The Secret Sauce for Music Marketing

music marketing heat on the street rickenbacher

Music Marketing For Bands

If you’re a singer, musician, or in a band, educating yourself about the music business and music marketing is so important. Marketing presides over all promotional activities your band does and is second only to the music you create. In this post I will give you a top down overview of music marketing, and give practical tips to help your band grow beyond your local scene or social media followers.

How Do Record Companies And Artist Managers Market Bands?

I’ll admit, when I was musician and even when I was beginning my music business career, I had the wrong idea about music marketing. I often confused marketing with promotion or the day to day activity of publicizing a band. And after working with hundreds of artists as the GM and Head of Sales of Fearless Records for 13 years, and at Sony it became clear to me. I learned that marketing begins with the brand you create. Get to the root of what you are really about, and then convey that to your “market”. Consequently, great bands understand why they do what they do and know how they want to be perceived. These are for you and your bandmates to decide, and with the tips below you’ll be able to get started right now.

What Exactly is Marketing?

The best definition of marketing I have come across is “marketing is a battle of perception, not products.” – source: Al Ries and Jack Trout’s book the “22 Immutable Laws of Marketing”. It means you need to be first in the mind of your scene and the leader. This is key to the name behind this website and the concept of “heat on the street”. Strive to be the “first in mind” in your genre and let that perception spread like fire.  

Quote About Mumford & Sons Marketing Plan

There is a great quote from Daniel Glass proprietor of Glassnote Records (Mumford & Sons, Phoenix, The Temper Trap) talking about the Mumford & Sons marketing plan.  

“There was one line in the marketing plan. Get people to see them live. That was it” – Daniel Glass on the Music Business Worldwide Podcast

I love this quote because when you’re struggling it reminds you that you have to start with the core of your brand and “why” people should care.

How To Create Word Of Mouth Promotion And Heat On The Street.

Word of mouth promotion, or “heat on the street”, is the best kind of marketing. The music you create, the lyrics you write, the way you express yourself should foremost satisfy your artistic vision and back up what your stand for as a band. The primary focus should be writing great songs. However, in a marketing sense, what you create should deliver on the listener’s expectations. Create some sort of emotional reaction and make people want to talk about it or share it. Finally, if you constantly create something profound over and over again, and it adds meaning to your fans lives, it will spread like a virus.

Think Like a Brand

Branding is the best friend of marketing so let’s get to know branding. In terms of your band, it is your name and the mental picture fans have when they think of your band. It’s not something you have total control over, but through best practices you can brand yourself better than the next band. You put your brand out there in the open to be shaped and influenced by culture, opinions, social media, journalists, art, etc. Branding can involve your logo or a symbol, the ultimate accomplishment for a brand (think Starbucks, Bring Me The Horizon, The Rolling Stones). For branding to work you need consistency, frequency, and a hook. Therefore, the emotional relationship between you and your fans is a bond that gives people a reason “why” they should love your band. 

Exercise:

Get out the old pen and paper because writing crystallizes thoughts. Think about the presentation of your music, live show, art, photos, social media, etc, and answer some questions. If you’ve already established your sound, what is the overall perception your fans have of your band? Besides the music, what are some perceptions? In general, why do people perceive music to be great? Think of examples from the music you like. It’s not just a sound. There is more to it than that, right?  

Dominate Your Scene

If you are still working out your sound, keep this in mind. Dominate your scene. It’s tempting to write an album of songs that are all different and show the diverse influences and wide variety of music you can play. And part of marketing is dominating your space and being first in the mind of fans when it comes to whatever it is you’re the best at. It’s better to have a distinct sound, and be the best at one style.  You can be the sum of your influences. In some ways all musicians are that. But when creating a body of work for an album or a series of singles, stick to your style. Therefore, avoid the trap of making sure each band member gets to have a song that sounds like their favorite band.

You’ve written some amazing songs. Now here is an actionable sequence that you can keep in your memory bank as you go along.

5 Tips for Music Marketing

  1. Focus on your band’s brand, and why it’s special.  
  2. Come up with cool and effective ways to get your message out there.  
  3. Really dial in what your band stands for and how you want it to be perceived.  
  4. Always stay on message when publicly promoting and marketing your band to establish fan loyalty.
  5. Rinse, Repeat.

You Can’t Have Marketing Without Markets

Whether you already have your target market figured out, or you are just beginning, you should understand why target markets or your target audience is important. As you develop your band’s identity and brand, keep this target audience in mind. Imagine that you’re constantly in a dialogue with these individuals. This will help keep your message consistent. Don’t worry about pigeon-holing your band or alienating potential fans. In this early stage, you need a foothold, and a focus. You can’t fully control who will like your music, and even if you try to pinpoint a narrow segment, you’ll naturally reach well beyond it.

Exercise: Finding Your Target Audience

The easiest way to research your target audience is come up with a list of your top three bands that all bandmates agree they respect, look up to, or want to emulate. If you go beyond three, your list and market will be too broad, so keep it to three. After you create your list, simply look at their social media followers profiles. Also read YouTube comments, iTunes and Amazon reviews, and message board comments. You’ll quickly get a feel for who your target audience is. Drill down into the things they like, their style and taste, what brands they like, how old they are, what gender, etc. You’ll begin to see trends. We study our audience so we know how to better target them.

