While artists may wish the capital M in this industry belonged to music, the truth is there is many other elements which have to be in place to successfully launch and nurture a career.
The record execs and publicists would have you believe that the M stands for marketing. They love to take credit for how they masterminded the strategy that broke the band.
In reality when it comes to successful acts, the dominating M is not music, or marketing, but marketability, and that ultimately lies in the hands of the artist themselves. The most successful acts in both the mainstream and the more niche genres, understand this as the key to growth and sustainability.
So many artists fall down because they put too many eggs in one basket. They woefully neglect other key ingredients, which, unless firmly in place, will lead to missed opportunities and ultimately, failed careers.
The arena in which to market your music is more widespread than ever before. It can range from securing a magazine cover, to engaging a fan to share your latest video. A magazine can reach thousands of people, but get 1000 people to post your video on their profile, and the potential spread of that could well out grow the scope of a print publication.
The strategies are even more open too. Being the world’s most unmarketable band could strangely be a good marketing tool, if used in the right way. However, it is the artists who have to be savvy with what they are doing, and how they present themselves. Nothing halts the flow of a marketing campaign more than an artist feeling uncomfortable and resentful with how they are being portrayed.
3 ESSENTIAL ELEMENTS
No matter who is helping market your music, there are a few essential elements that will help make you marketable enough for that magazine cover, or a share on a few thousand fans facebook wall.
1. MUSICAL ABILITY: There is a reason pro-footballers train all the time; they have to stay on top of their game and in shape. If you want to be a pro-musician, you have to do the same. Your mind, voice and fingers have to be fighting fit and getting better everyday. If you believe that the talent you are born with is enough, then you better get used to being a hit with just your family and friends and not much else.
When people talk about the music seemingly flowing through someone, it is not because they are more special then anyone else; it is because they dedicated themselves to pushing their abilities to the max and never giving up. The end result is that their abilities become second nature. We can all walk and talk very well, because we do it all the time, everyday. Playing an instrument or singing is no different, you have to engross yourself in it, every spare second you have.
When we get on a airplane we like to know the pilot has put in his hours of training. When you are on stage, you are the audience’s pilot, and they respond most favorably if you are totally in control of their evening.
2. SONG WRITING: A great song is an amazing marketing tool. However, only having one great song, without a second to back it up, is taking your career path towards hosting a karaoke contest in Reno, rather than hosting the VMA’s.
As with musicianship, songwriting takes time to get right. If you luck out and write a catchy song early on, it can actually doom the rest of your career.
The more you write, the more genuine your music will become, and the better your songs will be. So many artists never progress passed the mimicry stage. They settle because they think they find a formula that connects. When that formula is convincingly sounding like some else, it can too easily be mistaken as genuinely marketable. It isn’t, people can tell the difference. Even if they can’t always articulate it in words, they enforce it by not investing long term in you or your art. You need to forge your own identity, otherwise the new Bob Dylan comparisons will soon become “he’s just a second rate Dylan” and that does your career no good at all. Being referenced to others is OK, but if all you can be is referenced, then you’ll come up short.
Writing your own songs and having the ability to write for others significantly increases your marketability. Collaborations open up your potential for adopting other people’s fans. You don’t have to set your sights immediately on writing for Lady Gaga either; it can be with another band on the local scene. All collaborations will increase your exposure and increase your marketability.
3. IMAGE: It takes dedication to learn what makes you look good and what suits you, and it’s very important that you do. Just because you get a top stylist to dress you for a shoot, doesn’t protect you from looking like a tit. If you know what works for you, then you can make the most of what they bring and collaborate with them.
You don’t have to be outrageous, you don’t have to be shocking, but you do have to be honest and convincing. Nirvana wore ripped jeans and t shirts, and the kids loved it, because it felt real and was congruent with their music. Madonna pushed the boundaries of the era and made it work, because she did it without any apologies. Tom Waits continues to embrace the character that he created and retains his authenticity.
There are no concrete rules, but if you are a college graduate from the Hamptons trying to portray a down on his luck, growling tramp from southern California, you probably need to rethink your strategy. The best way to be believable is, like I said before, to be honest. If you like pretending to be other people then I’d recommend being an actor, because if you haven’t heard, the music industry doesn’t pay so good nowadays, and competition is tough.
Time will tell if Lady Gagas 24/7 fashion show results in a long-term career. Maybe we will be watching I love the 10’s on VH1 in 15 years, and saying oh yeah I remember her, I think she hosts karaoke in Reno now. Gaga’s image certainly is marketable, but whether it is sustainable is another question.
Honesty and ability will win through every time. Sure some people have faked their way through the business and reached a modicum of success, but the opportunity to do this is shrinking everyday. You want to be famous? Be a reality star, your 15 minutes awaits you.
Want to be a successful musician? Then you got to be in it for the long haul. Understanding who you are, why you are that way, and how to best convey it, takes time, dedication, and…oh yeah, a hell of a lot of practice.
Robin Davey is a Musician, Film Director and Producer born in the UK and now residing in Los Angeles. He was inducted into the British Blues Hall Of Fame at the age of 23 with his band The Hoax. His current band The Bastard Fairies achieved over 1 Million downloads when they were the first band to release an album for free via the internet in 2006. As a director he won the best Music Video award at the American Indian Motion Picture Awards. His feature documentary The Canary Effect - an exploration into the hidden Genocide of Native Americans, won The Stanley Kubrick Award For Bold and Innovative Film Making at Michael Moores Traverse city Film Festival in 2006. He is also head of Film and Music Development at GROWvision - A full service media, management and production company.