Instagram Best Practices For Indie Artists

[Editors Note: This blog post was written by Hugh McIntyreHugh writes about music and the music industry and regularly contributes to Forbes, Sonicbids, and more. Speaking of photos, be sure to check out Hugh’s piece on getting fans to take more photos at your shows!]

Of all the major social media platforms, Instagram might have the worst reputation for “mattering,” as some people would put it. It can be difficult for many people to grasp the importance of an app where people post pretty pictures of where they are and what they’re doing, if not simply selfie after selfie.

Well, if you haven’t realized it yet, this is the world we live in. You had better just accept it and learn to be good at the things that the world has deemed important if you want a job that relies on you being even somewhat well-known. I’m not suggesting you need to start spending all of your time curating your Instagram, but if you want your profile to grow and you want to be heard (and seen), you’re going to need to learn a thing or two about the world’s most popular photo-focused application, and you’ll want to at least put in a modicum of thought before every post.

Here are six best practices I hope you keep with you at all times:

1. Use At Least One Hashtag

I could go on for pages about how best to use hashtags, where to apply them, when they are most appropriate, and which ones will bring the most people to your photo, but that is another article entirely. Instead, right now I’ll keep a laser-like focus and simply say this: you should be using hashtags, and even if that makes you nervous, you should at least be adding one to everything you post on Instagram.

For the moment—this is my avoiding getting into the very lengthy discussion about hashtag etiquette I mentioned above—just know that using at least one properly-chosen hashtag will help you in a number of ways, and there isn’t really any good reason not to tack one on. Make sure it’s appropriate, fits the image, and isn’t too long, and soon enough, you’ll see at least some newcomers find your image and perhaps even like it and follow you. It certainly doesn’t hurt, right?

2. Be On-Brand

Deciding what your Instagram page will look like should tie-in with your brand, and therefore it shouldn’t be too difficult to decide what that means. If you play death metal, you might want to think about keeping the photos you upload relatively dark. If you produce high-energy electro-pop, perhaps you’re interested in bright colors and explosive hues? Folk-pop that evokes feelings of longing could lend itself better to certain filters and effects you can easily locate on the app.

In the end, it doesn’t really matter what you choose, and you can feel free to be creative here, but think carefully before committing to something, because once you’ve started cultivating your brand, you should really stick with it. At times that may become difficult, but maintaining a cohesive brand is helpful in all manners of marketing, and it’s often the most successful marketers who make it big.

3. Engage

A lot is said (and written) about what to post, when to upload, and maintaining your brand, but I don’t often see enough pieces emphasizing how to engage with your friends, fans, and even strangers on Instagram. It may sound like brand speak (who actually says “engage”?), but it’s the best way to describe what I’m talking about.

Don’t be shy when it comes to Instagram—it is social media, after all! Look for other musicians, artists, those in the music industry, and anybody else who you find interesting for any reason and follow them, like their photos, comment when they post something especially fun or beautiful, and message them if you’ve started to form any kind of meaningful bond.

You don’t necessarily need to do this with every single account, because that would become exhausting, but don’t be afraid to converse with people you don’t know. Strangers are just friends (and potential fans, in your case) you haven’t met yet.

4. Share Something Compelling

It is incredibly easy to tell the difference between a great Instagram account and a boring one. You don’t need to think about it or consider who the person is—just look at the content and let it speak for itself, which, by the way, is the same thing that can be said for music. Stop thinking it’s okay to just post selfies and pictures of your lunch and starting putting in some actual effort.

Yes, it may mean you need to stage an impromptu photo shoot from time to time, or actually plan some time to shoot some pics, but that’s what it takes these days to stand out on this platform. If you keep uploading beautiful images of interesting things, you’ll see your engagement grow, and that will likely coincide with an uptick in plays and streams of your tunes.

5. Be Consistent

One of the worst things you can do on almost any social media platform, be it Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, or any of the others, is be inconsistent with your uploading. If you and your band decide to only post images on your Instagram account once a week, that’s your decision (and not one I necessarily endorse), but you should stick with that. If you like to upload more frequently, try to keep up the pace.

