The first two articles in our outbound marketing series covered the main vessel of the “PR Game”, the music blog. While blogs will always remain an important part of the music PR industry for both consumers and artists alike, musicians have recently started looking away from blogs and focusing on the key metric by which most people analyze music: play counts.
Features on certain blogs certainly contribute to play counts, however if your sheer focus is getting more exposure, you might consider shifting your focus from blogs to SoundCloud Promotion instead.
Every week on our main Heroic SoundCloud channel we receive dozens of SoundCloud messages asking us to consider reviewing demos or for SoundCloud reposts. Such requests may already be part of your regular SoundCloud marketing arsenal, however we’ve thrown in some tips on how you can improve your pitching.
In this article we unveil the SoundCloud promotional game, outline the key players and explain how you can use different tools to boost your play counts and reach a greater audience.
Not all plays and followers are equal
The SoundCloud stream is valuable real estate, as unlike Facebook and recently Instagram, the news-feed shows all uploads and reposts of the accounts you follow chronologically, without an algorithm filtering the content.
With 1.000 followers, each of them have a window of opportunity to see your latest upload or repost, assuming it’s not snowed under by other content crowding their feed. This is much better than the 10-20% like-to-view ratio that you see on the average non-boosted Facebook post.
The comparative value of a follower on the more audiocentric platforms (SoundCloud, YouTube, Spotify) is also higher than on socials such as Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. Users are already there to consume music and are more predisposed to liking your material than if it pops up in their feed whilst they’re trying to read the latest news or stalk their ex-girlfriends.
In our article on getting more fans on social media, we discuss how the audio centric social platforms are at the top of the fan funnel, leading the acquisition of potential fans. The other socials are tools that create the conversion to fandom and eventual superfan-dom.
It’s no wonder that artists today are doing anything in their power to get more traction on SoundCloud.
There is a whole arsenal of strategies you can employ in order to get more traction on SoundCloud ranging from repost trades, to working with repost networks, music promotional channels and using like-to-download gates.
SoundCloud promotional channels
These host other artist’s music on their own account and help broadcast the music to their audience, sometimes reaching hundreds of thousands more than if the artists were to upload individually.
These accounts are often dubbed SoundCloud labels and tend to differ from traditional record labels such as Heroic, Monstercat and Spinnin, in the sense that most don’t distribute music to stores (Spotify, Apple Music, iTunes etc). They’re usually run by young founders, are lenient with how legitimate content needs to be in order to get uploaded (many don’t screen for uncleared samples) and relationships with the artists are maintained through Facebook chat.
Nonetheless, in similar vein to YouTube promotional channels (such as Mr Suicide Sheep and Trap Nation), some highly successful channels take their growth and use that to pivot into real record labels, setting up distribution, signing records and monetizing their copyrights.
The concept is simple: for audiovisual blogs, content is the growth driver.
If records perform well, they will get traction and drive traffic back to their accounts. A like-to-download gate on the releases is going to accelerate that process and because all the artists want exposure they’re also going to be reposting the content. The bigger they grow, the easier it’s going to be to acquire that content, so it’s an auto-catalytic process.
SoundCloud promotional channels tend to be genre specific. The first accounts grew hand in hand with the rise of electronic music. Originally “tropical house” (think Kygo) and “future bass” (think San Holo) were the first genres to be widely adopted, fueling their trajectory to mainstream EDM adoption.
Most of them started promoting one genre and then branched out into more as they launched sister accounts and launched promotional networks, where they leverage each account’s individual reach through reposts and gating.
Tracks are usually submitted for upload or repost via a direct SoundCloud message or by Facebook message to the founders.
Check out our list of top 10 SoundCloud promotional networks here covering electronic music sub-genres from future trap to tropical house and more.
Like to download gates
We need to segue to like-to-download gates for you to fully understand this process.
Like to download gates facilitate the exchange of content for social actions.
In other words, you can give away an MP3 of a track in exchange for a SoundCloud follow, repost, Facebook like, Twitter followers, Spotify follower and so forth. New gating destinations are being added constantly as social platforms rise to relevancy and introduce new features.
When you upload a track to SoundCloud or YouTube, you can customize the buy button to say ‘Free Download’ and link it to the gate for that particular release, or add it to the video description. In turn, a portion of the listeners are going to want to download the record, but before they can do so, they have to perform the required social interactions.
This phenomenon has changed how music is promoted as most gates allow multiple users to be included in exchange for one download. In other words, for this one MP3, you may have to follow the original artist, a promotional channel and a record label.
This has aligned the interests of the parties involved and means that if there’s an upload of a release on either of those party’s channels, all the other parties included in the gate are incentivized to promote it. After all, more exposure leads to more people clicking the gate, leads to more followers for everyone. When you factor in the repost gating feature on SoundCloud, the effects compound quick.
Why give away your content?
You may be asking yourself: “why are Budi and Jeff telling me to allow somebody else to host my music? Shouldn’t I feature my music on my page?”
The answer is not so black and white. Assuming you have 10.000 followers and a promotional channel willing to upload has 50.000, you need to factor in the follower-to-play ratio of their account. Many channels dilute their audience by over-reposting to the point where the listeners just don’t care anymore.
On the other hand, as most channels gate to themselves, the original artists and sister channels, the gate aligns the interests of everyone included. Most promo channels will work their latest uploads hard, using their sister channels and trading reposts (where they repost other people’s uploads in exchange for them reposting theirs) to get more exposure.
Big promotional channels branch out by creating sister channels that can repost their releases and can be used in repost-trades.
