This post is part of The Renegade Musician Series.

“Dude, TikTok is blowing up. We’ve got to make something and quick!”

We’ve all felt that way, regardless of the trend.

Back in the day it was MySpace, Facebook, YouTube. Then came Kickstarter, Instagram, Snapchat. Now we’re seeing the explosive growth of TikTok. If you have a few years behind you, then you know what I’m talking about. If you’re new to this, then study well – trends come and go (just like musical trends), and social media platforms, by definition, are all trends.

This isn’t just a conversation about social media, though.

This is a conversation about the multi-layered pyramid-shaped cake I baked. I call it the 5 Layers of Independent Music Success. It offers a mile-high view of what matters most in selecting effective actions. So, don’t get frustrated with me when I don’t get into specifics. This is all meant to be high level.

Independent music success diagram

Let’s start at the bottom, or the largest layer.

Principles

First, we have principles. A principle is a truth you can fall back on no matter the circumstance. Whether in easy or dark times, a principle is reliable. As Renegade Musicians, we must be guided by principles first and foremost. In everything we do, we want our actions to be dictated by accurate thinking.

Experience

The next layer is experience. Experience isn’t always as dependable as principles. But one can inform the other. All things being equal, experience is more reliable than hearsay or opinion. We can test things for ourselves to determine whether they work for us. It’s far better than trusting something we heard secondhand from a friend who saw it on television last week.

Branding

Next up the ladder is branding. Branding is your reason for existing, your purpose, the difference you want to make in the world. It’s a little speculative, though, given that your branding can attract a fan base never intended.

Case in point – Nirvana front man Kurt Cobain didn’t like that the jocks he hated so much were coming to Nirvana shows banging their heads to “Smells Like Teen Spirit.”

We brand to polarize and exclude audiences. But there will be those who like our music and come to our shows anyway, even if they don’t identify with our tribe. I’ve been apolitical most of my life, but I still get a kick out of Dead Kennedys and Rage Against the Machine, mostly because of their music, not because of their political beliefs.

Developing your brand is still critical if you wish to be effective in marketing. Once you’re clear on your identity and what you want to accomplish, details concerning your marketing start to take care of themselves.

Marketing/Strategy

Next up is marketing strategy, and as you know by now, marketing is your business. But your marketing must be anchored by principles with a complete bias towards what works. That also means you must be willing to discard the ineffectual, no matter how much of a pet project or “baby” it becomes.

Course correction will be necessary, of course, but that’s where experience is a great teacher (if we listen to it).

We don’t want to read some article online and conclude that social media contests are the best way to grow our fan base, with no proof, no evidence, and no experience to back it up. Further, if it would be out of character with our branding, we should think twice about running a contest.

We don’t want to read some article online and conclude that social media contests are the best way to grow our fan base, with no proof, no evidence, and no experience to back it up. Click To Tweet

Tactics

Finally, we have tactics. We started out this post by talking about tactics. TikTok is not a principle. It’s not even a marketing strategy. It’s a tactic. It will make sense for some artists and bands to take advantage of it, because their audience is on TikTok – they enjoy new music, and actively visit Spotify and other platforms to check out new artists. That will not be everyone, and not every artist or band will benefit from a presence on TikTok.

We need to drill down to know whether TikTok will even be worthwhile for you. If I don’t know, at the very least, what your branding is, then I categorically cannot tell you whether TikTok is something you should dedicate any time to.

Or you can be like the 95% that build a following from scratch on every new platform that comes along and lose it the moment the platform declines in popularity or shuts down completely. There’s no strategy in it but I still hear creators whining about YouTube demonetization, COPPA this, shadow ban that. Sadly, I don’t know if they will ever accept the wisdom of building their own platforms and emails lists instead of relying on the social media gods (probably mostly bots) to grant them favor. Don’t be like the 95%.

The five layers can be further simplified as 1) principles, 2) marketing, and 3) tactics. this is how Kennedy defined them in The Renegade Millionaire. When it comes to music careers, though, branding is the bridge between principles and marketing that will streamline your approach to marketing and tactics.

Take advantage of The Most Incredible Back to School Sale while you still can.