You don’t need to keep a strict schedule (unless you do something special on certain days of the week, for example), but don’t share what’s going on in your life almost every day and then disappear for two months, because people will either worry about you, or perhaps even worse, forget about you entirely.

6. Keep The Caption Short

I always personally become incredibly annoyed whenever I see someone has posted an image that clearly holds some significance with the equivalent of a paragraph of text beneath it. Instagram is perhaps the worst platform on which to spell something out with words, and the site itself makes it incredibly difficult to actually read anything.

There are times when it’s necessary to actually spell something out, and you may even be able to share an image with a good amount of text from time to time, but for the most part, keep the words off your IG page!

3 Habits of Artists With a Strong Social Media Following

[Editors Note: This blog was written by W. Tyler Allen and originally appeared on the Sonicbids Blog.]

 

There are many tactics that go into a solid social media marketing campaign, but tactics are just theories unless they’re put into action, right? Even then, you need to ensure that these tactics become habits so that you maintain a level of consistency with your social media presence. Wondering which habits you should be forming, exactly? Well, for starters, here are three that artists who have built up strong social media followings all have in common.

1. Embrace new social media channels

Bobby Shmurda may be in prison right now, but no one can forget his track “Hot Boy” (under the clean title), which surged to the top of the charts and even closed out the 2014 BET Music Awards. The track began gaining traction on the video-sharing app Vine, when users began to mimic Shmurda’s dance and the line “about a week ago.” This viral meme turned into a standard radio hit and really blasted Shmurda from struggling rapper to full-blown artist.

The key here is to always be aware of current outlets. Sure, Shmurda’s fans may have taken the effort to create memes, and it seems to have happened organically, but this doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try to hop on Vine with your own fun content and encourage folks to remix it, share it, and remake it.

2. Perfect your balance of promotional and personal posts

It’s hard to find ways to promote your work, and it’s also hard to find ways to integrate your personal life in your outlets – but it’s essential. Talking about your day, your life, and your non-musical interests really help fans feel like they’re getting to know you.

My favorite examples of this are 2 Chainz’s food and culinary posts on his Instagram and Diddy’s posts of his family and nights out. Rappers and mainstream artists obviously aren’t the only example of this, either – bands like American Aquarium and Angus & Julia Stone have gotten in the habit of using that healthy mix of posts, too!

3. Network to have the power of social media influencers in your corner

Indie artist Ryn Weaver wasn’t a very well-known name, but that all changed when her single, “Octahate,” was tweeted and shared by artists like Charlie XCX, Paramore’s Hayley Williams, and Jessie Ware. This push from those heavyweights single-handedly assisted in the catalyst to her success.

Whether it’s organic, paid, or squeezed into, having influencers in your corner might be that extra boost you need to get your work heard. Check out paid networks like IZEA and Fluence, or better yet, simply make an effort to build genuine connections with journalists and fellow artists who have that large pull and following to help your work.

How You Can Use ‘Instagram Story’ to Market Your Music

[Editors Note: This blog post was written by Michelle Aguilar, a writer and digital artist based in Los Angeles. Read her tips on how to maximize Instagram’s coolest feature rolled out in 2016 when it comes to connecting with fans! If you’re a TuneCore Artist, be sure to check out TuneCore Social in your dashboard.]

Think about the last time you hung out with a group of friends or people.

Now, think about the person in the group that kept things alive and entertaining. Maybe it was that story your friend brought up about that one camping trip and how the tent flooded with rain because everyone else thought it was waterproof so you all ended up “glamping” in a somewhat dysfunctional tavern instead (true story). Well this experience is no different from Instagram’s new Story feature—it provides a visual compilation of a personal event or message. It gives people fresher insight and appreciation to the person sharing the Story. As the long-time writer for Time magazine Roger Rosenblatt puts it, “We are a narrative species.”

Since its launch earlier this year in August, Instagram Story has become millions of Instagrammers’ favorite tool for instant communication. Amongst these, include people of all kind and have attracted entrepreneurs, artists, illustrators, photographers, activists, musicians, DJ’s and much more.

