As per usual, I was late to the party. Beautiful people mingling, trending political and social issues being discussed, all manner of things being shared privately and the occasional fake person following you, making no-context comments about their get-rich-quick schemes. ‘What a great party’ you may think, but no, this party never ends, and you're all invited through the app that is Instagram. Instagram shook up social media by moving the focus from boring rants posted by your ‘kind-of-a-Karen’ aunt who you haven’t talked to for a year, to instant engagement in the form of short videos and images. Messages which can be shown in images and short captions replaced the usual long paragraphs and Insta stories allowed for a temporary exhibit of ones exploits which disappears after 24 hours. The beauty of Instagram was its fast-paced focus on the visual and the fleeting nature of stories. Although today the platform faces competition from TikTok and is now owned by Facebook, it remains one of the biggest social media platforms, most recently creating Reels; a shorter version of Instagram TV to compete with rival platforms.
Starting an Instagram for your music may seem daunting, but it needn’t be. The first step is sorting out a name for the account and deciding whether you’re just going to use your existing account and hone the content uploaded. In terms of the name, Instagram is littered with ‘TimSmith_Guitar’ or ‘GaryPrice1Official’ accounts and although it’s certainly a direct angle, other more creative possibilities exist. A cursory look through some of the session players/educators making Instagram work for them show a variety of creative names, some examples being ‘Kerry2Smooth’, ‘JulestheWulf’, ‘Guitarianna’, ‘dhodgeworld’ and ‘ChrisDaddyDave’. These guys all have 50k+ followers with successful careers and a seemingly common theme among them to use a catchy nickname. Maybe using a nickname adds a more casual edge as if you're interacting with a friend (as opposed to a ‘X + instrument’ style name) which in turn makes it more memorable. If it’s a group or a band behind the account than the whole process is a lot easier. As long as the name fits, use it, especially considering the name has already had some thought put into it. The name under the handle can also help with visibility in searches, so keeping that name simple and obvious can help people find you.
Directly under the name is the bio. Being honest, when was the last time you read or remembered a bio? I can’t remember either, but this is where you can put brand hashtags and URL links, so let’s look at what should go into a good bio. The bio is, in effect, a space of 150 words to quickly sell yourself and set a theme for the profile. There are no right or wrong things to put in your bio, some musicians use it as flex real estate and list their achievements, others will put in a few emojis, but it definitely should contain a URL link to your website. The best way to maximise the hyperlink is by using Linktree, which allows you to link directly to a home page of other links, so allowing for you to put everything in one place. Along with the URL, including your hashtag in the bio can be a great idea, especially if you’re a band or project. Have a hot new album coming out called “Bills diner”? Maybe try the hashtag #ServedInBills and encourage people to share food pics with the hashtag. A fun novel hashtag that ties into what you're doing can be a great way to get your fans involved. Although if you don’t have a large audience, a simple hashtag which uses the project name can be more effective. The hashtag, along with @ names are the only devices you can use in your bio which can increase visibility when it comes to searches, so including a ‘keyword’ in it can really help.
Effective bios are usually brief and utilise standard marketing ‘call to action’ language, like a verb that relates to what you want the audience to do, for example ‘stream the hit new single XYZ now!!!’. A format for a bio that works well is bullet points and emojis - emojis may not sound very professional but a picture can show a thousand words and bright colours draw attention. An example bio for my new Instagram session guitar page could be as follows:
Although slightly tongue in cheek, it reads like a believable bio. Asking people to share videos is a call to action and the hashtag contains my name, a verb that is associated with the instrument and the instrument name, helping with visibility. Breaking up your bio with bullet points also allows you to have some fun and maybe start each line with an emoji or a word. Make it memorable.
Instagram is a crowded party, there’s a queue for the bathroom and people cluttering the stairs. Stats on the app show that around 200 million Instagram users visit or engage with at least one business account on there a day. So if we’re going to get noticed, let’s ditch that stained band T-shirt and go for the Gucci suit. When designing your page, it’s important to start with the aesthetics in mind from day one, choosing a theme for the account. A fun activity that can help is to decide your brand personality, this is especially important if you’re a band. Try making a bullet point list of personality traits or just elements you want to convey and think of the associated imagery. For example, let’s say you’re the next Norah Jones, a list could read as follows:
Once you have some ideas on the personality, try to narrow down on the type of content posted. For example, Jens Larsen, the YouTube personality and gifted music educator has an organised and focused feed which is predominantly short videos of him playing guitar or images of notation showing what he played. Most of the videos have a very similar thumbnail and rarely contain any superfluous dialogue, with the camera almost never panning from the neck of his guitar. You know exactly what you’re getting with his posts and he’s carved a niche which his audience expect and engage with. If you’re a session musician posting casual content about what you get up to then keeping a theme with the type of content may be harder, but just look at some existing accounts and there are still themes. Someone like Robert Glasper posts more informal, fun content, Chris Dave does a weekly meme deluge on Sundays and Kerry 2 Smooth will share more personal information. Each has a style of content that they post regularly.
