Marketing chess

Published on March 16th, 2011 | by Hugh Hession


5 ways to make your music stick out

Think fast. What is the one thing that you really want as a composer and/or music artist?

My guess is to get out of the haystack.  There are too many needles and most of them are dull.

I mean, geez. There is a TON of music in the digital pipeline. 10-15 years ago, distribution was a controlled entity. If you wanted to get distributed, you had to normally be signed to a record label.  Obviously this is no longer the case. However, one thing does still hold true. Just because the padlocks on the doors to distribution have have been busted off, doesn’t make it any easier. The glut of music out there is insane and the consumer is overloaded with mediocrity.

I’m not a pessimist, by any means, but I am a realist. I’m a positive thinker and I’m all for envisioning success. However, you gotta be real. Success isn’t something that “happens.”

So, with this in mind, let’s focus on some real, tangible things you can do to help your music (and your brand) really stand out. And one more thing…I’m assuming that your songs are great!  That is just a given, and a completely different topic.

1. Stop downplaying song arrangements

Songwriting can be a weird process. You’ve heard of all the stories about bands writing some of their biggest hits in 10 minutes. And although this is true, they rarely mention all the arranging and production that went into making that song stand out.

As a producer, I know first hand, that this area is often avoided, which is unfortunate, because a good song arrangement can make a world of difference.

There are two areas to assess when focusing on song arrangements. One is the song structure. Perhaps the song is missing a bridge or maybe a modulation. These are things you have to work and experiment with. The other is more production oriented, such as instrumentation, vocal delivery, mixing and effects. This part of arranging is very important, particularly when piecing together not only the instrument parts, but the sounds and tonality of those instruments. For example, a digital delay on a certain guitar riff, or re-creating a certain guitar tone from the 1960’s. Another area is ad-lib vocals which can really add a dynamic element to a song that would otherwise, be bland. These things all add to making the song meaningful, which will create an emotional connection with your fans.

2. Get the best recordings of your songs, period.

My kids would tell me, “thank you, Captain Obvious.” But if it was so obvious, why is there so much crappy sounding music out there?  Really…take the time to get the very best recordings of your music. You may not be able to afford a full-scale, professional studio (although I do suggest you utilize a professional studio, for at least part of your recording), but you do need to connect with a studio engineer who has a complete understanding of DAW’s, tracking, overdubbing, mixing and how to utilize compressors, limiters and the use of effects.  You’ll also want to get your songs professionally mastered. Don’t just get anyone to do this for you!

3. Focus your niche and define your USP

You can’t be all things to all people. If your music encompasses many styles, it’s going to be tough to connect with fans. In his book “Music Marketing Press, Promotion, Distribution and Retail,” Berklee music instructor Mike King says that “folks need a point of reference that they can identify with. If a band is all over the place in terms of genres, it’s very difficult to build a following and create the all-important emotional connection with the fans.”

By default, failing to properly define your niche, places you in the push marketing category. Push marketing is what is says – literally pushing what you are promoting onto people with the hopes that something sticks! This is the old school way that record companies used to promote their artists. If you figure out who your fans are and what they like, then your marketing gets easier – and you are able to “pull” them in. Big difference.

Defining your USP or what is known as your Unique Selling Proposition, is essential if you want to stick out over the noise. What is it that you do, that makes you different? How you can sum that it up in one phrase?

Even though USP’s are often synonymous with businesses, isn’t that what you are? The best thing about defining your USP, is that when someone asks you to sum up who you are in one sentence, you have it. It’s a no brainer. Plus, it helps you to better focus your marketing.

3. Sell the artist, not just the music.

Any record executive will tell you that these days, record labels are no longer in the record business…they are in the artist business. The reason is that records (a generic term for any recording) aren’t selling like they used to – this is an obvious when so many have resorted to stealing them. Records are no longer a primary source of revenue.

So, start thinking in terms of connecting with fans – rather than merely pushing music. Music is a big part of what you do, but as a veteran A&R man recently told me, “We’ll probably never again be able to sign someone on talent alone.”

If you truly want to stick out, you need to implement direct to fan strategies. Look at it as forming relationships with your fans – which gives them more of a buy-in. This is a much different concept than the old days of merely releasing a single and showering it in millions of promotional dollars, while crossing your fingers in anticipation that it will catch on.

4. You gotta look good (and be relevant)

No, I’m not just talking about the gel you use in your hair (although that is part of it). Marketing continuity is necessary when presenting what you do. Logos, website design, merchandise and other promotional material should not only look professional, but also have similarity to create and sustain your brand. If you go off in too many directions, you won’t create an identity – which will work against you. Also, the presentation and look you throw out there needs to be relevant to your fanbase, or you will fail to connect. This streamlines with #3, in that you have to understand who you are marketing to.

5. Perform…well and often!

Nothing replaces a great live performance. If you want to build a substantial fanbase, performing is where your fans are truly going to get that emotional connection with you. Performing live gets new fans hooked – not only to your music, but to you as an artist. This is where they can see and experience who you are as a person. A great live show will entice people to  head to your website and follow you in social media.

Understand that performing is one thing, but putting together a memorable live show is quite another. This involves many factors and should not be taken lightly if you want to really have impact on your audiences.

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About the Author

owns and operates Emerging Artists Entertainment Marketing & Consulting, LLC - a company devoted to cultivating aspiring music artists, He is also the head of Hession Entertainment Group, LLC (artist management) and the Music Industry Liaison for the artist discovery site, TalentWatch ( He has over 25 years experience in the music business as a performer, composer, producer and artist manager. Hugh holds a BA in Marketing and is a professional member of NARIP and a voting member of The Recording Academy. He often speaks at seminars and workshops on artist development.

3 Responses to 5 ways to make your music stick out

  1. Joe Tremblay says:

    Great friggin article man and you hit the nail on the head when you said to “sell the artist”.

    My best friend and I are doing our own thing and just built a studio from the ground up, literally. We’ve spent thousands of dollars and are coming back after 11 years since our last band, which lasted 5 years. We are pretty stellar back then. We won the Battle of the Bands for New England in 2001, had a decent manager who owned a nice club. We were supposed to open for Metallica and Godsmack in Boston in 2004 and for some reason, the band broke up before we could do it. Crazy misfortune.

    Now that we’re back, me (vocals) and the lead guitarist (and drums/bass) we’re a little nervous about how we’re going to be received. I know we have a great sound, but it’s just us and we’re not looking for a full band at this time just because of our families and jobs.

    Do you think it’s possible for us to make it anywhere creating our own albums and marketing strictly online?

    • Hugh Hession says:

      Thanks Joe! Sounds like you have some experience. Sure, it’s doable to create an online presence. It’s done all the time. Again, it goes back to what jumped out at you….selling the artist. Unfortunately, it’s considerably more than just talent and great songs. The challenge is making money. Streaming is the norm now. You have to continually create compelling content in addition to marketing and promotional strategies that will create a connection. Then, you need to establish your offerings while being creative in packaging your music and merchandise. The key is to build a fan base of uber fans that will support your endeavors and buy your products! Of course, there is the avenue of music placements and licensing as well. Good luck to you, and remember to always think out of the box!

  2. Joe Tremblay says:

    “The key is to build a fan base of uber fans that will support your endeavors and buy your products!”

    You’re a smart dude! Thanks for the wisdom. You got yourself a new subscriber, once I find the button lol.

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