The Gentle Art of Self-Promotion...Without Looking Like An Egomaniac
First off: Yeah, I know. Promoting yourself isn’t what you signed on for as a “creative artiste”. You just want to sit in a room with your sequencer/guitar/tuba and make music that the world embraces and play to sold out shows everywhere you travel and get heavenly oral sex from slutty, drunk angels.
Guess what? Tough shit.
The world of music (or, of course, any artistic pursuit) isn’t set up for you to just be “discovered”. And yeah, I also know that you’ll hear about the Biebers and Lily Allens of the world going viral and now having huge careers, but that’s not 99.9999999999999% of how people actually make it in today’s world…nor has it ever. You have a better chance of winning the lottery than getting randomly discovered by some label exec, because you don’t have to actually have talent to win the lottery. You only need to have a few bucks to buy the ticket.
So where does that leave you? On your own, mostly. Unless you’re the rare person/band who has buckets of money around AFTER you make your album and can hire some sort of promotions manager you’re stuck promoting yourself. Sure, you can have friends and bandmates help and all that (and gosh bless ‘em if you do), but as an artist it’s crucial that you understand that a large portion of your success and “luck” in getting opportunities comes down to one person: You.
You’re your biggest obstacle or you’re your own personal Jebus. It’s all on you.
Promoting yourself, especially at first, is a completely uncomfortable experience. It feels awkward and weird and like you’re imposing yourself on everyone. Usually this is because when you start out your first “fans” are, well, your friends. They’re your family. They’re people you know.
And the last thing you want to do is irritate them by asking them to come to your upcoming gig at some dive bar on a Monday night.
The crappy thing is…you have to. But the nice things are that it gets easier with practice, AND when you start doing it and building a fanbase that DOESN’T include your Aunt Jenny you’ll learn how to promote yourself more comfortably. See, you don’t have to be a bombastic jerk all the time to effectively promote your stuff, but you also shouldn’t be a quiet mouse and just whisper that you have a new album out. Here are some tips on how to promote yourself in a way that doesn’t make you feel dirty in the morning.
1) HAVE FUN
Just like any aggravating job, there are two ways to go about doing it: Hating every minute and whining the whole way, or sucking it up and reminding yourselves why doing this is a benefit to you. With most crap jobs that might just mean getting a paycheck, but when you’re promoting your art remember that this is something you WANT PEOPLE TO HEAR. This is your passion and your best efforts to communicate in a way that a LOT of people don’t have the guts to try. This isn’t you trying to sell some timeshare in a swamp—this is you trying to get people to listen to your art.
Having fun with your promotion also means you’ll get more creative with it. I’ve always enjoyed using the promotion for Caustic as an extension of the music itself. It can be a real challenge to try and find a way to promote yourself but, in all honesty, the more fun and enthusiasm you show the more people will be attracted to it, especially if you can find a different way to present yourself that appeals to potential fans. Fun is contagious, and so is feeling like you’re a valued part of a community.
Remember: The vast majority of artists absolutely suck at getting their names out there, and a lot of them are much better musicians than you or I. Making promoting fun for YOU is key to being a step ahead.
2) WRITE WHAT YOU’D LIKE TO READ
Talking about yourself is hard. It feels completely egotistical and like you’re bragging. The easiest way I found to conquer this was to simply try and write things I would enjoy reading. You don’t have to sound like God’s Answer To Music when you’re pimping yourself. Nobody buys that shit anyway, especially if they've never heard of you. Instead be as honest as possible and stay as interesting as possible in what you say. When I started Caustic it was hardly the finely honed industrial juggernaut many know today (note sarcasm). In fact I had little idea what I was doing, but I was passionate as hell about my music AND I learned that self-deprecation and humor worked for me. People like to laugh. They also appreciate sincerity and are more apt to get in your corner if they see that you’re having fun and don’t take any of it too seriously. And while my methods work best for me, there are a million other ways to go to communicate with your audience (or audience-to-be), so work to find yours. It’s not always obvious, but when you have that eureka moment hopefully it’s as beneficial as you deserve. If not, keep trying.
The most important thing in communication is being concise. Writing a bio on your music is great, but don’t get so self-indulgent to think anyone wants to scroll through three pages on your website to get to the part where you say you’re really influenced by Miley Cyrus. Learn to edit, or find someone who can. It doesn't have to be a haiku, but short and sweet helps a lot.
3) DON’T WORRY ABOUT YOUR “BRAND” OR “DEMOGRAPHIC”…YET
If you read blogs on advertising you’ll hear expressions like “branding” and “finding your demographic” a lot. While these things are important the most crucial thing I can encourage for an artist is to not worry about that stuff yet— worry about always speaking as YOU (or your character, if you’re doing the Marilyn Manson type of thing.) See, branding is essentially how you (or your label/manager/mom) present your work to people and how you “stay on message”. By naturally developing just how you want to talk to people, what is most effective, and what is most comfortable you’re essentially branding yourself and can tweak how you do it later, once you’ve got that “voice” out there.
