Our advice to the independent musician

During the months writing for this blog I’ve received a lot of submissions and for a while now I’ve wanted to write a post about this experience.
Or to be more precise, to give some advice on what to do and what to avoid when submitting and promoting. Basic, simple things. Advice that can be of use to everyone, mistakes that are quite common.

This is obviously not the mother of all marketing guides. What’s listed is basically common sense (in no particular order), and there’s probably quite a lot more I could have mentioned.

But if you avoid these then I’d say that you’ve advanced to a level above a good bulk of other self-promoting indies out there.

1: Don’t break illusions

Music is all about illusions. Mental images. And the artist behind the track is part of that illusion. You want your music to be perceived as better than the average submission. And everything counts towards that.

Of course, the music is by far the most important factor here. But when you’re pitching the track, don’t say you’re only 13 (or whatever) unless it’s of direct relevance to the track. Or inform the blogger that it’s your first attempt at the genre. Or that you only started producing last summer. Just to use some examples I see quite often.
It’s a high risk that the media/blogger will then listen to the track with a different mindset. “So, he says he don’t really know what he’s doing? Well, I can of course hear that!

Because from the bloggers point of view, they want to find those really good tracks from artists that know what they are doing. And if the track gives that impression, don’t break that illusion!

2: Don’t make excuses

This is related to the above: Don’t blame poor equipment, or inexperience, or lack of time, or “not sure about this one but throwing it out there“.
Either you think the track you share is good enough for the world to hear, or fix the problem before it’s released. Once it’s out, stand behind it and support it.

3: Vocalist, be confident or practise

Far too often I hear vocals drenched in reverb and filters. As if they try to hide something. And usually one can hear why very well.
Dear vocalist: There’s not a tool in this world that can mask a vocalist that do not have confidence in his/her own voice. We hear that so, so easily. A false note can be corrected, but a vocalist that tries to hide can not.

So either find another vocalist or keep practising until you (justified or not) have confidence in your voice and dare step up and let it be heard. Trust your voice, or practise more.

4: Make info easily available

This is more important than you may think. Blogs, newspapers, magazines, radio jockeys, they all want material to help them in their work. The better information you give them, the higher chance there is that what they produce becomes good for you.

Write an artist bio. It doesn’t have to be long, more important is it that it is relevant and contains something to talk about. And bloggers loves quotes. Give them something to quote, and they are happy.

Make a track bio, share information about it! Fun little trivia, sound sources, the production process, accidents, anything that might be of interest regarding this track. Or, at the very least, give information if it’s going to be featured in an upcoming album or compilation of some sort. Anything is better than nothing.

And make the information available with the submission. Don’t refer to some website out there – unless you give them a direct link to download the info.

On services like submithub there’s really no reason to not do any of the above. It’s done once, and stored for all submissions.

5: Cover art counts

Make an effort on the cover art! I’ve seen too many “covers” that’s just a public domain photography cropped into a square size. Cover matters! It builds an impression of the track.

And keep it relative to your skills. Don’t do a too ambitious photshop job that turns out just bad – then rather make a plain, rather generic cover that looks proper. But make an effort.
Or reach out for help – there’s tons of graphical artists out there of various skill levels that are eager to give it a try. And although it can be said that “you get what you pay for” chances are that you’ll find a budding designer with the same sense for shape and form as yourself. Networking! That’s key here.

Also – submit the cover art in a proper size. 3000×3000 pixels is a good size. 500×500 is not.

6: Always set a release date

To put it simple: If release date is “undecided“, then it’s not ready to be promoted. End of story. You need to have a plan.

Most bloggers want to know when it will be released because it enables them to make plans. So don’t start the promotion too soon. Have everything in place, and then start the promotional work. That’s how the professionals do it – and that’s how you want to do it too.

7: Set the correct genre(s)

Yeah, I know. This one’s a bitch, especially if you’re like me and don’t really make music designated to one specific genre. And there will always be disagreements about what main genre something belongs to.

But don’t call it something it’s obviously not. It only makes you look bad. If you don’t know a genre you probably do not make music in that genre. Simple as that. You may have made a gorgeous synthwave track, but if you call it minimal techno you only make a bad impression.

The following is particularly related to submission gates like submithub:
Don’t mislabel just so you can submit to more blogs (explanation for non-users of submithub: A submitter can only submit to the blogs with the defined genres in their preferences). It’s only really really annoying and may actually lead to your account being blocked by that receiver, so you’re unable to later send a relevant track.
Just don’t do it. Please.

8: Don’t just send a preview

A preview only makes it sound like you don’t trust the track to be able to hold our attention. Send the full track. Again – have confidence, or fix the track.

9: Be prepared for declines

This is true for almost all bloggers and playlisters out there: They decline at least 90% of all tracks received. Many decline closer to 99%. Not because 90% of the received tracks are junk, but because the music doesn’t fit their particular profile. And it doesn’t matter if you got millions of followers on Spotify: You will be declined, over and over again. And sometimes accompanied with a rather harsh feedback

Let me use us at Beatradar as an example. We primarily seek what we define as underground electronica. Typically non-vocal, dark and deep (although avid readers do know we make exceptions now and then). There’s a massive share of our declines that are based on the fact that it just doesn’t fit into our picture. It doesn’t have to be anything wrong with the track itself – we are just not the right blog for it.

Also, playlisters and bloggers etc are usually just one person sitting there with his/her subjective taste. It’s nothing more than that. So shrug off the decline and keep going.

10: Easy on the side-chain!

Ok, so this last note is primarily just an utterly subjective rant, but it holds an element of objective truth:

Please, for the love of anything holy, the sidechained ducking effect is not – NOT – an universally applicable effect that is welcome on anything and everything in unrestricted amounts.

Side-chaining is an important tool in the toolbox, but I am now talking about using it as an audible effect. Either to make those ducking waves even when there’s no kick drums playing, or carving holes for the kick drum so large that one can park a bus in there.

Those ducks are done to pump the track. But not all tracks should be pumping. Like, I’ve received chillout tracks with gorgeous, swell pads that were ducking like the volume slider were having a seizure!

And if a pump is in place, don’t unreservedly side-chain every bloody layer of the track – and consider how deep, and long, the duck should be!

This decade will go into history as the decade of the duck attack. It really has become a disease. Get over it.
Rant over. Thanks for letting me get that off my chest.

Anyways – I do hope you found some advice of value in here. One thing is for sure, and that is that I personally as an artist have found the above observations to really be an eyeopener. I’ve done so many of the above mistakes myself!

And if you got questions or additional advice you want to share, please use the comments field below!

Good luck with your marketing work!