author: Ron Pope (@RonPopeMusic)
Sometimes we all need a good pep talk.
This post is more aptly named - "If You Can’t Find A Sledgehammer, Use A Chisel" as that's essentially our business model as independents in the music industry.
Think about your favorite global pop star. When that artist drops a new record, everyone on the planet knows about it; it’s inescapable. The new single by such and such pop singer is on the radio constantly, you see him on TV talking to Ellen/Kimmel/Elmo, he’s on billboards, he’s on the cover of a magazine seductively holding a large guinea pig, every online publication worth its salt has a feature that talks about his childhood/eating habits/ceramic turtle collection. They’re everywhere!
As an independent artist, I’m sure you’ve come to realize, that kind of global major media saturation probably isn’t going to happen for you on your own.
I’m fifteen years into my recording career and we spend a tidy sum promoting my albums and work with a bunch of incredibly hard working, ultra-talented people but I’m certainly not everywhere when my records drop. The major players in the industry use the sledgehammer approach; it’s big, it’s heavy, and it makes a great big dent. Since you don’t have access to that, you can’t make a big hole all at once, you’ll need to pick away at it a little bit at a time. We call that the chisel approach.
When you’re starting out, you probably don’t have a big time publicist or a powerful radio promoter in your corner. Start to get press by finding someone to write about you; maybe it’s a college newspaper near where you live. Look for a small, independent radio station in your area and reach out. It should be easier to build some kind of hometown love than it is to promote your music on a global scale right out of the gate. Book yourself some shows close to home and sell them out. Get your cousins and all their friends to come out; don’t be afraid to call in favors “Stevie, I bailed you out; come see my band or next time I’m leaving you there overnight!” If you can start a little buzz in your immediate vicinity, you can then attempt to gradually spread it outward from there. The same is true for promoting your music online; you’re probably not going to get write-ups from the biggest publications in the world right away, so look for smaller outlets that seem interested in the kind of music you’re creating. Start small and build from there. You’ll probably struggle to get added to Spotify playlists with three million subscribers, but perhaps there’s a smaller independent playlist that is excited about being a driver of discovery. Find people who are in the business of helping new artists and talk to them.
I know that all of this sounds incredibly daunting. The world is very large, but that’s why it’s best to start close to home. Focus on making a dent little by little, rather than allowing yourself to get despondent because you don’t have a sledgehammer to make a giant hole all at once. It may take you longer to do it on your own, but given time and effort, you can still make a big dent.