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. 

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.