In this article, we explore the changing face of social media marketing for indie artists and suggest artists trying to promote their music in 2024 using the techniques of the past will quickly be excluded from the new entertainment conversation.
The first epoch of social media marketing for indie artists:
Organic Reach To Friends.
When social media first appeared in our lives, it was exciting. This was the era of Myspace, Lilly Allen, Sandy Thom and The Arctic Monkeys. As an independent musician, the way you promoted music seemed relatively straightforward. Share your musical content with your friends and they would share it with their friends and your network would grow. More people would listen to your music, download your single or attend your next gig. Back then every post you shared was seen by most of your followers and you could build genuine engagement and attract a few superfans.
In this first epoch, the bar to effective social media music marketing was set at its lowest. After all, you didn’t need to convince strangers to share your content, you just had to convince your friends and family. As long as your new music video looked and sounded reasonably professional they normally obliged.
The 2nd epoch of social media marketing for indie artists:
It wasn’t long before the social networks realised they needed a business model and a way to make money. Naturally, they turned to advertising but to make advertising more attractive the reach of organic posts had to be decreased. At this moment the first epoch of social media ended, and it was no longer possible to reach all of your followers organically. Those that persisted quickly realised only a few die-hard fans or family members were regularly seeing their posts. It was dispiriting.
Out of necessity, some indie artists started experimenting, promoting existing social posts and the more adventurous tried ads, targeting audiences with content that didn’t appear on their Walls. As is often the case, results at the start were good, after all, Meta and Co wanted to demonstrate the power of their new advertising platforms.
Used well Meta ads provided indie artists with an opportunity to reach new potential fans in new markets and the chance to re-engage existing audiences. Conversion ads successfully drove people to a landing page and then on to Spotify or Apple. It was relatively cheap and relatively effective. YouTube began filling up with content of artists winning with Facebook ads.
In this epoch of music promotion, the challenge was to make engaging 10-20-second video ads that would stand out in Feed and be disruptive enough to get viewers to stop ‘doom scrolling’ and click. For some that meant chopping up the best clips from their music video, while others realised the full-length video was increasingly expensive and redundant. After all, they just needed the best possible 10-20-second clips.
There was also a realisation that with the majority of social media viewers watching with the sound off, indie artists now needed to engage the eyes of their viewers to be given the chance to engage their ears.
While the first epoch of music marketing was characterised by a ‘what I want to share’ mentality, the second epoch was reliant on creating ads other people would want to see and be likely to respond to. Those who continued to push the serve serving messages from the first epoch were starting to fail and waste their money.
But just when advertising seemed to be working Apple changed its Privacy rules. Overnight any of Meta’s audience with an iPhone had the chance to opt out. As a result, reach plummeted and the cost of advertising conversions soared.
Around this time TikTok started making waves and it began to change the world again the third epoch was about to start.
The third epoch of social media marketing for indie artists:
Entertainment First, Friends Second.
Calling TikTok social media is a little misleading. TikTok is an entertainment platform that has more in common with Netflix than Instagram. With TikTok, you are not reliant on your existing audience for reach. Every post has the potential to reach millions of people on their ‘For You’ page, it just needs to be entertaining.
But herein lies a challenge for indie artists. Traditional ‘music’ content isn’t very entertaining. If you want proof consider these facts. MTV barely shows music any more Top of The Pops was cancelled and the TV audience for the Brit Awards is in free-fall.
Since the arrival of TikTok Instagram has responded by shifting its algorithms away from a focus on friends to a focus on entertainment. Now when you scroll your Instagram Feed or Instagram Reels you are much more likely to see great content from strangers, than average content from Friends.
In this third epoch, any indie musician trying to use the content from the first two epochs is failing not just on TikTok but also on Instagram. Because the majority of viewers are no longer your friends. They don’t follow you, they don’t even know you and most of them don’t care about your new single. It’s also abundantly clear that nobody wants to see clips from your music video in a paid ad.
Indie artists who are successfully promoting their music in this epoch like @ConnorPrice have flipped the narrative. He cleverly embeds his music in a wider story rather than expecting music to be the story. The net result is you start to absorb his music by osmosis rather than feeling like it’s being forced on you. Other savvy musicians like @JVKE have picked up on this and now even indie labels like @pocopocorecords are starting to make this shift.
TikTok has raised the bar. Now unless you are an indie artist making entertaining content you will be left behind.
Words Mark Knight.