When Is It Too Much?

So I was reading this post by Jason Parker (@1WorkinMusician). Jason’s got a great new way to get people talking about his music and it requires (relatively speaking) little overhead. What’s more, it does seem to build in a bit of the sort of story that people will likely talk about with their friends as well. That, of course, is something worth its weight in gold – the opportunity to have people do your marketing for you by word of mouth.
It’s a great idea. It’s great marketing. It’s fun, and I commend him for doing it.
It’s also crap.
Ok – that’s not entirely accurate – let me rephrase: The fact that he needs to come up with something like this is crap. That’s a little closer to what I’m actually feeling right now. I don’t understand why it is that folks who are working as hard as he is have to find new and intriquing ways to ‘lure’ people in to listen to their music, or view their art, or see them dance, or…
You get the idea.
It’s exceedingly frustrating to me that I see people like Jason, or Andrew Durkin, or Joe Trainor struggling just to get people to get off their asses and to pay attention. These are craftsmen working for what? To create something for other people to enjoy! Then they have to drag them out just to have those same people enjoy those efforts!
Let’s do a little math here: Let’s say for a moment that Jason’s CD cost him $5/cd to make. Between recording costs, packaging, printing, rehersals, shipping, and who knows what all else, I’m betting it’s probably more, but let’s start there. That means that (for this particular effort) he’s spending $500 just to benefit others and have them hear his music. Those same people could have likely spent just a few bucks to see a show with Jason, his band, and likely at least one other act and benefitted him in return for his gift.
I know, I know. I’m probably getting a bit preachy here, but I can’t help but get frustrated when I see this sort of crap all the time. What will it take for us as a society to value our artists enough that they don’t have to have the cursed day job, or be their own marketing department, and  allow them to just make their music, or paint their art, or just dance?

13 thoughts on “When Is It Too Much?”

  1. Hey Matt,

    Thanks for checking out my 100 CD’s Project, and for giving us your unabashed opinion! I’ve gotten responses to this idea that span the spectrum, from “brilliant” to “you’re a risk to our national security” to “whatever, dude”. I welcome each and every one of them.

    And while on the whole I agree with you that it would be great if people would just flock to artists’ work, isn’t that a little unrealistic? Particularly in this day and age, where EVERYTHING is available at any given moment via the internet, how am I supposed to compete with Miles Davis, Freddie Hubbard, Mozart, Monet, Tharp, Scorcese and the countless other artists, past and present, who are trying to reach the same folks I am? As you’re well aware, there is an incredible amount of great music (art) out there that never gets heard (seen, felt, touched). That’s the reality of the situation. We can bemoan that reality and wish it were different, but it’s not.

    So what do we do? We need to find ways to capture people’s attention. We need to find ways to CONNECT with people. That’s the name of the game, as far as I’m concerned. The days are long over where we can send our CDs to radio, buy a few print/radio ads, get the CDs in stores and hope for the best. Traditional marketing has become so bloated and lowest-common-denominator that 99% of it is tuned out. Who sees commercials on the TV? Who listens to them on the radio? Do you even noticed that banner ads and marketing buttons that are all over the internet? I don’t. It’s all too much, so we tune it out.

    And that’s why “social media” has become such powerful tool. It gives us the chance to make a connection with people that goes way beyond “buy my CD”. Even in Twitter’s 140 characters, we are actually TALKING to each other. And with Facebook, blogs, etc., we have the opportunity for dialog, and the opportunity for foster relationships. It’s not just about customers anymore. It’s about finding a like-minded community and getting involved with it.

    Now believe me, I’d love to focus on the act of making music and leave the marketing to someone else. But that’s not the job description anymore. I treat blogging, tweeting, marketing, promoting, booking, etc as part of my job. A big part. That’s the only way I can do it and stay reasonably sane. I know that every minute I spend on the internet (I’ve spent 20 already reading and responding to your post) is a minute I could spend practicing or rehearsing or composing. But I also know that the time I spend on the internet results in more people hearing my music, and isn’t that what it’s all about?

