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Welcome to the Revolution

Article by Jillian Mitchell // June 02 2007
Welcome to the Revolution

“Our society is run by insane people for insane objectives. I think we're being run by maniacs for maniacal ends and I think I'm liable to be put away as insane for expressing that. That's what's insane about it." ~ John Lennon

Atta boy, John! I would have to agree one-hundred-and-ten percent with the late great Beatle, who I’m sure would only be further discouraged by the inclining, tyrannous insanity governing today’s world. And now, with the economy—as opposed to humanity—acting as the be-all-end-all global dictator, insanity is further spreading, poisoning the very heart and soul of our beloved music. Now a days, we have reality T.V. hosts handing out music careers just as Bob Barker would “a new caaaaaaaar” (Simon Cowell, you’re on my list!), and so-called artists who shouldn’t even be allowed to sing in the privacy of their own shower making billions of dollars in record sales (That’s hot!). If that’s not insanity, I don’t know what is! Friends, Romans, Musicians, lend me your ears. We are in dire need of a musical revolution. Lucky for us, one may be on the horizon. If all goes well, no longer will artists lose rights to their own creations; no longer will money line the pockets of lazy dupers and corporate lamers. It is the dawn of a new era when musicians will rightfully take back the business and explore the means of self promotion. Imagine the insanity!

Now, rather than rant and rave about music exec’s and what they’re not doing for their artists, I will stick to the high road and focus on the artist and what they can do for themselves. As hard as it is to believe, it is absolutely possible to successfully promote yourself and/or your band without the help of a label. I’ll let you in on a little secret: labels have nothing to offer you that you can’t offer yourself. In Elvis Costello’s words, “It’s what’s on the record not what label’s on it. You know, that’s like getting a box of cornflakes and eating the cardboard.” Who does that! It is clear that artists are being brainwashed to idolize the cardboard part of the deal, when their focus should be on that delightfully crunchy cereal inside. It’s a simple misconception of the business.

“To have complete control over your own career is what a lot of artists think entitles a record deal, but the exact opposite is true,” suggests an on-line source. “The record companies only see dollar signs, not individuality” and since most artists—with genuine talent—are not content with becoming mass-produced bubble-gum clones, an abundance of musicians are now rejecting labels and exploring the rules of the game through a new perspective. As a result, these revolutionaries are expanding their own independence as both the artist and the business as they explore the art of self-promotion. If you could do it all on your own, why wouldn’t you, right? (Unless you’re into lip-syncing, dance breaks, and remaking 80s classics) Why take the chance of getting stuck in an ironclad contract—that may suppress creativity for the overall good of the economy—if you don’t have to? It just doesn’t make sense. Evidently, I think we all just need to take a moment and listen to that little voice inside of us all that whispers “I think I can” and upgrade it to the more assertive “I know I can.”

The key things to remember when exploring self-promotion are: one, know yourself; and, two, know your fans. That’s it: two things! No wonder record companies are so threatened by these revolutionary artists who have grabbed hold of their business by the reins. If you dream of similar successes then all you really need to do is believe in yourself, claims motivator Bob Baker. “Self promotion is and is not all about [the artist]”, states the guru in his online site dedicated to empowering musicians. “I've watched too many truly talented artists squander their potential because they bought into outdated myths about the music business or convinced themselves that self-promotion was ‘hard’ or ‘expensive’ or ‘lacking in integrity,’” states Baker. Remembering the first part of self-promotion—to know yourself—it may feel awkward, and you may feel like you’re being arrogant or that you’re ‘selling yourself’ but don’t fret; that is a natural response. The trick is to not think of it as “selling yourself”, but rather think of it through the fans’ perspective. Why would you deny your fans the ability to enjoy your music just because you’re timid or shy? Continuing with Baker’s words of wisdom—from his on-line e-zine, What Every Artist Should Know—here are the key aspects of self-promotion. Follow these steps and you’ll be fine:

  • Define your distinct musical identity (have a firm grasp on what your music is about, be able to define it quickly and clearly).
  • Describe your ideal fan (observe your fans and note what they have in common—it will determine what avenues you should take to reach them).
  • List ways to get access to your fans (what radio stations they listen to, where they might hang out).
  • Promote your music through targeted channels (personal websites, visit and interact via websites of similar-sounding bands). Don’t waste time and money trying to promote to everyone; target your audience for more immediate results.

Still need more proof that self-promotion works? Just take a look at folk/punk artist Ani DiFranco who has never let matters flounder out of her own two hands. Every move in her successfully established career has been of her own decision. She is her own boss, has full creative rights to her own creations, and has even established her own successful label (Righteous Babe Records). Similar to DiFranco, hip-hop artist Tila Tequila is also a fan-building machine, as she uses the full advantage of the Internet when promoting herself and her music. She has turned down two different record deals, believing that having absolute control over the kind of music she released and how she was portrayed was more important than being part of the system. Creating an empire on the internet, Tila has become the queen of self-promotion, reaching a fan base of more than 1.5 million MySpace friends. Yes, it is as easy as creating one website! As a direct quote from DiFranco’s site confirms: “Iconoclastic and recklessly driven people like [DiFranco and Tequila] are dangerous to the recording industry … they have inspired countless other musicians to rewrite the rules of the recording industry by striving for self-sufficiency and refusing to allow art to be subsumed by commerce.”

Again, I directed the current issue to Mark Bliesener of Band Guru Management & Consulting, and he graciously commented on the successful love-affair between the self-promoter and the internet—an excellent self-promoting tool. “Self release and marketing via the internet is both the present and future for street level bands. It's incredibly powerful and absolutely necessary to attract attention today. But without the all-important component of gigging, it's probably of little lasting value. At least, for the moment, live music is not a downloadable experience. Live [gigs] is where artists build their really loyal fan base and have the face to face opportunity to sell their self released disc to fans in greater numbers than they will probably be able to move online.” Although the internet is magnificently handy—as verified by Tequila’s MySpace monarchy—it is important to remember Bliesener’s assertion that one-on-one contact with your fans is the most essential piece of the puzzle. Aside from schmoozing with fans at your gigs, here are some additional tools and methods that are well-received by the self-promoter (derived from Drummer Café Online):

  • Direct mail: well-designed postcard, newsletter, develop a mailing list.
  • Pocket-sized hand bills/fliers and business cards: definite schmoozing!
  • Posters: at least 16 inches by 20 inches and in full color.
  • Call list: personal invitations to gigs. This one is a lot of work.
  • Newsletter: comedic and informative.
  • Weekly e-mails: invitations to gigs, current info.
  • Website: promotes you 24/7 (keep it current and accurate, include demos and videos.) Try a MySpace site to start. It’s free!

The revolution begins with a single choice, to be. With the right steps, self-promotion is an attainable goal that will, in turn, promote your career the way you see fit, and also will facilitate the abolishment of the cookie-cutter insanity that is governing the music business of today. So start now! Bring back the heart and soul of the music business, and I guarantee the eardrums of the world will thank you. As the World Wide Web confirms, “The future of the music business is being re-written—now.  Don’t be left behind.” Viva la vie Boheme!



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About the Author
Jillian Mitchell

As a professional vocalist (and self-professed grammar nerd), Jill brings a fresh perspective to The Black Page. In addition to earning a B.A. in music, creative writing and English, Jill has also studied vocals with Philadelphia-based vocal coach Owen Brown, known for his work with Mary J. Blige, Celine Dion, and Wyclef Jean. Jill makes up the other half of world soul group The Mitchells, alongside Black Page creator, Sean Mitchell.

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