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How do bands get discovered online?

How to use social media to win new fans. How to get spotted by a label.

My youngest brother is in a great band that hasn’t been discovered by a label yet. I was at their gig last night in Earls Court, where they were appearing alongside three other unsigned acts.

Some of them were promoting themselves by announcing their MySpace pages and others were asking the crowd to vote for them in online polls. There were also loads of home-made flyers and postcards on the tables showing web addresses.

Since then, I’ve been thinking- if I was in a band (and had any talent), what would I do to get discovered and build my fanbase? The solution has been changing over the last five years, and I’m not sure it is as simple as it once was.

The MySpace Effect.

Myspace used to be the answer. Back in 2004, thousands of bands were able to submit their music and reach new fans through the posting of their recordings, and over 5 million members signed up by the end of the year. Midway through 2005, the announcement came of News Corporation’s acquisition and the monthly unique users continued to grow, peaking at 100 million by 2007.

However, in recent years, the NewCorp effect has impacted MySpace for young bands, and many feel it is too commercial now, lacking the fresh feel it once had. Creating a page for your band does result in an endless stream of advertisements from other bands for their own music, negating the value of fan postings altogether. The emergence of the new wave of social networks and the adaptation of networking tools by sites such as FaceBook means MySpace is not the premium player it once was.

Introducing your music.

YouTube was the only distribution channel worth considering for the great unloved. We (at Film 121) have been asked to record content for bands to submit, and it’s not the latest music video. This content, however irrelevant, is used by bands to drive traffic online to their websites, enrich the user experience once on the site, and to increase search engine rankings.

Apple have made it easier for bands to submit their own music to iTunes, even if they are still unsigned. Simply sign up as a content provider and, if approved, you will become a ‘Signed iTunes Artist’. Apple will also give bands access to iTunes Connect, an extranet that provides iTunes Producer, an encoding tool, plus all the reports and tools to manage content and view sales reports on the iTunes Store. Discounts are even provided on Apple hardware for new bands. iTunes work hard to promote music through editorial content and actively encourage new releases to be submitted to the Editorial Staff ,who may feature these in their email newsletters and other promotions such as the free Single of the Week, guaranteed to help the undiscovered be found.

Spotify have also followed suit. This free music player (for listening to music via the internet) has set up a network of “Artist Aggregators” for unsigned bands to submit their music via. There are currently nine of these, including Ditto Music from Birmingham. Ditto Music can also publish music to iTunes and a whole host of emerging sites.

The emotional connection.

Part of the appeal of MySpace in the early days was that sense of connection with an artist, however successful they were. Twitter has built on this and is now one of the primary ways for a new artist to communicate with their followers. A simple one line comment can be read by all fans as if have written to them personally. Lady Gaga and Britney Spears are the “best read” musicians on Twitter, each with over 6 million followers. If you’re not on Twitter, this is a missed opportunity. New bands such as I Blame Coco have never posted anything, yet have thousands of fans following them in anticipation and ready to ‘retweet’ these comments to an ever increasing group of potential recruits. It’s important to remember that even individuals in a band have their own fanbase, so for maximum emotional connection, these artists should be broadcasting via their own pages too.

Building the community.

So you’ve got your fans hanging off every word on Twitter, listening to your thoughts on fashion, politics, and the secrets of your success. The next aim is to build your family of fans so they can start to communicate with each other. Sites such as Facebook are perfect for this. Arcade Fire now have over 450,000 fans who ‘like’ their fan page. Even Bono has 20,ooo followers who like him…

On Facebook, fans can listen to new tracks, watch videos add their own notes and submit photos. Future gigs are posted here so fans can see what’s coming up, then tell the rest of the community that they have bought their ticket.

On the 1st September 2010, Apple launched iTunes Ping, their new network for music lovers. It’s early days, which is great news for new bands, as there really isn’t much content available. At the time of writing, big-names such as the Temper Trap had only 16,000 followers and Rodrigo y Gabriela are less fortunate with only 137! Now would be a good time for new bands to submit content and reach out to a potential audience of over 125 million.

The non-commercial connection.

I’m undecided on the final option: your own website. It’s obvious really, being:

  1. Relatively cheap to create
  2. Editorially free from creative constraints

However, a good website, well executed, may look to the fans of your unsigned band that you have ‘sold out’ to the commercial world and lost that raw edge you were once known and loved for.

Perhaps your website is better seen as the hub for all your online content, pulling together everything as a one-stop-shop for a new fan to quickly find out where you feature in the online world, becoming your “Private Google“.


If there are any label execs reading this, Filthy Whisky would love to hear from you…

(Featured Photo by Edward Cisneros on Unsplash)


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