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You’ve just put the finishing touches on your latest song, or even your latest album. You’ve put in the hours, days, and months to perfect your process and it’s finally time to release it to the world.
But if the world can’t hear your masterpiece then all you’re going to hear are crickets.
Unfortunately, creating great music alone isn’t always enough and there are countless amazing musicians that never get found by the general public. Then there’s the endless number of artists that seem to have mastered the art of promotion more than anything else. I won’t name any names but there’s no doubt that at least a handful of artists came to mind as you read that.
We know that music has to be promoted and if you’re just starting out you don’t always have the big budget it takes to blast the internet with your sound so we’re going to look at 8 actionable tips for 5 experts that have successfully promoted their music without spending a fortune. These aren’t vague pipedreams like “just go viral”, “help people find your music” or “use Tik-Tok”.
Instead, you can start taking action on these today and if you want to skip ahead and see what makes the most sense for you, you can use the table of contents below to skip to a strategy that catches your eye:
1. Offer Your Music To Anyone That Live Streams (Or Do Your Own Live Stream)
Anyone that’s live streaming on any major platform needs music. And if you’ve been paying attention at all, you’ve noticed how frequently Twitch VODS, YouTube videos, and any other content gets flagged for copyright infringement. Sometimes these are real and legitimate claims and other times they’re completely bogus.
Either way, they’re stressful for the content creator and the BBC recently highlighted one YouTuber that’s been hit with a $6,000 bill for a copyright claim. Ouch.
While this is a big problem for content creators, Becks Cox sees it as a big opportunity for musicians. Becks focuses on helping up-and-coming musicians promote their music and explains that
“One of the more modern ways to promote your music is to get in touch with Twitch or YouTube streamers who play music in the background. Getting your music played on a popular live stream is a great way for people to ‘accidentally’ listen to you. It’s an easy way to get into influencer marketing which is really effective these days.”
Since many streamers go for hours at a time, this will work best for musicians that have a larger catalog that they can share. Putting together a multiple-hour mix and presenting it to a streamer will quickly and immediately solve their copyright problems while getting your music consistent exposure- even if it is in the background.
However, I don’t suggest that you end it there. Make sure you ask the streamer to mention your music along with a link to a key platform (like your Insta, website or Spotify) in exchange for playing your jams for free. A quick shoutout is a small price to pay for hours of music but even if you’re not comfortable with that it’s pretty common for the chat to ask about specific songs that are being played so you can still get plenty of organic exposure using this method.
To really find success with this method, focus on streamers that already play your style of music. Most streamers have a genre they stick with and you probably don’t want to offer up your drum and bass mix to an ASMR streamer that plays ambient music. By putting in the work to find a streamer that likes your genre, you increase the chances of your music getting picked up.
If you’re good on camera, Becks also suggests that you do your own streaming too and mentions that “Another tried and tested way is to go live on Instagram and TikTok by doing something as simple as having a jam session and taking requests. Going live on TikTok is great because the algorithm allows anyone to randomly scroll onto your video.”
2. Create A Lyric Video For Big Views Without A Big Budget
You already know that music videos are a great way to promote your music.
But the average music can easily run you close to half a million dollars. Then you have videos like Michael Jackson and Janet Jackon’s “Scream” which cost 12.5 million dollars adjusted for inflation.
It’s a cool video and all but I’m definitely having trouble figuring out where those millions of dollars went:
As a musician on a budget, you also have to figure out which songs to make a video for and which ones to leave out.
And that’s exactly where lyric videos can help. Calvin West is a lyric video artist and he explains that:
I always recommend artists get a lyric video. Not only because it’s more economical than a music video, but also because according to some record labels I’ve worked with, they often get more views than their music video counterparts.
For example, the lyric video I made for Smith & Thell called ‘Hotel Walls’, is closing in on 7 million views, and we can safely assume the cost to produce the lyric video was a fraction of the same song’s full production music video, which has just over a million views.
Another option is to do a hybrid of music & lyric video. This can be achieved by shooting a very simple video of the artist lip-syncing or just reacting to their song, then adding lyrics over or next to the artist. You can have a lot of fun with it and make it look artsy!
