A Letter to a Young Marketer

How to formulate an effective music marketing strategy.

[This post was written by songwriter Gavin Castleton, and it originally appeared on his blog.]

Hi Jordanna,

So you’ve got a new band, new album and big record release party coming up—awesome! Rather than give you a marketing prescription for your exact needs (which is probably what you hoped for), I want to lay some high level strategy on you.

Many artists just blast all their networks with whatever content they can muster. If the content is good they may get some traction here and there, but ultimately I think this is a flawed approach. The few successful, completely independent artists I know avoid any sort of magical thinking and embrace the reality that being a musician these days requires a plethora of additional skill sets, business and marketing being two of the most crucial (web development, graphic design, audio engineering, video production, management and concert booking are par for the course).

During my time working for social, email and mobile marketing companies, I noticed a huge disparity between the way businesses approach marketing and the way most musicians do. Successful businesses focus on strategy and ROI (“return on investment”) while musicians focus on creative ideas and fan engagement, with less attention to strategy. Perhaps this is why so many of us are often broke and a large percentage of our promotions fall short of expectations.

The more strategic you can get, the more impactful your campaigns will be. Rid yourself of any notion that content miraculously goes “viral”—nearly all viral content is the result of a calculated launch by a marketing team. It’s not black magic and it’s not luck; it’s strategy, money and data analysis.

Here’s how one of my favorite songwriters, Lex Land put it:

“My personality makes me ill equipped for self-promotion, which is unfortunately so necessary as an independent artist. Of course, this evasion led me to adopt the all-too-prevalent ‘pray and wait’ strategy that so many artists employ. After receiving countless “breaks” but never really “breaking,” and during a years-long stall in the release of my third album, I adopted a new mantra: “What can I do?”

Diving into a ton of different informational resources about digital and content marketing, and specifically in the music space, I experienced enlightening breakthroughs while taking a hard look at what I had been doing and what hadn’t been working. To adopt any strategy is better than having no strategy at all.”

You can find buckets of marketing guides and philosophies online—often as a downloadable pdf behind some obnoxious email capture form landing page)—each tailored to what is being sold (goods, services, entertainment, etc.) and what channels it’s being sold on (print, TV, social, radio, blogs, etc.). Tasks like calibrating your ads and writing an impactful press release are crucial skills that anyone who can read can learn. Do it. Google. Read.

Below is a 7-step marketing strategy you could apply as an independent musician.

Depending on what level you’re at career-wise, this process may feel overly formal, cumbersome, or even pointless to you because your budget is $0 or your goal/tactics appear obvious, but I encourage you to build a habit of thinking through these steps and articulating your answers to them; training your brain to switch out of imaginative artist mode and into real-world, ROI-focused, pragmatic business mode will focus and optimize your team efforts, increase your income, help you assess the value and productivity of 3rd party publicists and make hard career decisions faster.

1) Define your Goal for this Marketing Campaign.

It should be measurable. Walk through the creation flows of Facebook/Instagram Ads, Google Adsense and Twitter Ads to help hone your objective.

2) Declare your Success Metrics and key Performance Indicators, as well as how you will track them.

How will you know if you achieved your goal? How will you know if you’re on track to meet your goal? Don’t confuse the warm feeling you get from Likes, Comments, Retweets etc. for success—their only marketing significance is how they influence your ranking in the feed algorithm. Don’t be fuzzy about your definition of success for this campaign.

3) Identify your Target Audience.

Who exactly will this campaign resonate with? Who can actually attend your event or purchase your product?

[Note: “customer profile,” “segment,” and “target demographic” all mean basically the same thing in this context]

4) Plan your Marketing Tactics.

This is where your creativity comes in! Each tactic should clearly and effectively help you meet your Marketing Campaign Goal. If your primary goal is to get people to come to your show, then any marketing that is not region-targeted is probably overkill (unless you’re explicitly soliciting referrals). If your primary goal is to make money from a new release, then encouraging your audience to listen to your new release on any and all platforms is not as ideal as directing all traffic to the platform that pays you the best percentage (e.g. not Spotify, Youtube or Pandora). What results can be realistically expected? Be skeptical.

5) Calculate a reasonable, realistic Budget.

