More Music, Less Marketing

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Article originally published on KnowTheMusicBiz.com on July 20, 2010.

I am sitting at the edge of the Grand Canyon with a teaspoon trying to fill it in. That’s what marketing and self-promotion can feel like in the digital age or at least, that’s the way it feels to me.

I walked into a cavernous Barnes and Noble a few months ago. They opened another location by me on East 86th street in New York. I can’t begin to describe how big it is. I’ve lived in Manhattan my entire adult life so I do a double take when I see wasted space- but this? This place is ridiculous. It completely freaked me out. I felt a primal fear that I haven’t felt since Sylvia Rhone (former CEO of Elektra) used to scream at me- but that’s a whole other blog post. I’ve spent considerably more time than I originally thought I would writing and creating content for various websites and to realize that this one store contained a million or more books and these were just the books that were deemed the best by major publishers meaning the total volume of writing out there is… staggering.

What could I possibly have to offer that wasn’t already written somewhere?

It made me think about the quality of what I write as well as the quality of music being made today.  You really have to be exceptional to make it these days.  It reminded me of a conversation I had with my friend Mark Hermann recently about “just because you can – should you?”

We were talking about music and how there were no more barriers to entry and how on the one hand – what a wonderful freedom! On the other hand – how can we hear any one thing if we are in a stadium full of people screaming and demanding to be heard? Would we know if one of these voices was the next Beatles? Probably not. I love that image and wish I could claim it as my own but it belongs to Mark and I think he’s right on. One of the larger music management companies in New York has a sign on the door that reads “It’s about the music, stupid.” I think we are very quick to forget that these days.

I have been consulting and coaching artists informally for years but have only really begun Musician Coaching as a business in the last year which is when my site went live.  Sometimes I need to spend more time telling people to continue to develop their product and how best to do that because it can be worth the wait. The Beatles wrote a hundred songs before you ever heard note one of their first record and had played covers for several years. R.E.M played pizza joints in Athens Georgia in complete obscurity for a long time. Peter Frampton toured non-stop for three years before recording Frampton comes alive.

I can wake up tomorrow, write and record a song and have it up on MySpace tomorrow but should I? I’m not saying there is anything wrong with doing so but I do think if you are just starting out you should have realistic expectations of your abilities and the level at which you expect people to respond.

Why doesn’t anyone care anymore? It is simply because there is too much mediocrity out there. I say this often “There is no one in the audience because everyone is on the stage.” Cheap recording gear and low or no cost international distribution are now tools that are in everyone’s hands. The music business is no longer an exclusive club – if you’ve got an Internet connection and a mic in jack you can now be considered a member.

“It’s about the music, stupid.” It’s a great reminder. All I am suggesting is write 100 songs and put the best one of those 100 out for people to hear. I am suggesting that if you have to cut your teeth playing live and are struggling making it solo- try to do it as a sideman or a hired gun. 99% of the “overnight success” stories you hear involve someone working their ass off behind the scenes for a long long time before they broke. If you want a good read- check out the Hendrix book “Room Full of mirrors” – Jimmy played 2nd fiddle to a ton of people before going out on his own.

In America there seems to be this feeling that everyone gets their 15 minutes or worse yet- everyone deserves their 15 minutes. We have been sold this vision that at any moment fame and wealth may strike without working for it. There is something tattooed on the back of our brains that somewhere out there Ed McMahon is looking for each and every one of us with an over-sized check and that the rest of our lives will be taken care of from that moment on… I’m all for the Lotto slogan “Hey, you never know” but I’m sure as hell not building my business plan around it.

What is my point? My point is, and I don’t exclude myself, we have to spend less time on marketing and more time making sure we have products that are worth marketing. There is more music out there than ever before- everyone you know is a “musician” or at least a hobbyist and consumers are very jaded. Before shotgunning your product out there and whipping your fans into a frenzy about your new release you had better make damn sure that you have a product that is not only competitive but stronger than most of the stuff you see and hear or it’s over before it starts.

Rick Goetz is a Musician Coach and Music Consultant by way of a fifteen year career as a Major label A&R executive at Atlantic and Elektra Records a musician and a music supervisor. Throughout his career he has played bass for members of the Cult and Sharon Jones & the Dap Kings and on the industry side has worked with artists like Kid Rock, Matchbox 20, Sugar Ray and Damage Plan. His current client list ranges from musicians just starting out to Grammy Award winners to corporations in need of music rights. You can check out Rick at www.MusicianCoaching.com or twitter.com/musiccoaching.

7 thoughts on “More Music, Less Marketing

  1. my frustration is with weekend warriors that book gigs but have no serious intentions for the craft.  they don’t mind that they sing off key..forget parts..they have day jobs..they don’t need the money.. they just want to have fun……….i will move on..but they will continue to convince the club owners that they should play..taking up that valuable spot on the monthly calendar..while we, who practice, pretend: “if your good..they’ll know it”.  that doesn’t always sell.  crowds love misbehavior beer and southern rock.

  2. “In America there seems to be this feeling that everyone gets their 15 minutes or worse yet- everyone deserves their 15 minutes. We have been sold this vision that at any moment fame and wealth may strike without working for it.”

    Couldn’t have said it better myself. It applies across the board too – not just in music.

    Paul

  3. Well said Rick. You’ll have a hard time marketing something that’s not ready to be marketed. You’ll just end up frustrated, confused and unfulfilled and you’ll be just be contributing to the noise and spam that we’re all trying to cut through. Trying to market bad music is like trying to conduct electricity through dirt. It don’t work so good. 🙂 Get the music right and then you’ll be able to get results with your marketing.

  4. There is sadly no manager store – the best I can tell you is to grow it as best you can on your own until the band is self sustaining. I always suggest focusing on converting fans – if you play to enough people and convert enough fans someone with industry experience will notice and if they don’t by the time you have been doing this long enough you won’t be someone of limited experience. Any pair of responsible hands you can get on board in the meantime that will work for the love of music (or beer) are probably worth having. Like any other business you are usually looking at years invested before you see a return.

  5. Rick,
    My name is Brent Griffin, I currently manage my son’s 4-piece jazz band on a part-time basis, it is my belief that they are ready for full-time management. The problem is… my experience is limited. I want to thank you for the insight and wisdom, but for the small percentage of bands that are prepared and have the items listed above (we believe that we do), how do we find adequate management? We’ve been told that we have a great cd but where do we go to really get someone to invest the money and time needed to get to he next level?

    Thank you,

    Brent Griffin
    847.785.9631

  6. I can only imagin the pressure you musician have this days, considering that 15 minutes and all, all I know is one way or the other this gift you have is something rather to give it back. God bless you more and grant you all the strength and wisdom you need to stay alive and deliver your best! you Guys are needed maybe more than you can imagin, so be better than you think you can!!

    With Love!!

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