Instagram for Musicians

Instagram is one of the most effective music promotion channels out there with over 1 billion monthly active users. And 500 million of those users are on the app every day. Not to mention, Instagram has the highest engagement rates across all social media channels, making it a great place to engage with and grow your fanbase. That being said, if you’re not using Instagram correctly it can be a major waste of your time. So here is a fully comprehensive musician’s guide to Instagram and all the music marketing tips you need to get started.

Should You Use Instagram?

While Instagram is great, and there are plenty of Instagram musicians killing it, it’s not for everyone. You shouldn’t just be promoting music on Instagram just because other people are doing it.

As a musician, you should use Instagram if the demographics of your fanbase strongly correlates with their user base. AND if image-based sharing aligns with your interests.

35% of all adult social network users are on Instagram. But 72% of teens and 71% of 18-24-year-olds are using the service. So, if a segment of your audience falls into the 13-29 year old demographic, Instagram could very well be an important part of your social media mix.

If you’re not sure, the easiest approach is to take a look at the audience at your next concert. Who’s in the crowd? How old do they look? A more accurate option is to glance through the analytics of any other social channels you’re using. Both Facebook and Twitter offer detailed stats on your fans.

Not sure what to post to Instagram? Download this free social media ebook: How to Promote Your Music: With 3 Social Media Checklists

Musician’s Guide to Instagram: Setting Up Your Instagram Account

Before we get into the nitty-gritty of actually posting to Instagram for musicians and getting more followers on Instagram, let’s make sure you have your account set up to make the most of all of Instagram’s features.

Convert to a Business Account

If you plan on using your Instagram account to promote your music and connect with your fans, the first thing you’re going to want to do is to convert to a Business account.  A Business account functions exactly like a personal account plus some additional features like analytics and direct contact buttons among others.

To convert to a business account go to the “settings” menu and choose “Switch to a Business Account.” You’ll have to connect to your Facebook artist page to set it up.

Make the Most of Your Instagram Bio

You don’t get much to work with in the bio section on Instagram, but there’s still a lot you can do to optimize.

A good bio explains who you are and what you do in as few words as possible. Think of it as a super condensed version of your elevator pitch. Your goal here isn’t to just tell people what kind of music you play. Instead, you want to share your story and what it is that makes you unique. What is that hook that will get someone interested? 

It’s also important to use language that relates directly to your target fans. Think about how you can make it obvious what niche you cater to in just a few words.

You only get one link in the bio section. So instead of constantly switching it out, use a service like Linktree to link to multiple pages. On your Linktree, you should have a link to your website, your other social channels, your store, and a direct link to a landing page where fans can get free music in exchange for an email address.

Choosing Your Instagram Profile Picture

Just like your bio, your Instagram profile picture should represent you as a musician (or band). In other words, it should match your image and vibe.

If you don’t have any professional photos of you or the band, this might be a good opportunity to get some done (you can use them across all your social channels and website as well). A logo or album artwork can work as well. The space is quite small, so just make sure the photo you choose looks good shrunken down to size.

Posting to Instagram for Musicians

Now that you have an account set up, let’s go through the fun stuff – actually posting to Instagram. Instagram is very much a content marketing platform. It’s more about sharing your story and using the posts you share as a way to continue that narrative, so keep that in mind as you craft your posts, images, and videos. You’re trying to hook fans and draw them into your world with interesting and engaging content. It may take you some experimentation to figure out what kind of content your target audience relates to, so don’t be afraid to try different things to discover what works. 

I also want to clarify that even though Instagram is an image-based platform, you do not need to be a professional photographer to be successful. In the next few sections, we’re going to cover everything from photography and editing, to content, captions, posting times, and stories. In this musician’s guide to Instagram, we’ll look at everything you need to know about posting to Instagram.

Instagram Photography & Editing Tips for Musicians

When taking photos, the first thing to keep in mind is the lighting. Bright, indirect natural daylight will give you the most consistent lighting no matter if you’re posting a shot of the band or a close up of your gear. That said, there’s a lot that you can do creatively with harsh lighting or even backlighting if you’re feeling inspired.

A good photo is like a good song – you have one key theme and everything else is working to support that theme. So when composing your photos, try to keep one main subject per photo. That subject could be you, an audience, your guitar, a new sticker design, a setlist or lyric sheet, the tour bus, or anything else relating to your music. The key is to not let photos get too busy.