Exercise: Creating Original Unique Ideas

Copying is NOT cool. Emulating is great. It means to equal or to excel. You should aim to exceed these band’s accomplishments. Look at what these bands in your scene are doing with marketing and best practices, but take those to another level. If you copy or follow what others do you’re just competing, and may be outdone. Nobody will be able to compete with you on original ideas. Come up with your own unique creative ideas constantly. Keep a shared Google Doc amongst your bandmates and constantly move the best ones to the top.  

Exercise: Market To Communities

Your target audience and fans all hang out in various communities, so you need to identify them and become omnipresent within these communities. Think about what communities your band fits into and make a list. I suggest using a Google Doc or Spreadsheet (They’re Free!). Examples of communities are blogs, magazines, clothing brands and retailers, charities, Reddit and Facebook groups, etc. Annual festivals and tours can be communities. Any place large groups of people in your target audience gather, is a community. Make your band a force within these communities, and your fanbase will multiply.

Omnipresence

Being omnipresent is something global brands like Coca Cola, McDonalds, and Nike strive for and there is no reason you can’t achieve this within your scene. It’s important to keep your marketing going 365 days a year. Change it up from time to time and constantly improve it. Leave it to the label, and you’ll lose sight of what’s best for your band. This is not to say you should be confrontational with the label about your marketing. Be on the same page and show the label you have a strong brand identity. They’ll love that. They’ll know how to stay focused and add to it. But it’s your band and brand, and you are responsible for looking after it at all times. Use communities, PR, social media, touring and partnerships to keep busy in the down part of each album cycle.

Get To Know Your Fans By Testing Them

You can use your target audience to test things out and learn what music and activity has the best response. Polls get great engagement, and social media algorithms love them. The more you test things, the more you’ll learn how to put your best stuff out there.

In the beginning I want you to focus on targeting the group that makes up more than 40% of your followers. It will probably be a very specific group. For example: 16 to 19 year olds, male, skateboarding, video games, Vans shoes, etc. We want to test the majority of our audience because we are trying to get that foothold. If you cast too wide a net, the results will be cluttered. It’s never too late to research, target, and test your target audience. If you’re music is already out there, try to be more aware of the reactions to it, comments, or lack of reactions. Do more of what works, and less of what doesn’t.

How To Deal With Negative Feedback

When posting online, you will get negative comments. It’s human nature to focus on the one negative comment, even though you got 60 thumbs up. Don’t get upset and just be thankful for it. Or if the person is just being a troll, ignore it. But don’t ignore the off-handed remarks or specific reasons people don’t like it. You can learn a lot from these and apply the lessons going forward.

Are Family And Friends Good Sources of Feedback?

Of course testing can be as simple as playing some home recordings for your friends, classmates, family and friends. It’s always good to see what different audiences outside of your target audience think about your band. But only do this for awareness, and as a control group representing the mainstream. Focus your brand on your target audience. Without getting too deep into the subject of fan psychology, just know that this is something to be aware of, and it’s as simple as always thinking like a fan. I’m sure you do this naturally, but always review your posts and emails before sending them, and take the fans point of view into mind.

Quick Tip:

After you’ve started selling your music or merchandise try this. Call your best customers and ask them what they want or like, what they don’t like. Don’t forget that new fan acquisition is a higher priority than this though. You want to use this information to obtain more of these top tier superfans.  

Yes, Being In A Band Is A Team Sport…

So be a good teammate and realize that a team means resources. Resources can give you the upper hand over other bands. Aside from your bandmates, your team may include the friend that helps you load and sell merch or the people that criticize you and help you improve. Like a parent who gives you positive advice. Also it can be a manager, agent, lawyer, street team, record label, publisher, or publicist. Even the fans are a part of your team. You probably already have some team members you didn’t know of.  

Finally, think about what resources you already have? A friend in the music industry, or in the media? You’re friends with celebrity or social influencer? Maybe you work at a rental company like U-haul or Budget where you can get discounts on tour van rentals? You have a graphic designer in the band, or work at a print shop so you can get deals on printing? A relative works at an ad agency and can get you really cheap advertising rates? Ask yourself and all of the people on your team what resources do we have? There are a lot of things involved in marketing and promotion, so designate roles on the team and divide and concur.   

Time To Take Action

To conclude this post, I’ll leave you with a few bonus actionable steps to take:

  1. Put the answers to these questions on a Google Doc and keep adding to them and take action.  
    • What is your current footprint (or how many fans do you have)?
    • What has your band accomplished so far?  
    • Where are you target markets?
    • What are your target media outlets?
    • What are your target communities? Remember you need to be omnipresent, so start working your way into these communities.
  2. Start acquiring more fans with your mission and branding in mind
  3. Work harder than other bands. Do more phone calls, emails, e-newsletters, social media, shows, blog interviews, etc.

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Todd McCarty

Over the past two decades, music industry leader Todd McCarty served as GM of rock/punk indie label Fearless Records, and SVP Sales at Sony Music / Century Media. He still consults for record labels, but is actively blogging and working to educate new artists through www.heatonthestreet.com

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