Music Marketing Is Not What You Think It Is

Posted by on Aug 20, 2019 in music business, Pick Yourself | No Comments

We need to talk about music marketing. No other field in the music industry has such a bad reputation or gets more glorified. Sounds strange, right? Well, I’ve found that these are the two most common ways to think about music marketing. And that is problematic. People either cry “sell-out” if somebody dares to point out the importance of music marketing, or they overestimate its importance and think that with the right type of music promotion, you can make everyone a star in the electronic music business. It’s time to bust some myths! In this episode, I’m going to discuss two problematic mindsets that have to do with music marketing and how you can adopt a healthier view on the topic.

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The big problem with music marketing these days

The stories we tell each other dictate what we believe. And what stories do we most like to tell our peers? Yes, the most extreme ones. This holds true for stories about music marketing and its relevance in the electronic music industry. Some of the stories I’m hearing over and over again these days go like this:

“The label and the agency basically hired a model agency to scout for somebody who fits the artist brand that they wanted to create. After they had found somebody, they gave her some 1 on 1 master classes in DJing, hired a ghostwriter to produce her first EP, and then invested several thousand dollars into marketing to make her famous in a couple of months. That’s what’s wrong with our industry, only the marketing counts, not the music itself.”

What’s even more problematic than the marketing side of the statement is that it puts women in our industry in a very bad spotlight. But that’s another discussion which I’m saving for a dedicated podcast episode anyway. If you take a look at the statement, you can clearly identify that music marketing is being demonized here as the thing that will ultimately destroy our scene and the underground culture that has built it.

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Another typical conversation I have (especially with upcoming artists) goes like this:

“I know that my music is good enough and that there is an audience that is interested in it. I only need better marketing to push my music career forward and get to the next level. I guess I just need to invest more time and money into my Instagram profile and buy some ads on big blogs.”

This one is even more interesting because the underlying assumption here is, that music marketing is the only missing piece in the puzzle. It seems to be the holy grail of success in the music industry.

Looking at both statements, I can clearly spot two different limiting beliefs. The first one is that marketing in and of itself is evil and gets in the way of true art. The second one is that better marketing will solve all problems and guarantee success.

Let’s first take a step back: What is a “limiting belief”? I’ve found a pretty good explanation in this article by Sean McCool:

“We all carry around numerous limiting beliefs. They come from a variety of sources, as well as from the way we see the world around us. Humans can’t help but learn, but sometimes we learn things that aren’t quite the way we think they are.
These beliefs were often something we “caught” in our environment more than something we were taught. These beliefs are subtle, but powerful. Fortunately, you can let go of limiting beliefs and replace them with beliefs that empower you. “

Well, to me this holds true for many beliefs that are floating around these days in regards to music marketing. So let’s have a look at the two main limiting beliefs that we find in our industry.

Limiting belief nr. 1: The “sell-out” mindset

I call this the “sell-out” mindset because it assumes that music marketing is killing electronic music subculture by letting the big money machines in. They use all their financial power to build up shallow fake artists who quickly gain popularity and take over the underground scene like a trojan horse.

The underlying limiting belief here is that marketing in and of itself is evil and gets in the way of art. People who’ve adopted this limiting belief tend to think that great music always finds a way to the listener and that the creation of art is the only thing you should focus on. In conversations, these people tend to mention some examples of great artists that have gained success without putting any effort into promoting themselves (presumably).

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Let’s make something clear: I partially agree with them here. There lies a danger in putting too much focus on marketing rather than the creation of art. Moreover, I definitely think that the electronic music subculture is in danger right now. Some tendencies in our scene are shocking and yes, big marketing pockets are playing a crucial role here.

But that doesn’t mean every aspect of music marketing is inherently evil and should be avoided. Promoting your release and working on your artist brand is a crucial component of building and growing your artist career these days.

Moreover, if you take a look at some of the uber-true underground artists that often get mentioned as anti-marketing examples, one could argue that this is exactly their type of marketing. Sure, I absolutely believe that Ricardo Villalobos doesn’t give a shit about having an Instagram account. I also agree that Underground Resistance have always been an important part of counter-culture rather than a marketable artist brand. But still, they all ARE marketing themselves in a certain way, even if it’s by claiming in interviews that they don’t care about branding and promotion.

