How to Promote Your Music for Free Online

A Guide to Getting your Music on the major streaming platforms including Spotify and Apple Music, and promoting it without spending a dime.

In times gone by, artists that wrote and performed original music would gain exposure by playing live. You’d play for free or for a percentage of the door fee, which over time would (hopefully) allow you to save enough to enter the studio and produce an EP you could then circulate in the hope of generating buzz and eventually gaining the attention of a label or agent that could promote your music to a wider audience.

But things are very different now.

Independent musicians, thanks to the affordability of professional-grade audio hardware and a host of online platforms to grow a fan base are now far more likely to build a following on their terms, without the help of a label, and without necessarily playing live.

Not only that, the music they produce is far more likely to be streamed rather than owned, at least in a physical sense, by the listener.

What does this mean to you?
If you are an independent musician, the barriers to entry have all but been removed. However, this has also led to a huge amount of competition. For example, it’s estimated over 40,000 songs are being uploaded to Spotify every day.

So, understanding the “digital” environment and creating a strong presence online is the best way to promote your music successfully.

Before You Get Started

Is it good to go?

The best way to confidently market/promote anything is to have a truly great product. While anything artistic is, of course, subjective, great music is just a lot easier to promote.

So above all else, make sure the songs sound great from both a writing, performance, and production standpoint, and always seek feedback.

Feedback is invaluable. It’s a secret weapon, an insight into the minds of listeners, and should always be carefully considered, regardless of how musical the person giving the feedback is. After all, everyone has a set of ears and an opinion.

Checking Your Mix

If you want to get your music out there it has to sound professional. A good mix will provide separation yet pull the individual parts together as a cohesive unit. The instruments will sit comfortably within their own space yet propel the key elements of the song forward.

The song must also be mastered to meet the technical specifications of the different platforms you plan on uploading to. The levels should also be comparable to other commercially released music.

There are free ‘automated’ options for doing this including bandlab.com along with sites such as landr.com that offer mastering for only $8.00 per track (at the time of publishing). But keep in mind this is a completely automated service utilizing AI e.g. there isn’t a human involved, making decisions based on what they are hearing.

In any case, while this article isn’t specifically about music production, here’s a quick checklist to consider:

  • Are the key elements of the song e.g. vocal melody, the most prominent e.g. you can make out the lyrics?
  • Can you hear each instrument? e.g. is there a separation in terms of where each instrument sits in the mix?
  • Is any clipping occurring? Check the master fader throughout the entire song.
  • Is there sufficient headroom for the mastering process?
  • Have you listened to your music on numerous different platforms? e.g. headphones, car stereo, computer monitors.

Using a Reference
If unsure how your music sounds in comparison to other released music, load up your DAW and import a reference track e.g. something close to the style of what you are working on, and compare the levels independently, and then the overall quality of your mix in comparison.

Identifying Your Potential Fans

If you are confident the production phase is complete and you have a product you can confidently promote, it’s time to consider your approach to promoting your music. The first question you should be asking yourself is, who is my market?

Many people will respond to this question by saying “everyone”.

Which of course would be ideal, but remember as the barriers to entry have fallen, the competition has increased dramatically. As a result, you stand a much better chance of gaining traction by being very targeted in your promotional efforts, and first identifying the type of people who listens to the kind of music you make and then doing what you can to get your music in front of them.

I understand, that this line of thinking hasn’t always gone over well in the past…..

“Any conversations we hear about ‘So who are Pearl Jam marketing to?‘ are despicable.”

— Eddie Vedder

But, intelligent promotion doesn’t need to feel despicable. If what you are doing has integrity, there’s nothing wrong with doing all you can to get your music into the hands (and playlists) of those who might most appreciate it.

Besides, getting your music in front of the wrong people sure isn’t going to do you any favors.

This isn’t as complicated as you might initially believe either. Simply visit a site such as similarweb.com, type in a band or artist that is similar to you, and check their demographic information. Then use this information to create a profile, or persona of your typical listener.

Audience Demographics for Musicians

That’s your market.

And, often, if you are a songwriter your market will be reflective of you, being the person who creates the music. So, also trust your gut instincts when it comes to making decisions concerning promotion.

