Digital Marketing Tools & Resources for Independent Musicians [Part 1]

[Author: Raj Shah *

Part One of a two-piece article that aims to break down tools that independent artists can utilize in their digital marketing strategies – all available at their fingertips!

The hard truth about success in music is that the modern artist must be 51% marketer and 49% musician.

In today’s world, the overall difference between the thousands of up and coming artists and the millions of amateur artists trying to make a name for themselves isn’t talent, it’s marketing. Specifically, an artist’s ability to nail digital marketing.

If you can generate an income from music sales, gig bookings, and merchandise, then you’re ready to leap to the next level where people know you, find you, talk about you, and hire you on the regular.

If you’re an amateur that’s looking to take that next step and start marketing yourself more seriously, this guide will provide a list of actionable tools and resources to get started.

While only 1% of musicians blow up, surpassing the “tipping point” and becoming household names, the rest of us still have the opportunity to make a respectable career as professional artists. Digital marketing helps you do just that.

Build Your Own Website/Marketing Hub

If you don’t already have one, get yourself a website. At the heart of every digital marketing strategy is a website – one that you own and have full control over.

Your website sells you and your music in your sleep. It should showcase your bio, shows, events, and your latest and greatest tracks. A website with blog content is even better, as it radiates your expertise, lessons learned, and the niche you’re working to carve in the industry.

Putting all your eggs in someone else’s basket, ie. putting all your content only on sites like SoundCloud or Youtube, is a risk you shouldn’t bet your career on. Social networks that are the hottest thing today might not exist tomorrow. They could have a change of ownership or start charging you a fortune.

Yes, keep creating and promoting profiles on these sites. Just don’t make them the heart of your marketing strategy.

Put your website at the core of everything you do and any prominent social networks or apps second.

Creating a Site from Scratch on WordPress

You don’t need technical chops to build your own website these days. You can easily fire up a WordPress site with a decent managed host like Pressable or Flywheel. These run for about $15-25/month but are worth the investment.

There are cheaper options but managed hosting services provide better support, security, performance, and updates.

Next, choose a decent WordPress premium theme for musicians, bands, or DJs. Here’s a showcase to choose from.

Need some more in-depth help getting a WordPress site up and running? Here’s a step-by-step guide to setting up your website from WP Beginner.

Website Plugins for Musicians

Plugins add unique functions to your site without the need for any special coding. Plugins are lifehacks if you use them wisely.

Consider adding these plugins for musicians to your site to allow your visitors to play music, pay for music, book you for an event, and more:

  • WooCommerce – set up shop and get paid for your music
  • Audio Album – let visitors play songs and see your albums
  • Calendar Event – show off your upcoming events
  • Social Icons Widget – showcase social icons for your Facebook, Instagram, SoundCloud, Spotify, Youtube, and other profiles

Here are a couple great lists of helpful plugins for you to consider adding to your site. Most of these plugins are free, but sometimes the developer might offer a paid version with additional features.

WordPress is built on open-source collaboration, which means it’s constantly being improved and new plugins are constantly rolled out to solve site owners’ challenges.

Pro tip: Plugins are tools, not toys. Don’t get caught up experimenting with so many plugins that you waste precious time you could be using to create new music or content.

Alternatives for Building Your Website

As simple as WordPress is, maybe you don’t want to spend your time and energy building a website from scratch.

A great alternative for building websites is Bandzoogle. You pay monthly, as low as $9, and in return you get a professional site, fan data, built-in mailing list functionality, and the ability to sell your music, merchandise, and tickets. Here’s the list of all the features covered.

How to Promote Your Website

Your website is a powerful branding tool. Try searching some of your favorite artists on Google and you’ll notice their website often ranks #1. This usually means that whenever they do interviews or promote upcoming events, journalists and bloggers are linking to their website.

Spread the word about your new site. Once you have a website, keep it updated with fresh content. Don’t limit your blog to news about your music, merchandise, or events. Use the blog to discuss happenings within your niche and build a following.

Encourage conversation, respond to comments, and listen to the audience for new insights. Share your posts on social media. Give shout-outs to others in your space, and maybe they’ll give you a shout-out too. These are all excellent ways to promote yourself and your website.