Notice how I’ve mentioned “instant communication tool”. Of course, all social media platforms serve as a medium for communication but when it comes to Instagram as a whole, the new Instagram Story feature serves as a more specifically direct form of communication. Think of it as a new method for highlighting a certain message to your audience.

Reveal Sneak Peeks

Everyone loves gifts, and although it’s that time of year, the type of gifts I’m referring to are the gifts of good old sneak peeks; they provoke interest and an even stronger connection towards your fans and audience.

With stories, you have a chance to take your followers (and prospective followers) on a more realistic journey—without the staged and beautified element that the general platform presents.

Ramp up your Instagram Story by posting a rehearsal session in the studio, a moment with your friends, the process of your art, or exclusive footage on a video shoot. The choices are limitless– just think about a significant moment that your audience would normally not get a chance to see.

Although blogs have been commonly known for their roles in sharing additional insight on a band or any business, the immediacy of the Instagram Story provides the instant gratification that most users seek while helping to retain your current audience, as well as garner newer audiences (assuming your profile is public).

Keep Your Audience Posted

Definitely a pun intended here, but going back to the concept of Story as a more direct form of media communication, Story helps simplify your promotional endeavors. Many musicians, comedians, online influencers and the like use Story to update their viewers on new releases, projects or even special offers. By referring viewers to their link in their bios, they are smoothly directing them on learning more about the offer and how to participate. Announcing merchandise giveaways is no longer limited to a generic promotional graphic or even a gig. All you got to do is just say the word through Story.

Missed out on a concert? No problem!

For those who couldn’t make it to one of your shows, your Instagram Story could serve as an instant preview of what they have missed. Ask someone to record parts of your performance and update it on your story as soon as you can. Not only does this supply your viewers who weren’t able to make it, but it gives them a nice foretaste of your talent and energy — in real-time. Showing them a preview may ultimately inspire them even more to see you live and to continue to support your work.

“Hmm, What Happens If I Push ‘The Button’?”

Notice how when you first log into your Instagram account, you can’t help but glance at the rainbow highlighted icons right above the vertical strand of pictures that follow. There’s a tempting element to this approach. I myself notice that although I might not intend view a user’s story at first, I eventually tap to see what they’re about, because well, they’re all waiting in a row to be viewed!

The new Story feature has changed a significant chunk of Instagram’s template; take this change as a complimentary edge to your platform.

Regarding Instagram’s newly revised template, there are two other perks that come with this update.

First, is that you’re able to get quick qualitative and quantitative feedback on user engagement to your Story. After posting your video, tap on your Story and slide your thumb upwards to see who and how many users have viewed your Story videos. By doing this, you can gather this simple data to help draw conclusions about the types of videos that interest your audience and the types that don’t.

This leads me to the second perk of Instagram’s new template features. Although this feature was added on to Instagram much earlier than the Story, it is still worthwhile to mention. You can easily switch your account to “Business Profile”. Tap the options icon  and then tap “Switch to Business Profile”. You’ll need to connect your business profile to your Facebook account.

Once you’ve done that, make sure to review your business’s contact information and you’ll be ready to run your new business account. Shortly after, you’ll notice a blue “contact” icon to the left of your profile icon. You’ll also notice on the upper right hand side of the template, an analytics icon that will direct you to an “insights” page. This page allows you to review and gain more specific feedback on the behavioral impact of your posts on other users.

Story’s new “1:1” communication format is similar to Snapchat, and if you’re familiar with Snapchat, you’ll be much quicker to get the gist of how it works. On the other hand, if you’re completely new to this feature, it’s helpful to think back to that last time you hung out with a group of friends.

Think about what made you pay attention to that particular person telling a story. What made you engage and what made you respond? More often than not, when somebody shares stories which in turn creates and recreates moments, we are left feeling somewhat more connected and with a better sense of who that person is—that is, what ultimately interests us and keeps us wanting to learn more.

