The Artist’s Guide to Social Media Part 1 – Overview

Sam MatlaBusiness & Promotion%s Comments

Gone are the days where you stand out on the street with a bunch of burned CDs featuring your music. The days where you discover new artists by taking a trip to the record store. Or, the days where you promote yourself solely through your skill and real life connections.

Social media has changed the game.

But it’s also come with its challenges. It’s a new concept, and most of us still haven’t worked out how to use it effectively. For every person catching on to what works and what doesn’t, there are 3 people doing a disservice to their career.

Most people never move beyond a basic understanding of social media. This is shown quite blatantly on numerous Facebook pages and Twitter accounts where the artist (or poor management) posts the same link every 2 hours. Social media is not a classified ads board, it’s much more intelligent than that. It’s human.

And it’s about time we get it right. Businesses have been taking advantage of social media marketing techniques since the beginning, and it’s about time us artists did too. This is the reason why I’m writing this multi-part series, because while great music markets itself, it needs to be heard first, and there’s nothing wrong with using social media effectively as a catalyst for that process.

The Excuse of the Lazy

You’ll often hear people say, “Why are you worrying about promotion? It should be about the music, man.”

This is all fine and dandy, but some of us want our music to be heard, and a large majority of us aim to build a career from music. If you’re one of those people that think that focusing on promotion is stupid and unnecessary, then I encourage you to challenge that thought.

Music should be the focus. I’m not disputing that at all, but when someone uses it as a cop-out for not putting effort into promoting their music, then it becomes disappointing.

Despite all of this, there’s a point in one’s journey as a music producer where promotion is ineffective in its entirety. Some of you won’t want to hear this. During the early stages, you shouldn’t be worrying about promotion. You should be focusing on learning as much as you can, and practicing as much as you can. While there’s nothing wrong with creating a Facebook page, chucking a few links up and getting a logo designed; devoting hours and hours of your time into promotion instead of production as a new artist (1-12 months), is ludicrous.

If you are a new producer, however, you’ll still find this series valuable.

Do Old Methods Still Work?

VinylI begun this post by stating that the days of handing out CDs containing your music and doing heavy coordination work “in the real world” are gone. But are they really? Have old methods of promotion become obsolete?

Handing out CDs may get people to listen to your music, and if you don’t have access to the internet then it’s a must. Real life connections and self-promotion are absolutely essential, especially if you’re looking to get gigs. However, the majority of connections are initiated online, through social media.

The goal here is to not completely abandon old methods, but rather to focus on what brings in the best results.

It’s also important to note that everyone’s situation is different. If you live in a city or town where the demographic is largely older people and you produce mellow music, then you’re likely to do better giving away or selling physical CDs than if you were in a more technologically advanced location with a younger demographic.

I’m going to assume that for most of you, self-distributing CDs is not only a poor monetary investment, but also a poor time investment, and as such I will be focusing primarily on modern methods of promotion, most of which are online.

What This Post Covers

The first few parts of this guide revolve around social media, as that’s where most of your time and effort should be focused. We’ll delve into some other forms of promotion such as email marketing and physical promotion as the series progresses.

In this post, however, we’ll be starting off by looking at a few key things to really gain an understanding of how social media should be used. We’ll be looking at why having a unique identity is important and why being personal and transparent is key, following that we’ll take a look at each major social media platform and the pros and cons of each.

It’s a long post, so feel free to grab a coffee or tea and get yourself comfortable.

If you have any questions that pop up while reading this, please write them down and then leave a comment at the end of the article. Your questions and comments will shape the direction of future posts and provide insight to what people are really struggling with.

Your Unique Identity

be unique

Before I get into the nitty gritty of identity and branding, I want to say that it isn’t 100% required in order to build a successful career. For some, the music does all the talking. But for every successful person in that situation where minimal branding and identity focus have been applied, there are hundreds of other equally skilled people who are missing out on opportunities.

What is a unique identity? In the business and marketing world, it’s called a Unique Selling Proposition, or Unique Value Proposition. Essentially, your unique identity is what sets you apart from the rest and brings you followers and fans.

But it’s not just comprised of one single thing.

