How Are People Finding New Independent Music?

February 15, 2018

[Editors Note: This article was written by Rich Nardo.]


New music discovery is a highly personalized process. Fans of different genres tend to find music in different ways and, obviously, people of varying age and geographical demographics also tend to favor different manners of discovery. Unless you have a major label or an indie with a large budget putting out your music, it’s very difficult to cover all of your bases. Your best bet is to hone in on who is most likely to enjoy your music and focus heavily in the areas where that sort of fan is most likely to be searching for new tunes. That’s not to say, allocating some time and energy in other areas is not beneficial, but with limited resources it’s always best to be more focused on the areas where you will get the most bang for your buck.

Below are several sources people tend to tap into for music discovery:

Terrestrial Radio 

According to a 2017 Study by Larry S. Miller of the  NYU’s Steinhart Music Business Program, if your fans tends to be members of Generation Z (born after 1995), this is largely a waste of time. Due in large part to having grown up in an ‘on demand’ culture, the number of teens that tune in on their AM/FM dial dropped 50% between 2006 and 2016. As more and more new cars are coming equipped with streaming service integration (a projected 75% by 2020) and people are turning more towards “Smart Home” devices like Amazon Alexa in their households, this number is expected to decrease further unless Radio undergoes an extreme makeover.

Traditional radio campaigns tend to be very expensive and have high barriers of entry, so unless you’re an established pop star selling out arenas, putting any eggs in this basket is probably not worth the investment.

XM Radio 

Sirius XM is a weird sort of hybrid in this scenario. The barriers to entry are high (though not as high as their terrestrial counterparts), but there are a handful of bands that break nationally in large part due to XM every year. In particular, getting rotation on a station like AltNation, XMU, Octane or The Highway can really help kickstart a band. The biggest issue with XM is that, even if you find yourself in a DJ’s favor, you need to be able to show that your marketing campaign is firing on all cylinders before they’ll really jump behind a project.

If you’re at the stage in your career where your streaming numbers are high, press is coming in and you’re touring consistently at mid-sized venues, investing in a College & Specialty Radio campaign that builds towards pitching XM is worthwhile. If you’re not quite there yet, you may be better off investing more time in building your fan foundation and business model out first.

Social Media

Social Media is another unique situation, as it isn’t necessary a traditional “new music discovery” platform but is integral to success on most other platforms. Without a doubt, major streaming services, radio stations, press, venues and other industry types that can open doors for an up-and-coming artist pay attention to your social numbers. As we mentioned last month, Instagram has established innovative new ways for musicians to interact with fans and is leading the way in terms of music discovery via social media.

With Facebook’s recent algorithm shift away from business pages showing up in people’s feeds, it’s more difficult to reach people there. Still, allocating some budget to Facebook (and Instagram) advertising can help get your music in front of new ears in a highly efficient and cost effective way.

Music Blogs and Publications 

Press has always been a staple of new music discovery. The ‘gatekeepers of cool’ have been a primary resource for finding what’s coming next for decades, but we’re seeing a changing of the guards as of late. Press will always be important, but unless you’re being featured as part of a larger editorial piece, the reach of even the top outlets is starting to diminish. A few years ago, a big premiere on a press outlet like Noisey or The Fader could result in tens of thousands of plays. Today, it might only be a couple of hundred.

Most top-tier sites are altering the way they approach music coverage to respond to this fact, but I would not rely solely on getting a review in one of the most respected publications to really break you as an artist. In fact, I would wager to say that the value in press lays largely in getting quotes from tastemakers to help enhance other elements of your marketing campaign as opposed to new fan acquisition.

That being said, press is still very important and there are chances to grow your fanbase with a well run press campaign. This should be one of the first places you allocate money when it comes to music marketing.

Streaming Services, Pandora & YouTube

Not surprisingly, this is the big one. According to Variety, a recent poll of 12-24 year olds who find music discovery important, these were the three biggest resources for finding new music – YouTube (80%), Spotify (59%) and Pandora (53%). While doing something officially with any of these outlets might be hard, there are plenty of ways to still utilize their reach. Blogs, Brands and unofficial tastemakers are more approachable for streaming playlists and there are vlogs such as Suicide Sheep, Majestic Casual or MORindie that get hundreds of thousands (if not millions) of plays for their posts.

With over 78 million monthly listeners, Pandora is still the largest music streaming service in the world. Their advertising campaigns are relatively affordable and can help boost your ranking in their algorithm in a way that makes a genuine difference. As Amazon, Google and Apple all evolve their streaming services in 2018, the possibilities are only multiplying for a savvy artist who stays up to date on the world of streaming.

The Good Ol’ Fashioned Way 

The above listed outlets are all extremely important, but nothing will aid a new artist as much as good ol’ fashioned performances. Music fans are fickle these days and tend to fall out of love with songs quickly as they move on to the next big thing. Only the intimate connection of winning a fan over in a live setting can really imprint an artist enough on a group of fans to really make that adoration stick.

If you plan on building a sustainable career as a musician, get really good live and make the effort to meet fans at your shows. Those encounters and memories of your performance are what will build a long-term fanbase that evolves with you from release to release.

Rich Nardo is a freelance writer and editor, and is the Director of Public Relations and Creative at NGAGE.

Tags: featuring new music