At least over the short-term, the pandemic is transforming almost everything about music, including the way artists need to promote their work effectively and enduringly. Whether it’s heading off on tour to promote a new record to sending CDs out to college radio stations, the usual ways of getting the word out about music are being upended. Here are three current promotional changes you should think about if you’re sharing new music right now:
Music directors at college radio stations may not be accepting new music
For decades, the young music directors at college radio stations have been seen as gatekeepers who have a big say in what catches on in music. But since the spring of 2020, pitching music to this important segment of the music industry has been complicated. With many college campuses closing down and pivoting to remote classes, simply going down a list of contacts and sending CDs to college radio addresses isn’t a safe bet right now. While some radio stations are chugging along, others are temporarily closed. What does this mean for you if you’ve got a stellar new album to promote? It means more work, unfortunately. To ensure your CDs won’t gather dust in college radio mailboxes around the country, you’ll need to confirm that each and every station you pitch to is currently active and able to receive new albums. Some ultimately will, and some won’t be able to consider new music right now. Be prepared to accommodate the unique needs of each station, as some directors may request that music is sent digitally and not physically.
If you’re considering working with a radio promotional agency, it’s a good idea to ask how they’re making operational changes during this time to make sure your record has the best shot at being heard. College radio stations aren’t immune to what’s happening around the world, so keep that in mind before pitching new music.
Most live shows need to pivot to digital settings
Every musician knows this, but the full impact of a year or more without being able to reliably play live can’t be overstated. If you’re a serious musician putting out new music right now, digital performances pretty much have to be a part of your promotional strategy. Livestreams may not be able to stand in for regular in-person concerts, so don’t think of them as substitutes. Instead, start seeing them as helpful points of connection between you and your audience. With a minimal amount of investment in making these digital shows look and sound good, you’ll be able to debut new music, perform in front of fans of every age and location around the world, and reveal a side of your musical identity that wouldn’t translate nearly as well on stage at a venue. Transitioning to digital concerts won’t be easy for every musician, but rather than waiting for safe in-person shows to resume, the next best promotional option is to perform regular livestreams for fans. Get creative, whether it’s bringing on opening acts or making each show an anticipated event with sponsors, like your local alt-weekly magazine for example.
There are unique opportunities to entertain and inspire people at home
People are at home and bored out of their minds right now. Your music can provide a much-needed distraction for your fans, whether it’s a merch giveaway contest or an invitation to let listeners choose the set list for your next livestream. This is a time we’ll all remember for the rest of our lives, and it’s an occasion where people truly need outlets like music to carry them through. So instead of relentlessly nagging your fans to listen to your music or buy your stuff, get creative with the way you interface with your audience. This is the time for thinking not about how your audience can make you successful or affirmed, but instead about how you can meaningfully be there for them when they need you.
Patrick McGuire is a writer, musician, and human man. He lives nowhere in particular, creates music under the name Straight White Teeth, and has a great affinity for dogs and putting his hands in his pockets.