Here are Three of the Most Effective Ways to Get New Fans When You Know How to Release a Single
And One Way That Never Works – Yet Gurus Recommend It All the Time!
Knowing how to release a single is one of the most crucial skills an independent musician is forced to possess beyond their instrument. Yet there is a lot of confusion as to how independent musicians are using singles to find new fans today. It shouldn’t be this hard. We are all music fans. We have all heard a song that started a love-affair with an artist’s music. So, let’s work backwards!
Here are three artists I discovered from a single. I examine each example so you can use the same methods they did to make fans out of millions more people. Maybe even me!
For more on a similar topic, check out our recent post on How to Release Your Music on Social Media!
The Artist: Anna of the North
Curse the computers! Instead of disc jockeys and music video channels guarding the gates to millions of potential fans, we now have algorithms. These algorithms are the artificial intelligence behind the streaming services. It’s how Netflix recommends movies you will probably like. Or how Amazon suggests things you should buy.
Believe it or not, the algorithms that drive playlists by Spotify, Google Play Music, Apple Music, and others are a huge opportunity for independent musicians. How you release your singles must take these algorithms into consideration.
Until recently, some radio station DJ’s were accepting payola – bribes for airplay. When money wasn’t being given to DJ’s, labels were trading “birthday party” concerts from one popular band in exchange for airplay for a less popular one. And nearly all radio stations were more likely to play songs based on existing relationships than a song’s merit. Beyond this favor-trading, radio stations are BROADcasting – trying to satisfy the cravings of the majority of people within distance to hear.
We are closer to a meritocracy now. The algorithm is designed to please one person – the listener, rather than everyone. This allows artists to find their audience through a truly calculated method of targeting those most likely to become fans.
So why aren’t my songs showing up in these playlists?
Each platform is different and its algorithms will be different. But the biggest of the streaming services is Spotify so let’s focus our attention there. Once you are able to achieve playlist acquisition on Spotify, the other platforms should follow.
Again, let’s work our way backwards. The exact contents of Spotify’s algorithm are a mystery, and are probably evolving all the time, but Spotify’s goal is to keep its users using its tool. When users like what they hear, they tend to keep the tool on. Broadly speaking, and sadly, most people want to hear what they’re comfortable hearing. And new things make them uncomfortable. Spotify’s algorithm most likely takes this into account by tracking what a user is choosing, liking, and sharing with others.
But Spotify doesn’t know what the user isn’t familiar with so will always be giving the user songs that user hasn’t played on the platform before. There’s an endorphin rush when you react to a song with “I haven’t heard this song in forever!” or “I wondered what this song was when I heard it at the party last weekend!” Spotify is after those kinds of reactions. There is a minority of listeners who DO want to hear something new, as long as they will like it.
There are two ways Spotify can get to these desired listener reactions with your songs.
- When your song is liked and shared by lots of people who like songs similar
- When your song is put on playlists with lots of songs similar
How to release a single on Spotify
Releasing a single on Spotify includes methods of encouraging fans to like, save, and share the song with others, and to get the song on curated playlists with similar songs. HOW this is done is contents for an entire course, let alone a single blog post, so we’ll have to go into more depth on this in the future. In the meantime, make efforts to get your single on to curated Spotify playlists. Don’t bother with the official Spotify playlists if you are an unsigned artist. Focus on REAL playlists with good subscriber numbers.
This is how I found Anna of the North
I am a Google Play Music user more than I am a Spotify user. Google’s “Radio” button is one of my favorite ways to discover new music. I am a fan of new music, but I understand I am a rarity. I must have pressed “Radio” on a song, album, or artist I like and Google Play Music’s algorithm found Anna of the North’s Leaning on Myself. How Anna of the North was discovered by this algorithm is a mystery, but I am thankful it did.
Word of Mouth
The Artist: Dermot Kennedy
(Shout out to the comment on this video thanking the Uber driver who played this for the commenter – proving my point!)
Word of mouth is the oldest way for singles to be shared to new fans. Not only is the single being “narrowcasted” to someone they believe may have a predisposition to like the song (like an early algorithm!). It benefits from being associated with the trusted person sharing the song. I talk about this concept often because it’s so important. It’s “launching above the line of super-credibility” (here’s creator Peter Diamandis discussing this concept). Whenever you or your single is introduced while being associated with other things the potential fan trusts and loves, they are pre-disposed to become a fan. Especially if you are a new artist, when you release a single, this concept is especially important.
There is no magic to getting word of mouth attention. Of course, being great helps immensely. But also being interesting, funny, or provocative leads to being discussed.