Engagement: Myspace’s Real Legacy for Indie Bands

[Editors Note: This blog was written by Rich Nardo. Rich is a freelance writer and editor, and is the co-founder of 24West a full-service creative agency focusing on music and tech.] I came of age in the world of independent music at a time when the key to launching a new band was a successful Myspace page. A diverse array of artists from Fall Out Boy to The Arctic Monkeys to Lily Allen owe a tremendous debt to their days creeping into millions upon millions of fan’s “Top 8”. In what was most likely unintentional defiance of the traditional business model for breaking a band, Myspace allowed artists direct access to promoters to book shows, connect with fans and other artists and create a viral spike all without the help of a label, publicist or radio campaign.

The biggest aspect of Myspace’s legacy, at least in terms of music, is likely that “viral potential” and “direct-to-fan” connection it created. Today, we have major streaming sites and social media to hold bands down in this manner even if Myspace has largely shifted their music focus to editorial.

Perhaps the biggest thing that new artists can learn from these Myspace success stories is that it takes time, effort and commitment to make the most of these services and parlay them into a financially viable career in music. There is much, much more to creating a ‘viral’ hit and amassing hundreds of thousands of streams than just putting up a catchy song and asking people to share it.

Here are five things that today’s independent artists can learn from the “Myspace Bands” of the mid aughts.

1. Use Your Page to Build A Brand

While pop-punk and other ‘local music’ wasn’t started on Myspace, it did become exorbitantly more popular because of it. People became “Myspace celebrities” and millions of ’emo swoop’ haircuts flooded the site as a direct result of kids trying to be like the bands they loved.

Your band does not need an emo swoop.

What your band does need is a definitive approach to the vibe of your online presence. In fact, many savvy new bands and managers are forgoing a presence on all social media sites to focus solely on Instagram. The reason for this is twofold:

  • (a) the ability to really create a distinct visual, and
  • (b) to take advantage of the opportunity for reaching a new audience via direct interaction and proper tagging (both hashtagging and geo-targeting).

2. Sell Without ‘Selling’

Not to sound all “business-y”, but Myspace was great due to the fact it created a viable direct-to-consumer situation for bands.

Is your band playing in a new city for the first time? Go through people commenting on similar band’s pages and reach out directly. If you do it right, you’ll be playing in front of some fans that are familiar with your music instead of an empty room. You can still do that today, but the key is to keep that casual approach that Myspace bands were built on.

“Hey I saw you were a big fan of Minus The Bear, Highly Refined Pirates is one of my favorite records of all time!” is a better first impression on a fan than “Hello, I play in Band X. We are playing in Aurora, Illinois tomorrow. Buy tickets now!”. Myspace taught us the key is to make people realize they want to be at your show, not just making them aware you’re in town.

3. Engage! Engage! Engage!

This one is pretty self-explanatory. If you’re an unknown band (or even a mid-sized one), talk to your fans. If you don’t another band will. It helps to reach out to new fans as well, but if you’re uncomfortable doing so at least reply to those that care enough about your work to reach out to you on Facebook or shoot a Tweet or Instagram comment your way.

4. Promote Your Promoters

Something bands and their teams often forget is that press and radio are two way streets. Yes, they are happy to promote your music, but they also have bills to pay and their own fanbase to grow.

I’m not saying you have to post every blog about your band to EVERY social media site but at least shoot them a tweet or retweet thanking them for writing the post. Same goes for radio play and YouTube, Apple or Spotify playlisting. This is something a lot of Myspace bands did great at and that’s why so many writers and radio DJ’s have been so loyal to them throughout the years.

5.Consistency Is Key

Myspace band accounts seemed to always have that green “Online Now” text flashing on their profile. This is because they understood that the more time they spent interacting with fans and building their network on the site the more it would translate to better attendance at their shows and more records and merch sold.

Don’t just sporadically post a Facebook status that you’ve got new music coming and then disappear for a few months. You don’t have to spend all of your time maintaining your band’s online profiles, but definitely make it a point to be active on it for a little bit each day.


You’re trying to grow a loyal fanbase. The best way to do so is to get fans onboard early and let them feel a sense of ownership towards your band. If you can’t afford to drop everything and tour 200 days a year, then social media is your best way to do so.