Limiting belief nr. 2: The “marketing solves everything” mindset

Marketing is only a means to an end and part of a bigger picture. The people who are glorifying music marketing as the holy grail of success for upcoming artists get this wrong. The underlying limiting belief here is that they can’t be successful because they either don’t have the skills or the funds that are necessary to promote themselves. This is especially sad because it presents itself as an easy excuse to avoid putting enough effort into building and growing your artist career.

This mental shortcut of “oh it’s just the music marketing that prevents me from having success” gets in the way of professional and personal growth. We have to be able to objectively ask ourselves why we’re still not gaining any momentum. There are dozens of better aspects to look at before we can come to the conclusion that our lack of marketing is the main problem.

Music marketing is not what you think it is visual 02

It’s simply not true that everybody can become successful if they just invest enough time and money into promotion. It’s also not true that Instagram-ing and YouTube-ing are the most important skills for artists these days. If your music isn’t resonating with a larger audience, there’s something else wrong. Don’t be quick to blame it on a lack of marketing!

And by the way: There is no such thing as a “secret marketing code” you have to crack. You will probably see some ads online by shady blogs that try to sell you Instagram-hacks for artists or Facebook ad strategies for your next release. I promise you that neither of those short-term hacks and tactics is going to solve your problem.

So stop obsessing about music marketing, please. It’s maybe less important for your career than you think. Instead, you should focus on creating amazing music first, grow and gain experiences, and then use authentic and meaningful ways of music promotion to amplify your efforts. Which brings us to the conclusion here.

A healthy music marketing mindset for you: The “great art amplifier” approach

Let’s get one thing straight: Music marketing cannot create relevance out of thin air. There’s no such thing as a magic bullet. Moreover, you cannot create demand that hasn’t existed before within your audience.

Marketing works like an amplifier. If you put great stuff in, you can crank it to eleven and it will resonate with a larger audience. If your music and your message are unique or fresh, interesting, and authentic, you should use marketing as a tool to amplify your efforts.

If you neglect that part of the game completely (= the “sell-out” mindset), you’re limiting yourself mentally from getting in touch with people who would love to find out about you. Who are you to completely neglect the opportunity of creating life-changing experiences? Your music could save their day, maybe even their life.

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If you overestimate the importance of marketing (= the “marketing solves everything” mindset), you’re preventing yourself from true growth as an artist and as a personality. If you’re quick to blame everything on a lack of marketing skills or funds, you won’t ever find out what the real problem is. Don’t let this lazy excuse get in your way!

Seeing music marketing as an amplifier of great art is a healthy mindset shift because it puts the creation of art first but makes clear that without any amplification, you will probably never reach a relevant audience.

So how can you make this work for you and what steps do you need to take first?

Putting it into action: How to adopt the “great art amplifier” mindset in music marketing

I suggest you do this with pen and paper, or at least digitally in written form. These three action steps will help you develop a music marketing mindset that works in your favor:

1. Take an honest look at your self-limiting beliefs

  • Assess your conversations about that topic as well as your inner self-talk. Are you leaning more towards the sell-out mindset? Maybe you’re guilty of the “marketing solves everything” mindset?
  • Whatever the outcome is, be as honest as you can and maybe involve others that are close to you and ask them for their honest opinion

2. Start to use the “great art amplifier” mindset in your next conversations

  • When topics come up that have to do with music promotion and marketing, try to find a healthy balance between art and amplification.
  • Try to establish self-awareness for the moments when you jump to quick conclusions that either glorify or demonize marketing

3. Brainstorm ways to amplify your art in a way that is authentic but still reaches a relevant audience

  • What is your current approach? Is it actually amplifying your art in a meaningful way?
  • Try to find strategies that create meaningful interactions with your audience that underline your artistic vision

That’s it for this blog post. I would like to hear from you: What self-limiting beliefs are you struggling with? What’s your view on music marketing in the electronic music scene? Let me know in the comments, I read everything!

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