In terms of taking your photos, any smartphone will produce great results. You can use your phone’s camera app, or opt for an app like Camera + for more features.

Next, you can use Instagram’s uploader or an app like Afterlight, Snapseed, or VSCO Cam to edit your photos. It’s easy to get sucked into all the editing options and get carried away, so here are the basics. Try adding a bit of Brightness and Contrast to start. Add a bit of Saturation if you feel like your colors are getting washed out, and perhaps play with the Highlights and Shadows to adjust the lights and darks. You could also add a bit of sharpening if the image looks fuzzy.

And finally, you can apply a filter from Instagram or your editing app to all your photos. Lower the strength of the filter down a bit as full strength filters can be overpowering. If you use the same filter on all your posts it will give your feed a more consistent and professional look.

What to Post on Instagram as a Musician?

Success on Instagram really comes down to utilizing content marketing. In other words, sharing valuable content your fans will love and pulling them into your world. If you’re wondering how to promote your music with Instagram, here are some rapid-fire ideas to get you started.

You can post videos up to 60 seconds in your feed, so post short video clips of you or the band performing a song. Another idea is to post short tutorial videos showing your fans how to play a song or demonstrate a certain technique. Post short cover videos covering your favorite songs. Record a short video explaining the meaning behind your lyrics. Share videos from your live gigs or of the live audience and ask fans to comment if they were there.

You could share your gear set up, and even make it a regular thing with a hashtag like #gearsaturday. If you review and talk about gear regularly, it could open up the opportunity for endorsements and sponsorships down the line.

Share images from the studio, from rehearsals, from the tour bus, or backstage at gigs. Share images of your instruments, your new merch designs, or your new backdrop for gigs. Post selfies with your fans. Share images of lyrics you’re working on. Post professional photos you get taken for your website or album. Use these images as starting off points to tell a story to your fans.

What Makes a Good Instagram Caption?

Being such a high-engagement platform, your caption is almost as important as the image itself. As a rule of thumb, your captions should mostly relate to your music and your music career. Think of your captions like an ongoing story. Each caption should add value, contribute to your story in a meaningful way, and pull fans a little deeper into your world.

A good caption tells a story, starts a conversation, sparks discussion, or asks a question.

Your number one goal with your caption is to get your fans to leave a comment on your post (we’ll discuss the details of WHY later on, but suffice it to say the Instagram algorithm favors engagement). So a good caption tells a story, starts a conversation, sparks discussion, or asks a question. This is Instagram marketing for musicians 101.

Tell your fans a story or about an experience that relates to your music. Ask their opinions on something. Get them to vote on something (like the setlist for an upcoming gig). You can even use your captions to learn more about your fanbase. Ask them questions about their interests and what other bands they like and keep this information in your back pocket for future promotion ideas.

It’s also important to note that Instagram does not let you add clickable links to the caption. Instead, send your fans to your Linktree link in your bio.

When to Post on Instagram as a Musician?

If Instagram is definitely going to be a part of your social media and music marketing strategy, you need to determine the best times to post to get the most engagement.

There are plenty of studies out there that will tell you the statistically optimal time to post. But the truth is, every audience is different. So don’t give too much weight to those numbers.

Base your posting times around the numbers you see in your own Instagram analytics. You’ll be able to see what days and what times your audience is most active so you can plan on posting during those high-engagement times.

For example, you might see that your audience of mostly young adults or working millennials is active early morning, at 12 pm on their lunch break, and after 5 pm. A college-aged fanbase won’t be as active early in the morning. Teens may be active early morning and later at night. A west coast-based audience will skew a little later than an east coast-based audience if you’re in the US. And an Australia-based audience will be on a totally different timetable than a US-based audience. You see what I mean?

Instagram Stories for Musicians

Stories are another way you can post to Instagram. Unlike posts, which remain in your feed, a Story is only live for 24 hours. Stories are great ways to share quick updates, looks behind the scenes, sneak peeks, and even glimpses into your daily life.

Because Stories aren’t permanent, they don’t need to be as curated as your feed posts which often follow a similar theme or look and feel. So don’t be afraid to show a bit more of your personality. You can even give early looks at projects you’re working on.

Stories are also an incredible way to get your fans engaged. You can use features like polls, questions, sliders, or quizzes to get feedback from your fans or get them involved. Try hosting monthly Q&A’s with the questions feature, or get fans to vote on their favorite merch design. You can even share your music from Spotify directly via Stories.

