#164: Is “marketing” destroying your music career?

Marketing Your MusicMusic Marketing: it’s either the art of effectively communicating your story to potential fans or it’s an utter waste of time spent staring at computer monitors and smartphone screens. How can you tell the difference? How can you tell if your marketing “strategy” will lead you on a path towards success? In this episode, Kevin and Chris discuss the good and ill of social media, music apps, and internet marketing trends. Have an opinion? Call our listener line at 360-524-2209 or leave a comment in the show notes.

  • this advice is such a breath of fresh air. i’m not gonna go off and delete our twitter just yet, but i do like the fact that discussion is surfacing over the worthlessness of most network apps and services. chris great insight – the worthwhile bands do seem to care very little about popularity

  • kbreuner

    Glad you enjoyed the episode! Wasn’t sure how people would take the advice, but I think it’s super important because I see more and more musicians spending less time being musicians. I also see tons of people telling artists that they need to be social marketing experts which makes them feel like they should spend more time not being a great musician.

  • Thanks for this great episode! After years of social media madness I’ve come to basically the same conclusion a fews weeks back and it’s really good and encouraging to now hear the same thoughts from you guys!

  • You’re reading my mind, guys. I blogged a couple weeks back on the same topic. http://www.paulracemusic.com/career/what-is-your-end-game/ Included this cartoon:

  • kbreuner

    The comic is great and sadly very true. I’ll check out the article.

  • Thanks for taking a look. 🙂



  • Gino Burgio Productions

    I don’t know guys, I’m going to respectfully disagree. When I think of most CD baby artists, I think of starting out DIY artists who don’t have that big of a following and not much of a reason thier listeners are going to remember them.

    When you go out and play shows, many people who love your music will engage you and want to stay connected. Social media can be very simple when you incorporate two simple concepts.
    1). Engage everyone as your friend
    2). Be as authentic as possible
    This means don’t beg people to like your page or buy your music, talk as if your directing communication to one person, etc…

    For more established outfits that can delegate certain tasks to professional services they can pay, then great. However the big problem today is many new artists think they will become famouse from good sounding music alone, which is not the case. It takes constant hustle of doing, doing, doing to make a name for yourself and avoiding engagement with your supporters is a big mistake.

    I agree that many artists try to juggle too many platforms and spam, and have no idea how to use social media effectively, but it really doesn’t have to be that difficult of a process. If something inspires you and you want to communicate it to your tribe, go for it!

    The big trap many fall into is using “Old Media” advertising VS “New Media”. Look at YouTube as an example, the artists and vloggers that have thousands of subscribers accomplished this goal by being a part of the community. Supporting others and engaging in niche discussions. This is social media at its core and is simple when GENUINE. Too many artists are trying to use social media as an infomercial and asking too much of thier fanbase which turns them off.

    Ask not what your fanbase can do for you, but what you can do for your fanbase 😉

  • With Instagram in particular nowadays, I find that if I tag a photo with a generic #singersongwriter or something I get all of these others artists liking the photo. So I just becomes a trading of artists liking other artists. Where does that get anyone??
    Needless to say, I enjoyed the podcast and I wholeheartedly agree that time is better spent developing your craft vs becoming a marketing guru.

  • Awesome episode as always guys! What a controversial topic. I think this is a catch 22 situation. If you only create music in a “build it and they will come” mentality and don’t do any marketing, 99% of your chances are that your music will remain in complete obscurity, forever.

    I think it’s safe to say that most of us would like to connect through our music with as many people as possible. And while we don’t necessarily want to be the next Justin Bieber, we certainly don’t want to be Van Gogh, who died in complete obscurity and broke, only to be discovered hundreds of years later and regarded as a true master.

    If we only focus on music and on having someone else do our marketing, then we’re giving away all our power and would be expecting a record label deal that may never come, with our music still remaining in obscurity. What a shame.

    So a healthy balance has to be struck somewhere, somehow. Last month I followed an intense program of posting on social media and came to the very same conclusions as you mentioned in the podcast. I don’t believe we’ll attract more fans by tweeting 6 times a day; that doesn’t attract new fans.

    So in the end we have to find what works best for our goals and intentions, and there certainly will be a lot of trial and error and a significant investment of time and money.

    If someone cracks the formula, let me know.

  • yesnack

    Deep down I think most people do music because it makes them happy. Getting others to also like the music and making money is icing on the cake. It is often so easy to get caught up in (marketing) adding the icing, that we forget the cake. When your cake is just icing, it makes everyone sick – including yourself.

    Don’t nickle and dime the music, the fans, yourself…

    That was just my 2 cents.

