“Being able to take the thought, and go to here, and here, and here, and make the record – that is the thing.” – Jeff Levenson, in his keynote address
Last Saturday, JAZZFM.91 and the International Resource Centre for Performing Artists hosted a music business seminar, talking about everything from artistic identity to recording to marketing, publicity and social media. I was invited to participate, representing Spectrum Music, by Mark Micklethwaite, asked to live-tweet the event along with Ilsa Gurtins and Natasha Roldan, and record my thoughts. As an emerging artist, and one who wears a lot of different hats, I was excited about the opportunity to learn more about how to navigate the tricky waters of the music business, specifically the marketing part – both for my own projects and my work with Spectrum. Whether you’re emerging or established, there are always things to learn about the business, and how you can make it work for you.
It’s no surprise that there’s no one route through the music industry, no guaranteed path to success. But authenticity – or the way I’m thinking of it, honesty – is an essential quality. Levenson, in his keynote address, said “I have to believe that the artist believes what he or she is saying to me.” After all, if the artist doesn’t believe in the product they are putting into the world, how is anybody else supposed to believe in it? I love working with Spectrum Music because everyone on the team is so excited about the concerts we put on – we book musicians that we know are great, and present themes that we are interested in, that we can sell our audience on. And if musicians are brands or companies too, then we should think the same way, and be honestly excited about what we do. But, if you’re not there yet, don’t stress – in the words of Carol Gimbel: “when you’re in that space of questioning and not knowing, it’s part of being an artist, and it’s okay.”
The second big takeaway: good products – especially good recordings, as both Steve Bellamy and Brad Barker pointed out – take time. Spectrum, like most other concert presenters, plans concerts at least one season before they happen, because big artistic visions need time and planning to be fully realized – as Bellamy said, “you can never plan too much.” A career, too, like any business, takes time to build; on the recording panel, Ernesto Cervini talked about planning for 4, 5, or 6 records before you’re established, and Peter Cardinali summed it up: “There are a lot of 12-year overnight successes.” In this business, it pays to be relentlessly patient.
So let’s say you’ve put tons of time and energy and planning into making something you’re proud of – a composition, a record, a concert – and you are truly excited about what you have created. How can you get it noticed? There’s a few different ways to go about this, depending on what you’ve made. If you’re submitting songs or albums to festivals or radio stations for airplay, Barker and Josh Grossman (of the TD Toronto Jazz Festival and Continuum) both stress keeping submissions simple: who are you, what do you do, and how can they get a hold of you – if the music is good, it should speak for itself.
But when you’re marketing a concert, like Spectrum’s where the music has never been heard before – what can you talk about? Sarah Baumann from Soundstreams had two great ideas: the first was presenting themed concerts, and reaching out to other communities (non-musical) that have a connection to the concept. The second idea, which is something that I would like to do more of (in my own work – Spectrum does this often) is to talk about the people in the organization and the cool things they do. This way, you can draw fans of the person into the organization, and vice versa, sharing audiences. All of this can happen through multiple mediums – traditional outlets, like print and radio, or online/through social media. However, cautions Eric Alper, “remember [the] difference between sharing as an artist or sharing as a person.” Is what you’re sharing part of your brand, or a part of your life outside music?
Spectrum has been slowly and steadily growing its brand for the past four years, and I’m thrilled to have joined the team in time to plan for and present our fifth anniversary season – which is not to downplay “Your Wish Is Our Concert,” which is coming up on May 29th! After the seminar last weekend, I’m excited to take the things I learned and bring them to the table with both Spectrum and my own projects – and if I do it right, that means you’ll be seeing (and hearing) a lot more of Spectrum Music (and me!) around town. Thanks to JAZZFM.91 and the International Resource Centre for Performing Artists for the opportunity to be a part of this great event!