The high-level, best practices of Instagram are the same no matter what profession you are using it for, but there are some real differences in approach and techniques for the DIY musician hoping to grow their audience with Instagram. Because most of the blogs out there don’t really speak to those differences, I set out to conduct an experiment specific to a band’s Instagram. For the last 30 days, I’ve applied my theories on a local Seattle band’s Instagram, to find out what worked and what didn’t.
Major Takeaways from my Instagram for Musicians Experiment
Unless you have another aspect about you to attract followers (i.e. advocacy, lifestyle Influencing etc.), it is pretty difficult to use Instagram to reach new fans. Most musicians want to keep the feed about their music and that’s understandable so unless you are willing to integrate your life fully into your brand you’ll struggle to gain new fans this way.
Instagram is Good For Your Current IRL Fans
What we were able to do was pick up our current fans who hadn’t yet liked us on Instagram. During the run of this experiment, we brought in about 40 new followers in 30 days. We did this by having the band mention that they are on Instagram during their live shows and we picked up 5-7 new followers each time doing this, which sounds really small but remember it only takes 1000 fans spending $100 a year to bring in $100k salary. It’s not an unmanageable goal to reach if you can get in the 2,500 follower range. For every show, we also tagged the other bands and the venue during the promo period and followed up with a “thank you” post the next day. The idea is if someone saw the band but only knew another band or where the show was, we made it a lot easier to track us down. It also allowed the other bands and the venue to get notified and reshare our posts. We also went back through all the shows for the last year and followed the other bands and the venues, something they should have been doing all along. We focused on drawing a line from the in-person experience to their Instagram profile.
Venues, Booking Agents and Press Care About Instagram When new venues, booking agents and press are conducting due diligence on your project, they expect a nicely curated, active and engaged Instagram. They want to see you are putting in the leg work outside of creating music to get your project into the world. I recently hosted a panel with three leading music PR professionals and a music journalist and they all confirmed that a good looking Instagram feed goes a long way in legitimizing you to people who are otherwise unfamiliar with your project. The amount of inquiries for shows exploded during the experiment. Instagram is a visual portfolio for your band, so even if you have a small following, focus on creating quality content that speaks to your ideal audience. To make sure we had our best foot forward, we uploaded a handful of vertical oriented full-length videos to IGTV so if someone from the industry to land on the page they could see and hear the band without leaving the platform. We also shared them into our feed and into our stories. We’ve had about 20% of our followers watch the videos so far and the content is evergreen meaning that it can be reshared into the story at anytime.
Engagement is the Most Important Part of the Instagram Algorithm
Gaining momentum on a post is the most important part of Instagram reach. When we had high engagement on the post, we saw our reach skyrocket. In the world of social media, it’s most definitely pay-to-play. Bands already tend to operate on a shoestring budget, so paying isn’t usually in the cards. his was true with the band I experimented with. Because of that, it meant focusing on getting reach organically. To increase engagement, I asked questions in our captions, used group photos, tagged other people in them, andshared about other musicians’ projects and campaigns. Basically, I created a space for the community to interact with not only the band, but each other.
Best Practices for Instagram For Musicians Use High-Quality Photos Switching this band’s Instagram to 99% professionally-shot photos has made the feed look amazing. Because this band has been performing for years, and we know a lot of the local music photographers, we reached out to them to see if they would share their photos with us. Don’t expect them to give you the photos for free, but do reach out and ask your local music photographers if they want to sell or give you photos they’ve taken of you. We were able to get hundreds of photos to fill the feed with. We found a good chunk of them by seeing who had tagged the band and reached out to them that way. We also reached out to friends that have tagged the band and asked for their photos as well. We did two photoshoots for some staged photos to balance the look of the feed. You’ll need those studio and posed shots for PR, to give to venues, and for profile photos, so go ahead and invest in some good photography. Post Videos (Both Live & Prerecorded) Photos are great, but you are a musician and you need to be able to get your music heard. Make sure at least a quarter of your posts are videos that have your music in them. The videos don’t have to be full-blown professional music videos. A simple iPhone set up in a quiet space worked wonderfully for this experiment. An easy way to make these is to pre-record a month’s worth at a time and schedule them out. Also take that opportunity to go live with a song or two. If you play open mics, get a friend to use your phone and go live during your songs or record them to post at a later date. People want to hear your music, that is the reason they like you, so give them what they want!
