Monday, June 21, 2010

15 Critical Marketing Mistakes That All Musicians Must Avoid

Since most of the artists on Bandsoup are DIY rising stars, we felt that there should be more discussion about strategies, networking, and modern industry ideas to help independent musicians through their blossoming career. Below is a great new article from MicControl's Jon Ostrow on a few critical marketing mistakes that you should avoid.

Musicians are entrepreneurs whether they want to believe it or not. By writing music under a band name, pen name or even just their own name, they have effectively created a brand that must be properly marketed if it is to thrive and flourish. But there-in lies a major problem: not all musicians know everything about marketing and they will eventually make some critical mistakes that lead to the demise of their short-lived venture. It is, however, the musicians who take the time to learn from past mistakes made by other musicians, and furthermore learn to correct these mistakes, that are the ones who build up the kind of influential brand that has lasting power.

These are 15 potentially crippling, yet ultimately avoidable marketing mistakes that are all too commonly made by the emerging music community, along with tips to help you as an artist to overcome and succeed in the best way possible:

1. Social Media is not the only way to market your band. This is the number one mistake because it can absolutely cripple a band from ever finding success. Far too many artists forget that social media is a device to be used within a strong, well-rounded marketing campaign. If you, as an artist, expect to just sit in front of your computer, friend thousands of people and wait by the phone for the call from an A&R rep, you will be severely let-down when that call never comes. And please do believe that it will not come.

If you are going to use social media as a part of your overall marketing strategy, and it is strongly advised that you do, use it wisely and properly, and as a part of a bigger strategy. A great example is one of the hottest emerging bands on the jam band scene, The McLovins, who found literal overnight success on Youtube when their cover of Phish's You Enjoy Myself had close to 100,000 views in the blink of an eye. While it was clear that this video had gone viral, The McLovins didn't just sit back and wait for people to friend them on Facebook or follow them on twitter- they went out on tour, taking their music to the people who had a newfound interest in the band. Only two years later, they have been covered in both Rolling Stone and Relix magazines and have performed at Gathering Of The Vibes and Mountain Jam.

2. Beginning the marketing process before the creative process. Lets be clear about something - every band needs to be marketing themselves, but in due time. A mistake that almost every over-zealous artist or band makes, is to begin marketing themselves when there is only a few or even one finished song.

Take that deep breath, back away from the paper titled My Band's Marketing Strategy (which you should eventually have), and go back to creating your music. While it is great that you want to get your music out there for the world to hear, you are simply wasting time if you are marketing yourself with only a handful of tracks to offer fans.... Its the same thing as trying to book a gig with only a few songs under your belt.

3. NOT setting short-term, mid-term and long term goals. Setting goals at all three benchmarks (short, mid, long) is an important part of any proper marketing plan and is crucial for you as an artist to stay on track as you market your music and your brand. It is a common mistake made by musicians to set only long term goals and just leave everything else up in the air. How could you possibly expect to get signed by Sony records, or even an indie label like Sub Pop Records for that matter without setting proper short, mid and long-term goals.

Short-term goals are typically set to be completed within six months to a year and can involve things like:

- hitting a certain number on your mailing list
- selling a certain number of albums
- creating enough material to record that first demo or book that first gig

These are goals that should be analyzed after the set time-frame is up, so that you can learn from past mistakes and successes to help you grow.

Mid-term goals are set from one year to anywhere up to around 5 years, and can involve things like:

- booking the first significant tour (or even just selling out the current venue size and beginning to book venues with a larger max capacity)
- hiring a management company or a publicist
- building up enough demand in your brand to receive recognition from some of the larger music publications
- recording the first official, professional-quality LP

These are goals that should be challenging but realistic, should reflect the overall mission of the brand (you as artist or the group as a band) and finally should make significant steps towards advancing your career. These are the goals that take you from 'coffee-house artists' to established brand name.

Long-term goals are set from 6 to 15 years into your career, and can involve things like:

- booking a national amphitheater tour
- receive a major recording contract or distribution deal
- establish an endorsement deal with a major brand (i.e. Nike)

These are goals that you should be working towards throughout your career. By the time these goals are achievable, you will have established yourself as a strong and reputable brand within the music industry. Most importantly, these are goals that should reflect the ultimate success of your short-term and mid-term goals combined.

4. Avoiding analytics. One of the easiest things an artist can do in today's Web 2.0 world is to set up a Facebook page or a blog. However, an extremely costly mistake that is made all too often is to avoid the analytical side of web 2.0 because it can be time-costly. But the fact is, analytics are powerful (and many times free) tools that will help you study who your loyal fan-base ACTUALLY is, so that you can nurture their interests.

