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By Ayla Smith
Online audiences are a powerful engine. When people listen online, they can easily share your music far and wide. Getting discovered is not dependent on someone walking into a record store, and it’s easy to find out who’s listening and where they’re from so you can maximize your impact. But too often, a song alone is not enough to tell your full story.
Getting added to a popular Spotify playlist is great, but it fragments a listener’s experience of your brand, your personality, your narrative, etc. You need to be able to take the story further. As you plan your digital promotion strategy, one thing to think about is whether contextual content can play a part in connecting audiences closer to your music. Via your own social channels, you can create a content universe — articles, videos, social posts, and other interactive elements — to drive an emotional connection between your songwriting and your listeners. But, like, how do you do that?
Here are a few tips for crafting compelling stories to accompany and provide context for your music, online or otherwise.
You want people to relate to, understand, and become invested emotionally in what you’re communicating. Art is such a highly personal expression, and it can sometimes alienate those who haven’t had the same experiences as us — but we can always work to connect the dots for them. Using contextual content to tell a story that allows someone to relate our music to their own experience is a good way to do this.
Identify the essence of what it is you’re trying to say — pinpointing the “shareable meaning,” if you will — and then find ways to bring that narrative into everything you create: be they truths about love, grief, ambition, embarrassing moments… the list goes on.
You want someone to read or watch what you’ve made and say, “Oh, wow, yep… that’s me.”
Join existing conversations.
Read this as: Do your research. If you wrote a song about a bad breakup, get on Twitter and search keywords to see how people are talking about bad breakups right now. They’re pretty common, you guys! Show people how your song is about them, too. Here’s a few random ideas off the top of my head:
- You could deconstruct the lyrics of your song and write an article about a toxic relationship. Then, embed your song at the end of the story (like this!).
- You could create some memey content for your Instagram, like a “Bad Breakup Starter Kit” that uses your song as a soundtrack.
- Can you pair up with a filmmaker to tell a short visual story that integrates your music?
- Get creative and think beyond just sharing updates and official music videos. Can your online presence become a work of art itself?
Stay up to date across all the social media platforms you’re running, and find the conversations that people are having about particular topics so you can integrate yourself into them. Try to examine how these conversations differ across each platform — and then find ways to insert yourself into those conversations.
Be ready to answer why somebody could connect with what you’re making.
Whether you’re responding to interview questions or pitching a video concept, you should be able to answer the question of why someone would share the content. How does one see themselves in your art?
Is it because they’ve just learned something new about you? Did you stir up some kind of emotional reaction? If your approach is reactive, and momentary, and doesn’t take into account the totality of your oeuvre, that’s okay, but it might not contribute to a lasting engagement and investment from your fanbase. To create a longer lasting relationship with your audience, ask yourself honestly if what you’re trying to communicate is clearly coming across.
If you can think of one person out there who would relate to what you’re doing, that’s good and that’s enough. If there’s one, there will be more.
But be authentic.
Make sure what you’re creating is still true to your own values, experiences, and identity as an artist. If you’re trying to speak to a specific identity or group that you have no idea how to relate to, seek the help of other creators who know how to reach them. People can sense fakeness, and on the internet nobody is letting you get away with anything!
Test, learn, repeat.
Look at the data. Pay attention to the things you’re posting and see what people are responding to, and how. If a particular format or tone seems to be resonating, do more of that again. Push the boundaries. Read the comments people leave (if you can bear it) and use those to inform future decisions. And don’t forget to leave a few Easter eggs along the way!
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Ayla Smith is a writer and lead creative director on BuzzFeed’s international team, and a mentor in the Zoo Labs music residency program in Oakland. She also sings and writes for her own music project as soayla.