Artist Promotions – Times They Are A Changing

dont-ever-let-someone-tell-you-that-you-cant-do-somethingRiding the metro in Los Angeles you see talent and some people who are just beggars.  Yes, there is a difference between an artist and a beggar.  An artist doesn’t have to say “we are coming around with a hat and dream” after a performance in public.  An artist does what is necessary to improve their art on a daily basis.  It is not about gaining fame, money, or validation, but about crafting their skill.

This past Tuesday, a violinist and a guitarist were playing on the redline.  From the looks of these two young (20-something) African-American men they had just been riding up and down the redline playing popular songs such as The Fray (How To Save A Life), Michelle Branch (Everywhere), The Beatles (Here Comes The Sun).  Their honesty, conviction, and dedication to their harmonies and musical stylings had the train clapping after each song and numerous train riders giving them donations in their beat-up guitar case.  They didn’t ask for donations after each song; they just continued to play consecutively throughout the 30 minutes I road from the North Hollywood station to the 7th Street Expo Line connection.  This on the ground marketing isn’t a new thing, in fact, it was something that was designed before marketing was even considered a job.

So what is it about artist promotions that really creates a superstar like Taylor Swift?  Selena Gomez?  Mandy Moore?  Travis Wall?  Is it timing?  Is it having talent?  Is it hard work and dedication?  Is it having the right branding, marketing or promotions team? Working in event marketing the last few years, I’ve learned that you need a mix of things to make magic happen.  Here are my top five tips to bring your promotions to the next level:

  1.  Advertise Without Advertising – This goes for everything you do as an individual and as a company.  If you are an individual artist you want to show people why they should watch and pay attention.  You shouldn’t need to give a speech before your performance.  Let your talent speak for itself and let the curiosity of the audience make the choice to stop.  If you are a company promoting an event it should be about the people associated with the event (the talent), the people who have attended and their experiences as well as the business relationships you have with sponsors.  Each of these aspects always draws more attendees because they feel like they are missing out, or a new business who sees their direct competition tearing into another market that they haven’t touch yet.  Fear of missing out is a strong promotional tool and it is vital to show that in an advertising campaign.
  2. Be Active On Your Social Media – Yes posting regularly on your social media is important, but when I say be active on your social media I’m talking about interaction.  Following people or businesses that could increase your promotions on other platforms or bring you to the next level as an artist.  Also, interacting with your followers from Q&As to comments to videos that ask what they want to see from you.  As the saying goes, give the people what they want.
  3. A Picture Is Worth A Thousand Words – Lots of promotional photos and videos are important.  It helps to develop marketing strategies, strong branding, and a cohesive platform on who you are and what you do as an artist or company.  Sit down and figure out what you want to show and present to the world and how you want to be represented.  Set-up photo and video shoots to stage promotional materials and constantly have someone dedicated to social media at events to get live shots and reactions from the audience and participants.  This is what is going to develop that concept of “fear of missing out” to drive attendance in the future.   Think about Coachella, LalaPalooza, or any awards show.  Each event has live streaming/broadcasting, they are constantly posting about the people at the shows and the talent that is performing.  It is always about showing someone something that could be their experience.
  4. The Personal You – Society is obsessed with people’s personal drama.  Think about Keeping Up With the Kardashians or The Bachelor.  The one thing about these types of shows is they help you invest in the people as they are sharing personal aspects of their lives to the audience.  Granted all of it is not real and probably a lot of it is staged, but the point I’m trying to make is let people get to know who you are – what you like (i.e. music, films), your friends and family, your favorite places…etc.  People want to feel connected especially if they are investing time and/or money.  Show them more than just your talent.
  5. Attraction – This may sound a little crazy, but bear with me.  No, I’m not talking about how attractive you are as a person, but what individuals are drawn to.  Think about when you see someone saving an animal that is in danger.  You are attracted to someone’s kindness.  Think about a new headshot with colors that make your features pop.  You are attracted to someone’s beauty.  Think about a big open space with no one around but nature.  You are attracted to the freedom.  Promotions are all about attraction.  What makes your audience tick?  What will get them to see the next show?  What will get your next follower to commit to what you put out?  Your audience is comprised of all different people from all walks of life.  You have to know who your audience is to make the impact you are looking for in this world.

