Dec 9, 2013

Why musicians should consider non-traditional marketing

[ This article appeared on Medium and Music Think Tank. ]

Let’s face it: when it comes to sell whatever we do, most of us feel uncomfortable. That is very true for musicians, too. Virtuoso jazz violinist Christian Howes address this problem in this interview with Jonathan Fields at 25:40 as “fear of self-promotion”.

What do we do to overcome this fear? In most cases, we delegate. We hire somebody and hope he/she will increase sales, secure more gigs and do the dirty job of finding venues, calling club owners and more. Musicians call this person a manager (PR). In the worse scenario musicians even hire an agency to procure interviews and press.

That’s traditional marketing. In other words: (1) we hire somebody full time, (2) pay them a commission on sales, and (3) have them go out in the field and sell.

It is good to have a person who promote your music on the field but I think that today there is a relatively new way to market your music and yourself (yes, I said it!) which involves new media. I think today we can operate in two directions: locally and globally. We have to coordinate these two assets, but I will explain this idea more in detail later in this article.

Also, today we have to consider that everybody is in sales.
Daniel Pink has recently written a new book, “To Sell is Human, The Surprising Truth about Motivating Others”. In this book he argues that now everything we do is related to sales, not necessarily door to door sales however. He looks at how to convincing people to run with idea’s and persuading people to your way of thinking is selling, yes it is indeed selling yourself.

This involves more and more to refine your skills and grow your ability to promote yourself. An agency can give you contacts or some press, but what if you can approach potential gigs or writers with a systematic process?

These are other things that I think are important and can support traditional marketing:

a) building teams; b) branding; c) marketing; d) testing;

Building Teams

I always try to act locally but think globally. That means I want to support the territory where I live, local artists, local musicians, local food, local businesses, etc.: my own band is made up of wonderful musicians who live around my area; the music I play is somehow influenced by the place where I live, the air I’m breathing, the people I’m hanging with and more. And, I try to promote all these things to a global audience.

That’s true also when it comes to market our music. I’m trying to build a team where local people and global people support each other. Of course, I do traditional marketing but I support it with Facebook ads, blog posts, Twitter strategies, images and more. I am still a musician who practice several hours a day, but I control my marketing strategy by outsourcing the things I don’t have time to do to a person who lives far away from where I live.

Rebecca is my global manager. She does everything from updating my calendar and show schedule to manage my Twitter account and researching a particular niche. She will now describe her job here:

Enter Rebecca: “I really enjoy working with Mike, his communication and leadership are first class. My job involves variety and responsibility which I love. I get to communicate with Mike’s followers on Twitter, keep Mike organized and keep his Facebook feed up to date with interesting posts. I also get to write, which is a passion of mine. All in all, I love my job!”

She actually wrote and proof-read part of this article, too. (She did a great job, didn’t she? )

By doing this I was able to maximize my impact and my productivity by 60%. My team marketing efforts provide me astonishing results: +10% gigs, +10% press, +10% sales. (I’ll share more results in another post, so make sure you follow me.)

At this point, you’re probably convinced of this strategy but wondering how to handle such a team.

The answer is simple: I crafted a system with simple but effective rules to follow in order to achieve a particular task. I organized all these rules in a document hosted on the cloud and have my team review it so that every time I need something they already know where to look for instructions.

They already know what do to and what not to do but most importantly, they know how to deliver extraordinary results and do an amazing job. The rules I provided are strictly but simple rules. Since they are break down into steps, they do not require much effort.

Why this work? Because people perform better when the job gives them a sense of autonomy, gives them meaning beyond just money and a chance to grow their skills and attain mastery. The Hungarian psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi has described this state as a state of “flow”.


Branding is a name, term, sign, symbol or a combination of all of these which makes you recognizable in the big wide world. It helps people to differentiate between sellers. Take Coca Cola and Pepsi, the drinks taste very similar, however the branding is key. Some people will never touch Pepsi, some people will never touch Coca Cola. I have had experiences where in a restaurant they have apologized and said they only have Pepsi and asked if this was OK. Branding therefore is a very strong way to communicate your image. As a musician it is even more important, there are so many people on this planet making, producing and creating music. There is not just one or two music artists, guarantee as you are reading this you can think of at least 10.