Facebook has a free set of analytics tools built right into the site for you to use called Facebook Insights. So do yourself a favor and actually use it! If you are running a blog, Google has its own analytics system that is also completely free of charge that you should be using. But before you use either set of analytical tools, its important that you understand what all of the graphs and numbers mean, and how you can use them to grow your brand. Here are a few links to help you get started:

Facebook Insights

Google Analytics

5. Marketing without a properly determined and established audience. When it comes to the world of emerging music, a HUGE mistake that is commonly made is to just market to everyone. This will never be the path towards success. Determine who your most loyal fans will be, learn everything about them, and then begin to market TO them (not AT them - another big no - no).

6. Not investing enough time into marketing. If you are an artist, and you are trying to build your brand, you actually have to put in the time and the effort to make sure people are aware of your music. Artists seem to have the 'If you build it, they will come' mindset. Unfortunately, the truth of the matter is this will never work for musicians (with very rare exceptions). Posting the occasional track to myspace, or just using Facebook to tell people about upcoming events isn't even close to enough. As much as you want to think that Word-Of-Mouth marketing will launch you to stardom, just like OK-GO or Dispatch, it simply won't happen.

These bands spent hundreds of hours building up contacts and a loyal fan-base and used the internet to help their loyal fans spread the word. Not the other way around. In fact, the video from OK-GO for 'Here It Goes Again' that became the viral sensation and reason why everyone now knows the band OK-GO, came 9 years after the band first formed.

7. Not aligning your image with your music. Consistency with everything you do is key to your overall success, and that includes both online and off. A part of being consistent is making sure that the way people observe you aligns with your music. It is the reason why so many rappers, many of whom may or many not actually be a real-life gangster unnecessarily purchase automatic weapons.

Image is something that is part of your overall brand as an artist or band, and whether you choose to acknowledge it or not, it will be inevitably discussed by fans and treated as an important part of why they like who you are. It would be negligent to overlook your image as something that holds little or no value to fans. Just look at how the party-girl image disrupted the career of pop icon Brittany Spears. It was more than damaging... it could have ended her career.

8. You Are Not Easily Reachable. Plain and simple, with today's accessibility to the internet through mobile web-browsing and apps, there is absolutely no excuse for not being easily accessibly to anyone who reaches out to you about your music. It is understandable for certain situations to arise, i.e. if you have a day job and you are in an important meeting, but if you want to quit that day-job and make music your career, you must make your fans (and more importantly industry members such as booking agents/ concert promoters) your number one priority.

9. Not setting up a professional email. This is advice that is usually given to college students about to enter the real world, but it is no less relevant here, and is a costly mistake that can mean the difference between gig and no gig. Get rid of that stupid and childish email address! No one will take you seriously if you are trying to book a gig, and the response email address is, or any other name that you came up with in high-school. If you want to be taken seriously, you need to hold yourself to the utmost accountability. Go over to gmail, and sign up for a proper email at

10. Focusing on quantity over quality of fans. This is the mark of the amateur, and is a trap that many will fall into. Do yourself a favor and read this one twice if you need to. DO NOT make the mistake of thinking that the more friend you have, and the more people you follow, the closer you are to success. Anyone can spend day after day in front of a computer clicking the 'add friend' or 'follow' button. This does not make you a professional musician!

While a large fan-base is obviously the endgame, it is also a long-term goal to shoot for, not a short-term goal (see #3 - setting goals). There is a crucial piece of the puzzle that is missing from the term 'large fan-base'- loyalty and dedication. This is truly what you are striving for, and it is this reason why a band like Further, a new reincarnation of The Grateful Dead consisting of members of The Dead with some friends, have been selling out show after show and even had to extend their summer tour last year due to the high demand. Dedication and loyalty to a band or even just the music (as is the case with Further) will be a stronger component in the overall success in your band than a bigger, looser following will be.

When you are marketing yourself, your band, your music, and ultimately your brand, focus on creating a smaller group of loyal followers who will be willing to spread the word because they are dedicated to you and what you are doing. Instead of just shooting out updates to these people, work to create create real, lasting relationships and give them a legitimate reason to want to promote you. By building this kind of a following, it wont matter that you don't have 2 million fans, because the 100,000 fans that you do have will be willing to buy everything you release, follow you on tour from city to city, and allow your career to last longer than those whose fans are just listening to you cause its something to do.

11. Avoiding comparisons to other bands within a pitch. It is a known fact that an 'artist' will do everything in their power to avoid comparing their unique and original art to someone else. But if someone, more specifically a potential fan or an industry member, asks you what your music sounds like, DO NOT just list a bunch of genres and technical terms. People need a frame of reference. How is anyone supposed to know that what you really mean by saying your music sounds like 'progressive fusion mixed with heavy layered dissonance based on a slight rhythmic syncopation' is that you sound like a mix between Led Zeppelin and Jimi Hendrix. Here is an excellent video from Ariel Hyatt of Ariel Publicity (featuring Derek Sivers of CD Baby) that wonderfully explores this topic:

As mentioned by Ms. Hyatt in the video above, you NEED to have a pitch for the off chance that you find yourself in an elevator with a major record exec (or anyone else for that matter). This is why every artist who is serious about developing and advancing their brand should create and rehearse an elevator pitch.

