Bob Baker's Indie Music Promotion Blog

Music marketing ideas for DIY artists, managers, promoters and music biz pros

September 27, 2007

Dealing With Anti-Marketers

I've encountered them many times over the years. But, as my career as an author has grown, not as much in recent years. So when I do run across them these days, I have to admit, there's a momentary sense that I've let someone down or somehow missed the boat.

I'm talking about "anti-marketers." These are the musicians who have an automatic disdain for anything related to the subject of "marketing." They feel it's unnatural or unbecoming of an "artist" or too analytical for their own good.

One reason I'm so surprised when I hear these people is because I pride myself on approaching this music marketing subject from a musician's perspective, not from a business person's dry point of view.

I was an active player and performer (guitarist/singer/songwriter) long before I wrote a word about music promotion. I continue to play part-time to this day. And I like to think I bring that perspective to everything I write and speak about now.

But, despite my best efforts, that doesn't always register with every musician who comes across my ideas. And you know what? That's perfectly fine.

All I can do is share what I've learned and talk about marketing through the only lens I can: my own experience. And my personal experience doesn't just hint at, but it screams that creativity and smart self-promotion can find a happy home together within an artist.

Some musicians disagree. And not just starving artists. There are successful and prosperous ones who see things a different way. They preach about the importance of following your passion, letting your intuition guide you, and allowing your career to organically unfold -- and suggest that thinking too much about marketing is detrimental to your career and level of happiness.

The crazy thing is, I agree with that philosophy ... to a point. I've always let passion and intuition guide me. I believe in doing what feels right and allowing "happy accidents" to take you in new directions. Absolutely.

BUT, I also believe in expanding your awareness, trying new things, pushing beyond your comfort zone, striving to be more effective, spending your time on productive activities, and always attempting to reach more people with your musical gifts.

For some musicians, success seems to happen "organically," with no forethought on their part. And if you can make that work for you, congratulations! For others, relying on passion and intuition alone leads to continued obscurity and little progress (as they themselves define it).

Learning and thinking about marketing doesn't suck the life out of your art. It doesn't turn you into a nerdy analyst who gets cut off from your natural creative flow. Quite the opposite. Being a student of music promotion expands your awareness of what's possible. It gives you more options and more tools at your disposal.

Just because I point out how a certain artist has established himself in a niche market doesn't mean you have to copy him or think that's your ticket to fame or shut yourself off from other opportunities.

Most musicians simply don't know the massive variety of ways that other artists have attained success. By making yourself aware of what others have done and what's possible, it might just put you in a frame of mind to recognize a new opportunity when it crosses your path -- an opportunity you might have missed if you were just doing your own thing and "winging it."

So, don't be afraid of marketing, sales and self-promotion. They don't weaken you. Knowing about them makes you a stronger, smarter and more empowered artist.

That's my story, and I'm sticking to it!


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posted by Bob Baker @ 11:53 AM   25 comments


At Sep 27, 2007, 2:02:00 PM, Blogger Sam Bhattacharya said...


I know it sounds naive, but I used to think that, to be successful, an artist would just have to get luckily "discovered" and everything else in their career would follow smoothly. I was unaware there even was such a thing as "music marketing" in a practical sense until I ran across music business information like yours, David Nevue's, Derek Sivers' and others. LOL.

Fortunately, I'm finding I actually enjoy reading about and implementing your music marketing techniques. I used to think I was just a musician, but now I've begun to view myself as a people-person too. [gasp]

Anyway, congratulations on Berklee Music! Much success to you!

At Sep 27, 2007, 7:53:00 PM, Anonymous Ronald Bell said...

I think that marketing and music go hand in hand. For some people, marketing comes natural and they don't always what great methods they are using. The bottom line seems to be that consistent marketing in healthy ways will simply allow more people to enjoy your creations!

At Oct 1, 2007, 12:36:00 AM, Blogger art damage said...

some marketing begins in the writing of the music. while crass on one level, having the name of the song said in the song is a good move.

for myself i'm not so considerate to my audience.

oh yeah and here's my marketing:
check out art damage
electronic music with a difference

did you other guys forget that part?

At Oct 1, 2007, 7:38:00 AM, Anonymous Christine Kane said...

Uh-oh. I fear that I may be one of the "anti-marketers" that inspired this post! And actually, I'm not an anti-marketer. I'm in that in-between place - I always want artists to find their passion first, and then do the biz/marketing stuff in the DIRECTION of that passion. Some of us have done it in reverse. We (and bob, you gave a great description of when you did this with your newspaper, when you tried to turn it into an "entertainment paper" rather than just a "music paper") all have tried on marketing ideas that just don't FIT us -- and it just makes our careers awkward. So, my experience is that marketing is wildly important - AND that finding your voice, passion and center are also important - and that both will lead the way in an artist's career. I hope that makes sense. This is a great post - and obviously, you're opening up the careers and perspectives of people like Sam (the first commenter.) Thanks!

