When you think about it, all artists need to get their survival skills in order when it comes to promoting themselves (particularly on a budget). Luckily, there are plenty of free and wallet-friendly ways to help get your music out there and grow your fanbase.
Before you think about what methods you’re going to use to promote your music, have a little think about the bigger picture.
Make sure you set your clear short-term, medium-term and long-term goals that you want to achieve over a set period of time. When setting these, make sure you also take into account what results you actually want to achieve and how you are going to measure progress: Are you simply trying to grow your fanbase? Or would you rather have bigger play counts? Do you want to get more gigs or are you more interested in getting signed by a label?
In saying that, you don’t need to make a complicated document like a marketing professional would magic up; it’s just an exercise to help you remember what you’re actually trying to achieve. It’s easy to get caught up in chasing likes, but if they don’t translate into any real progress, is it really worth it?
You might not have much money, but think, is there anything else you do have a lot of? Time?, Contacts?, Friends with relevant skills?, Unusual ideas?, A unique content idea? Money isn’t the only thing that you need to promote yourself. Sure, it can give you a boost or enable access to certain things that are hard to reach ,but in all honesty, it’s just one of the many tools you need to get your music out into the word. If you’re looking for a comprehensive guide on how to promote yourself, check out our guide to self-promotion for musicians. Read on however for some of the newest and best free/cheap ways you can promote your music.
Spotify song submission tool
Getting big plays and new fans on Spotify is mainly based around getting your music into their in-house editorial and algorithmically-created playlists (and even the ones created by algorithms have some human input). Aside from being a well-known artist, the best way of getting into these playlists is by submitting a track from your upcoming release in advance through their song submission tool. Read about that and other tips for getting the most out of the platform in our article on how to get your music heard on Spotify.
To get into bigger playlists, it’s likely you’ll need to have picked up a few Spotify fans and plays along the way. They look for organic engagement as a marker of appeal to a broader audience, so don’t just rely on the submission tool to do the work. Make sure you are actively driving people to your Spotify releases as well.
Repost / gate services
There are a range of SoundCloud, YouTube and Spotify ‘gate’ services which basically allow you to grant access to a stream or download in return for an action like a repost, share, or newsletter sign-up. One of the most affordable is Tunebula. It lets you exchange a download or private stream in exchange for things like a SoundCloud repost, a SoundCloud follow, a SoundCloud like and/or a follow on Facebook, Instagram, Spotify, YouTube or Twitter. The basic free account has less functionality and only lets you create three campaigns, but for $2.99 a month you get unlimited campaigns and all the functionality mentioned. It’s simple, but effective, and gives you stats to show how many people visited your gate and how many people accessed it.
If you’re looking to build your email list instead, Followgate is another option which offers similar functionality as well as email collection. This option costs $9.97 a month.
Do you have other musician friends? If so, why not agree to share and promote each others’ music? You don’t need to have the same amount of followers. It’s useful to reach any new audience, so don’t get too hung up if they have less of a following than you do. In any case, it’s always more beneficial to be part of a community of music makers as you’ll all benefit from each other in the long run. The more you can do to help each other out, the better.
Ask your friends to save and stream
With algorithmic curation being everywhere, streaming services are looking for early indicators that new releases are popular. If your tracks have a high stream-to-save ratio — that is, the percentage of people who listen to your track and then save it to their library or a playlist — it will use this as an indication that other people might also like it. This means a higher chance of getting featured on in-house playlists, which will get you a big boost in streams and get your music in front of new audiences. So ask all of your friends to play your new release in full and then save the album of their favourite tracks from it.
Likewise, getting them to pre-save your release before it comes out will work to the same effect. Speaking of which…
Pre-save / pre-order links
It’s important to promote your release in advance of it dropping, and pre-save links can give you a way to build that early engagement for free. Feature.fm allows you to create shortlinks which let your fans pre-save your releases to their collection, which means that it will appear in their library on its day of release. Note that you’ll only be able to do this once the streaming service in question has ‘ingested’ your release. Your Spinnup dashboard will tell you once your release is in their system, and then you can set up the pre-save link.