    Please have some cake and enjoy “Pennies and Dollars” 😉


  • kbreuner

    I think we’re in agreement. What you’re saying is in the same vein as what we were talking about. The point we’re making is that too many artists skip to the marketing because it’s accessible (and seems fun for some), and neglect the development of their craft and story. In the end, it doesn’t accomplish anything.

    Of course there is reason to market your music as it is definitely needed.

  • Gino Burgio Productions

    I completely agree with you and wrote a similar comment below. Kevin does have a good point that artists should focus on good musical content before getting sucked into the social media abyss, however I fear some new artists may misinterpret this message and think that everything will be handed to them without putting in any hard work and elbow grease.

    Out of curiosity, were you referring to Rick Barkers social media marketing challenge?

  • I agree with you too. Yes about the program. To be honest, that program and others of his are jam packed full of good info and learning opportunities. And to be fair, many other people are suggesting the same or similar strategies. In any case they are still trying to help people out and I respect them for that.

    So back to the chicken and the egg lol

  • mlbplaya64

    Hey dude! Random than I saw your comment on here! Haha see you next week 🙂

  • Mikey! Haha. Nice. See you soon. 😉

  • Donna Labate

    aplicamartillo@gmail.com Very disappointed in most of your advise.Yes talent is important, but it is the product. An average product with a great business team will be more successful then great musicians with no or poor business team or knowledge. Too much time is wasted on social media, but social media PR and Radio Airplay is exposure, you then need to truly Market by bringing your target market to you. Use the AIDA sales/marketing funnel. You convert interest into action/sales. Awareness >>> Interest >>> Desire >>> Action. True marketing is what is left out facebook, twitter youtube is NOT marketing it is only exposure. Disappointing.

  • andrewi

    Great pie in the sky fairytale nonsense. People need nickels and dimes to eat you know.

  • I love that final Iine – “Ask not what your fanbase can do for you, but what you can do for your fanbase”

    It’s a very difficult line to tread. The truth must be that having the ‘best’ music and developing your material has to come first. The good will out.

    But, even then, great music with no marketing will fail to find an audience.

    As with so many things the answer lies in balance.

    Work tirelessly on being the best artist you can be and deliver awesome songs with a great and engaging story. And then learn how to market it. Not how to spam it – that’s pointless. Attract a like minded audience and build from there.

    I agree that some artists leap straight to the marketing and promotion part of their career as there is some truth in it being easier than becoming a great artists. BUT, it’s also true that the process of becoming that great artist can be done in public in front of an audience that grows with you – just search for some back history on Sam Smith to find some awful records, videos and social media – try ‘Sam Smith bad day all week’!!!

    It’s fine to develop your music and your story whilst developing your audience. They will be thrilled when it all comes together.

    So, I guess I’m saying, a bit of both is the way to go!

  • darb

    Very interesting discussion (and great title). I heard an overall sense of “just focus on your music” “stop trying to be a marketer” “be authentic”. Obviously authenticity is key because anything else is spam. Obviously if your music sucks or you are not charismatic social media won’t help you, but what if your music is great, can you really just keep making great music and the rest will just happen?

    If you are not seeing a correlation between those who are more active on social media and being successful musicians, even good or bad music is so subjective, there are plenty of pop artists that you or I may think needs to work more at their craft yet has found success by embracing social media. I would imagine marketing blue grass would be very different than say EDM.. But the idea that you just need to keep making a huge catalogue and someday when you have the best music ever you will magically find success without building any exposure along the way is a fail. Today with streaming, the album format is less and less relevant, artists who are frequently releasing cover songs, single songs, and lifestyle video/social content are building fan bases. The idea that you can just meet people in person like “the good ol days” and sell cds and ignore the potential of social and building digital direct to fan channels is a fail. The idea that you can wait to jump onto snapchat 2 years later is also a fail. Just like those young musicians who tapped into YouTube community early have built careers as Youtube stars, being on these platforms early makes a difference. I have personally had success with getting real fans and building a community by reaching out to like minded people on instagram a few years ago when it was new and exciting app, before it was over saturated.

    The artists who I have known personally who found success had people help them with marketing, but more importantly the artists themselves where workaholics and never stopped working to create content, be VERY present on social, and hustled hard looking for any opportunity that opened up.

    Yes most bands and artists use social media the wrong way. Social media is a 2 way medium, talk to your fans not just talking AT your fans. The young artists who ‘get’ social media are not just using it to say “buy my album” or “buy tickets”. They use it to build community talking with fans, by building a visual and audio lifestyle brand that fans want to be apart of by being authentic and sharing everyday moments. And yes it is a lot of work and its not everyones cup of tea.

    Even this podcast is digital marketing, the question is can musicians effectively adopt growth hacking and content marketing strategies that startups and brands like CD baby use to build brand trust/fans, or is music discovery some mysterious unpredictable unicorn, something that is just hot or not, no matter how hard you try to market?

