How Diplo Makes Himself the #1 Choice at a Party

How Diplo Makes Himself the #1 Choice at a Party

You know when you’re at a party and the playlist is nearing the end, someone passes you the aux cord to queue up tracks and… you panic. The song is ending soon so you just put on Diplo.


You playing Diplo in that party moment, despite never really listening to him, your brain is doing “cued-recall”.

What is

Cued-recall is a type of long term memory recall where listeners are sparked to play a particle song or artist seemingly out of nowhere.

What is actually happening is the word being presented is related to the information being remembered. This is the reason why in that moment at a party Diplo is easier to remember than say, Adele, Alicia Keys or Ed Sheeran.

Let Me Explain:

Through continuous exposure to Diplo’s music, visuals, narrative and opinions he has been encoded in your brain to think, Diplo = turn up.

When you’re in a party situation when the mood requires you to turn up, he will be easier to remember in that moment having achieved cued-recall to the listener.

The natural next question is, as an artist, how can you encode your music in the minds of consumers?

We see this a lot in the brand world.

  • When you want to pre-game, you buy White Claw.
  • You want to give a gift to someone you don’t really know for the holidays, you pick up a box of Ferroro Rocher
  • You want a post workout snack, you’ll stop by a bodega for an Rx bar.

Brand marketing scientist, Byron Sharp, coined the term “category entry points” saying that for brands to be thought of in this buying moment, the consumer needs to be exposed to a brand in a way that encodes that brand into memory in those moments.

For this to happen you need to:

1. Build associations between your brand and the reasons and occasions for category purchase.

2. Make your brand famous and distinctive enough for recall to happen in this moment.


This is a powerful way to build streams and followers because you’re not constantly having to remind people of your music. Instead, when they are out in the wild living their lives and come across an event, like a party, they are reminded of you and your music.

You are now part of the culture.

If you’re an artist starting out you have this great opportunity to set that strategy upfront. Pick a scenario that you want to own, where people should play your music and brand yourself for that moment.

You choose your beat and hit it over and over and over again.

Finish this sentence
“Diplo is to ‘turn up’, like I am to ___________”

Watch the whole video on How Diplo Makes Himself the #1 Choice at a Party on YouTube.

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How To Prepare For Your Next Big Artist Meeting

What you do in the time before meeting with a new artist will directly affect the outcome.

If you’re a freelancer, you live and die through new business development.


I found over and over again that the more prepared I was for the meeting, the more likely it’d result in an engagement.


My formula for preparedness is boiled down to this meeting call sheet.

STEP 1) Know all the key players on the team

Most marketers will Google the artist and maybe the person they’re emailing with but, rarely will they get backgrounds on everyone in the meeting.

You can get this from the calendar invitation they’ll send and if they don’t send one, just ask through email who will be attending.


STEP 2) Artist Stage

Now that I know who will be there, I want to know why have they taken the meeting with me?

In my experience, artists/managers only hire freelancers when stuff’s not going great.

I’m usually hired if:

  • the label relationship has gone sour
  • there’s some budget left to save a project
  • or they’re starting a brand new project and want to change how they did it on the last one

To asses the situation I use a traffic light system.

Red – panic

Yellow – last chance

Green – the world is our oyster

How you diagnose the situation will influence what you talk about in the meeting.


STEP 3) Questions

I want to spend most of the first meeting having the artist or decision maker in the room doing most of the talking. But, sometimes they don’t want to talk.

For that reason, it’s so crucial to come with questions.


The goal is to figure out “How can I add value to what they’re already doing? Why am I uniquely positioned to offer this?” before I get there.

So, I jot down 5 questions I can rely on that’ll open up the conversation and get to that question of where can I add value.


STEP 4) Quick Wins

As I’m writing down my questions to ask, I also want to jot down some quick wins.

You’re not going to know how to solve their problems in the first meeting, they’re not expecting you to yet and you won’t know the full picture until that first meeting.

But, quick wins will show that you care about the project, how you think and it’ll give you a chance to test if you’re a good fit for the project.

This checklist has helped me feel prepared in introductory meetings and was perfected with trial and error. What’s on your checklist and we can build upon each others?

Watch the whole video on how to prepare for your next big artist meeting to learn how I’ve done it over 10+ years in the music industry on YouTube now.

If you’re an independent artist and want to set your music up for success through marketing, subscribe to Deep Cuts for weekly music marketing insight here.

What To Do If You Want To Change Your Artist Name

TIME Magazine Cover: Radical Chicks - May 29, 2006 - Music - Country Music  - Women

Snoop Dogg, Joji, and The Chicks have all changed artist names and are seemingly fine. Other artists have struggled to return to a level of success once rebranding.

Your artist name is your #1 branding asset.

Your artist name is how audiences experience you on festival lineups, in playlists, in collaborations. The more you release, the more you invest in that name recognition. What happens when you want to change as an artist?

I was lucky enough to work on the rebranding of Chet Faker to Nick Murphy and was deep in the weeds of the challenges artists face when they want to go in a different direction. This post lays out 4 considerations when you want to change your name.

4 critical questions to ponder before changing your name:

  1. Do I have a strong reason?
  2. How can I clearly, loudly, and repeatedly communicate the name change through marketing?
  3. Do the two projects have a distinct enough look and feel to the ears of a lay audience?
  4. Will I retire my old name forever?

If the answer is ‘no’ to any of these then you must work on the marketing and communication plan around the rollout of your name change.

Combat confusion by clearly differentiating the musical ambitions of each project

Confusion will be your biggest hurdle in both the minds of your audience and the industry.

To mitigate confusion it’s so important to have a strong reason why you’re making a change and communicate it early and often through press, songs, content, and art.

Take Joji. The singer-songwriter known for melodic love ballads is almost unrecognizable from Filthy Frank, his YouTube comic name who helped create the Harlem Shake. In 2013 Joji was building a huge audience through crude comedy and then dressed in a pink lycra bodysuit, which helped launch the viral sensation known as The Harlem Shake.