Think through all potential costs, even things that seem incidental (like gas, public transportation, staples, tape, etc.). INCLUDE YOUR UNPAID HOURS. Budget will probably be the hardest thing to estimate accurately at first, but you’ll get better at it, and its massively important as your cash flow increases and ROI becomes more calculable/provable. In the future you will use these skills to extract bigger chunks of money from labels and banks.

6) Define a Schedule for your tactics that is optimized to meet your goals.

This is particularly important when relying on social networks for the majority of your promo, and when trying to inspire action on a specific date. Think through when your audience would actually be most receptive to your message. Don’t blast your social networks all at once; there are ideal times to publish on each network. And since many people will follow you on multiple networks, you’re wasting your bullets when you promote to them across all networks at once… better to stagger your posts so that viewers are reminded periodically. Determine the right order for each task (if you have to wait until nextweek before sending your press release, you should have a few drafting/revision sessions and an industry contact list gathering task scheduled for this week). Schedule regular reviews of your Success Metrics and Budget. Use a group calendar and set up alerts in your phone for each task.

7) Do a Postmortem. Learn and iterate on what worked and didn’t work.

This is the most important step, and the most often forgotten. Be frank and honest with yourself—it’s not a blamefest, it’s a crucial learning opportunity.

Here’s how it might look in the context of your life:

  1. Life Objective 1: Secure a family
    • Family Goal: Find and maintain a partner that can pay my bills
    • Family Goal: Acquire a child that can pay my bills
  2. Life Objective 2: Sustain a career as a Performing Artist
    • Career Goal 1: Develop 300+ draw in NYC so that I can headline small venues on a weekend night, trading support slots with out-of-town acts.
      • Marketing Campaign 1: Secure impactful slots opening for prominent local acts
      • Marketing Campaign 2: Promote record release show <—we are here
        1. Goal
        2. Success Metrics and Performance Indicators
        3. Target Audience
        4. Marketing Tactics
        5. Budget
        6. Schedule
        7. Postmortem

[Note: At this point you should have already justified how a proposed Marketing Campaign will help achieve one or more of your Career Goals]

And now here’s how your specific scenario might look:

