In this blog post and podcast episode, you’re going to learn more about my favorite release promotion strategy for electronic music. I have been recommending this approach to my clients and it has worked extremely well (if you’re willing to put in the work). I’m naming this the S.M.O.-Strategy, which stands for Story, Momentum, and Outreach.
The reason why nobody is listening to your latest release
We’ve all been there. Months and months of hard work have passed by, countless hours of studio time, creative night shifts, and an emotional rollercoaster with many ups and downs. You’re exhausted, but proud. Finally, all songs are written, the artwork is done, and it’s time to let your precious art be discovered by the public. Your release promotion strategy looks more or less like this:
You (or your distributor) are uploading your songs to Beatport, SoundCloud, YouTube, Spotify, and all other platforms, you’re putting together that one magic Facebook and Instagram post (which you even boost with 50$ of ad spend), and you hit the publish button. You’ve done your homework and sent some free download promos to your DJ buddies (and some of your idols), in hope that your songs are going to be the next Burning Man festival hymn.
And then happens… nothing.
Yes, you’re getting the first few hundred plays but after that, your initial spark of attention fades into silence. What went wrong with your release promotion strategy?
It all comes down to one major issue: There hasn’t been any real release promotion strategy, to begin with. You should have invested time into planning your release months before the actual release date. Last-minute activism won’t help you anymore, it’s already too late. So what can you do better next time?
A great release promotion strategy starts with the right timing
Timing is always key when it comes to music promotion strategies. My recommendation is to start planning your promo phase when 50% of the songs on your EP or album are finished. This is the sweet spot in my opinion because you already have a very good idea of what the end product is going to sound like, but you still have enough time to properly plan and execute your release promotion strategy.
It’s crucial to set aside a few hours per week to work on your promo plan, on top of your studio time. This can be a pretty tough phase (especially when you have a full-time job at the same time), but this is a make-or-break situation.
Just to make one thing clear: The implementation of your release promotion strategy already starts while you’re still working on your songs. Sure, Aphex Twin can put out an album out of the blue and everybody will notice. You can’t, I promise. Your job is to involve your audience pretty early on.
So how can you make sure to gain enough attention (and keep on building suspension) while you’re still in the studio, grinding out songs for your release?
Introducing: The S.M.O.-Release Promotion Strategy
I’ve noticed some patterns among my most successful studio clients when it comes to their release promotion strategies. They all use three key components: Story, Momentum, Outreach. In the following, I’m going to explain what I mean by this.
It might be old news to you that storytelling is a key component of contemporary music promotion and marketing. Yet I’m shocked how little storytelling is being implemented by upcoming electronic music producers. This means, there’s a low hanging fruit for you if you take this seriously.
Music Think Tank has come up with six aspects that play a role when implementing storytelling in your music promotion strategy:
- Stories are memorable,
- they humanize and build deeper connections,
- create evangelists,
- leave us wanting more,
- and they can’t be untold (which is a slight warning that telling the wrong story might damage your reputation)
So what is the story you should tell your audience? Well, in my opinion, this is different in every case. Maybe you’re interested in artificial intelligence and your EP explores this topic from an artistic side. Maybe you’re in the middle of a personal transition, e.g. starting from scratch in a new city, and this is heavily influencing the songs you’re writing. Whatever it is, I encourage you to look for something deeply rooted in your interests and passion. It should feel true to the core of who you are and what you want to express as an artist.
This is also where your cover artwork plays an important role. As my friend and designer Rory from sinkorswimgraphics.com puts it:
”Your cover art is your chance to grab people’s attention, make your work stand out and most importantly give the listener an indication of the vision/sonic world you have created through your music.” (sinkorswimgraphics on Medium.com)
With momentum I mean: Keeping in touch with your audience and building an arc of suspension until the final release date (including holding the climax of attention for a few weeks after the release). Momentum is such a vital part of any good release promotion strategy. So how can you implement this?