*[Raj Shah is the Senior SEO Manager at TakeLessons – a site dedicated to providing affordable and accessible options when it comes to learning instruments and languages. Check out Part Two of this article tomorrow!]

Why Playlists Are More Important Than Ever

[Author: Patrick McGuire *
In 2017, the playlist has become an integral part of not just music but our culture at large. While radioplay and the blogosphere still have the power to bring attention to an artist, playlists are becoming a steadfast way for more and more listeners to discover and consume music. This isn’t exactly breaking news for those readers who’ve been making serious music over the past decade, but the fact is that playlists are shaping the musical landscape more than ever before, and if you don’t release your music with that in mind and plan accordingly, you’ll risk missing out on some potentially huge opportunities.

The New Listening Landscape

Remember that snobby record store clerk you used to get your music recommendations from? Or maybe it was your cool older sister. Well, either way, playlists featuring every genre of music you can conceive of are introducing listeners to new artists in way measured by literally billions of songs, and that’s not likely to change anytime soon.

But probably more important than the way listeners are discovering music is the way they’re now listening to it. Listeners are now relying on playlists big and small to guide their unique listening experiences. Why?

Put yourself in the shoes of a non-musician for a second. Unless you’re particularly interested in discovering and listening to new and interesting music, you most likely won’t have the time or patience to wade through hours of music to find songs that actually resonate with you. Enter an army of new expertly curated playlists, specifically designed to convey an array of nuanced moods that cater to a wide variety of different music fans.

Like indie rap? There’s tens of thousands of playlists out there for you. Looking for electronic jazz/rock fusion for stepdads? Actually, I have no idea if that playlist exists or not, but you get what I mean.

Engaging new and old listeners on this relatively new playing field is becoming more and more important for career musicians, but don’t take my word for it.

Let’s look at the data.

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The Data Behind Playlists

On average, Spotify’s 4,500 curated playlists generate over a billion streams per week. Their Discover Weekly feature has connected well over 40 million music listeners to about 5 billion new songs. Love it or loathe it, Spotify is doing something massively important for new artists, and figuring out how to get your music featured on Spotify is worth looking into, even if the chances of your music being selected by one of Spotify’s notoriously picky playlist curators is slim.

But while Spotify is a major resource for listeners when it comes to finding and consuming music, YouTube is an even bigger player. Though the stats are controversial, complicated and difficult to understand, some music industry analysts believe YouTube accounts for 40% of all music listening.

I released a single recently and was surprised to learn that a dude with a playlist I’d never heard of had shared my new song on a YouTube playlist with over 188,000 subscribers. My release performed pretty well on Spotify, but the numbers were nothing compared to the exposure I got from being featured on that one Youtube playlist.

Make music regularly enough and you’ll sometimes get lucky and have your songs featured on decent-sized playlists, but reaching out to playlist curators and asking for your songs to be considered is vital if you’re just starting out and new to the playlist game.

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Pitching Your Music to Playlist Curators and Digital Music Stores

Taking the time to submit your music through TuneCore’s feature submission form is an easy way to pitch your music to digital music retailers like iTunes, but if you’re interested in getting playlist curators to consider your songs, you’ll have to do some research.

Take some time to find out what playlists are out there that feature music that’s similar to yours. Rather than gunning for the big, heavily followed tastemakers, I recommend starting small and pitching your music to playlists with smaller followings.

Similar to how you’d pitch your music to blogs, take some time following different playlists and getting a feel for the kind of music their curators like to feature.

Craft a short email explaining who you are, what your music sounds like and why you think it fits on the playlist you’re inquiring about. Yes, you’ll most likely get your fair share of no’s and unanswered emails, but with how much potential there is out there for finding new fans through playlists, getting serious about playlists is becoming a mandatory task if you’re intent on being a successful musician.

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[Editors Note: This blog was written by Patrick McGuire. Patrick is a writer, composer, and experienced touring musician based in Philadelphia.]

Mix Buss Compression Made Easy!

[Author: Scott Wiggins *]  

How many of you are completely terrified of doing anything to the mix buss, aka “stereo buss” “2 buss”?

