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Great Marketers Aren't Afraid To Annoy and Why You Need To Think Like Them

It is nothing new that this business of music is highly competitive, especially now. And at the end of the day, the best marketer will “win” - whether intentionally or accidentally. I don’t know about you, but I want to understand how to do things and get things done intentionally. So I study, observe, and pore over as much as I can. I’m always learning and applying things I learn. And the lesson in marketing that I’m getting ready to share with you is one that I wish I learned years ago. The lesson surprised me. But, better late than never. 

Before I go into it, I first need to say that what I’m getting ready to share does not apply if you do not have a truly good product in your hands to bring to the public. I should also note here that a good product is automatically crappy when it is marketed/delivered to the wrong target audience. So, before any of what I’m getting ready to share matters, you MUST have a good product and you MUST know who your target audience is and market to them.  

I used to be afraid of always talking about my music to people, whether it was online or offline. Mainly because I was afraid I would annoy and lose them. I found myself in a dilemma of sorts because the promotion of my music was inconsistent as result. And inconsistency doesn’t breed success.  So I had to check myself. I was taking this music thing too personally. I needed to step back and be a bit more objective with my career. I needed to think like a businessman. After all, I’ve spent 6 years building my own marketing company up to that point.

As I understood business, when you have a good product, the main task at hand is to figure out ways to let your target audience know it exists and raise your product’s profile in their lives. That is your focus. You are the owner. You are the marketer. The success of that product is in your hands. And, being in music makes no difference. If I ever want to make this passion my “9 to 5”, I had better pull it together. What I’ve found is that it took just as much creativity to be in business as it did to make music. Both requires you to take what is seemingly nothing and make it into something. Except when it comes to the business side of things, your job is to make your music, which at the start is nothing in the mind of a consumer, become something meaningful to that consumer. And the key to great marketing is one word: frequency. 

Great marketers know how to keep their products in front of their target audience constantly, especially when their market is a particularly competitive one. They have to constantly make an impression on their target audience - constantly making an impression on someone new and constantly reminding that person their product exists. Not only do they need to let people know about their product, but they needed to do it with frequency.

I came across a video interview with Miles Copeland (the man behind the success of I.R.S. Records and The Police) on that really helped drive this home for me. In it, Miles talked about the importance of maintaining gross impressions. He shared a compelling account of how Coke decided to cut their ads because they thought it was unnecessary because everyone already knew who they were.  The next day, sales dropped and Pepsi gained ground on them. Pepsi became more ingrained in people’s mind - their profile raised in the lives of the public because Coke dropped out. Miles Copeland goes on to say that when an artist manager talks to him about overexposure, he looks at them like they have two heads.  Miles doesn’t believe in overexposure in this day and age. His compelling argument made me ask myself two very important questions. Has anyone ever gone out of business because of overexposure? Umm…I couldn’t think of one. Has anyone ever gone out of business because of underexposure? Plenty!  

It dawned on me. I had been irrationally afraid. Afraid to annoy people. I was sucking at marketing my music as a result. Sure, like many of us, I thought I was being noble and a gentleman in how I’ve been communicating about my music. Now, I just realized I was being foolish. And foolish for two reasons: First, I was insecure. My music was too personal and I did everything I could to avoid rejection in any ways I thought unnecessary. Secondly, I did not understand human nature. Great marketers aren’t afraid to annoy people because they understand human nature (or better said, the nature of human response). 

So I had been operating out of fear. And acting out of a bad emotion usually does not yield good results. The fear is understandable because we’ve all experienced someone unsubscribing to our mailing list or “un-liking” our Facebook fan page or “unfollowing” us on Twitter. And I don’t know about you, but it made me cut back on my communications for fear I was annoying people - for fear more would unsubscribe, unlike, or unfollow me. But, that fear was irrational. After all, the majority of the people were still with me. They didn’t mind my frequent communications. In marketing, you cannot afford to act according to the objections of a few, but only according to the behavior of the majority. 

Then, there was also the non-responsiveness from people who received my emails or saw my posts. Automatically, I assumed they didn’t care and that I might be annoying them if I kept at it. So I stopped the frequency of my communications. This was all out of insecurity. Again, I acted out of a bad emotion and it yielded inconsistent marketing results. Because the truth in marketing is this: a non-response is not a negative response. In fact, it usually means that the people are still in their discovery and decision making process. Some people can follow you and be aware of you for a long time before they decide they are going to buy your product. Think about this as a consumer - you know you’re the same way. 

“Wow,” I thought, “I’ve been stunted by my own irrational fear and insecurity.”  How could I have let this happen? I own a marketing company! Let me tell you how. I didn’t think with my head when it came to marketing my music. Make music with your heart, but you need your head to market it correctly. You need to think objectively.

Act according to facts and not assumptions. And the fact of marketing is this: you must constantly remind people of your music’s existence. Everyone is busy with many things. Like any other product in a competitive marketplace, if you want a good shelve space in their minds and a place in their lives, you must with much frequency remind them you’re there. 

Suppose you do annoy some people. Let me leave you with a known fact in the marketing and advertising world that surprised me: If you have a good product, after annoyance usually comes loyal acceptance.  

Even those who leave you because they were annoyed will come back once everyone around them is raving about you. They’ll say, “Oh, I was there when they started. I always knew they’d make it!” You’ll wanna show them a pretty bird, but you’ll forgive them because you realize: It’s human nature. Great marketers know this. I want you to take a look at a graphic piece below that was part of a press kit for an advertising campaign I was considering doing with the Washington City Paper. It’s a piece of advice from a nineteenth century businessman that still holds true today. Big brands understand this. Coke paid the price for not heeding this. Great marketers aren’t afraid to annoy and you shouldn’t be afraid neither. Just how frequent do you need to make an impression on your target audience? You’d be surprised. But note what happens after the 7th impression (which is when they get a little irritated). 