Just ask Tom.

Buying Social Media Followers – Should You Do It?

[Editors Note: This article was written by Hugh McIntyre. Hugh writes about music and the music industry and regularly contributes to Forbes, Sonicbids, and more.]  

These days, musicians aren’t just selling their art, they are selling themselves. Fans don’t just want to hear songs every so often and go see your live show, they want to feel a real connection with the musicians they love so much, and that’s all thanks to social media. The advent of platforms like Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and a myriad of others has been both a blessing a curse for the world at large, especially artists. It helps forge powerful, lasting, valuable relationships with fans all around the world that previously weren’t possible, but it is also a new demand placed on those working hard to stay afloat.

As is the case with almost anything related to your career as a musician, just getting started and off the ground when it comes to social media can be one of the toughest things about the entire endeavor. It’s so easy to look at both musicians and social celebrities with hundreds of thousands of followers and more interactions than they can handle and wonder, “How did they get there? What am I doing wrong?” Well, I can’t help everybody with that second question, but I have a suggestion for the former.

It might be controversial, but I often suggest to those acts just getting started, both in their careers and online, to purchase some social media followers. Yes, that’s right—you should pay money to have people follow you on the various social platforms where you should have a presence, but don’t tell anyone you did (and certainly don’t tell anybody I said to do it).

The idea of purchasing followers, likes, views, and everything else on social media is nothing new, but it is one that has always been despised by many. It is maligned with negative connotations, but it can also be extremely helpful when it comes to kicking things off on social channels, which is very important to you as somebody trying to get the masses to fall in love with who you are and what you create.

When explaining why I believe purchasing social media followers is a good thing, I always use the analogy of a party.

Nobody wants to go to a party until there are plenty of people there and it’s in full force, right? But if that’s the case, how is one supposed to get a party started? The same can be said for your Twitter or Instagram page. Why would anybody want to click the follow button on an account with 25 followers, even if the content seems to be great upon first glance?

Feel free to invite all of your friends and pre-existing fans to join you in these places, and then do a quick Google search to see about upping those numbers. You don’t need many, and in fact, why purchasing, you should do so intelligently. If you are an artist with only a few songs out and yet you have 50,000 followers on Twitter—we’ve all seen these people—nobody is going to believe you, and your efforts will end up backfiring, making you look like a fool in the process.

Think before you buy.

Will 500 followers make you look appear to be on your way? 1,000? Maybe start with one and eventually spend your way to that second figure? There are many different ways to go about this, but you need to be aware that people are going to quickly glance at your follower counts and judge you instinctively based on them.

Now, you may be thinking that this is all an exercise in vanity, and I’d say you’re right, but only partially. Having a respectable follower count on popular platforms shows that some people have invested in you, if even in some small way (and even if they aren’t real, but that’s just between you and I). It tells those that might be potentially interested in booking you to play a venue, a festival, or even to sign to a label that there are people out there that are interested, and that there might actually be something to the artist in front of them.

Buying social media followers, as well as likes on various posts you may upload to Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, and so on, is something you should consider, and that I’d suggest, but it doesn’t have to be a necessity for everybody. If you want to go the traditional route, feel free, but keep in mind that even the biggest and most successful artists partake in this strategy. Pop stars, rock bands, and rappers all up their counts from time to time with fake followers, just as they do with real ones. You won’t be buying in the same bulk as them, but don’t feel like this is just a no-man’s game.

This tactic shouldn’t cost you much, as all of these services come pretty cheap, which probably won’t surprise you when you take a look at some of the options that pop up on Google (they’re fairly sketchy looking). Think about what I’ve said as you set up or begin to invest time and effort into your social channels, and decide if this is the way you want to go, but don’t worry or think too hard—it is just social media, after all.

How To Build a Great Set List

[Editors Note: This is a guest blog post written by Mason Hoberg. Mason is a freelance writer who covers music-related topics and is a regular contributor to Equipboard.]

