A Discourse on the Immediacy of Music Promotion in the 21st Century

The ever-changing methods of music promotion in a digital age involves being cautious. How you handle your music promotion skills will help your success.

The music industry, in its ever-evolving entity, is not the same music industry of your parents’ generation. Gone are the days where you and a few pals struggled to learn 4 chords on a guitar, play a few really great nights at bars and hope to be discovered the good ol’ fashioned way by a record label A&R. In 2017, a very Instagramian, uber self-obsessed, upload anything and expect to get hits and your own reality show-type world – the same surreal expectations trickle into the music industry. It’s confusing enough for anybody who isn’t musically inclined; just hearing about how certain things are handled on the periphery is strange. For those who wish to embark on the cautiously optimistic trek of getting their hard efforts out there and appreciated the same good ol’ fashioned way of decades ago – be forewarned. This is no longer the music industry of the 60’s and 70’s. Music promotion, for those still inexperienced, comes with different masks.

Regardless of any facet within the entertainment industry, it can be essentially boiled down to intention and luck (luck can be debated over whether or not it’s self-made, or from a ‘higher source’). Sometimes you may read about an up and coming pop star who had the good fortune of uploading a few songs on her Soundcloud account, only to be signed to a major label shortly thereafter. You may hear of the odd twists and turns in some other musicians lives, who spend years, if not decades, cranking out quality material, only to gain some semblance of success. Then again, what is success? Another grey area, a man-made concept we all have a subjective definition for. Music promotion is a grey area in 2017. Today, there are endless types of services that claim to boost your image and music – for a fee. By becoming the middleman, this “business” can turn your rockstar dreams into actual reality, and what’s wrong with investing in yourself? It’s called a red flag, and it’s also called taking advantage of those who are still learning about how to protect themselves. With all due respect, there are some reliable, worthy talent scouts out there who don’t wear a mask. They can very well help you succeed, just take extreme caution. Read between the lines. Read the fine print before signing absolutely anything.

Music promotion sounds almost simultaneously ambiguous as it is black and white. With today’s bedroom producers and record labels, (the latter which can come in any variety of sorts and again is far different from the old record label definition), there’s more grayness. A record label used to be an all-encompassing factor in a musician or band’s life; a team including a manager, A&R, publishing company, and distribution, to name a few. Today, a record label can be any one or several of those things, with exception. In today’s perpetual online existence, you’re taking away the human quality and warmth of getting signed. You’re taking away the inevitability of sitting in a huge meeting on either US coast, with a huge guy at a huge desk, signing your name on the dotted line below. Today, everything is done online. Music promotion is done online, and many sites will try to persuade you that you can do it all yourself – what’s there to fear, if you’re putting in the work? You don’t have to necessarily worry about another person doing something wrong, or not doing something important altogether. Of course, not all sites which offer music promotion are out to do you a disservice and swindle you. Again, it pays (literally) to take great caution and read carefully. Why? Businesses, no matter what, have a “what’s in it for us?” mentality. Even with the current PC, “friendly” Millennial voice that promises a “we’re here to help you – we’ve been in your shoes” approach, a business mentality stands just as firmly. Sure, you might get a blog written about you, tons of Facebook likes and shares, scores of Instagram followers, thousands of Youtube hits, but consider the variables. There are bots and they aren’t your real fans. They’re not even real. And you can get blogs written about you, if you play your cards right, are open to quality and genuine music writers, and maybe even luck.

For those seeking authentic services that will genuinely provide assistance in getting music out there, it’s helpful to keep an open mind about everything. Of course, probably since the beginning of time there have been people taking interest in marketing others’ talents and abilities for profit. There is indeed a very scary aspect to modern prospects in music promotion. It comes in the form of a contract from a record label. They want you and they’ll tell you in black and white how great a fit you’ll be to their company. Congratulations, we believe you have the measure of talent we’re looking for. The first page they may give you lofty figures and statements; their last 5 albums were played on worldwide radio stations, this podcast such and such played these featured songs by these featured artists, and you get royalties. These words unfortunately look too good to be true, and again, while there are well respected and trustworthy companies and the like, these types of stories will undoubtedly sucker in a hungry artist. Back in the day such a thing was unheard of. The label should give you money first, rather than you pay them for their business, right? Vague, grey ambiguity once more. Marketing artists in a digital world means music promotion and social media. What artist today exists without his or her social media platforms? It’s almost a prerequisite for any musician, regardless of music aesthetic, style, or genre. Marketing a brand and image takes time and that often involves money. Whether or not you think of a stereotype of a music manager telling you what you’re going to do with your life, you have to consider how much are you going to put into someone else’s hands? How much does your art matter to you? Are they sincerely looking to improve that with you? Investing in yourself can be a great tool, but do you really trust this other entity (who wants a cut from it?).

Sometimes the hardest part in the beginning is getting the positive feedback you’ve been yearning for. That unfortunately plays into the artist’s hunger. Also consider, how much genuine interest does this other entity seemingly have of you? To quote Pink Floyd’s “Have a Cigar”*, “You’re gonna go far, you’re gonna fly high […] you’re gonna make it if you try, they’re gonna love you. I’ve always had a deep respect and I mean that most sincerely, the band is just fantastic, that is really what I think, oh, by the way, which one’s Pink?”Are they really there to truly promote you, or collect their commission? Music promotion, today, begins with the bedroom producer. It used to begin with the record label and manager. Seeing what’s out there and treading ahead cautiously is the smart and rational approach. In essence, are you willing to pay for your exposure? Nothing is guaranteed, so what kind of intentions are you setting forth for yourself? Bottom line, it helps to have a entertainment lawyer.

*”Have a Cigar,” written by Roger Waters of Pink Floyd
Be careful before signing documents.

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