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5 Ways to Help Your Music Get Discovered in the New Digital Age

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Recently our friends over at The Outline published a great piece called, “Finding New Music in the Algorithm Age.” The article collects input from six experts and industry veterans, people who work with artists day in and day out, about where they turn to find out about new music in the changing digital landscape of music discovery.

I wanted to take a second to pick out all the interesting things I gleaned from these conversations, and reframe them as advice for artists looking to increase their chances of being discovered online — because the music industry is a topsy turvy world these days and nothing is really straightforward.

But really briefly before I dive in, this article helped me reflect on a pivotal time in my own life for music discovery — when I was a teenager — and how I found out about new artists and bands. Back then, I spent so many hours in record stores conversing and exchanging interests with the people who worked in them. I’d come in and browse and pick out a bunch of stuff with cool cover artwork, or if I’d heard a song on the local college radio station I liked, I’d try to describe it, and in response, the expert clerks would say, “oh man, if you like that then you’re totally gonna love this crazy band from Istanbul!” or, “the chick who played guitar on this record is also in this other band, and they have this awesome split with this psych-funk group,” yadda yadda (it was the ’90s, gimme a break).

I loved every minute of this.

I was a sponge back then, I didn’t even care if I liked what I heard, I felt blessed to have the opportunity to hear it because this person helped me make a connection I couldn’t have made myself! I did like all that music, though, and it was all eclectic. There was no algorithm telling me that I only liked “mellow bedroom synth pop,” there was a human who could extrapolate deeper threads, link my interest in one band member’s playing technique to an entire world of music flowing out from it like a global network of tributaries, for example, or introduce me to an entire scene of artists who operated like a family, like the band ecosystems cropping up in Chicago, Louisville, and Montreal.

But here’s the thing. Spotify’s algorithmic innovation still may not be very good at that — that quirky randomness and personal subjectivity of peer-to-peer music discovery — but what it definitely does have over the old system I grew up in is the ability to help listeners “discover en masse.” And if you’re an artist, you’ve got a better shot at reaching ripe global audiences now than ever before. So here’s some advice culled from The Outline’s guests about what you can do as an artist to up your discoverability.

1) The community aspect is still important for listeners.

Marcus Moore, senior editor at Bandcamp, mentioned that he still likes checking out the musicians who play on each others’ records, engineers who’ve worked on other projects, etc. This is similar to what I was speaking about above, and an enormous part of that organic discovery process for listeners. Yet on Spotify, that information is hidden.

It’s really hard these days to figure out those “real world” community connections in music without going to tons of live shows or reading the liner notes of every single record you touch. Discogs, though, is really great at this. So when you release new music, try to make sure all the relevant information gets sent to Discogs and AllMusic. But also, use your various communication channels (social media, email newsletters, your website, press releases) to actively promote those connections and build links between these projects wherever possible. 

2) Platforms dictate differing listener behaviors. Use this to your advantage.

Normally, your music appears on almost all of these platforms anyway, so this only really applies to when you upload certain music to certain platforms, as a marketing and promoting strategy. Delaney Motter, the founder of Phluff Online, says:

“Music I find on Spotify generally tends to stay there really… I’ll listen to the one song that was recommended to me rather than really getting into a band.”

SoundCloud and Bandcamp and all the other streaming platforms hit different audiences in different ways. On Bandcamp, the platform helps listeners conceive of your releases as “albums” because that’s how the UI/UX design functions, even if it’s a single, your release will appear as an album. It’s wise to use this platform to try to get your community to pay for the music, so perhaps consider uploading to Bandcamp before Spotify and Apple Music, because it incentivizes people to buy.

On SoundCloud, tracks are very much isolated from album releases — they’re regarded as singles, or B-sides, or works-in-progress. Use this to build a relationship with your audience, and incentivize following you, so as to get these exclusives before anyone else.

On Spotify, your music is presented freely to every single person on the platform, and your entire career is timelessly laid out without any release info or album artwork beyond the front cover. Your music will be sampled quickly, deconstructed, and added to playlists beyond your control, and lined up alongside “recommendations” that you can’t control either. It’s great for building a wide audience, showcasing public-facing play statistics, and leveraging the similarities of your sound to artists much bigger than you so you can chase opportunities.

I won’t go on beyond these three, but it’s worth mentioning that with integrations like Songkick and ReverbNation, you can connect the information on a variety of channels, things like tour dates and news, to make sure that no matter where someone finds your music, you have the greatest chance of converting them into a fan for life.

3) It pays to hustle.

Something I found interesting is that a few people in this article similarly mention that they “listen to everything that gets sent to them.” These are famous, influential editors, curators, journalists, and radio hosts, like Dr. Demento, and they listen to everything. Knowing that, why wouldn’t you send your newest release out to everyone on your press list?!

You really never know, it could be the right moment, right place, right music, and all it takes is one journalist to explode your band. It pays to send your music out to everyone that might write about it.

4) Never stop playing shows.*

Another repeat was that people still discover music by going to live shows. Alright, this isn’t so much a digital discovery piece of advice, so I put an asterisk up there. But that shouldn’t diminish the fact that one of the best ways to reach new audiences is, still today, to get up in front of an audience and show them your best stuff. Pitch yourself as support for bigger bands touring through your city, or put together a bill of artists that you’re excited about. You might not get every opportunity you propose to venues or promoters, but just keep at it. Play live as much as you can and people will start discovering you organically. 

5) Tag tag taggity tag everything.

Yeah I know, it’s annoying, and it feels like nobody reads these things anyway. But according to Lauren Rearick, founder of The Grey Estates, people like her actually totally do discover new music by roaming through tags they like. She says:

“Probably one of the best ways I’ve found is searching through Bandcamp on different tags that I know I’m interested in, like #garagerock.”

Tags are not only great for people who actively search them to find new music in the genres and descriptors they love, they help tell search engines like Google what your music sounds like and how to archive it in case similar search terms come up. Every tag, every blog post header, image caption, and very piece of oft-repeated text you generate on the internet, contributes to the building of an increasingly accurate picture of your musical project.

That’s all for now, good luck out there!

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Jeremy Young

Jeremy is a Montreal-based musician, sound artist and improviser who loves giving advice to emerging artists on how to make their tours more effective. He writes, records and performs electroacoustic "concrète" music for tape, oscillators and amplified objects and surfaces, as well as solo guitar. He has performed and released material throughout Europe and the UK, Asia, the US and Canada, mostly with his trio Sontag Shogun.