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Marketing Your Music in the Digital Era

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"Making it" in the music industry has changed dramatically over the last 20 years. These days, with so many online mediums at our fingertips, musicians no longer have to wait to be discovered. They can take charge of their music career and put their music in front of the right people all from behind a computer screen.

The digital revolution has changed the playing field for everybody in every market. The same tactics that turn small-time startups into multi-billion dollar companies can work just as well for local and underground bands trying to reach the next level.

But how exactly can aspiring artists take advantage of these modern marketing methods? Better yet, how can they be sure they're using them effectively?

Recently, I had the opportunity to speak with Lisa Occhino, the Managing Editor for Sonicbids--a fantastic company that provides a ton of resources to help up-and-coming bands and solo acts play more shows, market their music, and grow a wider audience. Lisa answered a few questions and gave some great advice on marketing your band in the digital era.

MT: What would you say has changed the most about the way local and undergrounds acts "make it" in today's world?

LO: The biggest change is that underground acts have to be much more proactive and entrepreneurial about their music careers in today's world. Regardless of whether or not you want to be signed to a label, it's expected that you work to develop your own fan base and buzz. In a nutshell, it's about so much more than just having talent these days.

MT: I grew up in the local music scene. I'm even in a band. None of us have any money. What would you say are the best marketing methods that local bands can effectively use with basically no budget?

LO: Word of mouth - whether it's generated during a live show in your hometown or via shares of your latest YouTube video - has always been, and will always be, the best form of marketing. As a former music business professor of mine liked to explain it, it all starts with having a remarkable product - something people will remark on. You and your music are the product, and if it's not remarkable to begin with, you can't expect any type of marketing channel to work for.

Assuming your band is, in fact, remarkable, look at the cheap/free tools and resources available to you as a musician, and get creative about how you leverage them. Social media is free. Maintaining an email list is free. Networking is free. Blogging is free. Look at what similar bands a step ahead of you are doing successfully in each of these areas, and try some of the tactics yourself to discover what works best for you personally. You may not be able to invest a ton of money into marketing yet, but you can invest your time in learning and experimenting and measuring and tweaking. There's incredible value in that.

MT: What social media platform(s) is best for local bands?

LO: Totally depends on the fan base of each individual band - basically, you need to be where your fans (or potential fans) are. As a general rule of thumb, though, you'll definitely want to start with the big three - Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram - while always staying on top of the latest trends in social media.

Keep in mind that social media can quickly become a full-time job in itself, so don't try to be on a dozen platforms right off the bat when you can realistically only maintain three or four accounts. It's better to put out consistent, quality content on a small handful of social media channels than spread yourself too thin and be barely active on any one page. Your online presence is going to be most people's first impression of you, so do your best to make it a good one.

MT: Besides the Internet, what's something bands can do/use to promote themselves that they may not have thought about yet? For example, I've seen Sonicbids post a few blogs about major record companies that still accept demos.

LO: Collaboration - and, as a result, cross-promotion - is a big one. Teaming up with not only other bands, but any creative type - visual artists, filmmakers, designers, you name it - creates a win-win all around in terms of promotion.

For local bands looking to start branching outside of their hometowns and reach a wider audience, making friends with bands in other nearby cities is one of the absolute best things you can do. For musicians who don't have any existing connections in other cities, you can use a tool like Sonicbids Band Search, which has a network of over 400,000 bands, to find exactly the kinds of acts you want to reach out to. We (the Sonicbids team) have also noticed a desire for musicians to connect on a more individual level (i.e., not just band to band, but musician to musician), so we're currently working on integrating that sort of networking into the Sonicbids platform as well.

MT: Other than practicing, what is something that all bands should be doing if they want to make a career out of their music? Should they approach their band with a more business mindset?

LO: Absolutely. You've probably been told this a hundred times by now, but it's true - your band is a business, and you need to treat it as such. I'd argue that having a business mindset is the biggest difference between independent musicians who successfully make a career out of their music and those who don't.

Lisa Occhino is an award-winning songwriter, the founder of songwriting collaboration website SongwriterLink, and the managing editor at Sonicbids, where she spends her days working with music industry experts to provide independent artists with music career advice.

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