JK Rowling wasn’t lying when she said that we are defined by our choices rather than our abilities.
And with money being a scarce resource for many musicians, choosing how to invest it to grow your audience can feel like one of the toughest choices you have to make.
Let’s say you’ve finished recording a new song – you’re super happy with it and think it could be the song that launches you to a bigger audience. It deserves more listeners and so you set aside some money for a proper promo push.
But what’s the best way to spend this precious money? Loads of Instagram ads? A really great music video? Pay a PR agency? Spend the whole lot on ice cream and pull a few all-nighters writing to bloggers yourself..?
In this article, we’ll walk through some of the different options so you can at least have a clear picture of the choice ahead of you, and some pointers to the best options for you.
Important point to start – what is your goal in music?
Firstly, it’s important to note: before you think about investing in promo, you need to know what your goal is with your music.
[You might want to read our article on goal setting for musicians…]
If you have a very specific goal – e.g. get to a million Spotify plays – then it can help you direct your attention to the right place.
We’ll give a few examples as we go through the options so you can see what we mean.
Option #1 – invest into an online PR Agency
If you have the money for it, a good PR campaign can be a game changer. But you need to take the time to find the right PR agent.
I once spent about £2,000 (shared across my band) on a professional PR campaign for an EP release. They seemed super well connected in the music industry and we thought our EP deserved a good PR push.
They wrote up a press release that was full of errors. I corrected it and sent it back. They sent out the original wrong one and even managed to spell our band name wrong in the subject line. We also found out from a radio presenter friend of ours who’d be emailed that they’d sent out a very impersonal email, kind of defeating the point of hiring someone with good personal connections.
I’m not going to name the agency publicly – we made our feelings very clear to them in private and they assured us they’d take more care on campaigns in the future.
They got us:
– A video premiere on Folk Radio
– A feature in Songwriting Magazine
– An interview on London Live TV,
– Two BBC Radio Introducing interviews
– A couple of other smaller things
Did it grow our audience? Definitely.
Was it a good use of that money? Probably not.
The main lessons I learnt were: (1) be really clear with them about exactly what you want from the campaign and what you’re willing to pay for, and (2) make sure you know that they’re going to treat your campaign with care.
Personally, I think you should be giving them all the resources (song, photos, press release) and ONLY getting them to reach out to a small list of really good bloggers and playlisters.
You’re paying for their connections with top bloggers, not for the hours of work or their ability to write properly (not always guaranteed – see above example). There are far cheaper ways to get a hundred blogger emails and send out a press release to them – what you want is a guarantee that the bloggers will at least open the emails and give your music a listen.
So if they offer some kind of full package where they create a press release etc, ask if they’re happy to send out e.g. no more than 20 emails with your own press kit and music. If they’re not willing to take a smaller fee for this more efficient approach, they’re not taking you seriously enough.
[We can even help with drawing out your story and personal ‘brand’ and creating a press release – we’ll take a lot more care and charge you much less than a professional PR agency!]
And when you’re considering different PR options, it’s better to focus on their process rather than their results. If they seem to run themselves well and treat their artists with respect, this says more for how they’ll manage your campaign than good placements in the past with other bands. Ask yourself:
– Do they seem like the sort of people who care about doing a good job?
- Do they work with lots of artists or just a handful that they really like? If yes, this is a good sign that they take their individual projects seriously
- Can you speak to artists that have worked with them before?
If your goal in music is to get some high profile ‘validation’ of your music and grow your reputation in industry circles, a good PR campaign might be right for you.
Option #2 – put the money into social media ads (e.g. on Instagram, Spotify or Facebook, etc)
If your goal is to grow a genuinely dedicated online following, a well crafted ad campaign can work wonders.
BUT – and this is a huge point – if you’re just going to put out some ads and hope that people click away to your Spotify and boost your listener count, you’re missing the point.
The real value of an Instagram ad is to attract new followers to you and continue to interact with them once you’ve got their interest.
For this, you need to think about the sorts of people you think will love your music and brand. You need to think about how you can continue to provide them value after the initial ad.
Here’s an example – let’s say you invest in an ad to reach _____ and as a result you get ___ new followers.
How can you continue the conversation with them? You could message each new follower with a question like “what sort of content would you most want to see on my feed?” … you’re getting an insight into their needs and tastes. So not only is your ad budget helping to attract new followers, it’s also giving you valuable new content ideas!
Like any other investment, a social ad campaign is not there to cut corners – it’s a way of creating new fans and giving you more to work with.
Option #3 – music video
Video content reigns supreme.
This is because moving pictures grab people’s attention more than other media- plus a video tells your followers so much more about you than a song or written post ever could.
So if you do have some budget, a well made video that captures your brand and your viewers’ imagination can be so powerful.
Especially recommended if your goal is to build a longer lasting career and you want the impression of you to live longer in people’s minds.
The question you need to ask: is this valuable content for your existing fans – something they’ll all want to share? Your few hundred followers could soon become several thousand if your video spreads quickly.
And is it going to make it much more likely that you’ll get a good press feature (without needing to pay a PR company)?
Option #4 – save your money for creating more, better music and do all the marketing yourself
There are some real advantages to doing it totally DIY. You can try endless different ways, observing what works and what doesn’t, without the emotional (and financial) pressure that you’ve invested lots of money into an idea that might not work.
I could run 5 entirely different PR campaigns myself, finding ways to try and grab bloggers’ attention, and see what works and what doesn’t, and spend ZERO.
This approach is not only less of a gamble, it’s also a way for you to learn and understand how everything works yourself without outsourcing it.
If the idea of writing to lots of bloggers doesn’t appeal to you, why not just pick one? Have some fun with it – maybe Pretend you’re a spy just needing to deliver an important message (your song) to another agent (the blogger). Just don’t do any illegal hacking or wire-tapping.
The truth is, people often think of money as a way of avoiding hard work. This is because of our culture of outsourcing – if you don’t want to do something, pay someone else to do it. Maybe you don’t want to send out hundreds of messages to your Instagram followers to interact with them, so you’ll just pay for some advertising to get more listens that way…
Of course, a marketing investment can serve to free up more time for your songwriting, recording and performing. But don’t look to a big promo investment as a way of avoiding the hard work, and the more personal interaction you need to be doing with your fans.
What would YOU do with the money? Comment below…