  • kbreuner

    Nice! The DIY Musician Podcast is where friends come to meet!

  • I agree Darb. I’m starting to think more and more that social media works best for engaging with your current fans and new fans that come on board, and not so much to attract new fans. An artist can tweet 10 times a day and that factor alone is not going to make me dig their music more. In fact, I would be annoyed be anyone who tweets 10 times a day.

    I believe most of those artists who rose to fame on YouTube were able to create some kind of virality or stickiness factor, like Pomplamoose or Walk The Earth that gained them millions of views. However depending on what you are doing, you may not want to do something like that. I also believe that the aforementioned artists also dug themselves in a hole that they may find hard to climb out of.

    I also believe that we may get better results by acting like a record label, meaning finding ways to increase our exposure to fans who are already listening and what to hear new music. Such as the readers or followers of established blogs and YouTube channels.

    Instead of wasting 2 hours a day on social media, it may be more effective to spend that time building a relationship with a music blogger that has 20,000 readers and finding a way to get featured on the blog. Then any new fans that that may bring you’ll engage with your social media efforts. But it wasn’t your social media work that attracted the, in the first place.

    I may be wrong, but I’ll give this a try.

  • I’m a little baffled at the photo conversation at the beginning of this podcast. I’ve done quite a bit of semi-professional photography and every time my band has taken photos we have gone all the way with a high quality professional. When taking photos with someone like that it is never in your best interest to give the band all the photos bc your name will forever be linked to the photos they release. It’s the photographers reputation on the line as well as the band. In my experience if you ever send a band anything thats not finished they will use it anyway, no matter how bad it makes you (or them) look. This goes doubly as well for studio work. Our lead singer runs a studio and will never send bands roughs anymore without audio watermarks. Bands constantly post them all over everywhere and then the studio gets bad feedback that everything sounds terrible.

    The hard truth is most bands don’t know how to present themselves well, not that they should necessarily. They should be focused on making great music, thats (presumably) what their best at. You higher a great professional photographer because you trust in their style and vision. If you cant find or afford someone like that then buy a camera and do it yourself. You have to trust the people you employ to work with you

  • gillwire

    I think you make great points. As I am preparing for my first album release this summer, here’s my plan I’m following – an intense creative phase followed by a marketing phase where you promote what you created. I really don’t think you should spend a lot of time marketing until you really believe you have something wonderful to offer. There is so much great music out there, it’s probably best to spend enough time off the radar developing something that can compete artistically so that when you are ready to get out there and show it to the world you will make a lasting impression and win over some dedicated fans for the long run. I’d rather win over a few true fans one at a time than get a hundred tweets and likes one day and then they all forget who I am the next day.

    When you’ve got the goods and it’s time to promote, by all means, do so. In between those times shift your energy to creation, but it’s probably best to keep reminding people that you’re still alive and kicking with a quick blurb here and there, maybe a few cover or acoustic videos up on youtube in the off season.

    As far as touring and shows are concerned, I’m reminded of what’s been said before here on the podcast – just because you’ve finished tracking your record doesn’t mean you’re ready for an album release show and tour. Finish recording your masterpiece, then be ready to spend a few months on a marketing plan, then go to town with it.

    I’ll let you know how it works out for me 🙂

  • Gino Burgio Productions

    Thanks Ian, I agree. There is never a black and white solution as every artists road to recognition is different. Try everything with a focused game plan. Do more of what gets you results and do so by tweaking and adjusting to maximize your efforts.

    I’ll check out the Sam Smith content!

    Thanks for sharing.

  • yesnack

    If you hate the music you perform and only do it for money/popularity, you cheapen the art of creating music. Money is important and everyone compromises on different levels. However, doing something that you truly hate on a regular basis, will sicken you to the core. The same as eating a cake made purely out of icing everyday for breakfast, lunch and dinner will literally physically sicken your body. This pie is on the table, not in the sky. I would love to hear some of your compositions and try your musical pie/cake or whatever. I appreciate your 2 cents. We are 1 thought short of a nickle;-)

  • Great episode! One of my favorites. Love the couch story at CD Baby too.
    Chris I still can’t get over your last swimming pool video. So creative. Awesome. I think you should do the next podcast talking backwards…? just an idea 😉
    Keep up the good work. Merci!
    “Art is making something out of nothing and selling it”
    Frank Zappa

  • kbreuner

    I agree. Chris should do the next podcast backwards.

  • Nesstech

    Waiting 23 minutes to finally get to the topic of marketing destroying your music career, was bad marketing for your podcast.

  • kbreuner

    I’m guessing this is your first intro to the podcast (Welcome!). We have a specific format that we’ve been using for years. We start with some banter. We do some news. We get to the main discussion topic. Then we have feedback. People seems to like it. I hope you’ll give some other episodes a listen.