Branding for Musicians

Another concept Eddie Vedder probably can’t stand is branding.

If you followed the advice above and now have a better idea of your market you can then design your brand in a way that appeals to your market.

You don’t need to be a graphic designer. This really just means using cover art and profile images, fonts, and colors, along with your messaging e.g. the words you use to communicate with your audience, that will appeal to this group of people.

For example, if your market mostly consists of 35 – 45-year-old males then use a color combination and font choice that appeals to that market.

If you’re not a designer, keep it simple.

Don’t make your brand difficult to read!

Don’t sacrifice legibility for elaborate designs and fonts that make your brand difficult to read, and consider the different forms of media your branding may appear on e.g. digital, print, and perhaps merchandise such as clothing.

Continuity

Successful brands use continuity to reinforce their image. If your branding is consistent, regardless of where it is seen, it will be more identifiable, and hopefully memorable.

In a practical sense, this means having the same username (this won’t always be possible), the same cover art, the same fonts, and the same colors everywhere.

Building a Website

The problem with building a following on a platform you don’t control is the fact that you don’t control it. Policies change, errors occur, and platforms gain and lose favorability, sometimes very quickly.

While you should utilize a range of platforms (more on this shortly), owning your own piece of online real estate, and having the ability to communicate with your fans e.g. using a mailing list is critical.

And while this guide is about promoting your music for free, paying for your domain name, and a year of web hosting will probably set you back less than $80 and allows you full control over your online presence.

You can then also have an email associated with the domain name that you can use when promoting your music and as your profile on other platforms online, which looks a lot more professional than a Gmail account.

The first step is to sign up for web hosting, purchase a domain name and then install WordPress (or a similar content management system) along with a free theme designed for streaming music.

There are plenty of them available.

Here’s a detailed guide showing how to build a musicians website for free:
https://dittomusic.com/en/blog/wordpress-for-musicians-5-steps-to-build-a-music-website/

But, you don’t have to spend money.

You can build a website for zero cost using a free hosted service such as wordpress.org or squarespace.com. Or for a little extra you can utilize bandzoogle.com which offers a dedicated solution for musicians.

Using wordpress.com or squarespace.com will afford you more control than you might have on social media, but you will still find some limitations compared to owning your own domain. However, it’s the best option if you don’t have a budget to work with.

Social Media

Of course, you will also need a profile on the major social media channels. I’d recommend signing up for as many as possible to secure your username, but rather than trying to maintain an active presence on all of them, focus your energies on the platforms that are most likely to be used by “your people”.

Many of these social platforms have specific demographic information you can tap into, and because you have profiled your market you can now make a more informed decision about the platforms you put your time and effort into.

Some also allow you to syndicate your content from one social media channel to another. For example, you can configure Facebook to automatically repost to Twitter.

The social media sites that are going to offer you the most “bang for your buck” are listed below. Simply click on the links to go directly to each site’s signup page and begin creating your profile. Remember to use the same handle, and account name, or at least as close as possible across all platforms (continuity), and then start creating content, that will appeal to “your people” and use music-related hashtags.

  • YouTube
    Once you have created your channel, Click settings and choose account type “musician”
  • Instagram
    More visual than many other platforms, but can be a good fit if you post a lot of visuals.
  • Facebook
    Sign up for an account and then create a fan page for your music by selecting “Artist, Band, or Public Figure.”
  • Twitter
  • Soundcloud
    Offers tools allowing you to embed your music on other platforms including your website.
  • Reverbnation
  • Bandcamp
    Social media and streaming platform.
  • TikTok
    Formerly Musical.ly. Love it or hate it, TikTok is too big to ignore.
  • Drooble
    Social media site built specifically for musicians including free promotional tools.

Remember, while the bigger guys are more stable, some sites/channels can go in and out of favor quickly. So consider ways to retain the audience by encouraging them to follow you on other platforms and/or visit your website and join your mailing list.

What to post on social media?

The most important part of crafting an effective social media campaign is to be authentic and consistent.

I prefer the idea of having your releasable material on streaming platforms such as Spotify and Apple Music and using social media to post related content e.g. promote an upcoming release, show snippets of how the song was created, cover songs, and even live performances.

