Putting art in front of people and getting heard or seen has been a challenge for many musicians across the generations. Music marketing is a process that takes time and effort, and requires a completely different skillset than musicianship.
This hasn’t changed much even as technology has taken over most aspects of modern communication. What is different are the number of approaches available to grow awareness of your music. In this post, I’ll focus exclusively on Instagram, but this is by no means the only way to go about building a following from scratch.
I’ll describe how I grew my Instagram account from 0 to 1000 followers in about 6 months. Now, it’s important to note that basically nobody was hearing my music prior to that. I decided to start fresh and not try to import any fans I had from previous projects.
Why Bother Growing Followers?
My main goal is to connect with other artists and to have people hear my sounds, opening the door for cross pollination, future collaboration, feedback and other opportunities that will help me grow as a musician. If I make some money down the road to pay off my gear, great! If not, I’m going to keep on producing and sharing my knowledge with others. Your goals may differ, so do take that into account and tweak your strategy accordingly.
This is just one approach of many, but it’s important to look at it as a series of steps. Overnight explosive success is a myth – you’ve got to put in consistent work yourself. If you outsource the tactics I’m about to describe you won’t get the same results. You can’t teach someone else your aesthetical preferences and have them make gut feeling decisions on your behalf. Read up and get to work.
Follow Your Peers
Musicians also listen to music, and if you connect with like minded people (instead of mindlessly mashing Follow buttons) they’re prone to enjoy the content you are posting, giving you a healthy engagement rate. The key lies in connecting with people that fall within your sphere of interest.
For example, I’ve used tags like #synthjam #acidmusic #digitone and even #droptuning to find people that are in my sphere of interest. You can do the same regardless of your style of music, going by the instruments you play or by genres or moods that best describe your sound. Almost immediately, The Algorithm will figure out what you’re looking for and start suggesting relevant people to follow. What we’re looking for in a profile is the following:
- Do they post content that’s in our sphere of interest?
- How many followers do they have?
- How many people are they following?
We’re looking for people that are around or below our number of followers. Accounts with thousands of followers are unlikely to follow back, but that’s not a hard rule. Another metric to look at is the Follower/Following ratio. If people have way more followers than they are following, it is unlikely they will follow you back. Again, these are just my observations – feel free to test them out.
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Connect and Interact
Soon enough plenty of people will start following you back. Their content will be showing up in your feed and it’s time to start connecting with people whose content resonates with you. Remember, it’s called social media and social networking for a reason. If you’re trying quick “hacks” to get around communicating with people… good luck, but this guide is probably not for you.
We can separate the 4 levels of interaction to the following:
- Likes – I’m quite liberal with this currency and I’ll throw a heart on anything that piques my interest, which tells The Algorithm to show me more content from that creator in the future. If it’s not something that interests me, I won’t Like it… simply because I don’t want my feed populated with stuff I’m not interested in.
- Comments – I’ll post genuine feedback, reactions or questions on content that stands out to me. I’m not talking about fire emojis and 1-2 word replies, but actual sentences that have meaning and foster communication.
- Direct Messages – Once in a while I’ll actually DM an artist who either a) shares similar audio and/or visual aesthetics to what I’m doing, or b) truly stands out above the rest. I might throw them a few words of encouragement or tell them that they can count on my support when they’re about to release something. It’s great giving feedback to artists who are just starting out and setting the stage for future collaborations.
- Reposts – Admittedly, I don’t do a whole lot of this unless I’m specifically asked to or if it’s part of a larger campaign. It’s not an inherent feature of Instagram and I’m not sure if it brings in any real benefits to anyone unless it’s executed with a clear intention. Let me know in the comments if you think I’m wrong on this.
Post Quality Content
While the topic of content creation requires a whole post in itself (or several), it’s important to take your content strategy seriously. You’ve got some followers now and they’ll be seeing your content come up in their feeds – make it worth their while. If you think people give a shit about seeing countdowns to the release of your next single as a small time artist, think again. Maybe once you’ve got a bunch of fans and superfans behind you… but we’re not there just yet.
Give out something worthwhile to the people in your sphere of interest. Share your latest approach to sound design or composing, post some gear demos and get the discussion going on that front – most musicians like talking about gear. Again, this is something that’s a topic of its own and there’s a lot of nuance depending on your style and niche, but try out different approaches to content and see what sticks. Start off by thinking what content YOU enjoy seeing the most in your feed and take it from there.
Also remember to be consistent for an ongoing period of time. A bunch of posts in one week followed by months of silence won’t do you much good. Create content in advance and space it out – if you’re posting once a week that’s fine, just stick to it. If you try to take on more than you can handle in content creation, the time you invest in making music will suffer, as might your mental health.
Dealing with Non-Followers
The next step involves taking a look at profiles that haven’t followed you back. I’ll open up a follower app and check out the people that haven’t followed me back.
The first clue we’re looking for is the date of their last post. If someone hasn’t posted in a while and is not following you back, they are most likely currently inactive and it’s safe to unfollow them.
This is something you can start looking at initially before you even follow people, but it adds a lot of time to the whole process. Besides, even though people are not posting anything it doesn’t mean they’re not silently browsing and connecting.
As for the rest that haven’t followed back, I tend to do the following:
- Check out some of their content and Like what I like
- If something stands out, I throw down a comment
This basically pings the profile and gives them another chance to follow back. I don’t like to be spammy about this, but I do sometimes Like their last 1-2 posts just so I know that it’s a profile I have already checked out. If even after that someone is still not interested in following back and connecting with me, that’s a clear indicator to me that we have different goals. That’s why I unfollow everyone that doesn’t reciprocate by following me back, after giving them a chance or two to do so.
There are different opinions on ideal follower/following ratios, but I personally see accounts that follow thousands of people as spammy – there’s no way you can keep up with truly following more than a few hundred accounts at most.
Soon enough The Algorithm will pick you up and you will start getting followers out of the blue. Follow them back if they’re in your sphere of interest! Keep up with finding new profiles to connect with, and don’t forget to like and comment on posts in your feed that resonate with you.
Now is a good time to also send direct messages to people who really stand out to you, commenting on their work and giving them feedback. It’s great getting in touch with artists that show potential early in their career, opening the door for future collaborations and mutual support.
The downside to this method of growth is that it does require additional time staring at a screen, and not making music. We’re talking about 20-45 minutes daily, depending on how fast you want to grow. Try to go for more than that and you’ve likely entered the area of steep diminishing returns. I suggest using Instagram’s built in daily time limit reminder, because things can get out of hand fast when you surrender your attention to The Algorithm.
Using the method I just described, I’ve been able to grow 150-250 followers per month while using Instagram for no more than 30 minutes a day. Your mileage may vary. I’ve connected with over 1000 real people in a short amount of time and I’ve pleased The Algorithm with a healthy follower ratio (under 1:1) and high engagement rate (over 10%). This is as white hat as it gets, with no fear of being penalized for your efforts.
Now it’s up to me to decide how I want to develop those relationships further. And to be honest, the first thing I want to do is move our connection off Instagram. Any social media platform can shut down a page at any time and all those connections can disappear over night. It happens all the time, and it will keep on happening as more of the decision making is being given over to The Algorithm. We’re moving from human errors to machine errors, with no opportunity for getting in touch with a real human to make a manual fix. But that’s a story for another time.
Whatever the case may be, I think it’s important to stay in touch directly, rather than communicating through layers of hashtags, reposts and other contrived forms of communication. If you feel the same way, subscribe below and hit me back by email once the subscription is confirmed, so that we can stay in touch.
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