“I don’t think there’s any magic key to promotion — you send emails, you manage your web presence, you cultivate your email list or Facebook page or whatever, you hand out flyers, you do the same stuff people have been doing for years now; the real key happens before all of that,” explained Minneapolis-based MC and two-time National Poetry Slam champion Guante. And unless Zoltar starts granting magic wishes, success is likely to elude even the hardest working musicians. There’s no clear cut way to succeed online as an artist, but by following these guidelines your odds of succeeding will get a whole lot better.
1. Know Your Market
In brief: All your hard work is going to be for nothing if you drop your new music via non-tagged .mp4s through spammy YouSendIt links. You have to make it easy to access your music, and right now that means utilizing mediums that people acutally use. As TSS’ John Gotty™ clarified, “have your own central place for fans — an active Facebook, a well designed Tumblr, or real site.” Secondly, “Have a Soundcloud, Bandcamp, etc., where material can be streamed and is mobile-friendly.” It’s vital to have a hub where fans can listen to you on THEIR terms, not yours.
2. Switch Your Aim Up
The problem of how to cultivate a fanbase is something that every artist struggles with and the chances of you blowing up and going viral are about as slim as gaining national exposure because of a little local hype. That said, approaching both avenues simultaneously has been proven successful. “The most important thing is to get fans in your hometown,” notes Pitchfork staffer and L.A. Weekly columnist Jeff Weiss. “The main thing I always tell musicians who contact me is they need to focus on finding fans,” adds SPIN and Pitchfork contributor Marc Hogan. “You’d be surprised how often it gets overlooked.”
Weiss interjects, “Look at Odd Future. Whether you like or hate Tyler, the guy is a savant when it comes to the Internet.” They didn’t rest at creating an online buzz though. They also made the most of their performances to build a live presence. Maybe more importantly, they diversified their act, too.
3. Stand Out
You have to figure out how to set yourself apart. For the masses it’s seemingly impossible to stand out from the crowd though because, quite simply, the creativity needed to do so just isn’t there. What you can do though is switch up how you pitch your music and who you pitch it to. Relating his victories, Guante noted, “When you have work that is about something specific, you open up countless new promotional avenues; basically, a rap blog will post a rap song, but a rap song about a particular issue can get posted on rap blogs and in other places, on blogs or magazines or Tumblrs that deal with whatever that particular issue is.”
By thinking about fresh approaches in expanding your fanbase you avoid scratching and clawing for the same token audience that everyone else is fighting for.
4. Don’t Spam Your Audience
“Once you’ve made a fan it’s not your job to sell them on every last item on the agenda, but to make sure that they remain a fan. What’s one of the most misguided things you can do once someone’s shown support? Spamming them. For example, if you’re trying to win a fan-voted contest, it’s perfectly okay to ask followers to vote, but posting on hundreds of friends’ Facebook walls begging them to vote for you is the exact opposite of what they want.
Likewise, it’s important to know who you’re pitching your music to and how you’re doing it. One name who Weiss said has done well in adapting his approach is Minneapolis’ MaLLy. “He used to hit me up all the time,” Weiss admitted. “He realized he doesn’t need it – it’s not his job to spam me all day long.” Be concise and direct in your press emails, and, as MaLLy mentions, permit the listeners listen to your music and not you.
5. F*ck a Mixtape
Another reason that MaLLY found success for himself was by releasing his music in an atypical fashion. Rather than dropping another full-length release, he released a series of well-crafted new tracks on a monthly basis. “With that strategy we were able to build up anticipation for a song so high that once it was over people had to hit rewind, or expect another,” he says. “The response soon went from ‘when is the next song dropping’ to ‘when are the videos for this series coming’ to ‘I want an entire album from you.’”
When new listeners are only likely to give you a single song (or more likely: the first 30 seconds of a single song) to prove yourself, dropping a complete album’s worth of material is far less important now that having one great track.
[This article first appeared on The Smoking Section.]