As a musician, your single biggest challenge is getting your music before your target audience. It’s not enough to create good music; you also have to market it effectively.
It doesn’t help that far too many musicians rely on spur of the moment actions and ad-hoc marketing tactics. Instead of approaching their music marketing with a systematic plan, they make reactive decisions that don’t yield any long-term success.
In this guide, I’ll show you how to create a DIY music marketing plan that actually works. I’ll cover branding, developing a marketing mix, and finding your target audience so you can make better marketing decisions.
The Components of a Music Marketing Plan
As Wikipedia says, a marketing plan is:
“…a comprehensive document or blueprint that outlines a business’ advertising and marketing efforts for the coming year.”
Essentially, this document lays out the following:
- What you’re going to market, i.e. specific assets or products.
- Why you’re marketing, i.e. short and long-term goals.
- How you’ll market, i.e. marketing approaches, tactics, and budgets.
- Where you’ll market, i.e. key marketing channels.
- Who you’ll market to, i.e. your target audience.
Conventional marketing plans contain sections that aren’t necessary for musicians. For instance, you can skip the executive summary, pricing strategy, competitor analysis, and mission statement.
Instead, your music marketing plan should contain the following:
- A summary of the plan
- A list of goals, including subjective and objective targets
- A detailed SWOT analysis
- A summary of your brand
- Your target audience
- Your marketing strategy
- Your marketing mix
In the sections to follow, I’ll discuss a step-by-step process to create your marketing plan.
1. Develop Your Brand
What exactly is a brand?
It might not appear so, but this is one of the toughest questions in marketing. Great brands are often amorphous and ephemeral. They have a certain indescribable quality that can’t really be captured in words.
For musicians, the first step in crafting a marketing plan is to tackle the hard task of understanding and defining their brand. This is an introspective exercise; you have to dig deep and find your core values.
It is also a balancing exercise. You have to figure out what you want the brand to be and balance it with audience expectations.
Here are a few things you can do to define your brand:
- Learn from the pros: Make a list of your favorite musicians. Then make a list of adjectives – bold, mature, youthful, vibrant – that you associate with them. This will help you figure out how to describe your own band later.
- Curate a visual identity: Collect pictures, logos, artwork or anything that inspires you. I recommend creating a Pinterest board to curate a selection of imagery that you want to associate with your brand.
- Get inspired by your audience: Dig into your target audience and its preferences. What kind of movies, music, fashion, and art do your ideal listeners like? Are there any parts that you can use in your branding?
- Introspect: Ask yourself, what matters to you as a musician? What are your values and beliefs? What do you want people to think or feel when they hear your name?
Once you’ve curated your inspiration, try to describe your brand in a few sentences. Focus on feelings and values. And always be honest.
If you don’t stay true to yourself, you’ll find that your brand will lack that indescribable quality – heart.
2. Define Your Audience
Few things have as big an impact on your music marketing plan as your audience. Where you market yourself, what kind of marketing assets you’ll use, and even the tone of your brand depends on your audience. If you want to attract 18-30-year-old EDM fans, your marketing approach will be very different than if you want to attract 40-50-year-old country music fans.
To define your audience, you need to first figure out the following:
Your genre: Every musical genre has its own “built-in” audience base. Defining the exact genre will help you understand your listeners better. Try to zoom into the exact sub-genres (such as electronic music -> house -> electro house -> big room house). The narrower you go, the easier it will be to find your specific audience.
- Genre publications: Once you’ve defined your audience, look for blogs, magazines, websites, newsletters, and even social media accounts that curate genre-specific music. Try to figure out what your audience cares about by evaluating what these publications write about besides music. Do they tweet about entrepreneurialism? Do they write about partying? Are they focused on spirituality? All of these will help you understand your audience better.
- Other artists: Research the top artists in your genre to figure out what kind of marketing approaches, messaging, and branding they use. Dig through their music videos, websites, and social media accounts. Ask yourself: what kind of visual imagery are they using? Do they have a logo? If yes, what does it say about the artist? Not only is this a great source of inspiration, it will also help you understand their audience better.
- Demographics: Besides the above, you also need to figure out your audience demographics (age, gender, education). Use Facebook’s Audience Insights tool to search for your music genre. Use this as a reference for your audience demographics.
Your goal with this process is to get a better understanding of your audience. You need to know what their interests are, where they hang out, their demographic data, and how other artists reach them.
You’ll use this information later when you create your marketing plan.
3. Do an “Internal” SWOT Analysis
SWOT analysis is one of the most common planning techniques used to identify strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats to any project. Businesses generally use it to analyze the market. But as a musician, you should use it to analyze your own skills – or the lack of them.
