Being an independent artist is tough work. You have to have talent and drive, but that's the easy part. To survive and thrive independently, you have to operate as a business; sometimes doing the job of 6-7 different people and one of the most important jobs is that of marketing yourself. So, once you have the songs written and the music recorded, where do you go from there? Here are my top tips for developing a marketing plan for yourself:
1. Develop a professional press kit.
First things first: you can't market yourself if you don't have a press kit. This should include a professional photo, bio, music samples and any news or press clippings from publications you may have already been featured in. Please note that it says these kits should include PROFESSIONAL photos and bios. I'm not telling you to go out and spend hundreds of dollars on a professional photographer or writer, but the quality does need to be professional-level. You can easily find talented photographers no matter where you live and lots are willing to do free sessions to build their portfolio, so strike up a deal! I also highly suggest that you don't write your own bio. Not only is it important to have something written from a perspective outside your own, but also it's important that your bios are written with correct spelling and grammar. A press kit is representative of you and there is nothing worse than trying to represent yourself and your music with misspellings and a poorly written bio. I see too many artists who don't take the grammar and spelling issue seriously and its to their own detriment.
2. Develop an online presence.
Social media is an easy first step; but you are better served by having one central website that you can point people to; using your social media efforts to drive traffic back to your main site. Please don't open accounts on every single social media and music website out there. It's too much to manage and too confusing to a potential fan. Having one main site makes it easy on you and easy on the potential fan to access information about you. Again, you don't need to spend a ton of money (or any, for that matter) to hire a web developer. There are plenty of free website templates available in addition to the good ‘ol wordpress blog sites. Focus all your attention on your site. Keep it constantly updated with fresh content and make sure it is functioning properly. Never send anyone to a website that hasn't been updated in 2 years, has broken links everywhere or looks haphazard and messy. First impressions are everything and you never want to point people to a site that you haven't touched in 6 months. It gives the impression you don't have anything going on and artists build audiences by creating a buzz. If the last thing you posted to your site was December of last year, it sends the message that you don't have much going on as an artist and therefore not worth paying attention to.
3. Create a marketing budget.
Too many artists overlook this and I know it can be difficult to think about setting aside ANY money for marketing when you can barely scrape up enough money for gas to get to the next gig. But, if you are serious about developing a career that lasts, you need to make marketing a priority. The easiest way would be to set aside a percentage of your earnings from every month or every gig and put it into your marketing budget, similar to tithing. If you are not re-investing some of your earnings back into yourself and the future of your career, than you have not yet come to the point where you are truly treating this as a business. All artists come to a place where they need to spend some money to get their career to the next level, so don't be fooled into thinking you can simply put your music up on ReverbNation and then sit back and wait.
4. Know your market.
In order to effectively advertise yourself and your music, you have to have a clear and realistic understanding of who your audience is. A helpful exercise is to describe in detail your average fan. Is it a soccer mom, college frat brother, a tween girl? How old are they? How do they dress? Where do they live? The more detail you can put into it, the better; and be honest with yourself! If you'd love to be playing to 20 something college kids, but 35 year-old Mom's are typically the ones at your shows, then own it, accept it and embrace it. Once you have a clear picture of who's into you, you can then target those markets. Research websites, magazines and other media that cater to those demographics and start reaching out to the advertising reps and editors. Whether the exposure comes through the purchase of an ad or through an editorial feature, you need to be exposing yourself to your target market to initially gain traction. John Mayer is a great example of this. Although I'm sure that from the beginning, he would've preferred to play to intelligent audiences that appreciated his musicianship rather than a room full of screaming college girls; but he knew that was the market that was buying his records, so he capitalized on it. Now, he plays to everyone from the 55 year-old Dad of 3, to the high school football player; from blues lovers to his typical college girl fan that listens to him just because she thinks he's cute. The point is, he knew his market and maximized it and now he's attracted fans from every walk of life.
5. Be patient.
This might seem like superfluous advice, but it's an important part of your marketing plan. Marketing takes not only time, but money; and if you're a part-time artist working to support your career, it will take time to grow your resources enough to the point that you can afford to pay for the elements necessary to launch a successful marketing campaign. Sure, there are things that you can do for free right now (see point #2), but there will eventually come a time where you will have to plunk down some cash to get your career to the next level. This is why it's important to start building a marketing budget now. Above all, stay the course, keep putting a percentage of your earnings away into a marketing budget and don't stress if it doesn't happen quickly. Remember, you're doing this to the glory of God so you're on His timing and He blesses patience.