There are a LOT of ways to waste your music marketing budget nowadays. As an independent artist you probably aren’t work with the biggest budget, so i’m going to share the 7 worst ways to spend your marketing budget as an independent artist.
Keep in mind not all of these are necessarily bad as a concept, they just don’t make sense for independent artists in most cases. I’ll point out on a case by case basis below when one has its applications.
Not all Spotify playlisting is bad, the specific type of Spotify playlisting I want to call out here does the following:
- Promises a particular number of playlist followers and/or streams
- Doesn’t show you what playlists they’re pitching to
- Charges a lump sum, usually hundreds of dollars, to deliver the result
The reason why these can be so bad is you have no way of telling how these people grew their playlists. They could just be running bot accounts to their playlists to inflate the numbers, and you won’t necessarily figure that out until your music is on the playlist getting bot streams.
Another issue with this type of promotion is that since they’re guaranteeing a certain number of playlist followers for playlists they put you on, they have an incentive to fit your music on whatever playlist they have available. A common trope of these playlist companies is placing artists on movie soundtrack playlists or other generic playlists with many unrelated genres of music.
Not only is this a waste of money in most cases but it can actually hurt the long term performance of your song. Playlists have a very low save rate, and if your song is on a bad playlist it will likely be skipped many times which tells Spotify the song is bad. Typically 1 month later your song is kicked off the playlists and you’ll have almost nothing to show for it. It doesn’t grow your followers, your saves, or your baseline of monthly listeners.
Paying For Features / Collabs
Collaborating with other artists, especially bigger artists, is a fantastic way to grow your audience. In some cases it may even make sense to pay for a feature or a collaboration with another artist. However i’ve seen enough small independent artists shell out $5,000 to get a feature from an artist, blow their entire marketing budget and have it do almost nothing for them.
Many new artists often have a mindset that all it takes is one song to have a music career. While that is true it’s definitely the exception, not the rule. Most music careers are built from consistency – hard work sustained over a period of time. They think if they drop $5k on this song for the feature then it will change their lives and help promote every future song of theirs, but thats often not the case.
I’m not saying it never makes sense for an indie artist to pay for a feature. But if paying for that feature means you can’t run any Facebook ads to promote the song, or you can’t afford to have content made for the release or set up the infrastructure to have a website and a mailing list – don’t do it. Especially don’t do it if its your first song release.
It’d be much better for you to do several small collaborations with artists of similar or slightly bigger sizes. Artists you can actually build a relationship with a grow together. That big artist charging $5k-$10k for a feature is probably doing features for many artists, and you may just be lost in the noise.
Every music artist dreams of someday getting their music on the radio. Because of that there are companies that will charge a lot of money to do a radio campaign. Often the reason why radio campaigns cost so much is that it really is a lot of work getting music on the radio, and it takes a lot of connections built up over time to make that happen. Its a genuine service that should cost a lot of money in most cases, but its not something i’d recommend a smaller artist bother with.
If you have a massive budget of like $10k-$20k to promote a song, a radio campaign may make sense. With a budget like that you can afford to run Facebook ads, YouTube ads, run PR campaigns and do a radio campaign. The problem with this is that often artists will think (just like paying for features) that it will change their lives and make the song perform well without doing anything else.
One huge problem with radio in general is its lake of data tracking and lack of return path to platforms you own in any way. Its not uncommon for someone to drop $5k-$10k on a radio campaign and see little impact on Spotify, other streaming platforms, their mailing list or store purchases. It definitely can work out well if the song gets played regularly and starts charting, and then other radio stations pick it up, but thats never guaranteed.
While nothing in music marketing is ever guaranteed, due to the high costs associated with radio promotion I think its too big of a risk to take for indie artists.
PR (public relations) campaigns can take many forms. From getting your music, press releases, or music video on a blog to getting interviews setup for physical magazines or radio stations. PR companies usually have a network of contacts in the industry and have built up a relationship with these contacts over time. When you pay a PR agency they’ll typically make a press release for whatever you’re promoting, figure out the selling point to make people interested in it, and reach out to the contacts they have that are most likely to be interested in it.
