How to spend your first $500 promoting a release:

Music Marketer’s edition

Spending money on music promotion can be unnerving. 

1. It’s difficult to ascertain ROI. 

In music, we spend dollars to make fractions of pennies in order to grow. Most other industries spend dollars to make more dollars on a product.

2. We don’t have access to the full consumer journey to know which marketing channel is most impactful. 

Once you spend money on ads to drive a stream on Apple Music, you have no idea what happens next. Do they stream once? Do they stream at all or do they go on to follow you and listen on repeat?

3. Costs are inconsistent. 

We deal with services, i.e.: press, music video directors, photographers, radio pluggers, digital agencies, and editors. Their fees are consistent with the talent, however, are determined by the individual and not the market necessarily. What one label partner deems an acceptable spend might seem ludicrous to you.

This happens with music videos a lot. You’ll be used to making music videos for $500 – $2,000 on your own, then once you get a label partner they’re used to spending $5,000 – $20,000 on a video. You get a flashy $10,000 video yet it does the same numbers as when you DIYed a cheaper version. Now you owe more money.

The difficulty ascertaining ROI, inconsistent fees and inability to track the entire consumer journey makes spending money on your career difficult.

Regardless of the fear, you must spend money to reach a wider audience through marketing.

As a label marketer, I’ve managed budgets as large as $500,000 and as small as $50. What I know is…

It’s never about the amount of money you have. There will never be enough money.

How you prioritize that budget will get you further than finding more money


Table of contents

In this blog post I’ll lay out what spending your first $500 on music promotion looks like. 

You’ll learn: 

  • How to maximize $500 to hit the most impactful areas of music marketing 
  • Marketing tactics for little or no budget
  • How to get on playlists without paying for a playlist plugger or signing to a label
  • Bootstrapping your own PR
  • Where to focus to lay solid foundations for marketing

A note before we dive in. This is not a prescription, this is a guide for spending based on a label marketer’s experience. No two artists are the same so you need to figure out what works for you.

This guide should serve as a peek behind the curtain to how labels prioritize budgeting for new acts that you can build on top of. 


$300 Conduct a batch music video shoot

Music videos convey the audible message of the song through visuals. This asset is extremely important because: 

  1. Humans remember visuals easier than they do sound.

So, if someone hears your music through a music video, they are more likely to remember the song than if they were just hearing it through a playlist

2. The landscape of how people discover and connect with new artists are visual mediums. Instagram, TikTok, YouTube, Facebook, etc. In order to capture attention on these platforms, you need a video

3. Establishes your brand aesthetic and world, which creates deeper connection points in the mind of the new listener

All this to say – you need a music video to increase discoverability.

Music videos are expensive. Maximize the cost by conducting a batch shoot.

Use the day to get all your promotional content for the single release. This means getting: 

  • Actual music video
  • Press shots
  • Single artwork
  • Social content
  • YouTube thumbnail 

You can achieve all these assets on the same day by doubling up roles. Your DP can shoot your press shots in the morning before you get started while hair and make-up is fresh. You can get a friend to be a second shooter to capture BTS for socials. Once the music video is edited, you can use hi-res stills for single artwork and YouTube thumbnails as well as additional social content.

If you don’t do an actual shoot, look at other creative ways to make visuals like engaging an editor to make a video based on found footage or animation like the below example from alternative pop artist, Hollis.

Music videos are a big ticket item so squeeze them for the most value.


$100: Deploy paid social ads

You’ve got a good visual for the music, now you’ve got to get it seen. Paid social ads will give it the nudge to reach a wider audience than you’ve currently got.

My rule for how much to spend on promoting a video vs. creating it is 20 – 50% of the production budget. 

Meaning, if you spend $300 on a music video then you should spend between $60 – $150 on promoting it. I like paid social ads because they are cheap to start with and meticulously measurable. 

You can do damage with as little as $60 and you can dial down on what’s working and change it along the way. You cannot do this if you’re hiring a service e.g.: playlist pusher.

The platform you choose to spend on (either Instagram, TikTok, YouTube or Facebook) will depend on where your audience is and your core social channel. 

If you have not determined your core social media channel, I’ve created a quiz that pinpoints which channel is best for your music. Take it here.