4 years later, he’d grown out of his style and was battling medical issues so rebranded as Joji and began releasing the kind of music he wanted to create: idiosyncratic, complex songs that speak to listeners. With that came an entirely new look – new aesthetic, styling, visuals. No one could mistake Joji for Filthy Frank.

Use visuals to create a clear difference in your new direction

What may seem clear to you in the music, as a trained career artist, won’t to the laymen listener.

Visuals can do a lot of communicating for you. This is why you want to consider the look and feel of the new project like colors, iconography, styling, tone of voice on socials and in media, photography, and video references. Mood boards are super helpful for exploring what this could look like for you.

Really, changing your name can be a smooth process or a difficult one, it largely depends on how hard you’re willing to work to reinvent yourself…It’s definitely not something you want to do regularly. Make your new name great, fall in love with it, be proud of it, and then own it! (and don’t change it again if you can help it).

Watch the whole video on how to change your name looking at The Chicks, Joji and other artists who’ve done it successfully.

📧 If you’re an independent artist and want to set your music up for success through marketing, subscribe to Deep Cuts for weekly music marketing insights.

How The Kid LAROI went viral on TikTok twice

Watch the full case study on how 17-year-old Australian rapper, The Kid LAROI went viral on TikTok twice.

The Kid LAROI has benefited from TikTok virality and many artists want to replicate his success.

Does that mean opening a TikTok account and posting? Probably not.

As a new artist, is there a way to purposefully orchestrate vitality?

Australian-born, 17-year-old The Kid LAROI is one of the fastest-rising music stars in the world right now.

In the past four months alone, he has:

  • Released collaborations with Miley Cyrus and Justin Bieber.
  • Hit the top 10 in charts in more than a dozen countries.
  • Signed an enormous worldwide deal with Sony Publishing.
  • And performed on Saturday Night Live.

In this post, I’ll walk you through how The Kid LAROI set himself up for internet virality twice using TikTok to grow his audience. And what emerging artists can apply to speed up their own growth.

Virality comes from doing the work. It can never be a priority.

Virality can’t be your goal. You just need to do the work and with luck and timing, you might strike it lucky.


@addisonre 🥺👉🏼👈🏼

♬ Addison Rae – The Kid LAROI

The Kid LAROI got on TikTok after being urged by friends and blew up when he posted a verse from an unreleased song name-checking TikTok’s second most followed creator, Addison Rae. She posted herself and her mother reacting to the video, which racked up 10 million views, which encouraged user-generated content of the song. As a result, the original video hit 14 million views.


@addisonre 🥺👉🏼👈🏼

♬ Addison Rae – The Kid LAROI

Whether or not he thought he was being strategic, LAROI still looked up Addison Rae, found her, made the verse, and planted the seed with her. Did he make it a priority to go viral when he wrote the song? I doubt it. But, he was still strategic to put the song in places it could reach a much bigger audience by leveraging the influencer.

2. Success on any platform means speaking the language of the platform.

LAROI’s TikTok success wouldn’t have come without knowing the language of the platform.

Social platforms are closed ecosystems where most of the action is contained within the platform. So, your ability to make a ton of noise happens when you can identify sparks, jump on trends and make your content blow up. In order to do this, you need to be tapped into the language of the platform.

He joins fans in creating meme content for his songs. Fueling the fire of engagement and racking up millions of views. Since releasing “Addison Rae” she has been featured on his page twice.

3. Focus on the bigger picture.


#duet with @mileycyrus wtf did I just watch 😭

♬ Without You Miley Cyrus Remix – Miley Cyrus

Virality for The Kid LAROI came from tapping into internet culture, making music, and luck. He’s spent the last couple of months creating and collaborating with Marshmello, MGK, Bieber, and more. Striking gold a second time when Miley Cyrus hopped on the remix to “Without You”. Also active on TikTok she created her own meme to tease the release of the remix.

Stack your deck to increase your chances.

If you’re an artist who is wanting to replicate this success it is very important to know and understand that:

  • Virality is an outcome, but it should not be a plan and never a goal.
  • Be native the platform. Use what makes sense for you and pour gas when you see a spark.
  • Viral content is a small part of a marketing plan, but you should have a larger career goal. For LAROI, it was creating albums and collaborating with other musicians.

And while traces of a content plan are not visible from the audience’s perspective no doubt there is one in play here, and it is vital you have one too.

If you want to go deeper, watch the full video on how The Kid LAROI went viral twice on TikTok.

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How to spend your first $500 promoting a release: Music Marketer Edition

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: 

  • 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

  • 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
  • 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.

$60: Build Up Google Front Page Credibility Through Press

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) $20: Get Your House in Order

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 
Paid social ads

– Facebook, Instagram or YouTube
Playlist outreach

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

– DIY ($0)
– Submithub ($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. 

Get more music video views: YouTube optimization checklist

Do you know what the biggest driver of traffic to your music video will be?

Bigger than any amount of ads you can buy.

Bigger than any press look.

Bigger than any playlist.

YouTube’s recommendation algorithm. As in, when YouTube recommends your video to others watching/listening to similar music.

YouTube is the world’s 2nd largest search engine, 85% of music listening is active, as in people are watching the videos not passively streaming in the background, according to YouTube

The recommendation engine is a powerful way to drive traffic long after release week, which increases discoverability of your project and audience size.

It’s essential you optimize your video for search and algorithmic recommendations. 

I’m a big fan of Darkside / Nicolas Jaar / Dave Harrington so my ears pricked up on Friday when their new single, ‘The Limit’, came out. Unsurprisingly, the track is fantastic however, they’ve made a few simple mistakes on YouTube that’ll limit its reach (pardon the p).

When a video is optimized properly, the YouTube recommendation algorithm drives people to the video via recommended videos and auto plays in playlists.

The sheer size of YouTube’s active user base means that when this is set up properly, the algorithm will send more traffic to your song than any promotion you can do on your own or ads you can buy.

But, when it is not optimized properly, YouTube will not recommend it as readily and therefore relies on you driving all the traffic.

How to get more views by optimizing your tracks perfectly.