    So, back to my 100 CD’s Project. You talk about the cost of it to me. I’m actually in the enviable position that my 1000 CD’s I got from Discmakers were completely paid for the day they landed on my doorstep. Through my micropatronage program and a grant I received from the County, I was able to finance the whole project, including rehearsals, studio fees, photographers fees, printing/mailing costs, musician fees, etc.. Had I been in debt I might not be so willing to give away 100 CD’s like this. But then again I might! Because I’m confident that it’ll come back to me in some way. Already two people have said they are going to come to my shows, two people have passed the CD on to others, and I got written up on NPR’s A Blog Supreme, which lead to direct sales of the CD. As far as I’m concerned I’ve already come out ahead! And I’m only a week-and-a-half into it.

    I guess the bottom line is that I have embraced the fact that the world has changed. I have realized that there are many non-musical things that go into being a working musician. And I’m fortunate, because I actually enjoy most of them. I LIKE talking to people about my music. I LIKE blogging. I LIKE sending stupid tweets. And I LIKE coming up with wacky ways to get my music into people’s hands. But that’s me. I know plenty of musicians who feel as you do. And I certainly don’t want to discount that. For me, however, it’s not a question of why should I do it, or I wish I didn’t have to do it…it’s a question of THIS IS WHAT I MUST DO TO BE SUCCESSFUL. When I look at it like that it all becomes part of the job. And frankly, I’m happy that I have 100% control over my music, my marketing, my image, etc. I’d much rather that that let a record label or marketing department decide what’s best for me.

    Thanks again for taking the time to respond to the project. If you have further responses to what I’ve written, please don’t hesitate to share them!

  2. Not only have people’s taste’s in music changed, but the way people get their music has changed. Jason should be commended for what he is doing, because for every musician like him that is embracing facebook, twitter and everything in between there are 100’s of cats and bands that are not embracing it.

    People are not waiting for music in the video store, they are downloading instantaneously…they want it yesterday, and the more cats like Jason embrace that, the better off they will be.

  3. Hey guys —

    I don’t want to speak for Matt L., but I am positive this was not intended as a “critique” of Jason’s 100 CDs project. In fact, I am positive that Matt has nothing but admiration for what Jason is doing, and that he would join the other Matt in commending the project. (And for the record, I think the project is brilliant.)

    Again, I don’t want to speak for Matt L., but trust me — he’s on the side of the artists. I think he was addressing the broader situation, the context we all find ourselves in, in which sometimes even the most creative responses to the postmodern marketing dilemma don’t cut through, because sometimes people (not all people, but enough people) just cannot be bothered actually caring enough about art to support it. And that’s sad, and scary, and maybe a little unpleasant, yes, but it’s also true.

    The situation is similar to politics, actually. Those of us who are politically active are to some extent driven by the belief that we can change enough people’s minds to make a positive impact on the world. But there are times when it becomes very apparent that there are plenty of people — perhaps too many people, at certain times in history — who will never change their minds, and who therefore are content to stand in the way of any sort of positive change, thereby threatening to sabotage the whole enterprise. It’s only human to become frustrated by that scenario.

    Sometimes music feels like that too. There are plenty of fantastic musicians who have worked hard (musically and business-wise) all their lives, and have gone to their graves without ever getting the recognition they deserve. It’s just the nature of the beast. Which doesn’t mean we shouldn’t keep trying, keep pushing for ways to get what we do out there.

    Perhaps this post had some of the qualities of a rant, but sometimes it’s okay to rant, no? As long as that doesn’t become a person’s MO? (Trust me, ranting is not Matt L.’s MO.)

    In any case, and by the way: everyone reading this needs to go buy Jason’s record! Cuz it’s awesome.

  4. Don’t take this personally – it’s not meant that way.

    You’re kidding me, right? A musician shouldn’t have to come up with unique, inventive ways to market his art?