Carrying on, to create a more memorable page it’s important to consider specific themes of the posts. Some good examples include McDonald’s, who use predominantly yellow posts or Cold Laundry whose page has a distinctly pastel mix of earthy tones or lilacs which are colours closely associated with the brand. The University of Loyola, Maryland did a study where they discovered that using colours can help increase brand recognition by as much as 80%, and a lot of bands or artists use this to their advantage. Think of when the 1975 released their first album, the band only wore black and white, the lead singers Instagram name is Truman Black (referencing his favourite author and his style) and even the lyrics to ‘Chocolate’ stated how the band dress in black from head to toe.
When posting your content also think of how the images will look on the grid, for example Ezra Collective will split their merchandise images up so when posted the posts create a bigger picture that you can only see when viewing their feed. Other ideas could be alternating the posts, like Birkenstock who post product then model in product, row by row. So each of your rows could have a theme or make a rainbow effect, creating a rainbow when scrolling through your account. The possibilities are endless, although one rule often followed by content creators is to just use one filter, this helps the feed look congruent and professional.
Before you start posting or planning your angle on the platform, let’s discuss how we can use Instagram to push your product. A good initial starting point is to research your field and see what other artists are doing, look at what hashtags and style of content those creators are using and posting. Which posts from them get the most fan engagement? Which hashtags work the best and could you steal them? Obviously don’t use specific brand related hashtags, steal their captions or use their photos, but just looking for inspiration isn’t going to hurt. Related to this, also consider syncing your social media accounts. Although accounts treated as separate entities do generally perform better, for example hashtags in general are more for Instagram and content with more text is going to do better on Facebook, but sharing posts that concern gigs or show times can save time and help keep certain fans who engage more with certain platforms updated.
If you’re a band then the style of content that you post when compared to a more personal, session musician type account will likely be more formal in style, although mixing it up can really help relate to your audience. Have a music education account? Post a casual ‘in-between’ lessons vid where you play your favourite standard or practice something ready for a lesson. Generally speaking, bigger acts or accounts are going to post more professional posts, but this isn’t a set rule, once again just see which posts get more fan engagement. A band like Hiatus Kaiyote posts a varied mix with members ‘Bender’ and ‘Nai Palm’ enjoying big personal followings.
Frequency of posts is also a factor in growing your following, and Instagram statistics show that it’s quality over quantity. As opposed to Twitter or TikTok where posts have a very short life span, on Instagram (as long as the fan engages with your posts, views your stories and you use the right hashtags) then appearing on their feed isn’t too hard. Consider an artist like Harry Styles or Kendrick Lamar - one posts infrequently when worthwhile things happen, and the latter posts a story maybe every three months. Now obviously they’re mega famous and don’t need to post to keep a following, but when they do, the posts still show high in the feed, showing it’s engagement that’s key on this platform. Posting too much can also be detrimental so if you already run a daily series, like chord of the day or a weekly live stream, then keep this in mind with how much you post around it.
Just like every social media platform, Instagram loves account interaction and engagement. A great way of growing your profile is to interact with similar accounts, turn rivals to friends. For example, say you’re a wedding band, search #WeddingBands and like and comment on other wedding bands who will hopefully follow or reply to you which helps grow your presence/visibility. This idea also relates to how you should handle your own followers, replying to them, engaging with their posts and following the super fans is a great way to reward them. For those who prefer statistics and analytics, here is a list of great apps you can download to help you manage your account;
These apps are free and can help you manage and keep track of how well your posts perform and plan your future content.
As of 2020, Instagram has started enabling artists to start monetising their livestreams, helping them make money during lockdowns. Although using Instagram to push your fans towards bandcamp is still more profitable for artists. A new initiative rolled out by Instagram near the end of 2020 was allowing fans to buy badges during livestreams, a badge gave money to the artist and also allowed the fan to access exclusive content. Looking into 2021, Instagram also wishes to integrate shopping into more of the features, for example it has already been added to the main menu along the bottom and into Reels. Instagram wants to create a virtual merchandise table and although an exciting avenue for monetisation it will be interesting to see how this initiative ages as the world returns to embracing live shows and record shops. Reels lend themselves to teasing new music, so adding in the option of purchasing music there makes sense. To also cash in on a more loyal audiences during lockdowns, Instagram is planning on integrating some sort of musical landing page, theorised as a repurposed handle the company already own, like the @Instagram page, the idea would be to emulate the YouTube playlist, Spotify takeover or Apple home page. The idea of being able to get your music featured over videos or images on such a page, which currently boasts 383 million followers is tantalising, and it would be interesting so see how such real estate is allocated and what effect it would have for independent artists.
At the end of the day, Instagram remains one of the biggest social media platforms out there, a party which is only growing and one that attracts the age groups with the most disposable income. It boils down to theme, presentation and finding a niche for your content. Whether you want to grow your bands following or share some videos and find new students, Instagram is definitely the most versatile platform.
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- Tardigrades are micro creatures, found everywhere on earth.
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