The accounts are typically grown by download gate inclusion and can in turn upload records and include the original accounts into those respective gates. The result is an interdependent network that benefits when any of its assets gets more exposure, reposting each other’s releases endlessly.
Let’s take deep house/melodic house channel Aux London for example. Click on their “about me” section and we can see a whole bunch of linked channels, but what does that all mean?
We can see a list of channels under “Aux Family” and then another list of “Aux Approved”. In between we see “Resident DJs”, we’ll ignore that for now.
All of the “Aux Family” channels are all operated by the singular owner of the Aux London network with Aux London and Aux Deep being the two main assets of the network. A glance at the different Aux Family channels show that the remaining four range from 15 to 40K followers. While these may host tracks or mixes, their primary use is for reposting tracks that the Aux London network is supporting.
Further down we see “Aux Approved”. These channels don’t fall under the Aux network but are partner channels that Aux may be loosely affiliated with. These partner channels are often repost partners that trade amongst each other.
So why should you try and get Aux London to upload one of your tracks? Because a good promotional channel will be incentivized to put in effort to promote the record, because it’s going to help grow their accounts.
Plus, large networks often use freelance or on-retainer publicists to help promote their material. A good network might bring double the promotion and save you hundreds of dollars in PR, assuming they have a publicist working with them. Read more about Music PR and what publicists do here.
It can be hard to get placed on a strong SoundCloud promotional label. Some receive hundreds of submissions a month and upload no more than 1-2 tracks in that timeframe.
Promo channels are increasingly popular and are experiencing the same over-supply of material that blogs (especially those indexed on Hype Machine) have in the past years.
The “do’s and don’t’s” of pitching to SoundCloud repost and promotional labels follow the same guidelines that we outlined in our article on how to pitch to bloggers. As always, try to be be-friend SoundCloud channel owners rather than relying on general submission emails.
One way to do this is via Facebook via the “Find friends” search tool. Suppose you’re looking to reach a member of the “Future House Music” SoundCloud label. One way to do this is to input “Future House Music” under the “Employer” section of “find friends”. Following that you can take his name and head on to a more public forum, such as Twitter, to try and reach out.
We’ve mentioned before that Facebook pitches may be regarded awkwardly as it’s a medium for more personal relationships, however as most channel operators are young, it’s actually their primary medium. Don’t be afraid to shoot them a message introducing yourself, complimenting a recent upload and segueing to a pitch.
Repost trading is the bread and butter of SoundCloud promotion and we’re going to teach you how to use it to expand your reach.
A repost trade is a mutual agreement between you and another SoundCloud account owner, typically of a similar size, to repost each other’s uploads to get them exposure.
Not all reposts are considered equal, as artists tend to have a better play to follower ratio than promotional channels and networks. There is a correlation between the frequency with which an account reposts and the share of their audience that actually listens to those reposts, which might explain why artists (who usually repost less than promo channels) have a higher ratio. Their reposts are thus more valuable.
Trades are made by channels of roughly equal size, which are divided in so called tiers. Where a 1.000 follower account may not want to trade with a 250 follower account, a 25.000 account will likely want to trade with one with 20.000 followers. The absolute difference matters less as follower counts increase.
This effect is especially obvious with channels above 50.000 followers, whom trade up to as high as 80.000 followers. Above the 10.000, 25.000, 50.000 and 100.000 follower thresholds, trading becomes easier, because there’s fewer people to trade with.
Something to realize here is that some networks may claim to be able to repost to 100.000 followers, by aggregating the follower counts of their different channels. But as the sister channels of a primary account are often grown through gate inclusion, there’s a major audience overlap.
Another tactic is that in the process of trading, two accounts might include one another in their most recent release, committing to reposting the other’s release for say one repost for seven days straight.
Things to keep in mind when considering pitching for a repost trade:
Do they repost at all? This one is a big one for artists. Some artists do not repost at all on their SoundCloud pages, others only repost for friends signed to the same record label or collective.
Labels often restrict reposts to their label artists and both tend to be pickier about what they support than the average promotional channel.
Are they genre specific? The fastest way to dilute an audience is to confront them with music they are not predisposed to liking. Before you pitch, check whether the artist or channel is curating a specific sound or is more lenient.
How often do they repost? Most networks and labels stick to regimented schedules and a part of basic research is finding out what times a day they repost at and with what frequency.
If you haven’t had any luck finding a strong promotional channel to upload your release, or have opted to release it on your own account, you may want to increase your exposure by reaching for the wallet.
Paid SoundCloud promotion usually happens in the following forms:
The first way would be directly to pay large SoundCloud channels directly to repost your track. Pricing varies across channels. You could bundle reposts of individual channels at $20 a pop or pay a larger channel say $100 for promotion across their total network.
Alternatively you could hire a publicist or promotional network to run a SoundCloud repost PR campaign for you. They then utilize their own channels to repost, but also use those for trading, in order to get your asset exposure. Pricing varies on the reach of the reposts, so they might charge you for a collective exposure to 500.000 followers.
Because the promo channels cannot guarantee that their reposts will bring in a fixed number of plays, they are incentivized to focus the pricing around the volume of exposure, rather than the actual plays received. It’s tricky because it means you’re paying for the process rather than for the result.
We have yet to experiment with paid SoundCloud promotion but have heard mixed stories. This is an area that we’re curious about – curious enough to bring in an outside statistician to crunch some numbers on SoundCloud reposts, read about what we found here.
With regards to paid promotion, it’s risky to become reliant on others to help get you exposure and may be considered unethical, but can also contribute to getting your music to traction earlier.