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How To Create Buzz

creating buzz

I want to teach you how to create buzz by explaining these concepts:

  • How to build a ‘test’ audience so you know if you’ve written a song that resonates.
  • Save money so you can invest BIG into the right songs.
  • Improve as a songwriter to reach an audience and build a career.
  • Maximise every song to sustain a career and live the dream.

Here is a way of creating buzz for a low cost. Furthermore, one that will hopefully enable you to avoid paying costly marketing bills to companies who claim they can generate buzz for you.

The steps are:

  1. Create a small, custom network of “Music Mavens”
  2. Using Permission Marketing to build a relationship
  3. Share your music with this network to start a buzz (or not)

Let’s start by asking our first question, 

How do I create buzz?

The truth is, no-one knows.

I’m aware this risks killing my article before it’s even started. But please bear with me.

How can I be so confident?

Because, if someone knew the secret they’d be able to recreate it every time. And, in all my years I don’t know of anyone who can create buzz time after time. Every manager, every record label and booking agent can name a dozen artists who ‘Should have been big’ but failed to make it.

What I can tell you is this > there are ways to increase your odds of building a buzz. How you can improve your chances. And how a ‘buzz’ works. And, most importantly, how to save your money!

What is ‘buzz’?

In music, word of mouth, or ‘Buzz’, is generally considered to be the most powerful form of marketing. A marketing campaign costings hundreds of thousands is not as effective as one friend saying to another, “Hey, have you checked out {artist} yet? They’re awesome!”

Here is a typical post I read almost every day on Reddit;

“I’ve just recorded a track I think is pretty good but not getting many plays or follows on Spotify. I’m thinking of advertising on Facebook or YouTube? Or spending money on some PR? Have you guys got any suggestions?”

Yes. My suggestion is…. STOP!

Save your money.

Neither advertising or hiring a PR will make any difference but those companies will gladly accept your money..

These marketing tools AMPLIFY buzz. They don’t create it. 

How To Recognise Buzz

If your track is causing buzz, there is a simple way of knowing.

  • Do you see your track growing in plays, even if you aren’t doing anything? 
  • Are people you’ve never heard of playing or liking your track? 
  • Are total strangers commenting on your social media channels?

This is buzz. 

The reality is that buzz is slow, organic growth, not a sudden spike. That’s called ‘Hype’. Buzz is caused by word of mouth, people listening to the track and sharing it. 

If you’re seeing buzz, which means your track is growing without you doing anything, then it’s time to consider amplifying it through advertising or promotions.

But if the number of plays are stalling then I can save you a lot of money by sharing a harsh lesson I’ve learnt – you’re unlikely to start buzz by giving money to an advertiser, playlist company or PR person.

Let me make four bold statements, then explain each:

  1. Every song you release is a lottery ticket
  2. You write great songs.
  3. No-one knows how to write a hit.
  4. There are only two kinds of music

Every song is a lottery ticket

I understand why so many artists will completely ignore my advice. I understand because I’m guilty of it myself and have seen so many other artists do it.

When you buy a lottery ticket, you’re not hoping to win just so you can pay the bills. You’re buying it with the hope of living your dream future.

When you release a song you put a lot of emotion into it. It’s not just a song – your future dreams are invested into the song too.

If a musician was happy to only write and perform songs they could become a modern Troubadour, travelling from town to town, building a fanbase one person at a time. 

When an artist records and releases a song it’s because they want to reach a wider audience than they could by simply being a Troubadour.

A bigger audience means more chance of sustaining a living playing music. A bigger audience means getting to play gigs at bigger venues or festivals. Receiving offers from promoters rather than chasing them. Getting called by artists who want to work with you rather than having to do all the chasing. Recording in the best studios. Being able to afford the best instruments. 

Having a bigger audience means living the life you want. 

And each time you release a song it’s like a lottery ticket, a chance of achieving that dream.

A dream is extremely hard to let go. And for that reason, I know for a fact, thousands of artists will ignore me and spend money trying to amplify a track that isn’t growing organically. And because of this, there is an ever-increasing number of companies who will happily take it from you.

You write great songs.

You do.

To prove it, can I tell you something that winds me up?

It’s when I see an artist posting a question on Reddit’s Music Marketing board, like, “How do I get more plays for my music?” and some smug fuck answers along the lines of, “Well first, you need to write really good songs”.

“Fucking really? Thanks for the advice. You know, before you told me that I’d assumed writing really shit songs was the best way. Well, whaddya know”

Look, no artist or producer is going to record and release a song they don’t think is great. Think about it. How many times have you seen an artist post saying, “Hey, everyone. I’m releasing a new song that, admittedly, is a bit shit. What do you think?”