Whether you pay a professional like Calvin to do your lyric video or you put it together yourself you can see how this could be pulled off with a limited budget. Or even no budget if you teach yourself the editing skills required to do something simple.
Once you have the video, you can take things one step further and pull your best parts into a short video. Whether it’s a Tik-Tok video, YouTube’s Shorts, or Facebook’s Reels short videos are definitely in demand. You can promote your shortened version across all channels and link back to the full lyric video to drive more views.
And in case you want to see what a lyric video that generates almost 7 million views looks like, you can see for Smith & Thell’s lyric video here (as created by Calvin) here:
3. Get Featured On A Spotify Playlist (Or Create Your Own)
You’re probably already familiar with Spotify as a strategy for promoting your music but the usual advice is pretty vague or just requires spending a fortune paying off everyone with a playlist to get your song featured. But thanks to the folks at Pirate Studios, we were able to get in contact with Plastician, an international DJ approaching 100,000 monthly listens on Spotify, to figure out his exact strategy.
Here’s what he had to say about getting featured on Spotify’s editorial playlists:
First, if you’re releasing music via Spotify, you must be using Spotify For Artists. As well as providing lots of helpful advice, this platform offers opportunities to pitch your music directly to Spotify’s editorial teams. Upload your new music to Spotify For Artists a few weeks before your release date.
Once you’ve submitted your track, it should appear in the Upcoming section of the platform. From here (at least one week from release), you can pitch your track to Spotify’s editorial team.
The next step is your pitch. Avoid going into great detail about your data (number of followers, most popular releases etc). Spotify already has his information and it’s a waste of limited space on your form. Instead, explain what makes your release important or special. How does it make you feel? What sort of mood do you think the song evokes in the listener? That will speak a lot more to Spotify’s editors than your stats.
Spotify’s custom-curated playlists would definitely be a big win but it’s far from the only playlists you should worry about. Plastician goes on to say that you can find other playlists to be featured on by using Reddit. He explains:
Use Reddit to find subreddits dedicated to your genre and see what sort of playlists people share. Once you’ve found a few options, have a look at their playlist descriptions – these often contain contact details for submissions.
Not only will you be able to find playlists that you can be featured on but you’ll also have a better feel of what’s being shared so you can create your own playlist with your original music included. Best of all, you can do all of this for zero budget, or if you have a small budget you can offer to pay to be included on a popular Spotify playlist.
4. Collaborate With Other Artists Or Producers By Creating Covers and Remixes
If you’ve read any guide to promoting your music in the past you’ve definitely seen the word “collaborate” thrown around quite a bit.
But what does this really mean for the musician on a budget?
Jaslyn Loftin (who performs as J.Lyn) is a Honolulu singer and songwriter that gives a clear-cut and actionable approach to collaboration:
Collaborate with other producers or bands in the community to make covers and remixes. Giving your songs a brand new twist will help get musicians some name recognition with a collaborator’s fanbase and vice versa. This also allows both parties to resurge a single or an album that has already been released.
I absolutely love the idea of reviving old tracks into a remix and it’s a great way to keep your catalog fresh and top of mind. If you’re the one doing the remixes, then going for an older song can be a great way to get the artist’s attention since they’re be happy to get some views on an older song.
When it comes to creating covers, it’s a good idea to go for a more unique angle and cross genres. One of my favorite examples of this is Limp Bizkit’s cover of George Michael’s “Faith”. Limp Bizkit took a classic and fluffy pop song and turned it into a metal classic. You don’t have to play metal for this to work and crossing genres in any way can show off your musical talent and help cross promote your music to different types of listeners.
5. Play Live Shows…Anywhere and Everywhere
This won’t be a winner for everyone but for some genres and some artists this can be an absolute game changer.
Almost every genre has that “legendary” live performer but the metal and heavy genres seem to have the most. There’s Ozzy and the bat (not something I’d recommend) and Iggy Pop’s wild antics but there are also artists like Father John Misty and bands like the Electic Six. I’ve seen both of the later two live and they made a big impression despite coming from very different genres.
Ask anyone who has seen a Father John Misty show and they’ll say the same thing: the guy really knows how to put on a show. In other words, you can create a memorable live performance in any genre.
