Now more than ever, musicians are going online and taking their platforms digital. For some, this is a fairly natural step. For others, this is a daunting path and completely overwhelming. If you fall into the latter category, keep reading.
I’ve been helping small businesses succeed online since 2007, as well as building my own online platform as a musician for the past two years. By the end of this resource, you should have a strong overview of what it means to take your act online – and what to expect as you get started.
What does it mean for musicians to go digital?
Going online with your music means something a little bit different for everybody.
- Are you performing?
- Are you teaching?
- Are you selling?
- Are you freelancing?
- Are you reaching the masses?
- Are you working with individuals?
The answers to all of those questions will change what “going digital” means for you.
Going digital is a blessing in a curse in that there are an impossible number of options available. So: Where do you start finding your own corner of clients and supporters on the internet? How do you get in front of them?
Many musicians are not used to selling themselves in a digital context – especially in a gigging economy. Charisma is harder to convey over text, and performing online is a different experience. There is more noise to compete with. Branding and messaging are critical to stand out and attract the people who resonate with whatever it is you’re doing. The options for furthering your music career with music-related work are expanded. Borders become virtually meaningless. Your geographic location isn’t holding you back.
Long story short: It’s a completely different way to think about your music career.
Whether you are building your music career on or offline, there are no guarantees. At the end of the day, creative and entertainment industries are incredibly competitive and difficult to get your foot in the door, and even harder to build a stable income around.
But if you’re ready and prepared to take the risks and do the work, there is a lot of goodness and support to be had. Having the right expectations and mindset will get you a long way!
In this article:
- Three Main Ways for Musicians to “Go Digital”
- Live Streaming 101 for Musicians: What, Where, and How
- Self-Publishing and Distributing Music
- Building an Online Artist Brand and Digital Hub
- Start Now, Iterate Often
Three Main Ways for Musicians to “Go Digital”
There are a lot of ways to make money online with music, including lessons, freelance services, or even pre-made loops and voice samples. I could go on but, in this particular post, I would like to focus on digital translations of more traditional music venues. That is: gigging, releasing music, and growing a fanbase.
There are three main ways that a musician can do these things online:
- Stream live performances (and more!)
- Self-publishing on music streaming platforms
- Setting up hubs to establish an artist brand and space for fans to connect
Each deserves its own introduction and discussion points so you can understand what these all entail. I can only hope to open your eyes and point you in the right direction here. Each is a craft of its own and takes a massive amount of time, energy, and investment to do well. The best time to start on all of them is now – you can only improve them by putting them into practice right away.
Live Streaming 101 for Musicians: What, Where, and How
Let’s tackle the most obvious traditional musician’s engagement: Playing gigs! Gigging most directly translates to live streams online. That is: Performing for a live audience.
What is Live Streaming
Live streaming is when you broadcast video or audio out to the internet in real time.
This process requires two major components:
- An app that takes your media and turns it into a broadcast signal
- A platform that handles the broadcast signal and shares it in a usable way
Your broadcasting app takes your video, audio, and other media input and sends it to your chosen live streaming platform. That platform then takes your signal, and puts it into a digestible format – typically featuring a video interface and live chat feature. This allows the broadcaster (also called the “streamer”) to interact in real-time with their viewers.
Live streaming has become more prevalent with the rise of Twitch, alongside live streaming features on YouTube and Facebook, and other up-and-coming platforms like Mixer. Many people associate live streaming with gamers and Esports, not so much music or other creative content. However, be assured that there are thousands of musicians streaming live content every single day.
Where Should Musicians Live Stream
Every live streaming platform has its own pros and cons. Some are bigger, but therefore also host more competition. Some are smaller, but perhaps aren’t the right fit for your target audience. Choosing your live stream platform is a business decision. In the end, there is no perfect platform. To find the best fit, look for a platform that:
- Has enough folks who enjoy your style of music and performance
- Has enough room for you to grow
- Is enjoyable for you to use
- Is easy enough for you to get started right away
I recommend trying out many platforms at the beginning to get the hang of live streaming and the differences between each platform. From there, you can make an informed decision about which one is right for you to get started.
Top live streaming platforms musicians should try, in no particular order:
If you already have an established following of any kind, my advice is to start where they are already hanging out. If you have a highly engaged Instagram following, start there. The same goes for Facebook, YouTube, or anywhere else you may already be online. Even if you decide to switch platforms, you’ll have given them a taste of what they’re missing out on and will be more likely to move platforms for you in the future!
