Does anyone have any suggestions as to what the best free soundcloud/artist promotion tools are? I've uploaded around 30 tracks to my soundcloud in total over a year and have only gotten 1000 total plays in that year. I can see why I got little plays on my old stuff, but what's the deal with this huge album I released? To me it's one big step closer to being commercial/label-sounding material.
Anyway, someone tell me the best way to grow and audience now? Any free tools/websites to suggest?
Best way to grow an audience is via real interaction with real people - specifically by getting involved with / listening to / and commenting on their stuff. What can I do for you should be the frame of mind not how can I grow an audience now. It's the long road sure but instant gratification marketing gimmicks are just that, gimmicks.
Honestly making technically (or otherwise) well done music isn't enough anymore. I also agree with RFJ that the best route is interacting people in real life. Growing an audience who will actively seek your music is much easier if you perform or DJ. At the very least if you can get involved in a local scene and put a face to the music I think that goes a long way.
Next up would be "getting involved" online, which is about 75% less effective IMO.
I think everyone really needs to ask themselves is what is the real, honest value of likes, follows and listens. It took me a long time to get there, but for me they are a cheap ego boost. The reality is that very view people are discovered or make it or whatever sitting in their bedroom studio uploading things to their soundcloud.