How to promote your music on YouTube
YouTube can be an absolute gold mine for artists.
Ed Sheeran, The Weeknd, and Lana Del Rey are just some of the musicians who have made a name for themselves using the popular video streaming site. If you’re an indie musician (or an aspiring musician), you can’t afford to ignore this platform for marketing your music.
But with billions of videos out there, it’s hard to get your voice heard—literally. If you’re just starting out, these tips will help you promote your music to audiences on the world’s biggest video streaming platform.
Why is YouTube important for musicians?
Here’s something you might not know: YouTube is the second-most-visited website in the entire world, second only to Google itself. And while the sheer number of people using YouTube is reason enough to put your music on the platform, it’s not the only reason: YouTube is also the number-one way people are searching for music online.
On top of this, YouTube is just as much a social-media platform as it is a streaming platform. Users can engage with artists in the comment sections of videos and during live streams—plus, they use YouTube to create playlists of their favorite artists’ music and videos, which are then shared and streamed by other people. If you’re an up-and-coming musician, it’s the best way to connect directly with your followers and find new fans.
Last but not least, you can earn money by monetizing your music on YouTube. If you own the copyright to your music, you can make money off any video that makes use of it through YouTube’s Content ID system. While this isn’t likely to generate life-changing amounts of revenue for budding musicians, it is a good way to dip your toe in the water and earn a bit of money from your craft.
7 tips to advance your music career on YouTube
So here’s the million-dollar question: how do musicians on Youtube promote their music and get discovered by new listeners? Let’s assume you’ve already started a YouTube channel, uploaded some of your own unique content, and put the basic branding on the page.
Now what? Here are 7 tips to help you get your music out there to the world, grow your subscriber numbers, and maybe even monetize your music down the line.
1. Optimize your metadata
YouTube “metadata” covers the titles, descriptions, tags, cards, thumbnails and video captions of any given video upload. All of this information allows YouTube to organize its videos correctly and recommend the best content to a user when they search for a specific category or watch a video on the platform.
In order to make sure people who are searching for your content (or similar content) are seeing your videos, you need to make sure your metadata is optimized for discovery. Metadata is a huge topic in and of itself, but here are some essential tips to help you optimize your video tags:
- Create a compelling thumbnail. You want to use a bright, high-contrast photo that makes users want to click on your video link. Ideally, pick a screenshot from the video itself, but if you don’t have one that fits, you can create a custom thumbnail for your video using a service like Canva.
- Include your artist name, album, and song name in the video title.
- Put a call-to-action in your video description. This could encourage people to purchase your music, follow your social media accounts, or subscribe to your channel.
- Include any upcoming live shows in your video description, as well as your song lyrics and the names of any band members or collaborators you worked with for your song.
- Create specific tags that include your artist name, album title, song title, the type of video (such as a music video, interview, lyric video, live show), your location, and similar acts. Be sure to use the same tags frequently, so that it’s easy for users to find your other content similar to what they have already discovered and liked.
- Use annotations. These are the little notes that pop up throughout the video. You can use annotations to provide a link to purchase your music, visit your website or merch store, link to other videos you’ve created, or subscribe to your YouTube channel.
2. Be strategic about everything you do (including how YouTube fits into your overall strategy)
The truly successful indie musicians out there have a robust marketing strategy to help build their profile. YouTube can be a big part of your overall strategy, but you have to apply strategic thinking for every item you post, and consider how YouTube fits into the overall ecosystem of your strategy.
While it’s fine to create videos that are mostly for fun, even quick and short videos should fit into the tone, style, and overall profile you’re creating for yourself or your band. This means including logos where appropriate, dressing and styling yourself so that you’re recognizable in every video, and using the same opening/closing sequences for every video you upload.
Whenever you create new content (for YouTube or elsewhere), comb through your existing videos to see how they might fit into the new upload. For example, if you’re creating a new acoustic recording of one of your songs, be sure to link to the non-acoustic version in the metadata, or reference those other versions in the opening/closing of your video.
The more you can link together old and new content pieces, the easier it will be for your fans to find more of your content and gain a deeper understanding (and love) of your music.
3. Know how to share your videos on other platforms
What makes YouTube such an incredible marketing tool for musicians is how shareable the videos are. On top of promoting your videos on your Twitter, Facebook, or Instagram, your fans can also spread the word across their own social media channels, which in turn helps you reach an entirely new audience. YouTube’s recommendation algorithm also takes how often a video is shared into account, so the more you and your fans share your music, the more likely YouTube is to recommend your videos to others in the future.
At the very least, you should be promoting your music across the following channels:
- Twitter. Share any video links on Twitter, as well as links to any new interviews or promotional videos. If one of your fans has made a high-quality live recording, you could even share that across your account with a shout out to the creator. Don’t forget about hashtags: These allow your videos to get found by people searching for music in your genre.
- Facebook. While it is possible to simply share a link to your YouTube upload creations on Facebook, this may not be the best strategy. Facebook prefers content that’s generated directly on the platform, rather than links to third-party sites like YouTube (which Facebook sees as a competitor). So rather than posting a YouTube link, upload the same content to Facebook. In the comments, you can share a link to your YouTube channels to help cross promote.
