Think about your favorite band. What is it about them that makes you go to every show, buy all their merch, and follow their every move? Sure, their music connects with you — that’s the first step, after all. But if you think beyond the basics, odds are they have some kind of promotional strategy that keeps you engaged both in person and online. If they’re doing it well and being genuine about it, you probably don’t realize it’s promotion at all.
We’ve rounded up the strategies of major-label artists and emerging indies that are making their mark with unique, highly customized tactics that are ripe with inspiration. Here are nine ways to make them work for you, too.
Hold Instagram-Story AMAs
By now, you probably know the power of Instagram and, in particular, Stories. They're a great way to give fans a snapshot into your every day. Nashville’s Forts Like Vana take it to the next level by hosting regular AMA (“ask me anything”) sessions with their fans on IG stories, and they love it. It’s personal, low-effort (but high-return), and it lets fans know you’re thinking about them.
Share your story
There’s nothing quite like the vulnerability and honesty of sharing your personal story to connect with fans and, as a result, promote what your music. The name of the game here really is being genuine.
One artist that does this extraordinarily well is Nashville indie-pop singer-songwriter Jon Pattie. Jon shares everything with his fans, including the deep struggles he’s faced over the years and the personal growth that’s resulted — but he also balances it with fun, goofy, behind-the-scenes moments that show his personality.
Try to get honest with yourself and your fans — we connect with those that we feel a kinship towards.
Offer to send your album to fans for free
Another example from our friends Shadow of Whales is to send your album out to any fans within a 50-mile radius of your hometown or where you’re playing a show for free. (This can work great for tours!)
The way Shadow of Whales does it is to first record a video explaining who they are and their brand/message. This is how they capture attention and get people to click through on social media.
Next, they create a landing page
Once fans have signed up, there’s a “your album is on its way” page complete with the option to buy tickets to their upcoming show
They’re then directed to an up-sell page:
Lastly, the band sends fans their free CD with a handwritten thank you note (personalization is everything!) with a quick, “PS, we’re playing a show at X, and we’d love to thank you in person.”
It’s genuine, it’s creative without being overwhelming, and best of all, it works.
Advertise with video
There’s no doubt that we’re visual creatures. Sam Hale, a psych-rock artist based out of Nashville is a total whiz at this. He does sponsored ads with video/background music and pushes them on socials.
Videos will almost always grab someone’s attention more than a static text post, but just having a video isn’t enough. You want it to be engaging, interesting, and feature your music and story, in just a short clip.
Once you’ve done that, creating a sponsored post out of it helps give it that final push to get to the masses. This is where Sam excels. Check out an example of his video promotions:
Involve the audience in your live show
One of the best ways to really promote your music in person is through your live shows — which is part of why it’s so important to make sure you’re always performing at you’re absolute best, regardless of how many people are in the room.
Hands down, the best live performer I’ve ever seen is Frank Turner. Time and again, he brings endless energy to the stage, as well as tons of audience interaction. When you’re at a Frank Turner show, you feel like you’re part of something incredibly specific and incredibly special, and it’s impossible not to get caught up in the energy and instantly run to tell everyone who will listen about what you just witnessed and what you just felt.
A lot of it is easy enough to incorporate into your own show — things like encouraging the audience to clap at a certain part or sing a very easy part of the song — something that makes them feel included, but isn’t overly complicated.
I’ve also seen Hamilton, ON-based Arkells do this — everything from running through the crowd to pulling an amateur guitar player up to perform a song with them. In this video, they have the crowd throw up a peace sign and take a photo with them (around the three-minute mark).
Talk to fans in line for other shows
When it comes to connecting with current fans, while seeking out new ones, Austin alt-rockers Shadow of Whales have to be one of the absolute best in the emerging-artist scene.
One of their strategies is to find the show of a well-known band with a similar sound and then simply get to know fans as they wait to get into the venue.
So, a typical interaction might look like this:
- Walk up to people in line, offer them a high five, get them hyped and say something like, “Who is excited to see Panic! At the Disco?!
- Continue with, “What’s your favorite song? Mine is X,” and continue chatting about that for a few minutes.
- Transition into, “My name is Jeremy. I play in the band Shadow of Whales. We sound a bit like P!ATD, and a lot of our fans are P!ATD fans. Right now, we are offering digital downloads of our album to P!ATD fans. All we need is your name and email. Are you down?”
For all the years they’ve been doing this, it almost never fails.
Just don’t forget to leave them with something to remember you by, like a flyer or button. Then, run an automated email campaign so that when they’re added to your list, they’re automatically sent in email that invites them to stay engaged by doing something like going to a show or buying a CD.
Online and in person
Care about your fans
So, this is sort of a no-brainer, right? But when I say, “Care about your fans,” what I’m really saying is to go above and beyond for them. While this could easily fall under “fan engagement,” it’s also a subtle, genuine way to promote yourself as a band, and in make huge impact on someone’s life.
When it comes to making fans feel special, no one does this better than The Maine. They've been known to send soup to a sick fan, coffee to an overwhelmed student, and congratulations flowers to a fan who had just landed her dream job.
They've also surprised fans in their hometown of Phoenix with a performance of their single "Bad Behavior" from the back of a truck in an effort to promote their 2017 album Lovely Little Lonely — and this is just scratching the surface.
The best part about these tactics is they aren’t even all that elaborate — they’re just incredibly thoughtful and specific. There’s no reason you couldn’t also send your fans a little surprise or do a pop-up show. With promotion, it’s not always about the most elaborate or expensive thing — it’s really just about the thought and specificity you put into it.
Collaborate with other artists
Based out of the Bay Area, Rob Jamner is one of those artists that genuinely cares for those around him — and he shows it through everything he does. In what I’d consider one of the smartest ways to promote yourself (while building up your relationships) Rob has chosen to promote his upcoming album, Holding Stones, by releasing a slew of music videos.
But he isn’t just churning them out with no thought — instead, he’s commissioned five different artists to create his music videos. The result is five very different, equally vibrant stories being told through the lens of different artists — and a chance to not only collaborate and build his community, but to gain exposure to entirely new audiences.
At the end of the day, tapping into the weirdness that is you and honing into that uniqueness rather than shying away from it is what will make your art stand out. Leaning into that and putting it into everything you do, from music videos to live performances to the music itself, is where you’ll find your true fans, and where you’ll find your promotion goes the farthest.
There are a ton of bands that do this, but one of my all-time favorites is The Front Bottoms. They are a weird band. Their lyrics are weird, at times offensive to the wrong audience, their music isn’t especially complex, and their music videos never really make any sense at all. But their fans love them for it. (Myself included.)
Putting together these highly specific music videos makes sure they’re reaching only the right audience, and the same can be said for their live shows. Their energy is unreal, and the quirk factor in everything from their IG Stories to their merch designs screams uniqueness. At the end of the day, the best promo you can do is to let the world see who you are and trust the right people will find you.
Angela Mastrogiacomo is the founder and CEO of Muddy Paw PR, where her artists have seen placement on Alternative Press, Noisey, Substream, and more, as well as the Director of Community and Events for Music Launch Co. She’s also the owner of music blog Infectious Magazine. She loves baked goods, a good book, and hanging with her dog Sawyer.