Marketing & Social Media for Artists

Thursday, July 18, 2019

By Rob Tocalino

Digital Marketing is Marketing 
The trajectory of digital media has been so rapid and steep that in one short decade we've gone from putzing around on MySpace on our desktop and laptop computers to swiping, liking and doing every other imaginable thing on our phones. Today, mobile is clearly the dominant, but, if history teaches us anything, it's that Silicon Valley's ability to serve us what we don't even know we need or want will surpass our ability to resist it. 

The speed of these changes makes everyone a little dizzy, but it also has reached some level of stability to speak some truths: What we used to call digital marketing should rightly just be called marketing these days. The vehicles and tactics of old (print advertising, radio, television) certainly have uses and, I think, are sometimes overlooked as old fashioned or ineffective. But the sheer ability for fans to make connections and make discoveries, is ultimately a boon for marketers and artists alike. 

When you strip away the fancy technology, the revolution is fundamentally one of access. Many artists have seen predictable revenue streams disappear. I have also seen artists use digital channels to reshape their relationship to their fans and create new revenue streams. These tools are proving to be a powerful way to reach your audiences and partner with artists and artist managers to build deeper connections to your work. 

For years, we've based our media mix on best practices that cover the widest possible audience, sprinkled with some guerrilla marketing and other tactics as necessary. We have relied on coverage from the press to tell our stories. We have done our best to find those folks who might be interested in the work of the artists we present. Marketing on the presenter's side was often so consumed by our spending and developing ads, on getting the press to write a story, that I believe we neglected to spend the requisite time getting to know the artists who graced our stage.

This only reinforced the idea that marketing is solely advertising and PR—just a way to goad, cajole or even trick people into doing something you want them to do. At its best, though, arts marketing is a powerful practice, one that can deepen the understanding of fans, that can connect an artist to known and unknown audiences. 

An arts marketer has the privilege to "sell" access to experiences that, at their best, can be life altering. And our long-term success is predicated on the relationships built with the audience, and by extension, the artists on stage. 

Small, nimble, thoughtful organizations now have the tools to develop audiences in conjunction with artists and the media, with more control and precision than ever before. And we can keep those audiences loyal by listening to them and speaking with them about the things they’ve told us they want from us. And, like our tech brethren, we can learn enough about them to suggest things that they don't even know they'd like. We can help grow and shape their artistic tastes.

This is particularly valuable when you consider that the work we present is such a small piece of the larger industry. A 2016 Nielsen report had jazz and classical neck and neck at 1% each of the total streaming audience. It's enough to make you hang you head and walkout the door  But then you meet these fans and you see the depth of their connection to the work, and you realize that if it weren't for all of us in this room, and all those soon to arrive at this conference that the lives of our communities would be immeasurably poorer for not doing the work we do. 

Content Is King  
We are the media now. The PR position in my department was replaced four years ago by a social media and email position. We can quickly and accurately send communication to thousands of people, and we have seen the effect of that, both on ticket sales, but also in that ephemeral data point we call engagement. Because of this shift, we have become hungry for more good stories. 

I understand that humility and a focus on your work might make this seem uncomfortable. But I would suggest you find a way, whether through management, friends, the most talkative member of your band, to share your work and the process behind it. Because time and again, it is those artists that forge a connection with our audiences, that share stories that add to the meaning of the work their doing, that receive the warmest welcomes. 

And though the press is dwindling in some respects, there are a lot of writers out there working to keep good work in front of people, whether it's on twitter, a blog or elsewhere.  So, we still work diligently, especially when presenting something that is new or unfamiliar, to lean on our own resources, but also to amplify that with local coverage if we can get it.

Translation Is Hard
So much of the work we do is done at a rapid pace. We finish our booking cycle in mid-February to Early March, and our subscriptions go on sale the first week of April. To organize our content, to find connections between artists, the more and more accurate information we get in the earliest stages of our booking is so important. I can’t tell you how many times we get a key piece of information like "I've got a new album coming out" or "I'm going to have a guest with me onstage" or in the weeks before a performance. 

Think about your bios and how they reflect how we're going to describe you. As an example: We present a fair amount of classical music, and I'm amazed how often we receive a bio for a soloist that lists where they were born, maybe an age if they're a wunderkind or something, and a list of where they'll be playing in the year ahead. In some cases, this may be all there is to say about someone. But people want to know what makes you you, and what the trajectory of your career looks like, and what makes your work both past and current, unique.