How To Learn Music Marketing WITHOUT Losing Your Sanity!
June 13th, 2022 by Graci Phillips
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The Music Marketing Mindset for Beginners Playbook
So, you finaaalllly decided to get serious about promoting and marketing your music, huh? Good! You are on a great path. One that will ultimately be incredibly rewarding. If you’ve found yourself interested in watching a music marketing mindset for beginners video, such as this, you probably fall into one of the following categories.
You’re brand new to marketing, you’ve not so much as boosted a post yet, and you’re trying to start off on the right foot.
You’ve already started digging in, maybe you’ve been doing it for a while even--but are feeling burnt out or overwhelmed.
Whichever group you find yourself in, framing your mindset is your first step to success as you expand your marketing knowledge. Whether you're just starting out, or whether you’ve been at it a while. There are many barriers you may face in your music marketing efforts, some technical, some emotional. And you’re gonna need someone to talk you through it. So, let me be your personal mindset coach! As we run down the different challenges you may encounter we’ll put together a playbook of all the strategies you can employ to, first, keep from burning out, and second, to absolutely crush your marketing. So let’s get into it.
Give Yourself A F*cking Break
Here’s the thing. You don’t know what you don’t know. As you start learning more about marketing and about building your Buddy System or Customer Journey, it’s easy to feel upset or frustrated looking back at past efforts that were less informed.
Many independent artists, myself included, spin their wheels for years thinking they’re making progress! I mean, let’s be honest. As artists pursuing careers in music, we’ve been fed a lot of bad advice.
We’ve been told that we need to do whatever we can do to get “industry” attention so that a record company will come save us from our indie misery! We’ve been told that we need to release songs ALL THE EFFING TIME on Spotify to generate interest and appease the almighty algorithm. We’ve been told that we need to be absolute content MACHINES to stay relevant. We’ve been told that the only measure of success in this industry is “blowing up” or “going viral.” And we’ve been told that the only worthy demographic worth reaching with our art are tiktoking-GenZ-babies. (No offence, babies, we love you too.) And while these things can certainly lead to or contribute to success, we’ve also been told that these are the only surefire ways to succeed.
Regardless of our differences as artists and regardless of our individual journeys or long term goals.
This leads so many artists, again talking about myself, to focus on all the wrong things. Instead of being primarily concerned with creating art, it’s so easy to get caught up in follower counts, monthly listener stats, and constantly comparing yourself to others you deem to be successful. But once you start diving into the power of marketing, a lot of those things feel sillier and sillier.
But, I want you to give yourself a break. Don’t dwell on everything you could have done differently up to this point, just get freakin’ amped about how good it can be going forward. I’m not going to pretend it’s easy. There is hard work ahead of you, bucko. But if this is your life's passion, it’s worth every bit of it. Work hard and do what you can with an end goal in mind.
But equally important as letting yourself off the hook for things you didn’t know before now, is to be patient with yourself while you’re learning! There are going to be hard days, technology is going to fight with you, you’re going to feel frustrated, even defeated--but being hard on yourself won’t make it any better.
Treat yourself with the same patience and kindness as you would anyone else. You’ve got this. Just give yourself a break, you’re doing great.
Sometimes learning something for your music business is a means to an end, not a skill you’ll need more than once or twice. For example, quickly learning the basics of photoshop to put together a show poster. Or maybe learning some coordinated moves for a music video you’re filming. These may be things you learn for a moment to use at a specific time, but then can generally dismiss them as skills after they’ve served their purpose for your music. This is how many artists view marketing. They treat it as something they can haphazardly tack onto their release plan. Just throw up an ad or two to promote their new song or project and call it a day! And that may be how you're viewing it. Just something that you can try out real quick.
But, I’m going to say something to you might not want to hear...
Marketing isn’t a one time event
BUT DON'T PANIC.
Marketing isn’t a one time event, it’s a cornerstone of all your creative efforts. It is a core piece of your business that will always be relevant. Which is incredibly powerful and exciting! Your music is a business. It’s a tower of creativity and badassery. And because you’re a badass, you get to be the driving force behind a successful and thriving business. Outside of the arts? There aren’t successful and thriving businesses that don’t spend time and effort consistently on bringing new awareness to their awesomeness--through marketing.
