Bob Baker's Indie Music Promotion Blog

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

April 28, 2009

Gatekeepers & Music Promotion Overload: The Good News

It's the biggest frustration I hear uttered by independent artists and promoters worldwide: The growing workload.

How can I find the time to do all this social networking and guerrilla marketing stuff?

I've got so much on my plate already, how am I supposed to add even more to my overflowing to-do list?

I hear you. I know. And ISN'T IT WONDERFUL?

Huh? What in Jehovah's name is so wonderful about being overburdened by all that needs to be done to succeed with music?

I have a good answer. Let me explain ...
You've heard of "gatekeepers," right? In decades past, the gatekeepers of the music industry were A&R execs at major labels, prominent artist managers, radio station program directors, music magazine editors, big venue talent buyers, etc.

You needed to get the approval of some of these "special people" to have half a chance at fame, fortune and success with your music. If they didn't deem you worthy, you were damned to struggle in obscurity for the rest of your days.

I exaggerate to make a point, but that's the power that many aspiring artists gave to these gatekeepers in the past. Sadly, many artists still grovel at their feet today.

But now there are new gatekeepers. You can also call them "filters." And it's these new filters that help weed out and determine who is to be highly successful, moderately successful, and not very successful at all.

(Of course, "success" can be measured in many ways. There are no right or wrong definitions. But for the sake of this article, let's say that success is the ability to support yourself financially from your music-related income.)

One type of new gatekeeper are music consumers. You must get a response from at least a small slice of people in the marketplace to gain traction and grow your career.

Chris Anderson spells this out wonderfully in his book, The Long Tail. He describes the industry gatekeepers of old as "pre-filters." They decided who was worthy of being exposed to a wider audience. There was a weeding out process *before* the music was produced and distributed to the general public.

Nowadays, Anderson says, there are "post-filters." Because of the Internet and digital technologies, practically everything is made available to the public. And now music consumers decide what is worthy of their time, attention and money.

If you can break through the clutter and find your audience, and if what you create inspires fans to rave about it to their friends, your notoriety and career will grow.

I love that concept. But there's another new filter that has become more obvious to me in recent years. And that has to do with effort and workload.

The truth is, not everyone embraces marketing, publicity and social networking. In fact, a large percentage of artists have disdain for most marketing activities and curse the long list of things they must do to promote themselves effectively.


And it's not just because the workload problem means there will always be a demand for my books :-) What I really like about it is how it has become a new organic filter that thins out the number of artists who succeed at higher levels.

Yes, the Internet and digital technologies have created a more level playing field. I've been saying that for years. But we need to clarify something:

It's more accurate to say that all artists now have "equal access to the field." How you play your role once you're on the field is a whole different ball game.

Just showing up does not guarantee you a full-time income. Some indie artists do amazingly well, some do moderately well, and many continue to struggle -- no matter how many opportunities and low-cost tools are at their disposal.

It really comes down to a new "survival of the fittest" paradigm. Only a small percentage of artists have that rare combination of musical chops, stage presence, likeable qualities, marketing smarts, communication and social skills, discipline, drive, passion, etc.

Sure, there are ways to lighten the workload, involve your fans, and pay people to do design work and other technical tasks. But the most effective artists are hands-on with many aspects of their promotion. It's something they accept and embrace and make the time for.

So I encourage you to reevaluate your relationship with marketing, social media, and your growing to-do list. Find a way to incorporate them into your life! Yes, it takes effort. Yes, it can be confusing and frustrating. YES, it's what you need to do to make an impact with your music!

This post may seem like it's not the most uplifting one I've ever written, but let me ask you this:

Wouldn't you rather have every artist's success be based on their unique ability to create remarkable music and find an ideal audience that supports them ... instead of success being based on what a small group of industry gatekeeper insiders feel is worthy?

I'll take the new filters and gatekeepers any day!


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posted by Bob Baker @ 11:17 AM   19 comments


At Apr 28, 2009, 12:31:00 PM, Anonymous MADE said...

I guess it's the concept of "The Dip" that Seth Godin talks about. Only a few people are going to have the persistence to get over the dip. On the other side lies success.At least everyone's given a fair shot though.

At Apr 28, 2009, 12:43:00 PM, Anonymous Jerry Fee said...