I hear you asking yourself, “how can I brand myself?” Well there are ways;

Creating a band/artist logo, this can be very beneficial as people see the logo and instantly relate the image to the brand. Bet you can think of 5 logo’s as we speak. The most recognized logo in the world is Nike. Having a logo also helps when it comes to selling merchandise, such as hats, t-shirts, pens even.

Think to yourself, what genre of music you cater to. I am a jazz musician, therefore to create my brand I could research other jazz musician’s and see how they brand themselves and make sure mine is different.

Social Media is another way you can brand yourself, using mediums such as Facebook, Twitter and MySpace. This helps to make you seem more approachable to your fans or followers. People like to feel a certain closeness and with social networking sites becoming more and more personal, that closeness is what it provides. Social Media allow you to post videos, tour dates, events, offers and so much more, all slightly influencing people and attracting people to you.

Other things that makes up a brand include your photos, your color palette, your fonts, your banners, your avatar, your tagline or slogan, your bio/story, your writing voice and more.


Copywriting is producing written copy for the purpose of marketing and advertising. This can be direct mail pieces, tag-lines, e-mails and internet content, web-page content, brochures and flyers. It can also be extended to tweets, blog posts and social network page posts. It also comes handy when you are branding yourself and telling your story.

Listeners want fresh, new and interesting content. They want the opportunity to listen and feel. I don’t mean feel by touch but music can introduce feeling. On your social media platform you could post videos, either yours or another influential musician. Keep your listeners updated. If there is big gap between posts people may lose interest. If there is a big gap between songs, listeners will start to wonder where you have gone, what has happened, keeping them informed will make sure you don’t lose them.

Every musician should build a mailing list for that purpose, keeping your listeners updated, with tours, breaks, new pieces and much more. There is a lot of information you could put in your newsletter, which can be weekly, fortnightly or even monthly.


I like to build systems to test things as well. In fact, I am continuously testing every aspect of my carrer including:

Gigging: Am I talking to the right people? Is this my audience? Is my proposal as good as it could be? My shows: Am I making the best out of them? How can I impact more people? My communications: Is this email too long or too short? What can I do to improve my relationship with the venue owner? Broad career: Am I making a big enough impact? What are my peers doing?

How do you conduct these tests? That’s easy with all the technology we have.

One method is A/B testing on Facebook, this method allows artists to try out various options in an advertising campaign. You may have already tried this by asking friends and family, band members or fans what song they liked best out of a choice of songs to then put as a download on your site. Listen to the numbers, they don’t lie. One song may not be getting a lot of “likes” or “clicks” so you can then change it.

Another way of testing is test subject lines in your emails. There are several ways you can make the subject lines of emails more eye-catching so they don’t end up in the SPAM boxes of people. You can use mind-blowing statistics to build intrigue or you can personalize the email by using the person’s first name, this amplifies the feeling of missing out on something. No one wants to miss out.

Lastly testing at shows, you can see what type of response you receive if you dress one way for one show, then dress differently for another. Also you can also change the set list order to see what type of response you get. They might be only slight changes to you but they really allow you to test your audience.

So now I hope that you would consider using non-traditional marketing techniques to differentiate yourself from the normality of adverts. I sincerely hope this article helps you grasp social media advertising and making your page successful on a social media site. Build yourself a brand and run with it.

Thank you for reading,

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Sep 20, 2013

[Transcription] Quadrangle (J. McLean)

Quadrangle, written in 1955 and recorded in 1959, is a composition by Jackie McLean, an American jazz saxophonist, composer and bandleader.

The full album is entitled Jackie’s Bag and features Donald Byrd (tp), Jackie McLean (as), Sonny Clark (p), Paul Chambers (b) and Philly Joe Jones (dr).

You can listen to this composition on YouTube.

The form is a typical AABA, but often sections are spaced out by short drums solos. The melody seems to be very much influenced by Ornette Coleman, however the solos are on the changes of "I Got Rhythm" (Bb rhythm changes).


