When Ice-T rapped about having 99 problems, he might as well have said, “I got 99 problems, but video promotion ain’t one of them”. When you’re just starting out as an independent musician, promoting a video can be tough — no fanbase of hundreds of fans looking for your music, no mailing list with legions of followers, and no budget of thousands of dollars to pump into advertising.
Sound familiar? Don’t worry, you’re not alone. That’s the story of every up-and-coming indie artist out there. The question is, can you still succeed? Can you still drive thousands of views to your music videos, without preexisting fans or deep pockets?
The answer is yes. This post will show you how. Let’s dive in.
Before we discuss anything else, though…
What is music video promotion, exactly?
“Music video promotion” refers to a variety of methods used to gain views on a music video from relevant, engaged viewers. These methods may include “organic” methods that do not require paying to gain views, as well as paid methods such as advertising.
Examples of organic promotion methods include playlist promotion, sharing on social media platforms, and optimizing videos for discovery on video platforms like YouTube via search and recommendations.
So, how can you promote your music video?
As with most other things in life, there are three ways to promote a music video:
- Hire someone to do it for you
- Do it yourself by investing your money on tools (such as ads)
- Do it yourself by investing your time on tactics
In other words, it is possible to promote music videos without spending any money, but it will involve a considerable investment of time and effort.
As promised, let’s start with the free methods first.
How to promote a music video with no money
Although most people generally don’t think of YouTube as a music streaming platform, its base of over two billion users makes it the biggest streaming gorilla on the block. Regardless of the genre of music you make, chances are, you’ll find a corner of YouTube devoted to that type of music (Rule 77).
So, there’s an audience out there, just waiting to discover your song — you just have to get it in front of them. One great way to do that is through YouTube playlists.
How to get your music video on YouTube playlists for free
Pitching your video to curators of popular playlists is a great way to get yourself a piece of the YouTube pie. Here’s how you do that.
- On YouTube, search for genres closely related to the song you want to promote. (Tip: When you’re trying to promote your music, ALWAYS think in terms of an individual song, never an entire album. Playlists and curators seldom feature entire albums, and your odds of getting featured are much better if you highlight one specific track, rather than throwing several tracks at someone.)
- Click the “Filters” button below the search bar to refine the type of results to Playlists.
- Explore playlists that seem to be the best matches to your song. As far as possible, stick to playlists that are within the first two to three scrolls from the top of the results, since most users don’t keep on scrolling all the way to the bottom until there are no more results. Remember: your search query has a huge impact on the results you see, so be sure to keep your search keywords very specific and on-point. When you come across a relevant playlist, click on the “View full playlist” link next to the playlist to view more details.
- In the Playlist information panel, take a look at the number of views and the date on which the playlist was last updated. You want to select playlists that have at least a few thousand views (the exact number to aim for depends on your genre and how old the list is; as a rule, aim for playlists that have more than 20k views). Also make sure that the playlist has been updated at least within the last month, if not more recently.
- If a playlist meets all of these criteria, click on the channel name and then the “About” tab to get more information about the curator. Most active playlists will provide their email address, which you can get by clicking on the “View email address” link under the details section.
Tip: Email is the least effective way to contact a curator. You’re likely to have a much higher success rate if you contact curators via social media channels, like Instagram, Facebook, or Twitter. On a channel’s YouTube “About” page, try to find a website link or a company name that you can Google to look up their social media handles.
Whether you contact a curator by email or social media, be sure to compose a unique, persuasive, and crisp pitch, every single time. Never resort to “send to all” messages to multiple people, or generic messages — your success rate with those tactics will be exactly ZERO.
If you’re doing this right, for most genres other than oversaturated ones like pop, dance, EDM, and alt. rock, your success rate should be more than five to ten percent — at least one out of every ten or twenty pitches should get you a response. If you’re not seeing these results, it’s time to examine where the problem is — your music, your social media accounts, or your pitch.
Obviously, your chances are even better if you have an active social media page. Our tips on social media content for musicians can help with this.
Speaking of which, promoting your video on social media is also a great way to gain traffic and traction, but most artists do this the wrong way. Which brings us to the next point…
How to use social media to get views on music videos for free
A lot of artists share their content on social media, but most of them just post an entire song, and hope to get views. Unless you’re already a famous artist, that’s not going to work, because that isn’t how people browse the internet.
Think about it: most songs are around four minutes long, on average; how many separate pieces of content do you think a typical internet user would have gone through in that time? The answer is, roughly between 20 and 30.
