Last week, I found myself participating in a Twitter discussion (now there’s a phrase that I never thought I’d type) on the merits of self-publishing vs. working with a legacy publisher. (I self-publish in part because I want to keep my copyright on my work and also in part because Boosey and Schirmer have yet to call me.) This conversation gradually evolved into one about self-promotion during which many composers expressed their angst at the prospect and their lack of ability to do so effectively. I’m not naturally good at this sort of thing, which has led me to invest a great deal of thought towards creating a set of guidelines to help myself navigate between the Charybdis and Scylla of either having my music languish or forcing myself into awkward situations. Here are some hints:
1) Never engage in self-promotion. Instead, promote the wonderful projects with which you’re involved.
No wonder you’re shy about self-promotion! You’ve been taught from a very young age that it’s not nice to brag, and you’ve watched eyes glaze over in social situations the moment you start talking about your accomplishments. You’re right. It’s not good to self-promote. But I also presume that you’re involved with some amazing projects, that you’re working with other incredible musicians, that you have pieces that you want people to hear. Instead of self-promoting, explain these points. Tell people about the fabulous concert that just happens to have a piece of yours on it. Expound at length about how much time the talented musicians have spent learning your piece. Tout the fact that this particular piece stands out from all of your others.
2) Do your research.
If you’re anything like me, you probably write music with a specific niche. If it’s amplified and rock-based with a nice dance beat, you won’t get the classical critics very excited about it. Conversely, the rock critic won’t have a lot of fun at your solo vuvuzela recital. Find confluences and promote your projects to people who might have a natural interest in them.
3) Check, double check, and triple check.
Just as you can’t have any errors in your scores, you can’t have any in your promotional materials. Don’t give people an excuse to dismiss what you’re saying.
4) Don’t be shy.
Remember, you’re not talking about yourself, but about an interesting project. So you’re not being rejected, it’s that people just aren’t as into that particular project as you thought they might be. That’s okay. Don’t accept half answers and avoidance techniques. Instead, make certain that people understand what you’re proposing and that they don’t want to be involved. Accept a clear answer, but don’t assume that an unanswered email means that the person hated the idea. They might just have forgotten to reply.
5) Show genuine interest in what other people are doing.
The best way to find people who might be excited by what you’re doing artistically is to find others who have similar tastes. Go to any concert you possibly can make, listen online to anyone who seems at all similar to what you like, and buy the music of those artists who you most admire. Those people might be interested in working with you if they think that you know and respect what they’re doing. And you might find that other fans of the same music are interested in what you’re doing and want to collaborate or listen to your music.
6) Promote others as strongly as you promote yourself.
Think of yourself as part of a scene. The more you can help the scene grow, the more people will want to hear what the music from that area is all about. If you like what someone else is doing, drag people to their shows. If those people like what they hear, they’ll be more likely to want to hear what you’re doing. It doesn’t matter if the other artists reciprocate or even if they’re total jerks to you. If you like what they’re doing, promote it.
7) Be quick to praise and very slow to criticize.
You want your name to stick out, but in a good way. Be remembered as the nice person who functions as a hub for a larger scene instead of as the polarizing element turning people away from experiencing music. And don’t forget that all of us feel pretty strongly about what we’re doing, and the person to whom you’re talking may not share your tastes and instead may adore the music you’re denigrating.
8) Involve others.
When you get people excited about what you’re doing, ask them to help amplify your message. If you’re the only one sending Tweets or posting to Facebook about what you’re doing, people will eventually tune out. But when a larger circle of friends and acquaintances join in, it spurs more interest. If you’ve been following rules 5, 6, and 7, you should ideally be able to find lots of people willing to join forces with you to help.
9) Be gracious.
Don’t forget to thank people! If someone helps to spread your message or replies to one of your emails, thank them for their time. Thank the musicians who work with you. Thank your family and friends for their support. Just to be safe, thank strangers on the street.
Thank you for reading.