It is real easy to mess up an entire mix with too much processing, in particular, mix buss compression.

Over the years of searching the internet creeping on my favorite mixers (Jaquire King, Dave Pensado, Chris Lord Alge, and many more) mix buss compression settings I’ve found that a little goes a long way.

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Mix Buss Compression Glue

Have you ever heard the term “glue” in a conversation of recording and mixing?

No, I’m not talking about the kind you used to put on your hands in elementary so you could peel it off when it dried.

Am I the only one who did that?

I’m talking about the way compression can make tracks seem like they fit together a little better.

When set up correctly it makes the whole song feel like it’s glued together in the subtle ways which gives it a nice musical polished cohesive sound.

The goal with mix buss compression would be to just tame any transients that may spike up in volume just a little too much, and then bring the overall volume up of the rest of the tracks juuuuuust a bit.

We’re just trying to add a little more energy and fullness to the mix.

mix buss compression

Mix Buss Compression Settings

The Attack:

The attack setting you use for mix buss compression is important just like using a compressor on any other track.

With a faster attack the compressor will clamp down sooner on the transients that tend to be a little louder than the rest of the audio coming through.

A slower attack will wait milliseconds before it clamps down on the audio and starts compressing.

I tend to use a faster attack, BUT I’m not crushing those transients with a ton of compression, so I still keep the dynamics in my mix.

If I found I was killing the transients too much and there was no excitement in my mix, I would probably make it a slower attack setting.

Release:

I tend to use a medium to fast release setting.

I’ve heard a lot of famous mixers say they set the release with the tempo of the song.

So they would watch the gain reduction needle and have it release on beat with the song.

I try my best to use this method.

Ratio:

I use a really small ratio of around 1.5 to 1.

This means that once my audio passes the threshold I’ve set that there is very little compression happening to that audio.

It’s just a little bit. I’m not trying to squash the life out of it.

You can experiment with a little bit higher of a ratio, but know that the lower the ratio the less compression (more dynamics), and the higher the ratio the more compression (less dynamics).

Threshold:

I dial the threshold to where I’m only getting about 1 to 3 dbs of gain reduction on the peaks of the audio.

I tend to keep it on the lower side of 1 to 2 dbs of gain reduction.

You just want to kiss the needle. You don’t want to have to much mix bus compression happening.

Remember, we are going for a subtle “glue” like affect.

Make up Gain:

Just like on any other compressor, I turn the make up gain to math the amount of gain reduction happening.

Be careful here. Don’t turn it up to loud and fool yourself that you like the result just because it’s louder.

Do your best to math the input volume with the output volume of the compressor.

We tend to think louder is better when it’s not really better, it’s just louder.

I’ve shot a video tutorial below to show all of this in action on a mix i’ve started. Check it out!

Conclusion

Mix buss compression is a great way to add a little bit of excitement and glue to your mix.

Some people like to slap it on the master buss AFTER they have mixed it (Ryan West who’s credits are Jay-Z, Eminem, Kid Cudi, Maroon 5, T.I, Rihanna and Kanye West)

And some engineers like to slap a little bit of compression on in the beginning and mix through it.

I don’t think there is a right or wrong way when it comes to when to put it on.

The key is to be subtle and don’t kill a good mix with too much mix buss compression.

Use your ears like always. They are your biggest weapons.

Good luck and happy mixing!

If you want to learn the 1st step to a successful mix even before you think about adding mix buss compression, check this post out about “The Static Mix”.

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[Editors Note: This is blog was written by Scott Wiggins and it originally appeared on his site, The Recording Solution, which is dedicated to helping producers, engineers and artists make better music from their home studios.]

November Industry Wrap-Up

Spotify Adds More Artist Friendly Features


As “Spotify For Artists” evolves and continues to set the tone for streaming platforms and how they allow artists to control their profiles, this month marked another update that most who distribute their music there should be happy about. Spotify introduced “Artist’s Pick”, a new feature aimed at allowing artists to control the music that sits on top of their profile – they can pick any album, track, or playlist they prefer to highlight, and even include a message about why they dig it so much.