    Unfortunately, there’s a certain amount of entitlement that goes on when we create something new. We give birth to a baby and then think we’re done – hardly. There’s a lot out there to keep people’s attention. We have to differentiate ourselves somehow – I don’t find the situation any more or less unfortunate than that of the guy who invented the latest, greatest Widget. You have to get the word out somehow – and sometimes that alone can be a lot of fun, and very fulfilling.

  5. Maybe my response wasn’t clear. I don’t think Matt L. was attacking me personally or the 100 CD’s Project. And where his rant came from I’m sure is a valid expression of what he’s feeling about the world at this moment.

    But I do think that as artists, we need to use everything at our disposal to get our art out. There are so many ways now, and more every day. No one is just going to come because we create great art. We have to take it to the people in whatever ways we can, that are comfortable for us.

    Thanks for the great discussion!

  6. Whew. I was worried that this was evolving into a controversy. I’ve had enough of that w/r/t this band lately — I need a little rest!

    For the record: as a member of the IJG auxiliary support-crew, Matt has been involved in enough unique, inventive marketing schemes to know first-hand of their necessity for the 21st century artist. But he has also seen the ways in which they can fail — not because of anything the artist is doing “wrong” (there is no formula for this sort of thing, after all) — but simply because there are times when people just aren’t receptive to interesting marketing (or anything else).

    One can confront that reality with full-on optimism (one of the things I truly admire about you, Jason, is your ability to do just that). Or one can go back and forth between optimism and pessimism (taking a cue from the old political saying, “If you’re not angry, you’re not paying attention”). That’s largely an aspect of personality, I think. But we shouldn’t assume that “occasional pessimism” and “marketing creativity” are necessarily mutually exclusive. Indeed, in my own case, the low moments (why is no one at this show?) usually help to ignite the sort of fire I need to try the next crazy marketing project (remix contest!).

    Also: while I agree that it’s important for us all to be having these conversations about effective self-marketing strategies for artists, since we’re more or less making this new music economy up as we go, I also wish more people would publicly ponder the job description of the *audience member*. Art is a two way street, after all. Though I agree that we can’t assume people are going to (or should) seek us out just because we make great art, somehow (arts education?) we have to change this perception/understanding/assumption that audiences are mere passive receptacles, justified in their habit of lazily waiting for the next shiny object to be spoon-fed to them. As an active audience member myself, I can say from first-hand experience that the process of working to discover my next artistic obsession is “a lot of fun, and very fulfilling” too. I wish more people felt that way.

  7. Andrew, I gotta tell you, your description of the audience as “mere passive receptacles, justified in their habit of lazily waiting for the next shiny object to be spoon-fed to them” is a perfect description of most Seattle audiences. I don’t know how often you’ve played up here, but I can’t tell you how many times I’m at a show and I can’t contain myself, I’m dancing, clapping, banging my head, and look to see that I’m the ONLY one even moving. It’s crazy!

    What does this mean? I don’t know.

    What do we do about it? We BRING IT every time we’re on stage! (uh-oh, here comes my full-on optimism again ;) ) The more energy we throw off the stage the more energy will come back at us, even if it’s only from a few folks. I know you do this already. I have found that we must engage the audience in every way we can, sometimes to the point of calling them out individually (yes, I’ve done this) to get them involved in a more active way.

    As for getting them there in the first place, your guess is as good as mine. I do find that putting on “events” instead of “concerts” has a way of getting people to come. but it’s always hit and miss.

    I’d love to have a round-table discussion about audience building and education one of these days. Maybe we can get a video chat going with some of our colleagues?

  8. First off, I want to apologize for taking so long to get back to this. The short version is that I’ve been busy with the Dreaded Day Job™ and other sundry things. I have been reading your responses, and aching to get back to all of you!

