Is Music Promotion Really All About Relationships?

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.


  • Reply
    December 17, 2008 at 11:44 am

    You know, I entirely agree with this post. I use a friend adder to add users who share the same music influences and are fans of the same music that I’m into.

    when I get a message or comment from someone, I think the most important thing to do is to reply. Showing that you’re a real person rather than some mysterious good music having entity. Showing that I am a real person appeals to the real person in them, and opens up conversations and connections of all types.

    The hardest part is doing this 20+ times a day, definitely time consuming. I look at it as an investment in my fans, I owe it to them if they took the time out of their day to reach out to me via comment or message. I try and stay on top of it every single day. I also think it helps me in the longrun because even if we never talk again in the future, they will be more inclined to read one of my bulletins if I have new releases, events, etc.

    Great post.

  • Reply
    December 28, 2008 at 6:15 pm

    I found your music years ago on its own merits through the new technology. I had recommended this amazing new internet radio service called Pandora to my girlfriend, which accurately recommended songs and artists with similarities to ones you liked. She soon said I have to listen to this great band she discovered through it: Color Theory. I found some songs of yours on Pandora, fell in love with your music and lyrics from the first listen, and have been a devoted fan and promoter ever since.

    So take heart; it does happen.

  • Reply
    Pete Smith
    October 28, 2009 at 8:11 am

    Hmmm…insightful and interesting, we may be reading off the same page.

  • Reply
    October 29, 2010 at 10:49 pm

    Relationships are what brings music to life. I do not understand why musicians feel that the music itself is the end-all-be-all of the music industry.

    Of course the music is important. But if I were in a position of power, I would promote the acts that I had a relationship with.

    Having fun with someone makes me more inclined to advocate for that person. Does it really make sense to not make friends and have connections? No one who is successful in life has become successful all by themselves.

  • Reply
    Sylvia Odhner
    January 9, 2014 at 4:17 pm

    This is interesting: "I don’t care in the slightest about the personal lives of my favorite musicians." I get the impression that that's how most people are, but not me.

    Talking to my friends about music, I realized that I connect to music differently from them. I'm the type of person who will get into one music artist at a time and get REALLY into them, and then I want to find out more about them. Not overly personal details, just whatever they're willing to share. For me, music is not just music, it is connected in my mind to all the other music that the artist has, and to the artist. When I hear a song that I connect with on a deep level, I have this desire to find out what it is that I connected with, where it came from, how real it is, and what its intention was – it's also a desire to connect with the person who wrote it. I have a feeling that a lot of the people who come across as the biggest fans of any given musician are like that too.

  • Reply
    Brian Hazard
    January 11, 2014 at 12:37 am

    I think you're right Sylvia! I tend to be more of a purist, maybe because I don't want people snooping into my songs at that deep a level. 😉

  • Reply
    Sylvia Odhner
    January 11, 2014 at 1:10 am

    Well, I think it's up to you how much you reveal. Sometimes song writers talk about what inspired certain songs or what they're about, on a personal level, and I appreciate that, but it's definitely not required. The rest is up to the subjective interpretation of the listener.

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