How to promote your music online

Creation and release music has never been easier, but promoting your work has never been more confusing. Should you be focusing on TikTok or touring? And when you don’t have a lot of followers, is online promotion worth your time?

To crack the code, we talked to indie musicians, marketers, tastemakers and even a professor. While there’s no guaranteed formula for success, we’ve found plenty of tips and tricks for all kinds of musicians. Let’s dive in.

Enter playlists

Streaming is the most popular way people consume music today, and getting on the right playlists can make your music career. Although anyone can create a playlist on Spotify or Apple Music, only a small percentage have a large following. If you don’t have your own popular playlists, how can you get into the big ones?

Services like SubmitHub and Playlist Push let you submit to playlist creators, music blogs, and social media influencers. SubmitHub has free and paid submission options, but Playlist Push is paid only. Playlists like IndieMono and Alexrainbirdmusic have free exposure in a variety of genres. While Spotify doesn’t allow playlist owners to charge for inclusion, it appears to allow (or at least tolerate) submission fees.

Do these strategies work? Yes, but artists should be prepared to “go through a lot of rejection,” says Jonathan Teeter, frontman for the indie band Films on Song in Charlottesville, Virginia. A single addition from playlister BIRP.FM resulted in over 10,000 streams for his band’s single ‘Ritual Day’. “Having to pay $1-3 to submit through SubmitHub isn’t ideal, but finding out which blogs and influencers like what can be useful.”

Rejection is part of the game and it’s important to keep your chin up. “Music is art. Art is hard,” says KCRW radio DJ Jason Kramer, who was one of the first tasters to discover Billie Eilish and Phineas. “Artists just have to be that way. Play something they need to play,” he continues, “Take risks, don’t be afraid.”

Create your own playlists

You don’t have to rely on someone else’s playlist for listening. On both Spotify and Apple Music, if a playlist is public, anyone can find it and follow it. The exact algorithms aren’t public, but playlists with names based on iconic lyrics, new albums, places or feelings (“New York Autumn Vibes,” for example) seem to sometimes do well on Spotify even for users without existing followers. Seemingly without trying, some users have created playlists that are gaining thousands of listeners. Artists can post their favorite playlists to their artist profile, gaining new followers and showcasing their favorite songs. Apple Music doesn’t show the number of followers on playlists, which makes it difficult to judge which strategies are working there.

What playlists are you on? The Apple Music for Artists and Spotify for Artists apps will give you the number of songs played, information about playlists you’ve been added to, and other useful information.

Use resources from streaming services

Apple Music for Artists has a page with tips and tools for promoting your work. You can even create your own QR code that links to your song or album. Spotify has a similar resource called code generator, and it even explains how you can submit songs for inclusion in a playlist. SoundCloud also has a page with tips to help creators monetize and promote their music. QR codes that link to streaming or social networks are great for placing on stickers, posters or other promotional materials.

Song and cover collaborations

Features and collaborations are probably the most common in hip-hop, but they can be a great way to expand your audience regardless of the genre. For example, the indie rock band Surfer Blood released an EP called Hard boiled, which featured other artists covering their songs. The songs appeared on Surfer Blood’s page in addition to the pages of the artists who did the covers, increasing exposure for everyone.

Covering a well-known song can be another good way to attract new listeners. This article is not legal advice, but remember that if you cover a song, you will have to pay royalties to whoever wrote the song. Fortunately, services like DistroKid can handle this for you.

Cultivate your image

Social media has become so important to the promotion of music that even artists who died decades ago have an active presence on Instagram. While it’s a powerful tool for artists, music influencer Ari Elkins cautions artists not to neglect their music. “Gaining thousands of followers on TikTok is exciting, but it’s extremely important that those followers are there for your music and not just for unrelated viral videos that have nothing to do with you as an artist.”

While social media can lead to success, the game is always changing. Cehryl, an indie pop artist based in Hong Kong, started by uploading self-recorded songs to SoundCloud and now has a record deal and over 100,000 monthly listeners on Spotify. But she cautioned that what worked before may not work now. “If I had to start from scratch today, I wouldn’t start with SoundCloud. I would just put it out on all streaming platforms and promote it mostly on Instagram.

When on TikTok or Instagram, what strategies should you use? “It’s more than just likes,” says Cass Robinson, a social media strategist in Sydney, Australia, who notes that social media algorithms look at various factors such as “time spent on your content, engagement rates, and number of shares and saves. ” If you’re not sure what to do, Kas recommends you just get started. “Give yourself a starting point and work on improving your content over time.”

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