    Jason Parker:I’m glad to know that you don’t think that I was berating you in any way. Quite the reverse actually. Like I said above: “It’s a great idea. It’s great marketing. It’s fun, and I commend him for doing it.” I’m always amazed at the innovation I see in artists like yourself. The creative new ways and fascinating methods people are using every day to get their message/music/art out and into the world is nothing shy of inspirational.

    Truthfully, this post was meant more as a ‘venting’ session over the state of your average non-show-goer’s mindset than it was about your rather impressive 100 CDs Project. As Andrew points out, I’m just generally frustrated by the ‘position artists find themselves in’. And while he’s correct in saying that I do my best not to bemoan this position regularly, I think that the very creativity and effort your project displays brought my frustration to the surface.

    You also have a really interesting point with ‘event’ vs. ‘concert’ – something about reading that really struck a chord with me. It’s as if people are expecting one thing from a concert or show and another thing entirely from an event. “Why would I want to sit and listen to them for an hour in the concert hall when I can just download the cd and listen to them while doing x,y, and z?” vs. “I wonder what else there is to do while I’m there?” Hmmm…

    I’m not a musician. Not by a long shot. However, I would love to be able to sit and listen in to a round table about getting peoples butts into venues. In fact, to this end, I just created a Google Group called EMRTD. That’s short for Event Marketing Round Table Discussion. Anyone here is more than welcome to join. (I made it private to keep spammers at bay – we can change that if we like.)

    The Other Matt: I agree. Times have changed dramatically, and people are… well… lazy. All too often, it does seem like people want to be spoon fed their music yesterday. “If I can’t click a button and get it, I’m not going to go all the way up the block to hear it live!” That just seems sad to me. Fortunately Jason has that covered too!

    Andrew: You really have something here with the politics apathy ~ musical apathy. While I’m sure they’re not exactly the same, there does seem to be a lot of the same feel. I wonder if there’s some way to tap into this? Perhaps it’s time for the Industrial Jazz Group Hope Tour 2010? ;)

    Also? “this perception/understanding/assumption that audiences are mere passive receptacles, justified in their habit of lazily waiting for the next shiny object to be spoon-fed to them.” is pretty much the perfect summary of my frustration in a sentence. Nicely done!

    Cory Huff: You’re absolutely right – musicians and widget makers both have to find a way to market their latest and greatest. I wasn’t trying to say that’s not the case – on the contrary. I’m just saddened that the widget maker can’t focus on crafting a newer and better widget.

    At any rate, I think that I’ve rambled enough. Thanks to all of you for your responses – it’s kinda inspirational to see this kind of a response from the community.

    Also? Thanks to Jason for the music that I’m listening to right now. :)

  9. Matt – I LOVE your TM after Day Job! Priceless.

    Thanks for starting and continuing the discussion. the Google group is a great idea. Maybe we can all share what we’re doing, what’s working, what’s not, etc… Can’t hurt, right???

    And thanks for diggin’ on the music!

  10. I’ve enjoyed this discussion and reading all of Jason’s updates on his blog about the project. I would just like to make a quick note that, even in the commercial “heyday” of modern jazz (as opposed to jazz as pop music – the big band era), which I guess might be the bebop era, I’m quite sure there was still a lot of money spent delivering the music to its intended audience.

    Bird didn’t sit in his room, turn on a tape recorder, and sell the recordings from his front stoop. The folks at his record label invested money in turning Bird’s music into a product, distributing it, advertising it, etc. Any product needs to be marketed if the producer hopes for commercial success, right? And the wonder of all this social media wizardry that Jason is engaging in is that he’s actually spending a lot LESS than he would have just 3 or 4 years ago.

  11. No problem at all!

    In fact, I would like to reiterate in case the mention of the group got lost in my rambling up there.

    To any and all – we’ve begun a round table discussion group about the business of getting people in the door. You’re all welcome to sign in (we’ve made it private to keep the spammers at bay) and give us your opinions on what works and what doesn’t!


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