You will achieve more on social media by focusing on one core content channel rather than stretching yourself to be across everything. Take the quiz to determine which social media channel is optimal for your music.

$20 – $100: Get on playlists

No question that playlist adds will generate streams on your track. However, there’s a lot of sharks in this area willing to take your money to put your music on playlists that no one listens to. 

Instead, develop relationships with playlist curators yourself.

This is far more sustainable than paying a service to pitch to dodgy playlists with bot followers. When you develop personal relationships you’ll have supporters to draw on for every future release.

How to find playlist curators to feature your music:

A tool like Playlist Supply helps find the contact info of independent playlisters. Build up a database of 100 curators who feature similar artists to you and begin pitching them.

Use a tool like Playlist Supply or Playlist Search. Both offer inexpensive monthly memberships (~$20) to access contact information of independent playlist curators. Build up a database of 100 curators who feature similar artists to you and begin pitching them.

This is tedious work that takes a lot of time. I’m not gonna lie. If you do not have the time and can afford help, you can engage a virtual assistant to pull names for you for half a day and assist with building the database and outreach.

If you’re interested in other tools for music promotion, I’ve compiled a list of 140+ tools (free and paid) in the Music Marketing Toolbox.

>>> Get your copy here.


Build up Google front page credibility through press, $60 

When people discover a new artist, they google them. What comes up helps determine where they place you in their mind.

When you’re a brand new artist, populating the front page of Google with blog links helps legitimize you when people – new fans, a&rs, publishers, promoters and other gatekeepers look at you for an opportunity.

You have 2 options when bootstrapping your own PR. You can either: 

  1. Do it yourself using a similar approach to the above playlist curator outreach exercise.

2. Use a platform like Submithub to blast to their database.

Most people have an opinion of SubmitHub. It can work, it can also be a crapshoot.

If you do use it, see it as a tool in your overall PR outreach approach and not the silver bullet that will unlock the whole project.

Set yourself up by: 

  1. Do your research on who you’re reaching out to. Look at the actual writer/editor/curator and determine if they’re a good fit for you. Some questions to ask yourself: 
  • Do they approve a lot of tracks or only from established acts? 
  • What are they like outside of their job?
  • What lights them up? 
  • Have they featured artists at my level? 

2. Craft a personal quick pitch using the above information. Most artists will just blast out the same pitch to as many people as they can afford with their credits.

Your pitch will stand out if it’s tailored to who you’re sending it to. Think of this as a cover letter you’re writing to a potential employer. Hi {NAME} goes a lot further than “to whom it may concern”

3. Expand your pitch targets until you reach a comfortable level of rejections. For many artists, an easy number is 50%. If you’re getting knocked back more than once for every 2 pitches it’s likely not worth your time anymore

If you haven’t used Submithub before, check out this podcast with a new ambient electronic artist, Ascending Everest, who laid out his most recent experience with Submithub.

It’s a good listen for artists just starting out as well as those in challenging genres.


Bonus: Get your house in order, $20

If you haven’t already, claim all your domains for your artist name. Ensure they’re consistent across all channels. Here’s a quick checklist: 

  • Website domain (~$20)
  • Social media channels. Even if you’re not currently using a particular platform, it’s good to have them all in case you do expand.
  • Facebook
  • TikTok
  • Twitter
  • YouTube 
  • Twitch
  • Snap 
  • Instagram 
  • Triller 
  • Clubhouse 
  • Linktree 
  • Email service provider

tl;dr to wrap it all up

It’s not about how big your budget is, it’s how you prioritize it.

This post lays out how a label marketer would spend $500 to promote a single from a new artist. 

Item Cost
Music video batch shoot: 

– Music video 
– Press photos 
– Social content
– Single artwork 
$300
Paid social ads

– Facebook, Instagram or YouTube
$100
Playlist outreach

– Tool to obtain contact information ($20) 
– Virtual assistant to support research & outreach ($80)
$20 – $100 
PR outreach

– DIY ($0)
– Submithub ($60)
$60
Domain purchase$20 
Total$500 – $580

If you liked this post then come to my FREE workshop where I’ll delve in far more detail.

Music Marketing 101: How Labels Promote Records. How You Can Do It Yourself.

Session times are on May 10, 11 and 13, 2021. Sign up here.