My students will tell you that I'm incapable of making a point simply, but that I drive it home with too many words. Maybe that's what I'm doing here, but hey, it's my blog! My last Minute for Marketing post, in which I related my personal experience in overcoming fear of self-promotion, has attracted more email feedback than anything else I've written here, so I want to spend some more time on this topic. We all find it difficult to overcome the "yuck" response we have to marketing ourselves as teachers or performers. We associate any kind of advertising with the worst kind, and even though we're selling a product worth its weight in gold, instead of feeling good about it, most of us feel like a smarmy used car salesman.
I received a very encouraging email from Greg Sandow who writes for ArtsJournal and teaches at Julliard and Eastman. He tells me that my message (that you can be an authentic person and still market yourself) is exactly the one he's trying to convey to his students. He writes "...they'll sometimes say, 'Well, I'm not sure about marketing my concert because that would detract from the dignity of the music.'" The more I think about that notion, the more it bugs me. We seem to believe that if we actually have to work at getting people to come to our concerts or sign up for our lessons, then it looks like our "product" is so worthless that we have to beg people to buy it. In other words, if we have to employ marketing tactics to sell it, it must be a lemon. "Oh no," we say, "Our Art is Sacred. We aren't going to reduce ourselves to selling it (ewww); we'll just wait around until those people who already value it come and ask for it and offer to pay for it." Well, here's the thing: if we don't market what we do, then we pass up the opportunity to educate people about how sacred and dignified it really is! And many of us can't afford to wait around until an increasingly arts-ignorant culture decides to come to us on their own - we're still paying for our music degrees.
In his email, Mr. Sandow went on to say, "They don't understand that they can market their dignity and integrity, not to mention the music." Right on! And they don't understand what James says so plainly in the article I linked to previously at Men With Pens:
Marketing and sales does not equal snake oil screw-you tactics. Yes, there are those who abuse the knowledge they have and take it to extremes for their own gains, but even the most innocent and acceptable marketing and sales tactics come from the same knowledge. Let me repeat it in shorter words: ethical marketers use the same tactics that smarmy marketers use.The fact that I've thought hard about how to work a plug for my studio into a conversation doesn't reduce my sincerity. The fact that I want an income from my work does not reduce the dignity of my work. Do people end up perceiving me to be a smarmy used car salesman? No. I almost always end up finding connections and sharing stories about music making. If I don't end up with a student, I end up with a friend. Now, you can certainly promote yourself in a way that comes off as smarmy, but that's not a very effective way to market anything, and my belief is that we need to get over our fear of doing it at all so that we can learn to do it well.
If you think that promoting your teaching makes you look too much centered on Me Me Me, then I think you haven't thought it through very far. The biggest reason you need to be promoting your work is that it isn't about You You You. It's about the work, the value of the work, the value of the education that allows you to produce the work, and the value of having such things in our culture.
If anybody in the music industry needs to be successful at marketing, it's the people who teach young kids (and therefore, families) how to appreciate and play good music. If we don't make ourselves knowledgeable about using effective marketing tactics and get over ourselves and our sacred dignities enough to use them, then the students who might have studied piano will sign up for cheerleading because their advertising was more effective. (My students: you can sign up for cheerleading! Just take piano, too!) Instead of growing up into adults buying season tickets to classical concert series they'll be buying tickets to something else. In the last place I lived, the orchestra went bankrupt and the best music store in town closed its doors. More families involved in independent music study might have changed that. You are not just marketing yourself.
Minute for Marketing by Laura Lowe is licensed under a Creative-Commons-Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License.
Photo by Victoriafee.