Instagram Marketing For Indie Artists
March 8, 2020
When it comes to getting the traction you want for your career, Instagram marketing for independent artists should not be understated. Lots of independent music artists use it to sell their brands and grow a following.
So let’s have a look at why you should consider Instagram for marketing as an independent musician, when comparing to other social platforms, and how to get the most out of this popular social media channel with this ultimate guide to Instagram marketing.
Instagram Marketing for Independent Artists: Why Should We?
Instagram Is Booming
With over one-billion users and growing, Instagram has been called “the next big thing” by Dreamgrow. It’s already a huge thing, though, often cited as one of the top-three social media sites. Fully 37% of American adults have an account. Not only that, but Techcrunch says Instagram is growing faster than Facebook now and about twice as fast as Snapchat.
But if you really want to know if there’s money to be made, the obvious place to look is advertising. These careful investors make it their business to know where to buy visibility. How many such persons currently choose Instagram? Oh, a few.
A few, as in two-million advertisers every month.
You don’t have to pay, though. Instagram marketing for independent artists is free.
Instagram Marketing for Independent Artists Means Engagement
According to Brandwatch, “engagement with brands on Instagram is 10 times higher than Facebook, 54 times higher than Pinterest, and 84 times higher than Twitter.”
That means that even if more people see things you post elsewhere, they’re going to interact more on Instagram. That’s good because you know those viewers have digested what you left for them.
Remember when your grade-school teacher would ask sleepy students to sit up and pay attention? Teachers know that learning needs engagement. You’d like your audience to learn about you, your music, and your brand. It’s the same thing.
Instagram users pay better attention.
“Particularly for Millennials, Instagram is seen as a style resource, an ideal place for learning new trends and discovering new artists … This makes Instagram better for influencer marketing and free exposure; users on Instagram more often sign on actively looking for product recommendations, as opposed to Facebook where they actively ignore them.”
Even more startling, ECommerceCEO stats show that 32% of Facebook users interact with brands while 68% of Instagram users do. Instagram followers engage 58 times more than on Facebook.
But maybe the best part is that while 93% of marketers use Facebook, only 36% use Instagram (also ECCEO). So your competition is far less stiff there.
Musicians Who Make Instagram Work for Them
So Instagram marketing for independent artists is definitely a thing. But who’s doing it?
Honestly, pretty much anyone doing the least bit of indie music marketing is doing it on Instagram. One of the best ways to know how to do it effectively is to follow these people and learn from the best. But just to drive home the point, this group of music (and Instagram) experts includes:
- Questlove (The Roots, Late Night with Jimmy Fallon)
- Neil Fairclough (Queen)
- Emily Wilde (Bryan Ferry, The Darkness, Tricky)
- David Ryan Harris (John Mayer, Dave Matthews, Carlos Santana)
- Musicians’ Union
- Sub Pop Records
In fact, Rolling Stone has a whole list of the best musicians to follow on the ‘Gram.
Convinced? Good. Let’s talk about how to get you on that list. But in case you just can’t be bothered to see how other people do it, here’s a fine example of Instagram branding done right.
Instagram Marketing for Independent Artists: How to Do It Right
Before We Say Anything Else
Instagram marketing for independent artists can be started in the application, but it needs to end at your official website.
If you take one thing from this list of tips, make it this one.
You need an official website to market your music and merch on Instagram. That’s because Instagram doesn’t let you link to anything in your comments. Without links in the comments, it’s much harder to sell things. That shouldn’t bother the modern indie artist, though, because sharp musicians know they need a website anyway. (We said so back in June).
So strictly speaking about sales, make sure you do these three things to sell your music and merch. Then we’ll talk about details.
- Promote every event you’ll attend with name, date + the time you’ll be there.
- Promote every release — promote each new merch design, album or music video.
- Always change the link in your bio to what you’re promoting at the time. Special limited time offers will get people buzzing.
That last one might sound like a pain, but Instagram marketing for independent artists is all about the details. If you’re promoting a new single, link to the single at your website (or whatever streaming platform your music is featured on) in your bio. If it’s an album, ditto. Great new merch? Same.