Deadmau5 obviously has a unique identity. When seeing his Mau5head, people are immediately reminded of him and his music, regardless of whether they’re listening to it or not. But is Deadmau5′ unique identity comprised of a simple prop? No. Not only is he highly regarded as a skilled electronic music producer, he’s also an incredibly outspoken figure in the dance music scene. All of these make up his unique identity, whether he realizes it or not.

So, what are some of the main things that make up a unique identity?

Music, above all else

While this post is focused solely on social media, I feel obligated to point out that your unique identity starts with your music.

Yes, you can have a successful career making the same music as others, just like a business can make money making the same product as someone else with good marketing. But it’s often short-lived.

The reason why music is where it should begin – and I know this is cliché – is that good music will market itself. Of course, it needs to be shown to people before that can happen, but if your goal is to have as many people possible listening to your music, you better have damn good music. [TWEET THIS]

It’s important not to feel stressed when thinking about this, because unique identity in the form of music is a natural process. In other words, it will eventually happen if you keep practicing, learning, and trying out new things.

Graphics and Branding

Image matters. Whether it’s a professionally designed logo that represents you and your music, or a high quality press shot that lets people know you mean business, image matters.

I’m not going to give a definitive guide to artist branding, there’s already one on this site.

Not a Graphic Designer? No Problem.

If you’re like me, then your graphic design skills aren’t too great. Sure, you can put a font over an image and make it look okay, but everything you create looks average a week after creating it.

There are a few solutions to this:

  • Ask a friend who’s a talented graphic designer to design a logo for you. Offer payment as incentive.
  • Hire someone on…
  • Hack something together using Canva. 
  • Check out Design Meets Beats
  • Forget about a logo completely and use a picture of your face (not a smartphone selfie).

You can end up paying a fair bit for graphic design, but it’s worth it in the long run.

Bonus Tip: It can be valuable to associate your logo, image, and/or name with the theme you represent (Above & Beyond = euphoric trance music, Mau5head = Deadmau5)

How to Develop Your Unique Identity

bulbs uniqueness concept on wooden backgroundDeveloping a unique identity is one of the most important things you can do for your career as an artist. If you stand apart from everyone else, musically and on social media, then fans will come to you and spread the word about you.

The first thing to understand is that you’re not trying to be the best. Sure, if you have production skills on par with BT then you’ve got a unique identity somewhat made out for you, but for most of us this is unrealistic. Your unique identity is simply about being different, not competing with anyone else. In other words, you carve your own path, and as cheesy as that sounds, it’s exactly what you should be doing.

So how do you actually find your unique identity? There are a number of ways to approach it.

Start With Your Music

There are a number of ways to think about your unique identity. You can start with an idea, your personality, an image, anything. But the easiest way to start is with your music.

If you’re at the point where you’ve developed your own unique sound, then you’ve got a leg up. You can build your personal brand, your unique identity from your music.

To put it practically, if your unique style of music is incredibly melodic and uplifting, then your branding should represent that. It makes little sense to have a logo featuring a dead baby skeleton with dragon wings when your music is aimed at lifting people up.

Start With Yourself

Someone’s personality can be all it takes to develop a unique identity. I hate to continuously bring him up, but look at Deadmau5. He’s outspoken and controversial, that’s his personality, and that’s part of his unique identity.

It’s true that controversy often leads to virality, but you don’t have to be controversial. There are plenty of examples of more positive, diplomatic music producers who’s personalities are deeply ingrained in their unique identity. Varien, Fractal, Boom Jinx, the list goes on.

Combine Ideas

How do you think new genres are created? New products and services? A lot of the time, it’s a matter of combining two or more ideas to create something new. After all, everything’s a remix.

This can be the foundation for your unique identity. Maybe you love techno and trance, why not combine the two? As for social media interaction, maybe you like the controversial trollish style of social media use that Deadmau5 is known for, but you use it in a more positive manner.

A Step-by-Step Process to Developing Your Unique Identity

I’ve given you some things to think about, but most of you aren’t going to take action unless given a to-do list (I wouldn’t either).

It’s important to keep in mind that a unique identity is developed, not simply created. You’ll be refining this constantly, finding what works and what doesn’t. The step-by-step process shown here exists to give you a starting point.

1. Studying Examples

Before brainstorming your unique identity, you need to have a bank of ideas and thoughts from which to brainstorm from.