Namely, introspect and figure out the following:
- Strengths: What are you good at? What core skills do you have that would be useful for marketing your music? Can you edit videos and create animations? Are you a social media wizard? Do you excel at creating digital interactive experiences? Understanding these strengths will help you figure out what to focus on, and what to delegate in your marketing.
- Weaknesses: The obverse of the above – what are you not good at? Do you fumble around with social media? Do you scratch your head every time someone uses the word “analytics?” Figure out your weaknesses so you can find people or services to cover for them.
- Opportunities: Make a list of any clear opportunities that you’ve found so far. Maybe a big magazine is holding a music video contest. Or maybe you have a connection that can get you in rotation at a popular radio station. Don’t bother about making this comprehensive; you can always add to it later.
- Threats: Lastly, list any clear threats to your music career. Maybe you rely too much on an unreliable freelancer for your social media marketing. Or maybe you sell your CDs online through an unstable website. Your goal is to list down anything that can threaten to affect your music in the near and long-term.
Lots of musicians skip this exercise, but I feel it is crucial for creating a marketing plan that works. Else, you risk taking on responsibilities that you’re not really good at, or ignoring obvious threats that can derail your music career.
4. Figure Out Your Marketing Mix
Your “marketing mix” defines the list of channels you’ll use to market yourself, as well as the approximate budget or time you’ll spend on each. Most marketing plans represent this mix as a pie chart. It’s also common to break each section of the pie chart further to indicate major spends within that category, like this:
Your marketing mix depends on the following:
- Audience: The websites, platforms, and channels your audience hangs out on. If your audience uses Snapchat and Instagram exclusively, it won’t make much sense to market on Facebook, for instance.
- Expertise: Your experience and expertise with a marketing channel. If you understand social media but are clueless about email, focus on the former, not the latter.
- Budget: How much money you have to spend on each channel. Some channels are inherently expensive, while you can get a lot of mileage out of others with free promotion.
- Message alignment: Some marketing messages and assets align better with one channel than another. If you’re trying to promote a music video, for instance, you’ll do better by focusing on YouTube than Twitter.
Once you understand these, make a list of your top marketing channels. Then list your budget – if any – for each channel.
This would be your marketing mix.
5. Figure Out Your Goals
One of the biggest mistakes I see musicians making is to approach marketing without any goal in mind. Marketing without a target is often rudderless and reactive. You never know if your tactics are working because you don’t have any metrics to compare against.
Your next step, therefore, should be to figure out your goals. These should be both objective and subjective.
- Subjective goals define achievements, artistic accomplishments, etc. that you want to achieve. “Collaborate with X musician”, “get featured in X magazine,” etc. are examples of these goals. You can’t measure your progress on these goals; only their completion.
- Objective goals define concrete metrics you want to achieve. “Get 10,000 YouTube subscribers,” “Earn 100,000 total plays on SoundCloud” are examples of objective goals. You can measure their progress over time.
While you have complete freedom to choose any subjective goal you want, your objective goals should be S.M.A.R.T. That is, they should be specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and time-related.
“Get more fans” isn’t a S.M.A.R.T. goal. But “Get 10,000 YouTube subscribers in 12 months” is, since it is specific, relevant, and has a time component.
You should have at least one S.M.A.R.T. goal for every marketing campaign you run.
6. Bring it All Together
If you’ve done all the above, you would have a good enough idea of your audience, brand, capabilities, and channels. You can now put all this information together to create your marketing plan.
Here’s a step-by-step process for doing this:
- List your goals, both objective and subjective. Categorize them as ‘near-term’ (3 months), ‘mid-term’ (12 months), and ‘long-term’ (5 years).
- Concisely describe your brand. Include any inspirations, influences, and your core values.
- Describe your target audience, focusing on their demographics and psychographics (i.e. their likes, interests, and values).
- Briefly list your strengths, capabilities, and weaknesses. For weaknesses, list any remedial steps you can take to mitigate them (such as hiring freelancers).
- Describe your top marketing channels and your budget for each of them.
- Define your marketing strategy. This is essentially a summary of all of the above – your brand position, target audience, and how you expect to reach them, i.e. the marketing mix.
- Create a summary of the document and add it top the top of the plan.
In the business world, people often create marketing plans to court investors. Thus, they have to follow strict templates.
You obviously don’t have such constraints. Since you’re creating the plan just for yourself, feel free to add/remove sections as you see fit. Conventional marketing plans are text heavy, but you can – and should – add images, links, and anything else that will help you make sense of your marketing approach.
Creating a music marketing plan might seem like a lot of work. But once you have one, you’ll find that your marketing becomes much more systematic and organized. You won’t have to figure out everything from scratch every time you start a campaign. And you’ll get a deeper understanding of your own brand and target audience. The long-term impact of this simple document can be enormous.
Ryan Harrell is a growth marketer turned producer. He blogs about music gear and music marketing at MIDINation in-between freelance production gigs.