  • andrewi

    I guess that was too short a sentence. Doing any job solely for the money does not ‘cheapen’ the industry you do it within. We can song and dance all we want for free if we just want to express ourselves. Many musicians misinterpret the world’s love of music as our love of personal expression. It’s not, that’s just the marketing line. Listen to the radio. The popular records are not talking to you, they are talking FOR you. They express your feelings and sentiment. That is both a science and an art and that creates value. This is the difference between a song and a record. As for my productions, I have free stuff on http://www.soundcloud.com/gen0 or Spotify but I have been working mainly for other acts this year whilst my studio in London is built.

  • helengray21

    To quote an old chestnut…….https://www.quora.com/Who-coined-the-phrase-content-is-king
    Whether old or new media, this still holds true I think. Engaging content speaks for itself but only if it’s given a platform to do so! I think on the whole, audiences are pretty good at recognising a genuine artist when they see one. No amount of marketing of any type can create that but it sure helps to get the message out. Also, I think authenticity is key. This may be no problem when an audience actually sees you play but conveying that over social media can be tricky I think, simply because of the nature of it. This is where it becomes important to learn how different online spaces work and how best to utilise them and tailor the message to the specific dynamics of each environment. So unfortunately, it does mean becoming a bit of a social media guru to navigate this.

  • Just a further note to your comments about getting photography done for bands and the frustrations you face.

    First off, yes there are a lot of “less than fully developed people” in the photography industry. A lot of people with cameras figure it’s easy to become a professional photographer. It isn’t. Well, it is – to at least start charging. But to be a ‘professional’ rather than than just a GWC (Guy/Gal With Camera) takes a lot of work on the business and artistic sides. Yes, I get the frustration of having someone set up a shot and then do only one or two exposures. That’s just bad. So is the person who sets up really awkward poses. Not that there may be times it feels a little awkward – that happens. But silly poses are – silly. And unprofessional. Unless that’s the look you’re after.

    Now as to your specific needs of getting ‘all the images’ – that’s great if all you want is ‘half done’ images. There are lots of photographers who can do that – I’ve even done that. But if you’re hiring someone because they have shown that they create really compelling images – chances are that a lot of that is done in post processing. To ask for all the images and expect them to look as great as the images they’ve displayed – that is asking a lot, because the time it takes to process images can be several times what it took to set up the shots in the first place.

    One of the issues is that the vast majority of people have now idea how to ‘finish’ and image if it’s in a more raw state. Heck, changing resolution – or even that idea that there are different resolutions – is beyond a lot of people. As a professional, we want to make sure that image creates the best response for you. As well, many of us photographers are trying to create a specific style of images which does require more than just a little bit of creativity. Asking for ‘all the images’ in this situation is much like asking a musician for ‘all the takes’ of a song they’ve recorded. “As a listener – I may prefer one guitar track over another so why don’t you just send me all of them and I’ll decide which I want mixed together.”

    Releasing all of our images unretouched is like a musician releasing all the songs they write (including bad ones) with a really basic mix and no mastering.

    (And yes, I’m a musician as well – solo singer/songwriter and guitarist in a blues rock band.)

    My suggestion – look for a photographer who’s style you like, talk to them, plan out what you want. Find out if the budget to work with them is realistic. Most fantastic photographers do charge more – but that isn’t always a sign of quality, I’ve seen some awful work by high-priced photographers as well. Do a test session – just some headshots or a ‘single image’ that you want to have created. If you get along great on that basis then do more photos. Don’t invest too much the first time – but do develop a relationship so that as your marketing needs grow the photographer is on the same page with the band and can really create great work.

  • I’m happy to hear this perspective regarding this aspect of the industry. After listening to the podcast all I could think about is wanting all pictures when a photo shoot is done, not really considering all of aspects of post processing. It can be easy to forget that photography is an art when it comes to someone taking pictures of you. Why though? Maybe it has something to do with how easy it is to take a decent picture of ourselves with a mobile phone, we assume it’s just as easy with an expensive piece of gear. Styles of photographers is also something I failed to recognize, but outside of the context of a “band picture” it’s completely obvious. All in all, it’s just another aspect of building perspective. Thanks for sharing.

  • One other note, getting shots of live performance or documenting a recording session is different than a ‘cover shot’ or main shot for your website, in those cases yes, asking for all the photos (with the understanding some will be totally unusable and should be edited out by the photographer) is understandable.

  • Thanks for the comment L Leon – yes, its easy to get a decent photo with a phone these days, most people don’t really know what goes into a great image, just as they don’t really understand why it takes a great mix for a song. When I shoot headshots a lot of people love the raw images that show up on my computer – but when they see the retouched version (which I do very lightly) they’re amazed at what a little tweaking does to make an even better image.