DARKSIDE ‘The Limit’ YouTube Optimization Scorecard: 3/7 

❌ Descriptive title

❌ 31 – 40 video tags

❌ Detailed description

❌ End Cards

High-Res thumbnail 

Shared on socials


I’ll re-do DARKSIDE’s ‘The Limit’ upload to get a perfect run of 8.

Create a descriptive title

“The Limit” is too short and not descriptive enough to tell potential viewers what they’re about to watch. There’s no way to tell if it’s music related or anything to do with DARKSIDE / Nico Jar or Dave Harrington for fans. 

A better title is “DARKSIDE – The Limit (Official Audio)”

When considering the title follow these 3 rules: 

  1. Lead with what is the most recognizable element, i.e.: artist name, so people who know the artist will listen to the track.
  2. Describe the asset in parentheses, e.g.: (official audio), (official video), (lyric video) to people know it’s the real version
  3. Stick to consistent naming conventions across your channel so videos are easy to find

Include 31 – 40 video tags

Current video and channel tags show only 2. It’s widely held that 31-40 tags are a good rule with a combination of branded and unbranded terms. Source: ‘The Limit’ VidIQ, data pulled 4.12.2021

This video has only 2 tags, both are branded. The actual channel has no tags. There’s no golden rule however, it’s broadly accepted in SEO marketing that between 31 – 40 tags are advised for optimal discoverability.

Tags tell YouTube what your video is about so it can recommend your video to people watching similar content. 

For your video, you want a mix of branded keywords and unbranded. Your unbranded keywords should have a nice balance of medium-high search volume and low competition.

Said plainly – you want keywords where lots of people are searching for your video but not a lot of people are making videos like yours.

Instead I’d recommend the below 31 tags for DARKSIDE. These draw on the name recognition of Nicolas Jaar and Dave Harrington first, then broadening out to wider interest in electronic music as indicated by keyword search volume and competition.

Video tags:

  2. Nicolas Jaar
  3. Nico jaar
  4. DARKSIDE Nicolas Jaar
  5. DARKSIDE songs
  6. Nicolas Jaar songs
  7. Nicolas Jaar Twitch
  8. DARKSIDE best songs
  9. DARKSIDE clip
  10. The Limit
  11. The Limit video
  12. DARKSIDE The Limit
  13. The Limit song
  14. DARKSIDE 2021 
  15. DARKSIDE set 
  16. Nicolas Jaar set
  17. Nicolas Jaar 2021
  18. Dave Harrington
  19. Dave Harrington 2021
  20. DARKSIDE Dave Harrington
  21. Dave Harrington musician 
  22. Dave Harrington music 
  23. Ableton live
  24. Space is only noise
  25. Telas nicolas jaar
  26. Nicolas jaar full album 
  27. Wurlitzer electric piano
  28. Moma ps1
  29. Experimental music
  30. Electronic beats
  31. Pitchfork media

Channel tags: 

  1. Nicolas Jaar
  3. The Limit
  4. Beggars Group
  5. Matador Records


  1. Music 
  2. Electronic music
  3. Experimental music

Write a detailed description

Your description is one of the only areas you can control the messaging of your track on YouTube. It’s a prominent touchpoint to convey what you’re about to fans, as well as push promotional messages.

A good description includes: 

  • Credits
  • Links to other places viewers can find you, i.e.: social media, streaming, patreon, Twitch etc.
  • Quote from the artist about the song to encourage deeper connection with the viewer
  • CTA to your current promotion, e.g.: “buy tickets here”, “stream new album here”
  • Links to other music videos to encourage people down the rabbit hole 
  • 3 – 5 hashtags to increase discoverability

For example, the description of Petit Biscuit’s “Sunset Lover’ is an overview of main touchpoints a curious new viewer can dive into. Despite being released in 2017, it’s still updated for 2021 priorities.

Use end cards to push people further down the rabbit hole

End cards are a YouTube feature that appears in the last 15-20 secs of the video where users can promote other videos or playlists. You can promote up to 4 elements.

You’d use end cards to encourage people to stay on your channel by either watching another video, looking at a playlist or subscribing to your channel. Most artists don’t do this because you need to tap on an additional few seconds after the song has finished however, it is a powerful way to extend watch time on your channel. 

Great assets to include in your end card is: 

  1. Links to recognizable music videos, i.e.: your most popular songs to continue to snowball their views 
  2. Links to new videos you wish to promote 
  3. Alternative ways to enjoy your music, e.g.: if you have a music video then including a Boiler Room set would give viewers a way to stream a live mix
  4. CTA to subscribe 

Save this YouTube Optimization Checklist 

Before you upload your next music video, check yourself… Do I have….

  • Descriptive title
  • 31 – 40 video tags
  • Detailed description
  • End Cards
  • High-Res thumbnail 
  • End screens 
  • Shared on socials
  • Public

You’ve spent all this time making the music, writing, shooting, editing your video. Make sure you set it up properly at the final step on YouTube to maximize its potential for discoverability.

Building your team with freelancers

A guide for musicians bringing in outside marketing help

There are no rules for how your team should look.

Aside from a lawyer, you can make it up to compliment exactly how you work. As someone who’s freelanced for different labels, management firms, and artists directly I’ve seen how varied teams are. No manager? No problems. 4 managers? Cool!

With the different financing options outside a traditional label deal and access to a global market through the internet, artists can build their team however they want. Meaning, more opportunity for creative professionals to work on a freelance or project basis.

You, as the artist, might not need all the services given by your distribution’s artist services team or you might want to build your own family. If so, you’ll rely on freelancers. 

I’ve been a freelancer, I’ve hired dozens on behalf of managers/labels and I’ve connected hundreds of freelancers with artists. 

This is a 4-step guide for artists hiring freelancers for the first time.

1. Scope a project based on outputs, not outcomes. 

The scope of work is the agreement both parties enter that outlines the work that will be done. 

An outcome is the result that happens from the work of the freelancer. I.e.: Increase Instagram followers from 0 – 2,000 in 6 weeks.

An output is a product created by the freelancer that contributes to the overall project. I.e.: Create 15 Instagram posts per week including 5 posts, 7 Stories, 3 Reels.