And in terms of demographics— you hopefully know who might like your music. Sure, someone who has never heard of the artists you’re influenced by (and are probably trying to emulate on some level) may like your stuff, but chances are you know where your crowd hangs online or otherwise and concentrate establishing yourself there first. You really shouldn’t be stressing about hitting the Hispanic females aged 13-18 demographic, so just worry about getting your name out there in general. Thanks to social media (where you should definitely be), you’ll know soon enough who most likes your stuff. For me it’s mostly English speaking dudes between ages 25-34. The thing is, does that make me gear my stuff to them or anyone not in that demographic? No. It just Is.
Work on developing good and effective communication skills before caring about precision marketing. Worry about engaging people and building a relationship with listeners.
4) CONTENT IS PROMOTION
Some people think that the only thing their fans want to hear is when the next gig is or when their online EP will come out. Nope. Like I said, you’re building relationships, and you also want people to have a reason to visit your website and especially places like Facebook or Twitter, where EVERYONE is. The way to do that is simple: content. This content can be pimping other artists you like or simply engaging people on whatever subjects interest you. Unsurprisingly I talk about music a lot, but I also make stupid jokes, or talk about movies. Even more unsurprisingly, I also write blogs.
The more people have reasons to come to your site and hang out in your virtual room the less you’ll hopefully feel a need to “hard sell” people all the time (which, let’s face it, is the worst thing on the planet) and keep things relaxed. Remember- nobody HAS to come to your Facebook page…unless there’s a good reason.
5) KNOW WHEN TO STOP
This is the hardest thing to do for some people. They want people to check them out so badly that they just end up spamming everywhere nonstop- on their pages, their friend’s pages, other band’s pages, and hijacking threads that don’t have anything to do with them. On top of it, they’re never bothering to try and engage anyone otherwise. Nobody likes spam, and people like it even LESS if it’s from someone they know who won’t stop being a blathering billboard for their new demo track and just relax about it for a while.
Mind you, this is really hard to recognize sometimes, especially when you’ve put everything you’ve got creatively and, at times, financially, into your art, but start working on not saying the same crap daily and talk about other stuff in the meantime. Desperation isn't pretty and people don't respond to it unless it's a life or death situation. Your new shirt design doesn't qualify.
The problem with promotion is that it’s by nature repetitive as hell, but mixing up how you say things and not copy/pasting the same post over and over is vital to keeping people from wanting to kill you (and why linking your Facebook and Twitter posts suck). I highly recommend practicing the fine art of rewriting and, more importantly, trying to present the idea in a completely different way. If it’s at least a variation on the same crap people will be a bit more forgiving. Personally, I try and focus on elements of the new album, like what remixes are coming in or how great I think [X-TRACK] turned out. Every post doesn’t need to be epic, but it should say something interesting. And it all relates to the thing you want people to know about.
You’ll make mistakes on this one, as we all get overzealous at times. I know I sure as hell have, but I’ve started getting better at listening to that little voice in my head that says “You don’t need to mention that new Caustic teapot today, Matt. Mention it tomorrow.”
Listen to that voice. That voice is smart.
6) NOTHING HAPPENS OVERNIGHT
One post about your new album will not cause the world to buy every copy. Remember that promotion is incremental, and tenacity is so, so important if you want to succeed. Also, remember that posting to the same places over and over probably means the same crowd is reading it over and over (and sick of it), so you may want to give other places a shot. Appropriate places, mind you- don’t post about your new death metal album on a gardening forum…unless it’s a death metal gardening forum. That would be awesome.
It takes years to start being recognized on any noticeable level. Sure, it takes less for some people, but assume you aren’t those people and keep your nose to the grindstone. Be consistent, speak as you’d want to be spoken to, don’t whine if you aren’t achieving what you want to, and mostly be cool to people. If you have 500 Twitter followers and only 5 have bought your new album you do one thing: You say thank you. You want people to stay with you, not be against you, and while it can be extremely frustrating when you feel like you’ve given your all for years and you don’t think you’ve gotten very far it’s even more soul-crushing to never have tried at all. Good things do come to those who wait, but especially to those who are always trying to improve, find new audiences, and putting in the time with their feet on the pavement instead of bitching to their three friends who are completely sick of hearing about it every day. You were never guaranteed anything, so appreciate anything you get for your efforts.
Also, know that when you do start getting some breaks, whether it be when you sell that first shirt to someone you didn’t grow up with or headlining stadiums, know that you EARNED that shit.
So get to work. Time’s a-wastin’.
Caustic on Facebook: www.facebook.com/causticmusic
The Gentle Art of Self-Promotion...Without Looking Like An Egomaniac
September 13, 2012, 06:30:pm
Thanks for this. I'm trying to make it as a writer, so I love this. Because first and foremost, I write stories that I enjoy. I'm doing what I want to do and I realize that in any market, people have to willingly pay you, so I would like to know how I could find those people, but I'm always going to write for myself so I'm glad you threw "Have fun" in there BY THE WAY CHECK OUT MY WRITING lmfao jk. But for real..............................