In the words of Chris Gardner (Will Smith’s character in the Pursuit of Happyness), “If you want something, go get it.  Period.”

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Artists – The Debacle of Respect

Apple is one of the most innovative companies in the world.  Constantly creating the next new thing that everyone has to have.  So, when the announcement of Apple Music was to be launched I was a little surprised that they were so late in the game of streaming, which has undoubtedly continued to grow.  The thought of paying $10 a month to a streaming service and having unlimited access to thousands of songs is appealing, but in my opinion streaming is more of a discovery service than an actual income stream for artists.  The more I look at streaming, I use it to listen to new music to see if I like it.  If I like, I buy it.  So, should music artist really look at it as a revenue stream, or an audience building tool?

An article by Billboard Magazine discussed how in the first three months of its free streaming trial it would not pay artists for their music that was streamed (this is no longer the case).  The business aspect of this was ‘I’m not making money so why should I give you money?’  Needless to say, it created a big upheaval in the music world and Taylor Swift took it upon herself to be the voice of the artists.  She made a statement on her Tumblr – “This is not about me.  This about the new artist or band that has just released their first single and will not be paid for their success.  This is about the young songwriter who just got his or her first cut and thought royalties would get them out of debt.  This is about the producer who works tirelessly to innovate and create, but will not get paid for a quarter of a years worth of plays on his or her songs.”  Do you think this was all unselfish?  I think everyone, including the superstars in the industry had a right to be mad, but I still stand by my point that it shouldn’t be apart of the revenue budget, more like bonus income.  My question is was this whole thing a publicity stunt by Apple?  A company that is worth billions of dollars worried about paying artists for three months without a source of income from ONE revenue stream when they have numerous other ways to bring in money?

We all look at artists and think that it is a glamour field of money, fortune, and fame, but in reality it is a life struggle that these people had the courage to pursue a career that they loved rather than a career that makes bank.  Artists like Justin Timberlake and Taylor Swift are a small percentage that hit it big in the industry.  The Bureau of Labor Statistics states that in 2014 musicians/ singers made a median range of $23.50 per hour.  Now add in the cost of studio rentals, producers, songwriters, record labels, executives, managers, manufacturing, equipment, and touring and that is not a whole lot of money.  Every revenue stream counts for any artists.

The one thing that frustrates me about this whole debacle and pretty much any artist issue is that musicians are not the only artists out their trying to survive.  Dancers are in just as much struggle as the musician.  They have similar expenses such as studio rentals, tour costs, costumes, shoes, music licensing, management and development teams.  Also, there is only a select group in the public that has a passion for dance, and there isn’t as many revenue streams that can be tapped like the music industry.  Unlike the music industry where there is streaming, buying albums and individual songs.  Many dancers have to rely on a company for income (salary/ stipend for rehearsals and performances), or an agent getting them a temporary job on film, TV, a music tour, or Broadway.  There is also a ticking time bomb when you can no longer perform because your body just can’t.  Many dancers are involved in other revenue avenues like company contract work, select seasons on Broadway, sponsorship opportunities, teaching, and book writing on their endeavors in the industry.  Just like the music industry, there are dancers that are superstars and have made millions of dollars like Derek Hough or Mikhail Baryshnikov, but it took them years to get there.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics the median salary a dancer makes is $13.41/ hour or if you are a choreographer $21.28/ hour.   That is less than a musician/ singer.  Many dancers and choreographers are not on an annual salary because they work based on a contract and are only paid for certain aspects of their job such as rehearsals or performances.   Granted, many orchestra musicians are in the same predicament.  The amount of free projects that dancers get involved in is based on trying to network and meet new artists that could potentially hirer them. Isn’t that the same in the music industry?  You send out samples of your music to try and draw an audience, gather a fan base, and gain feedback from people you respect and admire.  I have personally lost count on how many free projects I have done like choreographing a piece for a fundraising event or driving three hours for a rehearsal for weeks on end and then performing it once or twice at a few festivals.  None of these opportunities I got paid.  Some were friends of mine, while others were endeavors that I fully supported like at risk youth and the arts.  Granted I had other sources of income like teaching ballet and working on the administrative side of the arts industry.