You basically start gaining momentum while you’re in the middle of working on your release. Share little videos and snippets and give people a look behind the scenes of your studio days. You can even use your social channels as a sort of diary. I believe it’s even more powerful when you’re sharing the ups AND the downs. Stuck in writer’s block? Why not post about it? It makes you more approachable and relatable for your followers.
There’s also an alternative to this: If the approachable/ relatable image doesn’t suit your artist brand, you can take a more mysterious approach. You can leave obscure photos, videos, quotes, and sound snippets that hint at something that’s coming. It’s a bit trickier though because you can play this game only for so long.
Whatever path you choose, don’t forget that it takes some time to gain momentum. Consistency is more important than what exactly you’re sharing with your audience.
Nothing is more irritating than an artist who shares loads of things in one week but then completely vanishes in the next one. It can help to create a posting plan for your release phase. Moreover, I encourage you to set reminders on your calendar to help you with that.
Outreach means: Getting in touch with blogs, magazines, and other DJs/ producers that might want to play your tracks in their sets. It’s simply not enough to rely on your own existing audience and DJ contacts. You have to go the extra mile and reach out to other people so your audience grows with every new release. This is probably the most difficult but also the most rewarding part of this release promotion strategy.
Keep in mind though: There’s simply no point in reaching out to other audiences if you haven’t put some energy into crafting a consistent story and building some momentum. The S.M.O. release promotion strategy relies on all three ingredients that feed into each other.
When we’re speaking of outreach, we have to look at two different aspects: Media outreach and artist/ DJ promos. Let’s dissect both:
Outreach to blogs and magazines
Outreach works best if you build meaningful relationships with people months before the actual release date. Cold-contacting them a week before your EP comes out will most definitely not work. In my opinion, quality is more important than quantity here. There’s no point in buying an “electronic music blog promotion” list somewhere online if 90% of that list is outdated or irrelevant for your type of music. A better approach is to start digging for blogs and magazines that are definitely in line with your style of music. You have to be brutally honest though. If you produce techno and stumble upon a really cool blog that specializes in deep house, there’s no way they are going to feature you on their site.
I suggest you look for 30-50 blogs and magazines worldwide that are truly relevant in your niche. Then you select the 10 most important ones on that list and try to build some sort of relationship months before your release. You don’t ask for anything, you simply start showing interest on their social channels, comment on articles on their site, and try to become a known face of some sort. This usually works better with smaller sites than with the big ones. But guess what: Lots of big bloggers and journalists are digging for new stuff on the small niche blogs. So even if you get featured on a small site first, there’s still a good chance that bigger ones will pick it up.
This approach works best if can establish some sort of online relationship with specific writers rather than the general editorial team. So try to find individual people’s official email addresses, and simply leave a short compliment or thank you note for an article that they’ve written. You then try to keep in touch from time to time, so when it comes to your release, you’re already a known name.
Putting together an electronic press kit (EPK)
During the hot phase of your release (a couple of weeks before the official release date), you can then provide the bloggers and journalists with an EPK (electronic press kit) that contains:
- Your EP/Album as a streaming link as well as high-res download
- Official artwork in high-res as well as online-optimized
- New artist photos in high-res as well as online-optimized
- Your up-to-date artist bio
- A press release with background information about your EP or album
- Videos or other promo material that they can embed
The most important rule here is: Make it as simple as possible for them to get all the information and resources they need. The email itself should only contain a very short and personal message together with a link to your music. Everything else should be packed into a link to your cloud storage of choice (Dropbox, OneDrive, whatever).
A short note about outsourcing here
Nobody wants do dig endlessly just to find a suitable photo of you. Neither do they read an email with 2.000 words just to finally find the link to your music. So make it short and easy to access, everything else is up to a bit of luck. By the way: It’s a good investment to put some money into hiring a photographer (who’s specializing in artist profile shots) or getting somebody to help you write a proper artist bio and press release.
