Why every musician needs a social media presence

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Illustration: Filip Fröhlich

Are you on social media?

The rise of the internet has changed the way most industries operate, but especially the music industry. The most common way to promote your music used to be to do as many live gigs as your body could handle, sell CDs in the back of the venue, and staple posters to every utility post in your neighborhood.

Today’s music industry lives almost entirely online. And if the COVID-19 pandemic has proven anything, it’s that it’s entirely possible to have a successful music career without doing a single live show (or vandalizing a single street post).

In an ideal world, when COVID-19 is over, we should be doing a combination of both in-person and online promotion, but social media will still remain the channel where you should be putting 90% of your marketing efforts. Your online presence is what’s going to help you grow your audience, turn fans into life-long supporters, increase your revenue, and network with other musicians. In this post, we’ll go over how social media can make all this possible, and why every musician needs to start paying more attention to their online presence.

Let’s dive in!

1. Grow your audience

Social media is, hands down, the number-one place to grow your audience and garner the attention of new fans. Billions of people all across the globe are online everyday. This means that every time you put your content out there, that’s another opportunity for someone to come across your music and fall in love, regardless of where in the world they live. That’s the beauty of the internet – there’s virtually no limit to how many people you can reach.

Here’s the biggest reason why social media works so well to get your music in front of potential new fans: when people like something, they share it. A few decades ago, if you liked a song and wanted to show it to a friend, your best bet was to record it on a cassette tape and walk it over or mail it to their house. Today you can share music with thousands of people with a click of your mouse or a tap on your smartphone.

Successful musicians take advantage of this. They make it easy for people to share their content by 1) having it online in the first place and 2) making it relatable, entertaining, moving, or inspiring, so their fans feel compelled to share it with a friend or their own online audience.

Tips for growing your audience:

  • You may think, “But the internet is so saturated with content – how will I ever stand out?” The simple answer is by being yourself. There’s only one you in the world, so use that to your advantage. You’ll be guaranteed to attract people who share your values and become dedicated fans, not only of your music but of you as a human being.
  • If you’ve got the bandwidth, try to be active on multiple platforms. Each platform will help grow your audience on other platforms, creating a never-ending cycle of growth. For example, your Twitter followers might join you on Instagram and their engagement there will help attract brand-new followers who might then go over to Twitter, and so on.
  • Choose at least two or three platforms and get familiar with their algorithms. Be sure to post consistently – this will not only help the algorithm show your content to more people, but it will also keep your audience engaged and coming back for more.
  • Another great way to get yourself in front of more eyes is to collaborate with other musicians and creators. This will help drive their fans to your profile, while your fans might check out theirs. A win-win!
  • Finally, consider paid advertising. Remember that if music is more than a hobby for you, you have to treat it like a business and be willing to invest in marketing. Social media advertising has become quite sophisticated and will only show ads to people who are likely to become fans. The best part is, you can choose how much you’d like to spend, so it doesn’t have to cost a fortune.

2. Engage existing fans

The sad truth is that once someone becomes a fan of your music, there’s no guarantee that they’ll stay a fan forever. Your job now is to keep releasing music, putting out content, and staying top of mind by engaging with your fans.

Let’s take it back to the cassette tape days again for a second. Back then, you could release one or two singles a year and your fans would be perfectly happy. Today, that just wouldn’t fly.

Because of how easily and quickly people consume content on social media, their expectations for how much content you should produce are much higher. Not only are you expected to release music more often, but you also have to keep your audience engaged in between releases. If you’re only showing up on social media just before a new release and letting months go by between posts, your supporters will simply move on to someone else.

Engaging with your fans on social media on a consistent basis helps them establish a deeper relationship with you, makes them more loyal, and more likely to support your future projects.

You may say, “Well I don’t have a lot of fans anyway – none of them are sitting there waiting for my next Instagram post.” If you’re just starting out and don’t have a big following, engaging with your followers is more important than ever. These are your first supporters, people who believe in you so much that they’re following your journey before anyone else. So treat them like your best friends. You wouldn’t go months without speaking to your best friend, would you?

Tips for engaging existing fans:

  • Post as often as you can and stay consistent. It’s not enough to just show up for a few weeks before your big release – your fans expect you to show up as often as every day. If that sounds overwhelming, just remember that the content you post doesn’t always have to be high quality and time-consuming to produce. Some days, it can be as simple as an Instagram story of your favorite breakfast.
  • Post behind-the-scenes content. You may have a personal brand, but your supporters also love to see that you’re a regular person just like them. Share your day-to-day experiences, struggles, small wins, and everything in between. It’ll help establish a deeper connection with your fans and make your music just that much more special to them.
  • Help fans get to know you by doing Q&As. Answering questions from your audience, either in a live stream or a pre-recorded video, is a great way to show your personality and connect with your fans on a more personal level. Plus, Q&As are a really simple and quick way to create content, so you don’t have to worry about coming up with new ideas or spending time recording or taking photos.
  • Let your fans contribute. You can try asking for their opinion, post a poll question, share content that they created and tagged you in, the list goes on. Many artists will even take this further and create entire music videos using short clips that their fans send in. There’s nothing more special to a fan than getting to be a part of your creative process.