Fans can also reply to your Stories which will send you a Direct Message. Frequently interacting with your fans through DM’s will help you build a relationship with those active fans. Ultimately, that direct interaction is the fuel that can help encourage fans down the path to becoming superfans.

Once you get to 10,000 followers, you will unlock a feature that allows you to link directly from your Stories. Fans will be able to “swipe up” from Stories to go to links like your website, online store, or YouTube channel.

You can also save Stories to your Highlights if you want to keep them around for more than 24 hours. Create a Highlight for frequently asked questions or with information about your gear so fans can use them as a quick reference.

Using Instagram Live Videos to Engage with Your Fans

The final post type we’ll talk about today is Live Videos. On Instagram, you have the option to live stream right in the app. These live videos can be a great chance to directly interact with your fans and forge those long-lasting superfan relationships.

All you need to go live is your phone. Optionally, you could also get some kind of mount to keep it from falling over (you can get them for under $30 on Amazon), and perhaps a simple mic that plugs right into your phone if you’re concerned about audio quality.

Your live streams could be acoustic performances, Q&A sessions, fun songwriting sessions, or even a chance to make big announcements like the drop of your new album.

The key to successful Live streams on Instagram is consistency and interaction. If you can get into a regular Live schedule, you’ll begin to notice more and more fans attending. While you’re live, take time to address your fans directly, say hi to them by name, and answer their questions. That direct interaction is what will keep fans coming back to support you.

Growing Your Fanbase on Instagram

Now that you have some great content, let’s talk about what it takes to build a fanbase for your music on Instagram. I’m going to tell you this right up front: there is no quick-fix, cheat, or formula to build a fanbase with Instagram for your music. Growing an engaged, dedicated, and enthusiastic community of fans takes time and consistency. That’s it.

Sure, there are follow-for-follow strategies or other “hacks,” but all you’re going to get with those strategies is a number. In other words, you’ll get followers but they won’t be true fans who actually care about what you have to say or share. A number isn’t worth anything if those fans are not commenting on your posts, buying your music, or coming out to gigs.

So instead, I want you to focus on the effective ways to build your fanbase on Instagram in a way that’s authentic and genuine. Let’s take a look.

Everything You Need to Know About Instagram’s Algorithm

Currently, Instagram feeds are organized by an algorithm. Posts are not displayed chronologically.  Instead, Instagram orders posts in a feed based on what it thinks you want to see. As a result, you’ll notice posts from people you engage with a lot towards the top of your feed. Conversely, fans who engage with your posts regularly are more likely to see your posts than fans who rarely engage.

Here’s the secret to “beat” the algorithm and make sure your fans to see your posts. Act like an actual, social, human being.

The algorithm goes through a lot of minor changes, but ultimately it always prioritizes engagement. The more likes and comments your posts get, the more people will see them. The more active and engaged fans you have, the more successful you will be.

So here’s the secret to “beat” the algorithm and make sure your fans to see your posts. Act like an actual, social, human being. It’s that simple. If you talk with your fans instead of at them, if you respond to comments and have actual conversations with your fans, and if you treat them like people and not numbers, you’ll be successful.

I also want to footnote this section by saying that it’s totally normal to have a large group of inactive fans on Instagram. Most fanbases follow the 80/20 rule (or something close to it). Often, 20% of the fans are responsible for 80% of the engagement.

How Often to Post on Instagram as a Musician?

When you’re posting to Instagram, always opt for quality over quantity. Always. You’ll be better off posting a one really engaging photo with a conversational caption that gets people commenting than a few rushed posts that no one really responds to. Remember, each post should be contributing to your story in some way, and that, above all, should affect how often you post.

A lot of Instagram guides will tell you that you need to be posting at LEAST once per day if you want to grow a following. That’s not always true. Yes, Instagram’s algorithm does reward frequency and consistency. BUT if you’re not posting QUALITY content and posting just to reach some quota, you’re not going to see the kind of growth you want.

That said, consistency is important. Figure out what you can realistically manage and stick with it.

Spread things out even if you have a lot going on and a lot of really great, interesting posts you want to share. Avoid the urge to share them all at once! You’ll get much more engagement if you spread them out – say, one per day – than if you lumped them all together. This will help you avoid that “commenting fatigue” that occurs when you share too many posts at once and will help to ensure all your posts get maximum engagement.