Facebook Live is also a fun way to engage with your audience and drive views for your videos. Try hosting a live-stream concert or conducting a Q&A, then drop a link to your YouTube channel for your viewers to click through and follow your account.
- Reddit. Like Twitter and Facebook, YouTube allows you to share to Reddit with one click. However, Reddit is a slightly different beast to these other platforms. Reddit is broken down into smaller subreddits, so it’s important that you promote your music to the right ones if you want to avoid getting trolled. If you’re a newer band, you won’t get much attention off the big subreddit r/music, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t places to post your content. You can create a subreddit just for your band, or post to other subreddits such as /r/musicpromotion, /r/shareyourmusic, /r/mymusic, /r/thisisourmusic, /r/promoteyourmusic, and /r/listentothis.
- Instagram. You can’t link directly to YouTube videos on Instagram. However, don’t write off the platform just yet. Instagram is a highly visual platform, which means it plays perfectly into YouTube’s video-centric content. Create a short preview snippet of your video and post it to Instagram, with a link in your bio to the full-length video. It’s also worth hosting a live stream session on Instagram—just remember to ask viewers to subscribe to your YouTube channel for more new music. (Check out our full guide on using Instagram to promote your music.)
Pro Tip: when you click the share button on YouTube, notice which social media platforms appear first. That’s YouTube telling you where you should share your videos if you want to perform better on their platform.
4. Find ways to promote your music on other YouTube channels
One of the best ways to reach new audiences on YouTube is to break into other channels—those run by people whose content aligns with yours in one way or another.
You don’t have to limit yourself to other musicians when looking for collaboration opportunities. For example, let’s say you are a DJ who creates relaxed house and lo-fi beats. There are many YouTubers out there—from DIY crafters to yoga instructors to visual artists—who are looking for background tracks they can use along with the content they upload.
Look around for creators who like to feature your style of music, and begin building relationships with them. You don’t want to come out asking for a collab right out of the gate. Instead, engage with some of their content, leaving positive comments, asking questions, and liking their videos. When the time is right, you can reach out to them via YouTube or another platform and introduce yourself, then float the idea of a collaboration after you get to know them.
Once the agreement is made, make sure you ask them to provide a link to your content in the upload, and maybe even a shoutout in the video itself. This will ensure people who hear your music and like it can easily find your other content.
5. Use YouTube analytics to improve your strategy over time
Here’s another bonus to creating fresh content on YouTube: The more you create, the more you will understand your audience and what appeals to them. YouTube’s analytics system takes a lot of the guesswork out of this. To access it, log into your YouTube account and click on your profile icon in the upper right corner. Then select YouTube Studio, and once you’re at the dashboard, select “analytics” from the left-hand menu.
There’s a lot of information on this page, and it’s worth poking around on your own. But here are some of the most important metrics to watch out for:
Audience demographics. The audience section of analytics can tell you the age, gender breakdown and geographic location of your audience—good things to keep in mind as you create content, since you always want to have your audience in mind when recording something new. But beyond that, this area can also tell you when your users are online, which will help you upload and promote new content at the right times.
Unique views. This metric tells you how many unique viewers have watched your content. The more this number rises, the more your audience is expanding. If certain videos seem to pull in a lot of unique viewers, you know you’re on the right track—and you may want to try replicating this with more content.
Watch time. This metric shows you the total amount of time people have spent viewing your content. Look for spikes in this metric at certain times or after posting certain types of content.
Audience retention. How long do people watch your videos? This number shows you the average watch time per video. If you notice people dropping out of videos early, it may be due to poor video quality or too long of an intro—something you can fix on future uploads. Look out for any abrupt drops; these will show you where there may be specific issues that need your attention (such as sudden sound quality drops).
Playlist metrics. If you’re creating playlists of your music (which is a good idea), this metric shows you which playlists are most popular. You can also see when people entered and exited a playlist, to give you an idea of what tracks are performing best.
You should be reviewing your analytics regularly, particularly after you upload a new piece of content. Keep notes on what’s working well, and adjust your strategy to create more of the content that really resonates with your audience.
How do musicians make money off YouTube?
And now, the big question: If you spend all this time promoting your music on YouTube, will you actually make money off it some day?
The short answer is yes—YouTube is one of the many ways that musicians can make money off their music. In fact, there are several ways you can earn income by growing a YouTube following:
Becoming a YouTube Partner
As a YouTube partner, you can make money directly through YouTube via ads, YouTube Premium subscriptions, and channel memberships. But this takes time—at minimum, you need 1,000 subscribers and 4,000 hours of watch-time in a 12-month period. But don’t worry—in the meantime, there are still ways to use YouTube to bring in revenue.
Sell merchandise and streams
Your YouTube channel is a marketing platform in its own right. Selling your own merchandise and pointing people to streaming platforms like Spotify or Apple Music can help you grow these other revenue streams.
License your most popular content
If one of your videos starts to take off, you may have an opportunity to license the content to media outlets. To do this, make it easy for people to contact you to request licensing. This is as easy as setting up a generic email account and putting a line in your bio that says “For all media enquiries, contact _______”.
It might feel challenging to promote your music on YouTube, but the truth is it’s actually quite simple. With a little bit of practice and know-how, you’ll be increasing your subscriber count and racking up more listens before you know it.