What No One Ever Told You About Marketing Music in Seattle
If you can market music, you can market anything. Whether you’re in a band or a marketing director for a large corporation, your first job is to spend your time and money wisely. The suggestions below come straight from Seattle artists and luminaries getting it done on the frontlines.
Marketing music takes time and effort. It’s a marathon, not a sprint. If your product is good enough, doors will open. The trick is to be prepared to see opportunity when it is there, and take advantage of that opportunity. Before you spend a lot of time creating the perfect band page, make sure that you have a product that is worth promoting. The single most important thing you can do is to create a great product. Don’t skimp on production, packaging, photography, or style choices. Make sure the music stands on its own merits. Make sure you have great songs. Above all, be honest with yourself. If it’s not there yet, spend more time on developing the project and less time on marketing your music.
— Mr. Amaker of Brent Amaker and The Rodeo
The days of dropping off demos in physical form (tape, CD, or vinyl) are over… or are they? In this not-so-new digital world, people are making judgments 15 to 30 seconds after they click a link on Facebook or Twitter. They are playing YOUR music that you labored over through terrible little speakers on their iPhone and moving on.
So why not take a physical copy of your product and hand deliver it to the booker of a venue, a DJ at KEXP, a writer at the Stranger, or even schedule a coffee date with one of the many volunteer writers for the city's blogs: Northwest Music Scene, Nadamucho.com, Do206, Seattle Music Insider, or Three Imaginary Girls. This personal touch may be what gets you noticed since the tastemakers above get a barrage of digital solicitations every day.
I launched a crowdfunding campaign and the impact on my relationship with my fans became more valuable than the funds raised. Now, that was not at all what I expected.
You’ve heard it before. Anyone can record an album at home for basically nothing with the right equipment. That is absolutely true. I didn’t want to do that. For years I have created my own tracks to serve as a template for a live band to work from. And they were not awesome. I wanted the energy and sound that only a group of extremely talented and kind human beings could create. I also needed another set of ears in an accomplished producer to help transfer the sound in my mind out of my head and on to tape. That whole combo can cost some serious dollars.
I talked about this vision for a long time and a few demos got in the hands of some friends and fans who began encouraging me to release the songs with offers to help fund the recording. Eventually, it was clear that a crowdfunding platform might be the best way to manage incoming funds. The fundraising process took about a month, and I was so thrilled to make the goal, which was $10,000.
The funds ended up covering a nice portion of my recording costs, but the inclusive process also made me accountable to 100 other people. Yes, I had 10K in the bank, but I also had 100 fans who were literally standing behind me as my encouragement. They were my ambassadors. I tear up every time I think back on this time. They were so gracious, inspiring and instrumental in helping me to turn my vision into reality. The feeling of ownership in my music that my fans share continues to support the momentum of my career to this day.
I’m not going to bore you with the details of my communications strategy during the campaign, but what I will share with you is that I started sending a private newsletter during the campaign each week from my personal email to my funders. The recording process took about a year from start to finish, and during this time I shared insider photos, snip-its of songs, and other random happenings exclusively with my funders.
I invited a group of key funders to a private listening party where Martin Feveyear (the producer) and I gave a brief overview of each song at his studio. We threw a big free release party and concert prior to the public concert release for funders in a swanky private residence sponsored by the venue, and another free private party at a high-end salon in Seattle. These were not part of the promised Kickstarter deliverables, but they just felt like things that made sense to do. I genuinely felt indebted to my funders for their belief in me and wanted to open up the doors and share it all with them. I still feel this way.
By the time my funders received their copies of the album prior to the release, they were not just fans. They were my ambassadors. They posted photos on social media of the album artwork or a quote from a song. This was their album. And they were right. They had ownership in this thing in a genuine way.
It may seem a little old school, but to this day I send a monthly email with career news or thoughts about things going on in the world to those 100 funders plus additional fans who have signed up for my newsletter. I still send private pre-sale offers for shows to my fans first to give them access to the best seats before the public.
I probably will not lean on crowdfunding for my next album, but I plan to treat my fans the same way. I want to make my music their experience, as well as mine.
Most musicians have a hard time marketing themselves. I‘ve been working with musicians to help them get their marketing off the ground over the past several years. Mostly what I do is blend the marketing ideas I learned as an MBA student with some basic guerrilla tactics I learned on the fly as a product manager in the booming high-tech telecom and software industries of the ’80s and ’90s.
What I’ve found, though, is that a key element of marketing that most corporate marketers take for granted is often missing for musicians: namely, a clear articulation of the purpose of their marketing efforts. When you work in a corporation, that vision stuff is usually handed down from on high (like Bill Gates did when I worked at Microsoft: remember “A personal computer in every home”? I do.).
I’ve found that helping a musician actually write down a musical purpose and vision can be one of the most difficult, yet most rewarding, marketing tasks I do. You can’t just do it in your head, either. It really requires the exercise of chasing the words and writing them down.
Do you have your own personal elevator pitch written down? It’s hard for any individual to articulate their mission in life, but that’s basically what I ask musicians to do. I find it can result in procrastination, and even sometimes some difficult soul searching, but it’s also a clarifying and energizing exercise.
Three questions I usually ask them are: “Who are you? What do you do? Why does it matter?” These are the core questions for any personal branding exercise. It’s amazing what happens to your marketing tactics when you have a clear and meaningful purpose statement.
First, it prioritizes marketing tasks. Any expenditures or activities (marketing or musical) that don’t directly contribute to advancing the vision and goals needs to be crossed off the To Do list. For self-funded, undiscovered musicians, anytime I tell them to cross things off the list, I see a visible look of relief. Validating that process through logic is so much better than just not doing any marketing because it’s overwhelming. Overwhelm leads to paralysis, but focus leads to efficiency.
Second, a purpose and vision focus the marketing story for every piece of copy that is written, whether it’s the musician’s website, a press release, or even a music video. It can even help define type font, look and feel, or colors of a website. Having a clear, well-articulated and compelling human interest story beyond a single or an album release creates differentiation and press interest. Words can excite other people and motivate them to explore a musician’s music further, or they can bore and turn them off.
Perhaps even more importantly, having a clear vision keeps a musician motivated through the mundane and often uncomfortable (for many artists) tasks of self-promotion. It also sustains passion and energy through the inevitable emotional ups and downs of lackluster reviews, poor show turnouts, internal band squabbles, and everything else that every business goes through. It can also be very grounding if and when an artist experiences sudden success (not uncommon in the music business).
A local band I’ve worked with here in Seattle, Jesus Wears Armani, is an example of a band with a clear vision and mission. The lead singer is a veteran of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Here is a recent band bio I wrote for them:
“Rich Hurst, lyricist and lead singer of melodic heavy metal band Jesus Wears Armani, writes combat-tested metal. His songs address the physical and psychological scars of war: injury, alcoholism, addiction, PTSD, and the feelings of dislocation and alienation that are unfortunately all-too-common for our returning veterans. As Hurst sees it, the mission of the band is to use music to give voice to emotions and experiences his fellow soldiers might find too painful to express. Hurst is also committed to giving back in a material way to his fellow soldiers.”
For me, working with an artist or band with a clear vision and purpose is the most rewarding and easiest marketing to do. When I collaborate with a client who knows why they are making music, the marketing messaging and tactics flow so much more quickly, and ultimately result in much more effective marketing expenditures of time and money.
— Solveig Whittle is a lyricist, vocalist, music marketing consultant, and blogger, as well as a social media instructor at the University of Washington, who lives in the Seattle area. You can read her music marketing and social media blog at www.shadesofsolveig.com.