So, if every artist writes great songs, it begs the question, why do some tracks get listened to by millions of people and not others?

Here is the comforting answer, the one most artists tell themselves: The ‘masses’ are spoon fed lowest common denominator music by ‘the Majors’, whilst more authentic and creative music, like theirs, would be popular if only the audience had a chance to hear it. Therefore, the answer is to get around the gatekeepers and the algorithms that control what people listen to.

The problem with this answer is: 

  • Every artist believes it’s true
  • There are thousands of highly engaged, passionate music fans pouring over every track on Spotify, actively searching for the next ‘next big thing’.
  • Spotify’s algorithms are geared heavily around discovery and presenting every user with new music it thinks they will like. It’s how Spotify stays ahead of its competition.

I’ll let you into another key secret of the music industry.

No-one knows how to write a hit song

The biggest selling artists, the best songwriters and best producers don’t know. 

Why am I so sure? 

Because every artist has released music that doesn’t get shared or Liked beyond their core fanbase. However, what makes an artist successful is that, after many years of practice, trial and error, they learned how to write & perform songs with a GOOD CHANCE of being a hit with a large audience. Write enough popular hits and your career is secure.

How to learn to write hit songs

The most gifted, natural talents in this world must still learn their craft. No-one is born the fastest person on the planet. No-one is born a great guitarist. Everyone must learn.

Of course, people with a natural talent may learn faster. They may go on to achieve great things. But no-one can achieve greatness without learning.

Software such as Pro Logic and services such as Distrokid enable any artist to get their track alongside The Beatles, Taylor Swift and Ed Sheeran. But it took these successful artists (or the songwriters and producers behind them) years to learn their craft and how to write songs that resonate with an audience.

Learning How To Write Hit Songs Takes Time

  • The Beatles performed over 1,000 gigs, in the UK and Germany, before they released their first single. 
  • Taylor Swift was aged 9 when she started performing. She sent her first demo tapes aged 11.  She was 16 when she signed a record deal and 17 when she released her first album. 
  • U2 formed in 1976 when they were 14. They toured Ireland extensively, including playing a series of Saturday afternoon shows. Four years later they released their first album.
  • Lizzo started rapping at 14. She studied music at University, releasing her first album aged 25. She signed with Atlantic at 28 and achieved her first charting album in 2016. 
  • Lady Gaga starting learning piano at 4. From 11 she took part in open mic nights. Aged 17 she studied music at a New York music school. She signed a record deal aged 20. She was 22 when she released her Number One album, ‘The Fame’ 
  • Ed Sheeran was 11 when he learned to play guitar and was writing songs aged 12. He began recording aged 13 and when he was just 16 moved to London to play music full time. Ed studied music at the Academy of Contemporary Music but left at 18 when he got the opportunity to tour as a support act. He released 9 EP’s before releasing his debut album aged 20.

The rise of DIY distribution platforms such as Distrokid and Ditto has made it incredibly easy to release music. It’s common to see an artist release their first single on Spotify and subsequently get frustrated because the Monthly Listeners don’t grow. Or, they get despondent after releasing several EP’s but are still no closer to achieving their dreams. 

It’s easy to feel the system is against you and the only way to compete is by spending money on marketing. 

There is only two kinds of music, My Friend

There is

1/ music 


2/ music that resonates with an audience. 

With modern software, virtually anyone can write a song. I can. My mum can. 

Only a small amount of all music ever written will resonate with any audience. An even smaller number of songs will resonate with a large audience.

It’s the same with other artforms. 

Virtually anyone can take a photo – few photos have ever won a Pulitzer prize.

Anyone can make a movie – very few will win an Oscar.

I can’t tell you what is ‘Good Music’. I can only tell you what music I like. 

Do I have good taste? I think I do. But everyone working in music thinks they do too.

Here’s a fact- the head of A&R at any major record label doesn’t know what is ‘good’. But they have a good grasp of what style of music resonates with a particular audience. Melody, rhythm, tempo, that sort of thing.

Here is more good news: If your ambition is to make music you like then go ahead and make it – you’ll be happy for the rest of your life. 

However, I know from working in this business for over 25 years, the ambition of most artist’s is to make music they like PLUS make a living from it. This being the case, at some point, you need to write music that resonates with an audience. The bigger the audience, the easier it is to make a living.