How to Live Stream Music
How to live stream music is an entire topic of its own, worthy of many dedicated articles! However, I will give you a quick rundown of the bare minimums you need.
For all streaming:
- Your relevant musical instruments
- Reliable internet connection, preferably wired and not WiFi
For mobile streaming:
- Streaming application (examples: Instagram, Periscope)
For desktop streaming:
- Camera (can be built-in)
- Microphone (can be built-in)
- Streaming application (example: OBS)
…these are the bare essentials. My recommendation is to start with whatever you have now, and grow organically from there. Perfecting your stream can cost a lot in equipment, and will definitely take a phenomenal amount of research and design as you discover the right setup for you and your type of music.
Self-Publishing and Distributing Music
Have you ever talked about your music to someone, and they asked where they could listen to it? If you haven’t gotten into publishing your music yet, that’s an awkward question to answer. Thankfully, self-publishing your music has only become easier over the years.
Self-publishing is the act of recording your music, preparing it for sharing, and then distributing it to all the major music platforms. But… how does one do that? Thankfully, there are plenty of services out there ranging in price and flexibility to help you get the job done. My personal preference is Distrokid (yes, that’s an affiliate link and it saves you money on sign-up).
The great news is that you don’t need to be an expert at recording or the most talented musician to get started right away. You can share whatever music you are prepared to put together right now. Nobody can prevent you from uploading your songs to Spotify, Apple Music, Amazon, YouTube Music, and many… many more platforms. You can even get on TikTok and Instagram stories.
Will it be your best work of all time? Probably not. Will it get you experience and put your name out there, one step closer to wherever you want to be with your music? Absolutely.
It can really be that simple. I’ve also written a much more in-depth guide that is available on a pay-what-you-can basis if you want something that walks you through each step of the way. It’s coming out very soon, so keep your eye out.
Building an Online Artist Brand and Digital Hub
Ah… branding. Online, you are competing for attention against millions of other artists, not to mention even more millions of other content creators. Without a strong brand, you are in for long haul struggle. (Heck, it’s even hard with a strong brand.) Not everyone intentionally creates a brand, but most successful musicians I’m aware of have one nonetheless. I prefer to err on the side of shaping a brand with intention.
Your brand is the message people get when they see or interact with you, or consume your music and content. This can be conveyed in your word choice, imagery, colors and fonts, and so much more. What do you want people to take away from their experiences with you?
At a minimum, you should be able to succinctly write:
- A compelling about page telling your story
- A long-form artist bio for platforms like Spotify
- A short-form artist bio for platforms like Twitter and Instagram
- A tagline that summarizes you, your music, and/or your mission
Important brand elements you’ll want to have prepared to make a strong first impression:
- Primary and secondary fonts
- Brand colors
- A logo or other visual mark
- Your artist profile photo
- Consistent stylization for photos, graphics, etc.
Crafting your brand is no small task. There are a lot of questions to consider to arrive to the right choices for you as an artist. The good news is, you can make adjustments and changes as you go. But you won’t find what fits you until you get started!
Once you’ve established basics for your artist brand, it’s time to build out your digital hubs. These are the places and spaces people can find you and your content – music or otherwise. It’s where they can find others who enjoy your work and ideally connect and bond with each other.
I recommend establishing four central hubs:
- Your personal website, where you can share your story and content exactly as you intend it to be shared
- An email list, where. you can share artist updates at any time (I use ConvertKit)
- A primary social media site where people can find and connect with you easily on a public platform (I prefer Twitter!)
- Space for your community to gather (I prefer Discord, but online forums, Facebook groups, Slack are other examples)
With these four hubs in place, you’ve laid a strong foundation for your artist platform online. These hubs cover your source of truth for your artist brand, a central point of communications, public space for connection, and inner circle space for your community to form.
Start Now, Iterate Often
So, are you ready to begin?
You can’t let imperfection stop you from getting started. To reach the place you want to be, you’ll first have to start taking the steps to get there – start now, iterate often. It will be an imperfect and nonlinear journey. Your successes may vary, and failure will be part of the learning process.
To recap, three ways for you to go digital as a musician are:
- Live stream music performances and other content
- Begin recording and releasing your music ASAP
- Build your artist brand and online hubs
I hope it goes without saying that you should keep your expectations reasonable. Chances are that you will never go viral or become the next superstar! But! If you put in the work, there are many viable business models you can follow to create a modest music career or side income through your online platforms. The first step is to put yourself out there, have something to say, and say it. You’ve got this.
What questions do you have about getting started? Ask away in the comments below!