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Are We There Yet? Part 3: Promotion
By Seth Milliner - 07/25/2006 - 10:08 PM EDT

So now let’s talk promotion (a.k.a. “promo”). As you float along the river of occupational music & ministry you’re going to have to admit to yourself sooner or later that there’s a degree of success that’s dependent upon proper and appropriate promo. Unfortunately, it’s often of the self-promo variety, of which I personally loathed doing. Remember though, just because its self-promo, doesn’t mean it has to be shameless. It goes back to my whole “doing business with integrity” speech back in previous postings [see “The Great Contradiction” on musesmuse.com]. There are a few basic (and cheap) things I always recommend people do for their first steps in promoting their music. First go out and get some pictures taken of you (or your band if applicable). Not just any pictures, but some good, quality black & whites done and secure the services of a photographer that has some experience creating promo photos for musical acts to do it. Bring some samples that you particularly like to the photo shoot for the photographer to get a feel for the kind of image, posing, etc you have in mind. Unless you know somebody, expect to pay for this service. See if you can get a discount by cross-promoting their business either on the glossy itself or plugging the photographer from stage or having a small advertisement at your merch booth (“merch booth”: the table you set up at shows in the back from which you sell your demos and glossies). Have the glossies printed en mass on decent, thick stock paper. It doesn’t actually have to be glossy paper and you can probably save a little money by going with a more subdued quality. Yes, you’re going to attempt to sell these photos to the occasional autograph seeker but again, be prepared to give most of them away. Essentially you’re going to take a loss on your demos (if you paid to have them done) and the glossies because you’re probably going to give more away than you’ll ever sell. They’re really promotional tools to use to get the recognition of your act out there and booking tools to event promoters so the less money you spend to make them, the better.

Another promotional idea I usually recommend at this stage of the game is creating a “one sheet”. A “one sheet” is an 8 ˝” x 11” piece of paper, preferably full-color, that caters to the informational needs of potential event promoters. It’s not for the general public. It’s what you should be sending out as a booking tool, either for initial contact or for follow-up contact. Many promoters will request some sort of press kit but for now, this one sheet will serve as that so you can in fact provide something in hard copy even if you don’t have the credentials or the budget to justify a fully-equipped press kit (more on press kits later in this series). A “one sheet” should be split up into two or three vertical columns and should display all your vital statistics as a musical act such as your name (big bold type across the top), contact information including phone numbers, address, website if you already have one, email; it should also include a somewhat extensive bio that explains not just what your music sounds like but where your heart for ministry is, details about where you’ve been and what ministry opportunities you’ve participated in, and if you so desire…your testimony. You should also include a brief newsy section about what’s coming up be it an album release, a particularly big show, festival, member additions, etc. Also, briefly include the next 3 or 4 shows in your schedule if you have some upcoming performances that you know of. And of course, include at least one, preferably two pictures of yourself on the one-sheet. Give it a nice, clean and concise layout, make good use out of every square inch, and make hundreds of copies. Doubtless you’ll be sending many of these in the mail along with a copy of your demo and glossy as you interact with people to book yourself at venues. Don’t be afraid to autograph the glossy either. Promoters love hanging signed photos of upcoming acts and previous acts at their venues.

If you haven’t noticed, there are a few online communities out there that are free for the leveraging of up-and-coming musical acts. Two of those online communities that practically cater to the independent and amateur music scene are MySpace.com and purevolume.com. Both will enable you to upload music tracks of your CD and upload promotional photos. These sites are for your fans, not necessarily your business associates feel free to go artistically crazy with these, especially MySpace. They’re also great communication mediums for notifying interested persons that you have a show or an event coming up in their area. These aren’t the only online community avenues out there. Try to gauge what’s popular amongst the concert promoters and attendees in your area. Lather, rinse, repeat.

When you do start booking some shows at venues, one of the most valuable things you can do for your up and coming fan base is get an e-mail list started. This can be as rudimentary as a piece of paper at your merch booth with columns for names, email addresses, and Myspace site URL’s, or as impressive and high tech as an open laptop at the table illuminating and beckoning for people to type in their e-mail address in a nicely formatted Microsoft Word macro (people loving typing their email address on laptops at merch booths, apparently, as I’ve seen quite a bit of success with this technique). E-mail lists are essential to letting those that have already been to your show know where and how they can attend return performances. Use the email addresses you collect to send out a mass mailing whenever you have enough relevant newsy points to warrant an informative letter. Also use it a day or two before shows to broadcast to your fan base details like where, when, how much, etc. And use the Myspace URL’s to add those individuals as Myspace “friends” to your own Myspace site. There are built-in mechanisms within Myspace for notifying your fans of upcoming events and shows taking some of the legwork out of the process.

This too may seem no a no-brainer, but collecting accolades from promoters and industry reps are an invaluable promotional must. Having reputable people say nice things about you in writing that you can include on your “one sheet” is the greatest source of “buzz” you can gain at this stage of the game. Not only that, but you now have people sharing that having you and/or you band at their venue to play music was a positive experience. It gives a reliable sense of security and mitigates the amount of risk future potential promoters take by having you at their event or venue even though they know nothing about you. So at every venue you play, try to get what’s called a “press quote” from the promoter after the event if the impression you receive from the promoter is that it was a positive experience. It’s likely he or she will know what you mean by “press quote”. Get it in writing and get permission to use it on promo material because it’s definitely going on your “one sheet”. Build these up, get as many as you can. If you have friends of industry professionals, or contacts with them, or really good luck and by chance there somebody “important” at one of your shows, see if you can get a snippet from them as well. Strike up a conversation and see what advice they can give you. Graciously accept it, try to incorporate it (because it’s probably valuable info) and then ask for a press quote if they’d be so kind. Never push too hard for these kinds of quotes. If they decline, never act disappointed or offended. Remember, you’re essentially fishing for a compliment and you really have no right to be upset if someone refuses. They may be put off by the request, but in my experience it’s a fairly standard practice.

What all these promotion schemes really boil down to is getting your hobby to pay for itself. It’s important in so much as the sooner your music can make you a little money, the sooner you don’t have to dip into your own pockets to pay for capitol expenses and materials. Don’t expect to take any of that money home for quite some time (i.e. don’t quit your day job). But most importantly, go out there and do what you’re called, driven, and/or passionate about doing. Play your music. Your sincere passion will convert more fans and sell more albums than any marketing gimmick or promotional tool. If you feel you want or need to provide praise and worship to any degree at a show, then by all means, do so. But make it real. Praise Him. Praise Him with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength. Just don’t, I beg you, don’t fake it. If I could give one piece of advice to you or any musician it would be to never ever fake anything about your act. It’s lying plain and simple and somebody somewhere will call you on the carpet for it eventually.

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