Music and Marketing: The Catch-22 of an Independent Artist

Even though the words music and marketing often appear together, I have a hard time seeing exactly how the two fit.  Marketing requires us to put ourselves out there and the natural tendency of an artist is often to be guarded or reserved. More often than not, the music we create is an extension of ourselves, our experiences and our feelings, and as a result, we are more vulnerable to criticism. We are often torn between sharing our music and hiding it. We want to share it because we invested so much time and energy into it, but we want to hide it and keep it to ourselves because we are afraid of rejection. If you ever wondered why it can take such a long time to finish an album, that’s the reason. We fight, despair, and worry over the final production and if it weren’t for deadlines, hardly any of the music would ever be released.

I have been and probably always will be an independent artist – the majority of the music I make is created alone in my room and 90% of it the world will never hear. This isn’t because I don’t want to share my music, it’s because I’m afraid people won’t like it, so I scrutinize each and every song I release and this causes a lot of it to be “cut out.”

However much I may scrutinize or critique my music, I will always be able to do it better only moments after its completion. I think of it like this – a song is the equivalent of a photograph. It is a memory of where I was musically that day, that week or that hour. Once I finish a song and record it, I have to live with the way I sang or played, composed, or wrote at that time for the rest of my life. It is a musical snapshot of where I was and even as I grow and improve (and want to redo everything), my old songs will always be just that – a photograph.

Unfortunately, the Internet keeps things around forever – the minute something goes up, getting it back down is a feat! Old songs, old videos, old posts and old profiles hover in the background with the possibility of coming back to haunt us. If only the Internet didn’t have such a great memory!

The Internet poses many other problems for artists because it has allowed people to be, in some cases, downright hurtful. The anonymity that the Internet allows with commenting and ratings gives many the ability to “say what they really think.” Although having an independent mind and the ability to speak your mind might be considered an admirable quality to some, I think that we require some degree of “filtering” or behaving in a “polite” manner to really make things work.

If you saw (in real life!) someone trying to do something, to express themselves with art, whether that be singing, dancing or painting, you would never tell them “that’s terrible, you suck and should probably do something else.” Some might, but most wouldn’t. Now, let’s say, that same person posts a video of themselves doing the same thing – suddenly, mean-spirited commenters abound, protected by their fake profile information. If everyone had to use their real names and identities online, I don’t think as much cyberbullying would exist.

I truly think the expression “if you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all” has gone the way of the dodo bird.

When I see a video on youtube or hear a soundclip on iTunes that I am less than enthusiastic about, I stop watching it or listening to it and move on. I don’t leave a negative comment, thumbs down, or whatever else there may be. If I don’t like it, then, that’s my problem. I shouldn’t discourage someone trying to express themselves in a healthy and non-destructive way.

I’m sure you are wondering what this has to do with marketing, and here is where I will tell you. When an artist markets themselves or their music, they put themselves out there and there are so many things that make us hesitant to do just that. I know it may sound like a cliché, but art and music are created as an expression of one’s self. It is almost as though the artist or musician is sharing their diary with you – their most intimate moments and feelings and efforts – and all of that is there in each and every song or each and every piece of art.

The reason we can identify with a song or a painting is because we are emotionally connected to it. Think of a song that touches you. Ok, now realize that almost every single song a musician writes, that is the way they feel about it. If someone were to bash your favorite song, you would defend it. That’s often how artists feel, as though they have to defend themselves, their art, their creativity and their very existence. It’s no wonder there are so many “closet” musicians/artists.

I agree that if you put something out there for the world to see, it should be a contribution and not a detriment. So I ask you this: how detrimental is someone posting a video as they learn to play the piano on Youtube? Yes, it may hurt your ears for a few moments, but if you really can’t stand it, watch something else! Most artists should be applauded for the bravery of putting themselves out there and for surviving in such a vulnerable place. Besides, nature will surely take its course. If someone is not meant to be successful in art or music, a lack of audience will eventually make things clear for that person.

In fact, the result of writing negative comments allows the opposite to happen. By taking the time to write a negative review, you are giving whatever you are commenting on attention. We have all heard the saying “any news is good news.” Negative attention is attention nonetheless. It is somewhat akin to the attention many heiresses are receiving – the press publicizes any and every irresponsible action they take and as a result, they become famous (and not for good reasons). Therefore, people continue to behave in that manner because they have seen others have success with it and as a result, well, I’m sure I don’t need to explain that any further… You often hear people who are talking about others not doing what they should – but they are talking about them. They are making them noteworthy and newsworthy by giving them attention. So, if you think someone shouldn’t be doing art or music, don’t tell them so and give them attention – just let things happen the way they are meant to happen. You aren’t going to accomplish anything meaningful by hurting someone’s feelings.

It all comes back to the issue of bullying. It isn’t just the big kid in the schoolyard that acts as a bully – bullies can appear in many shapes and sizes and they are with you throughout your life. It may be your boss. It may be a parent. It may be a boyfriend or girlfriend. Most commonly, thanks to technology, bullies are those who can’t keep their negative thoughts to themselves online.* That’s one of the reasons I continue to work on Teen Jazz – I want to create a safe place for young artists trying to find their place in the world. A place where they can safely share things about themselves without being subject to criticism. I accept almost all applicants as long as I see that they make the effort to be there.

To conclude, I think we can all make each others’ lives a little easier by behaving online in the same manner we behave in person.


*There was an amazing movie about cyber bullying that came out recently (called Cyberbullying), and although it is geared towards young adults and teens, I think most people can learn from watching it.
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5 thoughts on “Music and Marketing: The Catch-22 of an Independent Artist

  1. This is a wonderful post. As a fledgling singer and songwriter, I’m terrified of putting my music on Youtube for exactly that reason. This phenomenon really struck me when Rebecca Black came out with Friday. I’m not saying it was a good song, but I just turned it off when I realized I didn’t like it. Yet millions of other people mocked her horribly online – some even going so far as to suggest she kill herself. The poor girl was only 13 at the time (I believe she was 12 when she recorded it). Rebecca Black may have been a somewhat extreme case because of the amount of media attention she received afterward, but you can find that sort of vitriol on just about any artist’s Youtube releases, whether they’re professionals or amateurs. People tend to forget that there are real people with real feelings on the other side of the computer screen.

  2. ohhh, i feel so strongly about this. believe me, you can’t be a comedian and have your stuff on ANY social media outlet and NOT have some people be douches. it’s just impossible for some people not to do. what’s THE worst part to me is that they remain anonymous. it’s that whole thing of ‘if you really think that, say it to someones’ face.’ the internet exalts the coward in that way… xo, sm

    • I agree that it is pretty crummy that they post anonymously. If their real name was attached to all their comments, the probably wouldn’t make them.

      I wish people would be more accountable for what they put out there. The terrible thing is that as artists/comedians/performers, we are required to be accountable for what we create as our responsibility to our audiences. The unfortunate truth is that it is a one way street and we aren’t given the same courtesy by those listening.

  3. Pingback: There’s Honest and Then There’s Hurtful | Saxophonist Shannon Kennedy

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