An elevator Pitch should contain the following:

- SHOULD start with a memorable hook.
- SHOULD NOT be any longer than 60 seconds though if you can bring it down to a few, powerful statements.
- SHOULD be rehearsed and sound passionate. Make sure you don't sound like your reading from a mental cue-card.

Here is a fantastic online slide show from Business Week called Crafting An Effective 'Elevator Pitch'.

12. Forcing people to purchase your music. Yes we acknowledge it only costs 4.99 to buy your album on iTunes, yes we understand that you have bills to pay and yes, we know that you poured your heart into your music, but forcing people to purchase your album is a huge mistake. You don't necessarily need to give your music away, but think about all of the ways to package your music into an EP or a mixtape, something that may have 2 or 3 tracks to generate interest with a new fan so that they can make the decision to purchase your album on their own. You can even use a free download as great incentive for simply signing up for your mailing list!

Being quite honest, most people hate when emerging artists force people to purchase their music. Your album may only be $4.99, but if that person only has $20 to spend on purchasing music for the week, why would they spend it on something they have yet to hear (because the artist is forcing them to buy before listening), when they could spend it on the new Tom Petty album they have been waiting for for weeks? They won't....

And please, do yourself a favor, if you reach out to someone to review your album, do not under any circumstance tell them that you would really appreciate it, then follow up with a link, telling them they can purchase it from iTunes. If you are looking for a review, you give the reviewer your music!

13. Not Creating A Mailing List. This could be the worst move that any musician could make. Ever. A mailing list is not a new idea created by reverbnation as another widget for you to use (though they do have a widget for it). Mailing lists have been around forever, and are still one of the best ways to ensure that your loyal fans receive any and every important update about yourself or your band.

Social media is a great ways to update your fans, but with Facebook's current news feed algorithm and Twitter being updated nearly every .0000001 seconds, your updates are likely to go unnoticed if your fans are not online at the exact moment that you publish the update. And even then they are not guaranteed to see it. A blog will do a much better job of this, as it is your domain for fans to access, but a mailing list is a way to directly contact each and every fan in one click of a button.

14. Comment/ Update Spam. For many, this is considered to be the lowest form of self-promotion, yet musicians continue to hit Facebook pages and groups, blogs, and Twitter accounts with the same generic message:

If you are going to get involved with a community within a Facebook group, or a well run blog, do not make the mistake that so many before you have and will continue to make by leaving a comment that is for the sole purpose of 'shameless self-promotion'.... its called shameless for a reason. Leave a comment that either contributes to the existing conversation, or has a relevant follow up to a question or even voice your own opinion about an issue tackled within the article. While leaving a legitimate comment may not directly promote your music, but it will allow others to accept you into the community as a real person with a real thought. Not just a bot spamming a message around. After time, you will make stronger, more valuable connections than ever possible from spamming a large group of people.

However, there is also the idea of spamming your own accounts by leaving update after update of self-promotional glory on your own Twitter accounts and/ or any other place that allows you to update a status. For this, there is one simple golden rule called the one-quarter rule, as presented by Twist Image founder Mitch Joel. The one-quarter rule states you may post one self-promotional update out of every 4 posts- the others must be legitimate posts about something other than how great you are. This rule is something to live by and translates well to updating/ posting on all forms of social media.

15. Spreading Yourself Too Thin. This is one of the biggest killers of productivity and can ruin any marketing strategy. While it is great to get yourself out there and join as many social networks as possible, you only have so much time to keep all of these things up-to-date. One important aspect of social media is the 'real-time' factor, which allows you to update your fans, but also respond back to people on a real-time basis. If you try to maintain a presence throughout all of these different forms of social media, you will inevitably fail. There are, however a few great ways to battle this issue:

Artist Data- Artist Data (which was just aquired by Sonic Bids) actually allows you to update everything from your profile info and status to things like music and events on all of your existing social networks like Facebook,, Reverbnation and a whole list of others. Similarly to Artist Data, allows you to update information on many different social networks.( The difference here is that is for general use, and not specifically for artists, so while it has a much larger reach to more social networks and blogging platforms, it has less capabilities to meet the specific needs of an artist.

Hootsuite- While Hootsuite is fairly limited in that it can only really update the status of a few social networks, it does have an impressive suite of analytical and tracking tools for you to use. Though a word to the wise: unless you have a significant amount of traffic to any of your pages, Hoot Suite will not be able to analyze the data.

Ideally, you want to create a home base for your following so they know where to actually be able to reach you, but you still want to make sure you are properly represented across all of the various social networks.
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Jon Ostrow said...

Hi All at Band Soup!

Thank you so much for reposting my article! Im glad you found it valuable enough to share your readers. Please feel free to reach out to me at facebook ( or through my email.

Thanks again!
Jon Ostrow

rmlondon said...

Great article, Jon! Thanks for dropping by.

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