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Why You Should Be Using Instagram as a Musician (And All Its Dirty Secrets)

Authors note: I do not work for Instagram nor am I endorsed by them (believe me, I wish I was). In fact, I don’t particularly like social media of any kind. But the passion I have to play music for a living supersedes my distaste for the oftentimes vapid world of selfies. And I’m glad I pushed through that, because music brothers and sisters, I have seen the light!

I have spent the last months learning the ins and outs of Instagram. I took a couple of lessons from a New York marketing firm, read endless blogs, and, through trial and error, found the right ingredients to grow my Instafanbase to just over 3,000 real followers. I have had a lot of new fans buying my music, coming to shows and sharing my music, and unlike Facebook, I have not had to pay a cent for it!

I just wish I’d known how to do all this a lot sooner, because I feel like Instagram is a great way to break through the glass ceiling of your friends and family and actually reach potential new fans. So I’ll spread the wealth of knowledge I have gained with you.


Some real examples of making new Instafans

Screen Shot 2014-11-11 at 11.10.54 AM.png

Almost double the traffic to my website as my Instagram activity grows

Getting Started—An Effective Profile

Here’s the first counterintuitive rule. Increasing your fan base via Instagram is 20% about having 20 to 30 great pictures and 80% searching hashtags. I will explain this further but for now, all I am saying is you don’t need to post photographs every day to grow your account. In fact, that won’t help new fans discover you at all.

Content Breakdown

There’s no hard science to a lot of this but I would make sure your profile consists of about 50% music-related photos (you and your band on stage, your new album cover, shots from the road), 40% personal photos (radical ice-cream sandwich you are about to eat, your dog dressed up as Sigourney Weaver from Aliens, and yes, even a goofy selfie or two).

Target Your Demographic

Who do you want to get your name and music in front of? I suggest bands that you are similar to or venues you are about to play or that you play all the time. The more specific and niche the better. Usually people who are listening to and hashtagging smaller, up-and-coming artists are the ones who will take a chance on your music.

So if I’m in the Red Hot Chili Peppers circa 1990s and I’m looking to promote my new album, Blood Sugar Sex Magic, some of the hashtags demographics that I will search for would include:

#George Clinton

Reaching Out

Now that you’ve chosen 5-10 hashtags you want to target, let’s get into what targeting actually means. Hit the magnifying glass icon on the bottom of the app. Then in the search bar, type in your first hashtag (make sure your set to hashtags, not users). Hit search and voilà! Everyone who has ever uploaded a photo and included that hashtag will appear.

Follow, Like, Comment Technique

The most effective way of getting potential new fans to check you out is to like their photos, comment on them, and follow their accounts. This gets tricky because of Instagram’s spam censors which will ban your account temporarily if you violate the maximum amount of each action. As of 11/14 (they change constantly) these are the limits:

Likes: 350/hour

Follows: estimated 180/hour (7,500 max total)

Comments: estimated 60/hour (non-duplicating)

Unfollows: 200/hour

So if I was the Chili Peppers in all their ‘90s glory, I would choose a picture of Perry Farrell singing his face off. I would “like” it, follow the user who posted it, and then copy/paste one of 3 or 4 different pre-written, non spammy comments like “Perry is the shit! You obviously have awesome taste in music. I’d be honored if you checked out mine!” or “Love Jane’s Addiction too! If you are into discovering new bands, I’d be stoked if you gave mine a listen!”

Keep in mind the limits of Instagram when doing this. Because you can only comment on around 60 pics, I would save my comments for key pictures or maybe users who hashtagged #janesaddiction #hollywood because you live in L.A. and want that person to come to your next show at the Viper Room or some other dumb place.

What to Expect

There are a lot of variables to this equation. How good your pictures are, how non-spammy your comments are, how willing your target demo is to check out new music. But in general I have found the average return follow rate to be 10%-30%. That means if you follow 1,000 you will get 100 to 300 who will follow you back. And in those numbers is where the magic occurs. Below are real screen shots of my account, to show you how awesome this strategy and social media platform can be for you.

Follow Up

If people reply to your comment then comment back. Interact, be humble and grateful that these complete strangers who you pestered gave you the time of day. If you can sneak in that your new music is on iTunes, do it as tactfully as you can. No one likes to feel like they are being advertised to, even though that’s what you’re doing in your own awesome way.

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