In my last little rant, I mentioned that there is little consensus among music promotion gurus. That said, they do agree on one overriding principle, a concept as old as the entertainment industry itself: it’s not about the music – it’s about relationships.
I wish it weren’t true, but I know in the pit of my stomach that it is. Or at least it has been. The tagline of this blog is “great music promotes itself,” because I prefer to focus on the technologies that deliver music in all its varied colors directly to those who best connect with it. My hope is that in the coming years, as these technologies improve and grow in popularity, the role of relationships in music promotion diminishes to the point where artists can reach an ever-growing number of fans based solely on the merits of their music.
For now, the relationships model dominates, perhaps in part because it benefits all involved. It inflates the importance of promoters and managers, who supposedly have a career’s worth of these crucial relationships in place. It provides life support to a dying system of gatekeepers, from music reviewers in print magazines to music directors at terrestrial radio. It perpetuates the myth that an artist’s ultimate goal is a major label record deal. In a way, it even helps artists. It allows us to keep believing that our music is great, even if nobody hears it. “If only I could get my CD on the desk of that A&R rep.”
So the advice given to musicians is, don’t just send them your CD and a bio. Ask them how their day is going – they’re real people, just like you and me! Go over to that radio station and buy them a pizza. Send that DJ a Christmas card. Every once in awhile, write them an e-mail just to see how they’re doing. Ask about their kids. Don’t forget their birthdays!
Does this stuff really work? Can I buy a database of industry execs with low self-esteem? It reminds me of when I worked in a surgeon’s office. A couple days a week, a drug company would bring lunch for the whole office – huge spreads of sliced meats and fruits that filled the conference room. I suppose it must work or they wouldn’t spend that kind of money. Regardless, these sorts of transparent ploys are an insult to the intelligence of all involved, and I refuse to participate.
Sure, I’ve made some friends over the years, but friendship is a natural byproduct of shared experience, not a goal in and of itself. And don’t even get me started on MySpace friends. Thus far, I’ve only been talking about old school relationships with industry execs. The new “it’s all about relationships” model is social networking. Now I’m supposed to start Twittering about what I’m doing at any given moment throughout my day. “You mean he has to take out the trash, just like me?” It’s as if shared humanity alone forms the basis of internet promotion.
I must be in the minority, but I don’t care in the slightest about the personal lives of my favorite musicians. David Sylvian is into all sorts of strange (to me, anyway) Hindu practices – don’t care. I probably couldn’t sustain a conversation with him for 10 minutes, but I can’t wait to hear his next album.
I’ve only got 1000 “friends” on my MySpace page. Half of them I don’t know from Adam. Of the ones that remain, maybe half inspire some sort of vague recollection. Perhaps I’ve traded e-mails with 250, met 100, shared a meal with 50, and invited 20 of them to my wedding. Where do you draw the line between who is a friend and who isn’t? I don’t know, but I could really use a new word to describe the vast majority of my MySpace contacts – a word that’s emotionally sensitive enough to show that I value their participation in our shared journey, but not so strong as to make them think I’m going to ask them for a ride to the airport.