“Do it yourself” has become a standard in the music industry. Across all genres, many of the most successful artist brands of recent years have made their way onto the world’s big stages on their own initiative and often even while working from their bedrooms.
As we all know, this is true for music production, but it’s equally true for music marketing and artist development. As in any other industry, marketing and promotion has always been an important part of the music business but used to be done almost exclusively by record labels. Over the years, however, more and more of these tasks have become the responsibility of the artists.
The reality is that if you want to cooperate with industry partners as an artist today (e.g., in the form of a record, management or publishing contract), you should already bring in a solid fanbase and a certain level of awareness. Anyone waiting to be “discovered” is waiting in vain. But once an artist has demonstrated not only musical but also business talent, attractive partners often come along of their own accord (after all, there is money to be made). Until then, however, self-initiative and self-management are required!
The role of social media
Most indie artists nowadays think of Facebook, Instagram, TikTok, Twitter and co. or content platforms like YouTube or SoundCloud. In fact, such platforms are good drivers for the expansion of a fan base and an important part of most marketing strategies of modern musicians. If you look at the cost-benefit ratio, the high attractiveness of social media becomes clear: with a good strategy and the right content, you can build up enormous reach with very little money and manageable effort. That’s why I’ve included practical help for social media management in my recommendations. However, your marketing strategy should of course go beyond social media and aim for long-term growth of a loyal fanbase – after all, your goal is “fans” and not “followers”.
For this post, I’ve filtered out a small selection from the numerous music marketing tools on the web that I regularly recommend to indie artists on a budget. The following 7 tools for music marketing should definitely be on your radar:
WithKoji – your “Link in Bio”
Online marketing is almost unimaginable without landing pages. Music is no exception! Prospective fans need a central place where they can conveniently navigate to the content and platforms they’re looking for. Fortunately, as an artist, you don’t need a lot of prior knowledge in this sector. A simple list of links to your various social media profiles and streaming services is perfectly adequate for starters. However, the page should be updated regularly and, of course, you should also take care of the distribution of your artist landing page.
WithKoji is an easy and free way to create a nice and clear landing page in a few minutes, so your fans can find your music video, your new single, your website or your email newsletter as easily as possible. However, paid apps can also be implemented if you want something more specialized. Absolutely no technical knowledge is required.
Alternative services include Linktr.ee and Linkin.bio. Some distributors offer similar services for your new releases, but these usually do not come close to the specialized providers in terms of quality, control, and appearance.
Submithub – playlist pitching and more
In my work with independent artists, one of the most frequent questions is, “How do I get my music on playlists?” Even though I think this topic is often overrated, the right playlists can indeed be important levers to gain more exposure and generate more streaming revenue for an artist. For this topic, I have therefore included two of the most common tools in this small list.
Submithub is a service that has made it its business to bring artists and curators together. The remarkable thing about the platform is the possibility to target very specifically, i.e. to reach exactly those music journalists, playlist curators, bloggers, A&Rs, etc. who might be interested in your kind of music and fit your current goals. What I think is great is that the platform ensures that your music is actually listened to, and curators must leave you feedback. If you don’t get the placement, you will instead receive feedback on why it didn’t work out. Maybe the intro was too long? Or the genre assignment does not fit? Is the sound quality not professional enough? This is all tremendously valuable information for your upcoming releases and gives you direct clues as to what skills or contacts you should work on!
How much does Submithub cost? You get two free standard credits every 4 hours, so you can try the service completely for free. If you are serious about marketing your music and your new release is coming up, you should invest in premium credits to get more samples and higher chances for placements. A pitch will cost you about 1-3 dollars, but you are guaranteed to reach the right person. And if it doesn’t work out with the playlist placement, at least you’ll get valuable feedback on the reason for that. For starters, I would invest a budget of about $50 per release, but feel free to test the procedure first with the free standard credits or lower budgets.
Don’t get the wrong impression: you don’t buy any placements at Submithub – you pay for the platform service and the time of the curators. I advise you against all promo services that guarantee you a certain number of plays, followers, blog placements or similar for your money! The music business is always about convincing people with your music and your brand; bought plays are actually harmful for your career and never a good deal, no matter how cheap.
Spotify For Artist – editorial playlists
Playlist-Lovers watch out! I promised you a second playlist pitching tool. Spotify is by no means the only streaming service out there, and there are good reasons to prefer other services in terms of artist remuneration or sound quality, for example, but Spotify still has the largest market share in the Western world and should therefore definitely be a part of every music marketing strategy.
Once you’ve released your first song, you should request access to your Spotify artist profile as soon as possible. On your Spotify For Artist account, you then have control over the appearance of your profile (photos, canvas, artist bio, etc.), can check statistics and apply with your songs for placements on the so-called editorial playlists – these are the playlists managed by Spotify staff.
The pitching is free and very straight-forward. You just need to give a few pertinent details about your song. In general, though, when pitching, not only the request itself, but also the timing should be professional and realistic. I advise you to pitch at least 10-12 days before release and for that, the song must already be uploaded on Spotify! Curators are most interested in new songs and because of the many releases, curators need some lead time to sift through and plan their playlists, so be early!
Google Tools – file sharing, calendar, collaboration and more
While they’re not specifically designed for the needs of music creators, I still recommend the free tools that Google provides for free to all indie artists at the start of their careers. They are cross-platform, intuitive to use, and make all kinds of digital teamwork easier.