I think we all have to ask ourselves some hard questions – why are we creating art?  Why are we creating music?  Why do you dance or choreograph?  Would I feel this way if this was a hobby and not my livelihood?  I think that the general public looks at art as it is owed to them.  I see it constantly working on the administrative side of the business.  Your taxes dollars do not pay the nonprofit employee’s salary, nor does your tax dollars pay to take care of the art work or support the programming that happens in a dance company or art institution.  People have this thought process that the arts are a right not a privilege.  We are privileged that artists feel strongly about their work that they want to share it with us.  I look at artists as superheroes.  They are brave.  Laying everything they have out in the open for the public to be loved and criticized at the same time.  Apple took a risk.  Was it wrong – yes.  Should we respect artists for their work – absolutely.  The next time you hear someone on the subway stop and listen.  If you enjoy it use your Tumblr or Twitter and promote it.  Don’t steal work that belongs to others.  I think if artists want the industry to respect the art and the artist, it needs to start with the public respecting the art first.

“All I’m askin is for just a little respect…”

Entertainment Down at the Beaches of Los Angeles

VeniceSo I have a big announcement readers…I am moving to Los Angeles in less than ten weeks and much of my immediate family has decided to move with me, including my parents and younger brother. During some time out there in April, my brother and I spent time down at the beaches (of course!). Unlike normal people on vacation who feel the need to cram every tourist like activity into a few days we were way more low key. We spent a lot of time walking around and checking out the beach communities including Playa del Rey, Marina del Rey, Venice, and Santa Monica. The beaches are covered with people playing instruments and trying to pass samples of their music to people passing by in hopes that they have given their CD to a record executive.

So, here is what you got – Playa del Rey and Marina del Rey are the local crowds. Friends hanging out, passing around their guitar, and just relaxing. Venice is where people are passing around music with headphones and then once they give you the music they want a donation for giving you something, which to me is kind of shady.  If you are going to give out your music maybe you should do some promotion with the people that your talking to instead of giving them a CD and asking for a donation.  Your best way would be to get personal and give them a flyer to your next show.  Maybe they are a record executive and you just missed your shot by being lazy.  Anyway, if you are looking to avoid this “let me give you a CD and then ask for a donation thing” – during the day it is less frequent, but in the late afternoon/ evening it becomes a heavy crowd of ‘artists’ doing this.

The third area is Santa Monica. This is the best area to really hear people play music. We hung around the Third Street Promenade where there were many art acts from ‘Dancing Dave’ who didn’t really have much rhythm to musicians. There were two types of musicians – really hot guys who decided it was best to play with an open shirt.  I mean seriously dude have some respect for yourself.  If people like your music they will come and listen, and if not then keep practicing and playing eventually it will happen.  Is it really necessary to have your shirt open and make yourself a piece of meat?

Then there was this violinist.  He played all current radio hits like Shake It Off (Taylor Swift), Jealous (Nick Jonas), and Love Me Like You Do (Ellie Goulding).  Now mind you I am not a huge fan of Ellie Goulding’s new song and I made that known every time we were in the car and it came on the radio and I changed the station.  Do you know when you hear a cover of a song and you don’t recognize it at all?  Well, when this violinist started playing this song I made my brother sit and listen.  I was totally mesmerized by this young man’s playing and I am pretty sure I was going on and on about how beautiful the song was that the violinist was playing.  Of course, having complained about this song all week my brother started laughing and thought I was kidding. Needless to say I didn’t hear the end of it for a few days, but it was totally worth listening to him play.  He slowed down the tempo and had a smoothness to his playing.  Plus in my opinion everything sounds amazing with a string instrument.  He had business cards to promote himself saying that he played at parties, weddings, and studio contract work.  He also had CDs to sell as well as stayed in the area to talk to people after he was done playing. He was extremely personable and connected with his audience.  Street musicians study this man!  He knows what he is doing.  We came back for two or three days in a row and he always had a crowd around him.  I wouldn’t doubt if we see him playing Walt Disney Concert Hall someday.