At Oct 1, 2007, 10:40:00 AM, Blogger Bob Baker said...


Thanks so much for the comment!

I'd be lying if I said you weren't one of the recent motivations to write this post. But you weren't the only inspiration. As I wrote, I've heard some version of the "beware of marketing" theme for years. And if a few people express it, there are many more who think that way.

So I wrote this for them, and for other artists who wanted to get on friendlier terms with marketing but were feeling uncomfortable with it.

I must admit, though, when someone as talented and self-empowered as you expresses caution about marketing, it forces me to reexamine my message. Your recent "Niche Happens" post and interview on the Musicians Cooler podcast did a great job of explaining the importance of passion and flow. But they almost seemed to write off marketing as a distraction. You may not have intended it, but that's what came through for me.

So this post was also my attempt to give an alternate perspective on the yin and yang of passion and promotion.

I really enjoyed our workshop in Asheville. And I love your blog. It's a fountain of great ideas (even if I have issues with *some* of the marketing stuff :-)

After all, what would the blogoshere be without a lively exchange of ideas?


At Oct 1, 2007, 11:08:00 AM, Blogger Steve Robinson said...

Nice post Bob.
I used to be the epitome of an anti-marketer. Hence I wasted a lot of time. I'm not setting the world on fire now, by any stretch, but I came to the realisation that by simply writing and recording music without any kind of marketing effort I was shortchanging myself.
Step 1 was to stop apologising for promoting my music. You know, the old "Sorry about the shameless promotion, but..." line. So silly.
All the best then,
Steve R.

At Oct 1, 2007, 11:31:00 AM, Anonymous Christine Kane said...

hey bob - thanks for your thoughtful note. really and truly, my intent is NEVER about trashing the marketing side of things. (or dismissing it as a distraction.) as you know i'm a huge fan of seth godin, derek sivers, and you -- what i try to tell artists and musicians is that this stuff evolves IN ADDITION to your voice, authenticity, etc.

obviously, i wouldn't be blogging if i didn't recognize the value of the internet and of marketing.

i think it comes down to intent and wanting to let artists know that there's a balance. (at least in my experience.)

so, thanks for allowing the lively exchange of ideas as i try to find my own way in the world of artistry and marketing!

At Oct 1, 2007, 2:46:00 PM, Blogger Steve Kercher said...

Anti-marketing almost ruined my life by putting me into a lot of debt. I thought that all the money I was pouring into writing and production, the art, was somehow going to satisfy, what I now see as a narcissistic view of art, as "well at least it was a great sounding record." Who really cares if no one hears it. Marketing is simply connecting your value (your music) with people who will benefit from it (your audience). So anti-marketers are truly anti-connectors. Quite frankly that goes against what true art should be: connecting with other souls. But you can't connect unless you connect (market).

Additionally, there is no such thing as organic success. Please give me an example of an artist who experienced artistic and financial success who did not benefit from a marketing campaign (gigging, radio, publicity, etc.)

At Oct 2, 2007, 12:41:00 PM, Anonymous Geoffrey said...

There's a point where one -- the artist-- has to accept oneself... the type of character one truly is. And the current 'wild west' of the internet does favour the organised multi-tasker, and the general climate of do-it-yourself- marketing is perhaps the provenance of the extrovert. Neither characteristic is neccessarily typical of an extremely talented performer or composer.

At Oct 2, 2007, 12:54:00 PM, Blogger Tim said...

Yes. it's not only about Do It Yourself but under that is Help Yourself. Push the envelope by developing new skills and doing things to get the word out for yourself. Especially writing. the web offers so many opportunities to write about what you are doing with your career. Learn to take advantage of this. Post, blog and put up press releases wherever you can. This helps make your own opportunites instead of just waiting for something to happen. Besides it is so satisfying to know something happened because you created the door on which opportunity could knock.

At Oct 2, 2007, 1:18:00 PM, Blogger Dan said...

I think there is something to this anti-marketing stance. Creating art ideally should be done without marketing in mind. If you are writing music with the intent of making something marketable, you are perverting your art. It's just no longer pure. Marketing comes later, it's not something to be shunned, but it's not that should consume you.

here's a little marketing :-)
My AWESOME melodic metal band: Crescent Shield!

At Oct 2, 2007, 1:24:00 PM, Blogger Bob Baker said...

Dan, Thanks for the comment. But I believe "perversion" is in the eye of the beholder. If you are creating something that you plan to share with a lot of people (which is really all marketing is, in my opinion), I'm not sure what is so "impure" about that.


