Decoded Magazine presents the essential Digital Marketing guide for artists, DJs, labels and brands in 2016.

In a digital world dominated by social networks, artists are more often than not judged on their popularity and success by their social media and streaming stats. But as we navigate the slippery slopes of peak content, and struggle to be seen and heard in the attention economy, it’s becoming increasingly difficult to ensure that your digital marketing cuts through the noise, and to successfully build an engaged fan base. With that in mind, I’ve put together a guide to some of the biggest challenges in digital marketing for musicians, and how you can overcome them.

First of all, you have to know yourself, know what you stand for, and know what value you can provide for an audience. In a streaming-dominated attention economy, the challenge isn’t to reach more people, and nor is it to increase the amount of people that you sell to; it’s to make people care. This isn’t about what your audience can do for you – it’s about what you can do for your audience.

With quite literally a whole world of content to choose from, the listener is the power player. Therefore, you have to start with your listeners, and put them first. You have to give people a reason to care about you, and to follow you – because the most important factor in any potential fan’s decision as to whether or not they want to support you is how you’re making them feel. Try to find a unique voice, one that people can relate to, in order to express who you are and find your audience. Ask yourself: what makes your music so great? Why should people listen to it? Why should they bother about you? These are the questions that you need to be able to answer in order to successfully find and build a fan base.

Once you’ve figured out what value you can deliver for your audience, think about which digital marketing platforms you’re going to use. Don’t fall into the common trap of thinking that you need to be across them all – you really don’t. Work out which platforms are right for you (where you can post content that best fits your style, your personality and your schedule) and your audience (think about where, when and how your followers best engage with you), and then concentrate on building a community there. Don’t worry about the rest. It’s far more effective to build a genuine community on one or two platforms than an empty number of followers across multiple channels who never really genuinely engage with you at all.

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Thanks to the dominance of streaming and social networks, artist-fan relationships are becoming fickle, casual and short-term. Because we’re bombarded with so much content across so many channels, social media has become a game of diminishing returns, where audiences are less emotionally invested than ever.

Therefore, it’s harder than ever before to grow a following; so if you really want to do it, you need to focus on building a genuine, two-way relationship with your audience. Get to know your followers; ask them questions and for their feedback; know what they want from you, and how they want to support you. Go above and beyond to add value for your audience, and invest time into developing a personal connection with them. Your music on its own isn’t enough to attract people’s attention, or to keep them engaged. A good rule of thumb to live by is that artists don’t sell their music anymore, they sell themselves. Your time is the most precious commodity that you have, and that you can give.

Don’t worry about follower numbers; it takes a huge amount of time and effort to grow an audience organically, and there will be times when progress is slow. Most importantly, remember that follower numbers on their own mean absolutely nothing; they are just empty vanity metrics. Even if you have 100,000 fans, does that mean that you could sell 100,000 gig tickets, or albums? We all know the answer to that.

Instead, focus on retention before growth. How many of your fans are true fans? How many of them really pay attention to your content, truly engage with you, respond when you ask them to, keep coming back for more? How many of them come to your gigs, and buy or stream your music? Rather than attempting to attract more eyeballs just for the sake of it, learn to truly engage the audience you already have.

When it comes to content, yes, there are certain types of content on certain platforms that will outperform others. For example, Facebook is so keen to take a big bite out of YouTube’s video pie that native video on the former can still get you great organic reach and engagement. However, content is no longer king – the audience is. So before you start posting anything on any platform, stop and think: how is your content going to make your audience feel? Is it exciting, interesting, funny, sad, moving…? Will it make them feel an emotion strongly enough that they want to engage in return, and / or share it with others? That’s what you should be aiming for, before you post anything at all.

Music Marketing 2016Aim to think like a YouTube star does, and attract and build an audience by creating content like those creators do. By that I mean content that is regular, episodic, short-form – perfect for short attention spans, and perfect for mobile consumption. Think about how skilled those stars are at drip-feeding content to their audiences, getting them addicted to their thoughts and doings on a really regular basis, and interacting with those audiences constantly. It’s a strategy that adds value for their audiences, and one that keeps them coming back, and consuming content, time and again.

Finally, measure your results. Keep track of data from your digital channels, and work out things like what content, what platform, what time works best when it comes to engaging your audience, and what your audience does and doesn’t respond to. Then use those insights to refine your content marketing strategy over time.

In a streaming-dominated attention economy, it’s not about the instant gratification of a sale, or a download, or short-term profits. It’s not about selling one really low-priced item e.g. a CD or download to a mass audience once every release cycle. And it’s not about increasing the number of people that you sell to. Once again, the key to monetising your audience in 2016 and beyond is to make people care. Because listeners will only want to support you when they care about you.

Therefore, the only metric that you should be concerned about is Customer Lifetime Value. The ultimate goal is to turn fans into high-value lifetime customers who keep coming back, who keep streaming your music, and who keep supporting you, in order to reap the long-term benefits of customer retention and loyalty. In order to do that, you need to know your audience – use a combination of data and engagement to understand as much as you can about your audience, how they want to support you, what they want from you, and how best to monetise that relationship. Don’t beat your followers over the head with sales messages. Consumers aren’t stupid; stop trying to sell them product, and remember that the real value of music lies in the listener’s emotional connection to it – and to you as an artist.