 

One of the hardest parts about being a musician is that unless you come from a genre that’s acceptable in academia, (essentially just classical or opera), no one ever really teaches you the finer elements of stagecraft. Most musicians have to learn things like building a set list, using a microphone, or setting up a stage by trial and error.

Like any other craft there is a lot of variation in how you can approach the more technical apects, but there’s still a few things that you should know in order to put on as good of a show as you possibly can. This article is going to give you all the information that you need to perform one of the most important parts of being a good musician – building a great set list:

Using Tempo

Your first focus when building a set list is to make sure that you don’t perform in chunks or divide your set list too predictably when it comes to tempo. You shouldn’t have four slow songs followed by four fast songs. All that happens when you do that is that you cut the effect of every song in your set. Your fast songs don’t seem as intense, and your slow songs seem boring and drawn out.

This still holds true if you play a genre like metal or rap also, because “fast” and “slow” are relative terms. I’m not saying that if you’re in a super speed metal band you’ve got to break out the acoustic guitars every show. Just be aware of the dynamics of the songs in your set relative to one another, and play them in an order that avoids monotony.

There are a few different schools of thought on how to use tempo, but really there’s only one principle you need to follow; don’t focus on the song, focus on the show. Ideally, your fastest songs should directly precede or follow your slowest ones. Mid-tempo songs should go between one extreme or the other, but never in the same way repeatedly. For example, don’t build a set that’s fast song, mid-tempo song, slow song, repeated ad nauseam.

Know Your Keys

Just like tempo, you want to make sure that you don’t play every song in the same key. However, this isn’t quite as strict because playing in the same key for a few songs in a row isn’t quite as noticeable as playing at the same tempo. When it comes to keys, just use your best judgement.

A good rule of thumb is that if two songs in the same key could potentially be mistaken for one another there should probably be a few songs between them, if not several.

Know The Length Of All Your Songs

Knowing the length of your songs is super important because you’re never going to play a show without a set time slot. You’re generally going to have one to two hours at the most, and you’re going to want to make the most of them.

Two days before I do a show (I never sing or play the day before a show, I prefer to spend that day getting lots of rest and drinking a ton of water) I run through my whole set and time out every song. Then I open up Polaris Office and type out my set list, putting the keys and time right next to the song.

It’s important that you do this before every show, because as you practice your songs they’re gradually going to change a bit from performance to performance. It might only be a difference of 10 or 15 seconds, but if you’re playing a two hour show those tiny differences in song length will start to add up.

Also, make sure that you give yourself 10 minutes of space in your alloted time slot whenever you do a show. This covers the time that you’ll spend retuning (which you should do every four or five songs) and the time that your frontman will spend interacting with the audience. If you’re worried you won’t use up the whole ten minutes throughout the course of your show, put an extra song on your setlist that you can use to fill up that gap

90% Of The Audience’s Impression Comes From The First And Last Song

The harsh reality of being a musician is that the impression you make on your audience is made up of a million small moments. The most important of which is how they feel after hearing your first song, and how they feel when they feel at the end of your show.

The reason for this is that it’s the only time you can really guarantee their attention. Everyone’s mind starts to wander throughout the course of a show. Maybe the guy in the first row gets distracted by the cute bartender. Or the hipster girl’s attention starts to wander five songs in and she decides she’d rather be flicking through Instagram. While that’s not ideal, it’s not all that big of a deal. So long as they can hear you, (which they probably will), you’re still good.

However, when you play your first song they’ll watch you because they’re curious. And when you play your last song they’ll watch you because they expect some sort of finale. So make sure that you bring out your best stuff towards the beginning and end of your show.

Leave the stuff you’re not quite as confident about to the middle, because your audience is only really going to remember the parts of your show where they were most engaged.

In Conclusion

Like many parts of being a musician, building a great set list isn’t really complicated so much as it’s just something that requires some forethought. Remember to capitalize on the periods of your set that will have the most engagement, be aware of the length of each of your songs, and remember to avoid monotony by recognizing the tempos of every song on your set list. Most importantly, have fun. Not every musician is going to hit it big, but every musician can have a great time performing.

Feel like I missed something? Feel free to tell me all about it in the comments section below!