Marketing isn’t a one time event. And you’re a badass, so don’t panic.
Just take it one step at a time. You can’t do everything at once. You literally can’t. And that’s just science, kids. If you don’t like it, take it up with God or Neil Degrass Tyson. Whichever you like. That’s your business.
But all that to say, it’s going to take time to learn this stuff, it’s going to take time to implement it, and it’s going to be a consistent effort that you continuously deploy over your career. Which means, it might start out rough, but it can only get better. It can only get better as you learn and it can only get better as you try things and test out your theories. But, here’s the thing, you have to start. You can’t improve on something that you’re not implementing!
I know it feels scary and weird, but I promise, the more you do it the less it will feel that way. Don’t worry about getting it perfect, focus on getting it started so that it can get better. So, don’t panic, but get busy--one step at a time, friends.
Focus On Foundation
The idea of going viral is pretty sexy, right? There you are, grinding away in your pathetic indie life, and then all of a sudden--the stars align. You did it. You created the correct piece of content, at the correct time, that resonates with all the people. You’ve done it, you’ve gone viral!
All of a sudden...
The likes are pouring in!
The comments are exploding!
Your followers are off the charts!
You’re muhfuhing POPULAR!
Wow--the moment you’ve been waiting for! Let’s look at a few scenarios to see how this might pan out:
You’ve been grinding, you’ve been rising and shining. You have stable recurring content, you know your brand, know who your fans are, and you have a solid foundation of music and/or content under your belt. You're built to last. So, when that fateful day comes where you see your latest release, or video, or TikTok start popping off, you already have this incredible ecosystem for people to plug into! Because you spent time building a solid foundation, that little bit of exposure can be the spark that ignites all your previous efforts.
YOU’VE DONE NOTHING TO SECURE YOUR FOUNDATION! Your efforts are haphazard, or maybe you’re more focused on “going viral” than building an ecosystem. So, now that fateful day comes around! People are discovering you at a high rate! However, there’s no culture for them to identify with or ecosystem that they can become part of. They may love that one thing you did, but there’s not much more reason for them to stick around. Because you’ve not giving them a reason to. There’s nothing for them to dig into.
This is a huge factor in many “one hit wonders” that we see in the music industry! If you take a quick account of the one hit wonders of the world, you’ll notice a common thread. Many of them got huge off maybe their first single or first album, but had nothing else to offer their new fans. Of course, there are going to be examples you can find of people who didn’t have their foundation set up ahead of time and still made it long term--but why wouldn’t you plan for the latter? The control you have at this point in your career means you get to create the exact kind of community and culture you want in your fan base.
So instead of being bummed about the fact that you’re at the beginning and you don’t yet have the notoriety that you hope to achieve, view this time as your perfect chance to create the framework for the ideal career you’d like to flesh out.
Don’t let this beginning phase pass you by without establishing a clear foundation from which you can build the rest of your career. Now, this foundation doesn’t mean you can’t pivot in the future, but set yourself a clear goal to work towards for the benchmarks you currently want to achieve. Your true fans will follow you through the valleys and the mountains, so this solid foundation is everything.
There’s No Failing In Baseball
Now, is that literally true? Obviously not. (also, that’s obviously a pop culture reference stretch, but you see what I’m trying to do here. Just roll with it.) There are many occasions in life where we fail. Failure is an incredibly human experience that every single person deals with at multiple points in their life. That doesn’t make it feel any less traumatic or embarrassing when you’re the one feeling the existential burn of a personal failure, but it is a truly universal human experience. From falling off your bike the first time you fail to ride it down the street, to running an opt-in campaign that fails to bring in any new subscribers--we are all, as a human race, intimately familiar with the feeling of personal failure.
Something my mom used to say to me in my deeply troubled, emotional teenage years was, “No one is thinking about your hair looking bad, because they’re worried about their own hair looking bad.” While Debbie was maybe not directly connected to the cruelty of prepubescent middle school humans, she was basically right. What may feel like a mountain of ridiculousness to you, will likely be perceived as nothing more than an unmemorable bump in the road to your peers and fans.
