“This day and age, just making music is not always enough.”
Here’s the reality: everybody makes music. In my niche, electronic music, this is especially the case. It easier now to be a musician than it has ever been before. To stand out from the sea of artists, it has never been more important to develop skill sets that complement your music.
You might think, “Gee, Sky, shouldn’t I triple down on my music in order to stand out?” You could. It’s simpler to be different than to be better because there will always be people better than you. Unless you’re Beethoven and have been playing music since you could walk, you probably can’t skate by on music alone. So instead of directly competing with the thousands of musicians who make and play similar music to you, go the road less travelled by and build out your other skill sets.
Whether you want to stand out to a promoter or cut through a label’s inbox, here are tips for promoting your music. They are all relatively cheap (or free), and are tested and true.
The 10 Low-Cost Advantages
1. Think about your unique bargaining chips (then use them)
I don’t know you. I don’t know what you’re good at, and what you’re not.
But you know you.
Before you continue reading, open up your notes app and type out a few ideas on what you can bring to promoters’, labels’, and bloggers’ tables. The following suggestions may not apply to you. You might have a secret weapon in your arsenal that I cannot even fathom.
Know that a unique advantage may not seem like much to you. You might have a car to pick up an artist from the airport or a couch they could crash on. You might have a good afterparty spot or access to some cool equipment at school. Take inventory of what you have and how you can use it.
2. Be professional
If you can properly shake a hand and write an email, you’ll go far. I write a massive amount about professionalism on my blog, but here’s the condensed version. Assume that everybody is busy, and make things as easy as possible for them. Keep emails and messages short. Show up on time, do what you say you’re going to do, and take responsibility for everything under your control–even if it isn’t exactly your fault. You don’t make yourself look any better by shifting the blame to someone else.
3. Accept you’re the little guy
“Until your name is selling tickets on the flyer, don’t think differently.”
-Brandon Owen, Founder, White Rabbit Group
Nobody owes you anything. There will always be someone bigger than you, better than you, and more talented than you. Even if you are at the top of your market, you may just be a big fish in a small pond. Keep an air of humility and gratitude around you, and you’ll notice people like to work with you. A lot of the entertainment industry rides on hype and fame, and if you want none of that, you’re a breath of fresh air.
4. Support before you ask
Most artists ask for opportunities like a drunk 19 year-old uses Tinder.
If you want something from someone, build a relationship with them before asking. Everybody wants a piece of someone influential. The more someone has to offer, the more they get asked. If you’re willing to help an influential person with no immediate expectation of return, you have an edge.
Figuratively speaking, it’s better to wine-and-dine your business contacts before asking them to put out. Romance them a little. This doesn’t just make your ask more effective, but also creates the potential for a long-term relationship with powerful people. I hate artists cold-asking me to play shows. I love booking artists who have consistently supported my shows.
5. Write for a blog
Everybody likes to see their name in big letters. Writing is a super power that allows you lend your own influence to help others. Even if you don’t have a large amount of readers, giving somebody press can make a big impression.
I travelled from Boise to Los Angeles to celebrate my 21st birthday. My birthday fell on a Tuesday night, which coincided with the epic Hollywood club weekly, Space Yacht. I knew I had to play a set. Recognizing that I’m not the typical artist to roll through there, I pitched the team an article I could write (plus some other media things) in exchange for an opening slot. Boom, it happened.
Look out for people you can interview or events you can cover. It’s important to be good, but more important to be different. Have a unique point of view, and ask the questions nobody is else is asking.
6. Leverage your social circle
A horde of local artists who try to create their own version of #MelloGang and #SharkSquad. Then there’s local artists who actually do.
If you can legitimately create a tribe around you, you have a superpower. Promoters are looking for people to buy tickets. Labels are looking for people to buy (and stream) records. If you can solve this problem by providing customers–your tribe–you have a massive advantage.
But, these tribes don’t just create themselves. Many of the ideas in this article equally apply to building relationships with your tribe. Be nice, keep your word, be grateful and excited to see people come out.
Similarly, if you’re popular at high school, have an Instagram account with thousands of followers, or are a part of a Greek house, bring the people around you along for your journey. Be cautious of who you let into your network, but open up your friend group to support your artistry.
7. Promote for others
What would you do if you wanted to stand above most artists in your area and found out that 90% of them refuse to sell tickets to their shows? You’d sure sell some tickets.
From my experience, most local artists will not sell tickets to shows they are playing. Between reading a horror story on a music blog and conceding to their egos, they decided to refuse pushing tickets for their shows.
If you say, “well, it’s not my job to sell tickets. It’s the promoter’s job,” you’re wrong. Talent is the major driver of an event’s success or failure. If you can’t sell tickets by just having your name on the bill, you best be in the streets getting a hustle on.
Remember that in the end, a promoter’s job is to make money. All of the good things about an event end up making a promoter money. Be hungry enough and humble enough to hit the streets. Pad a promoter’s pocketbook and watch your importance develop. Become a vital piece of every team you are a part of, and you will never be out of demand.
You shouldn’t always sell tickets in every scenario. There are shady promoters who extort artists to sell tickets in ridiculous scenarios. If you have to buy tickets upfront, be the top seller, or push a quota tickets to get on the bill, you’re probably dealing with a sketchy promoter. Don’t continue doing business with them. But just because you run into the occasional bad promoter doesn’t mean you should turn way from promoting your performances altogether.
8. Make introductions & connections
Do you know two people who would benefit from knowing each other? Link them up.
Maybe your aunt owns a whiskey brand and your promoter friend is looking for event sponsors. Maybe a record label owner is looking for fresh talent and you know of an unknown kid who can blow it away. Maybe you know someone who has a problem and another person who could solve it perfectly.
Making introductions is a great way to build equity in a scene. By connecting people, you are able to leverage another person to solve a problem for someone influential. If you can build lasting relationships between two people, you further your own position in the network. It’s neat.
Now, it is easy to go overboard with introducing people. Truly only connect people who you feel add value and could foster a good working relationship. By no means should you try to introduce every single person in your network to each other.
9. Create good, useful content
Are you a talented graphic designer? Can you take pictures? Do you know how to set up a proper Facebook Live stream? Offer your creative services in addition to your music.
I’ve been a graphic designer far longer than I’ve been a musician–and I’ve been a musician for an eternity. When I first got into the electronic music scene in 2013, I knew I could whip up awesome artwork. I quickly wound my way through the scene by providing artwork for promotion companies, record labels, and artists I respected.
10. Over-deliver on everything you promise
Ah, lastly. Go above and beyond.
Do you want to sell 10 tickets? Sell 15. Do you want to submit your track in 9 days? Submit it in 6, and add a radio edit in there.
Whatever you promise to do, do a little extra. If you can consistently provide more value than is expected of you, your role will change. By over-delivering on your promises, you will go from the bottom of the totem clear into the atmosphere. Be a pleasant surprise to everyone you work with and you will never run out.