The bio is the one place it lets you place a URL. Instagram users who buy things from artists know to check it, and they do.
Once you understand the above basics, it’s time to market … well, you.
Planoly for Instagram Post Scheduling
Planoly deserves special mention because it lets you post to Instagram from your desktop or laptop computer. It shows you an entire calendar over which you can plot what you will post and when. That way you never forget.
Going on tour? Put posts on your tour dates ahead of time with geo-tags (more on that later) so you never fail to publicize your appearance. Gonna be busy on the holidays? It’s good Instagram marketing for independent artists to always post something festive on holidays. But parties and family gatherings make it hard to remember. Planoly fixes that.
There are other tools for this, such as Hootsuite, but Planoly was specifically made for Instagram. It shows. It works.
Bulk.ly for Scheduling Instagram Posts
Planoly is a fine tool for planning out your IG, but as of late 2019, there's also this competitor, Bulk.ly. Bulk.ly schedules your posts through Buffer, which is a comprehensive social media strategy tool like Hootsuite. Why do we like it?
Bulk.ly's features include the ability to:
- Automatically recycle all of your social media updates
- Randomize the order your posts are sent to Buffer
- Create hashtags for each social site and even shuffle multiple tags per channel
- and Schedule your updates to drip to Buffer multiple times per hour, day or month
It's also super easy to use, as you can see from the below image taken from their website.
You can learn how to use Bulk.ly here. It's worth looking into, if you're serious about social media marketing as a musician or in general.
Instagram Marketing for Independent Artists is Personal
“A picture is worth 1000 words,” they say. That’s true, but Instagram doesn’t give you control of many words. That means you need to carefully curate which photos you show.
The pics you upload to Instagram will become who you are to your fans. Major artists often hire social media handlers because they don’t have time to be so careful.
You want to be that careful.
But just so you can get started right away, here’s a clutch of no-brainers you can pretty-much always count on.
Share photos of you:
- In your studio
- With your fans
- Performing live
- Recording your latest track
- Living the culture
- Goofing off with band members and crew persons
- With your pet! Instagrammers can’t get enough cats, dogs, owls, llamas, etc.
Instagram pics behind the scenes:
- Equipment you use
- Vinyl on your turntable
- Your studio/practice space/home venue
- Your songwriting area, instruments, paper and utensils
- You packaging merch
- You singing or playing at home
- You hanging with other independent artists
- You at your favorite venue
- You with producers and promoters
- You with your pet, yes…the pet wins again.
All those statistics before showing people spend more time on Instagram than on Facebook? That’s people e-hanging out with Instagram accounts. If you want your audience to hang out with you that way, you need to make that space look and feel “lived-in.” Users should scroll up to your account and get the impression that you just left. They should feel the presence of others there.
You can also use something like Instasize to help you make photos and videos to grow your Instagram audience. Their Sam Schuler even wrote a great blog post to help you do it, too. You can read all about how here.
And as for more specific, technical advice, we’ve got you covered there, too. Read on.
Instagram Marketing for Independent Artists: Twelve Points to Success
It may seem like a giant hassle, but it’s really not. It can actually be plenty of fun. And anyhow you’ll know everything you need to know after you make these twelve moves. Once you follow them through, you’ll be off and running. No problem.
1. Pick a Good Name!
Artists are incredibly finicky about their stage names, band names, project titles, etc. That’s their right — of course — but many could benefit from a brand change. Nothing says that more clearly than if your name is already taken on Instagram or other social media. Don’t be RealPopStarNumber12 if you can help it. If you really need to keep your name and it’s already taken, you can check out the Instagram trademark policy to see if you might get it back. But an even cooler option is to just get creative. Someone probably got MissyElliott before she started on Instagram, so what’d she do? She became MissyDemeanorElliott, which is objectively way cooler.
2. Decide to Sync with Facebook and Twitter — or Not
If you sync your Instagram with Twitter and Facebook, life will be easier for you. But your audience will simply pick their favorite platform and ignore your others. It’s way better to do each account separately. And anyway, they operate differently. If you use a bunch of hashtags on Facebook, it’ll look pretty weird. They aren’t in style there (yet).