The first step in this process is to visit at least 10, that’s right, 10 artist pages and write down 2-3 things for each that you notice. It could be that the artist uses a lot of capital letters LIKE THIS, or that they post a lot of Instagram videos.

This will take a while, but it’s essential as it gives you an overview of how social media is being used by artists today.

Note: it’s best to visit well-known artist pages as these are likely to be managed by professionals. Your friend Jimmy from next door who’s got 67 likes on his page may not be the best example.

2. Brainstorming

I know a lot of you hate it, but you really do have to brainstorm when putting together your unique identity. Brainstorming or mind-dumping helps you make connections between all the thoughts floating around in your head.

Spend a good 20-30 minutes or so brainstorming, writing down whatever comes to mind. Your goal here is to get all your current ideas onto paper and then carve out something unique afterwards.

3. Create a Short Bio

The third step in this process is to solidify your musical identity by writing a brief description of what it is. Think of this as your artist bio, in a way, just incredibly short.

Here’s an example:

Sam Matla bridges the gap between deep house and drum and bass, featuring complex drum patterns and simple, yet effective basslines, the music works just as well in the club as it does from home on a nice summer’s day. 

Now this step isn’t essential, and it doesn’t have to be referring to a specific genre (or two). The benefit to doing this is finding what’s unique about you. Why would people listen to you? If they read your bio, are they going to be interested or simply glaze over it?

I recommend including your short bio on your social media pages, especially Facebook. It’s one of the first things I personally read after, and sometimes even before listening to someone’s music.

4. Form a General Direction

The fourth and final step is to find a general direction for your social media promotion. Are you going to take the controversial route and be outspoken? And if so, does that fit with your overall presentation and brand? Or are you going to be concise, and to the point?

Don’t spend too much time on this. Your direction and the way you use social media is inevitably going to change as you experiment and find out what works and what doesn’t. Just come up with something simple, and move on.

Here’s an example of what I might put down for direction:

To expose my music to more people and gain new fans, I’ll be sharing my opinion on current affairs in the EDM scene, posting the odd justified rant post when I feel it’s acceptable, and sharing valuable content such as weekly tips. This mix of humour, controversy, and education will attract a range of different fans and encourage them to stay engaged.

Obviously you shouldn’t be posting this on your page. There’s not much point in telling your fans about your social media strategy. Just write it down in a document or notepad somewhere and refer back to it when needed.

Being Human

Being Human

Gone are the days where rigid advertising and promotion works. Social media has redefined the way we sell products, share content, and gain followers and fans.

Social media is about being human. People like interesting people. Even big corporations are acting more human on social media by the day.

As an artist you’re in a better position than most, because people expect you to act human. Sure, sharing links without descriptions constantly may work if you’re already established and known, but people want insight into your life. They want to relate to you, and see you as a human being just like them.

So the first rule about using social media as an artist is…

Don’t Post About Music 24/7

This is important for two reasons.

1. If you want to post regularly, and you’re only posting about music, then you’re going to need to produce quickly and often.

2. People don’t like to be bombarded with the same link every day to that song you produced months ago. They want relevant content that’s new to them, that makes their day better.

As artists, our main goal is to share our music. This should be at the forefront of our social media use, but it’s important to be human also (depending again on your direction and identity. Your identity could be one of mystery, and that’s fine, but for most people it’s going to be different).

So what are some ways we can keep our pages interesting in between sharing music?

Introducing Instagram, the Artist’s Diary

I’m not sure if you noticed, but Facebook seems to be filled with a lot more Instagram photos from popular producers and artists. These include, but are not limited to: selfies, studio image photos, producing-on-a-plane photos, and look-at-all-this-free-alchohol photos.

There’s a simple reason Instagram posts – they work. They’re human, they’re entertaining, and they’re often funny. It’s storytelling at its finest.

But Sam, I can’t do this because I never do anything interesting!

Then why not start? As you’ll see in future parts of this guide, IRL promotion is still relevant and important. It’s also a lot more fun that sitting in front of your laptop deviously planning your next social media move, so why not get out and take some selfies with people instead of by yourself.

I understand that some of you prefer to be at home working in the studio. That’s fine, there’s still a number of things you can do with Instagram:

  • Film video previews of your upcoming music.
  • Take selfies and add an interesting caption (I’m being serious).
  • Collaborating with someone? Take a photo together and let people know.
  • Going for a hike? Take a photo and include a caption.

