December/January 2021

by Vanessa McGowan

Road Rules: How To Build A Music Following On Instagram

by Vanessa McGowan

Road Rules: How To Build A Music Following On Instagram

For some of us, self-promotion can feel silly and vain but, when used strategically, social media can be a powerful way to grow your community and boost your career. Follow this guide to build your Instagram presence, expand your network and grow your career as a musician or band. Once you have a stronghold on Insta, you will have the know-how to branch out into the other platforms.



It’s important to keep the content you create consistent and ‘on brand’ so new visitors can quickly see who you are and what you do. You want to make sure it’s obvious within a few seconds what your profile is about.

Maybe you’re an aspiring professional drummer who also loves cooking and breeding parrots… In that case it’s probably worth having at least two separate profiles, so you can keep the content relevant on your music profile to drumming and your work as a musician.

It is good to include some of your personality and life in your business/music profiles to help people connect with you, but you need to think about what impression a first time visitor would have – and try to make it all about who you are as a musician or band.


If you’re creating content with any text establish a brand kit to make it easy to keep your content consistent and cohesive. At a minimum, you need a font for your headings, a font for your main body text, and one or two colours to use as highlights with white, black and grey. Dark text on a white/light background is the most common online and in print for a very good reason – it’s the easiest to read. Use colours to make your headings and backgrounds pop and then just make sure your content is easy to understand.


Take a few minutes to think about your values as a band/musician/business and how you want to present yourself online. Will you use cuss words? What will you do if people use hate speech in their comments? Will you include humour or will everything be serious? Will you get political? These values can grow and change with you, but it’s useful to think ahead of time where you stand on these kinds of issues so you don’t get caught out later on.


Create It

The easiest way to promote yourself as a musician is to post photos or videos of yourself playing music. Get gig photos and videos by either asking a friend to record some of the show or by setting up a tripod on stage – just make sure it’s not distracting or in the way!

If you’re not gigging, take videos of yourself at home, either playing along with recordings or demonstrating a new song you’ve written, or technique or style of music you’re working on.

Visual tip: A cheap lightbox will immediately elevate your home content from looking amateur to pro.

Sound tip: Most people view social media on their phone with no headphones, through the tiny phone speaker – so it’s good to use compression if possible to ensure all the bass frequencies of your post audio are not lost, especially if you’re a bass player!
Another option for content is sharing your thoughts about music. You don’t have to tell your darkest secrets, but don’t be afraid to share who you are as a musician as well as what you can do. Maybe you could write a blog about your experience of practising a certain skill or share your songwriting inspiration or process.

Try to vary what you are posting and remember that people care about people – not just skills. Great content that engages your audience will show the nuance of you as a musician if you post endless videos of you shredding over a blues people will likely tune out.

Re-Post Other People’s Posts

A great way to find photos and videos of your gigs is by searching for posts that people in the audience have made during or after the performance.

If you’ve just played a gig with Taylor Swift at Madison Square Garden you would find relevant posts by searching for the hashtag #taylorswift or going to Taylor Swift’s profile and looking at recent tagged posts. You could also search the hashtag #madisonsquaregarden or search for the location tag.

Use a re-post app to grab the image or video for your own feed and give the original poster credit in the post. Most people are psyched to have a band member re-posting their photo or video, and if they are unhappy you can always delete it.

Re-Post Quality Content From Thought Leaders

If you find other profiles with excellent content in line with yours, share their posts in your stories. In doing this, you are not only finding another way to post more content, but you’ll start to build a reputation as a source of a wide range of great content, your profile will have more value overall, AND you’ll earn social value with the profiles whose work you are sharing.

Tagging tip: Make sure you tag the person with something like, ‘Excellent advice from @thisismyhandle’ so they’ll see your mention and potentially re-post that on their stories too.

Tag People

Tagging friends and colleagues in posts they feature in is a great way to expand the reach of your post beyond your existing followers. The posts will show up in their tagged post section and if they like the photo or video they might re-post it too. People can only re-share stories if they’re tagged in them – so make it easy for people to help you and make sure you’re tagging consistently.

Showcase Friends & Colleagues

A great way to get away from the inherent narcissism of social media AND find more things to post about is to share photos and videos highlighting different members of your team. This is a great time to gush about how fantastic your drummer is, or the amazing photographer you found for the album art.

Social media at its best is all about community, so highlight yours. Tag the people in the posts and they’ll not only see how much you value them and enjoy some extra promo for their own platforms, but they’ll also be very likely to re-post your post about them – giving you an even larger reach. If a friend or someone you admire has just released something cool, give that a shout-out too. Share the love and the love will come back to you in spades!

Utilise Highlights

The highlights section is a great place to draw attention to your best posts and definitely shouldn’t be ignored. If you have attractive highlight categories like New Music, Videos, and Band Members people are likely to check those out when they land on your profile. Using highlights means you can draw people’s attention to posts of your choosing, not just the most recent ones.

Highlight tip: Make custom highlight cover images to give your profile a pro look.

