Overcoming the marketing catch-22
Updated: Aug 4
Our conversations with new and emerging artists often come back to the same catch-22. It’s the paradox that:
To convince a team (a manager, a label etc.) to come on board, you need to be gaining traction and building a social and/or streaming audience...
… but to gain traction and build that audience you need the support and expertise of a team!
If you are in this position, luckily there are a few marketing options you have up your sleeve. In this article I want to explore the pros and cons of each.
And in a future article, I’ll be looking at where to start with the ‘team’. Should you be going for a manager first, a label, a lawyer or even a distributor/label services company?
But for now, let’s look at the marketing options that can help you overcome the catch-22 if you’re an emerging artist working solo, or part of a small team.
(For clarification, here I’m talking about paid PR - hiring someone to pitch your music to press and blogs)
CV. PR is a great way to get a few juicy quotes for your bio, often from a known and well-respected source.
Potential to reach ‘the industry’. Some publications will be followed by people in the music industry. If they happen to read that particular publication and are paying attention, they might come across your music… or they might not.
High cost. Most PRs will charge £500-£1,500 for a single campaign, and even more for an EP or album. Plus you usually have to pay everything in one chunk!
Questionable impact on your audience. So you’ve got ‘Track of the Day’ in a music magazine or blog. Great! Now the question is: how many people actually read those articles, and of those how many listen to your music? Some music marketers are getting smart at tracking this, and more often than not all you get is a handful of clicks. Is it worth it for the cost?
The ‘black box’. PRs definitely vary in quality so this won’t be applicable to all, but if you’re an emerging artist it’s unlikely you’ll be the top priority. You might just be added at the bottom of a ‘blast out’ email to all the PR’s contacts. It’s hard to see how much work the PR is really doing for you, and how effective it is.
Verdict: As part of a wider marketing campaign, PR can be valuable and a good way of getting your name out there to the ‘industry’. But high cost and potentially low impact on an emerging artist’s career (if you can even measure it) are pretty big downsides.
CV. It’s a nice boost to your bio if you have a few radio plays under your belt, and if the presenter has some kind words you can quote… even better!
Potential to reach a lot of people. If you get a slot on a station like BBC Radio 6, or Radio 1 that’s potentially a big audience. Though unless you’re on a prime time show the actual audience could be a lot smaller.
Income. Every little helps, and plays on radio will earn you royalties!
High cost. Similar cost to PRs (starting at £750–£1,500 for a single campaign) and again has to be paid in one chunk.
Smaller audiences than you think. Let’s say your track is played at midnight on Radio 6. How many people will be tuned in to that show? Of those, how many will actually be paying attention? And of those, how many will take the time to listen to who the artist is, or Shazam the track? And of those, how many will subsequently listen to your music or follow you?
Another ‘black box’. Though easier to track than PR, you don’t really know how much work the plugger is putting in for you as an earlier-stage artist. And it can be quite hit and miss if you don’t find the right DJs.
Verdict: Again, for emerging artists this can be a pretty costly way of reaching people. Similar to PR, it’s a bit of a black box, though pluggers do generally tell you who they’ve spoken to and it’s easy to track plays. The potential upside is big; you could end up reaching a large audience… but for an early stage artist the effect on your audience might be much smaller than the headline listener numbers.
Social media advertising.
The biggest audience out there. You can reach billions of people around the planet (though reaching the right people is more of a challenge - see below).
Open to everyone. Here be no gatekeepers. Social media ads are accessible to anyone, at any stage of their career.
Won’t break the bank. You can spend a relatively small amount to reach thousands of people. Plus you can drip-feed spend over time, instead of a big upfront investment.
Auditable. You know exactly what is going on, and you have a lot more control compared with some of the other options.
Requires marketing knowledge. Social media ads can be a powerful way of reaching the right people, but without having some knowledge of audience targeting and campaign construction you might end up with subpar results.
Native tools aren’t great. Facebook’s Ads Manager is powerful, but a nightmare to use and incredibly time consuming. Boosting/promoting individual posts is often not effective.
Verdict: Social media advertising has huge potential for emerging and more established artists alike… but you need to have a level of marketing knowledge and a lot of time on your hands if you’re using Ads Manager.
(Cue inevitable plug) Of course, there is a tool built specifically for musicians and creators that can help you build an audience easily and effectively on Facebook & Instagram… if you want to find out more about Feed just email us at email@example.com ;)
Submithub is a useful tool that lets you directly pitch to music blogs and playlists. The free version is ok, but to guarantee you get seen you’ll need to pay for credits. There’s also a new kid on the block in this space worth checking out - Musosoup. It’s a slightly different model, but we’ve tried it… and it works!
Spotify for Artists has opened up editorial pitching to anyone releasing music on Spotify (see this guide on getting featured). New Music Friday might give you a big (if brief) boost, but in truth the biggest Spotify playlists are now algorithmic, like Discover Weekly. Directing traffic to your artist page, and growing followers / repeat listeners are among the most important factors in getting your music picked up by Spotify’s algorithms. For this reason, using social promotion to direct people from platforms like Facebook & Instagram to Spotify can be an effective long-term strategy.
It’s worth noting that other platforms like Soundcloud and Bandcamp also offer artist pitching options. And BBC Introducing is a great way of getting those first radio plays, which can lead to bigger opportunities like festival slots via the BBC Introducing Stages.
I’m not even going to go into the underworld of follow/unfollow bots (likely to get you banned from Instagram), dubious playlisters (shady AF) and other ‘get rich quick’ schemes. These options might be attractive as a short-term boost, but in the long term results are dubious and they can cause more trouble than they’re worth.
The good news is that there are more options than ever to market yourself as an independent artist, either working solo or as part of a small team. Using these effectively can help you escape the marketing catch-22 and build your creative business on your own terms, under your own steam.
The above is by no means an exhaustive list, and as with our other posts we’ll update it from time to time. If you have any thoughts on the article or want to discuss the topic in more detail… get in touch!
And if Feed sounds like it could help, you can sign-up right here.