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Once you’ve developed a personal connection with your audience, you can also monetise that relationship through offering content and experiences for super fans, different products, and allowing your audience to support you at all different kinds of levels. Which brings me on to the importance of harnessing the power of your own platforms.

By all means leverage social networks and streaming services for all the engagement, reach and data that you can get out of them, but make sure that you’re not relying on them entirely. You need to be able to reach fans directly and not just through a third-party platform. Most importantly of all, you need to own the relationship with your audience – gather and own as much data as you can, and prioritise the power of your own platforms. Far too often, artists ignore the humble website and mailing list when starting out, and focus all of their efforts solely on social media – but never forget that the former are still the most powerful tools at the music industry’s disposal in 2016. So set up a website (a platform like WordPress is a good start), and a mailing list (MailChimp is by far the best option), and make sure that you focus on building up your email subscribers as a top priority – because they will be the most engaged followers that you have, and the ones who are most likely to support you.

Your social media followers will be largely made up of more casual listeners and observers, rather than super fans – but if you focus on giving them the right kind of content and value, you could convert them over time into more engaged fans, who will then sign up to your website updates, mailing list and so on. Then you can send out exclusive offers, pre-sales, content and more to your most engaged followers via your website and mailing list. Segmenting your audience in this way, and tailoring marketing content and messaging to different types of fans, is by far the most effective way of monetising your audience.

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Of course, there will be times when you do need to send out sales messages, and when you need to monetise through running ads; particularly since every social network is now more ad platform than communication medium. Organic engagement and having a genuine two-way relationship with your audience go hand in hand with effective advertising, and will help you to maximise monetisation opportunities – but you’re going to have to accept that you have to pay to play if you want to reach a wider audience.

Once you’ve spent time building that artist-fan relationship, you’ll be able to set up ads that feel as organic and natural as possible. The best-performing ads are always ones that look and feel most like an organic social post, not like a sales pitch – focus on keeping that emotional connection between your audience and your music, or your live show, or whatever it is that you’re promoting, and why they should care about it.

When it comes to running social ads, start with Facebook. Facebook delivers by far the most detailed targeting options, the most detailed analytics, and the best value of any digital ad platform right now. You don’t need to spend a lot of money on social ads – you can set up a Facebook ad for 20 pounds and get great results, as long as you focus on achieving a clear goal with each ad – for example, do you want to send people to a page on your website? Or to a site like Beatport? Do you want to drive as many views as possible on a video? Do you want to generate as much engagement as possible on a particular post on your page? You also need to make your targeting as specific as possible – do you want to reach more of your own fans, or fans of similar artists, fans of a certain festival that you’re playing at in a certain area? If you have time, it’s well worth getting to know Facebook’s Power Editor in order to book your ads – it gives you features that Ads Manager (Facebook’s more basic ad booking tool), doesn’t. And never ever click on the ‘Boost Post’ button from your Facebook page. Because those ads aren’t defined by a clear campaign objective and specific target audiences, they only ever deliver poor results.

Facebook also offers free tools such as Audience Insights and Audience Optimisation, which will help you to find out more about your followers, and how best to target them with both ads and organic content. They’re simple to use, and will help you to make sure that you’re monetising your audience most effectively.

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Again, you’ve got to be active on streaming services if you’re going to really build up an audience on those platforms. Focus on Spotify first and foremost, which has the biggest user base, and will therefore deliver the biggest benefits for you as an artist. While you don’t need to be on all social platforms, if you’re not active on streaming services then you’re missing out on a huge opportunity to monetise your music.

Recorded music, live music and radio are becoming ever more closely integrated on streaming services, and Spotify is in the process of building much better messaging and social features. Music marketing will start to shift more and more towards streaming services rather than social networks, so make sure that you’re prepared to take advantage. Start by being active on streaming services yourself – listening to music, sharing your releases and music you like with your followers, building up playlists that represent your own style, and then sharing that content via your other digital platforms. You could even use your playlists to replicate your own radio shows, or live mixes. Make sure that you’re using streaming data from platforms like Spotify Fan Insights and Next Big Sound to determine to see who’s streaming your music, when, where and how best to reach them.

In summary, while getting your digital marketing right takes time and effort, working smarter and not harder will reap results. Set yourself objectives for what you want to achieve; use only the platforms that are key for you and your audience; only put out content that is going to add value for your audience and help you to build a genuine relationship with them; and use data to help you constantly evaluate your results, and adjust your strategy accordingly. And above all, always start with your audience and what they want first, and work backwards from that. Because as a wise man once said: “If you’ve created a piece of content, but you haven’t built up an audience first, will anyone be able to consume that content?”

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About the author

As director at digital marketing agency Motive Unknown, Lucy Blair delivers digital strategy, campaigns and consultancy, helping music clients including BMG, Midem, AEI, Houndstooth and Proton Radio to identify and implement strategic business and technology opportunities. Follow her on Twitter at @lucyeblair

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