A quick internet search will give you a myriad of ways to promote your music and cultivate your identity as an artist. There’s no getting around the fact that putting thought into the way you present and market yourself as an artist gives you the best chance at getting your music heard in this brutally competitive music climate. But artists get it wrong when they put image and promotion over everything else when it comes to their work.
What do you want to be?
If you’re reading the question and answering “musician” or “songwriter,” then music needs to be at the heart of everything you do as an artist. From how you dress in band photos to what you post on social media needs to done with your music in mind. It’s hard to accept that music is often difficult to make for most people, even experienced musicians. To compensate, some of us opt to build our brands and boost our images now in the hopes that we’ll be inspired to make great music later. But what does a sleek image and thoughtful marketing campaign for an artist sell if it’s not their music? It sells a musician’s desire to be known and loved and little else. If you put yourself in a listener’s shoes, an artist that’s more about delivering hype than actual music isn’t worth listening to.
Put your music first and your message second
Musicians don’t typically choose to focus more on their image than their music consciously, but it’s something that happens a lot in today’s social media-driven musical culture. A way to combat this is to start seeing everything you do as an artist as actions crucial to sending a message about your music. This is a surefire way to put your music at the center of everything you do. Rather than promoting yourself first and making music later, take some time to get a feel for what your music means, not only to you but also your listeners. Cat memes and goofy music videos might get you some attention in the short term, but are those things that really align with and serve the messages you want to convey about your music?
Basing your image and promotional efforts purely around your music limits your choices, but in the best way. When an artist knows what their music is really about, they can narrow down the ways to best present themselves and their musical message. This makes promoting and branding things easier than it is for musicians who can’t define what their music means and why they want to be making it. If this sounds like you, don’t worry. Forming a solid musical identity is something that often takes musicians years to do. It’s not something that can be forced or rushed, but it is something you should start thinking about as soon as you can. When you learn more about the identity of your music, promoting it gets a whole lot easier.
Patrick McGuire is a writer, musician, and human man. He lives nowhere in particular, creates music under the name Straight White Teeth, and has a great affinity for dogs and putting his hands in his pockets.