The Importance of Promotion
In the fiercely competitive world of radio, the hard truth is that being good isn’t good enough. For maximum success on the air, it isn’t sufficient to simply submit your materials and leave it at that. Musicians also need to be proactive when it comes to promotion.
Toward that end, there’s some good news and some bad news. The bad news is that promotion can get expensive. The good news is that it doesn’t always have to. Depending on what stage of your career you’ve reached and how much you’re willing to spend, there’s a wide array of promotional tactics and solutions to explore, from small-scale DIY promotion, to national or international professional promotion. Whichever route you decide to travel, the importance of promotion is inescapable — so embrace it!
Reasons to Choose a DIY Promotion Strategy
If your funds are limited, or you simply don’t feel comfortable reaching out to professional promoters until you understand more about how the industry works, then a Do-It-Yourself method could be the perfect strategy for your band or solo act. Not only is DIY promotion comparably inexpensive, it will also give you a glimpse into the sorts of tactics and responsibilities that go into a successful large-scale campaign. You’ll get a unique chance to learn the ropes – without burning through cash for the privilege.
Tips for Networking in the Music Industry
If you’re a little shy or introverted, you might not like what we’re about to say. However, before you embark on your DIY mission, it’s important to understand that a big part of promotion is being aggressive and putting yourself out there. That doesn’t mean harassing people or not taking no for an answer (which will simply burn bridges) – but it does mean you’ll have to be extremely proactive about reaching out and following up. If you’re planning on promoting yourself, get ready to network, network, and network some more.
Networking can feel awkward and uncomfortable if you’re not used to doing it. You might feel like you’re imposing yourself, or worry that the person was just being polite when they said to get in touch. You have to learn to override those anxieties. After all, the worst that can happen is that someone ignores you, while the best that can happen is a major breakthrough for your career.
Here are some basic tips on the do’s and don’ts of networking successfully in the music industry:
- Be persistent, but not invasive or annoying. Don’t try to force yourself into private conversations or bombard strangers with your demo tape. Yes, demos are crucially important, but save them for conventions and events – not restaurant table ambushes.
- Whenever you make a professional contact, shoot them a quick email saying it was nice to meet them. Don’t make any demands or requests – just a simple hello that won’t eat into their time. This will help you make a lasting, positive impression as a business-minded person who follows through and stays organized, without being pushy.
- Keep an organized file of any business cards and contact information you receive from others.
- You should also keep your own business cards on hand, but make sure they look professional before you start distributing them. A cheesy, blatantly amateur card can be even worse than not having one at all. Try to look at your card objectively, and ask yourself, What would I think if a stranger handed this to me? Get constructive criticism from your friends and family.
- This will sound like a cliché, but seriously: just be yourself. You don’t need to be in high-energy performance mode 24/7. People can smell a fake personality from miles away.
- If you’re at a networking event, don’t feel embarrassed about striking up conversation with strangers. After all, that’s the whole point! Besides, there’s a good chance they’re just as nervous as you are.
- Never break a promise or ditch an appointment (unless there’s a serious emergency, of course). If you say you’ll be at an event, be there. You don’t want to earn a reputation as a flake during this delicate, formative stage of your career.
Tips for Self-Promotion and Submitting to Radio Stations
Depending on how big a radio station is, the staffing situation can get messy. There are lots of people, paperwork, and CDs constantly filing in and out of major (and even not-so-major) stations. In the frenzy of work to complete and submissions to review, emails get lost and communication sometimes falls by the wayside.
For that reason, you need to make sure you cover all your bases. Compile contact information, be extremely specific in who you address (name an individual, not just a station or department), and do the research to make sure you send your inquiries and materials to the appropriate personnel. You should also make sure your submission matches the station’s criteria in terms of formatting, length, and so forth. It only takes a few minutes to read over your target station’s submission guidelines and requirements for musicians, but that quick bit of reading can be the difference between the trash and the airwaves.
