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Ruth Gerson

Ruth Gerson

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Making a Living Making Music Part V: Promotion and Marketing

Posted: 04/28/11 01:54 PM ET

One of the most time consuming, "behind the scenes" components of an indie artist's career is promoting the music they've created. You may have spent a large part of your savings recording a project and now you have a limited budget to market it. What if you have an aversion to being a "self-promoter" or "networker?" The truth is you have to avoid annoying the crap out of your friends, but your work depends upon their word of mouth. It's part of the path you've chosen. Good friends and fans won't mind, if you are consistently gracious, show your appreciation and if you learn how to be effective while you keep it all in perspective.

I recently heard Mike King speak on direct-to-fan marketing, a necessity for a do-it-yourselfer. King is the Director of Marketing at Berkleemusic.com, the online extension school of Berklee College of Music. He said, "DIY doesn't mean DIAY -- do it ALL yourself." You cannot do it ALL yourself.

To make a living making music you will rely on a community. At the same time -- if you do it well -- you should also be creating community.

Assuming you have a limited budget when you release a record, it's important to consider where you should spend dollars and time, and how you might reach into your community for help.

As for radio, right now, if you are self-released or semi-self-released, I would wait on hiring a radio promo person. In my opinion, the conventional approach to radio is a waste of resources for unknown, indie artists at the moment. There are too many albums and too few slots to acquire the significant airplay needed to create an impact. Indie radio promo costs 5K-30K. Funds can usually be put to better use. That being said, King points out that non-commercial radio, NPR and Pandora can be important stepping stones. [Also, I heard from Dennis Diken on this and he points out that there are still DJs who will sift through the unknowns. Diken (co-founder of the Smithereens, producer, DJ & solo artist) feels it's worth it to approach them.] You can count them on your fingers and toes, but the WXPNs, WFUVs, KFOGs, KCRWs, and particular shows such as "Reg's Coffee House" are worth trying. Vin Scelsa of "Idiot's Delight" has introduced audiences to new music for decades and he still listens. Pay attention to who's playing artists like you, hand-pick and approach specific people. You can do it on your own with a strategic mailing campaign. If one DJ starts giving a track some significant play, then it makes sense to consider hiring indie radio promo, if it's affordable.

Social Networking: Currently and indefinitely one of your most important tools. It gives you a forum where you can talk about your shows, recordings and videos in a setting where people expect it, where they won't get annoyed by it and where they will share it. Everyone who "friends" you or accepts your "friendship" wants to be part of your cyber-community.

Youtube: Do as I say, not as I've done. Take those few precious dollars you were going to spend on radio promo and create a video. Keep in mind, for the yet-to-be-famous, amusing and AMAZING (by "amazing" I mean something outside of the ordinary that freaks people out) videos get passed around more than not amusing or freekishly amazing ones. Make sure your name, the name of the song and your website is at the top and the end of the video.

Press: I believe it's worth it to hire a good press person. I did my own press for many years and was very successful with it for the most part. I always used a letter campaign. Writers don't want email blasts from anons, but mailing a CD and a note, and a follow up postcard, and another follow-up, another CD, and maybe one phone call (only one), might get a review. You can do it yourself, if you have the time. Writers are more approachable -- if you are very careful to be polite, professional and not annoying -- than anyone else in the music business. HOWEVER, if you are writing and playing and recording and going after licensing and doing living room concerts (maybe you teach and you're a parent), your time is going to get limited quickly and paying an affordable, hardworking press person is worth it. (It is said Salvador Dali took a third of his income to pay his publicist.) Find someone you feel strongly about. You are not going to make your money back from CD sales or downloads, but the right press person can help your career. Pick a person who gives good phone, good email, and who writes well.

 

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