By 1969, rock musician David Bowie had been a part of seven unsuccessful bands and released eight flop singles. Then, on 11th July, 1969, he released ‘Space Oddity’, just five days ahead of the launch of USA’s first manned spaceflight, Apollo 11. Within months, the song soared to the top 5 on the UK charts. In the USA, where the track was originally banned, the controversy created by the song helped popularize ‘Space Oddity’ upon its re-release in 1972.
A newly released music single gains a promotional kick-start when its release is timed around a relevant, high-profile event that is a trending topic. Music that offers a fresh or novel perspective on a trending topic has the added advantage of stirring up public debate and discussion.
But what if your rock music release has no “convenient” viral trend to piggyback on? And how can you promote a rock band that not many people have heard of? If you’ve been grappling with these questions, you’ve come to the right place.
This article culls the most insightful examples from decades of rock music history to turn up the four most effective approaches to promoting rock music and rock bands. Most importantly, the methods outlined here don’t require either million-dollar budgets or mega-star status to pull off! So read on…
#1: Get your tracks to feature in an ad, movie or TV series
In 1982, the track ‘Eye Of The Tiger’ by rock band Survivor ended up being featured as the theme song in Sylvester Stallone’s movie, Rocky III, after British rock icons Queen refused permission to use their song, ‘Another One Bites The Dust’. To date, ‘Eye Of The Tiger’ is the band’s best-known song, and their only chart-topper, even inspiring a movie of the same name in 1986!
Other examples of rock songs that blew up after forming part of a movie or show sound-track include:
- ‘Born To Be Wild’ – This 1969 track from the biker cult classic Easy Rider made rockers Steppenwolfe go down in history. In 2017, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame named this one of the five greatest songs that shaped the genre’s history!
- ‘Do Ya Wanna Taste It?’ – Rockers Wig Wam were dropped by their agency just days before the 1997 movie Peacemaker was released, with the Wig Wam created theme song becoming a runaway hit.
- ‘Where Is My Mind?’ – Creators The Pixies never officially released this song, but it became wildly popular after being featured in the 1999 movie, Fight Club.
You’re probably thinking, “That’s great, but how do I even get my music to be considered by the makers of popular shows and movies?!”
In order for your music to be considered for a popular series or movie or even a big brand advertisement, it needs to be heard by the Music Manager or Music Supervisor (MS) in charge of the production. There are three effective strategies for getting your music in front of an MS:
i. Draw the attention of an MS through your ‘musical footprint’
For this method to work, your music should ideally already be creating a buzz, for instance by having a large following on TikTok or a huge number of Spotify downloads. Check out the strategies outlined under approach #3 further down in this article for tips and tools on maximizing your musical footprint.
ii. Submit your music through an online music publishing platform
In this scenario, your music is forwarded by the platform to the productions whose requirements match your track’s profile. Note that platform policy plays a huge role in whether or not your music is sent to the best-fitted production.
For instance, platforms like TAXI follow a policy of forwarding all accepted submissions that ‘check the boxes’, in other words, meet the basic criteria specified by the MS of a production. Others are known to shortlist submissions that match production requirements very closely before sending them to MSs. In general, submission criteria for the latter kinds of platforms (for example, Artlist and Musicbed) tend to be more stringent, so it may be more difficult to have a submission accepted.
iii. Send your music directly to Music Supervisor
To use this approach, you (or your music agent, publisher or consultant) will need to establish contact with industry professionals. There are multiple resources, both traditional and technological, that you could leverage in order to pique the interest of an MS:
- Music industry conferences – These provide some of the best opportunities for building a strong network in the music industry. Events such as the Sync Con, TAXI’s Road Rally and ASCAP have the reputation of helping to further the careers of independent artists.
- Databases and professional websites – Independent artists can reach out directly to MSs of popular productions through strategic use of movie and show databases such as IMDb, in combination with professional networking websites such as LinkedIn. Watch this super-helpful video by acclaimed music producer and music marketing pro Adam Ivy to see how.
- Music blogs and articles – Music websites often carry interviews and articles about MSs. These are an excellent resource, providing not only names and contact details, but also information about the music supervisors’ preferred method of discovering new music and go-to industry sources.
#2: Impress a big band into letting you open for them
There is a long list of bands that got their big break through playing as the opening act for a more well-known band with a large fan-base. Some rock bands whose dazzling opening performances paved the way to their superstardom include:
- The Beatles initially opened for Roy Orbison’s 1963 summer tour of the UK, but their immense popularity with the crowds led to them becoming co-headliners through most of the tour!
- Led Zeppelin was an unknown British band in 1969 when they opened for headliners Iron Butterfly (and other better-known bands) in a US tour, but played so explosively that they stole the show. The original headliners eventually stopped showing up!
- AC/DC’s first US performance in 1977 was as openers for Canadian rock band Moxy in Austin, Texas. Moxy fans were won over by AC/DC’s charged music and electrifying performances.
If you’re not sure how you’d go about impressing a big band, there are several alternatives you could try, depending on your situation. Keep in mind that the list below is by no means exhaustive—coming up with your own, inventive strategy is definitely an option:
- Play at venues where you know the band members hang out, such as bars, clubs, charitable events or even private parties.