So while it might be free (or you could even make a few bucks) to promote your music this way it’s not the most scalable method. Instead of getting your music on a Spotify playlist that’s being listened to by hundreds of thousands of people, you’re probably playing your heart out to 30 people.
But the difference is that you have the potential to create fans for life with your live performance. You’re no longer being heard through a speaker and competing with the entire internet; instead, you’re live and in person and that’s a whole lot more memorable.
Musician and founder of StringKick, Just Rijna, even recommends playing house shows to take the live experience to the next level. He explains:
In the earlier stages of your project, an effective way to build your audience is to play house concerts. Audiences in such an intimate setting tend to be much more attentive and open to your music, making the chance that they’ll fall in love with it that much greater.
Moreover, the audience is not a random group of people either: they’ve been invited by a host who already likes your music.
So, where do you find living rooms to play?
Early on, you can ask friends or family to host. Usually, after you play your first couple of concerts, that gets the ball rolling, where there’s always someone in the audience who’d also like to host. All they need is a living room, or perhaps even a garden that will host at least 20 or so people. T
hat might not sound like a lot, but this approach is really a matter of choosing quality of connection over quantity. House concerts allow you to create a lasting connection with people, both during and after the show.
Just Rijna, Musician and Founder at StringKick
Again, this isn’t the most scalable method but I did see an amazing house show from AJJ in the early 2000s that I’ll never forget. They now have more than half a million listens on Spotify but that house show made me a lifetime fan in that only an intimate live performance can.
Another great collaboration angle is to share your music with non-profits and similar groups that need music for their promotions. Sarah McLachlan’s “Angel” and the ASPCA ads are probably the most well-known example of this kind of collaboration but there are thousands of organizations that need music to promote their cause.
It’s worth noting that those ASPCA commercials helped raise $30 million dollars so there’s definitely a lot of value for non-profits to share your music. Singer-songwriter J.Lyn also explains how to successfully build a connection like this:
Find a community or non-profit organization that could potentially use the music as an anthem for their movements or campaigns. Take a look at the song lyrics. Ask yourself: what does your music stand for? What are some like-minded organizations you see supporting the message of your song? For example, a dear friend of mine creates vibrant, positive indie-rock music and teams up with a local film festival every year to provide the theme song for their media campaigns. She now has over 50k Spotify listeners each month and has gained over 3 million streams on the platform.
Musicians should find a person they can build a long-term relationship with, so they can be seen as the main source if they need music in the future.
What could be better than promoting your music without spending a dime all while supporting a cause you believe in?
7. Become A Podcast Guest Or Submit Your Music To Review
I don’t recommend you start a podcast yourself unless you’re ready to go all since getting traction on a podcast can take years…or never happen at all.
But becoming a guest on a podcast can get you and your music some exposure without spending a penny. Unless you’re already a big name, you’re probably not going to get paid to be on the podcast but you won’t have to pay either.
You can browse lists of music podcasts and directly reach out to them but if you’re doing this on your own (without a PR firm behind you) you’re better off looking for lists of podcasts that already need guests. There are several websites that help you do this and this article lists the top four big players.
However, this isn’t for everyone, and while it does satisfy the budget requirement if you don’t have a unique personality or something to say it’s probably best to let your music do the talking and stick to other promotion techniques.
8. Use Reddit To Build Deeper Fan Connections
We’ve already mentioned Reddit before but deserves a little more attention.
First off, it’s completely free to use which means it’s a great option for a musician on a budget. Second, Reddit is known for very niche subreddits and that definitely holds true when it comes to music too. That means that whatever genre you’re in, you can find a group of people who are eager to learn more about your music.
Finally, you’ll get real feedback from real people. That’s not always going to be pleasant and you shouldn’t take everyone’s opinion too seriously but think of Reddit like a house show where people can anonymously give you feedback.
Yeah, it’s going to be personal and unfiltered but if you take the criticism and you’re willing to communicate directly, you’re going to build fans for life and get great feedback on your music.
These are far from the only ways to promote your music on a tight budget but I do think that they’re some of the more unique angles out there. And for the more common strategies (like Spotify) I hope our experts helped give you a very specific way to pull it off.
What do you think? Which strategy are you going to start with today?