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Feb 15, 2013

A possible alternative model of musical experience


[This article has been featured on All About Jazz on April 9, 2013]

Music is communication. I believe communication is more valuable when it causes a change for all involved parties (in this particular case these would be musicians and their audiences). That’s why I’m now interested in studying psychology and how behavior change works. I want to apply those concepts to find an alternative model to the music experience.

Experience, that’s key.
I know only two kind of people:

A. the ones who complain over and over about something that should be different;
B. the ones who make, and actually change the world for better.

I choose to make, and deliver an experience through sounds.
We, as musicians, want exactly that: to use sound to convey an experience that moves others. That’s our contribution to the world, in a way. When listeners leave after the concert, they should feel different, at least on a subconscious level. But to achieve that level of experience, listeners must truly listen and accept everything without any psychological barrier. Listening deeply is hard.

How do we solve this problem? How can we make it a no-brainer for people to listen to our music?

Well, it turns out that there are different ways to do that. Our target behavior (that is, what we want people to do) is: listen to music. Having that in mind, there are two paths to this goal. The easy path is to make the target behavior easier to do. The hard path is to educate people, train people, and give them the skills to complete the target behavior.

Now, most of the musicians I know choose the easy path, but they walk through it in the wrong way. They choose not to make listening to music easier, but the music itself simpler. For me, music is everything, and making it easier to digest is not an acceptable solution. I feel that to adapt to the market, to trends, is wrong. Music shouldn’t be about either making people have what they want or making people have what you want. It’s not entertainment. It’s deeper than that. It’s about sharing.

Thereby, we want to educate people, with a step-by-step process, as Bill Evans says in the “Universal Mind”. We want to facilitate the process of listening to music with baby steps for long-term changes.

So, why people don’t attend our concerts? Why people don’t listen deeply to music? I think it’s about what it costs in terms of time, effort and money. Here are three factors that I’m working with to better reach listeners.

Attending concerts takes time; listening to music takes time. Time is a really big issue in music because there are different times going on when we play. Let’s understand how this factor works from the listeners’ perspective: we have to understand that time is value and we should motivate the listeners to keep listening. We are responsible, as composers and performers, for their time. Why someone should listen to you rather than doing something else?

These are some ideas about how to maximize your impact in less time:

a) Get to the point: leave out any speech before the beginning of the concert. Let the music be the words you would say to the audience. Just let the music flow.

b) Change the format. The cd format is boring: just pack a usb or make a digital package with one or two tracks, but treat it like a new cd release. Aim for perfection: while live performances should be “in the moment” and affected by drama, recordings should be perfect.

For those of you who think the cd format is not boring yet, I have three questions: Do you actually use it? Do you like to use it? Is the company who makes it trying to make it better for you?

Also, leave the audience wanting more from you by doing concerts of 30 or 40 minutes, not more.

c) Change the context: make them feel your music in everyday life. Do you really think you’ll need to be on stage? Do you think you’ll need expensive sound equipment? I believe it’s actually better to connect with people in a space where you can feel them — feel their breath — so I would say no.

d) Choose your audience: Keep out of the game people who do not care; let go of your expectations. People are lazy; they want to be motivated. In my experience, a core motivator that works is social acceptance: many people go to concerts because by doing so they can elevate their social status — but wait! I don’t want that kind of audience! So how do I filter?

- Building credibility: tell people exactly what you did and how you came up with certain ideas for the music you will be presenting at the concert. They want to know about you. Give them a context: tell them where you have been playing (if relevant). Tell them stories, but be concise.

- Being selective and very specific: by doing so you will attract only those who are really interested in your work. Outrage people; challenge them with strong statements; take risks; be compelling. Again, you don’t want everybody to be your fan. You just want the right people.