In a recent conversation with an independent artist in our community, she was feeling disheartened because she was in the middle of running a merch giveaway that wasn’t producing the results that she wanted. She wasn’t getting as many entries as she’d hoped for and was feeling pretty crappy. Her immediate instinct was to be embarrassed that only a handful of people had been interested in the giveaway enough to enter and had chalked the experience up to an overall failure. But after more conversation, the different ways in which the giveaway was successful, as well as not so successful, became clear and became a path forward to a better iteration of a merch giveaway in the future. Through implementing her first idea for the giveaway, she learned how she could make it even better the next time she employs this strategy. And guess what? No one knew, other than her how many people actually entered the contest. This was in no way a public “failure,” but a powerful learning experience that will help her execute her campaigns with better success in the future.
The concept of "Failing Forward" is incredibly important where you stand right now. Most of your “failures” are invisible to your audience, and is it really a failure if you learned something valuable that you can grow from? Start embracing the idea now of being receptive to learning something you didn’t know before with each marketing campaign you try out. For one, it’s unlikely that anyone other than you is paying enough attention to think that you’re “failing” and it will only help you become more skilled at what you’re doing. As well as becoming more adept at understanding your specific audience and what they respond to. Every step you take forward is exactly that, a step forward, even if it doesn’t move you to the exact place you thought it would. So embrace the idea of “Failing Forward.” Don’t let any experience pass you by without gleaning something from it. It’s only up from here!
Remember, no one has time to worry about your hair, because they’re worried about their own. So just keep moving forward.
Your Value Isn’t Tied To Your Marketing Successes or Failures
Your value as a human being and an artist is not correlated to your marketing success.
I’m going to say it again.
Your personal value as a living, breathing, creative, human being is in no way tied to or affected by your marketing efforts.
Let me tell you the truth right now. You could have the most magnificent ads in the world. I mean quality 10, creative 10, delivery 10. And yet, there are going to be mean people that are going to troll your ads. And it has very little to do with you. They’ll leave mean comments, or nondescript gifs that don’t quite make sense, but hurt your feelings nonetheless! There are going to be painfully blunt people that just don’t vibe with your stuff--and decide it’s worth their time to let you know. And there are going to be times when you do miss the mark and people point it out.
However, hear me when I say, none of those things take any value away from you as a human or from your art as a whole. Internalize this now, because whether or not you’ve encountered this yet, you will. Your personal emotional success and your marketing stamina depend on you making this separation in your mind. People can be massive jerks. They just really can be. And the anonymous internet invites them out in droves to crush the spirits of delicate sensitive artists, like us. But the last thing you should do is give them the satisfaction of slowing you down. Heck those guys! Keep moving forward!
Remember, you’re a badass, so don’t panic when people are being total ding-dongs. Sometimes people just won’t vibe with your stuff and that’s okay! It’s your creative expression and it’s beautiful and wonderful!
Marketing IS Creativity
Just like there are arguments about the best renaissance artist--some will say it’s unequivocally Leonardo DiVinci, while others will die on the hill that is Michelangelo--there are going to be people who just don’t like your stuff. And what it comes down to is personal taste.
Have you ever heard someone say they think cilantro tastes like soap? Yuck. Ew. Soap is gross for nomming on and it is universally agreeable that we don’t eat it, yet I LOVE cilantro. I don’t think it tastes a thing like soap! But some people just disagree. And that’s normal. So in the same way that you have personal tastes for what food you like to eat, people have the same strong opinions for what kind of music they like to listen to. And it has nothing to do with the quality or passion involved in the creation of your music. So knowing that gives us this incredible tool to own our audience from the very beginning. If there is so much of you, and your brand, and your creativity fused into your marketing that anyone seeing it can immediately know if they identify with you or not, that’s an incredibly powerful way to build your tribe.
Something that I hear from Indies everyday is that they don’t want to do the “business stuff.” They just want to write/play/record music and be creative.
the entire concept of marketing is based in creativity.