Note: there’s a line where Instagram posts are too frequent. Make sure not to cross it. 2-3 max per day.

Give Insight Into Your Life

I’m not saying you have to write a 1000-word status about your life story, but giving insight into your life is an effective way to come across a person rather than just a robotic music-maker.

It can be something as simple as talking about how coffee is so important in your daily routine (I’ve seen multiple artists write this), or something more in-depth about what drives you and motivates you, like this post from Paris Blohm. 

Sometimes you’ll have a strong opinion on something, which goes beyond just giving insight. This is where you utilize…

Rant Posts

Rant posts are a great way to gain (and lose) fans.

In my personal opinion, you shouldn’t write a rant post just for the sake of it, unless that’s a part of your unique identity and people know that. Rant posts do serve a purpose, believe it or not, they make people think, and they bring up relevant issues in the industry and scene.

For example; at the time of writing this, I’ve seen well over 5 long-winded opinion posts (basically rants, let’s be honest), about big room festival music and how it lacks creativity. This has caused upcoming artists to seriously consider the art of music production, and how they can add a creative, unique touch to music they already love. It’s served a purpose and made a difference.

I don’t want to particularly endorse rant posts, because they have the potential to backfire. You’re your own PR guy, so make sure that what you post isn’t likely to sabotage your career (or future career).

The Age of Transparency

We’ve entered into a new age with social media. Marketing and promotion is no longer just about psychological influence and tricking people to like you. Neither is it about being secretive, mysterious, and quiet.

Nowadays, transparency is one of the best things you can do for your image. It’s the quickest way to build a deep trust relationship with your fans, and it also builds your reputation as a genuine artist.

What do I mean?

Let’s say for example that you’re no longer going to release free downloads simply because you’ve found a better model to work with (e.g., being signed to a decent label). If you’re an artist that’s done this frequently in the past, then a lot of your fans are going to be frustrated.

Now, you could let this slip under the radar. Most fans won’t speak up anyway, you could just start releasing tracks on this new label without sharing free downloads and all will be well.

Or you could make a post about it, explaining why you moved away from free downloads, and what it means. You’ll still spark controversy and people will be up in arms, but by being honest and respectful the large majority of people will consider you to be genuine and understand your point of view.

In short, honesty and transparency are fantastic tools to build the ever so important trust relationship with your fans and followers.

Platforms: What Should You Use?

Social Media KeyWe’ve just looked at your unique identity and the role it plays when using social media. We also looked at why being “human” is an essential part of your promotion efforts. Finally, we learned that being transparent and honest is the best way to build a deep trust relationship with your fans and followers.

But now it’s time to move onto something a little more “black and white”, so to speak. That is, the use of different social media platforms.

The Pros and Cons of Each Platform

Not all social media platforms are made equal. It’s important that you know the benefits of certain platforms, and their downsides. Knowing these major platforms inside and out will allow you to reach fans more effectively, and focus your efforts on what matters.

Facebook: From Followers to Fame

Facebook is the world’s most popular social network, and with over 1 billion users, you’d be stupid not to use it to promote yourself.

It is, however, looked down upon by people who want to promote themselves. Partly because of the low page reach that more and more people are experiencing. That is indeed a downside, but an essential implementation from Facebook’s point-of-view (which I’ll explain in the next post).

Facebook is the king of all social networks, and should be treated as such. Image posts work well, statuses, links, you name it. You’ve got a lot of freedom with Facebook.

Pros:
  • Large user base = more potential fans
  • The best virality potential among all networks
  • Personal and information rich
  • Versatile: most content types work well
Cons:
  • Low page reach unless used effectively
  • Must be consistent and regularly posting
  • Graphic rich – can be time-consuming to put together great content
  • Hard to manage as fan base increases

Twitter: Tweeting Till Touring

Twitter comes in close second to Facebook, and in certain cases is actually a better social network to focus on. It’s used by almost every artist,  sometimes exclusively.

It’s different to Facebook in the sense that it’s less versatile, but more conversational. Bombarding people with links and images isn’t going to work as well on Twitter. Having conversations with people and responding to fans is something that’s much more difficult to do on Facebook.