If you’re thinking this sounds bent, this is why outputs are more important than outcomes:

  • You want the scope of your relationship to be crystal clear

When you start working together and expectations change say, the project is going better than expected and you achieve 2,000 followers in 3 days as rather than 6 weeks as a result of a viral mix and not from direct work of the freelancer then you don’t want to pay for work not completed. 

On the flip side, if the results aren’t achieved as a result of aspects outside the freelancer’s control, you need to pay them for their work and expertise in good faith. 

A scope detailed with clear outputs will minimize risk on both sides. You, as the artist, know exactly where the freelancer fits into your overall marketing needs. The freelancer has a clear direction on how they add value to your project so they can get cracking on execution.

  • You want to be on board with their strategy. The freelancer is acting on your behalf so you want to make sure their best foot is forward. 

Back to our instagram example, if the outcome was to grow the account by 2,000 followers in 6 weeks then you might get a strategy back that is to buy a bunch of inexpensive followers that yield no engagement nor streams. You wouldn’t be on board with this strategy however, they’ve delivered on the outcome so the work is completed. 

Instead, if the output was to create 15 Instagram posts per week including 5 posts, 7 Stories, 3 Reels, then you know they are employing a rigorous content strategy in order to achieve your overall project goal on growing the Instagram following.

  • You can terminate the engagement easier

If you’re not happy with the work once the project has commenced or completed you can have an objective conversation about how to terminate. If you’ve scoped to deliver outcomes then you’ll find yourself in an emotional finger-pointing match. What may be a clear sequence of events in your mind may be entirely different to that of the freelancer.

Instead, if you have an output scoped project you have a checklist of what was and was not delivered on the project. 

2. Research your best fit

I used to hire the best freelancer I could afford thinking their genius would build everything in my/artists head. 

After many failed relationships, I realized you’re buying a person’s context, relationships, experience and taste. Your idea will take a different shape upon execution –

The color palette you had in mind, the styling, content ideas, and partnerships will enter the world branded by the people you’re working with. 

So, I now hire freelancers based solely on their previous work, not so much their expertise.

If you’re courting a music video director then visualize yourself in one of their previous videos because that’s what it’s going to look like. The subtle cues you may not pick up on like camera angles, performance, lighting, editing speed will all apply to your project.

The best fit will be someone who’s portfolio you flick through and see your image right there with it.

Places you can go to find freelancers:

  • Friends and other artist peers. Find artists whose work you like and dig into the credits. If it’s a music video you’re after then YouTube descriptions usually list the entire team on set. If it’s photographers then they’re usually credited on press pics. Trawl artists’ instagram pages and look for BTS and see who’s tagged in the pic.
  • Put a call out on your socials for people to tag freelancers in a specific area. People in your network are more likely to want to help you than straight cold emails.
  • Ask marketers. I’m asked a lot about when I take on new clients, for now my attention is 100% on the members of my online program – the School of Deep Cuts. I’ve compiled a list of freelancers in my network in this spreadsheet that you’re free to contact. 

Their collective experience span campaigns for Doja Cat, The xx, Lil Nas X, Rex Orange County, David Bowie and Jorja Smith. Just tell them you were referred by Amber Horsburgh’s music freelancer rolodex.

3. Draft a clear, detailed brief

You’ll need a brief. This document is different to your scope of work detailing outputs. The brief tells the freelancer why they’ve been hired with background from you as to what the problem is and how you expect marketing will solve it.

The brief is critical to a good working relationship. A good brief means you can: 

  1. Hit the ground running. 

It minimizes the freelancer’s learning curve so they can get cracking on the work as soon as you begin together. Otherwise, you’ll waste precious weeks educating them on what you want. 

  1. Inspires ideas. 

Provides a document that keeps you aligned on why everyone is here. When projects get chaotic, as they inevitably do, the brief gives all parties clear instruction of why they’re there.

If you don’t have a briefing template, I provide one in my upcoming course, the School of Deep Cuts, which is opening for enrollment in the coming weeks that you’re welcome to grab.

4. Know where everyone fits

No one cares about your project as much as you do, even if you pay them. 

You must be in control over all aspects of your marketing. If you know how each area works and how they interrelate then you know who exactly you’re looking for to outsource.

One thing that drove me nuts when freelancing is this silver bullet mentality of clients. You’re often hired to fix everything yet, you have access to only a slither of the project. 

Freelancers are brought on because there’s a hole in the team, they can’t fix that hole unless you can clearly identify what it is.

What I mean by this is, no-one can deliver you results if you’re expecting them to “fix marketing” or “grow the fanbase” or “make it look better”. These requests are too broad. 

There are interrelated disciplines at play and different problems required to “grow the fanbase”. You need to know how you’re going to grow it, then you can hire the best fit to do it. E.g.: digital ads, content marketing and community management will grow the fanbase, but, unless you know the fundamentals of each area of marketing you won’t know who to hire to best help you achieve your goals.

Once you know the fundamentals of release planning you’re empowered in your marketing decisions knowing you’ve got the plan. There’s nothing worse than trying to manage other people in a project where you yourself don’t really know what’s going on.

I teach the fundamentals of release planning in the School of Deep Cuts, which is open for enrollment in the next few weeks. So, if you want to get clearer on release planning make sure you’re on the list to get updates.

Wrapping it up

If you’re ready to get outside help from a pro make sure to set them up for success by getting yourself prepped. Understand the fundamentals of music marketing and release planning in order to know exactly who you’re looking for, where to find them and what you want them to do. No one cares as much as you do so take the reigns, get in control and propel your project to where it deserves to go.

Justin Bieber, ‘Justice’ Campaign Teardown

How does the biggest record label promote the biggest album by their biggest priority of 2021?

Justin Bieber’s Justice is the 6th studio album by the Canadian mega popstar. It was released on March 19th by SB Projects (RBMG, Schoolboy), UMG and Def Jam, 2021 debuting at #1 on the Billboard 200 chart with 14 featured artists on the deluxe. 

In terms of music marketing, it doesn’t really get any bigger than this.