Charlie Puth does a great job of this on Tiktok and YouTube. I don’t like pop music myself, but his promotional efforts are hard to argue with.

Also, keep in mind people use social media to be “social”. Using overly disruptive methods, usually won’t go over well.

Getting Your Music Online

Ok, we’ve now created our brand and built a presence online. The foundations of our promotional efforts are mostly in place. Next, we need to get our music on streaming platforms such as Spotify, and Apple Music.

Be Everywhere

Music can be streamed from a multitude of different platforms nowadays. To give your music the best chance of being heard, you need to be everywhere.

Below is just a sample of some of the platforms you can stream your music from:

  • Apple Music,
  • Spotify,
  • Amazon Music,
  • YouTube,
  • Google Play,
  • Pandora,
  • Shazam,
  • Soundcloud
  • Bandcamp
  • Deezer,
  • Groove Music,
  • Napster,
  • Omnifone,
  • Gracenote,

    And many, many others.

The best way to do this is by engaging a music distribution service.

Music Distribution Services

In days gone by, labels would work with a distribution service to get a signed artist’s music into retail music stores. In today’s environment, If you’re an independent musician, and don’t have the luxury of a record label distributing your music a music distribution service can fulfill this role by getting your music placed on the most popular streaming platforms.

There are many distribution services available, however, for this article, we’ll be taking a closer look at only free services.

Which Music Distribution Services Offer a Free Option?

While established distribution services such as distrokid.com charge $19.95 per month for distribution services, there are plenty that offers a free option, however, there can be trade-offs in terms of royalties.

Below is a list of distributors who offer a free plan, and where applicable the percentages each retain:

ServiceRoyalties you keep
routenote.com85%
amuse.io100%
freshtunes.com100%
unitedmasters.com90%
novecore.com85%

Choosing A Music Distribution Service

Along with the “free options” listed above, there are distribution services that offer a free 30-day trial and then charge a minimal annual fee. Ditto Music is one such service.

There are also distribution services such as sounddrop that charge very little e.g. 99c per song. However, also retain 15% of your royalties.

Additionally, there are platforms such as landr.com that incorporate free distribution with a suite of useful tools including free mastering, plugins, and VST for $199.00 per year (at the time of publishing).

In simple terms, you pay for what you get. The premium distribution services such as Distrokid, CD Baby, Landr, and Tunecore offer additional features and usually a more intuitive experience.

Free services usually have some limitations e.g. Amuse.io do not release music to major social platforms such as YouTube, and TikTok. You will need to look through the pros and cons of each and choose what is going to be the best fit for you.

When making a decision keep in mind royalties, specifically how comfortable you are with a company owning a percentage of the earnings your original music may potentially make. Other considerations include the company’s payout threshold (e.g. how much you need to earn before you can withdraw funds and how fast you get paid.

What to Publish?

While it can be tempting to simply throw the entire kitchen sink out there hoping to gain traction by having multiple irons in the fire, be sure that only your absolute best material gets made available.

Also keep in mind the attention span of listeners spoilt for choice and ensure your strongest material is always at the top of your page or playlist.

What Next?

Outreach, Reviews, Playlists

Below are a few options you can begin to use to further promote your music at no cost:

  • Post shareable content on your social media channels and ensure you place links in your profile back to your website and major streaming platforms
  • Attempt to get your music included on playlists or create your own
  • Research blogs that offer music reviews
  • Look for opportunities to work with other independent musicians
  • Make connections with your listeners. Take the time to respond to comments on your social channels. Engagement is key.
  • Take advantage of the tools and tips offered by streaming services e.g. Spotify for Artists.
  • Consider making music-related content for blogs (you are reading one now) or YouTube.
  • Join forums, network, and leverage the experience of others
  • Rinse and repeat, refining your approach over time

Final Thoughts

While anyone can release music for free today, the fact is of the 40,000+ songs uploaded to Spotify daily almost 75% of the artists who created the music have less than 50 followers.

Using an effective approach to promoting your music (even if costs you nothing) and further refining your approach over time, not to mention being able to adapt to new technologies and opportunities will put you well ahead of many.

Marty

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My name’s Marty. I’ve been into guitars, songwriting, and home recording for over 30 years. Theacousticguitarist.com is my blog where I write about everything I have learned along the way.