Being an independent musician isn’t easy. The industry is weighted against you – not only do you have to compete with thousands of other new artists all hoping to make it big, you also get the worst deals from streamers such as Spotify, get the least media coverage in all of the online and offline outlets and you’ll likely be constantly fighting your own mind and impostor syndrome no matter HOW brilliant you are. Even the best musicians can struggle and it will often feel like no-one is listening to the music you’ve put your everything into.
So, we’re here to try and help you. We’ll be putting together a series of articles aimed at musicians that will give you some useful and practical hints and tips that you can put into action both NOW and when you next release a new track.
If you find this article useful we’d really appreciate a share on your socials, and if it’s not we’d equally love feedback on how we can make it better because we really do want to make a difference and help as many people get the exposure they deserve as we can. Much of the advice we’ll give below is based on us being an outlet that shares music and our past experience in working on a publication with a much more mainstream focus.
Never forget that fans are your most important asset
If there is one thing that will see you making a success of your music it’s your fans – it’s almost always the musicians who have built up a local following who find their first steps in to releasing music the easiest. That’s not to say that it is EASY, but it definitely helps find those first few nuggets of goodwill when you release your first single. There are many views on this, but our advice is to play open mic events as often as you can when you’re starting out. Play your music to people who it may vibe with.
Do your research – there’s no point going to an open mic that is traditionally hard rock when you’re more guitar pop so you might need to travel a little to find the people most likely to find meaning in your music but it’s totally worth it.
If you have even a dozen people who are looking forward to seeing you play somewhere next you’re in a good place. Those people will bring their friends, widening your possible audience further on each performance. It’s these people who you want to take with you on your journey to be a recorded artist. 12 engaged fans is better than a few hundred people streaming your music once. Focus on building that following by interacting with the people who like your music the most. If you can get 1,000 engaged fans who might buy your merch or singles you’ll be well on your way to making your music career a long-term success so work towards that as a goal.
Unfortunately, there will always be an aspect of fan interaction that opens you less palatable encounters and this is probably more of a problem for women in the industry. You will unfortunately get messages that are inappropriate and often with unsolicited pictures – the only way to avoid this is to close down the options for people to contact you but that puts up a barrier between you and the people who are likely to become your biggest cheerleaders. No-one should feel uncomfortable and don’t be afraid to block people who are sending you messages and comments that cause unease.
When should I start promoting my new single?
You’ll get a wide range of opinions on this. We’ve seen some people suggesting that you could start as early as SIX months before release, and we recently saw a social media video suggesting that you shouldn’t promote at all before release. Neither of these are sensible – for a start if you’re publicising something for six months you’re only going to be able to focus on two releases in a year which, for many artists isn’t even remotely what they want to do. Similarly, if you don’t promote at all you’ll miss out on early playlists and the benefits of building up a healthy number of pre-saves; both of which are essential when you’re early in your career.
Our view is you’re best-off starting your promotion around one month from release. This can be ‘leaking’ some audio, some TikTok vids and maybe some teasing. It doesn’t have to full on promotion but you want to let your fans; the people who are most invested in you; that you have something exciting coming.
A good plan is to start teasing on the day you upload your music to streaming platforms – ideally that should be no less than four weeks before the planned release date. After that first week of teasing announce the release date and share your pre-save link. You then have three weeks of more concerted promotion where that’s all you need to focus on.
I’ve seen some industry self-proclaimed gurus suggesting that people will get bored of your single if you promote your upcoming music too much. For you fans, nothing will be further from the truth. They’ll relish every single time you post a snippet or you interact so don’t hold yourself back from pushing your new release as hard as you like. The key is to share just enough of the single to get it stuck in people’s conscious while also not sharing too much of it that they’ll have heard it all ahead of release.
When should I reach out to publications?
The minute you have a track uploaded to a streaming service for their review you should be sending out emails to as many people as you can. Find the outlets that are more likely to cover music from up-and-coming artists, there are more sites and channels like TuneFountain out there as well as a number of internet based radio stations that really work hard to spread the word about new music.
Some you could look to contact include:
Find their socials and send them a message, or find the emails of the appropriate people and drop them a line. Introduce yourself and if you can share them a link to either your previous releases on somewhere like Spotify or even better send them the track you are hoping to promote by hosting it on a platform like Soundcloud. Don’t forget to make it private as you don’t want to be leaking your own tunes too early! It’s now to start talking to radio (both digital and traditional) about potential plays of your music.