At Oct 2, 2007, 8:07:00 PM, Anonymous Neil Speers said...

I think a lot of musicians confuse "marketing your music" with big label "Marketing Music."

As artists we should be marketing "our" music, that which we create. Even just playing gigs, talking to our friends and making a myspace page is "marketing," and the whole goal of playing in public and recording our music is about communicating with people. Marketing - for us - is an needed extension of that.

That's a far cry from the "music factories" where "hits" are manufactured with less emphasis on creating an emotion connection with the audience and more emphasis on getting the audience to part with money.

As artists, we need to remember that the only connection between the two really is just the "word" marketing, not the activity of marketing.

At Oct 2, 2007, 8:08:00 PM, Anonymous Tim.Towner said...

I really think the marketing depends on what genre of music you are doing and your age.

I work with mostly indie and pop-punk bands. Most of the bands I promote or work with are teens to mid-twenties.

With MySpace and other social networking sites (Buzznet, Virb, Facebook, etc.), your online presence (marketing) can fund your band account with regularity.

Online music retail stores like SmartPunk and InterPunk provide their own visitor-base that buy new music just from these sites. But both sites are more dedicated to the indie/punk/hardcore genres. These sites usually have better sales for their artists than iTunes.

There are bands/artists who do get signed "out of the blue" or because their music got in the right hands. But more artists have been signed by marketing themselves and putting the hardwork into it.

You don't have to spend much money or any at all, to market yourself in this online, digital age.

I know bands get frustrated but sometimes you have to look at your material. It just might not be that good.

I just found this blog and it is an awesome resource!

At Oct 2, 2007, 8:17:00 PM, Blogger Bob Baker said...

I absolutely LOVE the last line in your comment. I'll paraphrase it:
"You must create the door upon which opportunity will knock."

At Oct 2, 2007, 10:33:00 PM, Anonymous ari/Aries9 said...

I think some musicians fear compromising their (perceived) artistic integrity by getting involved in the marketing themselves.

I'm speaking from the point of view of "cool" rock musicians, who care much about "street credibility" if you know what I mean. We are creating an "art" -- we're not in it for the money. We're sellouts if we go out there and start throwing out sales pitches.

I think this school of thinking comes from confusing the concepts of "promoting" and "selling." For the sake of an argument, I'm going to define the former as an effort to let people know about your music (or whatever products), while the other is in convincing someone (even manipulating) to buy something that he/she/they may not otherwise need.

I think we as music creators are genuinely excited about the music we create, and can't help telling people about it. I know I can't. I think that's one of the healthiest place to anchor your motivation. I don't think even the most serious "artist" won't deny that he/she/they want people to know about their art!

But promotion gets a dirty rap because so much of promotion aims to manipulate you these days. Especially those who are selling products purely to make money. They know that what they're selling isn't really all that important -- but they try to make you feel that way. We all hate being subjected to this kind of effort ourselves. So we don't want to pollute the wholesome art with "dirty" sales pitches.

I truly believe that there is a way to promote one's music with ZERO manipulation involved. You're excited about your music! Rightfully so -- you put your heart and soul, blood and guts, money and life into it. There's no shame in going out to tell the world!

All that said, I myself am still trying to find the right approach to marketing for myself. I think I have a pretty good picture of how I want to brand my music -- it's heavy and dark but also artsy with an air of mystery. The latter half is the tough one -- how would I promote a mystery, when promoting usually is about distributing information? The more information I give out, the less mystery there will be left. I feel like I have a lot to tell the world about my music, yet if I told too much the sense of mystery, the element that picks your curiosity will be gone. So I'm tempted to go the anti-marketing route. Just hide behind the mask of "artistry" by not revealing much. Playing hard-to-get. But I'm thinking that hard-to-get is a role only very-well-established acts can afford to play. I'm starting to develop some ideas of how to pull this off, but it will require careful consideration, for sure.

Anyway, so what I'm trying to say is that there is a fine line between promoting and manipulation, and where that lies depends on each artist's identity and branding. Once you figure that line out, I think there's a way to tell the world proudly about your music without appearing like a sell-out.

At Oct 3, 2007, 2:05:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Just curious - Doesn't the mere act of "Playing Live" in front of an audience constitute a form of Marketing? Here we are - this is what we sound like - hope you like us etc.. ? So to be true to Anti-Marketing - you should never play live in front of anyone nor record yourself so that others may hear.

At Oct 4, 2007, 12:34:00 AM, Blogger Keith said...

Indies need to be careful about telling the world about themselves before they are really ready to do so. Most artists get 1 shot at someones attention. The W3 has provided a platform for mediocre artists to tell the world just how mediocre they are that much faster.