The outreach part of our release promotion strategy can also be outsourced as a whole. You could hire an electronic music PR specialist or an agency to help you with this. In my opinion, this can be a good investment because they’ve already built meaningful relationships with bloggers and journalists. Just make sure you only hire people that others have been recommending to you or that already have a certain standing in the electronic music industry.
Outreach to DJs and other producers
This is a tricky one because it’s hard to give a general recommendation. You can, of course, buy yourself into a professional DJ promo pool. For some upcoming artists, this has worked extremely well. For others, it has done nothing at all. Let’s put it like this: I think you should at least try it out on a couple of releases and see what the response is. Apart from that, I believe that it’s super important to build your own, personal promo pool of artists that are in line with your taste.
I encourage you to get in touch with other upcoming artists (before their real breakthrough) online, simply because you like THEIR music and what they’re about. So you start exchanging promos and slowly you are expanding your presence in the underground scene. You can also send your music to Richie Hawtin, of course, but I wouldn’t count on the big names to play your music. If your songs are amazing, they will find out, especially if they pop up in sets of hyped underground artists.
Make sure you make everything easy to access also in your personal promo pool. That means: Streaming possibility, downloads as high quality mp3s as well as wav or aiff files, etc.
Your personal release promotion strategy starts now, not in a few months
Now that you’ve learned what the S.M.O.-release promotion strategy is, you can think about how this would work for your next EP or album. As I’ve mentioned before, time is a crucial factor here. Even if you haven’t planned your next release yet, I highly encourage you to start building your blog- & magazine list as well as your personal promo pool. The earlier you start building these lists, the easier the promo for your next release will feel. “Slow and steady wins the race” is also true for music promotion strategies. Building meaningful relationships with the right type of influencers in your niche is a key ingredient to success here.
What about paid ads?
You might be wondering why I haven’t mentioned Facebook and Instagram ads (or banners on media sites and blogs). I left them out in the S.M.O. release promotion strategy because I don’t believe that they are a vital part of the method. Sure, it doesn’t hurt to amplify your efforts, but I’m convinced that you’re only burning money if you don’t put enough energy into story, momentum, and outreach.
But let’s assume you’ve done everything else correctly. Does it make sense to invest in ads? Yes and no. I wouldn’t use ads to get in front of new audiences. My suggestion is to invest some budget into getting your posts in front of your existing fans. They are your natural ambassadors and it’s clever to make sure they notice your upcoming release. It might also be good to do a paid collaboration with one of your ten key blogs/ magazines. This can be a track premiere for example. Still, there’s no way you can “buy” yourself in front of the right people. There has to be an organic fit first, ads can only amplify the impact of that.
Putting it into action: How to craft your next release promotion strategy
Here are three action steps that will help you implement the S.M.O. release promotion strategy. I highly encourage you to take this seriously if you want your next release to make an impact.
1. Start building relationships with bloggers, journalists, and other artists in your sub-genre to grow your influencer list for the next release
- Set aside a dedicated time slot every week to interact with these people and nurture meaningful relationships
- Collect a list of 30 to 50 blogs and magazines that truly fit your style and select your top 10 sites
- Build your own promo pool and start exchanging promos with other producers that are about to blow up (but still underground)
2. Set a release date for your next EP or album right now and schedule your release promotion strategy
- Write down story ideas that resonate with you and the music that you’re currently working on
- Collect ideas on how you can gain momentum and create an arc of tension until your release comes out
- Start putting together a posting plan for the last weeks leading up to your release and set calendar reminders to help you keep on track
3. Set aside a budget for external outsourcing of specific tasks
- Whether it’s photography, copywriting, or hiring a PR specialist. You will have more impact if you work together with other professionals
- If everything else is already checked off, you should consider investing some budget in track premieres on your top 10 blogs or magazines as well as boosting your social media profiles among your existing audience
Alright, I hope this was helpful to you. I’d be curious what release promotion strategies have worked for you in the past? Are you going to implement the S.M.O. strategy for your next release? Let me know in the comments, I read everything!