Just like radio campaigns this is typically an expensive service that requires a lot of work. It has all the same plusses and minuses of radio as well – often it doesn’t move the needle on anything you can track, but every so often it can result in incredible results.
There are also a lot of PR agencies out there that take a lazier and cheaper approach. For example there are some that might charge you $500 to do PR, require you to write your own press release, and then all they’ll do is go to SubmitHub and other sites like that and spend $150 of that money on pitching. Then they pocket the rest.
In general real PR agencies won’t list their pricing on their website because everyone is unique and requires different amounts of work. Some legit companies will list their pricing but as a rule of thumb i’d avoid any ones that don’t require a quote unless you know people who have used them. If they allow you to checkout directly on their website without even submitting your music ahead of time, run the other way.
Due to the high cost of PR services i’d generally avoid these if its going to blow your marketing budget.
SoundCloud reposts are when a SoundCloud channel with hundreds of thousands or millions of followers charges a fee to repost your song onto their profile. Artists see the large number of followers and assume it would drive at least thousands of people to stream their song and follow them on SoundCloud.
The problem with this is that these channels often repost a dozen songs per day, and many of them built their following in sketchy ways such as:
- Just running bots to their channel
- Using download gates by requiring a follow in exchange for a free song
- Requiring artists to follow them to submit music
Most of their followers are unengaged and you’d be lucky if you even saw 1% of their followers stream your song, in most cases it will be MUCH less than 1%.
This is something i’d never bother with no matter what your budget is.
Expensive Music Videos
This one is a controversial topic, but I want to explain the subtlety behind why I think this is a waste of money. You definitely do want to have awesome video content for your music, for social media, YouTube and advertising. However i’ve seen too many artists drop $1k-$5k on music videos and then have zero money left for marketing.
If you only have $1k to promote your song and that includes your video budget as well, i’d focus on making awesome video content thats free. At most maybe spend $150 on a lyric video or visualizer. Don’t spend your entire budget on the music video. A music video that never gets seen may have never even existed.
If you’re willing to put the time in you can shoot an awesome looking music video on your cell phone, and then edit it on your cell phone. Battz is a hip-hop artist who, at least for some period of time, was making all of his own music, shooting his own videos, and editing his own videos. Here’s one of his videos that literally had a $0 budget:
For my new band we wanted a solid enough video, but didn’t have any time to work on it or the budget to have something fancy made. So we paid $150 to have a lyric video created. Here’s what that looks like:
If money is tight i’d rather see indie artists slowly purchasing video equipment over time than having to pay thousands every time they want a music video. But you can get very far with just a cell phone, and you don’t even always necessarily need full-length videos in this social media era. Many artists just have multiple 15-60 second videos they create on their phone and post to social media.
There are a million services out there that can run bots to your social media, YouTube or Spotify accounts. They’ll promise that for some insanely cheap price they can get you some insanely good result, and those numbers will trigger the algorithm and get you real fans.
In reality the only thing bots are likely to do is ruin the data on your accounts, shrink your organic reach, or even get you banned from the platform altogether.
Please don’t use bots. If theirs one thing from this post you actually list to, its this.
So where should you spend your marketing budget?
In my opinion the best usage of your music marketing budget is with Facebook ads. You can spend as much or as little as you want (for the most part), you have accurate data reporting, you can retarget people again and again over time and it works.
I’ve used this to get over 2.6 million Spotify streams on my solo project.
If you want to learn more I made a detailed post going over how to run Facebook conversion campaigns to get more streams on Spotify. Check that out here: https://musicgrowthmachine.com/facebook-ads-how-to-run-a-conversion-campaign-for-spotify-streams-full-guide/
I also have a YouTube channel with hundreds of videos on music marketing, a good amount on Facebook ads to Spotify as well.