Updated: Feb 13, 2022
Marketing is an essential component to your music career, but can also be interpreted as a dirty word. It conjures images of pushy salesmen or a friend cajoling you to come to their event. However, this is not what effective marketing actually looks like. Marketing yourself as a musician takes time and patience. It is an art one learns with experience and is an essential skill to master.
Marketing has become one of the most essential parts of becoming a musician. Some universities are even adding required classes on marketing to their undergraduate programs. It has become important due to the explosion of small companies and the rise of the internet. The pool of singers is large and the traditional path to an opera career is not as common as it once was. In addition, not all singers choose to follow a traditional route to a career. Because of this, artists must treat themselves as independent artists and market themselves thusly. Here are some ground rules for marketing yourself in this highly competitive industry.
1. Believe in the purpose of your product
As musicians, we are producing a product. If we sing, we, the performer, are the product. If we teach, our teaching is the product. If we are set painters, our sets are the products. There are two things that are essential in building a product: passion and purpose. Kristina Driskill outlines these two ideas expertly in this article. Passion is what you do, while purpose is your reason to do it. You need to have a reason why you are doing what you do in order to market effectively. A great resource for this is Simon Sinek's TED Talk and his book Start With Why. In both of these, he explains the necessity of always marketing from a place of "why" rather than a place of "what." This line from his TED Talk says it all: "People don't buy what you do, they buy why you do it."
2. Pay it forward
Seth Godin, master marketing guru, talks about this idea in several of his books and blog. Your goal as a musician is to build an audience, which involves building relationships with people. Through this method, you build trust, which results in getting hired for more jobs. In general, people tend to hire those they like, know, and trust. You need to build trust and a community before you can build anything else in your career. This means you need to invest in the relationships you have right now.
How do you do this? Support your friends or local organizations by sharing their events with and recommending their work to others. This is something they will remember and pay you back for in spades. Over and above that, attend your friends' events. Your presence shows your support in a physical way and that makes them more likely to support your endeavors.
3. Communicate, communicate, communicate
Now that you have built a captive audience, you need to communicate with that audience on a regular basis. Marie Forleo, a popular online content creator, talks about this on her YouTube channel geared toward building small businesses. She talks about building a communication strategy. People are still apt to recommend via word-of-mouth, but beyond word-of-mouth, the internet is a powerful tool. Whatever you are doing needs to be emailed to your audience and posted on your social media pages. Start by building your email list and update them every month with what you are doing. And make sure to post on social media frequently to keep you in the sight and mind of your audience.
There are lots of effective ways to network. Start by going to parties, events, and concerts that interest you. Get to know as many people as possible, and take some smaller singing opportunities just to meet people in the opera industry. Friend request anyone you meet or get their contact information. If you are really interested in their ideas, ask them to coffee. Communication leads to networking, which leads to great opportunities for you!
5. Chase opportunity
We highly recommend getting your name out there by doing small gigs and looking for open opportunities in your area. David Ruch has a great website with resources getting into the nitty gritty of how to send cold emails to people. He also has some great resources on how to program music and act as a teaching artist for unique groups. In New York, there are tons of Facebook groups for small gigs in the city. Some of these include: NYC Choral Freelancers, New York Opera Professionals, Yvonne's List Church Gig Postings, Singers' Gig Pool, and Soprano Gigs NY. Many cities have similar websites. Try a Facebook group search for your city!
Follow up with these gigs and make sure to thank people for the opportunity. Support them in their endeavors, even if you are not involved. Show them support as often as you can!
Finally, carry business cards with you wherever you go. If you get into a conversation with someone about what you do, hand them a business card with your information. Business cards are not an expensive investment, and someone has your name and number when they need it. Vistaprint is a great, inexpensive online company for business cards. They also run a lot of deals with discounts and coupons.
Marketing does not have to be a scary process or something that makes you feel uncomfortable. It is about building trust and relationships and finding people who love and support your art. If you follow a few of the simple steps above, we guarantee you will build an audience and get some really great gigs. It is definitely something you need to focus on as part of your career in order to become the best musician you can possibly be, and so you can find the opportunities that are best suited to you.