Social media and streaming platforms provide artists unparalleled access to new fans. No longer do recording companies rule the fate of who gets heard and who languishes. In fact, 9 out of 10 social media users engage with music-related activities in their social media apps, according to MusicWatch. These activities include viewing artist or band video posts, commenting on artist posts, viewing official music videos, discovering music, and sharing music from streaming services. SoundCloud, Spotify, Instagram, Facebook, Youtube, and emerging platforms like TikTok allow the self-starters, hustlers, and community builders unparalleled access to fans. That doesn’t mean it’s easy. With that democratization comes tons of online competition.
The key to success lies in applying a savvy social-first and content-driven approach to promoting your brand. Insider tips from indie artist, Alex Baird, founder of the Ohio-based rock group The Casket Company; Wade McElwain, co-creator of the largest North American sports entity in London, a podcast and movement called NFL in London; and Count Zero (aka Georg Mavridis), founder of indie record label Count Zero Records serve as use cases for brands who are making their name through the power of social media. Read on for ways to get social on your streaming platforms, tips for increasing your fanbase, and the importance of compelling album art and social posts from indie artists and up-and-coming creators who are currently in the social media marketing trenches.
Optimize Your Streaming Platforms
Streaming services act as your work’s main hub, so first thing’s first: pick your platform and start optimizing by taking advantage of the built-in social networks each offer. Spotify has 232 million monthly users and 108 million (paid) subscribers, SoundCloud has more than 175 million global users and 25% of the mobile population in the U.S., and Apple Music is making moves with over 60 million monthly users. If you have audio content up, it’s also important to engage your audience with meaningful interaction and compelling visual media.
Don’t post streaming content then forget about it. Get social! “SoundCloud is all about interaction,” indie artist Alex Baird said. He suggests updating your live settings so that commenters can comment directly on a track—to ask about an instrument or give you direct feedback—making it more interactive.”
Podcaster Wade McElwain shared that SoundCloud users seem to be younger and looking for unique pioneering content, so they’re primed for emerging offerings and are eager to discover the next big thing. Keywords are key way for fans to find you. “Streaming listeners are pioneers, looking for unique content,” shared McElwain. “Using your keywords in SoundCloud and other streaming services is important so these pioneers can find you.”
Get feedback from fans, listen to it, and then loop listeners in. “For us, we don’t want to waste words when our audience is only focused on one thing,” stated McElwain. “We always ask, ‘What do you guys want to talk about?,’ then we go on Insta and SoundCould and tag people in. We say, ‘You asked, and here it is!’ Show your audience you are listening to them.”
Don’t neglect your album or channel art
Even the greatest song will lose plays if the album art doesn’t catch eyes and thumbs. Baird, McElwain, and Cull all use Spark Post’s professionally designed templates for killer album covers and profile banners to DIY their branding. “Branding is the most important thing. It’s a new world, and as a small label we need to advertise ourselves to get good artists,” they explained.
Boost brand recognition with a logo
Use your logo on your album covers as a way to build recognition. As an example, The Casket Company logo is a rough sketch of a casket with an X. “We employ our logo across all social media,” shared Baird. “I’ve pushed hard to make that logo synonymous with our band. Over time, the icon says everything we need to say.” Count Zero Records is one of the few record labels that puts their logo and their name on each album they produce.
Employ a consistent aesthetic
Fans can’t love you if they can’t remember you. Sports podcast NFL in London (featuring co-creators Wade McElwain and Ryan Cull—both standup comedians) reworks the same image for each of episode for visual consistency. Fans recognize the consistent cover art that has only subtle changes in colors for different episodes. “It’s the title, a simple background, and then we let the keywords do the work. On social and streaming platforms you want visual consistency and you want to be sure your content does what it says on the label,” stated McElwain. Plus templatizing your cover art, means you can spend more time on your work and less on your promo materials.
Click into these templates to start designing channel art! You can also search Spark’s template wall for podcast or music to get more inspiration. Then upgrade to remove Spark’s branding and add your own watermark.
Tips for Increasing Your Fanbase
Now that you have some strategies for success on streaming platforms, it’s time to drive your future audience there.
Use data to find your fans
Data resources, such as the Pew Research Center, help you hone in on where your audience spends time online. As an example, if you’re targeting a mature audience, you better be marketing on Facebook, and not Instagram, because only 8% of adults in the U.S. over 65 are Insta-friendly. If you’re after young adults, you’ll need a Youtube channel, because 91% of people ages 18-29 in the U.S. actively use the site, while 85% of U.S. teens ages 13-17 use Youtube.
Competitors like China’s TikTok—a short-form interactive video app downloaded over 1 billion times as of early 2019—are quickly emerging as critical ways for new music artists to connect with young, global audiences. The platform is specifically geared to musicians because most of the challenges center around dancing. Can you get your track in the hands of young creators there? When a meme (or challenge) on TikTok featuring your music goes viral, you have the potential to get discovered, because each person who remixes a TikTok challenge is exposed to your music. Just recently, TikTok made Old Town Road into a viral meme and skyrocketed it to the number one spot on the Billboard Hot.
Take cues from the pros
Once you identify the best social media platforms for music or your brand, look to successful artists in your genre to kickstart your social media presence. “Indie artists can ask themselves, “Who is my potential fan?” If you’re a DJ, go to Skrillex, go to David Guetta, look at where they are posting, what their hashtags are, and replicate it,” shared Count Zero. “Don’t reinvent the wheel until you have a following.” Once you have momentum, build on your brand identity and generate content that supports your brand.
Find your differentiators
“Many people make the mistake of wanting to connect with everyone. Instead focus on your special market,” shared NFL in London podcast co-creator Wade McElwain. “Identify what makes you stand out. Figure out five critical keywords or niche things that make your audience and brand. For us, some important keywords are NFL, London, and North American Sport in London. This helps people find and connect with us.”
Just starting out? Read our guide to defining your online brand.
Create content that supports your mission
On social media, you’re building a brand that encompasses more than just your music or podcast. You’re conveying a lifestyle or broader mission your audience can connect and identify with. If you’re still fleshing out how to determine your content strategy, this simple content strategy guide will set you on the path to success. You might create a weekly playlist or turn one of your most relatable lyrics into a meme to artfully and strategically feed the social media beast. Or you may want to lean into your own personality by hopping on your Instagram Stories for an AMA (ask me anything). The right type of content should help you find new fans and create deeper connections with your current followers.
Convert followers into fans
Like any online business, you want to take steps to convert followers to buy your product. In addition to funneling listeners to paid subscription platforms, funnel listeners to a website where you can add them to a mailing or advertise merchandise and concert tickets. Consider hosting a giveaway in exchange for collecting emails. Then use that list to let your fans know when you have a show or new episode up.
Don’t forget to give back
Conversion requires interaction. “Beyond getting positive feedback on social media, to make fans, you still need to do guerrilla footwork. Pay attention to people who already love your music,” recommended Baird. “For diehard fans online, send a sticker, a t-shirt, or a download to a free song. The diehard fans are the ones who will push for your success. They will tell their friends, and since they’re friends, they’ll have things in common (you) and you will go viral organically.”
Most of all, stay true to your art. “If you believe in yourself, don’t give up. This might be the most saturated market, but it is also the most opportunity-filled market there’s ever been. There are no rules. You can maintain a level of integrity but you also have to remember it’s a competition and everyone has a voice,” encouraged Baird. “Anyone can record from their camera phone and the quality will be listenable. Just go out there and do it. Do something original.”