Strategic insights from Lil Nas X’s “Montero” campaign
One of the more bizarre arguments we keep hearing from people in the music business is that self-promotion is pathetic, because “real, creative work” will speak for itself.
That, like our friend Spongebob would say, is a load of barnacles.
Sure, making great music is essential. But it also needs to get heard somehow. And if anyone knows the value of good marketing, it’s the currently trending artist Lil Nas X.
The 22-year-old famously broke through the noise by putting crazy amounts of work into his online presence. He tweeted, memed, and TikTok-d himself onto our screens so much — and so consistently — that a lot of people were surprised to learn that “Montero” is his debut album.
Lil Nas X is great at self-promotion. And as far as music marketing goes, “Montero” is a campaign everyone can learn from.
Here are our top 3 strategic takeaways for the modern artist:
➡️ Treat each single like a mini-campaign.
➡️ Create LOTS of content to gain PR momentum and to grow your audience.
➡️ Show personality as much as you can.
Let’s break down each step.
#1 Treat each single like a mini-campaign.
The age of streaming has wiped out traditional album rollouts. These days, most artists (Lil Nas X included) start dropping singles around 6 months before the album is released.
Each release has to work like a full campaign in itself: including a music video, conceptual merch, performances, and PR buzz that keeps the momentum going. New drops are expected in a month or two-month intervals, preferably on Fridays, as people are more likely to buy music on weekends.
For Lil Nas X, the album campaign started with his March 26 release of the “Montero (Call Me By Your Name)” video. The video (conveniently titled the same as the upcoming album) and its surrounding controversy — prolonged by infamous “Satan shoes” merch with human blood — resulted in 360.5M YouTube video views, 967M Spotify streams, worldwide media headlines, and winning MTV Video Music Award for Video of the Year.
Here’s a timeline of the key video releases, and how the fans reacted:
It’s great if each campaign also follows one main motif in every piece of content. We’ll get to that in the next step.
#2 Create LOTS of content to sustain media interest and to grow your audience.
“Montero (Call Me By Your Name)” was all about a gay hell, “Industry Baby” was all about a gay prison, but “Montero” album release followed a softer theme: Lil Nas X delivering his baby. The concept was hilariously focused on maternity shoots, baby showers, pregnant (male) emojis, talk shows, etc. It was very visual-oriented and interactive (think 200+ TikTok videos in just one month).
From August 30 until today, Lil Nas X uploaded no less than 17 YouTube videos (including a pre-release watch party), 70+ Instagram posts, and spent hours on Twitter every single day.
All with a good reason. The majority of Lil Nas X’s audience can be found on these three channels, so it’s a good idea to strategically engage existing fans to gain new ones across channels. The hard work paid off, as Viberate numbers show. Loads of content and PR exposure are currently bringing him thousands of new fans weekly.
Speaking of engaging content brings us to the next, and probably the most important point.
#3 Show personality as much as you can.
Great marketing is all about sticking to one brand message. Everything Lil Nas X does could be summed up in a single slogan: Keep hatin’.
From roasting trolls on Twitter to wearing gowns to live events to buying up billboards depicting him as a personal injury lawyer asking: “Gay? You may be entitled to financial compensation!”, every marketing move he pulls ends up provoking haters, and deepens his connection to the fanbase.
This way, he has created a personal brand that resonates not only with the LGBTQ community but with teens (his main age group) and music lovers worldwide. Most importantly, he did it in a way that feels natural, as he’s always playing to his strengths — social media savviness and a natural sense of humor.
Results: Most Streamed Artist on Spotify
Lil Nas X is currently the most-streamed artist on Spotify and has achieved notable results across channels. 11 out of 15 tracks are currently charting on Billboard’s Top 100 chart.