3. Think about What You’re Posting and When
It’s true, you want your Instagram account to be personal. But you don’t want every post to be of Fluffy, your cat. The opposite is also true. You don’t want every post to be of a studio mixing board, either. The idea is to connect with your people on lots of different levels. For example: Monday morning, a pic of yourself going to work; very relatable. Tuesday, you in the garage practicing your tracks. Wednesday, a shot of some new merch (don’t forget to change the link in your bio!). Thursday, you and Fluffy the Cat with your microphone in the background. Friday, a shot of all your music equipment. Saturday, you with friends at the music store. Get the idea? Mix it up. But keep it relevant and interesting.
4. Don’t Post Too Often
Twitter needs posts all the time or you get lost in the feed. Instagram, not so much. My example above was daily, but that’s not necessary. Quality is necessary. If you can post a high-quality, relevant photo every day, awesome. If you can’t, don’t. Skip the filler. You post too often and people will bail on you.
5. Search Hashtags to Find Stuff You Can Re-Post
Instagram doesn’t have an in-app repost button. You still want to do it, though. The easiest way is to use the Repost App available on Android and iPhone, but you can also take screenshots and crop them like this. Reposting is important because it’s really hard to come up with quality stuff all the time on your own. And besides, if you repost cool enough things, you can really amass a following, just like a Spotify curator with great taste.
6. Select Hashtags for Your Posts Carefully
Your Instagram hashtags are crucial. They need to be two things: 1) Relevant and 2) Popular, in that order. There’s an app for that, too, and it’s probably not going anywhere anytime soon. It’s called LeeTags, and it’s also available on Droid and Apple. LeeTags generates tons of relevant, popular hashtags you can paste into your posts. It’s got subcategories, too, if you want Instagram marketing for independent artists with precision. You can save search results and categories, and even create lists of your favorites. It’s killer. Make sure to see which hashtags popular artists like you are using. Oh, and if you don’t want your post to look messy, you can put your hashtags in the comments beneath your pic.
7. Comment, Like, and Follow
Once your page has some cool images on it, you’re ready to mingle. Search relevant hashtags (there’s that phrase again, ‘relevant hashtags’) to find indie artists like you. Comment on their posts. Like their posts. Follow them. These interactions show up in their feed, and they may come check you out. This is how you build your audience on Instagram.
8. Always Reply
As we’ve said several times, Instagram is personal. If they leave a comment, reply, or it’s a little rude. People love to interact with people, and especially artists they find interesting. People hate, hate, hate to be ignored. Simple. Easy. Talk to your people.
9. Make Sure to Geo-Tag Yourself
There’s no point in taking really cool photos if nobody nearby is going to see them. Geotagging is this huge branding development lots of indie artists don’t take advantage of. You don’t even have to be in a location to tag it. Search for the location you want to display for your photo, and you’ll appear when people search for that place on Instagram. You can do it in your Instagram Stories by selecting your place, too. People like to know about your hometown, even if you don’t like Wichita, Kansas is all that interesting. And they like to know what locales you consider kin to your sound, too. Search for famous venues playing your kind of music and Geo-Tag yourself there. Geo-Tag the spot of every show you’ve ever played. You get the idea.
10. Organize a Stream Team
Organize your super fans into a “Stream Team.” Every time you post, they share. This triggers the Instagram algorithm to put your post ahead in the feed. More people will see it, and this can cause a snowball effect.
11. Put Hashtags in the First Comment
Octiive artists have shown that posting hashtags in the first comment under the post gets more engagement. If you put hashtags directly in the original post, you’ll see less activity. We don’t know why. It just seems to be so.
12. Instagram Takeovers
An Instagram “takeover” is when you trade accounts with someone else as a marketing event. This will probably be another band or artist, but it might be a record label or even a fashion label. When you do this, both of you add a sizable portion of the other’s following to your own. It’s not unlike a political allegiance. These can’t be done all the time for obvious reasons, but when you can do them, you should. Audiences love them.