It’s about coming up with artistic and clever ways to bring people into something that they’ll want to be part of! I’ve heard people call marketing “manipulative” or say things like, “yeah that marketing really got you, or tricked you into buying that or being part of this.” I don’t know about you, but if I get an ad for a t-shirt that’s just my style, or a product that fixes a pain point in my life, or new music that falls perfectly in line with my tastes, I’m grateful! I’m glad that someone’s ad targeting looped me into those things! They’re things that I likely want in my life! And the more creativity in those ads the more it speaks to me and I’m either able to immediately identify with it or know it’s not for me.
Approach learning digital marketing as another creative skill to add to your creative tool box. You'll find new ways to express and grow your creativity that you may not have been aware of before! Have an open mind and leverage the same kind of creative and innovative thinking you apply when making music.
Creativity is all about experimentation and expansion, you'll find you can apply that to so many other areas outside of just music creation and grow those creative muscles even more! So don’t look at this as boring “business stuff.” Look at it as a chance to use your creativity to bring people into your world that would ultimately love to be there. Marketing is an extension of your creative efforts!
YOU CAN DO THIS
Really dumb people use digital marketing. I mean, REAAALLLY dumb people can learn this stuff. Are you dumb? Psh, NO. So you’re already at an advantage! If you can teach yourself how to play an instrument, program a synth, read sheet music, produce a single in your bedroom, write a song--you can learn digital marketing! If I can learn it, you can learn it. I swear to Neil Degrass Tyson.
Alright, let’s get an instant replay
on what we’ve covered:
Play #1 - Give Yourself A F*cking Break:
This shit is haaaaaard. Take it easy on yourself. You can’t go back in time, but you can look forward. Treat yourself with kindness and patience as you learn and grow.
Play #2 - DON’T PANIC:
Marketing isn’t a one time event, it’s an incredible vehicle to help get you to where you want to be. So don’t panic. Take it one step at a time.
Play #3 - Focus On Foundation:
In the beginning of your artist journey you have the opportunity to build a strong foundation and ecosystem that can grow and scale with you. Giving this phase of your career the attention and dedication it deserves will set you up for future success.
Play #4 - There’s No Failing In Baseball:
There’s no such thing as failing if you learn from every experience. Fail forward and aim to get better over time! Nothing is going to be perfect the first time. What may feel like a failure to you won’t be noticed by the majority of people. No one’s thinking about how your hair looks bad, they’re busy worrying about their own hair looking bad.
Play #5 - Your Value Isn’t Tied To Your Marketing Successes or Failures:
Your value isn’t tied to your marketing successes or failures! Your value isn’t tied to your marketing successes or failures! Your value isn’t tied to your marketing successes or failures! You and your art have inherent value that is not diminished or augmented by your marketing. Your value isn’t tied to your marketing successes or failures!
Play #6 - Marketing IS Creativity:
Marketing isn’t the boring business stuff. It’s an amazing tool that uses your creativity to reach people that will resonate with you and your art. Squeeze every bit of yourself that you can into all your marketing efforts to attract the right people and repel the people who just aren’t that into you. Let your marketing be a clear calling card to invite people into your ecosystem and culture. An ecosystem and culture that they want to be part of.
And last, but certainly not least
Play #7 - YOU CAN DO THIS:
You can freaking do this! You’re smart, you’re creative, you’re talented, you’re driven, you’re a hecking badass! Look at all you’ve accomplished up to this point. You think you’re stopping here? No way! Everything is looking up and you’re about to crush allllllll this ish.
As we reach the end of this I want you to know how proud I am of you. You are taking a big step, it might even feel like a big risk! But you’re doing it. And you should be wildly proud of yourself.
This is hard work, but I know you’re up for the challenge.
So, here is my standing invitation for you to come back to this anytime you need to recenter yourself. You’re going to hit roadblocks. Emotionally, technologically. But I promise you that it’s nothing you can’t overcome with the right tools and the right mindset.
And don’t forget! You’re a badass and you’ve totally got this.
About the author:
Graci Phillips is Indepreneur's Community Manager & Director of Indie Success. Graci is part of our Nashville team and specializes in providing resources and solutions to our members, community building, and highlighting success stories within this incredible community.
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