“How to get discovered in music” is a question nearly every artist asks themselves at some point in their career. Now is as good a time as any to reflect on our accomplishments as we prepare for what comes next. We’ve laid the foundation, and now it’s time to build this city (on rock ‘n’ roll).
As our relatives once again persuade us to audition for America’s Got Talent, let’s contemplate the most effective strategies for making impactful art in the coming year. Let’s build unbeatable habits with the power to elevate the status we hold in our creative communities, and save the resolutions for the quitters.
Narrow the playing field
Creative impulses come in every shape and size. Flashes of color, strings of meaningful words, or a simple moment of poignant irony can send us spiraling into new projects and ideas. The open mind is a launchpad, but it’s the discerning mind that has the potential to lift us off the ground and carry us in any direction we choose.
As an artist, you have to be the CEO of your own company. This means having the answers to questions such as: What are my strengths as an artist? What do I want to accomplish with my art? Who is going to relate to and identify with my art, and what is the best way to reach these people? Once you have the answers to these questions, your job is to then make sure that each post, interview, performance — each word — falls into those unique parameters.
Be the one in a million
Raise your hand if this has ever been you: Upon entering the studio of a talented producer, you cue up a popular new release from your favorite artist and confidently say, “I want my song to sound like this.” Now turn your hand around and place your palm squarely against your face.
When your goal is to create art inspired by someone else’s work, you inevitably become the derivation of something original. Mumford & Sons caught fire around 2009, having eschewed modern trends and digital innovations in favor of the lush harmonies and skillful multi-instrumentalism that made them so unique. What followed was a flood of half-sincere folk revivalists, wearing the same rustic vests and wide-brimmed hats, yet only experiencing a fraction of the success of Mumford & Sons.
It’s important to pay attention to what’s going on, as other artists inspire us and teach us new ways to achieve commercial success (i.e. what’s acceptable). More importantly, however, we must pay attention to what makes us unique as individuals. Through that lens, we can take what’s acceptable and turn it into something truly exceptional. If there’s one thing Sturgill Simpson and Billie Eilish have in common, it’s the middle finger they’ve directed at what’s expected of them.
In the era of home production and self-publishing, it’s never been more important to get involved with your musical community. You can send cold emails all day begging for someone to listen to your new single, but when label execs hear a recommendation from an artist they trust, they listen. No one gave a damn about the Rolling Stones until George Harrison suggested that Dick Rowe at Decca Records go check out a show. They were signed the next week. (Fun fact: Rowe passed on The Beatles years prior.)
Discovering like-minded artists has never been more simple. Get on Instagram, Spotify, or any social network and reach out to the up-and-coming artists that inspire you. You’ll be surprised at how receptive these strangers can be. It makes sense — don’t we all just want a little appreciation? Plan shows with other local artists and cross-promote on each other’s channels. Suddenly, your projects can be discovered by an entirely new fanbase. Once you’ve identified what you do and who your audience is, it won’t be hard to find others within that paradigm.
Content, content, content
The term “blowing up” can be misleading, as explosions are the result of chemical reactions that happen in an instant. While the odd exception does exist (I see you, Maggie Rogers), the road to becoming a modern success is paved with constant creation and a vigilant online presence — in other words, “creating a buzz.”
It’s like building a fire. Consider your newest release a large piece of wood. Holding a lighter to it won’t do a thing. Kindle a flame with daily social media posts, shows, email blasts, whatever establishes presence along with your demographic. As the release date approaches, add a music video or artist write-up to spark their curiosity. Hopefully, by the time that single drops you’ll be dealing with a full-blown conflagration. In other words, how to get discovered in music is often defined by how you make yourself discoverable.
We’ve only just begun…
Congratulations! You’ve just released a hit single. Time to kick back and collect.
This is where the real creators split off from the herd. If you’re doing it right, there’s a follow-up single ready to go and you’re in the studio working on the LP. Followers are subscribing, and you’re there to greet them (with dope merch). Your craft is sharp and you’re improving every day, because there is no “fake it ’til you make it.” You’ve got to learn it ’til you earn it.
Getting attention has become its own art form. It can be discouraging to witness the daily assault of product ads and trending artists that flash before our eyes as we browse the internet, but what if I told you those ephemeral trends could be your ephemeral friends?
Newsjacking is the act of generating media attention by aligning your brand with trending topics and current events. Twitter and Reddit literally tell you what everyone is talking about right now, so why not make those topics relatable to your art? Better yet, why not create art relatable to those topics? With a little brainstorm and a couple of handy hashtags, you could be riding the wave of public opinion quicker than you can articulately say “zebra-print Zumba pants.”
What not to do
Lightning round! Don’t play the same local shows to the same crowd at the same venue. Don’t change your artist name with every new release. Don’t sleep on merch because it costs money. Don’t post off-brand on social media. Don’t send unpolished demos. Don’t put too much weight on expectations. And most importantly, don’t give up.
Let’s make art that brings us joy and soothes the soul. Genuine passion gives fans something tangible to grasp, and it will provide you with the ability to transcend the daily hustle, which at times can feel a little overwhelming. As countless new artists make their debut on the world’s stage each day, it’s encouraging to know that the impact we make is entirely up to us.
Feeling inspired? Want to know how to maximize your revenue as a musician? Check out our list of eight ways artists can make money online.