Instagram Marketing for Independent Artists: Paid & Almost-Free Options
In addition to all the free avenues mentioned above, artists can also put a little money into it.
One way is to pay an influencer to hype your brand. This is usually done by fashion designers, interior decorators and such, but influencers will happily work with musicians, too. Just be sure to pick an influencer whose image matches your own. If you don’t want to pay too much, try offering influencers discounts on your merch or signed albums–or pick micro influencers who have a decent following but not too large to demand a high cost per engagement. You can even just sign a few albums and send them to influencers in the hope that they will snap a picture and post it. Include a card: “This is a gift for you. If you don’t mind, please give us a shoutout on Instagram. Thank you in advance!”
If you do decide to pay an influencer:
- Send a “mood board” so they know what kind of tone to set for your ad campaign
- Work out deadlines
- Be clear with what you want. Maybe two posts: one published on the influencer’s account mentioning your brand, and a second you post yourself
- Publish it as a Facebook ad
- Publish it on other social media
- Publish it on your official website
There’s also the option to pay for advertising on Instagram, of course.
If you pay for advertising on Instagram, it’s generally about $0.80 per click. It costs most at the end of the year, so if you’re going to do it, consider doing it in the spring — but more importantly, do it when it makes sense to like if you have a major release coming up.
There are lots of different kinds of ads, but you’ll probably want to stay away from “Stories” ads because they go away after a short time.
Photo ads are likely going to be your first choice because they offer the best buttons for musicians. These include Book Now, Call Now, Contact Us, Get Directions, Learn More, Get Showtimes, and even Download. All of these can be put to work for the indie artist.
Hootsuite says their tests on Instagram photo ads resulted in “a 3.7x return on advertising spend, and a click-through-rate that was twice as high as their ads on other platforms.”
Your second choice is likely to be the Collection ad, which you can use to advertise your latest release. Collection ads let Instagrammers buy your product directly from Instagram. Never underestimate the power of the impulse buy. With collection ads, people can see the price of your release or merch item and click to buy without having to go elsewhere. Collection ads also let you provide details upfront to entice your fans to buy.
There’s also the Video ad option, but you only get five mostly irrelevant buttons to choose from there. It’s still worth considering because people love to watch videos, but probably do the other options first.
You can also organize contests with your fans for added engagement. There are a few basic steps to doing this. You can use Shortstack to help you do it.
- Choose the winning goals
- Figure out the best hashtag (see above)
- Decide how people will enter (post w/ hashtag, leave comment, tag your brand)
- Define a theme (what kinds of photos)
- Say how a winner will be chosen (most likes or “expert jury” decision)
- Figure out the award
- Make sure to develop a terms and conditions landing page they can go to & put the link in bio for the running of the contest.
- Promote your contest like mad
It should go without saying by now that without that last step, the whole thing is pointless. Make sure your contest is the most important thing in your Instagram marketing life before and during its run.
Disclaimer: you’ll also want to look up the laws in your area for holding contests. This probably won’t matter if you’re still small-time, but you should talk to a lawyer before deciding on your official rules. You know, just to be safe.
Contest ideas are infinite, but some successful ones include:
- Like or comment to win
- Caption contest (always funny)
- Trivia or skill-based contest
- Fan-made content contest
- Instagram Stories contest
- Scavenger hunt
But as was said, the ideas are infinite. If you can come up with an inventive contest people like to play, the award won’t even matter. People will engage with your music brand just because they like being part of the game.
Instagram offers many opportunities for artists to be more connected with their fans. Of course, it depends on your typical audience demographic. Facebook is often noted as having an older audience base than Instagram — but when we look at reliable stats, it actually is the other way around. So, it’s important to do some research to figure out not only who your audience is overall, but also who they are on specific platforms. You should considering whether you want to target outside of your current audience base, too, because maybe you just haven’t found the right content to attract them.
And remember to think about the KPIs that really matter to you — is it about building a following, getting engagement, or driving more merch purchases? Being clear and concise will help you put together an annual and 6-month plan that is solid. Of course, always leave room for the sporadic and spontaneous as that’s the reason a lot of users love Instagram so much!