Growing Your Followers

Follow Your Friends

For a brand new music account, post 3 – 6 quality, highly relevant posts (either one or two full rows), and then go to your personal Instagram and follow all your friends. If you make it clear in your new profile that you’re the one behind it, your friends are very likely to follow it to be supportive and/or because they’re interested in your new venture.

If you don’t already have a personal account you can link your phone number and let Instagram find your contacts to follow.

Use Hashtags

Use hashtags to help new people find you and your posts. Think about the variety of ways someone could be searching for your kind of content, example: a video about a guitar technique could be appropriate for people searching for #guitar #guitarlessons #guitartips #electricguitar #acousticguitar #musiclessons #musictips

Note: There are two ways to subtly link your posts to hashtags:

  1. Posts: putting your hashtags in the first comment means you get the benefit of the post showing up in searches for those tags, without making the caption look messy.
  2. Stories: type your hashtag, pinch it to make it tiny, then hide it under a sticker or GIF for an extremely covert hashtag link!

Follow Back

Using the follow back technique strategically can be a great way to find new followers who are genuinely interested in what you’re posting.

How to do it:

  • Before you start, make sure your profile is up to date and the most recent posts are high quality – since they’ll be the first thing any new visitor will see.
  • Now find other popular profiles highly relevant to your target audience by searching names you already know or researching profiles that show as “top posts” in your relevant hashtags.
  • Go to their most recent post and follow all the people who liked it.
    They’ll get the notification, check your profile out and – if you’re offering content they’re genuinely interested in – will follow you.

You can pursue different audiences every time you post, strategically finding potential followers based on the content of your most recent post. If you post a guitar solo video, find people who follow other guitarists. If you’ve just posted a songwriting blog, follow people who follow songwriting communities.

After a few weeks, you can go through and unfollow accounts who aren’t of interest to you in the long term.

Note: Instagram has a limit of 300 follows or unfollows each day and will make you stand down for 24 hours if you exceed this.

Sponsored Posts

Paying to boost a post can be a great way to get your best content in front of new eyes.

When planning your sponsored post make sure it’s simple, immediately attractive, and is written so a complete stranger would immediately understand who you are. Maybe your current fans already know you play ‘psychedelic folk rock’ but you still need to mention it in the caption of a sponsored post so that someone new immediately gets a clear idea of what they’ll get if they click on the post – especially if you’re using an image and not a video where someone will already be hearing the sound of your band.

Choose a great image or video, decide on your desired call to action (example: Website Link, Buy Tickets, Learn More), and make your caption short and clear.

Keep Your Audience Engaged

Use A Branded Hashtag To Build A Fan-World

Creating a branded hashtag for your brand/band/music is a great way to encourage your fans and followers to become part of your world. Keep the hashtag simple, easy to remember, and with some kind of call to action. If your band name is Pom Pom then it might be #pompomcovers if you want fans to post videos of themselves singing your songs. Or #pompompics for live gig photos. By creating a custom hashtag that people can post to and also follow you’re creating your own custom branded world on Instagram, and also making your fans feel like they’re part of your journey in a more personal way.

Make your hashtag unique and don’t try to compete on the mega-popular hashtags like #bandpics or #livemusic

Hashtag tip: Put your branded hashtag in your Instagram bio and make sure to frequently link to it in posts and stories.

Spread Out Your Posts

Social media algorithms respond better to accounts that post frequently over accounts that post a lot all at the same time, and your posts will have more chance of showing up in your fan’s feeds if your profile is viewed favourably by the algorithm.

If you have three photos to post it’s better to do them spaced out over the day, rather than in a group all at once.

A good way to make a post do double duty is to start by posting it as a regular post, and then an hour or two later share it to your own story.
Amplification tip: Share your stories instantly on facebook as well by linking your accounts.

Engage With Your Followers

Responding to every comment is very important, especially when there aren’t many! If someone has taken the time to comment, don’t just ignore them. Say thanks, elaborate further on your post if appropriate and, if it feels right, start a conversation with them.

Note: If someone trolls you or responds to your post negatively you don’t have to defend yourself unless you want to. Whether you delete really terrible comments or not is up to you, but all you need to reply to someone who is baiting you is, ‘Thanks for the feedback’ and leave it at that.

Be Consistent

The most important thing with growing an audience on any social media platform is to be consistent. Don’t get too hung up on the numbers of likes and followers, just make a plan, think about your brand, decide on a post schedule, and keep to it.

Every time you post you’re adding value to your profiles, whether that particular post gets 5 or 5000 likes, and the more you do it the better you’ll get at it. Be true to yourself, work hard, and your online community will grow!

Vanessa McGowan is a Fender and Aguilar endorsee originally from New Zealand, currently based in Nashville, TN. She plays bass and sings backing vocals for a wide range of touring artists including Sugarland, Jennifer Nettles, Brandy Clark and Tattletale Saints, and is the founder of – empowering aspiring professional musicians to step into the spotlight and build a successful career in music.