The New Meaning of Exposure
The rise of technology has led to a great number of advances in the ways we are able to create, publish, and disseminate our music to the world. Many have lamented the loss of album sales or the declining role of professional recording personnel in an industry fraught with phonies looking to make a quick buck and lousy DIY-ers. Others have celebrated the liberation of the artist from the establishment, and examples of creative folks turning their small projects into international or at least national success are touted by the media to be the “new normal.”
As with most of the garble coming out of the media, the truth probably lies somewhere between the bellyaching old-schoolers and the naive belief that the new way is excellent.
Every day, I receive well over thirty e-mails littering my e-mail inbox from companies whose mailing lists were purchased from other companies with whom I have done business in the past (a practice which always dumbfounds me, as I tend to seek the products and services I want or need actively, instead of just happening upon them in an unsolicited sales cold-call) These e-mails got me to thinking, though, about why it does not come off as a legitimate marketing practice, and cannot be much more effective with other potential customers than it is with me. Personal connection is what musicians are always striving for, a small but engaged fan-base can catapult a musician from complete obscurity into great success seemingly overnight. This is where I believe these otherwise probably decent companies have missed their mark. I am not a potential sale yet. I have purchased items from, say, a larger CD manufacturer, but this does not mean that I am looking for a new recording engineer, mastering house, or need new gear, so stop e-mailing me. By the same token, I see musicians everyday flooding message boards, you-tube comments sections, New York Times articles, facebook, twitter, you name it, with ridiculous, unabashed, self-promoting crap. THIS DOES NOT WORK.
First of all, the oft-neglected first step of having a professional product to offer is so frequently overlooked that it is almost laughable. If your website looks like it was built in 1997 on geocities.com, please do not mislead me there. If you have no remotely professional recordings of your music, and your press photos were shot on a disposable camera, guess what? It isn’t ready. Not that it can’t be made ready, but get there first, tomorrow isn’t that far away, and 6 months of hard work would do anyone good anyway. The truth is, unless you’re some kind of mega-talent (which is rare, and even in those cases, it is even rarer for them to get “discovered” without first laying out the groundwork) then you need to spend your time grinding the gears and “paying your dues” like the rest of humanity. (Why does music seem to attract so many get-rich-quick wannabes?) ((and, no, your mom is not a reliable source of critical response))
Second, there needs to be honest self-reflection about the potential for your music, and furthermore, market assessment for where that music fits. For the same reason I can’t sell a down-filled coat in July in St. Louis, you aren’t very likely to sell folk records at a hippie concert or a rave. Basically, if someone wants your music, your job is to make it easy for them to find, not cram it down their throat when they least expect. Your own shows are a good place to start, but beyond that, make sure you’re visible in your local market in record stores, on the radio, engaged in your scene since it is impossible to do any of this alone. Then, you’re giving folks the opportunity to experience your music in multiple arenas, and some of those may dig it, then some of those will become fans. Think more about long-term success than the immediate gratification of blasting your stuff into someone’s ear right away, only to be ignored or worse, to annoy the target thus shutting him or her off forever to your music.