In the simplest of terms, promote You the Human not You the Artist.
Everybody already assumes you make music. Whether it’s in your bedroom before and after the 9-to-5, or in the studio with the biggest names in circulation. The problem with telling people is that you will instantly be categorized with the other thirsty homies running rampant in the streets. Like any other art form, music is a practice of personal growth filled with self-deprecation and endless improvement. In the most positive way, you are supposed to suffer for your art before your art reaps you benefit. Faith and struggle go hand-in-hand as the holy matrimony of enlightenment and growth. You don’t think Tibetan Monks roam the streets boasting about their latest Vajrayana accomplishments, do you?
Never stop working, even when you think you are ready to profit. Never stop working, even when the profit starts rolling in. Never stop working, even when the rolling begins to wane. The only way to fail at music is to give up. Take the lows as bullet points in your career’s improvement to-do list. Fix them, and get back in your room/break-room/studio/car and churn out new ideas.
As you work towards your goals, profit from the downtime. When properly mastered, the shows you attend, the people you meet, and the posts you share online will only serve to help, both technically and psychologically, to promote yourself as a human and an artist. Let’s discuss a few ways to live your musical life in a way that helps both you and the industry you claim.
Go to shows…all of them
The most foolish thing you can do as a musician is pass up a show because it’s “not your style” or you “have nobody to go with”. Narrow minds rarely see success, and people who don’t adventure alone in the world can’t harness the unbiased nuances of life. The first step in venturing outside of your comfort zone is to accept the fact that smaller people will judge you. Once you dismiss this inevitability as useless hater fodder, the discomfort becomes its own antithesis.
When I moved to San Diego over a year ago, I didn’t have a group of friends to attend shows with. I had to hit venues like Voyeur and Spin all on my lonesome. Whether it was for a band I’d been following since high school or a DJ I knew nothing about, I took it as an opportunity to experience music in a way I never had before—alone.
There are no words or colloquialisms to describe what going to a show alone feels like. If you’ve been to a big festival with an even bigger crew of people, exploring the grounds on your own is a very similar experience. You have nothing to worry about but yourself and the music. Much like Goosebumps, you are in control of your own experience. Who knows, you might even find a new world you never thought existed.
As you make music and tailor your style, you work towards an entrance pass to a world filled with like-minded people and artists. Websites like Dubstepforum and Reddit have been breeding grounds for artist communication since the invention of the Internet. Before that, artists had to rely on their own merit and performance ability to turn heads. Meeting others took more than hitting up the Grateful Dead on SoundCloud or tweeting at Kraftwerk. Like analogue synths and vinyl records, the old methods still have merit; methods like hanging out after a show, sharing your stash, and buying drinks. Though I fear we’re getting ahead of ourselves.
Before you go to a show, check the respective forums and event pages to see who else is going. Be present in discussions about the event. Share your thoughts on what you hope to hear or what happened at the last show. Interaction is the key to the social human’s success. Even if your introverted mind cuts you off at Internet discussions, you will be one step ahead of the placid audience member or crew-loyal bro. A solid fan base is comprised of humans you’ve interacted and shared interests with, regardless of the medium with which it was built.
There is more to meeting people than sharing false promises of future rendezvous. If you’re doing it right, some of the people you meet online or in-person will become good friends of yours (I summon the term “homie status”). It happens with doctors, social workers, and even Satan’s minions—parking officers. It is important to not only build but also maintain relationships with those that align with your interests and mantras. Pick up the phone, go out to their show, grab an early-evening drink or mid-day coffee. It isn’t difficult to make and keep friends.
Music aside, this is a practice that helps develop good character and peace of mind. If you’ve experienced ill.Gates‘ ill.Methodology workshop, you know that a successful music career takes more than just making good music and marketing yourself properly. Appreciate the people you have in your life and the benefits will present themselves in due time.
Support the music you love, respect that which you hate
Support is a two-way street. A healthy musical friendship is one that operates with selflessness and consideration. Nobody wants to be around somebody who constantly takes, be it an extra +3 to a show or a feature track post. Yes, this is an industry and asking is a necessary evil, but travel down the road of giving every now and then to compensate. Go out and support your friend’s late night set or share their tunes with others. I’m not going to quote religious ideology here, but you get the idea.
