Have you ever wondered why some crazy talented artist doesn’t get the recognition or fanbase you think they deserve, while some hack seems to be everywhere (and you just want their sad excuse for music to go away)?
This could be for a number of reasons, but the most likely is that the successful musician was more competent with the business side of the music industry. More specifically, they knew how to market themselves.
It’s because of this that many artists struggle to generate sales. It’s why you can go to a bar, hear an incredible band and wonder why no one’s ever heard of them. It’s why some musician on the street might be more talented than someone at the top of the charts. The ability to market oneself is key in so many industries – music is certainly no different.
Most people get into the industry for the love of the music and don’t think about the marketing aspect. A lot of musicians feel if their music is good enough, they’ll get noticed. All they have to do is create a great album, make it available to people, and their career will take off. While that approach is understandable, it’s far from the truth.
Being talented and letting people know about your talent are two very different things. Beyond making music that people actually want to listen to, one needs to get them to listen with an open mind in the first place. After all, how will people know talent if they don’t provide them a chance?
Comedian Louis CK has a bit (like much of his hilarious material) that carries a biting social reality. He says:
“Every musician is attractive. Isn’t that a weird coincidence? That everyone who can play music also looks good?
Huh. I would have thought there’d be like one ugly guy with a guitar who would be amazing. But F***ing ZERO!”
It’s pretty clear he’s not suggesting that every good musician is good looking – we’ve all come across one or two superb talents who were maybe hit by the ugly stick one too many times for their own good (like this guy).
Louis is rather observing that people who make it BIG seem to also have a pretty face. Sure, The Beatles were incredibly talented songsmiths. But it’s arguable that if they weren’t teenage heartthrobs first, their more sophisticated work wouldn’t have entered the public sphere.
Is it possible to be truly ugly and sell enough records to be considered a “star”? What about Susan Boyle from Britain’s Got Talent?
The crowd went from laughing to standing ovation in under a minute – she became famous for embodying this very anomaly. Without the show, the world never would know her talent (she cut a professional demo a decade prior that was never taken seriously). She makes records now, but… a star? Debatable.
Immense talent isn’t enough to convince listeners to spend their money. Despite being an industry where the very purpose is auditory, an artist’s image is critical to their success. Audiences want to be part of something bigger than someone who spent all their waking hours holed up in their room practicing. If looks don’t draw someone in, look no further than bands like KISS or The Gorillaz who utilized gimmicks like makeup and animation to supplement their public image.
Branding is a crucial way to communicate one’s message. As a musician it’s even more important because there are so many people making, producing and creating music – some original music isn’t very original.
As with all brands, differentiation is essential for anything to be deemed notable. New acts come out all the time fighting for people’s attention. If an unknown artist gives out a download code for a free copy of their new album, most people won’t even download it! This proves people need convincing certain music is worth listening to. That’s where the process of marketing comes in.