Beyond Inspiration: Looking for Our Audiences

The following is a guest post from Ron Davis.  I asked Ron if he’d be willing to reflect on the topic of my blog competition.  He was happy to oblige, please have a read!

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Beyond Inspiration: Looking for Our Audiences

Ron Davis

“Amateurs look for inspiration; the rest of us just get up and go to work.”
 – Chuck Close, American painter and photographer

Amateur musicians have the luxury of thinking about the music only. Professionals? We’ve chosen to enter the music business. We need to have business on our mind. Long after we’ve internalized the sound of a diminished scale over a flatted ninth, we need to think about marketing, booking, promoting. About making a living .

The choice to become a professional musician implies this goal: to generate a livelihood through our art. (I’ve discussed this at Pianobabbler.com November 09 2008, January 11 2009, May 17 2010.)

There are two parts to the goal. First part: the livelihood. Making money. Inconvenient truth: we need money to live. How do we make money? By persuading, asking, seducing people to pay for our music. How? Marketing.

There are many ways to market. Publicists. Social media. Social organizations. Advertising. Blogs. Websites. Email. Phone calls. Publicity stunts (remember the singer Bernard LaChance, who stood on the street selling tickets to his Massey Hall show? He ended up on Oprah. Got a huge industry contract, too.)

The method matters less than the intent. You have to commit to fashioning a strategy aimed at bringing your name to the public’s attention, and attracting them to your shows. Commit, then execute. Then persist.

Commit, execute, persist. You may start a Facebook campaign. Or Twitter. You may start an email list (a big fat one is a really good idea.) Or develop a sticky website, bursting with cool. Post video. Post audio. Volunteer somewhere and talk up what you do. The possibilities vary without end. There is no right one. Only the one that works.

Commit, execute, persist. Because you need to get people out. If you don’t, the club owner, the theatre producer, the concert promoter lose money. You walk away with some dough. They never call again. They associate your name with being broke. Which they do not want to be. Nor do you. Hence the need for you to get people out.

And get out yourself. Go listen. To your friends. Your teachers. Players you don’t know. Being someone another musician gets out, enhances your chances that others will be people you get out.

Which brings us to the second goal in becoming professional musicians: our art.

If you just want to make music, pure music, save yourself the hassle. Become a lawyer, play at home. But if the driving impulse is to share your art, the people have to be there to hear you. Every working musician knows that playing to an empty room takes the energy, and much joy, out of the music.

So getting people out is not just a money thing. It’s a profound art thing as well. The music has less meaning without them.

“But that’s unfair! Advertising is someone else’s job. I shouldn’t have to get the audience out. I should just be able to concentrate on the music.”

Dream on. Generate enough music revenue to pay a marketing team, and you can outsource the task. Otherwise, as Chuck Close says, just get up and go to work. Most of us working musicians do exactly that.

And that’s OK. Balancing art and commerce demands vision and skill. If you engage with that balancing act, our art can thrive. Many of the greatest musicians- from Bach to Sinatra to Ray Charles -have succeeded in this way. You can too.

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