I think this is a sobering, but GREAT blog! Thanks Bob. :)
Fortunately, I'm not bothered too much by all the hard work and long hours. And, yes, it can get really discouraging and frustrating sometimes. But...
In my opinion, if an artist is truly passionate about what they do and why they do it, then why would they NOT market (tell people about it) though all these great "new" tools!!
If someone just wants to do this as a hobby, great! Then do it for you.
But, why take all that time and effort to write, record, perform, etc...and not tell others?
Lame example:
No, I'm just in the restaurant business for a hobby. I don't care if people show up or not.
Bye bye restaurant!
You don't have to be the Wal-Mart of music to be great.
But, don't get lazy in your dreaming about this passion of yours hoping to be rescued, and then, oh, by the way...owe them your soul. :)

At Apr 28, 2009, 12:45:00 PM, Blogger Will said...

Makes total sense to me Bob. I am so excited about the current state of music these days thanks to the Interwebs. :) There is a ton of work to do no question but until I get enough money rolling in I'm not usually comfortable enough to outsource anything.

At Apr 28, 2009, 12:54:00 PM, Anonymous Leah Whitehorse said...

Bob I absolutely agree. Yes it's tough having to learn new things and take time to market yourself and your music (or whatever you do) but I find that an exciting challenge. Having the responsibility makes me feel like everything is possible and I'm not at the mercy of anyone else. I'm not averse to having my odd 'poor me' moment but at the end of the day I know that it's only action and persistant action as MADE said that will get the results I want.

At Apr 28, 2009, 1:54:00 PM, Blogger Susan Baumann said...

Terrific post. The gatekeepers never go away, but at least you have some control over time, effort, and promotion. Thanks for the inspiration.

At Apr 28, 2009, 2:24:00 PM, Anonymous Jeff said...

It's a big positive AND a big negative. Amanda Palmer, who uses Twitter and her blog with remarkable success, recently commented that often time and energy that used to go into writing songs now goes into promoting herself through her blog and Twitter.

On one had, it's incredibly freeing as a musician to craft your own path. On the other hand, it's exhausting and often takes time away from the really important stuff like, you know, playing, writing, recording, etc.

At Apr 28, 2009, 4:24:00 PM, Anonymous Marja Ernst said...

Great post! Depressing but true. Today, in artists must put a huge amount of work on marketing, social media, and other aspects of their career as well as just focusing on their music.

Unfortunately, there are a lot of artists out there who are good at their music, but really aren`t that good at juggling the many different facets of their careers. Those that do manage the juggling often have a hard time spending as much time at their music as they would like.

However, as you point out, this is what un-levels the playing field. It raises those who really want to succeed and are willing to spend the time developing other skills above those who don`t.

Great post as always!

At Apr 28, 2009, 7:06:00 PM, Blogger luiser said...

Great! A bit of reality check is needed.

At Apr 29, 2009, 11:29:00 AM, Anonymous Benjie Hughes said...

I was a journalist before I started my company and jumped full-time into music, and I'll never forget what one old-school Chicago bluesman told me in an interview with him: people who don't do music for a living often have more time to "play" than those who do. He was utterly correct. No matter the business model or technological age, it's always been true that talent and passion don't give you a career - only hard work does.

But Bob, there's such a thing as working SMART, too. McDonald's didn't become a worldwide brand by having the same guy handle advertising who cooks the burgers - and most musicians shouldn't aspire to be full-time performers AND full-time promoters. Think of yourself as a small business and have a growth plan - hire someone someday to do the things you're not good at. That day may not be today. But if you don't plan for it, it may not be tomorrow either.

At Apr 29, 2009, 11:59:00 AM, Blogger elarson said...

I'm curious what impact this has on the music itself. Folks have commented on the fact that if an artist is forced to deal with all social promotion, time becomes even more valuable. But, I'd also wonder the impact in terms of style. In the past artists have been able to present their music and image as mysterious and exclusive. Before, an artist could present themselves as aloof and unapproachable, which could work in their favour by providing mystery and mystique. While it is possible to present a more serious and mysterious image, it seems as though what was previously admired in anti-social behaviour would now be considered bad business sense.