It’s also important to move quickly, because radio is not an industry where up-and-comers can afford to drift along at a leisurely pace. Like news stations, radio stations usually aren’t interested in old material. Your music is at its “hottest” when it’s new — ideally no more than a few months past its initial release. Put extra energy into that time period, because that’s when you’re in your prime, at your most appealing to radio stations. Don’t sit around worrying about whether it will get accepted or not – just take a deep breath and submit it, before the timing gets stale.
Circling back to our earlier points about networking, radio is as much about who you know as what you know (and do). Networking with people at all levels of the music community can only help you promote yourself as an artist. Music events like concerts or festivals are particularly fertile grounds for networking, because they tend to be chock full of musicians, music journalists and reviewers, radio station staff, and record label staff (including A&R, sometimes referred to as “gatekeepers” because they’re responsible for talent scouting). You never know when striking up a friendly conversation with a stranger could lead to coverage in a blog or magazine.
Never stop trying to get accepted by radio stations – but in the meantime, don’t neglect the things you can do at home. For example:
- Put together a promotional package, which should include a demo, a compilation of any press you’ve already gotten (even if it’s minor), your contact info, and a high-quality cover photo.
- Social media is your friend. Make sure you have a Facebook, a Twitter, a Pinterest, a YouTube account, and so forth. Set them all to “public” for easy accessibility. Keep your professional accounts separate from your personal accounts. Don’t leave any info fields or image uploads blank. Post consistently without spamming, and make sure to link to interesting, engaging content you think your target readers would enjoy. Follow back your followers, and interact with other users.
- Do a podcast or vlog. You might discuss equipment, review instruments, give tutorials on techniques that are relevant to your genre, talk about albums you like, speculate on upcoming releases, tip viewers/listeners off to upcoming events, or focus on other music-related topics.
- Incentivize fans. For instance, you could offer a few free downloads in exchange for signing up for a newsletter. People like free stuff – use it to your advantage.
What Are the Benefits of Professional Music Promotion?
Unsurprisingly, professional promotion costs more than DIY methods. However, that doesn’t mean it’s exclusively for bands with huge budgets. Many promoters offer a range of different service packages designed to accommodate all types of budgets, large or small.
The main advantage of professional promotion is that you are being represented by someone who already has clout and a reputation in the industry. (On a related note, do your research and make sure you’re happy with a given promoter’s background before you decide to bring them on board.) This boost can make it considerably easier to get your foot in the door.
For instance, unless they’re very small or are structured in a non-traditional way, most radio stations have someone on staff called a Music Director. The Music Director is the person who typically handles the incoming mail and telephone calls. A professional radio promoter will contact the Music Director at a given station in pursuit of getting airplay for a client (i.e. you). Music Directors are inundated with enormous piles of submissions to consider, so having an established promoter behind you can help to give your material extra priority, distinguishing it from the rest of the slush pile. Like publishing houses, many radio stations and record labels won’t even accept unsolicited materials, or else require them to meet stringent criteria.
Another advantage to retaining a professional promoter instead of tackling the job yourself is that it frees up a significant chunk of your time. The less time you need to spend on your promotional efforts, the more time you have to spend on what you really love (and need to be doing) — making music. After all, if promotion was your passion, you would have become a promoter, not a musician!
Finally, professional promoters can help musicians make critical decisions about what to submit (and when to submit it). For example, if you’re torn between a few different singles, your promoter can provide valuable objective input about which one is the most salable or appropriate for one station over another. There are thousands upon thousands of radio stations operating across the country, and they’re not all going to be the right market or genre-focus for you. Your promoter can help find where you make a good fit, so that you aren’t wasting your precious time.
Whether you decide to go DIY, hire a professional agency, or blend both strategies, the importance of promotion is a factor that simply can’t go ignored in the music industry. Good promo can be the difference between remaining obscure, and eventually becoming the Next Big Thing.
Still have questions? Need some advice? The professional promotion team at Planetary Group is always ready to chat and offer guidance. Give us a call at (323) 952-5050 to talk about your career goals. We handle internet and radio promo, and have experience working with all types of bands and solo artists across the U.S. and abroad.