As an interested fan and prospective contributor peering in from the outside, your support is anything but passive. Never underestimate the effect a short ‘thank you’ email or post-set regard has on the mindset of an artist. As powerful as they’d like to appear, even the big-name artists appreciate words of gratitude. They are humans, too, so leave the shade-throwing to faceless blogs and bot-run twitter accounts.
Harness the real power of social media
A dangerous line exists when treading this territory. Nothing comes across worse than the proverbial “Dope music! Here’s mine! –> [LINK]” comment on SoundCloud. Absolutely nothing, save propelling a flash drive from a 3D printed canon. Get your head out of your ass and help others before helping yourself, or learn to do both simultaneously.
Entering small sound design, ten-minute track production, and remix contests can also provide a slew of good practice and attention from others. Commenting on Reddit track submission posts with relevant tips, tricks, or advice serves the same purpose of helping others while applying what you’ve already learned. As world-renowned particle physicist Frank Oppenheimer once put it, “The best way to learn is to teach (2011).” For the established artists reading this, do an AMA!
Let the music speak for itself
Some of you don’t have the privilege of living in a thriving musical city. For you, there are also options.
The average PR girl will tell you that press blasts and electronic press kits (EPKs) are the key to effectively sharing your music. I will tell you right now that I and many of my colleagues tend to pass off long form-filled emails. Some of us don’t care about fluffy descriptions and mismatched fonts centered down the page like a hairy-chested lawyer. Others like myself simply don’t have time to read a thesis every time somebody wants a track heard (you can file this away with the Flash Drive Canon).
The truth is writers and blogs are more likely to listen to your music if you carry yourself properly and keep it short. All you need is a greeting devoid of “Y0 homey, chek deez FIRE beats!!!1” paired with a link to stream your tune. If you want, include a line about how you made it or what you were influenced by. If we want to hear more, we will ask, or your SoundCloud will provide it for us.
That being said, don’t fear the follow-up email. If you still haven’t received a response, chances are your email got lost within the sea of press blasts. Wait a week, hit reply on the initial email, and remind us that you’re still here. Furthermore, don’t get angry when we say no. Keep working towards bettering your sound and keep hitting us up with new stuff when it’s ready.
Keep in mind this process goes for anybody in the industry, not just music sites and blogs. If you think your music aligns with another artist, send it over in a similar fashion. I guarantee 8 out of 10 times you will get a constructive response.
Don’t be a douche
If you’ve noticed by now, the concepts in this article haven’t been direct one-step methods to being heard. Unfortunately, there is no easy way to be heard in the music industry. Yes, you can buy plays on SoundCloud and yes, you can cheat the Beatport system. The lessons presented here are the honest worker’s means to success. Reread the title if you need to.
Some artists can risk being a douche on the pretense of “passion” or “IDGAFOS”. Deadmau5, Kanye, and Carnage are perfect examples (sorry guys, you can’t win me over, not that it matters). Unfortunately, this rare exception does not apply to the average newbie entering the industry from afar. You never know who you’ll run into at a show, or who that person knows. Operating under this assumption by treating everybody with the kindness and respect you think you deserve will bring you more rewards than selective shunning ever will. As the late Frankie Knuckles so elegantly put it, “The minute you think you’re greater than the music, you’re finished (2012).”
The inevitable exception
As with everything in life, there are a few exceptions to the aforementioned rules. The primary one being, “if you make amazing music, nothing else really matters”. Now, don’t be fooled; good music takes years and years of reclusive practice and honing to achieve. You can’t just wake up one day, grab a cracked version of Ableton/FL Studio/Logic and have a dope-chill-banger by the day’s end. Malcom Gladwell‘s ‘10,000 Hour Rule‘ is very much real, and very much a necessity for those of you in it for the long haul.
In short, be self-motivated, be open-minded to the industry that surrounds you, and be courteous to the people that comprise it. Being heard isn’t the difficult part; it’s finding and keeping the support and fan base that takes work. There will be struggle, there will be disappointment. Keep at it and always strive to be the best human you can possibly be.