3. Drive traffic and sales

You work for months on a new single, but what do you do when it’s finally released? Sit and wait for people to find it? Of course not. You tell everyone you know and their mother about it so they can start streaming and buying it.

Social media is perfect for this. A well-engaged online audience will show their support and stream your new track, watch your new video, buy your new t-shirt… the list goes on. And social media platforms make this really easy by allowing you to place hyperlinks right in your post or profile.

Use your social platform to drive traffic to your website, streaming platforms, or even other social platforms (remember that being active on multiple platforms can help you grow your reach). You can also increase your revenue by getting more people to buy your merchandise and concert tickets, or even using an affiliate link.

Tips for driving traffic and sales:

  • Build up excitement around your new release, event, or merchandise and start promoting it weeks before it becomes available. Remind your followers of what’s coming and build anticipation – when your offer finally becomes available, people will be more likely to check it out (even if just to see what the hype was all about).
  • Make it exclusive. People love to get in on something if they know the offer won’t last. If you’re selling merch, limit the quantity available for sale. If you’re selling tickets to an event, set up early bird pricing.
  • Provide an incentive. When you’re asking your fans for their support, it’s always a good idea to think about what you can give in return. If you’ve set up a pre-save link for your new release, let people enter into a draw to win a prize. If you’re asking people to sign up to your mailing list, send them an unreleased demo track in return.
  • Make it easy. Don’t ask fans to complete too many steps and make your links easy to find. Otherwise, people will lose interest and move on to something else.
  • Don’t over-promote. Think back to the previous two sections about growing your audience and engaging your existing fans. Most of your content should revolve around this, and only occasionally should you be trying to drive traffic and sales. If you only post to promote yourself, ask people to stream your music, or buy something off your website, they will stop seeing the value in your content and unfollow.

4. Network

For many musicians, knowing how to move their music career forward used to be a black box – no one talked about what they were doing, and all you heard was ‘you need to meet the right people.’

This has drastically changed with the rise of social media. Most artists, even the chart-topping celebrities, love to tag their collaborators in posts related to their music. With a bit of friendly snooping around, you can find out a lot about someone’s process, who they worked with, and how they got to where they are today.

Once you know who you’d like to become friends or collaborate with, it’s as simple as sending them a message. It’s completely acceptable these days, and the worst that can happen is that they don’t reply and you move on with your day. Even well established artists do this – some of the biggest collaborations we all know and love started out as an Instagram DM or a tweet.

Tips for networking:

  • Don’t spam people. If you’ve sent a message and didn’t hear back, it’s okay to follow up once more, but don’t take it further than that. There’s no need to bombard someone with messages – if they’re not responding, they likely have their reasons, and they’re not obligated to give you an explanation.
  • Have something to give. Collaborations are a two-way street. If you’re asking someone for their services, make sure you ask yourself, “What’s in it for them? Why should they say yes?” Don’t expect to receive something without offering something they need in return. Maybe it’s a monetary fee or a service that you can provide. Whatever you do, don’t ask people to do something for “exposure.”
  • Have social proof. When you reach out to someone on social media, the only thing they know about you is how you present yourself on your profile. It may not be an accurate representation of your skills or work ethic, but it’s all they have. So before reaching out to someone, make sure your profile is ready. Have you been growing your following, promoting your music, and engaging with fans? The sad truth is that you may be the most talented musician in the world, but if you message someone about collaborating and you have 15 followers and a single post from 2015, they’re probably not going to respond.
  • Establish a relationship first. Sometimes, getting straight to the point works well. But often, people don’t like cold calls. Instead of messaging someone and asking to collaborate right away, try to become friends with them first. You can get yourself noticed by engaging with their content, messaging to ask for advice, or replying to a question they asked their audience. If you can establish a decent online friendship first, you’ll be much more likely to receive a ‘yes’ when you ask to collaborate.

So there you have it. If you’re not yet active on social media, or you have a few accounts but you’re not really using them, hopefully this blog post has inspired you to take action. And if all this sounds too overwhelming, remember that you don’t have to have a big following to start using social media to your advantage. Everyone starts somewhere, and the small daily steps you take to build your online presence now will gradually grow into an incredible tool that will help propel your music career forward.

Do you have any other tips or questions about having a social media presence as a musician? Let us know in the comments!

December 7, 2020

Sayana Sayana is a contemporary R&B singer-songwriter based in Toronto, Canada. When she's not making music, she creates content on personal development and navigating life as a musician. Learn more about her at https://www.sayanamusic.com/.