Don’t wait until you’re ready to start getting pre-saves. You want to find these outlets early and get them excited about you and your music. Some outlets just won’t respond. Don’t let that dent your enthusiasm – there are thousands of musicians trying to do the same as you and not all of you will be picked up for coverage on every outlet. Once you find one or two that respond try and build up a friendly relationship with them so that when you’re ready for them to share you music they’ll be more likely to try their hardest for you.
None of the sites and outlets that you’ll approach will be out to get rich, they’ll all be working on shoestring budgets so they can’t always respond to everyone who gets in touch with them.
When should I try and get publicity?
Some people try and get their publicity on release day, but often that’s too late. If you want to be considered for new music playlists you really need to get as many people to pre-save your music before release. Ideally we’d recommend you’d time your publicity campaign for the day your pre-saves open. Too early and you run the risk of people getting bored about your stories and posts before they even get a chance to pre-save and leave it too late and you’ll only get a few pre-saves ahead of release.
From the perspective of a website like TuneFountain, if you can give us a few days before pre-saves are due to go live to get things together we can usually work with you to promote to a schedule that gives you the best chance of maximising the number of people who end up on your pre-save page. While we can’t talk for every site and outlet, it’s pretty safe to assume that they’ll need at least a little lead time before the announcement to get things in place. This is where embargoes are useful – you can announce early to the media but set an embargo that means they will work to your schedule. If we can set up an article a week before you want it live and put it on a schedule that’s the best option for us.
What should I include in a press release?
Formal press releases aren’t a necessity but they do allow you to create a nice little package of information and links for websites to make use of. A “good” press release varies from artist to artist but there are some key things that they should all include.
- A bio for you or your band
- Some information on the track, EP or album you want to promote
- Links to your social media profiles
- A link to your pre-save – this is the thing you most want people to be ending up at so make it nice and clear
- A link to a pre-release version of the track. Preferably on something like Soundcloud so it can be listened to anywhere.
- Some good quality images – include the artwork for the release AND a press shot or two (in a variety of orientations) to ensure that you have suitable images for the publication to use without them contacting you. Images should be crop-safe if possible as sites can use a wide variety of aspect ratios. Ideally they should also be high resolution so they can be used at various sizes and retain quality.
Press releases should be in easily accessible formats – while a nice image might look good, it’s a pain for a journalist who is pressed for time. PDFs are reasonable but, again, make getting images and text out to a usable format a little complicated. In most cases a simple email press release with attachments, whilst not necessarily appearing the best, actually is the most useful. For a win-win, include the press release as a nicely formatted PDF as well.
How can I use social media to reach out?
Social media can be really powerful to spread the word about your music. You’ll already likely be using TikTok, Instagram and others to share posts, stories, videos and reels and keep doing that. One thing you can also do is reach out to publications on the platforms you use to see if they’re happy to share your content. Our Instagram is, for the most part, reshared posts and stories from other artists and we encourage anyone to tag us in anything they want shared and as long as it’s not offensive or rule breaking in some way we’re more than happy to help buy reposting to our stories and feeds.
While we don’t recommend you just go around tagging multiple publications, pick a few that you really like and see if they’re happy to share your stuff if they’re tagged. Don’t expect them to share everything, but each new audience your post or story hits the more chance you’ll pick up some new followers who have just discovered your music.
Don’t be disheartened
Unless you’re extremely lucky, your first few singles will likely not get that much coverage. But keep trying – each new person who finds and enjoys your music will go back and listen to your previous releases. Share, share, share – and over time you won’t need to rely on the luck of coverage as you’ll have your own band of followers ready to share your music for you because they love it THAT much.
There are so many amazing people working in the independent music scene, and while media outlets might seem like a great springboard, they really aren’t the only one. Becoming a successful independent musician isn’t about streams on Spotify – it’s about building a loyal following of people who look forward to your next single, stream or even just the odd snippet of you performing. Perform locally as often as you can, find the smaller festivals who champion new acts and see if you can get a slot on their bill. Search for local open-mic nights – they’re great places to network with other musicians.
And remember most of all while getting signed to a label might be something you’re dreaming of, it isn’t necessarily always in your best interests – this is a subject that we’ll cover more in a future article, but our advice is to never make that your ultimate goal. Becoming a successful self-supporting independent musician could well be the most rewarding thing you do and we’re going to be doing as much as we can to help you find your way through a music industry that has changed massively in the last decade.