Combine this the promo link wee give you for your track once live in stores that you can access in your artist dashboard.
Although it’s not something that’s common for all genres and scenes, many styles like electronic music have a wide range of SoundCloud and YouTube channels that premiere new music exclusively ahead of its release date. Do your research and find out the channels that are relevant to you, find their email addresses or slide into their SoundCloud DMs with your new music and offer them an exclusive. If you manage to bag one, ask them to include your pre-order/save shortlink in the description so you can see how many people were motivated to buy or or save it to their collection after hearing it.
A carefully planned social advertising campaign can help give a good boost to your release, gigs or merch. Don’t just blindly throw money at promoting posts or setting up ads. Be clear on your intention. First identify your goal. Is it to get new followers? Or to engage your existing ones? Do you simply want people to hear your music or are you looking to specifically grow your numbers on a certain platform? Do you want to target everyone in the world or just fans in certain cities and country?
Facebook’s desktop Ad Manager and Ads mobile app lets you create loads of different adverts on Facebook and Instagram, with very specific targeting and a range of different ad types. There’s a lot to learn here so try not to be too daunted when you set up your first campaign. It gives you plenty of guidance to help you try and figure out the right type of ad campaign for your goal — such as ‘reach’ or ‘engagement’.
Just consider if it’s the best use of your budget. It’s certainly a lot cheaper and more flexible than spending money on hiring a PR agent or paying someone to do a remix, for example, but just think carefully about what you’re trying to achieve. Unfortunately, unless you are blessed with a highly engaged fanbase, advertising is the only way you’ll be able to ensure that any one post reaches the majority of your fans on Facebook or Instagram.
Combine LinkedIn and Hunter to find press, promoter and label contacts
Can’t afford a PR? LinkedIn can be a great resource for finding contacts in the music press — but unless they accept your invite, you may not be able to message them without buying a LinkedIn Premium subscription. However, you can combine LinkedIn with the nifty web tool hunter.io to help you find email addresses for the relevant contacts.
First, establish your target. Say you want to try and get some coverage at Magazine X. Search LinkedIn for ‘people who work at Magazine X’. If you’re lucky, this will serve up the names and job titles of some relevant people at Magazine X. Next, go to hunter.io and type in the Magazine X website name. Hunter will then search for all instances of email addresses linked to that domain that are listed in public web pages. This will then show you the structure of email addresses at Magazine X — as long as there are some instances of their email addresses being listed in various places.
For example, it might show you that their email addresses are email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org. Then you can simply insert the name of the LinkedIn contact into this structure and drop them a line. Whether or not they reply is another matter, unfortunately!
You could also use this technique to find the names of bookers / promoters at different venues and promotion companies, or even A&Rs at labels. But don’t forget, using Spinnup puts you directly in the eyes and ears of Universal A&R’s from around the world. Just sayin’.
Do you live in a city where busking is legal or where there are legal busking pitches that you can apply to play at? If so, then get out there and get playing. Busking can be an invaluable way of not only getting your music heard by hundreds of people a day, but it can also be a very useful source of income (see our guide to alternative income streams for musicians).
Portico Quartet sold over 10,000 copies of their own records in their early unsigned days while busking on London’s South Bank, and it’s not uncommon for really talented musicians to be able to earn between £100-200 a day on busy pitches. It’s also a great way to get your confidence up and to test out new material in a low-pressure environment. You might even make some new friends and collaborators along the way.
If you’re an electronic producer, doing remix swaps with another artist can be a good way of getting in front of their audience. In short, you agree to provide each other with a remix of a song by the other person. Some people like to keep the financials out of it, but if you want to be more prudent you could create a simple contract from an online template and agree that you each get 50% of the royalties from each track to keep things simple.
That’s only just the surface, there are plenty of ways to promote yourself for free or cheap. Think carefully about your goals and try and be targeted with your approach for the best results. If you liked this article, feel free to share and click below for some more of our blog articles that could help you with your career.