Most users are not going to spend four minutes of their time and attention on ONE piece of content from a creator they’re not already fans of.
So how do you make your YouTube music video “go viral”?
Creating short, “snackable” videos that are between 30 and 60 seconds long is the key to getting views on music videos posted on social media. Telling a complete story within that time maximizes engagement and increases viewers’ click-through-rates.
For instance, electronic and funk artist Mark Rebillet generally does two-hour long concerts and live streams, but in order to popularize his channel, he created several shorter videos, carefully optimized to match people’s social media video preferences
The result? His views skyrocketed, not just on YouTube, but also on Instagram and TikTok; his most popular song on YouTube still remains a 60-second video that he produced, which gained over 20 million views on YouTube and 2 million views on Instagram.
If you’re thinking, “But I want to promote the music video that I’ve already made, not make new, short videos!”... you’re missing the point: right now, short videos are the most potent weapons on the internet to gain visibility without spending on paid ads.
A huge portion of the viewers who watch and like your “snackable” videos are going to click-through to your main profile and check out your other work. If you’re not making this sort of content, you’re missing out on a huge opportunity. And remember: making short videos doesn’t have to involve elaborate production or anywhere near the time and effort that goes into making full-length music videos. (In fact, it really shouldn’t!)
That said, if you’ve already invested a ton of time, effort, and money in a music video that hasn’t gotten many views yet, it’s time to look at how you can optimize your video for search.
Search Engine Optimization for music videos on YouTube
Everyone has heard of SEO before, and most of us have the general idea that it’s a process of making adjustments (aka “optimizations”) to a piece of content to get it to rank more prominently in search results on search engines like Google.
But did you also know that the world’s second-largest search engine, with the highest search volume after Google, is actually YouTube? Let that sink in for a moment. People don’t think of YouTube as being a search engine, but every minute, millions of users are using the search box on YouTube to find stuff they’re looking for.
As an independent artist, you should definitely capitalize on that: with a few tweaks and tricks, you could get your music video to feature prominently in search results for relevant searches on YouTube.
So: how do you “do SEO” for music videos?
In 2022, the most important SEO factors for YouTube music videos are relevance, click-through rate and audience retention. For a given search query, relevance is determined based on a video’s title and description; video tags are of relatively lower importance, contrary to popular advice.
Annie Dubé has a great video on the basics of search optimization for YouTube videos:
Obviously, some factors are slightly different in the context of music videos. For instance, although the words spoken in a video (YouTube is generally able to analyze speech in videos), and the words present in a video transcript are very important for most other content, on music videos, this isn’t the case; people don’t always search for songs based on lyrics, and in any case, there is plenty of instrumental music with no lyrics.
With that in mind…
Here are the steps to optimize your music video for search on YouTube:
- Use a tool like Google Trends to discover popular YouTube searches related to your sub-genre of music.
- Specify a keyword related to your genre, and be sure to apply the appropriate filters for your country / region, timeframe (ideally, last 12 months or more recent), category, and search channel.
- Scroll down to the “Related queries” section and look at the most popular queries related to the keyword you provided.
- Go to YouTube and start typing just a few characters of some of the popular search trends you’ve identified. The autocomplete suggestions in the search box will show you more specific search queries that you can use.
- Shortlist the most specific query from the suggestions as you can find. Remember:
- Longer suggestions are better, as long as your prompt (what you’ve already typed into the search box) isn’t longer than a word or two.
- Be specific. Don’t just select a keyword like “jazz”, as this is too broad and you are unlikely to rank for such a term with a relatively small channel. Instead, choose something more specific, like “coffee shop jazz”, or “relaxing modern jazz for dinner”.
- Choose keywords that are as closely related to your video as possible, as otherwise, people will abandon the video the second they realize that it isn’t what they were looking for, and a low audience retention rate will hurt your video’s search rankings.
- Use these keywords in the title and description of your video.
Bonus tip: Getting views by creating your own playlists
Another great way to gain views for your video is to create your own playlist. People look for popular songs all the time: not just the “GOAT” hits, but also, recently popular tracks (“cafe jazz hits 2022”, for example). Create your own playlist and curate the best songs you can find — with one or two of your own songs thrown in too, of course. Resist the temptation to overdo it, though.
As you can see, there are several great ways to promote your music video without spending a dime. But time is money, so you should know that there are ways to promote your music video using YouTube ads, without breaking the bank. Our step-by-step guide to YouTube ads for independent artists is loaded with secrets that will help you gain views fast, delivering the momentum needed for success.