Prior to my takeover, the band never used a hashtag nor participated in them. We picked thirty hashtags to cycle through for the month and used them on half the posts. We also followed them so we could comment, like and engage with other users on those hashtags. We didn’t pick up much in the way of new followers from them, but we did get engagement. The added engagement helped our posts get served into our actual followers’ feeds and was worth the extra effort to engage.
Another discovery is that we got more authentic engagement from non-music related hashtags. Because the band in my experient plays Americana and country, I focused half of our hashtags on lifestyle tags. A few we used were #CountryLivin #LifeInTheCountry and #CountryLifestyle. These are tags that other musicians aren’t tagging, but rather regular ol’ folks who might enjoy the music of this band. The number of followers we gained was pretty small but they might turn into actual listeners one day.
Plan in Advance
I’m super busy so taking on the added responsibility of running Instagram for a band wouldn’t have been doable without planning in advance. I was able to get the entire month’s campaign squared away in about six hours of work once I was able to get all the photos collected and uploaded into our planning software, Later. The added benefit of planning in advance is you can set up experiments with a more controlled process. I started the planning process by listing out what I wanted to test and how I would go about testing it. You can and should be experimenting with your marketing approaches.
Planning is going to help you stay more consistent and intentional. You have a lot on your plate as an independent musician, so finding efficiencies where you can is crucial. ou can also share the responsibility of posting with other band members by using Later and having it all funnel through one person before it’s posted to make sure it’s all on brand. Everyone can collaborate easily on the platform while also maintaining some order to it.
Utilize a Business Profile
We have not seen a single negative from switching their account to a business profile, no matter what blogs want to say about Instagram in regards to profile types. Now that the band has a business profile we can see our data and use it to make adjustments to our strategy, something that wasn’t possible before. That alone is a huge plus for the switch, but it also helps us easily run ads, get our verified status and auto-post via our scheduling software, Later. The business profile also deprioritized the follower count on the page so it is less prominent. I really love that change because followers can easily be purchased and it’s really not a true testament to your social media marketing prowess. Here is a great easy to follow guide on how to switch your Instagram account to a business profile.
What Didn’t Work on Instagram for Musicians
Sharing Your Post Into Your Story I see a lot of influencers post their in-feed posts into their stories, so I thought I’d try that to see if I could drive some story traffic to the feed. Out of all the times we did it, we had four people click through to the profile to see the post. We also saw a significant drop in impressions for the story aka people clicked right past it. My guess is that it’s boring and they likely already saw the post in their news feed. Sharing Posters Alone Show posters announcing your upcoming shows are a great addition to your branding materials but get very little engagement on their own. Facebook and Instagram scan each photo and lower the reach if there is a lot of text in the photo. They also feel a bit like ads. We wanted to use posters in feed so we put them in a carousel with photos of the other performers to help make it a richer experience for our followers. Overall, we are not seeing show promo via Instagram drive much in-person attendance, although we did have a great response to a special 4th of July house show. The band got a lot of direct messages about getting the address and attending. Overall, I think the other bands and venues appreciate the shout-outs and they won’t always be the best way to get attendance up, especially from any newcomers. Pushing to Link in Bio We have not had much luck pushing people to leave the Instagram platform to follow a link. Users are on Instagram to see what is in their feed, they don’t seem especially motivated to leave the app. I can only really see this working if you are crowdfunding or doing something especially interesting, otherwise your best bet is to keep as much of you content as native as you can on the platform. In order to put full-length videos on the platform, we created IGTV videos that are formatted for mobile viewing. We tried to push followers to join us on Youtube where most of the videos are hosted, but we only got 2 new Youtube subscribers from the push.
Instagram Tips for Musicians The 30-day experiment confirmed some theories and debunked some for me. My biggest lesson is that you must engage in a way that is pure of heart, intentional and authentic to you and your music. If you are doing that, you will see results in follower growth and engagement. Social media is a community, so that means showing up consistently with when and how often you post, and with the types of content you are posting.