Almost everyone online has a free Google account anyway (e.g., for YouTube, Google Mail, etc.). As soon as you have a Google account just login and you have a ton of free tools at hand. For example, song files, label copies, logos, contracts, etc. can be stored on Google Drive and shared with band members, managers, etc. But invoices, calculations or cashflow plans as well can be created online with Google Docs or Google Sheets. You can work on the same document simultaneously in a team from different devices and the whole thing is free of charge!
But that’s not all. In seconds you can create calendars to coordinate common dates in a group, but also for other processes that need to be organized in the band or group. You can also create public calendars that you can share with your fans to inform them about tour dates and other appearances.
When working with artists and bands that don’t have an established solution for this yet, I always recommend Google tools for their social media content planning first. Content ideas, for example, can be saved on Google Keep from a mobile device in no time, and content can be organized in a shared calendar. Band members, managers, social media managers, etc. can all access the same files in real time.
Another effective use for Google Drive is the electronic press kit (EPK for short). Journalists, event organizers and co. are happy if you send a link to a public folder instead of a ZIP file in the email attachment, where you can store your press photos, bio texts, logos, etc. and conveniently update them at any time without having to share a new link.
It’s worth trying out the free Google tools and testing them in your personal workflow. If that’s not enough for you and you’re looking for a more complex solution for teamwork in larger groups, it might also be worth looking at solutions like Microsoft Teams or Slack. In my experience, however, it’s the low barrier and learning curve and the largely free use of Google Tools that makes them so attractive for creative teams.
Bandcamp – your merch stand on the internet
It’s hard to make money with social media and Spotify alone. If you plan to pursue your music as more than just a hobby and perhaps even want to make a full-time living from music, you’ll need additional income sources. Besides the revenues from live appearances and concerts, merchandise and record sales are of special interest. A simple and artist-friendly way to sell your shirts, records, music downloads, etc. online directly to your fans is Bandcamp. It’s a simple store platform for music creators, where artista have a lot of control over pricing, products and conditions. Music fans can also form a community on Bandcamp and follow their favourite artists to not miss a release.
You can create a Bandcamp profile in a few minutes and completely for free, and it doesn’t take much work to maintain it. However, like all your platforms on the web, it should always be kept up to date. Once the profile is created, you can offer your songs for download and streaming. The beauty of this is that you can set the price freely – this allows many different strategies, such as symbolic amounts to get in contact with as many people as possible or high-priced collectibles for a small group of super fans. Some artists also sell usage licenses through Bandcamp along with the download. You can also have buyers voluntarily pay more than the stated price on Bandcamp. In fact, more people do this than you might think, so it’s a great way to facilitate direct support between fan and artist!
In addition to digital downloads, though, you can also sell physical merchandise like t-shirts, records, or stickers on Bandcamp. When a customer orders, the financial part of the transaction is handled through the platform, and you only have to worry about shipping. You get your money promptly and easily paid via PayPal.
The participation model at Bandcamp is pretty fair in my opinion: the platform gets 15% of the revenue from digital sales and 10% from physical goods. In return, the system can be used free of charge. For high-priced sales or high monthly sales, the platform shares decrease and even more money goes to the artist.
If Bandcamp is not enough for you and you want to have full control, you can also set up your own webstore on your homepage. If you want to build your own online store, I advise you to use a combination of a content management system like WordPress and a ready-made store system like Shopify. Of course, you should plan a few days for setting up a simple store. However, experience shows that a web shop is only really worthwhile once your fanbase has reached a certain size and your homepage already has regular visitor numbers. Until then, Bandcamp is a great start with a very low hurdle.
Fiverr – creative minds for little money
Fiverr is a platform for freelancers that offers digital services. If you want to release music successfully, you need not only musicians, sound engineers, managers, promoters and so on, but also logos, artwork, web designs, animations, music videos, etc. Ideally, you already have your own look clearly defined and have the right people on your team to give your brand a congruent visual presence. If not, I would advise you to look online for creative designers who can help you with the visual appearance of your brand.
Due to the size and international competition on Fiverr, price levels are often on the low side and response times are short. It’s an ideal option when you need to move fast, and your budget is limited. You can use Fiverr wonderfully to get in touch with different creatives around the world on a test basis and try out the collaboration. It is not uncommon for this to result in fruitful cooperation over a longer period of time.
There are a few different freelancer platforms with different specialization. 99Designs, for example, is all about design services. Here you can also post contests to compare the proposals of many designers. If you’re looking for a mixing or mastering engineer or a drummer for your next single, you can check out SoundBetter.
Canva – the designer in your pocket
Canva is an uncomplicated design tool for social media managers, small business owners, wedding card writers, and everyday designers of all kinds. Especially for regular social media posts, Canva is incredibly helpful because you can easily create templates and use them to create a consistent and professional look for info posts and the like right on your phone.
Of course, there are plenty of templates already available that you can use as inspiration and fill with your own content. You can even share templates with your band members and tweak the designs together. Canva is available in a free version, which is already sufficient for many purposes. For about $110 per year, you can upgrade to Canva Pro and use all premium features.
An alternative design tool with similar functionality is VistaCreate.
That’s the end of my little list. There are of course many more tools and services that can help you market your music online, and because the digital world is evolving rapidly, new ones are being added all the time, so I may publish another post on this topic at a later date. I hope that some of the tools mentioned above will help you in marketing your music! If you have any other tips or tools for DIY artists, feel free to comment and share them with us! I look forward to reading from you!