Header for Influencer marketing for indie musicians

If you’ve been researching ways to market your music recently, you’ve probably read suggestions to use social media influencers. That’s great advice! Working with an influencer can be an effective way to market your music online. But are you scratching your head at just what all that means? You’re not alone.

Of all the new terms to enter the lexicon of the social media age, “influencer” is one of the more nebulous. What is an influencer? And what do they do?

What is an influencer?

According to our Modern Music Glossary, an influencer is: “Someone who has significant knowledge and a large following in a specific cultural landscape and can use that to influence purchasing decisions or trends among others who are part of that same community. Influencers often use social media to voice their opinions on the goings-on in their community.”

In the music industry, an influencer could be a critic who influences those who read their reviews, a label that defines listeners’ tastes, or a video creator on YouTube who uses music to connect with their followers.

How can artists market their music with influencers?

Increasingly, musicians have started working with influencers on social media platforms to grow their audience and convert those fans into concrete figures like streams or merch sales.

Gabe Herring is the strategic partner manager at CD Baby and also works as a label manager for indie artists on his own. He works with artists who are in the early stages of their career and helps grow them as an artist and brand.

A growing part of Herring’s strategy is enlisting the expertise of influencers on social media platforms to create campaigns for artists he’s working with.

One example was with an artist Herring worked with called the Astronomers, whose song “Skywalking” was filled with Star Wars references. “We really hit the Stars Wars community on Reddit hard,” says Herring. “We started out there by reaching out to some lightsaber enthusiasts that do some pretty cool lightsaber videos. They choose really visually appealing videos to match their lightsabers to the background, so for us that was easy to use for the song to get attention.”

Another of Herring’s clients was from California and had written a song about being on the beach with friends after a surf session. “We targeted a ton of southern California surfer accounts and connected with the audience,” says Herring. “The video we used was the band on the beach with a ukulele to set the scene. That was the fastest we saw videos being created with that. It was just from the video and people used the sound in the background of their videos.”

What social media platforms are the most effective for music marketing?

TikTok: “It’s the platform that gets the most focus,” says Herring. “It’s the easiest to work with because it’s still a fairly new platform.”

Since the artists Herring works with are usually in the range of 20,000 to 150,000 monthly Spotify listeners, he looks for creators on TikTok that maybe have 5,000 to 10,000 followers. “They’re more likely to work with artists because they’re also trying to grow more followers,” he says.

These influencers with smaller numbers of followers are called “micro-influencers.” They tend to be fairly new to the platform and are looking to build their audience, so a mutually beneficial collaboration between them and an emerging indie artist is enticing to both parties.

Instagram Reels: “The same thing about micro-influencers also applies to Reels since it’s so new as well,” says Herring. “But since Instagram is older those influencers might be more popular and might have an agency to go through and there might be more money involved.”

Byte: “It’s from one of the cofounders of Vine,” says Herring. “It’s six second loops where any kind of video content you want to create, so you need to be more creative with it. It’s easier to find creators on Bite who are willing to collaborate since they’re at the stage where they’re willing to collaborate for less money.

Snapchat: Yes, people still use Snapchat! “During the 2020 election, Snapchat was a hub for political activity,” says Herring. “It was responsible for many young people getting into politics for the first time. That’s from influencers on the platform.”

Reddit: “I’ve seen Reddit become the platform where the trends start and then expand to other platforms,” says Herring. “A lot of things start there first, so it’s starting to become something people lean on for music promotion. We’ve used Reddit to start campaigns over TikTok or other platforms to gauge engagement.”

How do I know if I’m ready to start looking for influencers to market with?

This can be a bit subjective, but Herring advises that you take an honest listen to your music. “It comes down to the quality of the content,” he says. “You can get that from the initial response on social media. What’s the response from people who have never heard your music?”

And, it might seem obvious but just to put it out there: “You want to make sure you’re using your best work. What are people going to relate to?” So maybe don’t use that demo you recorded with one mic in your living room.

How do I find an influencer to work with?

Go online! Do your research! Look around on the social platforms and find a few creators whose work you admire.

How do I vet an influencer once I find one?

Herring outlines a few things to look for when you contact an influencer:

  1. Look at the content on the profile. Make sure you want to associate your brand with their brand.
  2. Look at engagement on the profile. They could have a ton of followers but it doesn’t mean people interact with them. Check the comments section and make sure the followers are participating. If they are, that means they’ll likely participate with any campaign you run with that influencer.
  3. Make sure their brand and aesthetic aligns with yours. Your audience needs to relate to what the influencer is doing, and vice versa.
  4. How well do they communicate? Are they difficult to deal with? If communication is slow or non-committal, it could take much longer to create a campaign, if it even gets done at all.
  5. Have a contract in place if you can. This can be tough with micro-influencers who might not want to sign a contract if they’re just starting out. If it’s for little money, you’ll need to decide if it’s worthwhile to continue working with them without a contract.

How do I create a marketing campaign with an influencer?

Once you find an influencer, contact them and iron out an agreement to create a campaign for your music, it’s time to actually form that campaign.

If you’re a fairly new artist without much experience in marketing, Herring advises to let the influencer pitch content first. “They know their audience best,” he says. “So they’ll know what connects with them and what works.”

Remember: even micro-influencers have experience using their brand and profile to speak to their audience. But of course, you know your music. “Absolutely feel free to push back if their idea is against your brand or identity,” says Herring. “It’s all about a conversation.”

What can I expect after the campaign launches?

Herring is honest about the results: “It’s a crapshoot. We have expected views we want to see and expected common shares. Sometimes they are very low and even the influencer is surprised.”

One trick he shares is removing the content and posting again. “We’ve seen that with our original posts on TikTok,” he says. “There’s very little difference in the post and no response. Then we post the same time and there’s better response.”

What are the markers of a successful influencer marketing campaign?

The hardest but most important goal of a social media marketing campaign is conversion. That’s the step a social media user takes from seeing your campaign on a social media platform to clicking the link to your song on a streaming platform, or searching for it themselves. Essentially, turning social media users into listeners and fans.

“Just because you’re seeing followers does not mean listeners on the platforms,” says Herring. “You want to pair influencer marketing with audience growth.”

How do I get users to convert to listeners?

“One thing we do to nudge people to convert is we run ads,” says Herring. “We set it up so it drives that user to their preferred streaming platform.”

Herring does this with a few different ad programs:

  • Facebook Ads
  • Ads on YouTube with Google Ad Sense
  • Spotify Ads through Show.co

That last one is especially significant because you can run a Show.co Ad Builder campaign through CD Baby! Those ads appear on Spotify and drive conversion right on the platform.

Ultimately, the hallmark of a successful campaign is to end up with more followers on your streaming profiles and more listens for your song than you had before. That growth in your fanbase means increased streaming revenue, more viewers for your livestreams and stronger merch sales. So get out there and find an influencer!