The Internet has changed the music industry forever and with that change musicians have to adapt. In this new landscape their are many paths and opportunities that are available. It's up to the musicians to figure out which opportunities they are going to pursue and what ones they are going to avoid. Unfortunately, it's not so simple as: first you do this, then you do that, then you're good. It's way more complicated and the variables are totally different for every musician.
Even the term "making it" or being successful is different for every musician. So the first step is to define what success means to you. Does it mean that you are able to quit your day job and make music full time? Does success mean that you're able to fund a new album/project? Does success mean that you've attracted an audience/fan base?
Once you've defined what success means to you then the next step is to set challenging yet doable goals. This helps take a large concept and breaks it down into milestones that are achievable. I've wrote in detail on this and suggest you take a moment to read this article: How To Set Attainable Goals For Success in Music.
Building an online presence is a large concept but it is not impossible. Even something that large can be broken down into challenging yet doable goals that are in your reach to achieve. So step 1 in building an online presence is to set your goals. What do you want to get out of an online presence? Do you want 100,000 google results when someone searches for your music? Do you want to have the music bloggers buzzing about you? Do you want to have an artist site that is popping with traffic?
Again, all that is up to you. There is no right or wrong answer. The important part though is to identify where you are going to target your effort and make that your hub. That is step 2. Your hub is your base where everything eventually trickles back. The hub is where people can interact with you and your music. If you think of the virtual world like the physical world, this is your head quarters.
Now that you have a hub, step 3 is optimizing your hub with great content and design. This is a never ending task as long as you are pursuing a music career. You need to constantly improve your hub, add more useful information and make sure it functions easily for people. No one wants to mess with a glitchy and shitty looking website. There is no reason for that, make it work and look great.
Once your hub is established now you need to start spreading your web out to the virtual world. This is step 4. Your "web" needs quality content to spread and this means great music, awesome videos, news, quality photos/images, information, ect. The whole package you present to the world makes more of a difference then any one thing. As musicians, it's easy to lose sight of that and focus entirely on the music, but without the package your going to have an uphill battle.
This sets up your framework but there is still more work to do to establish an online presence. Ultimately you need people. You cannot do it on your own. Getting social is step 5. This doesn't mean spamming your shit every chance you get. Don't do that. What you need to do is spend time checking out what other musicians in your genre are doing and the music community surrounding it. Add thoughtful comments, sharing other peoples news, getting involved with the music community and becoming part of the scene. That's getting social.
As you start getting more involved on the scene, you'll begin to establish real relationships with other musicians and the "music gatekeepers." This is part of the networking that goes on in step 6. If you think of the music world as separate communities that combine to make up the whole, you'll realize that different people play a different role in each community. You could have amazing music in a particular genre but until you are part of the community, you run the risk of toiling in obscurity.
When you've been accepted into the community, you have a much better opportunity to reach a larger audience then you do just releasing music into the void of the Internet. Developing an audience is step 7. Just because in today's music world it is easy to record and distribute your music doesn't mean it will just go viral and find an audience. Maybe for a few that has happened, but that is the exception not the norm. The audience for your genre of music lives in the community, some more then others. Think of it kind of like an onion. You have people at the core that love discovering and sharing new music from emerging musicians. On the outside of the onion are the people that just casually enjoy listening to the hits from that genre. In the middle is everyone else. It's a spectrum and your job developing an audience is to appeal to the core audience, so they share your music with the next layer.
Step 8 is making sure your music is broadly distributed across the music markets: iTunes, Spotify, Amazon, Rhapsody, whatever. The fact is people are not going to pay to hear your music the first time they listen to it. You are going to have to earn that support. People have to connect with your music, you as a musician/band, and your story before you've earned that. Once you have, make it easy for them to do something to help. Maybe they want to buy your album, make it easy for them to do that. Maybe they just want to stream your music make that easy for them to do. Perhaps they want a shirt, make sure they can easily get a shirt. Maybe the only thing they can do is share your music to friends, make that easy to do too.
Once you've gotten to the point where you have an audience that cares about you, engage with them, show them your appreciate them, and thank them. Let them know how much you value them and care. Don't ever take them for granted, because without them you are nothing. Your fans are the single most important thing you have and you need to do everything possible to not fuck that up.
Then the final step is you need to give back, help other people, and share the love. I think Spiderman has it right "with great power, comes great responsibility." If you've risen to the point where you've successfully achieved your goals, then you are in a position to help other people. It's very important that you do.
Thanks for reading and feel free to comment below.