In addition to “Artist’s Pick”, artists who distribute their music to Spotify can now add custom images and share geotargeted tour dates. Previously, artists were limited to their profile image when it came to these sort of uploads/customizations – now they can add photos from on the road, album art, or hey, even a fun selfie for the heck of it. As far as tour dates are concerned, this new feature actually coincides with the “Artist’s Pick” feature, as they can choose to make their geotargeted tour date the main focus of a user’s attention up top! Both of these go a long way in offering free tools that allow indie artists to engage and connect with their fans via an increasingly popular streaming platform. We’ll be sure to keep you updated month to month as all the stores/services we help you distribute to make announcements like this!

YouTube Announces Partnership with TicketMaster


Remember last year when Spotify partnered with Ticketmaster to integrate local tour dates into artists’ profiles? Well, YouTube is getting in on the fun! The video streaming giant owned by Google announced in November that they’d begin featuring “hundreds of artist’s upcoming US tour dates on their YouTube videos.

When it comes to music – love it or hate it – a LOT of music fans rely on YouTube to stream their favorite music these days. It remains to be seen what differences lie among those who use YouTube to stream versus those who prefer services like Deezer, Spotify or Apple – specifically in how these users engage with their favorite artists or how often they’d pay to go see them live in concert. But this certainly signals a shift in YouTube’s strategy for additional revenue streams, or at least an attempt to diversify from their main source of dough: advertising.

If you’re an independent artist and you distribute your music to all platforms available, this only increases the access your fans – whether they’ve been with you from the beginning or are just discovering your tunes – have to your upcoming live dates.

Google Assistant Adds Song Recognition Feature


It’s unlikely at this point that you haven’t been hearing a lot more about Google Assistant. The tech behemoth has been making cool updates to their voice-controlled feature available on Google and Android driven devices, and it’s latest involves music.

Eerily similar to the process that helped put Shazam (which TuneCore distributes to) on the map, users with Google Assistant can now instantly get more information about the music being played in their surroundings.

By holding down a home button (to trigger Google Assistant) and asking your device what song is playing, you’ll immediately be served with a song title, the artist and a sample of the song’s lyrics (where applicable). But of course, that’s not all you’ll get: in typical Google fashion, links to Google Play, YouTube and search (for more information) are also offered up with each response.

While it’s not an incredibly revolutionary addition, it’s important to remember that this action no longer requires a music fan to have additional apps they may not have previously considered downloading to get instant access to the new music they’re hearing. That stands to impact artists of all career levels when it comes to how quickly discovery can lead to fandom.

Deezer Announces New “Community” Feature


While the messaging/sharing and social networking elements of streaming services have been explored, blown up, and in some cases completely dialed back, Deezer has decided to open up the conversation…among its users, of course. In November the streaming platform announced that its subscribers can access the Deezer Community feature in order to share new tunes with their friends on the platform, receive Deezer news and updates, and join fellow music lovers on their message board-like system in order to find support, share tips, or act as a leader in conversations about artists and genres.

While it may seem less relevant in 2017, one must not forget about the power of message boards and forums among diehard music fans. They’ve long been a refuge for those active listeners looking to share new deep cuts, discover underground singles, and participate in deep topic conversations with like-minded folks. In the same way that vinyl and cassettes are still being purchased by some, these forums and communities too are populated with vocal and fervent music fans, (don’t believe us? Just check out indie hip hop label Stones Throw’s boards for yourself!)

We’re psyched to see the European streamer get its toes wet in the social game, because after all, when it comes to independent music, word of mouth can be everything.

4 Music Theory Techniques To Help You Write a Great Chorus

[Editors Note: This article was written by Chelsea Ira of New Artist Model.]

 

I want you to think of some of your favorite songs. You know, those choruses you could sing over and over for hours and still not be sick of them.

How do you think those songwriters stumbled upon something so seemingly perfect?

Was it a bolt of inspiration out of the blue?

Or did it stem from their understanding of music and countless hours of practice?

More likely than not, it was a combination of the two. In songwriting, it’s important to find a balance between chasing inspiration and developing your skills. Too much or too little focus on either could leave you in a frustrating writer’s block.

But today I want to focus on the technical side of things. More specifically, I want to go through a few music theory techniques that you can use to spark killer chorus ideas and get your inspiration flowing.