How to maximise your returns

Like many people, I like to play poker. The art of winning poker is to minimise your losses and maximise your returns. This means, learning to play without emotion. It’s easy to fall into a trap of being dealt a high pair and ignoring the warning signs when another player matches and raises your stake. You’re so convinced you have the winning hand you don’t see any other possibility until the cards are revealed and the other player shows a straight you hadn’t even considered! Believe me, I’ve been there too often 🙂

On the other hand, you have to maximise your winnings. When you know you have the winning hand (or the “nuts”) you have to take a deep breath (without giving away any tells) and do everything to get other players to bet against you.

Music is similar. Some songs are ‘the nuts’ and resonate with an audience. If you’ve released a song that is generating buzz and growing organically, now is the time to invest.

The problem is, because every artist writes great songs, they think they hold a winning hand, all the time.

For this reason, a music creator is vulnerable to playing every hand like it’s a winning hand. They want to bet on it, by spending money on advertising or promotion. Thinking, if they just bet big they can’t fail to win the pot.

This strategy is guaranteed to lose.

Eventually, you run out of money and have to leave the table. Or, in the music world, meaning you have to get a proper job!

The Important Role of A&R

Within record companies the decision on which song to release as a single is often taken out of the hands of the artist for this very same reason. The artist has so much emotion within each song it’s almost impossible for them to consider each song subjectively. The record label’s A&R step in to make the decision on their behalf and select the song they think will resonate with the media & audience.

Without A&R, a developing artist has to make this decision themselves. The majority of artists are so heavily invested into their music it’s almost impossible for them to be subjective and consider whether or not they are playing with a strong hand. For this reason, they’re vulnerable.

Using the Internet, it’s possible for an artist to determine what strength hand they’re holding. In other words, they should never lose. It is possible to see which songs are growing and therefore, bet (invest) on them. If the song isn’t buzzing and growing organically, then it’s like mucking two Aces; it’s difficult to do and makes you feel sick, but to win the jackpot means playing the long game, saving your money and wait for the next hand.

How to create a buzz – recap

  1. Recording and releasing a song is like buying a lottery ticket – a chance to live your dream life as a musician. Most people will do whatever it takes to achieve their dream.
  2. Every artist writes great music.
  3. Meanwhile, there is no such thing as ‘Good’ music. No-one can tell you how to write ‘Good’ music either.
  4. However, whilst we don’t know why, it’s an undeniable fact some songs resonate with an audience better than others.
  5. When a musician is trying hard to achieve their dream they’re vulnerable to exploitation by an ever-growing number of companies who will gladly take their money.

Here is my plan:

  • Accept that all music is great. But also accept, not every song will have an audience.
  • The Internet makes it easier to find audiences.Audiences are not hidden or hard to reach.
  • By planting a song into the right audience an artist can quickly gauge if the track resonates.
  • A track that resonates will grow organically. At this point, consider investing to amplify the growth.
  • A track that struggles to grow amongst an engaged audience will not start growing by spending money on it. No matter how difficult it is, I implore you, save your money.

A Modern Way To Create Buzz

Here is a modern guide to creating a buzz, knowing when to spend money or when to re-evaluate and try again.

The key to knowing if your track will resonate with an audience is share it with people who are most likely to appreciate it. This doesn’t require advertising or money.

Remember, advertising and PR amplify, not create, buzz.

I’m going to borrow from a number of marketing theories and use the latest data science analytics to show how an artist can give themselves the best chance of creating buzz plus measure it and know how and when to invest.

I worked with a huge festival-headlining band. The genius who wrote and produced the songs told me this – “I always play new tracks live first and watch the audience reaction. If they go mental, I know it’s a banger and put it on the album”.

Bands used to play live. DJ’s used to play in clubs. They learnt first-hand which songs were ‘the bangers’, those guaranteed to fill the dance floor. 

Due to technology such as Pro Logic and the reduced cost of building a home studio, an increasing number of Music Producers make music remote from any audience. The audience is never seen; they’re listening on Spotify or Mixcloud. Therefore it’s hard to gauge their reaction. 

Let’s turn for a moment to Comedy. Most comedians will tell you they learn how to make an audience laugh through constant trial and error. They write a joke and tell it to an audience. If it gets a laugh they leave it in their show. If it falls flat they either drop it or re-work it. By the time they record a show for TV they know their entire set is full of ‘guaranteed’ laughs that have been road-tested on live audiences.

Music creators need to work out how to ‘road test’ their music.

Which brings me on to Music Mavens.

What is The Tipping Point?

  • If you were to buy a new car, do you have a friend you would talk to first?
  • You’re thinking of buying a new computer or phone, which friend would you talk to?
  • It’s the night before a big event and you’re wondering what to wear, which friend would you turn to?