Minh is an artist, producer, and entrepreneur based in the DC area. His official site is


Reader Comments (10)

Marketers are never afraid to annoy people because they never face the consequences for that -- their clients do, though.

When you are your own marketing team, I would strongly advise anyone reading this to be far more careful about making marketing propaganda that reflects your actual art.

April 25 | Unregistered CommenterJustin Boland

@Justin - Hired marketers do face the consequences if they foul things up - they go out of business. I wonder if the marketers that decided to pull Coke ads still have a job? I'm sure someone was fired during that fiasco. The great marketers are still in business. And "frequency" is something that is not mentioned enough, which is the key to effective marketing and my whole point in this article. The things I shared are known marketing principles that are not mentioned enough and I felt it important for the independent artist to understand them and not ignore them in blind passion.

However, Paragraph 2 in my article is there because of the very concern you have. You definitely cannot be haphazard in your marketing approach. But understanding frequency is important if you're going to be successful. You have a pretty amazing blog and you know the value of hitting your audience every day with something good and something relevant.

April 25 | Registered CommenterMinh D. Chau

Minh - great stuff. Just found you recently. I have felt just like you over the last 8 years (I haven't wanted to annoy people the way another guy in my genre has with his hyperbole and fundraising to make his latest record, etc.).

But someone asked me yesterday if I was still "out there" doing music and shows. Oh, man!

I pay every month for a mass e-mail service, but I only use it 3-4x a year! But I believe I have a very good product, and the "fan testimonials" say the same, so - tomorrow morning - we crank it back up! Thanks for sharing your ideas. - Rob B.

April 26 | Unregistered CommenterRob Biagi

I think you touch on some really important points Minh, and stuff that I completely relate to with regards irrational fear of irritating. Justin's point is very true too and for some people, reading this will lead to the wrong sort of action - ie firebombing. It is important that the marketing is consistent with image/ethic/brand etc, which the audience doesn't even realise is promotional unless they really think about. And of course as a self-marketing artist you have an even more important tool, which is the personal relationships you can strike up with your audience. Every message/comment/tweet sent to someone is in essence vital marketing as you are giving your fans a reason to engage. In my own experience I have had people buy my stuff after Twitter exchanges. It sometimes takes a fair number of replies, which leads to a follow, and then some time and tweets later the follow becomes a 'relationship' and eventually they click through to the website and more often than not download something. But a really important part of this is that sales are not the conscious end that I am driving for in these situations - the aim is to convey a consistent, reliable and interesting/interested image. The one thing I know for sure is that when other artists/people show a consistent interest in me eventually (it might take a long time) I will want to find out who they are and so will eventually click on any links that they have. Rather than annoyingly saying 'look at me, look at me' (like everyone else) it is often more effective to say 'let me look at you, you're doing great things' and then after having their ego stroked they will say 'thanks, let me find out who you are'. Of course this has to be done 100% sincerely and again without sales as your aim. Tricky!

Good work Minh, you're doing great things! :)

April 26 | Unregistered CommenterAndy Mort

I think Justin Boland makes an important point. It remains vital to consider, irrespective of whether the product is 'good' or not, the target audience and what they respond to. General principles are great, but certain markets respond differently to others and 'catch all' heuristics can be dangerous if taken as gospel.

The advise by Thomas Smith reminds me of this gem of a video on the UK music scene:

April 26 | Unregistered CommenterJohn Chang

Great post...

I really believe that musicians need to be connecting with their crowd more than just a monthly newsletter.

But a lot of people get pissed off when you talk about an update email every few days.

I believe in "check move theory" which says that the more you connect with your fans in a cool way the more positive actions they will take towards helping your career.

- Chris

You are starting to get the idea. But "marketing" to a captive audience of your existing fans isn't much of a marketing campaign. Sure, it is important to stay connected with your fans and a weekly or monthly email is fine along with interaction on social networks. But the real goal for an indie artist has to constantly be enabling discovery of their music by new people and social networks are just not the end all answer for that purpose that they were hyped as. You have to think bigger and go beyond what the highly paid PR poodles offer you.

Music discovery is the key to success and unless you can put your music in front of literally millions of people for a reasonable price you will never know what is really possible for you...

April 30 | Unregistered CommenterMike Johnston

@Mike I respectfully disagree. Marketing isn't just about getting to new people, but also getting current people to buy. You can have a captive audience all day, but it means little if they don't buy. However, the same principles apply whether you are reaching out to a new audience or ones who've already heard of you. And the point, once again, is that frequency is an absolutely necessary ingredient. My attempt in this article was to free other independent artists and music entrepreneurs from the grip of irrational fear so they can effectively market their work.

Lastly, the key to success is a great attitude, a hopeful attitude. A positive outlook goes a long way. And it's tiring to hear that because I don't have a lot of money or capability to reach millions of people, I wont know what's possible. That mentality alone will keep you unsuccessful. I say all this respectfully. It needs to be said for those reading.

Another great piece Minh (and I checked out your music--also really liking what I heard!). Insecurity, fear, sheepishness is major for me when it comes to my music and what I didn't do next in the past (and I had another life as a publicist / marketing consultant (a successful one at that!). Great insight and inspiration to step it up starting today.

May 9 | Unregistered CommenterJosie

Want easily measurable results? Become an IT. I know immediately if I'm good or not.

July 14 | Unregistered CommenterMeg

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