Written by Emily Simpson, as part of Commission Mission.
For a long time, most job opportunities for a musician came from face-to-face meetings. But in the age of social media, more and more musicians are moving online to promote their music and find work - it’s changed the way we connect with the world.
Networking for jobs in the music industry is tough. But networking for jobs during a global pandemic is a whole new level of tough. You’re probably spending a few extra hours online, so why not use those hours to promote your music? Social gatherings are sparse, but social media is booming.
One particular social media app taking the world by storm this year is TikTok - a social video platform that describes itself as “the destination for short-form mobile videos”. It’s a bit like a bite-sized YouTube, with videos being around 20-60 seconds long. It has over half a billion active users and it was the most downloaded app of 2019, so it’s no surprise that trending on the platform can do big things for your music career. Beyond its giant collection of memes, TikTok is seriously starting to impact popular music.
In 2019, ‘Old Town Road’ by Lil Nas X (along with the many, many… many remixes to come from it) broke records and became the longest-running Billboard Number 1 in history after originally going viral on TikTok. It’s a prime example of TikTok turning a song into a meme, and then a number 1 hit. The song's big boost came from the hashtag #yeehaw and a hugely popular meme where people drank "yee yee juice”, transforming them into a cowboy.
Music labels now monitor artists’ activity on social media. When it comes to older social media like YouTube and Instagram, quickly gaining fame and popularity is difficult. Lesser-known musicians need the opportunity to become popular. TikTok satisfies this desire with an algorithm that is constantly searching for new videos, rather than displaying the latest videos from popular users.
Using TikTok to Promote Yourself
So let’s start with the basics. To get your music on to TikTok, you have to officially add it to the app’s library through digital distribution. Some common distribution services are:
- Ditto Music
Some sites don’t include TikTok in your package, so make sure you’re opted in for TikTok distribution.
It’s also important to note that once your track has been uploaded to your distributor, you can choose the 30 second preview clip. This is your chance to advertise what your song has to offer, so find the most dance-able, sing-able, or meme-able 30 seconds and voila - you’re all set.
If your music is to go viral on TikTok, it needs to be ‘TikTok friendly’. But what exactly does that mean? The music content in a TikTok video can’t be any longer than 15 seconds long. So, it needs to be catchy, engaging and relatable enough for users to create their own content around it. You don’t even have to be good, let alone great — just entertaining. When it comes to TikTok, authenticity is valued over perfection. So what can you do to make your videos TikTok friendly?
Start a Challenge With Your Music
Posting challenge videos can definitely help to engage an audience, so taking part in videos that resonate with viewers is a great way to gain a following.
Challenges tend to go viral when they’re fun and can be interpreted in different ways by different viewers. The challenge needs to give viewers a chance to be creative and put their own twist on your music, so lyrics are particularly important. Some of the most popular TikTok challenges are dance routines, lip syncing and costumes.
A song that made it big time on TikTok was Toosie Slide by Drake. It became popular simply because it’s easy and fun, with Drake asking listeners to bring their left foot up before sliding to the right. Since then, millions of viewers have been recording their best renditions of the dance. That’s really all it takes. Just make your lyrics easy to follow and react to.
YouTube is a great platform to post content as there is no time limit on the videos you can post. Users also have the ability to categorise their videos into playlists, making it easier for fans, other musicians or employers to easily find what they are looking for.
Before you do anything, you need a channel. Try to make it look professional and authentically you. Think about things like:
- A high quality profile picture and cover art
- Links to other social media and streaming services
- Contact details
- An engaging description
Add Tags to Your Videos
Tags are as important to YouTube as hashtags are to TikTok. They are keywords that help people find your content in the YouTube search engine. Go to town when you’re adding your tags - add any relevant words you can think of. The more tags you use, the better chance you have of being noticed.
Here’s an example: you’re releasing an original R&B track to YouTube. You’re obviously going to add the basic tags such as ‘R&B’ and ‘original song’, right? But no detail is too small. Does your song have harmonies? Add it to the tags. A slapping bassline groove? Add it to the tags. Does it have an extraordinarily fast rap section that’s difficult to do? (That’s a TikTok challenge waiting to happen). Go ahead and tag it.
Instagram is effective because it allows users to share photos as well as video content. It is a great tool for building a fanbase as, unlike TikTok, an artist can dedicate their page to their own individuality and style rather than following trends.
Here are some top tips on how to make the most out of your Instagram page:
Make your Profile into a Business Account
Instagram business accounts are so useful to have because you can get: real-time metrics on how your posts perform throughout the day, insights into your followers and learn the best times of the day to post and add information about yourself, such as location and contact details.
Write Engaging Post Captions
A good caption tells a story or sparks discussion. The Instagram algorithm favours engagement, so the more you encourage your followers to comment on your posts, more people are exposed to your content. Essentially, just talk with your followers instead of at them. If you treat followers like people and not just numbers, your post views will grow. As well as engaging with followers, you could tag your location to help increase your presence in your local area.
Audiences use hashtags to search for content. From a business perspective it’s the other way around - hashtags can help your content reach the right people. While the main hashtag trends for TikTok involve challenges and humour, Instagram is better for long term and consistent promotion. Using hashtags that are most relevant to you will help you reach the best audience. For example, a Liverpool-based guitarist could use generic tags such as #guitarist to get views around the world. But they could also use #liverpoolguitarist to reach people in the local area looking to work with or hire a guitarist.
Make the Most of Your Bio
Whether you are a local musician or trying to make it big, your bio is how you tell the world who you are. Treat it as though you’re introducing yourself to a new friend. If you just told them your name, the conversation wouldn’t last very long. Give them a reason to be interested! Who are you? Where are you from? What do you do? What’s interesting about you?
Mix It Up
Regular content can be a good thing so that your followers know what to expect each week, you could have features like ‘new music Monday’ or ‘guitar solo Sunday’. But it’s important to post a range of content.
Here’s a few ideas to keep your profile interesting:
- Concert clips
- Practise videos
- Lyric notebooks
- Music videos
As we finally near the light at the end of a very long tunnel and enter a post-pandemic world, live gigs and sessions won’t go back to normal straight away. But that’s okay - we’re already thriving in the online world and finding new ways to connect and create.
Social media is an invaluable tool for musicians, and a large factor of success in today’s industry comes from having a good understanding of what different social media apps entail, and how to use that knowledge to your advantage. Stay up to date on current trends and hashtags, learn what content your target audience likes to see, and be innovative. Don’t stress if you don’t get the outcome you wanted straight away, just do what feels right to you and have fun - you’re viewers will pick up on that. The online opportunities for you are limitless.
Commission Mission was created by Young Guns Network and London In Stereo to commission 20 new and experienced freelance writers to create articles to inspire, inform and entertain young people in the music industry who are struggling during Covid-19.
The supporters who made this project possible were Association of Independent Music, London In Stereo, Musicians Union, Motive Unknown, PPL, Remi Harris Consulting, Small Green Shoots, Young Guns Network, Youth Music