I wanted to take a quick glance at the promotional rollout of 2021’s biggest record so far. On first glance, two things popped out to me immediately: 

  • Multiple singles release strategy
  • Heavy emphasis on video content

In this teardown, I’ll detail the promotional calendar covering the 6 month run up to album release so you can see how the biggest labels roll out their biggest priority releases.

Key info

Artist Justin Bieber
Release dateMarch 19th, 2021 
Timeline (first single – album release)6 months (September 18th – March 19th)

LP: Justice

EP: JB6, Digital & Streaming
LP: Justice, Digital & Streaming, CD, cassette
LP: Justice (Triple Chucks Deluxe), Digital & Streaming
Genre Pop
Merch Items

Justice – 30 total number of merch items
-4 CD (alternative cover art)
-3 cassette (alternative cover art)
-2 digital albums
-2 digital single
-8 T-shirts
-1 glow crewneck
-3 hoodie
-1 sweatpants
-1 type of socks
-2 hat
-1 Nalgene
-1 keychain
-1 poster

Holy – 18 total number of merch items
-7 T-shirt
-3 crop top
-3 hoodie
-2 face covering
-1 poster
-1 CD
-1 digital single

Anyone – 11 total number of merch items
-1 T-shirt
-3 crewneck
-1 hoodie
-3 sweatpants
-1 hat
-1 CD single
-1 digital single
Release week chart position1

Key people

ArtistJustin Bieber

Def Jam
SB Projects / RBMG / Schoolboy
Universal Music
ManagementScooter Braun, SB Projects
PublicistIn house @ Def Jam
Featured Artists

Justice standard edition: Khalid, Chance, the Rapper, The Kid Laroi, Dominic Fike, Daniel Caesar, Giveon, Beam, Burna Boy, Benny Blanco

Justice (Triple Chucks Deluxe): Lil Uzi Vert, Jaden, Quavo, DaBaby, Tori Kelly

Justice is a singles campaign strategy, rather than traditional pop album rollout

Bieber took a singles strategy like most artists do in 2021 dropping a single a month for 5-6 months wrapping them up into an album. 

What separates a singles strategy from an album strategy with focus singles is the resources put into each single and cadence of release. 

Singles strategies treat each single like a mini-campaign – using music videos, performances and bespoke merch. 

For example, ‘Holy’ the first single featuring Chance, The Rapper had 11 videos and an entire merch line of 18 items available upon release on September 18th, 2020. ‘Anyone’ a collaboration with Benny Blanco the 3rd single released on January 1st, 2021 had 7 videos and a merch line of 11 items. 

These both released before the record that had 30 merch items and 30 videos.

Had this been a more traditional album oriented roll out there would’ve been less singles released pre-album, likely 3. One single would’ve been the focus having most resources deployed into its promotion at radio and the other 2 may have been fan favorites to get the fanbase talking.

By taking a singles strategy they were able to build momentum with streaming through a consistent release of content.

Promotional Calendar shows consistent activity across each single launch

Audience Growth 

Audience growth during release month, March 1 – 28th, 2021

Source: Soundcharts, data pulled March 29th, 2021

Content strategy: lots and lots and lots of videos

Music videos6
Additional Video Content

Documentary: 2
Performance: 6
Visualizer & Lyrics: 25
Trailer: 1
Behind-the-scenes: 4
Livestream: 4
Alternative music videos: 11
TV appearances

October 17, 2020: The 46th season of Saturday Night Live
November 15, 2020: 6th People’s Choice Awards.
November 22, 2020: 2020 American Music Awards
March 13, 2021: 2021 Kids’ Choice Awards
March 18, 2021: The Late Late Show with James Corden
March 22, 2021 and March 24, 2021: Good Morning America

The content strategy on this release was insane. In the 6 months covering the first single to album release date, Biebs dropped 59 videos on his YouTube channel. 

59 videos. YouTube alone.

YouTube View during campaign (Sept. 2020 – Mar. 2021)

Source: VidIQ, data pulled 3.29.2021

The campaign started with the 2 part documentary ‘Next Chapter’ where viewers get a look at Bieber’s life in quarantine and while recording Justice. While talking about the documentary, Bieber said: “I’m excited to catch up with [the fans] and to share the progress I’m making, the new music I’m working on, and what I’m excited about for the future.”

Many of the focus singles had multiple pieces of content. 

This is something that every artist of any size can take away. Multiple videos sustain interest in a track by: 

  1. Creating a narrative arc that hooks fans, both new and existing
  2. Showing more of your personality traits, which develops a deeper connection with fans as they identify similar traits in themselves 
  3. Giving a reason to keep talking about your track after it’s released.

For example, ‘Holy feat. Chance, The Rapper’ has 11 videos.

Final thoughts

You can learn a lot by studying the top. For Justice that is:

  1. Emphasize content to sustain interest and social and streaming growth over a half year period 
  2. Treat each single like it’s own campaign with whatever your means allows you to create, i.e.: merch, video content, fan engagement strategies and publicity 
  3. Build in elements that show your personality to build interest in your character, which deepens the connection with fans. This includes documentary style content, behind the scenes, interviews and showing your favorite things. For Biebs that seemed to be The Maple Leafs and Hailey Bieber.

A- Z Music Marketing

Your glossary of essential music marketing terms. Learn the fundamentals, get your edge. If you like this stuff, subscribe to my weekly newsletter here.



A = Algorithms

A process or set of rules that govern problem-solving operations. Algorithms affect artist discovery as social media and streaming platforms surface content based on the algorithms they write for user experience. E.g.:

  • SOCIAL MEDIA: Organic reach for Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Snapchat, TikTok
  • STREAMING: Spotify algorithmic recommendations via playlists i.e.: Discover Weekly, Release Radar, Radio
  • VIDEO: YouTube suggested videos

B = Bio

A short paragraph, written in the third person about the artist. This includes origin story, achievements to date and key information about the release. This is used for marketing and publicity.

At minimum artists require:

  • 600 word extended bio for publicity, pulling info about the release, applying for grants
  • 50 word short bio for streaming platforms
  • 10 word bio for social media profiles

C = Campaign Rollout

The design of how people see, hear and feel the music that creates insatiable curiosity for the artist. Popular tactics include releasing a single a month for 6 months then wrapping them into an album, 3-act structure and bonfires & fireworks.

