Late 2017, I received a social media friend request from someone who played in a band I had grown up knowing about. I thought it was pretty cool until he messaged me and mentioned that we were both members of the Christian punk & spirit filled hardcore social media group, and asked if I had ever seen certain popular bands in that genre live in concert. I told him I had not, but that I knew of his band from a compilation I had stashed away at my parents’ house. It turns out that’s what he wanted to talk about. It wasn’t long before I discovered that he was contacting multiple people in many punk and hardcore affiliated social media groups with the same questions and the same copy-and-paste responses he had sent to me. What’s worse is that he was doing this so often he was getting on people’s nerves.
The last time this guy reached out to me, I told him very kindly that people were getting annoyed by his requests and he should probably cut back. One of the next messages he sent me was a copy-and-paste response to a question he’d sent me several messages earlier and that I had already answered. It wasn’t long after, that I asked him to stop contacting me all together.
This is not the best way to promote via social media. To avoid alienating your target audience, here are some examples of good promotion vs. bad promotion.
Do: Form Relationships
For a while now, I’ve worked in PR outside of just grassroots promotion for my own band, and one thing that’s super important is building relationships. Whether you find yourself talking to news outlets or some random person in a social media group, it’s important for people to know they’re appreciated and you understand that they’re a person, not just a contact. Particularly in music, this should be second nature as so much of it is community-based and no artist is what they are without others who support them. But sometimes we forget. So build relationships, not just business connections or fans.
Don’t: Make Those Relationships One-Sided
A sure way to ruin the aforementioned relationships is to make them single-sided. People can tell when you don’t care about them, and the worst thing you could do when someone helps you out is forget to thank them or merely go on your way. For example, someone checks out your band after you post your new single in a social media group. They reach out to tell you they like it, and genuinely ask you to check out their music. You say you will, but you never do and never offer any comments or validation for their art the way they have validated yours. If you do this, then chances are you’ve just lost a potential fan and connection. This extends into dealing with the Press as well. One of the biggest lessons I’ve learned in PR is that it’s expected for you to know about the people you work with, even if it’s just something small like where they live or if they have a family. This is basic human etiquette and if you ignore it you may find yourself losing steam around your musical projects.
Do: Stay on Point
It’s important to stay on topic when you’re showing someone a new single, trying to get them to a show, or sharing your tour dates with them. Approach each promotion opportunity with a “less is more” mentality. Work on getting the point across to new people. See, there’s a lot of music in the world. So you don’t want to waste their time – just tell them what it is, why they should like it, and allow them to listen to it and make up their minds from there. Staying on point means discerning between those necessary and unnecessary details, and when you do so you’re more likely to garner support.
Don’t: Over explain
Over explaining is the opposite of sticking to the point. While major fans of a band may want to read extremely detailed explanations of what a song means, be realistic with yourself about how many “major” fans you actually have. This goes for interpersonal relationships you’ve built as well as press relationships. Think about it this way, you work an alternative press outlet or magazine and you get hundreds or thousands of new music submissions a day. You see maybe fifteen that catch your eye in the subject line, but don’t have time in your busy schedule to do more than skim them all. You have one that has a quick descriptor, links, and a press release attached to the bottom. The next one is paragraph after paragraph with information about the band and specific questions you don’t have time to answer – this is all before you even get to the official press release. As a practical person, which one are you likely to read? Keep it short, and do not over explain.
Do: Use Social Media Communities
Social media has changed the music business for everyone from your high school band playing a basement to major artists selling albums at multi-platinum rates. For this reason, use it. It’s the easiest and most convenient way to connect with fans and network with other artists. It also bridges some of the gap between “established” artists and up-and-coming artists. One way this is done is through social media communities. These are your Facebook and Twitter groups, and your Instagram group messages. These communities are free and if you’re not taking advantage of them, you’re missing out, plain and simple. Plus, being a participant doesn’t just do you good but it can bring you to your next favorite band. Keep this in mind and have a good time.
Don’t: Break Their Rules
Online communities often have rules of conduct, and sometimes self promoters don’t pay attention to the rules, as humans often do. Imagine someone came into your house and you asked them to take their shoes off, and they walked on in completely ignoring your request? Even if they didn’t track mud all over your carpet, you’d still feel disrespected. Think of these communities in the same light. When you enter their space, respect their code of conduct. Even if it means not promoting your art in every way you would like, it will garnish a good reputation for yourself and networking may be more fruitful in the long run.
Do: Respect Boundaries
People’s lives do not revolve around your music (not yet anyway). It’s important that you keep this in mind and that you respect people’s personal privacy bubbles. Now you need to understand that when I say this, I’m not telling you to stop reaching out. That would be absurd, and if people didn’t show you their music then how would you ever connect to artists like yourself? But I am saying to use your head a little bit. Don’t door-to-door them and don’t reach out to them in places reserved for friends and family.
Don’t: Be Cocky
As much as you don’t want to come off as unconfident, you don’t want to come off as cocky either. The difference between confidence and cocky is arrogance. Some people think their music is good, and others think their music is better than everyone else’s, and therefore they deserve special treatment. Obviously (and for good reason) that turns people off fast. Nobody wants to work with cocky people. Arrogance is annoying even with credibility. So carry yourself humbly.
Do: Be Confident
If you think your music is good, then own it and don’t feel bad about that. After all, being humble doesn’t mean being self-deprecating. When you believe in something you’re doing, other people will be inclined to check it out. Confidence is attractive, we all know that. It’s how you get a job. It’s how you make new friends. And it’s how you get your band on a show, or how you get included on a compilation. And ultimately it’s how you get anyone to listen to you in the first place. So make good music, and own it to the world.
Hopefully you already knew most of these things, but reminders can be good. Stay aware of your behavior and be sure to treat people with respect. That’s the golden rule of music promotion.
Robert Lanterman is a musician, writer, and record label owner originally from Boise, ID. In 2015, he started Hidden Home Records, an independent record label focused on putting out records for bands in the punk rock scene who didn’t know how to do it themselves.