- Record a cover of one of the band’s songs and share it with someone closely associated with the band.
- Enter a music contest where one (or more) of the band’s members is a judge or panelist (see approach #4 below).
#3: Make smart use of social media
As every musician knows, social media holds the key to making it big in music today. However, many musicians struggle with the optimal way of using social media to build their musical brand.
Of course, there are potentially infinite ways of using social platforms like TikTok, Twitter and Instagram to create buzz around your music. We recommend using the list below as a catalyst for your own creative thinking:
i. Use humor, the ‘cuteness’ factor or the macabre to maximize the ‘viral potential’ of your song.
Everyone loves a good laugh. And few can resist the appeal of a cute baby or animal video. Then there’s the irresistible fascination for the macabre and the ghoulish. Capitalize on these hard-wired human tendencies in a video around your best rock song. For maximum impact, make it a short video clip (30 seconds or less).
To amplify the song’s ‘viral potential’, include an innovative twist, such as a VFX trick, an exotic animal or a cameo appearance by a celebrity.
ii. Build mystery around your rock music release.
Mystery adds momentum to a music release campaign in a way nothing else can. This tried and tested strategy has been used by major players on the rock scene, including Nine Inch Nails for “Year Zero” (2007), Arcade Fire for “Reflektor” (2013) and Coldplay’s “A Head Full Of Dreams” (2016).
While the spectacular mysteries created around big name releases may have required some serious outlay of $$$, it isn’t strictly necessary. In the digital era, all it takes to create suspense and excitement around an upcoming event is some savvy use of internet tools; Having coding or image editing skills is a bonus!
iii. Earn a review of your rock song/ album on an influential platform.
Being reviewed by the likes of Billboard or Pitchfork might be beyond the reach of your band and your music (for now, at least). However, earning a music review from a highly respected platform is not only do-able, it is almost guaranteed to give a tremendous boost to your musical image.
Of the many platforms that have made a name for themselves in today’s industry, here are some of the best options for rock musicians, especially early-career artists:
- Little Indie Blogs – This is the perfect doorway for budding musicians and early-career submissions, since their focus is on indie and unreleased music. (Warning: Be careful about submitting music you have already put out, as the blog considers music even three months old to be, “too old”!)
- A&R Factory – Arguably the most well-known (and reputed) of the new music reviewers, this platform is notably catholic, reviewing music across genres. (Warning: The multi-faceted nature of A&R Factory, however, means a time-lag between music submissions and reviews getting out.)
- Louder Than War – The platform has a reputation for encouraging emerging talent in genres like alt rock and heavy metal, and is therefore ideal for rockers on the rise. (Warning: LTW’s policy of reviewing music submissions across genres and irrespective of ‘weirdness quotient’ means that your music may be competing with some pretty extreme stuff.)
- Gorilla vs. Bear – As a platform credited with an uncanny knack for reviewing artists that go on to become ‘big’ soon after, this site has established itself as a benchmark for upcoming artists. (Warning: For whatever reason, the turnaround to acceptance on GvB is slow, so expect a longish wait to hear back.)
iv. Leverage your (band’s) way into an interview with an influencer.
Here, “influencer” refers to anyone whose music-related blog, website, podcast or channel commands a regular readership or viewership of over 50,000. (You can use the super-helpful Ubersuggest to figure out which blogs and sites meet your criteria.)
Now that you have identified targets where you’d like your band and your music to receive media coverage, you need to figure out what you can contribute in return. Remember that staying in the public eye is a competitive business, and everyone is looking for an edge.
Anything you can offer your host—from an anecdote about a personal encounter with a big band member to taking along a family heirloom that once belonged to a yesteryears’ rock star may provide you with the all-important ‘foot in the door’. Be enterprising in leveraging your information ‘assets’ to land an interview opportunity.
#4: Participate in music contests
Since times immemorial, music contests have attracted publicity. From tensos, the medieval poetry contests between rival troubadours that were the precursors to modern battle rap, to today’s Battle of the Bands, competitions between musicians have drawn crowds.
In the present day, taking part in a music contest gives your band several advantages:
- Free publicity in traditional press and social media
- Opportunity to collaborate with other musicians and bands
- Personal interaction with music industry professionals and influencers
- Perks associated with winners and runners-up
Rising rock stars South of Eden got one of their first publicity blitzes by winning the title of America’s Top Garage Band in 2021, giving them a chance to open for giants Evanescence. At present, one of Europe’s hottest rock bands is the Italian group Måneskin, who won the Eurovision 2021 music contest.
To sum up:
Promoting rock music and bands requires innovative use of internet resources and social media to time releases, running (or participating in) contests, and creating content that wins interest by being relevant to current events, with elements like suspense, rivalry, humor and the adorable/ macabre.asa
By doing your research to find actionable steps to promote your rock band, you're already ahead of 90 percent of independent artists. Congratulations! The next important steps would be to learn how to grow your audience on Spotify, and how to do Spotify promotion that actually works.