This is similar to how licensing has become such an important focus for making money. Metal Machine Music is not likely to be in a Honda commercial, so where is the impetus to push the limits or experiment. The positive side is that there is a better chance of finding an audience, but it still seems difficult to see how more non-traditional artists can effectively use social media when their art is anti-social in nature.

At Apr 29, 2009, 12:49:00 PM, Blogger NoteWorthy Music Mgmt. said...

Indeed, this is a very exciting time to be an emerging artist, Bob! Here's a quote from Adam Duritz that nails it:

"The world is an endless garden of opportunity for artists free to make use of all the possibilities the internet offers these days. Unshackled from the restraints placed upon the rest of us by the labels, anything is possible." ~ Adam Duritz ~ 4/14/08

At Apr 29, 2009, 3:03:00 PM, Blogger John of Celtic Ways said...

What does seem to boost success today is teamwork that networks the independent skills of a group. In a band it may often be found that someone writes the best songs while another in the band is most useful at doing the online stuff. What a lot can be achieved there!
For solo performers the best gift is a wonderful partner. For one I know there's some terrific girl singer songwriter performers out there who's partners are constantly promoting them online. Results can be great. Of course you can reverse genders and have same genders there, but I speak with current experience :-)

At Apr 29, 2009, 3:35:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Bob you say, "This post may seem like it's not the most uplifting one I've ever written," I can't say because I haven't read all of your post. But I will say this it's one of the realist post about the music game I've read.

When I talk to other artist about our music careers the number one reason I notice that artist want a record deal or are not "successful" is the lack of willingness to do the work involved.

They all seem to know exactly what to do but just don't want to do it because it all seems like an overwhelming workload. But the loads is not really as big as it may seem when it's organized and laid out step by step in a blue print that can be done in a few minutes to an hour or so a day.

And what helps me with that is applying what all I learn from you to the steps outlined in an ebook I got from Michelle MacPhearson called Social Media Daily (Google it). Took my myspace (using your myspace marketing guide and other various tips I'ce collected from your blogs and books) as well as complete online presence from about 1 on a scale of 1-10 up to about 7 in about a months time with just a few minutes to an hour a day.



At Apr 29, 2009, 4:19:00 PM, Anonymous Ellen Tift said...

Good article, I was encouraged by it. And it's so strange, that photo you used is of a guy I know named Paul. We acted in a short film together. Small world!

At May 5, 2009, 5:51:00 AM, Blogger camjmuso said...

I am coming from being an office employee for about 20 years. A year ago, I started freelancing as a singing teacher, and have just reduced my office job hours so I can expand on the teaching and develop some songs. It IS scary and hard work, but it's really exciting to feel that my destiny is in my own hands. There's nothing like the knowing you can create your own success, and I look forward to the journey ahead!

At May 6, 2009, 5:59:00 PM, Anonymous Lisa Bianco said...

Been bumbed out lately with the "one in a million" shot for any type of success. This was a nice needed boost to read! A good reminder that yes, it is an even playing field after all. You've gotta remember that!

At May 7, 2009, 11:00:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

its a nice thought but not entirely accurate since your career is still determined by the gatekeepers. you arent going to find much on myspace and other socials beyond other bands because all the regular people are not logging in or are deleting their accounts

At Oct 3, 2009, 3:02:00 PM, Blogger VICIOUS ATTACK! said...

I think we're in such a different time now.. artists aren't artists in the true sense they used to be but are businesses and brands.

I mean, what if Hendrix had to do all this? Or the Stones? Could you imagine Mick and Keith sitting around going "Hey mate we've gotta get through the rest of this media list, get these press kits out, update the Twitter, the blog, the Myspace, the Facebook, then after all that's done maybe we'll take those pills, smoke that joint and write that song."

Or what if Coltrane DIDN'T sit around practicing practically all his waking hours and instead was doing media outreach. I mean, the music would've suffered.. it's just plain simple obvious truth.

But such are the times we live in, so I guess we've got to get used to it. Or pay to have it all done.

At Dec 7, 2009, 10:32:00 AM, Anonymous Rob said...

I totally agree with this, and I love how we now have a "level playing field", which should filter out those of us who aren't so committed.

Of course, theres always the possibility of outsourcing some of the work further down the line.


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