By W. Tyler Allen
Being a DIY musician in today’s industry requires, work and hustle — but it’s possible. Straight up, it’s completely possible to become a successful independent artist in today’s digital landscape. How exciting is that?!
You can make it, but like any profession or task, you need tools. Throughout my career working with artists and management teams, I find that there’s a lot of tools out there that are simply overlooked, or just not known about.
Here are some items to add to your “tool kit” to ensure that you’re marketing and managing your work properly.
1. First, The Things You Already Have…
I find that often in the music industry, we are signed up for certain memberships or use certain programs, but we really aren’t using them to their fullest potential.
For instance, did you know that TuneCore offers publishing administration services, for a small one-time fee? With this service they actively assist in the process of getting your work licensed in TV and film. This is just one of many services that your distributor can provide for you. Do your research, as there is plenty more!
Similarly, is your music registered under a PRO (performing rights organization), such as BMI or ASCAP? It really should be. A PRO is how to ensure you’re getting actively compensated for your work.
But did you also know that PRO’s also have workshops, networking events and even pitch sessions? While some of these may require some travel, your PRO tends to do more than just look out for royalties. For instance, many PRO’s will have music supervisor sessions, where a supervisor listens to pitches and considers your music for placement in TV and film.
Your distributor may also offer conferences, speaking series, or even concerts. Look into these events — and see how they can benefit you.
Research the tools you’re already using and see how you can ensure you’re optimizing them.
2. Buffer and/or HooteSuite
I believe that artists should tweet and post in real-time. Scheduling too much of your content can come off as impersonal. However, you also want a consistent presence. So I do recommend looking into scheduling programs such as Buffer or HooteSuite.
These are especially useful for when you’re touring or busy recording — however, I find them the most useful for certain “pieces” of content. A good content mix, which I’ve discussed before, is about 70% branding, 20% personal posts and 10% sales posts.
A scheduling tool can take care of those occasional promo posts, or brand building posts — so you can focus on simply interacting with others, and using your social channels as you normally would.
Buffer and Hootesuite are two of the more popular platforms, however, there exists dozens of similar outlets. I prefer Buffer as it automatically posts during your customized “peak hours”. So you simply schedule, and it posts automatically during times that are the most active for your follower-base. This feature is also optional as you can schedule whenever you’d like.
I also dig Buffer as it automatically pulls photos from links, where as with HooteSuite you have to manually insert the link.
HooteSuite, on the other hand has integration with Instagram, and if you’re a manager or agency, you can manage multiple accounts for free — and an unlimited amount for only $10 a month.
Regardless of how you go about handling your social media, a scheduler is key to having a solid content mix. It allows you to consistently have a social media presence even when you’re on the road, touring — or maybe just not feeling up to it that day.
Although, remember that you need to schedule a mix of content — so, re-share your videos, but also throw up new music you like, or local events you want to check out. Be dynamic — but also, with a scheduling tool, you can also remain consistent.
I always recommend an artist hires a designer for any kind of complex design campaign. This might be an album cover, or a banner for a website. However, images go beyond that — artists need visual content on their social media channels. Images always do better than text posts — so, little things like “Coming Soon” graphics, simple show reminders, or even graphics with your lyrics on them can go a long way.
However, these aren’t really worth investing in a designer, especially when tools like Canva exist. Canva allows for simple graphics, and also gives templates that include dimensions for certain social outlets, as well as text tools. It doesn’t have great “photoshop”-level editing functions. But it does allow you to quickly edit a photo, as well as add in lines and other tools to really create some compelling and simple social media (or blog) graphics.
I highly recommend you check Canva out if you need a quick image boost on your social media.
Boomerang is one of my secret weapons. Boomerang allows Gmail users to schedule emails — while this might seem like a small feature, it’s actually huge for artists who want to pitch press, but don’t have access to a professional email tool. Sure, you can use MailChimp for this, but email inboxes register it as as a “marketing” program, so it goes to a “promo” or even a spam folder.