Remember the Gallo Wine commercial?? "There will be no wine before it's time.." Imagine if Gallo were to sell their product before it had time to ferment and acquire its aroma..All it would be then would be Welches grape juice.

Be smart about your marketing.. Get better and the bigger will come.. It usually doesnt happen the other way around..

Good topic Bob!

At Oct 4, 2007, 8:55:00 AM, Blogger steven edward streight said...

Musicians who are opposed to thinking about marketing, they end up, by default, making other people, like record labels and fans, do it for them.

I guess you can be detached from your own marketing. Or superstitiously believe in an automagical "organic" growth of your musical career.

It depends on a musician's personality.

Like music for the masses vs. music for other musicians (Xenakis, Merzbow, Varese, etc. who I dearly love!).

I would not criticize someone who is disdainful of "marketing", since there are so many con artists, get-rich-quick schemes, and worst of all: persistent self-promoters whose music SUCKS!!!


But I am both a musician and a marketing mind, so they blend beautifully.

I use very low-key promotions, like Twitter messages with URLs of my Ning mp3s, free downloads.

I don't sell my music, outside of a few CDs in local record store, at $3 each, all revenue goes to the store.

I believe in self-promotion, but it's fun and easy for me. What I cannot do is math. So I married an accountant.

Marketing, accounting, sales, landscaping, why must a musician care about or do any of that stuff?

Make the music, and distribute it free, make it available on Ning (great player embeds), MySpace, Facebook, Virb, GarageBand, everywhere you possibly can.

These are FREE distribution points that help you go viral.

At Oct 4, 2007, 8:59:00 AM, Blogger steven edward streight said...

Yes, "marketing as manipulation" is a perception that is unfortunately true, as companies try to game and exploit social networks now.

That is what makes true artists avoid the whole issue.

"The music itself should sell itself. Marketing is manipulation." is a powerful argument, but how will the music compete in the marketplace without some marketing?

The best marketing is not hype and sales talk, but a funny or serious description of the general type of music, then free mp3 downloads.

Let fans download and burn lots of your songs to CDs, then they'll take your music to parties, on road trips, etc. and you'll go from Unknown and Unbought to Craved and Purchased.

It's ticket sales that is where the money is, or so I hear.

Follow the lead of Radiohead!

At Oct 4, 2007, 9:38:00 AM, Blogger Sam Bhattacharya said...

I think the point raised about manipulation is important too.

Lately, I've spent a lot of time on myspace. And I see bands there practically every day who use all kinds of spamming techniques on bulletins, message boards and whatnot to get the most number of people possible to click on their profiles.

It's pretty sickening. What a waste! And a lot of people have set their profiles to not accept bands as friends because of it.

Fortunately, everything I've read in Bob's promotion materials cautions against doing precisely that sort of thing. Instead, he hits home with the message of narrowing down your music to your particular small niche, and connecting mainly with those people who are already fans of music similar to yours. His advice has been working well for me.

As you can see, I'm a pretty big Bob Baker fan. And proud of it too!


At Oct 4, 2007, 10:01:00 AM, Blogger steven edward streight said...

Yeah, Bob Baker is the real deal.

At Oct 4, 2007, 11:46:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think there is a certain stigma when some of us think of "marketing" and "music". Case in point - Big Music Marketing Machines give us things like - New Kids On The Block, Backstreet Boys and The Spice Girls. They are products of pure Marketing and no real substance except Lunch Boxes,school binders and even action figures. Other side of the coin can be groups who do not have any real marketing but do have substance which gives way to word of mouth -which is organic marketing for lack of a better term. I am thinking of bands such as Phish, Dave Matthews and even the Grateful Dead - who made millions of dollars touring without marketing gimmicks, a MySpace page or even a lunchbox. The point is - that the idea of Music Marketing can sometimes be associated with a "trick" to pull you in. Like email Spam. You find the "catch" is that there's no substance. It's Menudo. It's free ringtones.

At Oct 5, 2007, 10:34:00 AM, Blogger Sam Bhattacharya said...

I agree that "music marketing" sounds rather aloof and impersonal. Kind of like "tele-marketing."

That's why I like to view it more as interacting with people, making friends and building relationships. Treat your potential audience like you would your high school buddies. And you won't think of this as just cold "marketing" anymore.

At Aug 9, 2009, 4:18:00 PM, Anonymous Natalie Gelman said...

Great post, I really enjoyed reading it and the comments. I think my best music "Marketing" comes from a passionate and creative place. When I am not just blasting it out there but doing it in a unique and thoughtful way that is full of intent. Something I have learned from you, Derek and Christine. :)

btw. its nice to see your comments to each other!


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