By, Wendy Day
Marketing is the action of promoting yourself and your music through advertising to build your fanbase and make money. It consists of market research, and positioning of product in the marketplace. It also spreads the overall image and awareness that is put forth by your brand as you advertise, promote, do interviews and basically spread the word about your music (which is your product).
It’s necessary to know exactly who might buy your music and come to your shows, and tailor your marketing campaign to them. The best method to draw in fans is “word of mouth,” so therefore your goal should always be to spark positive conversation (word of mouth) about you and your music. Ideally, you want people talking about you and checking you out to see who you are and if they like your music. Repetition of the music to create familiarity is what builds the popularity of your songs. Image is what attracts fans to you as an artist. Therefore, marketing must contain aspects to create repetition of the music and spread awareness of you as an artist simultaneously.
Who Is Your Potential Fan?
Taking it outside of music for a minute, can we all agree that the person who shops for clothes at Walmart or Sears is different from the person who shops at Neiman Marcus or Versace? The person who drives a Hyundai or a Volt, may have different interests from the person driving a Bentley or a Tesla? So back to music now—the person who is listening to or buying Justin Bieber’s music is different from the person who supports Kodak Black. Beiber has a younger audience, more pop music, radio, and internet driven, while Kodak Black makes music for the streets—meaning the fan is older and probably more likely to be male. They are also as likely to buy a bootleg CD at the local Swap Meet or the Car Wash for $3 as they are to stream his music on Spotify, while a Bieber fan may be more likely to stream music (or download music) to a smartphone.
So, if I was marketing a young pop artist, I might try to book him on Nickelodeon shows and set up a high school or Mall tour. With a rapper who doesn’t appeal to a teenage demographic, I’d probably do more of a college tour, and club dates reaching a 21 and older crowd. So, it’s important to know who is buying your music. You need to be able to figure out the demographic for your music or your song, and that will let you know the direction your marketing needs to take. If you are not able to determine who your fan base is yourself, you need to find someone around you who can. But they better be right. If you are making music that appeals to white skateboard twenty-something kids and you market to young inner city teens, you are destined for failure!
The way I do this for my clients, is through market research. I assemble groups of rap fans and play the music for them to get feedback. I ask them who this artist is similar to. I ask them what other artists they like. This gives me an idea of the lane my artist fits—we would work an artist who sounds like J Cole or Kendrick Lamar differently than an artist who sounds like Kodak Black or 21 Savage.
Once I know what lane we are in, I research the sales, streaming, and radio statistics of the similar artists. This tells me the best markets, regions, and radio stations for my artist. All of this information is what I use to create a marketing plan. If you don’t have access to this information, you will need to do the best research you can. I then use my experience and know-how to develop a plan of action for my client based on what I know works both best online and in the real world—you need both. You can not build success without both the internet and the actual streets.
When I was out on the road with BloodRaw, I kept dragging him to college campuses because at the time he was making anthem type party raps, and he kept telling me’ “Let’s go to the ‘Hood.” It’s not that one is right and one is wrong, but that he knows who buys and listens to his music. In this case, we blitzed the ‘hoods first and then grew out to the college, club, and party crowds. He had a perfect understanding of who his market is. In working with Trouble, we blitz the streets, constantly. That is his market. The streets and the clubs that attract the streets. As his market and fanbase grows and the awareness of him and his music grows, so will our marketing efforts both in territory and type of music fan.
How Will You Reach Them?
Once you know who will buy your music, it becomes pretty clear what your image needs to be to reach your market. In Jeezy’s case, he’s that dope boy turned rapper who’s about making money, partying in the clubs, buying material items, and driving expensive cars. In Jay Z’s case, he’s that Billionaire Mogul running his own empire and living the life that this brings. Kanye considers himself a fashion icon of good taste and feels a need to voice his opinion about everything publicly. Lil Kim and Foxy Brown are the old school ‘hood chicks that every middle age guy knows and loves while Nicki Minaj is the new “Barbie” on the block. Young Thug is the “I don’t care what you think of me” guy, and Wiz Khalifa is your boy who only wants to smoke weed.