Of course, these are only ideas to get you started. If inspiration strikes, follow your creativity and even break some music theory rules!

1. Simplify Things Down to a Motif

As songwriters we can sometimes get caught up in the big elaborate vision we have for a chorus. This top-down approach to songwriting can certainly work, but it’s very easy for the essence of the hook to get lost amidst everything else. And then you’ll end up with a non-descript chorus that falls flat compared to the initial vision you heard in your head.

In other words, the hook gets lost in translation.

An easy way to get past this is to simplify your idea, narrowing it down to one or two motifs – then build up from there.

In music theory, a motif is a short musical idea that is used to build phrases, melodies, riffs, and grooves. Typically, motifs are very short and simple. Think of them like small little Lego blocks that can be stuck together in multiple different ways to create larger things.

I can’t emphasize simple enough when it comes to motifs. Often it’s the songs that use the simplest motifs that really stick in our heads.

Blues songs are one of the easiest places to see motifs at work. Take a listen to Johnny Cash’s Folsom Prison Blues and you’ll hear a motif in the first line of the lyrics, starting on A, going up to B♭ and C, and then back down to F. That motif is repeated with subtle variations and is answered by a second motif.

Another example is Beethoven’s 5th Symphony. I know – it’s not exactly modern music. But, it’s a great example of just how powerful simple motifs can be. Almost everything in the song is created and derived from that iconic four-note motif. If that’s not inspiring, I don’t know what is.

Next time you’re stuck on a chorus, try simplifying things down and really think about the motifs you’re using. Try making small changes or variations to those motifs and stringing them together in different orders. Starting from the core of your hook and working out from there will give your choruses a very strong and cohesive sound.

2. Play With Sequences

Expectation and anticipation is something every great chorus harnesses. You want the listener to be expecting and waiting for that hook to come around – the hook and the sections leading up to it should almost act like a magnet that draws the ear to the most important part of your song.

In music theory, one technique you can use to create expectation for your hook is a sequence. A sequence is a musical idea that is transposed and repeated to create a pattern.

A motivic sequence is made up of a motif that is transposed and repeated using specific interval pattern. (For example you could move the motif down by a 4th and up by a 2nd.)

A harmonic sequence is made up of a set of chords that follow a particular interval pattern.

Our ears latch onto musical patterns by nature, so as soon as you establish a sequence your listener will catch on and begin anticipating where the music will go next.

In songwriting, you can use this to really build things up before or during your chorus and draw the ear into your hook.

Alternatively, you could also create expectation with a sequence and not follow through by playing something completely unexpected to create tension.

3. Pull From the Notes in Your Chord Progression

The notes in a chord will always be the strongest, so they can be a great starting point when you’re writing a strong melody for a chorus.

You see this all the time in popular songs. The hook will pull out one or two notes from the chord(s) underneath it, or even outline all the notes in the chord. Using your melodies to drive home the key notes in your chord progressions can create an overall more cohesive sound and a much stronger composition.

Of course, you don’t need to only use notes from your chords. Try using them as a sort of outline for your hook.

If you write melody first, try going back and creating a chord progression that incorporates some of those main melody notes. If you write chords first, try pulling out key notes to create an outline for your melody.

If you want to expand on this idea even more, try looking into modes. If you’re playing in they key of C Major, use the G Mixolydian mode to create the melody line over the G Major chord and the F Lydian mode to create the melody line over the F Major chord. This just allows you to pull out those strong notes that will really get your hook to stand out.

4. Harness the Power of Repetition and Subtle Variations

Repetition is often the thing that really drives a strong hook home.

Think about songs like “Get Lucky” by Daft Punk. The chorus is simple and it’s played over and over (and over) again. But despite all that repetition, it’s pretty tough to get sick of that song.

Why?

If you take a closer listen, you’ll notice that there are subtle variations in each chorus. Different instruments are added into the mix and small compositional changes help keep things fresh.

Once you have a great hook or chorus, experiment with it, see all the different ways you can subtly manipulate it, and use those variations in your song to really get that hook in your listeners’ heads.