Build a Network FIRST

I see far too many musicians try to hit the ground running on Instagram only to be disappointed when their following isn’t growing as quickly as they would like.

So instead of focusing on finding fans from the start, focus on finding a network. This should be a community of supportive musicians, songwriters, and bands at a similar level to you.

Use hashtags and the explore page to find other small and independent musicians whose work you genuinely love. Follow them and take the time to leave real, valuable comments on their posts. In other words, actually, comment on their music or their caption instead of the unfortunately all too common “Cool. Check out my music.”

Be consistent and be supportive and eventually you will start up two-way communication and a relationship of genuine reciprocity. On Instagram, two accounts that follow each other and support each other are called “mutuals.” In the beginning, it may very well be just these mutuals who are leaving comments on your posts. But that honest engagement will lead to more organic discovery.

Use Collaboration to Reach New Potential Fans

Once you build some relationships, you can start collaborating to expose each other to your respective audiences. When you collaborate with another artist, you are tapping into the power of a trusted source. If they like your music, your audience is likely to trust your musical taste, and will, therefore, take a recommendation for another band seriously. And visa versa.

The key with successful collaborations is the think of ways you can authentically recommend each other’s music to your audiences. Remember, it’s all about building your story and narrative. If you trade shoutouts with any and every musician on Instagram, your audience will start to lose trust in you.

So here are some ideas. Cover each other’s songs and post 60-second video clips to your feeds. Remember to tag and @mention each other. Share each other’s music via your Stories or in a #musicmonday post. Co-host a contest or giveaway together. Do a fun live stream where you write a song together. This exposure will be more powerful than any hashtag strategy during your early time on Instagram.

Respond to ALL Comments and DMs

I know it can seem tedious to respond to every single comment you get on Instagram, but it is single-handedly the easiest thing you can do to build more engagement around your posts.

Think about it – once you respond to your fans, it opens up the opportunity for a conversation, leading to even more comments on your posts. Plus, fans who feel like you care about what they have to say are more likely to take the time to comment on future posts. It’s a simple action, but responding to comments and DMs can help fans get more invested in your career and move them towards superfans.

And remember, the comments you get on your posts aren’t just numbers. They are real fans voicing their support for you. Their support is what will make or break your career, and that’s worth appreciating.

Instagram Hashtags for Musicians

Just like Twitter, hashtags are important on Instagram. Think of them as organic discovery drivers – a way to build a fanbase and get more followers on Instagram. People will often browse through certain hashtags to find new posts and new accounts to follow. The “Explore” tab will also use your hashtags to recommend your posts to relevant audiences. Which is especially important if you’re just starting out.

Think of hashtags as organic discovery drivers.

So what are the best hashtags for musicians to use for music marketing on Instagram? When choosing Instagram tags for musicians, don’t simply use what’s trending. You want to choose hashtags that reach a targeted audience that’s likely to be interested in your music. Relevance is key here. Going niche is always going to be better than going broad. So instead of using #music, you might use #progrock. Instead of using #guitar, you might use #fender. Instead of using #singer, you might use #acapella.

To help you choose the right hashtags, check out what hashtags similar artists are using, especially on posts that have high levels of engagement. Remember, it’s not about copying someone else’s hashtag list. Instead, think of this as market research. Look at what’s working, think about if and how those hashtags may relate to your music, and use that information to build your own hashtag list – one that’s specific to you and your story.  

Another way to see if a hashtag might effectively reach your fanbase is to simply browse the posts containing that hashtag. If these posts are related to things your audience is interested in, consider adding them to your next post. You’ll also see a list of related hashtags at the top of the Explore page if you search a specific tag.

If your content is relevant to a specific geographic location, you can also use geotagging to further target your audience.

Instagram for Musicians – The Bigger Picture

Even if you’re posting incredible content on Instagram and you have a ton of fans on the platform, it’s still only one part of your promotion strategy. If you want to effectively promote your music, you need to be thinking big picture and start getting your social followers to go deeper by signing up for emails and buying your music.

We show you how to do this in the free How to Promote Your Music guide. You’ll learn how to create interesting and engaging social posts, and how to start collecting emails and emailing your fans. Plus you’ll get three social media checklists with tons of post ideas to get you started!

If you want help promoting your music, consider signing up for the Music Business Accelerator program (MBA).

The class is part of the online music business training offered at New Artist Model.