In terms of imaging, Thugga could rock a suit, but you’d assume he was going to court. He’s much more at home in some skinny jeans and always rocking the latest street fashion. Jay Z is more likely to be recognized in a button down shirt with cuff links or an expensive Italian suit. Image is a big part of marketing. What is your image? What sentence would a fan use to describe you? Is that description unique or does it fit ten other rappers?
Now, as you promote your image to the masses to gain awareness, it’s important that your message is clear, concise, and easy to understand. A flyer with 20 things crowded on it, and no empty space for the eye to rest, is a waste. Having things mis-spelled or grammatically incorrect is terrible too. Photos that are too low resolution that they look grainy and out of focus make you look cheap, amateur, and clueless. The look of your promotional materials says a lot about who you are as a person. It would be easier for 21 Savage to get away with something grimy and street than Jay Z or Future. Image is everything, and yours should be consistent.
If you have no understanding of design or aesthetics, find someone who does. If you suck at writing copy, find someone who has that talent to write the words for your flyers, social media pages, website, bio, etc. Find people who are good at what they do and hire them to help you. Know your role and play it. Don’t try to do everything yourself. Teamwork is key here. If you have no money at all, you have bigger problems than marketing–this is not a free industry. You can find things cheap and call in favors to help you, but at some point you will need to spend money. After all, it’s a business, not a hobby (although even hobbies cost money!).
When you choose your own lane, try not to bite what has come before you. There is already a Jay Z, already a Lil Wayne, already a Drake, already a Future (apparently Desiigner missed this blog post). Try not to copy their style or image or sound. Usually the one who does it first, does it best, so be unique.
I suggest you use one image of the artist at first to have consistency in marketing. You don’t have the budget of a major label who can afford to market Rick Ross in a suit, a sweatsuit, as well as everyday outfits. Pick one image and use that for your CD cover, vehicle wrap, website, flyers, posters, etc. I suggest using one image mostly to create recognition—it is very rare that a fan recalls a new artist’s name. There are just too many new artists. So very often they will remember the kid who is rapping next to a Lamborghini on his posters, or that kid who is into skateboarding, etc. Make it easy for people to figure out who you are. Use one strong image that stands out to market yourself, and sets you apart from everyone else. At least until a large portion of your market gets to know you. You can show your versatility in style on your social media, but your main picture should be the marketing photo.
When I first started working with TMI Boyz many years ago, our t-shirts were so ugly that I would never wear them. We gave out like 10,000 of those ugly shirts. Finally, we had the logo and shirts redesigned. We had everybody asking for our shirts and wearing them (including me). We even had folks offering to buy them from us (truth is the t-shirts were more expensive to print, so we learned to sell the t-shirts and give out the music for free). Your marketing mix should consist of whatever you can afford from the following–
- Street promotion
- Radio promotion (IF you make radio music)
- Club promotion (IF you make club music)
- Retail store promotion (if you still press CDs to sell; most do not)
- Internet promotion
- Social media marketing
- Publicity (blog, magazine, and media mentions)
- Promotional Tour
- Magazine ads
- Cable TV
- Radio Ads
- Facebook and Google Ads
- Email marketing (start building an email list, now!)
- All of it! Which are the most important 5 for your fans?
- Videos & Behind-the-scenes footage
- Snippet CDs
- Mixed CDs
- Download Cards (business cards that list all of your links to music.videos, social media, etc)
- Wrapped Vehicles
- Posters/Flyers/Post Cards
- Memory Sticks (mp3 sticks)
- Website (yes, you still need one)
Don’t forget to incorporate both the internet and the actual community as part of your campaign. While we still aren’t 100% digital yet in this era, the streets are a crucial part of your marketing mix. To those of you with no budget who think free internet promotions is enough to build an artist, you are wrong. It is exactly what it is: inexpensive promotions, but just one part of your whole marketing pie. You still need the streets, clubs, and real world promotion.
I can’t stress enough the importance of your imaging and marketing. Make sure your messages are clear, well designed, spelled correctly and grammatically correct. And most of all, make sure you are reaching the people who will buy your music, with your imaging, your design, and your marketing mix. This should put you one step closer to success whether your plan is to stay independent or to attract legitimate deal offers from established record labels. And then once you figure out who (fans) and how (marketing), you will need to out work everyone else and have music those fans will support.