1) Read this classic post from CD Baby founder Derek Sivers. ‘How to call attention to your music’ is probably the best summary of band marketing that’s ever been written. Read it and read it again, it’s that good. It doesn’t go into the nitty gritty of promoting online though, that’s why we’re here!
2) Check your head. Ask yourself and your band mates “what are we trying to do?” Do you want to give away music to the masses and snag as many new fans as possible? Are you focused on reaching music critics and generating reviews? Is airplay important? Do you want to build a buzz regionally and tour? Think it through before you get started. Everything you do should support the band goals and objectives, so make sure _you_ know what it is you’re aiming for, and that your bandmates are on the same page.
3) Make a game plan. You’ve got about 1 year to work a new release, so use your time wisely. After thinking through your goals, write down the steps you’re going to take to promote your project. When detailing the steps, break tasks up into specific bite-size chunks (good = “collect contact emails for 25 music blogs to submit to”) instead of lumping everything into one massive item (bad = “get on some music blogs”). Assign dates to each of the steps (week 1, week 2, etc. is fine). Next, assign owners (if it’s just you, that’s easy).
Here’s an example of an action plan for the first 120 days. If you have Excel, use that to write down your plan. If not, use the Google docs version of Excel. Anything but paper which you will lose or otherwise destroy.
OK, mixed message for you: don’t be afraid to change your plan. In fact you’ll have to. Because the Internet is freaking huge and ever-changing, there is no proven formula for online promotion. To be successful you need to adapt and adjust. As your plan rolls out, take stock of what’s working (and do more of it) and throw out the stuff that isn’t. Smart DIY’ers are organized _and_ flexible.
4) Get it together. Derek Sivers suggests creating a folder right on your desktop containing all the items you’ll need when promoting. In my desktop promo folder I’ve got our 1-page bio, photos, mp3 and .wav versions of all our tunes, album cover artwork, logo artwork, lyrics and copies of all our press. Create 3 versions of your band promo photos (low/medium/high resolution) as well as versions in color and B&W. Having everything in one place will make your life much easier, and since you’ve probably got limited time, will help you work smarter too.
Speaking of bios, spend quality time when putting yours together. If you’re not a good writer, hire or find someone who is. Since you’re contacting people by email, and can’t be there to personally exude charm and grace, your bio has to work extra hard for you. Make sure it rocks.
Taxi.com has some valuable guidelines for writing a band bio along with a few examples. Take a look. Also this post gives some useful advice. Take a few minutes to search for band bios of well-known bands you like. The good ones sketch out a personality of the band and the music that make the reader really want to tune in. Yours should do the same.
5) Band pictures You need them, but please don’t pose in front of your nearest brick wall. Do something original for God’s sake. Take the time to craft a look beyond jeans and t-shirts. If you know a photographer, ask them to do a quick photo session for you. Or check out Craigslist. Many new photo pros will do band shoots for free, or for very cheap as a way to build up their portfolios.
Also, take the time to discuss concepts with your bandmates so you can provide your photographer with a short list of ideas before you get started. Your photographer will have some good ideas too, so make sure to discuss those ahead of time and provide your feedback. On location at the shoot is not the time to debate the look you’re going for.
6) Build a list. Once you start promoting, you’ll be visiting more music blogs, websites and online radio stations than you thought humanly possible (see my list of top sites). Keep a record of where you’ve been and what you did. I use my Outlook contacts to create the name of each notable site, adding the date I visited, any contact names and/or emails (like the blog owner I’m going to write to) and notes so I remember what it is I promised I’d do next. If you don’t have Outlook, just create a handy Gmail account and use the Google contacts function. Your contact list will come in handy for your next release too, so get it organized now.
7) Get yo’ Sound Bites down. I describe my band as “AC/DC meets the Ramones”. It’s in the 1-page bio, in all our online bios and in every please-play-my-music email I send. Your description can be anything you want, but make it memorable. Here’s a great post on how to do it right. Come up with 2 or 3 variations of your description and use it in your website, online bios, interviews and emails. As we get into SEO (search engine optimization) you’ll see that having consistent sound bites about your band really helps get you discovered.
8) Tell the World. Once you’re organized, it’s time to get the word out. Scour the web for music blogs, online radio stations, music sites and forums where your music would fit in. I have some suggestions for sites to check out on my Resources page. Hit up your hometown newspaper and radio station websites, too. Whether you’re after airplay, reviews, band interviews, song downloads or all of the above, you need to personally contact each website with a well-crafted email. And since 90% of people won’t respond, you have to be persistent and follow up without being a PITA. It’s hard work and time-consuming, but can really pay off!
Your email should be short and clear (keep a template in your desktop folder, and personalize it each time you send it out):
Hi, we’re The Mt. Hoods from Portland, OR. I saw on your blog that you feature Indie artists like us, thank you! We have a new album, “Blow Your Top” set for release on Volcanic Records on Oct. 1 and we’d love to give your audience a preview. Would you mind if we sent you an mp3 of our single “Pine Cones”? It’s getting great reviews — The Oregonian describes us as “A Gang of Four stepchild marries The Shins” — and we’d be happy to offer it as a free download to your fans.
We’re touring the Pacific NW all this month in support of the album and would appreciate any support you can provide. For more info. on the band and tunes from the album, please check us out at www.themthoods.com.
I realize you get a lot of these emails, so thanks in advance for taking a listen.
The Mt. Hoods
Or something like that. Make it your own, and make it fun and memorable. Remember, 90% of the time, you won’t get a response to your first email. It’s your job to follow up again in a week or two with a gentle reminder. I’ve sent 3 or more emails before I got a response, and many times the site owner told me “thanks a ton for following up, I’ve been buried and have been meaning to get to this”.
Also, check the site you’re writing to carefully. They’ll often tell you how they want to receive submissions from bands (don’t send us mp3’s uninvited, go ahead and send us 1 mp3, only send us links to the songs, etc.). Never send an mp3 uninvited unless they encourage you to do so on the site.
Competition is fierce on the Web. To be successful, be persistent and enthusiastic. You might only get a response from 1 in 10 people you contact, and of those, maybe 25-50% will give you some kind of plug. More often than not, you’ll hear nothing. Don’t take it personally — it usually means your stuff didn’t fit in to their format. Make a note, and move on to the next person on your list.