How many times have you spent hours, days even months finishing a project only to realize at the actual event or release that no one else had/has a clue?
In March, I bought a 3-year old album by one of my favorite well-known Austin bands thinking it was the album they’re just about to release! When I mentioned this, one of the band members said to another, “I told you that no one knew about this when it came out!”
This is a clear case of thinking, “I know all about this thing, therefore everyone else must/should, too.”
It sounds silly that anyone would truly make that assumption – and yet humans operate unconsciously under it ALL THE TIME.
As creators, we’re conditioned not to be annoying and not to shamelessly self-promote by other artists (“Don’t be a sell-out”), the industry (“Don’t call us, we’ll call you”) and even fans (“Too many notifications – unsubscribe”).
But…. if you want people to know about what you’re doing, you’ve GOT to tell them somehow – and not just once. Your work is on your mind all the time but it’s not on anyone else’s mind much at all unless you tell them… and remind them… multiple times.
(This reminds me of one of my favorite quotes from Eleanor Roosevelt – “You wouldn’t worry so much about what others think of you if you realized how seldom they do.”)
Just like you, everyone’s got their own life. Getting others to know/care about your project is tough. It’s the reason that huge marketing companies and college courses have been developed. It’s the reason for heavy rotation and why you see the same commercials over and over on TV.
Balancing between reminding and nagging takes strategy and time! Ever notice how big festivals announce their line ups WAY in advance? Or how bigger new releases are reviewed BEFORE the they’re out? It’s not accidental. They know that it takes lots of reminders and if they space out their promotion, they will seem interesting at best and novel at worst… but not annoying.
In my high school days in the pre-internet world, I remember being very excited to talk to the bands I liked about the non-musical side of things. At an Ed Hall show in 1994, Gary Chester got talking with me about various bands’ levels of success. “It’s all in advertising,” he said.
That bugged me as a young man. I didn’t like idea that he-who-has-enough-money-to-pay-for-commercials wins.
Advertising isn’t the naughty word that we in the creative class seem to think it is, though. At it’s core, advertising is simply letting people know about what you do. Even notorious anti-advertisers Fugazi had to do that.
None of us would know about our favorite bands, movies, events or other activities and products without some form of advertising.
Tweeting, social media, sending a newsletter, alerting the press and making a poster are all forms of advertising. Even word of mouth. In fact, it’s the best form of advertising according to many marketing experts… and the only form acceptable to your inner Fugazi.
Even playing shows is advertising! If word spreads about your band because you played great shows, then that’s your advertising. (side note: when I think about it, how is standing on a stage demanding attention/money any more valiant or shameless than tweeting about the show or buying print/radio/tv advertising for that matter? I guess it just seems less corporate…?)
The most successful artists, musicians, etc. are really, REALLY good at getting the word out about what they’re doing and making others care about them and their work. They’re good at creating a buzz.
Some creative folks think self-generated buzz isn’t legitimate. Poppycock. If you tell no one about your ground breaking screenplay, recipe for crab cakes or life changing book, how can you expect to receive the accolades you deserve?
Self-promotion is the first step to generating buzz. The only reason big time artists don’t appear to self-promote is because someone else is doing it for them. If you don’t have that luxury, who will promote what you do? Only you.
And plenty of buzzworthy stuff gets passed over – especially in a saturated town like Austin in the age of instant everything. If consistently attempting to generate interest never creates a buzz, it will at least create awareness, which almost always outlasts buzz. Coca-Cola isn’t exactly buzzing but they’re still making commercials (and drinks, too). Some things that don’t buzz at first turn out to be very successful later. The Princess Bride.
I know, I know – you want your work to be judged only on artistic merit and your talent.
Talent is absolutely the ultimate reason anyone is there to experience your work… but it’s a given. If you’re not talented, why are you on stage… or the radio… or in the paper? For that reason all the other non-artistic factors like presentation, location, timing and competition play a role in how and even if you’ll be judged.
There’s another naughty word in the creative community. If you don’t like being judged, don’t advertise what you do and enjoy simply making your art – but don’t complain or be surprised when you’re the only one that knows/cares it.