In a conversation, a good listener is someone who can focus on the other person. That’s the key part, which is sometimes just being there and letting the other person talk. What can we do, as musicians, to help the audience focus on the music we are playing?

a) Cut any distraction for them. Maybe even put the space in the dark so that the audience can focus on the music rather then complaining about everything else. Ideally, we want them to enjoy and live in the moment.

b) Pick comfortable venues. People want to get to and from the venue without hassle.

c) Building a habit (such as listening to music) is really difficult. That’s why as musicians we need to set up a reward for our listeners: something that can push the listeners to attend our concerts again. What about hosting a dinner after the concert? Or, giving them a recording of the performance they just listened to? Make up your own ways to say “thanks”, and give people another reason to remember you.

d) In building a habit we also need consistency. People need to get used to attending your concerts or listening to your music. For example: Set up a concert that will be held at X venue every Y day of the week for a month, no matter what, and see what happens.

For many people, $10 is too much for buying something intangible, like music. How about we cut that down? Maybe just have a $2 or $3 entry fee, but play multiple sets. If you are used to having a $10 entry fee for an hour-long concert, just do three 20-minute sets for a $3 entry fee. You’ll get around the same amount, but by doing so, you will:

a) reach more people;
b) get to know your music rather than playing anything else;
c) guarantee that people will be more likely to listen to you again.

And how about having three 20-mins long sets with 3 different bands for the same price? That way you would connect with other musicians, too. Also, we should consider the “free option”. From a buyer/listener perspective, when an option is free, there is no risk to making a wrong decision. There is nothing to lose—nothing to spend. Because free eliminates the need to think, it enables a very easy mental shortcut: if there’s an option that’s free, take it! That is very important if we want to build networks.

To make these ideas a reality, it’s very important to build a network of musicians who embrace the philosophy described above. More musicians = more music to be shared = more venues = more money = more listeners. It’s time to get together! It’s also important to focus on one thing at a time and test different ways of approaching it. When a particular approach works, then proceed to the next thing. It’s important to build systems.

In the past weeks, I ran several surveys both online and offline. The first one was about choosing the one factor that would motivate someone more to attend concerts. People were called to choose between money (tickets from $1 to $3), diversification (listening to more bands at the same concert), space (alternative venues), time (shorter sets) and networking (connecting with like-minded individuals). It turned out that money, diversification, and venues are the core factors in term of motivation.

The survey also revealed that the top factor is how much people like the artist. If the artist is “worth it”, then the other considerations become a trivialities. That means that people attend concerts of artists they already know. Sadly, the unknown is becoming more and more unattractive, whereas the known is safer.

These are some comments I got:

Annette says: “With 8 stages, I can always find something I enjoy. If I don’t like something it is really easy to slip out and go check out another artist. Coffee houses and bars offer a similar opportunity, albeit without the selection. But I can still walk out if I’m not into the music and I haven’t wasted big money on a ticket.”

Jamie says: “Money’s price difference is too small to make a difference (I’m used to paying $25-$50). Diversification would be negative unless they were bands I wanted to see. Playing a shorter set would be negative if I actually wanted to see them. The place strikes me as odd because I can barely interact with the people I came with at a concert (have to do that beforehand).”

In these comments I can easily address the common fears of listeners: (1) losing money on a concert of band/music they don’t like (2) losing time on music they don’t like (3) losing money and time on a shorter concert that doesn’t fulfill them.

As musicians, we have to challenge these fears.

So, those were my ideas on the topic. To sum up, in the next months I’ll be experimenting with:

1. Finding a new model for people to listen to music that actually works for both musicians and listeners who care;

2. Finding a relatively new model for spreading music, giving away the best music I can possibly think of for free.

I’ll do that by spreading ideas, creating attention, and educating people with a step-by-step process that facilitates the process of listening to music in terms of time, money and effort in order to structure future long-term behaviors, reduce barriers and create networks.

Thanks for reading.
I’m looking forward to read your thoughts in the comments,

- The Universal Mind of Bill Evans;
- BJ Fogg and Charles Duhigg on behavior;
- Seth Godin on the gap between free and paid;
- An open letter from Ben Allison;
- On Function, form and future by Shawn Blanc.

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I strive to make music that moves people and hope to make an impact in the music scene as an open-minded and innovative musician. Please visit the about page on the blog or head over to my website for further info about me.