Word of Mouth in the era of social media
Word of mouth is now more powerful than ever due to the power of social media. It is “virality” and CANNOT BE PREDICTED OR PLANNED FOR, no matter what anyone tries to tell you. However, you can nudge it. Here are three methods I recommend for acquiring word of mouth for your single:
- Ask artists you have relationships with to share your single – they are influencers! Pre-write the tweet or post language and provide the link you want them to share to make sharing as easy as possible for them
- Make the release of your single an event and encourage the “superfans” who participate to share the song on their social media accounts – bonus points for providing language and link to them
- Promote your single BEFORE it is released, as it is released, and after it is released – make sure every fan has every opportunity to know it exists in order to share it
One additional way I only recommend if you’re willing and able to make the investment. Gleam.io is a tool for rewarding sharing by fans with “points” to a giveaway contest. It isn’t an inexpensive tool but could be a good investment if you’re at the right point in your career.
This is how I found Dermot Kennedy
Music fans love to talk about music with each other. You know. You’re one too. And “what are you into lately?” is one of my favorite questions to ask. If you tell me you’re listening to AC/DC or Pink Floyd my face convulses in an exaggerated caricature of extreme boredom. Accidentaly, I assure you.
Fortunately, one of those conversations got me introduced to a song by Dermot Kennedy, and it has been wondrous to watch his career grow since then, from local boy-making-good to international TV and radio darling playing two nights in an ARENA in his hometown of Dublin, Ireland.
The Artist: Urban Cone
I wrote and talked about the value of guest appearances in the context of getting the attention of music industry before (check that out here). The concepts are similar here for how to release a single to get new fans, so visit that post for more information.
Launching your single above the line of super-credibility
The Guest Appearance has three methods of being great for your single. First, it helps you and your song “launch above the line of super-credibility”. When the potential fan is introduced to your single they are already predisposed to expect great things. When your song is great, you confirm their expectation and will most assuredly make a new fan out of them.
The algorithms for your single, again
Secondly, it associates your song with the guest artist for the streaming service’s playlist algorithms. If a fan of the guest artist creates a “radio” or chooses a playlist with songs from that artist, it only makes sense the algorithm would be likely to include your single as well. The association is too apparent for the algorithm to ignore. And if the guest artist has a “complete discography” playlist you MUST insist on being included, further associating you with that artist for the algorithms.
Search engine optimization for your single
Lastly, fans searching for the artist are likely to discover your single through the magic of SEO. SEO stands for Search Engine Optimization and is how the streaming services and search engines use words to find the weblinks or songs someone may be searching for. When you type into Spotify’s search bar, for example, it will provide artists, albums, and songs it thinks you might be looking for. When someone is searching for your guest artist, among the results they get, should be your single. For a completist, someone likely to search that artist, your single should be compelling enough to try to listen to.
How to release a single with a guest appearance
Reach out to artists, or their management, you would like to associate and be associated with. Signed artists may require permission to appear on your release but, for the right price, most artists are amenable to making guest appearances when the song is good and the timing works out. And if you are unhappy with their appearance, just bury them in the mix! You will still enjoy all the other benefits of having them on your single.
This is how I found Urban Cone
I am a fan of Swedish pop singer Tove Lo (although I am unsure how to pronounce her name!) but Tove Lo only has three albums. It didn’t take me long to exhaust her full-length catalogue and I dug deeper through her catalogue. Lo and behold (excuse the pun), I found the single Come Back to Me she recorded with Urban Cone. I’m now arguably a bigger fan of Urban Cone than I am Tove Lo. Her appearance on the song is an inspired choice but their aesthetic and approach to pop is a completely different one. Regardless, I’m grateful for the guest appearance as it turned me on to another great artist.
You can do this too!
How to Release a Single the Wrong Way (although gurus try to tell you you should!)
I am a fan of advertising. It works. But it has to be done right. One way advertising does NOT work is in making new fans to your music. Do not waste your money or your time on trying to convince people to listen to your single. They won’t.
Have you ever seen an advertisement that inspired you to listen to a single? Even if you have, did you like it? Probably not. And it’s probably a fine song. But you are breaking the rule of Launching Above the Line of Super-Credibility when you are making your first impression with an advertisement. The ad can be cleverly designed and on social media instead of a billboard or during the halftime of the Super Bowl, people still KNOW they’re looking at an ad. And no matter how many “sounds like x meets y” and “so-and-so magazine says we’re awesome”s you put in the ad, it’s still an ad. And people hate ads.
When advertising DOES work
I highly recommend advertising to your current fans on social media when you release a single. Sometimes it doesn’t matter how many times you post or how great your visuals are, the social media platform just isn’t playing nice and showing your stuff to your fans. Spend a few dollars making sure your fans know you have released a new single and they NEED to listen to it.
I highly recommend advertising to people who have come across your website. Websites just aren’t what they used to be. They are a great place to collect all the information a fan needs about your band in one place. You need tour dates, merchandise ordering, your videos, your catalogue, biography, etc. But band websites just aren’t the first go-to for fans. However, if a fan HAS visited your website, you need to make sure you have collected them on your social media platforms. Use the Facebook pixel to target visitors to your website with ads on Facebook and Instagram, encouraging them to like and follow you there, and listen to your new single!
I highly recommend advertising to fans of bands you are touring with, in the markets you are visiting. You can target them by geographic location in your ads. Make sure they are coming EARLY to the show in their market so you have a chance to blow them away with your live performance.