How to get your sound out there: DIY promotion for indie artists at Ryerson

[T]wo men sit at the front of the room in the Oakham Lounge, fielding questions from an audience of around 50 Ryerson students. Most of these students are indie artists who want to make it big but are struggling to get their music out there. They’re hoping that with the help of Steven Foster and Josh Kolm, they can employ their tips on how artists or bands can promote themselves.

Foster is a Ryerson grad and a director at Entertainment Business Affairs Inc., a Toronto based company. He has worked on both the creative and business sides of the industry, and one of the first things he tells the room is to smash the idea that an artist has to be signed to a big label in order to be successful. Major labels are “no longer king of the room,” he says.

“Labels are going to stick their hands as deep as they can in your pockets,” Foster says. “It is very cut throat in the sense that there are people out there who will try to take everything they can.”

Kolm, a master’s of journalism student at Ryerson and music director at The Scope, Ryerson’s campus radio station, says that digital music was the game changer. Digital music allows artists to distribute their own work and promote themselves. An example of this, he says, is distributing your music to campus radio stations. More often than not, commercial radio stations won’t play indie artists since the stations are being bought out. This means their playlist for the day is decided often months in advance.

But now, with the rise of social media, artists can create a strong brand on their own too. “Sticking out in a very over-saturated market is important,” Foster says.

Musicians can use social media to enforce their personalities, engage with their audience, and provide information about their music, such as when an album will be released or announcing a concert tour. It’s almost like free publicity, and when used effectively, social media can establish a strong brand and image.

Both Kolm and Foster agree that at the end of the day, the most important thing to have is a genuinely good song. You won’t succeed without this, no matter how well an artist can use social media.

“Trends in the music industry are a tricky thing,” Kolm says, “but being good and having the songs will save your skin ten out of ten times.”

“Song writing is a bit of a last art in the music industry,” Foster says, “the reality of it is a song in this industry will go far if it’s great.”

Engaging fans and listeners isn’t to be underestimated though. Kolm says, “Finding a connection with an audience trumps all. Make them feel like they’re part of the process.”

Do it yourself promotion is a good idea, because after all, Kolm says, “you can’t just wait for things to happen.”