To use Boomerang, first, I activate up Gmails “canned response” feature. This allows you to quickly pull up pre-written text without having to go and copy/paste. That way you can tweak a pre-written pitch, quickly.
(Note: Always tweak your pitch, state the writer’s name, tell them how you found their info.. make ’em feel special. This is key.)
Then, you simply go to the Boomerang icon, that now appears in your email window, and schedule it! You can schedule a certain amount a week for free, or for a small fee you can schedule a larger amount. It’s certainly worth the cost.
I even have access to major PR databases and scheduling programs, but I still find myself using Boomerang for the scheduling aspect. I simply feel that it’s easier to tweak the pitches in Boomerang, and make them more personalized towards the writer. Rather than just launching them all out in bulk.
This is also good for artists with small media lists, or who just want to send pitches out to a few key people before a launch.
Bonus Tips: Searching for writer emails? Use outlets like ZoomInfo for press contacts — another good way? Google ’em. Seriously, try searching a writer’s name and you’ll be surprised with how often you find some form of contact info.
5. Google Drive
If you’ve worked for any agency, start-up, or company with a lot of moving parts — you may be familiar with project management programs such as Slack, Trello, and BaseCamp. These are all great tools, and I’ve used them with a few labels — however, they’re only really necessary for large teams with numerous projects.
So… if you have an in-house PR team, booking agent, a designer, an inventory specialist and a manager — then sure, use these programs! But if you’re reading this, you’re likely a team of less than 5 folks and having project management tools may be a bit overkill.
While I’ve used these tools with large management teams and indie labels, most of my clients work directly off of Google Drive. Google Drive is just like Dropbox, though since it’s cloud base — it’s a bit easier to navigate and edit documents in real-time. Here’s what I use in Google Drive:
- Google Drive Folders
Obvious, but great for separating out photos, PR documents, tracks, and organizational documents.
- Google Sheets
This is my go-to tool for weekly status updates. I have columns for “Task”, “Status”, “Next Steps” and “Responsibility”. Then we work with the team (managers and/or artists) to fill out each item.
I also use Google Sheets to keep up with media lists, budgeting, track what writers I’ve pitched, venue contacts and more.
- Google Docs
Another obvious but good tool is the Google Doc. Google Docs allow for one document to be shared with your team for collaboration. So, this could be a marketing plan you’re working on with your manager, or it could be a social media content calendar.
It’s a great tool to create a document, and have a team give insight and feedback.
6. Good Ole’ Fashion Knowledge.
Hey! I know you wanted some hacks and quick tips, but I can’t stress this piece enough. Simply, educate yourselves.
One of the largest ways artists step towards failure is by trying to rush success. This might be going broke paying for sketchy promo deals, or maybe just giving up because they aren’t seeing results soon enough. However, the real success comes in understanding the industry. It goes into knowing what makes a good pitch, how to network, what makes a good social media presence.
You might say, well — I can have a PR team handle that. Yes! But… how are you going to know if they’re doing a good job? How do you know if your manager is doing their par? If you don’t understand what goes into these two arenas, you can’t gauge their productivity.
Recently, I started offering musicians my Artist Launch Kit which, instead of blindly pitching on the artist’s behalf, I give them all of the tools they need to pitch press and operate their brand. This includes a series of pitches, an EPK, a custom media list, as well as a marketing plan.
However, it goes beyond working directly with folks like me. TuneCore’s blog has become a great resource for artists, same with Hypebot, Sonicbids, and more. There’s also some incredible social media influencers out there who talk about music marketing (without trying to sell you something too often.)
Read blogs, connect and network with folks in the industry, education is everything, especially as our industry continues to grow.
As a music marketing strategist, Tyler Allen works with an extensive array of artists, labels, music tech, and music retail entities. Tyler began his music industry career with Sony Music Entertainment and RED Distribution, as well as the advertising industry. He is dedicated to giving veteran artists the tools to preserve their legacy, and new artists the tools to begin theirs (as well as everything in between). Learn more about Tyler Allen’s music consulting and background on his website here.