Market Yourself Like a Major Label on an Indie Budget

Article by Justina Beth-El
As creatives, and more specifically musicians, we all have different visions and ideas of “making it.” For some of us, it might be airplay on your favorite local radio station, passing a certain number of streams on Spotify or views on YouTube, or perhaps signing with an Indie Label. Whatever that milestone of success is for you, you’ll need to know: 

How To Market Yourself Like A Major Label (more often than not) On An Indie Budget

    1. Do Your Research
      Or maybe just read this article! Today is easily the best day in age to be an independent musician. Many of our predecessors did the heavy lifting for us by researching the pathways to success for indie artists and crafting their findings into easy-to-digest, and – more importantly – affordable applications of that research for the Indie Musician to successfully compete with major labels on a fraction of a fraction of a label’s budget. Don’t get me wrong – you still need some kind of budget, or expendable time. Next to being an NFL cheerleader, one could argue that being a musician might be one of the most expensive, under-payed and thankless “hobbies” that exist today…if you let it. Here is a list of those predecessors and the invaluable resources they have created for the independent musician:
      Indeprenuer : Indeprenuer offers courses to musicians on how to run targeted ads on Social Media to grow a musician’s following.
      CD Baby: CD Baby began as a distribution company but has since expanded to offer so many more resources to the musicians that use their platform. CD Baby has become sort of a one-stop-shop for the independent musician.
      Spotify for Artists : This is the backend of Spotify where artists can view the metrics of their music on the Spotify platform. They also offer helpful tips to artists on how to increase their monthly listeners and ultimately make the most of Spotify.
      Tinderbox Music : Tinderbox Music pitches its artists’ music to college radio stations across the country. They also offer sync placement to their artists.
      The Indie Bible : The Indie Bible is a collection of Independent Music magazines, blogs, radio stations and various other media ingesting and reviewing platforms across the world. Seriously. If there’s an Indie platform in the world dedicated to promoting indie artists, it’s most likely listed in the catalog along with that platform’s submission guidelines and contact information. What’s more, the Indie Bible includes extensive literature on the “Dos and Don’ts” of pitching your music

    2. Create a Budget and Build a Savings Around It
      Unless you’re one of those talented souls who can record, mix, and master his/her own music, you’re looking (conservatively) at a $5k budget to professionally record, produce, and distribute your music. And unless you’re one of those lucky souls who has managed to snag an investor for your craft, you’ll need to make a serious budget for the following:
      Social media ad campaigns
      If you follow the Indepreneur model, you can create a successful (albeit barebones) single ad campaign that runs over the course of 5 days for about $70. To run your ad on multiple audiences, multiply that $70 by the number of audiences you wish to target. If you venture even further down the marketing rabbit hole and bother to retarget your audiences based on the success of previous campaigns, multiply that $70 by each new iteration of the previously run campaigns…blah, blah, blah, math. Basically, I would recommend setting aside $1,000.
      Radio airplay
      For a service like Tinderbox Music, although they do offer various packages for all budgets, a rough estimate for 6 weeks of pitches to college radio stations would be $2,400.
      PR/Blog placement
      The Indie Bible (link above) is an excellent alternative for those of us who have more free time to market ourselves than we do the capital to pay someone else to do it.
      Music Conferences (see #4)
      Alternatively, you’ll need an extensive amount of free time to do these things yourselves. In which case, you’ll need to budget your time and practice discipline. Various companies offer these and similar services, maybe even for less money! These are just the few I have experience using and would personally recommend.  

    3. Invest in Your Content
      You don’t have to blow your whole budget to get quality photos or video content, but you should do everything in your power to make sure your content looks professional. If you live anywhere near a college campus with a film or photography program, you’re sitting on a gold mine! Check Craigslist for your city (with caution – if it looks shady, it’s probably shady), and I promise you’ll find a student or novice photographer/videographer looking to build his or her portfolio that will offer you a free or extremely low cost photo/video shoot in exchange for using your content in their portfolio. Alternatively, you can post a quick ad on Craigslist offering compensation within your budget for the same photography/videography services. There are thousands of Facebook groups for local musicians in your area as well. Join them – all of them – and ask for recommendations or if anyone in the group is a photographer. If that’s not in the cards for you, really any current smartphone will capture footage and photos that you can easily edit to get that professional finish. Adobe offers a monthly subscription for its different applications. For about $20/month, you’ll have access to any single one of Adobe’s apps – I use Premier Rush CC for video. For $50/month, you’ll have access to Adobe’s entire Creative Cloud. If you’re digitally dexterous or just got jazzed about learning a new software application, this might be the best route for you! 

    4. Network Like a Business Professional
      Every industry, from health and education, to real estate and security, holds a number of conferences and conventions for the specific purposes of networking, marketing, and educating its industry professionals. The music industry is no different. These are some of the most well known industry events for musicians:
      ASCAP Music Expo
      CDBaby DIY Musician’s Convention
      SXSW – South by Southwest
      You won’t just encounter like-minded musicians aspiring to make it the same way you are at these events, you’ll also meet industry leaders, legendary musicians who define “making it” for some of us, and product manufacturers that are itching to find musicians to test and review their products. Add at least one of these events to your calendar (and to your budget) each year.
    5. Don’t Tell Yourself “No” Before Anyone Else Does
      More simply put, put yourself out there! We can be our own greatest motivators and simultaneously our own greatest obstacles. Don’t tell yourself you don’t deserve it or you’re not good enough without even trying. If there’s a songwriter’s competition, submit yourself. If there’s a venue you want to perform at, reach out to book that show. If your end goal is to sign to a major label, start talking to those labels! Seriously, go to the website of Sony, Atlantic, Columbia. Any one of them will tell you to schedule a visit directly with one of their A&Rs. A number of different Pros – like ASCAP – offer the same face-to-face interaction. When I wrote earlier that today is the best day in age for Indie musicians, I wasn’t kidding. It’s no longer the labels or big media who run the show. It’s the independent artists. The opportunities are there if you want them; you just have to step up to take them. So if you think your big shot is riding on whether or not you get exposed to a label or meet the right person at ASCAP, reach out to them directly and promote yourself in person. Put yourself on the front line. Be your greatest motivation and driving force.
In summary, it’s important to do your research, create a smart budget, invest in your content, network like a business professional, and don’t tell yourself “no” before anyone else does. I’m not endorsed by any of these programs or services; I’ve just used them for my own music or have worked with artists that rave about these resources. When I find something that works, I get so excited to share it with other musicians on the same grind! Happy hustling friends! How will you use these ideas in your music career? I’d love to hear from you. 
Article by Justina Beth-El
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