Marketing Campaign 2: Promote record release show

  1. Goal: I want at least 75 people to attend my record release party. The promoter, who also books a larger venue, will then consider us for national support slots in the future.
  2. Success metric: Ticket sales (night of the show)
  3. Performance indicators: Ticket presales, Facebook Event RSVPs, Bandsintown RSVPs, Songkick RSVPs
  4. Target Demographic: All genders between the ages of 21 and 38 in the NY/NJ area.
  5. Marketing tactics:
    • Tactic 1 (Physical): Hang flyers in high-traffic areas (above urinals, front window, etc.) at or near venue.
    • Tactic 2 (Physical): Send compelling press release, photo and show details to all local print for inclusion in their Events section and possible feature.
    • Tactic 3 (Online): Synchronize show announcement and centralize Facebook Event traffic. Get promoter and all bands on the bill driving traffic to one Event page with links to ticket purchase, free music, and photos for all bands. Invite only those in the region. Encourage friends to invite their friends to Event.
    • Tactic 4 (Online): Pay to Boost Facebook Event page, escalating budget the week of the show. Run Facebook ads on various content starting two weeks from show, always promoting a URL with show info and ticket purchase.
    • Tactic 5 (Online): Get a local music scene blog to premier the single from my new forthcoming album and announce show; use blog post as new content and increased legitimacy.
    • Tactic 6 (Online): Coordinate with all performers to schedule the addition of new content to the Event page every week and stagger social posts and profile photo/banner updates from personal and band accounts using photos, short videos, streaming content, etc. initially driving traffic to the Facebook Event, and eventually alternating between FB page, direct streaming content link, direct ticket sale link, etc. so as not to annoy audience. Be sure all parties involved Like, Comment, and Retweet each other’s posts soon after posting to exploit feed algorithms.
    • Tactic 7 (Online): Offer free download (using Bandcamp promo code) to anyone who posts a photo of their purchased ticket (or similar testimonial content) online.
  6. Budget: $80, 40 hours unpaid labor
    • $25 for targeted Facebook ads and boosted Event
    • $15 for color flyers, staples and tape
    • $40 for band photoshoot to be used for social posts and profiles photos
    • 40 unpaid hours (log hours in online solution or phone app)
  7. Schedule:
    • Week 1 (this week):
      • Mon: Design incredible flyer/promo images. [4 hr]
      • Tues: Write fascinating press release with show details, ticket purchase info, promo image, and private streaming link. Send to team for feedback and revise. [3 hr]
      • Tues: Gather local print Events Page editor contact list from online search and industry friends. [1 hr]
      • Wed: Use Mailchimp to send press release to contact list at 9am. [1 hr]
      • Thu: Print $10 worth of color fliers at Staples. [1 hr]
      • Thu: Hang color fliers at the venue and nearby coffeeshops. [1 hr]
      • Fri: Create potent Facebook event page and give promoter and other performers “admin” status. [1 hr]
      • Sun: Everyone announce show and invite friends to FB Event at 9pm. [1 hr]
    • Week 2:
      • Mon: Tweet link to FB Event at 1 p.m. or 5 p.m
      • Tues: Send follow up email to weekly print Events page editors. [1.5 hr]
      • Wed: Share FB Event to personal FB pages at 3pm.
      • Thu: Post promo image to Instagram at 8:30am.
      • Fri: Change profile image of personal page, include link in description.
      • Sat: Share FB Event to personal FB pages at noon.
      • Sun: Review success metrics. Adjust budget? [1 hr]
      • Sun: Boost FB Event page for 7 days by $7.
    • Week 3
      • You get the point…
    • Week 4:
    • Week 5:
    • Week 6:
  8. Postmortem:
    • 🙂 I achieved and exceeded my goal with 82 paid concert goers!
    • 🙁 I went over budget by $20 due to the fact that I set up the FB ad budget incorrectly.
    • 🙁 I worked an extra 1.5 unpaid hours due to traveling to and from printer and venue to hang fliers
    • 🙁 I worked an extra 2 unpaid hours on researching and contacting local blogs.
    • 😐 Facebook Event RSVPs (111) were 35% higher than actual attendance (82).
    • 😐 Likes and Comments subsided during weeks 3-5; maybe I got too markety?

So there’s my stab at it. In reality I rarely take the time to draft something with this level of detail, but the important thing is that you start thinking like a business when it’s time to promote your work.

A few other tips:

  • Learn as much as you can about the various social network algorithms and exploit them. For instance, to determine if users find your video interesting (and therefore worth showing to others), Facebook tracks user behaviors like turning on sound and switching to HD. So it may be beneficial to include text in your video or description encouraging users to turn their sound on or switch to HD (which should also provide better sound quality). The algorithms of Instagram, Reddit and Twitter each have their own interest-ranking metrics that they track, each playing a huge role in your social marketing success.
  • More from Lex Land about her current marketing strategy: “The end-goal is to capture emails of fans or potential fans with whom I can build a relationship, and then monetize that email list by running quarterly promotions and alerting them of live performances in their area. I believe that social media should be viewed as a traffic generation and rapport-building tool rather than the sole point-of-contact for fans. Social sites are excellent for ‘blasts’ because of the visibility and daily use by most folks, and the ability to use retargeting on Facebook, especially, is invaluable- but, still, an email list is the only thing we as artists can carry with us through the ever-changing landscape of whatever platform is currently trending, or even from being on a major label to going independent. With a strong email list, we have leverage – to get better guarantees, to get better features, to get noticed by industry if that’s what we’re after. I think it’s crucial that we fortify our bond with the consumer of our music to garner that leverage, rather than waiting for ‘something nice’ to happen to us that might bring the fans our way someday. All of this requires us to be more vulnerable, to open up more of our lives and ourselves to our fans, to be more assertive about that connection we can bridge between us and them through our music. This has perhaps been the best takeaway from what I’ve learned, to cultivate a more honest perspective about what I and my music have to offer other humans.”
  • Read this book

Good luck with the album and release show! Don’t quit when your campaigns fail; quit when you stop learning from your failures. You don’t get anywhere by having lofty goals—you get there by optimizing the system you use to reach them.


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