Pros:
  • Easy to make connections and promote yourself from the beginning
  • Conversational, great for building trust
  • Quick and easy – less time involved
  • Content is sent out to 100% of fans
Cons:
  • Initially gaining followers is a slow process
  • Limited characters, hard to convey lots of info at once
  • Your reach depends on what time fans are online
  • Takes a while to understand the dynamic

Instagram: Images to Interviews

It must be said that my experience with Instagram isn’t extensive. It’s not a focus of mine, and never has been. But I do know a bit about it, and I understand how effective it is.

Instagram, as mentioned earlier is a great way to provide insight into your life through the form of images and videos. It’s entertaining, easy to use (and easy to consume from the follower’s end), and it just makes sense.

Pros:
  • Super simple to use
  • Great for adding a human element to your social media
  • Integrates well with Facebook
  • Great for promoting upcoming songs, shows, and more
Cons:
  • No scheduling or planning available
  • Uncomfortable for some people
  • Hard to vary images if you’re sitting in your studio 24/7
  • Non-conversational

Soundcloud: Social Song Sharing

Soundcloud is the most interesting social network for me, as it’s always changing. It’s hands down the best way to share your music, which I don’t think is going to change despite the numerous technical and legal issues they’ve had recently.

We’ll be taking a look at Soundcloud in-depth in future parts, but for now all you need to know is how it differs to the other social networks we’ve covered so far.

Pros:
  • Electronic music dominates the network
  • The best way to share music on the web
  • Community is packed with producers
  • Easy to gain followers with good music
Cons:
  • SPAM
  • Easy for followers to forget about you if you’re not uploading regularly
  • Many “followers” will simply be following you in return for a follow back
  • Copyright issues can cripple producers who want to promote themselves through bootlegs

YouTube: Yesterday’s News?

The last social network I want to touch on is YouTube. Many people think it’s dead for electronic music producers, which is far from the truth. It does involve a lot of work when you want to use it effectively.

YouTube really works best if you’ve carved out a niche for yourself. Most artists don’t use YouTube at all, either because they release on major labels which reach more listeners than their own channel, or because they’d rather spend time on something else.

But there are benefits to YouTube, many that people overlook, such as recording tutorials in order to gain fans, or producing short documentaries to give insight into your production process.

Pros:
  • The best potential for virality on the web
  • Good organic promotion if used correctly
  • Great for live performers
  • Ideal platform for other visual content such as tutorials
Cons:
  • Horrible community
  • Not “base” social network, more of a portal to other sites like Facebook
  • Not worth the time and effort for many

What about Pinterest? MySpace? Reverbnation?

There are 100’s of social networks out there, and going through each would not only be a waste of time for me, it would be a waste of time for you. There are only a few major social networks you should focus on.

With that said, though, being an early adopter of new social networks can pay off big time if you put in the effort. Take a look at ToneDen, for example – it’s growing exponentially.

Proper Promotion Takes Effort

While reading through this list of social networks you may have felt a little overwhelmed at how many differences there are between them, or how much time and effort it takes to really utilize these networks effectively.

The simple truth is that social media takes effort. It’s not easy.

But it’s certainly worth it.

So if you are feeling overwhelmed, just remember that hard work pays off eventually, and that if you want to make it as an artist – you haven’t really got another choice!

What Should You Focus On?

You’re not going to be able to handle 5 social networks at once, especially not in the beginning.

If you spread yourself too thin, you’re not going to make any progress at all. You won’t be able to engage with fans and spend time focusing on what’s most important (music).

Instead, you should pick just one or two social networks to focus on first. I recommend Facebook and Twitter, as they’re the two most beneficial. If you’re looking for a challenge then you could try out a new social network.

To Wrap it All Up

This post has been long, so congratulations for making it all the way to the end. You should hopefully have a better understanding of why social media is used, and how it can be used well.

Before you leave this page, I want you to do three things:

  1. Create a unique identity by following the steps under the “How to Develop Your Unique Identity” section if you haven’t already
  2. List a number of ways that you can add a personal touch to your social media profiles
  3. Share this article on social media 😉

In the next part, we’re going to be addressing content creation. Everything from posting your music to Facebook, sharing photos and videos, and providing value to your fans.

Also, if you want me to address something in particular in upcoming parts, simply comment below and I’ll do my best to cover it.