Building relationships - The key to successful music promotion

Wednesday, October 7, 2015
by Alex Cowles

Promotion is one of the areas of releasing your own and other people's music that can be hugely frustrating. One of the keys to getting it right is spending the time and building relationships. This article will share some interesting insights on the subject of building relationships so read on to discover some tips on how you could promote your music more effectively...

Who to promote to?

Only you know the best market for your music. Most people tend to target a mix of the following:

  • Journalists (who may write for a number of publications/blogs)
  • DJs (both radio hosts and touring DJs who release mixtapes & podcasts)
  • Bloggers (who will have their online audience eager to hear recommendations)
  • Music news websites (well respected portals that people visit every day)
  • YouTube channels and Soundcloud channels (bit of a wildcard here, but actually a very viable option nowadays)
  • Fellow producers (having some solid quotes from a highly respected producer may up the chances of someone checking your tracks)

There are stacks of options for promotion, endless possibilities in fact. One of the most effective ways to promote your music via all these options is to build relationships. This isn't difficult, it just takes time.


Instead of just taking the shotgun approach to promo, taking longer to get to know the people you're targeting with promotion may be more effort, but in the long-run it will prove far, far more valuable. Think, for a second about any time you've wanted to promote something (or even get something special sorted out). You might have a friend who says "oh, I know somebody who can hook us up!" or "my uncle works at XYZ Co. He can probably help us out" or "I've been speaking to this guy who writes for Blah-mag. Maybe he will hook us up!".

What have all of these things got in common? They're based on relationships.

You never hear someone boasting "Well I'll send it to the general press-release email address at Resident Adviser, they're bound to pick it up!" Why not?

Because everyone knows that everyone else is also sending to that email address. RA have only got so much time, and they're more likely to pick news that is immediately apparent and relevant to their audience, than taking a chance on some chump they've never heard of.

Beating the PR company

The other battle you have on your hands is many of the bigger PR companies have already been building these relationships for years. You can pay them to speak to their people at Resident Adviser, XLR8R, Fact Mag or wherever you want to get featured, and they have a track-record of getting through with relevant music, or you can try by yourself.

Feels like a futile endeavour right? That's because you're not building relationships.

Imagine somebody you've never met before approached you and offered you some ice cream. Ben & Jerry's, Magnum, whatever. Your favourite brand and flavour. At the very least you'd hesitate and you'd have all sorts of questions running through your mind. "Who is this creep?", "What do they want?", "Why are they giving me ice cream?". You'd likely hesitate, and I dare say you'd be reluctant to tuck in.

Now imagine your good friend offered you the same. You'd surely take it. "Aw, thanks bro. My favourite flavour, how did you know?!".

Relationships. Yes, it's a crude analogy. I get that, but the sentiment is what I'm getting at. You can't email a respected journalist with your music straight off the bat and expect them to check it out and be super-enthusiastic about it immediately. It may happen - don't get me wrong. It's more likely though that your email message might get marked as "to check" and then weeks later, after all of the journalist's friends have recommended their own bits and bobs, your message will get filed away or worse, deleted and you can't do anything about it.

What you *can* do, however is build up a relationship with this journalist.

How to build those relationships

Find out where they write, and get acquainted with their work. What do they like? What do they hate? How do they phrase their appreciation or negative remarks? Can you comment on their work? Maybe you can make an impression there. It's a start. Your name might become a bit more familiar. Maybe you can give them a casual heads-up about a release you rate. Not something you *need* reviewed, or something you want feedback on - just something they may like. Maybe they're on Twitter or Facebook. Two more places you can follow them and check out what sort of thing they post. Can you interact without being creepy? Comments, likes and the usual sort of thing you'd do with your mates.

Over time you may start to get responses, you may even get a reply to an email. It's not always about music either - do they post pictures of food on Instagram, or nice bits of design on Pinterest? Can you add to the conversation? There are a myriad of ways you can connect with someone without being needy, desperate for a review or becoming a kiss-ass. Just try to think "if this was my good friend, would I be acting like this?"

Transitioning into promoting your music

After a while, you'll start to feel like there is a good chance you can get through to the journalist. Give it a shot.

Again, keep it casual. Hit them with a suggestion. Maybe there's a track of yours you think they'll like - try sending over a link and ask them if they're feeling that sort of stuff.

Hey {Name}, I've been following your updates lately, and I noticed you're into {Artist Name}'s stuff. I'm a big fan of theirs too. I find their stuff pretty inspirational. I actually have a couple of tracks I think you'd probably enjoy, and it would be great if you had a couple of minutes to give them a quick listen and let me know what you think. You can stream them on Soundcloud here, or download them as mp3s here. Thanks for your time! Alex {Artist Name}.

What I'm getting at here is try not to just barge right in with your entire album, requesting they spend an hour listening to it and more time reviewing it. That's a big commitment, even for your best mate!

Ultimately you need to take weeks, months or longer to build up these relationships with enough people in order to make your own promotion efforts worthwhile. This is why promotion is a long-game. It's a constant relationship building exercise. It's not about an occasional scatter-gun email shot to 500 contacts you don't know.

Sure, if you throw enough crap at a wall, something will eventually stick - but you don't know where, nor how messy it'll be. You can do better than that!

Promo is about carefully curated messages to the 10 people that you *know* can help you out with a review, because you know their preference, you have spoken before (maybe even met them in person) and they feel like they're helping you out! This may seem like lots of work, but let's be honest: You get as much out of something as you put in. As an old manager of mine used to say: "Shit in; shit out."


This advice and much more forms part of my free "Getting Started With Self Releasing" course. After taking the course, you should be much better equipped to figure out if self-releasing or starting your own small label is for you. You should also have a better understanding of how it all works, and what you can do to make sure you succeed with regards to promo, appearance and more.

Enrol for the free self releasing your music course now

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