Tierra Whack created a mini “album-movie” of her WHACK WORLD record. This video is consists of 15 scenes combining grotesque and absurd situations, which convey the quirky imagination of rapper Tierra Whack. 15 one minute films, 15 custom built sets, shot in 2 days. Each video was released individually on Instagram then merged together as one coherent piece.

The whole movie when pieced together shows an unlikely meeting with the singular world of Tierra. In an approach reminding a curiosity cabinet, each scene is tinted with “handmade” aesthetics and showcases the rich, spontaneous and bizarre world of the young artist.

D = Discovery Ecosystem

The sum of touchpoints a new listener encounters when finding a new artist. This includes social media channels, streaming playlists, PR headlines, website, organic content and sync, among others

An artist would design the way new listeners experience their music by creating experiences on the core discovery channels in their ecosystem through narrative, video and imagery.

E = Engagement Rate

% of impressions that drove consumers to actually interact with the asset — usually applied to social media campaigns as a proxy for fan loyalty.

(Interactions with digital asset) / (Impressions of digital asset) 
= Engagement Rate

This signals how an element of the campaign is sticking with audiences. For example, a tour announcement, single release or new video. However, it is a vague metric and often influenced more heavily by the platform’s algorithm and how it prioritizes and personalizes content, thus rendering assets visible/invisible.

Calculations vary from platform to platform and can encompass a mix of comments, likes, shares, contest entries, sign-ups to email/text, views, saves to library, adds to playlists etc — can be misleading when comparing across platforms.

For a full KPI breakdown of essential performance metrics read: Metrics That Matter

F = Follower Growth

Rosalia’s social follower growth over 28 day period. Source: Soundcharts, March 15th, 2021

If the goal governing 99.99% of record campaigns is to reach millions of people and earn streaming/sales revenue, then followers suggest how aware people are of your artist.

An act with high monthly listeners or playlist reach may generate millions of streams but have low brand awareness — people know the song but not the artist.

Followers to streams ratio is an indicator of interest in an artist vs. miscellaneous streams generated by playlists and algorithms.

If an artist has fewer than 1:20 followers to monthly listeners then you have a problem with branding and over-reliance on editorial support, therefore must invest in brand building activities.

Emerging artists (>1M monthly listeners) generally average 1:10, established acts (>5M monthly listeners) average 1:5 followers to monthly listeners. Therefore you need to invest in brand building marketing activities.

G = Goal Setting

A roadmap for success over time. Goals should be SMART — specific, measurable, action-oriented, realistic, timely.

If you need help with goal-setting then read: 21 Questions to Ask an Artist Before Working With Them and complete the artist discovery workshop.

H = Hashtag 

Tool used in social media to help identify a topic and discussion point.

Each platform has its own etiquette, e.g.: Instagram best practices include hashtags of 11 and 30 per post.

As the feed moves so quickly, make sure you post the hashtags at the time of your post or in a post comment a few seconds afterwards. Choose your hashtags using apps such as Hashtagify to find unbranded, low-competiton hashtags to own.

Pay attention to the popularity of the hashtags you use, and mix up some of the popular hashtags (where it will be difficult to be noticed) along with some of the less popular hashtags, where you have more chance to be seen. 

I = Influencer 

Someone who has the ability to affect purchasing behavior of consumers.


NEW DANCE ALERT! 🚨 if u use my dance tag me so i can see🤗 @theestallion #writethelyrics #PlayWithLife #foyou #fyp #foryoupage #newdance #savage

♬ Savage – Megan Thee Stallion
Keara Wilson (@keke.janajah on TikTok) created, arguably, one of the most viral dances for Megan Thee Stallion’s single “Savage”. Her 1.8 million followers quickly caught on to the trend. Not only that, but she followed up with a dance to the remix ft. Beyonce in record time.

Choose influencers based on: 

Relevance to your art, subculture and audience.

Activity on social media. Otherwise they aren’t much help.

Good people. Make sure you’ve researched that they are aligned with your values and have not had past drama

J = Just In Time Research 

A minimalist research approach about acting fast. JIT research is about observing trends, forming a hypothesis and answering that without doing anything extra. This helps to avoid unproductive research black holes.

K = Key Performance Indicator 

23 KPIs to measure effectiveness of record marketing campaigns. For the full breakdown read: 23 Metrics That Matter

When you start a campaign, your label lays out Key Performance Indicators (KPI) to evaluate a record campaign’s success or failure, which govern whether your project continues to be funded or phased out.

Streaming and social platforms allow us to see the real-time impact of marketing efforts through metrics that when pieced together tell a story. Some are more accurate at predicting an artist’s success than others, and therefore should be more important to music marketers.

Core KPIs in for measuring a record campaign

  1. Active Coverage
  2. Audience (Radio)
  3. Buzz
  4. Chart Performance
  5. Click Through Rate
  6. Consumption
  7. Cost Per New Listener
  8. Efficient Reach
  9. Engagement Rate
  10. Follower Growth (Social)
  11. Monthly Listeners
  12. Pitch Performance
  13. Playlist Reach
  14. Playlist Real Estate
  15. Potential Reach
  16. Profile Followers (DSP)
  17. Return on Digital Spend
  18. Revenue
  19. ROI
  20. Sentiment
  21. Spins
  22. Territory Growth
  23. Video Completion Length

L = Livestream

Livestreaming is like radio with a built-in social network. However, many mistakenly approach livestreams as a video streaming platform or in place of live — mediums that both reward polished rehearsed entertainment.

As a medium, livestreaming rewards relatability, unfiltered and spontaneity. It also shares a similar programming style — long-form content delivered on a consistent schedule. The closeness of the environment forges a connection with fans almost like a friendship.

Content that does best in this medium are peek-behind-the-curtains of creative processes, masterclasses, and intimate performances.

If you need ideas think about if KCRW gave you 20 mins to do whatever you wanted, how would you use the time?

