to understand who is listening to your music, where they’re listening, and how they are listening. A distribution partner usually will offer analytics as well. This will be key for monitoring if and how things are working, as well as who to target if you run any paid ads. For example, if your biggest fanbase is on YouTube, perhaps you want to lean into YouTube for the majority of your marketing.
Give Yourself Time and Make a Plan
Most DSPs want pitches for their playlist at least a month in advance, so it’s ideal to integrate this into your timeline if playlists are part of your goals. By no means should you build a campaign around only playlisting, particularly if you’re just starting out. Unless you or your distributor is very tapped in with the DSPs - and often even if you are - playlist inclusion is hard to rely on, and nearly impossible to plan around. So, while playlisting is a great goal, it will be easier to focus your marketing plan on things you can control, like your content. A song may not take off immediately, so it’s important to keep going and give it time to breathe. Plan for the time after your release is out, and keep your audience engaged by sharing content consistently. Don’t roll out everything you have in the first three days; rather, incentivize your fans to stay engaged by spacing your content and marketing out to build momentum.
Prioritize Your Content
We all know the overused phrase “content is king,” but there’s a reason why it’s ubiquitous. Make sure a decent part of your budget is going towards content creation, particularly if you’re on a tight budget. And when we mean content, that means sharing stories and insights to build buzz around topics such as:
Your writing process and inspirations
Behind-the-scenes photos or videos from studio sessions
Invest in building a world around you and your music, rather than spending it on ads. Everything you put out into the world is a part of your marketing: how your music sounds, how it’s packaged, what your videos look like. Try to build up a strong identity and understand what story you are telling with your content.
Also important is giving as much coherence as you can to your press shots, artwork, videos, and social media. Hiring someone to help you execute this can be an important part of your marketing budget.
Take Advantage of Free Platforms
There are lots of ways for artists to interact directly with their fans, and for free. Consider which are your best-performing platforms or the ones you are most comfortable with. On Instagram, for example, you can use the song feature on Stories to get people used to the song, you can go live on release day, encourage interaction and try to build your community. Or, you can utilize features such as banners on Twitter and Facebook or use the “Artist Pick” feature on Spotify.
Know your platforms and use what you can, and remember -- you don’t have to be on all platforms either. Focusing on one space where your fans are most prevalent concentrates your impact. If you have some spare cash, you can try out small ad spends on social media platforms and see what works.
Also, keep an eye out for new or lesser-known streaming platforms like Matter Streaming or Twitch. While engagement on emerging platforms may seem low compared to the likes of Instagram, there is much less content on these sites so the odds of your music being found there are much higher as there is less music. While there are far fewer people on these platforms, engaging with the fans who are there will stand out as not many other artists are doing it. From there, you can direct fans to your pages on more popular platforms.
Collaborate and Connect
Marketing yourself beyond your own fan base and growing that fanbase organically can take a lot of time -- stick with it. Collaboration can help you to reach a new crowd, whether that’s reaching out to YouTubers who may review your music, or reaching out to other similar artists to co-write or offer a remix, where a collaboration might be beneficial for both parties. Stay active, connect with your fans, and work the algorithm: interaction gets you followers, and followers will hopefully get your music heard.
As always, don’t forget to cover all your bases for long-term revenue by ensuring your songs, once released, are registered to collect royalties. If you have questions about music publishing, royalty collection, or Songtrust, reach out to us for help.