In Malcolm Gladwell’s book, ‘The Tipping Point’, the people you’d ask are referred to as Mavens.

Mavens are core to creating buzz because Word Of Mouth is started and accelerated by them.

We all have a specialist subject that our friends regard us as ‘expert’ in. If you’re reading this, your specialist subject is likely “music”. This includes instruments, music production, recording studios and general knowledge about music. 

When you’re with friends or family do you find conversations usually turn to music? Do you think they talk to all their friends about music in the same way as when you’re in the room?

This is because your friends regard you as a ‘Music Maven’ – the person they turn to when they want to find out what songs or artists they should be checking out. 

To create a buzz around your track you need to find other Music Mavens who will talk about it and tell their friends about it.

What is a Music Maven?

A Music Maven defines themselves as “being an expert on music” and loves nothing more than communicating with people about music. They love to discover new music and feel exhilarated when someone else likes and shares their choices. 

Whatever your genre of music, there will be Music Mavens who not only want to hear your music but, if they like it, will without reservation want to share it.

So, where do you find Music Mavens? Don’t fall into a trap of thinking they’re all music journalists.

  • They write music blogs or write about music
  • Will create Spotify playlists
  • Have a YouTube channel posting music
  • Post tracks on their Instagram or Soundcloud
  • Will be a DJ
  • Their job is in music – radio DJ, publisher, promoter etc
  • Run music events
  • Put bands on in their pubs
  • Are members of specialist music groups on Reddit or Facebook, not general groups

Music Maven – Summary

Let’s recap on what we know about Mavens so far:

  1. They want to hear new music and share it with an audience, 
  2. Feel huge personal validation when they’re first to ‘discover’ an artist or song.
  3. Have a lot of respect for artists and appreciate how difficult making a living in music is
  4. Will often make a living in music themselves
  5. Will have no personal connection to you, meaning they have no axe to grind or show any favouritism. It’s purely about the music.

In short, if a Music Maven likes your music they will share it. If they don’t, they won’t. 

And if they don’t, no amount of money or marketing will change their minds.

Word of mouth WILL NOT HAPPEN without the support of Music Mavens. They are central to spreading the buzz about you.

Your challenge is to build relationships with Music Mavens in your genre of music. By sharing your music with them you will quickly know if a track is generating ‘buzz’. And SAVE money by not throwing money behind a track that is unlikely to resonate with an audience.

The Importance of Permission Marketing

How should you build a relationship with Music Mavens?

For this, we turn to another marketing guru, Seth Godin.

Permission Marketing – Turning Strangers Into Friends And Friends Into Customers

Let’s say we’d never met. Which is probably the case, let’s face it.

You walk up to me, tap me on the shoulder, and place a CD in my hand saying, “Check this out”

Actually, this happens at music conferences all the time. Musicians, managers and record labels, handing out CD’s to random strangers.

How many of those have I actually listened to? You can guess the answer.

But, let’s say they walked up to me and said, “Hey mate, I hear you like The Fall? This band is really similar. They were inspired by Mark E Smith. Can I buy you a beer?”

Now, I’m more likely to listen to their music.

It’s called “Permission Marketing”. And the philosophy behind it is that you ASK PERMISSION to market yourself to someone first.

Of course, this takes time and effort, which is why most people don’t do it. 

It’s far easier to manually add a group of random people to your mailing list. Or send messages to random strangers. Or pay a PR person to do it. In which case, you’ll need to pay them every time you release a track.

Using play-lister sites, like SubmitHub?

In theory, play-lister site aim to do the job of connecting you to Music Mavens in your music genre. The problem appears to be the people claiming to be Music Mavens are simply using the sites to make money.

In a perfect world, play-lister sites would perform an extremely valuable role. Music Mavens want new music to listen to and share. Artists want to get their music into their hands. 

And yet the reports from artists seems to be very variable.

I think this is due to a couple of factors.

The first is simply because the music maven doesn’t like your music. Some artists who complain these sites ‘Don’t work’ may simply be experiencing the uncomfortable truth the music isn’t resonating.

Some of the Mavens may be imposters. They’ve created a playlist simply as a way to make money from vulnerable artists. 

Despite both sides voluntarily signing up to the site, this doesn’t necessarily fulfill the rules of Permission Marketing. In Seth’s explanation there is a relationship between the artist and the Maven. On playlisting sites the relationship is a bare minimum that relies on the artist paying the Maven to listen to the track. It’s difficult for the Maven to appreciate the artist in all dimensions, i.e. personality, looks, talent, style, live performances etc.

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