Livestreaming resources for musicians

There are a ton of resources about livestreaming since its rapid COVID adoption. Here are a few relevant tactical resources like each platform’s guide to livestreaming, plus articles outlining best practices of and tech requirements so you can execute the best quality livestream:

M = Monthly Listeners

Unique listeners of an artist in a 28 day period. The number of times an individual streams a song does not effect the monthly listener, if one person streams one song and another 300 times, they each count as 1 monthly listener

Sum total of unique listeners in a 28 day period
= Monthly Listeners

Monthly listeners and monthly streams are usually lumped in the same reporting. Monthly streams are more easily manipulated than monthly streams, however reporting on these must be considered in the wider growth of the artist long term — which is where profile follows comes into play.

N = Nurture Sequence

When a new fan signs up to a mailing list, fan club, text message service, discord service or other closed community group what happens next?

A lot of marketing looks at cold to warm leads, i.e.: how do we find people who’ve never listened to our music and get them to know about us. This is the most expensive type of marketing to do. What a lot of marketer’s miss is building the experience a new listener has once they enter your world. 

A nurture sequence is a series of content and sales messages that hook them into being curious listeners to fans. For example, an email nurture sequence would be 5 automatic emails sent out over 3 weeks to get the new listener further engaged in your content, channels and encouraging them to buy something like merch.

Nurture sequences reduce unsubscribes and inactive fans. If someone signs up to your email list and doesn’t hear from you for weeks or months until you have new music or a new show, then they won’t recognize you and will unsubscribe.

O = Organic Content

P = Playlists

Top playlists that drive the highest number of streams across Spotify, Apple Music and Deezer for artist, Joyce Wrice. Source: Soundcharts, data pulled March 15th, 2021

Playlists are the way music is organized on streaming services and radio. There’s 2 ways of programming playlists:

  1. Editorially. An individual or team chooses which tracks to include based on their viewpoint
  2. Algorithmically. Tracks are included based on programs written to serve the playlist.

Playlists are an essential way music is delivered to the end consumer.

Q = Quality Assurance

Standards that enforce excellence.

A QA process is owned by the product manager and is there to make sure the right assets go out.

As someone who once uploaded a music video with the wrong audio after it was blasted to media, I can assure you that you want to make QA process run before any press release, music video, master or artwork is delivered to partners.


Return on Investment. Dollar amount you needed to spend to yield a result, which can be a positive or negative value.

Return on investment (ROI) = (revenue from marketing) — (marketing spend) / marketing budget.

Provides guidance to artist/team on the relative value of a marketing investment, which prioritizes future budgets, cuts initiatives that make little return and informs artist(s) how they best spend their time.

ROI must be considered in context of the wider marketing plan — strong ROI can be created by insignificant investments (e.g.: $50 Facebook spend that produced 300% growth via ticket sales) and larger activities (e.g.: music videos) may not manifest ROI until years after.

S = Streaming

Listening to music in ‘real time’, instead of downloading a file to your computer and watching it later. With audio streaming there is no file to download, just a continuous stream of data.

Top music streaming services in USA as of 2021 by users are below:

T = Territory Growth

Difference in consumption in a specific country, region or set of cities

(consumption this week) — (consumption last week) / number of weeks active campaign
Radio airplay territory growth shows Doja Cat’s top markets as USA, France, UK, Germany and Mexico as well as growth and decline over 28 day period. Source: Soundcharts, data pulled March 15th, 2021

Streaming and social media has made music more global in that artists and songs can be more readily discovered in different territories before crossing over to larger markets like the US, e.g.: Rich Brian, Lewis Capaldi.

U = Unique Selling Proposition 

The factor(s) presented by the artist as why their product is different and better than that of a competitor.

E.g.: Metro Boomin’s unique production sound of heavy bass, rattling synthetic percussion and dark, gothic melodies means artists go to him for beats over other Atlanta producers.

V = Viral 

The goal of going viral is to find new fans—not just engage with the old ones by achieving stream/view velocity quickly. Tactics for going viral include:

  • Collaborations
  • Publicity stunts
  • Film/TV and advertising sync
  • Influencer marketing
  • Attaching music to memes early

W = Workshop

A set of structures activities designed to create an outcome.

X = X over

Identifying and planning initiatives to expose the artist to new audiences with the goal of building a bigger fanbase.

Latin artist, J.Balvin has well and truly crossed over to mainstream. In 2020 he took part in the Super Bowl and inked a brand deal with McDonalds, two iconic brands that embed him further in American culture.

Y = Young vs. Mature Lifecycle

The point of an artist’s career as determined by brand awareness and profitability. Campaigns for albums/tours/special initiatives vary greatly depending on the lifecycle stage.

Z = Zag 

The ability to experiment — when everyone zigs you zag. You do your own thing carving your own path.

E.g.: Dreebo. An emerging artist who is dropping a song every single day this year. He’s unsigned and is using this experiment as an artist development and a focus group of what fans want to hear crash course.

Building an Artist From Scratch: how to launch your first single

➤ Download and save the comprehensive Asset Checklist here

➤ If you want more about artist branding, listen to a short presentation on creating a visual brand

If this is you, you’re in the right place.

You’ve spent months, years even, working on new music, you’re finally happy and ready to put them out. It’s been a long time in the making so you want to give them the absolute best shot at success. But, you don’t know where to start.

➤ Where do you truly begin when building from the ground up?

➤ Where do you prioritize your budget when funds are limited?

➤ How do you create a succinct, focused story that introduces you to the world?

These questions get solved through marketing.

In this post I’ll lay out the precise promotional materials required to put your best foot forward for your first single release. 

It covers an example of how ASTON, an Australian songwriter and pop artist debuted her music project in December 2020. As a songwriter, she’s penned and featured on Fast & Furious: Hobbs & Shaw (9M streams), multiple Netflix shows, and NBA’s 2K20. She is just stepping out as a forward-facing artist.

Disclaimer: I worked with ASTON on this release but that’s not why I chose to feature her in this post. I think she’s a model example of how a new artist launches her brand. It’s concise, focused, and compelling. Throughout the process, she strives for creative excellence and it shows in the marketing rollout.