It goes without saying that if you want to write hooks and choruses like the greats, you should study their work. Make a habit to try to really dissect some of the choruses from your favorite songs to see what’s going on.

We gave you a few examples in this article, but if you want more, you can download the ebook Inside the Hits: The Secrets Behind 10 Hit Songs for free here. In that book you’ll see what’s going on from a music theory perspective behind 10 big hits by artists like Rihanna, The Police, Bruno Mars, Mark Ronson, Jay-Z, Johnny Cash, and more.

Opening Band Etiquette

[Editors Note: This blog was written by Rich Nardo. Rich is a freelance writer and editor, and is the Director of Public Relations and Creative at NGAGE.]

 

I’m currently reading Meet Me In The Bathroom; an excellent oral history of the rock and roll resurgence in NYC at the turn of the century, written by Lizzy Goodman. Aside from the havoc that existed then, as the swan song of the “glory days of the music industry” were playing out and my own nostalgia for the culture of New York City at that time, one thing has really stuck out to me in the book thus far; The Moldy Peaches.

The Moldy Peaches were an outlandish, anti-folk outfit that came up in New York City during the 1990s. They also happened to be good friends with The Strokes. As the Strokes were on their way to becoming the biggest band in the world, they invited The Moldy Peaches to open several of their big hometown shows as well as on a few tours. The Strokes even went as far as to persuade Rough Trade Records to sign their friends.

While Kimya Dawson + Adam Green (the two artists behind The Moldy Peaches) now have sustainable careers based on their own talent, they owe a lot of their success to that early help from The Strokes. Which is why we are talking about “Opening Band Etiquette” in this post. If you’re one of the fortunate few acts that is given the opportunity to open for a more established band, it’s important to make the most of the situation. If you known how to finagle one turn of good fortune into another, you can find yourself building a career and headlining bigger rooms a lot quicker.  

Here are some tips on how to do so:

Headliner is King (or Queen)

Whether you’re the local opener for a touring band or actually on the road with someone, the headliner will set the tone. There will be certain things that they require pre-show and you should make sure to adhere to their wishes. The less their pre-show routine is interrupted by your own, the more likely they’ll be to invite you back, especially if your performance is awesome.

If you only have a few guest list spots, make do with that. Worried about getting an extra case of water? Forget it for now. When you’re drawing enough on your own to be the headliner than you can look for more guest list spots and extra water in your green room. For now enhance the headliner’s experience, it’ll pay off in the long run!

Stick to The Schedule; You’re Part of the Team

This point ties closely into the “Headliner is King or Queen” subject. However, it is the single most important thing you can prioritize in order to successfully stick to that rule and thus deserves it’s own separate mention. The headliner will create a schedule that works best for them. You will work your schedule around theirs. Most importantly, it’s imperative that you are on time for everything.

If you are running 15 minutes late to Soundcheck, that could push their own allotted time. Even a slight delay there could end up putting a rush on any press interviews they need to take care of before the show, potentially rob them of the chance to get away from the venue for dinner or disrupt another important aspect of their pre-show routine.

Do Your Own Promoting for the Show

The more tickets sold you are responsible for, the more value you will have to the headliner. Make sure you’re looking for your own press ahead of the show, promoting on social media and getting out on the street to flyer if it’s a local show. If you bring enough people, it’ll get you noticed. Not just by the headliner, but by the promoter as well.

Support the Headliner

Even though they’re probably further along in their career than the bands that are opening for them, a headliner is still out there touring to make new fans and create opportunities for themselves. Don’t forget to bring as much attention to them as possible. Whether it’s tagging them in your social media promotion ahead of the show or thanking them from stage and asking fans to visit their merch table, shoutouts will always be appreciated and often reciprocated.

Network! Network! Network!

One common thread you will see in every post about optimizing a situation is networking. It doesn’t matter what industry you work in, networking is key. Whether it’s introducing yourself to the headliner, getting to know the promoter for the event or hanging out at your merch table interacting with fans, the relationships you take away from any opportunity is what’s going to be your biggest asset moving forward.

The music industry is built largely on word-of-mouth. Do everything you can to build a network that wants to help spread the word about your band and you’re increasing your chances to succeed infinitely.