How do you go viral with your music? This is what every musician wants to know. The beauty of viral marketing is that it can't be pinned down to a simple equation. It's a completely creative process that is different every time. So don't expect a blueprint or to pass the ball to anyone. It's all about you, and the vital energy you put into your promotional outreach should be of the same intensity as the passion you put into your music.
With that being said, I believe there are some core principles, some of them counterintuitive, that can significantly help independent musicians by way of negation; removing the false to reveal right action.
1) Reject Mountain Thinking
"Mountain thinking" immediately cripples all types of business owners, entrepreneurs, artists and musicians. Mountain thinking is when your focus and energy are tied up in endgames, usually massive ones. The only problem is that when we think this way, it's like dreaming of winning the lottery. The practical details get lost and we end up discouraged, defeated and far more likely to quit.
An example of mountain thinking in music is wanting to get in Rolling Stone while ignoring the thousands of independent publications who would be more willing to help you. Another example would be wanting to get signed to a label when you haven't played outside your hometown, advertised your social media, or made any noise press-wise.
What's the antidote? Mindfulness. While it's fine to have an endgame, your primary focus should be on the STEPS, and not the hypothetical outcome. Do you really want to get in Rolling Stone? Well, there are probably over a thousand very small tasks you should be taking care of in order to make that happen, from advertising to search engine optimization to PR outreach to college radio, licensing and beyond. Do them one at a time and all of a sudden your path isn't so overwhelming.
2) Personalize, Ask for Advice and Be Humble
When you reach out to anyone, whether it be an industry professional, a company, a blogger, or anyone you respect, it's important to personalize your messages with genuine opinions on their work. Save a draft e-mail as a template and adjust a few sentences every time.
Don't ask for help. Ironically, people run from this. Someone asking for help comes across as needy and unable to stand on their own two feet. Why would anyone want to help a musician who wasn't confident or who was looking for a handout?
Instead, go the psychological route and ask for their advice or expertise. This will endear you to them, and often with the advice will come the helping hand you're looking for.
Also, be humble. Nothing is worse than a message that looks like an accolade farm. Mention that you want to learn. Let your music speak for itself.
3) Hijack the Competition
Make a list of your competition within a few different categories: your hometown (other local artists), your genre's similar artists (from major to independent acts), your subject matter (is it political or spiritual?), etc. You should be able to come up with 10 - 20 for each category. The similar artists who are more independent, cult-level acts will be most helpful to you.
Now Google each lead individually. If you're Googling a local act, take note of every result that comes up. Are they being interviewed or featured? Are they getting sponsored or receiving airplay? Here's where you want to send your personalized pitch, appealing to the writer or DJ, mentioning how you relate to what they do and what you offer as far as a different perspective.
With this tactic, you're doing more work than dozens of artists combined, and it works extremely well.
4) Get Your Mind out of the Music Scene
When you release music professionally, you're a business owner. You're not just an artist, subject to the confines of that sometimes limiting perspective. It's critical that you get your mind out of the music scene by reading marketing books by people like Seth Godin, Timothy Ferriss, Ryan Holiday and others. They will give you ideas that you will never find within the indie artist sphere, and many more of them are applicable than you'd realize. Think outside the box.
5) Get popular, Not Immediately Rich
Be everywhere for everyone, regardless of income. Music listeners have become increasingly segregated. Some only discover new music through, say, Rdio or Spotify. Others browse CDBaby or iTunes. Others look to underground music websites, music discovery platforms and torrent blogs. DON'T HORDE YOUR MUSIC WAITING FOR 99 CENTS! Popularity is the most critical goal for independent artists. Money follows popularity. It's not the other way around.
James Moore is the founder/CEO of Independent Music Promotions, music PR for "music with depth" worldwide. He is also the author of the bestselling music marketing guide Your Band Is a Virus. Reach him at facebook.com/independentmusicpromo and firstname.lastname@example.org.