Bookmark this post and come back to it every time you’re releasing a new single or artist project. Think of it as your: 

  1. Asset checklist encompassing the core elements of a strong visual brand
  2. Check-in that you’ve covered your bases before anything goes out
  3. Bar to beat. Take this as what one artist did and think about how you use these assets creatively to build your artist brand. 

If you want this checklist as a saveable Google Doc to save to your Drive then download it here:


Essential assets are the absolute minimum required to launch a new single leveraging the memorability of visuals. 

Your goal in creating essential marketing assets is to come out of the gate swinging. Meaning, put your best foot forward by building a visual identity that’s focused, clear, consistent and ultimately memorable.

For ASTON that meant creating a tone that was sharp, bold, confident, and unapologetic.

“As a new artist, I wanted to clearly identify what I looked like. Specifically in the genre (pop) that I am in. With so many names and songs being thrown around these days, I wanted people to start connecting the persona to the music. On the creative side, the visuals needed to be a representation of the artist’s tone which for me was sharp, bold, confident and unapologetic.” – ASTON

With this checklist below, your next step is to come up with concepts of what your essential assets will look like.

  • Album artwork 
  • Single artwork 
  • Press photoshoot 
  • Music video treatment & music video 
  • Logo 
  • Typography 
  • Color palette

Album artwork

Album artwork is the hero visual the whole campaign branding is built off. For ASTON, this process began in the writing room.

“Throughout the whole process from writing to release, I had mood boards that were sectioned off into artwork, video, logo, aesthetic, and a few more. I was constantly adding and deleting content within the boards until I was set on a clear style that was fluid through all visuals. It had to be so specific that no matter who I shared it with, they’d understand the direction instantly.”

Both album and single artwork should stand out when scaled down to a thumbnail on a cell phone as this is how most new listeners discovering music through streaming platforms will see the artwork.

Album cover

Front of the packaging of a commercially released audio recording product. The cover is the primary image of a digital download, CD or LP. 

Generally, most of the promotional material created for a record campaign will be built off this image, i.e.: digital ads, street ads and in merch.

Single artwork

Primary image accompanying the promotional singles (instant grat tracks) of the record. There can be individual artwork for every track in the streaming era or just promotional singles. 

Press photoshoot

Official photos accompanying the release. These are sent to media, promoters, labels, distributors and other industry connections. 

They will feature on all streaming, social and video platforms. After the music video shoot, the press photoshoot is generally the heaviest investment as it can include hair & make-up, stylist, photographer, wardrobe, equipment and location fees.

As the artist, you need to ensure anyone brought in to help execute understands the vision. This allows them to add and enhance your idea rather than detract or deviate.  

“You have to be so specific with your vision and be able to articulate that with words and visual representation. If there’s a slight sense of uncertainty when communicating with another person, you may end up with a product you aren’t happy with.” – ASTON

To maximize the day, have a second shooter doing b-roll for social media and pairing the album artwork and press photoshoot together. This way, from the one day you’ll have a library of content for future posting on social media, an album and single cover, and official press photos.

Music video treatment & music video

Our visual memory is more powerful than our audible one. When people see a song, not just hear it, their ability to recall is far stronger. 

“When I wrote Girl is a Gun, the music video instantly came to mind as it was written in a very linear storytelling way.”

Music visuals take the audible message of a song and color it in, making it more memorable to new listeners. A strong first music video has 2 things: 

  1. Shows your aesthetic that subconsciously shows the listener where they should place you in their mind
  2. Your performance that conveys emotion to the listener. You can use this asset to pitch promoters and booking agents interested in what your show may look like, as well as media for sessions/features and labels to show your skill.

‘Girl is a Gun’ music video 

Bonus: You’ll need a high-res thumbnail for YouTube. When designing this, ensure the artist is in the image, the colors are bright and it stands out when scaled down to a thumbnail size on mobile.

For a deeper look at how to write music video treatments, this video by director, Jacob Owens is excellent. He lays out the process of music video pitching, common mistakes in writing treatments and balancing story and visuals to get the idea across. 

How to write music video treatments!


Official stamp to appear on promotional materials as merch, music videos, website and social media.


Neo Afrique Pro Medium

Appears on promotional materials including album/single artwork, advertising and merch.

Color palette

ASTON stuck to a color palette that complimented the artwork and press photoshoot of white, black and maroon.


The following assets are optional. If you’re just one person, limited on time or feeling overwhelmed then just choose a few. 

Your ‘nice to have’ assets should: 

  1. Continue to push the message of your song further
  2. Give people a reason to care about your track through storytelling

Nice to haves:

  • Remix artwork 
  • Styling moodboard
  • Tour admat 
  • Social skins 
  • Merch design 
  • Visual guideline bible
  • Vinyl/CD/cassette layout 
  • “Coming soon”, release date reveal and “out now” graphics for social media 
  • Stage or livestream concept
  • Website design
  • Mockups for merch and physical products. To be used on website and social media 
  • Visualizer for YouTube 

Social skins

“Coming soon”, release date reveal and “out now” graphics for social media 

Social content is where you’ll hook new listeners through storytelling. The actual posts have a promotional purpose but won’t work unless you give people a reason to care. 

This starts with you and your story. Your promotional content will go a lot further if the images are striking and captions funny, personal and clearly written by you.

Coming soon & release date reveal 

Out now

Bonus: post-release content that deepens the connection between listeners and the artist. ASTON created a casual video shot in a studio explaining her story. This can be used to pitch media, playlists, radio, promoters, labels and other industry contacts.

Website design 

A simple splash page is absolutely fine for your first project. All you need is a landing page to host links, newsletter sign-up and official news. Don’t over think this bit.

There you have it. Your full-blown asset checklist for building from the ground up. 

For ASTON, the process of debuting her first single as the forward-facing artist, she stresses the need for managing budget and your own learning curve.

“Learning and budget! Skills to take into consideration are organisation and detail. If you’re going to do parts or the whole thing yourself, you need to be efficient with the learning process, setting out specific time to gain skills in tools such as Photoshop, Premier etc.”

Keep coming back to this post for best practices for launching a new artist project ensuring you put your best foot forward.