5 tips for promoting your music using paid social media ads

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Illustration: Filip Fröhlich

How much do you invest in your music career?

Often times, musicians have no trouble spending hundreds (if not thousands) of dollars on instruments, equipment, software, and other tools that help us create music. But when it comes to investing in promoting their music, many musicians don’t see it as a necessary expense. They’re stuck in the old mentality that if the music is great, the fans will flock to them organically.

The truth is, as of April 2019, 40,000 new songs were being uploaded to Spotify every single day, and that number is bound to have grown since then. While it’s amazing that there are fewer barriers to producing and releasing music than ever, this also means that your track has to fight for attention among an ever-growing sea of new releases.

So, how are you going to break through the noise and stand out?

As a musician, marketing your music should be among your top priorities. There are many avenues to explore, but one fairly simple and inexpensive route is paid advertising on social media.

If you’re thinking, “I see those sponsored Instagram stories all the time and they’re really annoying,” you’re right; even this space has become quite saturated. But there’s a good reason for it – it works. That being said, there’s a right and wrong way to do paid social media ads, and in order to stand out among all those musicians buying eyes and ears on their music, you have to come at it with a carefully thought out strategy.

I won’t go into the details of how to set up you social media ads and what your different options are – you can find many great tutorials on this by doing a quick Google search. What I’ll give you instead is a more high-level look at what you should aim to achieve with your paid ads, how you can build a strategy to support your goals, and how to get the most benefit from your investment.

Let’s dive in!

1. Get clear on your goal

When you pay for social media ads, what exactly are you paying for? What are you hoping to gain? If your goal is to get your music in front of as many people as possible and skyrocket your Spotify streams, ads will help you do that… but only as long as you keep paying for them.

That doesn’t sound very sustainable, does it? Nor cheap.

Instead, your goal should be to gain new fans – not just people who’ll click on your Spotify link, but people who will genuinely like your music, follow you on social media, tell their friends about you, subscribe to your email list, buy your t-shirt, etc.

Can social media ads really help you do that? Yes, but only if you have the right strategy in place. You can spend money showing your ad to millions of random people on the internet and hope that some of them will like your music. Or, you can spend a fraction of that money showing it to a thousand people who have proven potential to become loyal fans. This way, you’re not just paying for an audience, but you’re paying for the right audience.

So, how do you find those people? The next two tips cover exactly that.

2. Identify your target audience and the social media platforms they use

Most major social media platforms have advertising capabilities, but casting a wide net and investing money in each of them can get unnecessarily expensive.

For a more targeted approach, think of who your ideal audience is and where they like to spend their time. Does your music have a nostalgic 80s undertone? Your potential fans are probably hanging out on Facebook. Is your music something teenagers can dance to? TikTok is your best bet.

When choosing which platforms to use, also think about where you already have an established presence. If you don’t have an active and growing presence on Instagram, for example, don’t bother with Instagram ads. If people come to your Instagram profile from an ad and see no social presence that indicates you’re an artist worth listening to, their engagement with you could stop there.

Once you’ve selected a platform, look at all the ways in which it lets you target your audience, and then get as specific as you can. When deciding who should be seeing your ad, think about:

  • People who listen to artists who are similar to you
  • People who listen to a specific genre of music
  • People who listen to indie / lesser-known artists
  • People who live in your area (not always relevant, but if you’re selling tickets to a show, they have to be able to attend)
  • People who’ve interacted with you before (followers on social media, email subscribers, website visitors, etc.)

3. Set up multi-stage campaigns

The biggest mistake that artists make with paid advertising is coming at it with a set-it-and-forget-it approach. Effective and cost-efficient advertising, on the other hand, is a multi-step process. Each ad you place should be part of a larger campaign, all contributing towards a specific end goal.

With each ad in the campaign, think about who your audience is, and what you want them to do. A well executed campaign includes ads where the answers to those two questions are very clear and different.

Here’s an example of an ineffective and unnecessarily expensive campaign:

  • Ad 1: You show a video to 100,000 people who like a similar artist and prompt them to listen to your new single on Spotify (note that ads that take the user to a different platform tend to be much more expensive)
  • Ad 2: You show the video to another set of 100,000 people who like another similar artist and prompt them to listen to your new single on Spotify
  • Ads 3, 4, 5, and so on: You repeat the same strategy until you run out of money

On the other hand, here’s an example of a well executed multi-stage campaign:

  • Ad 1: You show a video to 100,000 people who like a similar artist and prompt them to check out your profile (this is much cheaper than sending them straight to Spotify, because you’re asking them to stay on the platform)
  • Ad 2: You show a different ad to a custom audience made up of people who have either watched at least ten seconds of the first ad, visited your profile, visited your website, or follow you

Now, you ask them to check out your song on Spotify. This group of people is much smaller, so your expenses are lower. But, because you know they’re already familiar with you and have expressed some interest, the likelihood that they’ll actually head over to Spotify is much higher.

At this stage, you can also A/B test your ad. Make two different versions and change one variable (visuals, copy, length, the song snippet, etc.) to see which version performs best.

Ad 3: Show the winning version to a lookalike audience. Most ad platforms have the capability to analyze the audience of your second ad and suggest an entirely new group of people who have the same characteristics, therefore making them much more likely to respond well to your third ad.

Ads 4, 5, and so on: Continue A/B testing your ads and refining your audience. Pay careful attention to how each ad performs, so you can keep adjusting your strategy and investing your money accordingly.

4. Use your best content

This should go without saying, but If you’re going to spend money on promoting something, you have to make sure it represents you in the best light possible. This means using high-quality photos, audio, and video.

People have very high expectations of the organic content they consume online, and these expectations increase tenfold when it comes to promoted content. Keep in mind, too, that your ad is up against quite a few opposing forces. Not only is the advertising space very saturated, but people also have a lower tolerance for content that interrupts their regular social feed.

This means that you really only have a few seconds at most to captivate people’s attention and get them to stay on your ad. If your content doesn’t hook them right from the start, they won’t hesitate to keep scrolling and move on with their day.

To make sure that the content you’re promoting is the best it can be, keep testing and refining it. Before paying to promote a post, it’s common to try it out with your organic followers. If it performs well, that’s a good sign that it will do well in a paid campaign, too.

Don’t forget to take advantage of the A/B tests mentioned in the previous section. Just be sure to not change too many variables at one time, or you won’t know what exactly is improving or worsening an ad’s performance.

5. Stick to a budget

The theme of this article has been navigating how to make the most of your investment in paid social media ads, but even if you do everything right, it’s still very easy to spend more money here than you need to. It’s a little like gambling – $5 here, $10 there, and before you know it, you’ve blown all your savings.

To keep this from happening, create a budget and stick to it no matter what. The ad platform you use might tell you that they’ll optimize your campaigns for you and stretch your dollars in the best way possible, but take this with a grain of salt. At the end of the day, the ad platform exists to make money off you, so you’re always better off doing your own research and coming up with a strategy that will yield the most benefit for the lowest cost.

The best way to master paid advertising is to, of course, experiment and continuously adjust. Try out lots of strategies with very little spend before you commit to investing any substantial amount of money.

When you’re first starting out with paid advertising, gaining any new fans may seem like a huge win, but if you’ve spent $500 to gain ten new followers, you’re probably doing something wrong. Instead of getting excited and dumping another $500 down the drain, take another hard look at your campaign, your targeting strategy, and the quality of your ad to see where you can improve.

In other words, be smart with the money you spend on paid social media ads, and know that a small investment can go a long way in helping you reach your new lifelong fans.

December 28, 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/.