The Self-Promoting Composer, Part 2

It’s Chatter tag-teaming day! Before you read another word here, you should first read Dan’s super-duper post relating to composer self-promotion on the internet, because I am spinning off on some of the points he brings up. The topic was specifically requested by one of our regular NewMusicBox commenters, who wondered about how composers promote themselves on the internet.

As we all know, the internet can be a wonderful, amazing thing for a composer, musician, or artist of any sort. But it can also become your very worst enemy, depending on how you use it. I know that for me it has been incredibly useful, and my career would not be close to where it is without it. It has also taken a few years to figure out how to use it in a way that feels comfortable for me. As Dan states in his essay, it is ultimately up to each one of us to decide how, and how much, we will use it.

Although I do think it is very important to take advantage of the internet and the various social networking options out there, I, like Dan, admit to being a relatively conservative user. There are much more creative ways for artists to harness the power of the internet, but for the purposes of this article I submit myself as an example of “composer self-promotion middle ground.”

My personal inventory of internet activity looks something like this:

My composer website.
This is ground zero for my composing life. All paths ultimately lead here, and this is where one can find all the gory details about my music, such as program notes, audio samples, etc. I keep it as up to date as humanly possible.

Facebook.
Years ago I balked at joining Facebook when this dude named Rob Deemer, who I barely knew at the time, invited me, and I managed to hold off for about a year until I caved in and signed up. Now I love it! I keep it simple and maintain a normal profile page (as opposed to a “fan” page), where I share a mix of professional and personal information.

Twitter.
At first I didn’t see the point, but now I find it invaluable for the sheer number of great articles and interesting information people share! I do not link my Twitter feed to my Facebook account, because the two beg different styles of posting information.

Myspace.
This was a good thing a few years ago, but I am so close to jettisoning my account due to the painfully clunky interface. Nevertheless, it’s a quick and efficient way to let people hear your music.

Flickr.
I post music-related photos (among other photos in my stream) that link to the relevant information on my website, be it a concert, recording, program note, etc.

As you can see, this is a pretty basic roundup of services. Here are some principles around their use that I always keep in mind:

Be real.
Share information and insights that you honestly find interesting, useful, funny, weird, etc. Things from the outside world as well as things about yourself.

Be excited.
Are you 150% psyched about whatever that thing is you are sharing? Because if you’re not, then no one else will be.

Be nice.
As this article states, the world is a small town. Of course stirring things up a bit is perfectly fine, but respect and common courtesy—in my humble opinion—is essential at all times.

Be positive.
We all have bad days, and there is nothing wrong with sharing that on occasion if you feel comfortable doing so. However, endless strings of negative talk are bound to cause trouble. No one wants to work with someone who constantly complains or who speaks negatively of others, or of themselves in public.

Be generous.
I am very much of the opinion that composers and musicians should help and support one another. If someone does something awesome, or if you find something amazing that others will be interested in, share it! Link it, tag it, write about it, whatever. Let go of expectations about whether such favors will be returned. You might be surprised at what happens.

This may look like a lot of work, but the reality is that I don’t spend a ton of time doing it, because I would prefer to spend my precious free time actually making music rather than talking about making music. Plus, I don’t view it as “self-promotion” as much as connecting with colleagues and friends in the musical world, which is quite simply fun. When it stops being fun, I will be happy to sign off.

What has this activity wrought? Performances, increased score sales (these two obviously go hand-in-hand), CD sales, residencies, commissions, and possibly most importantly, being part of a musical community much wider than that of my own geographical location. That last part feeds all the other things.

But please keep reading because this is so, so important:

Ultimately, no matter how expansive and powerful the internet may be, the reality is that it will never, ever take the place of personal contact. It might be a useful vehicle for getting to know someone and their music, but in the end, the most important aspect of building one’s musical career is making a real-time personal connection. Nothing can take the place of being there; of shaking hands, sharing a coffee or a cocktail, or showing up to an event. I actually find this to be the very best and most fun part of the entire process!

19 thoughts on “The Self-Promoting Composer, Part 2

  1. paulhmuller

    Great article. Thought this might be relevent:

    My day job is in industrial measurement and controls and 20 years ago we did the standard things for promoting our products: trade shows, catalogs, spec sheets, mailings and field sales people. The received wisdom was that you needed to have a solid product and then form a relationship with your customer – and we did those things. In 1995 I wrote our first Internet homepage in Notepad and we saw our website as just another form of incidental promotion – a sort of throw-away electronic brochure. By 2005 we quit printing catalogs and had put all our data sheets and manuals in electronic form on-line. Today we are redesigning our site so that our customers can find the right product just by entering their technical requirements into some search boxes – the product data sheets will be generated dynamically and ranked by applicability.

    So what started as an off-handed promotional throw-away has now become our main selling tool. We no longer go to trade shows, print catalogs or travel to make sales calls. Our customers find what they want from our website – because that is where they are looking.

    Dan’s article speaks mainly to promotion, of course, but the point of my industrial analogy is that the Internet is – or will be – much more to music than just a promotional platform. The Internet is also a delivery system that puts your music right into the ear of the listener. Music made for performing will never go away, but it would seem that with most of world walking around with ear buds plugged into the Internet, the real impact on composers will be much greater than can be measured in strictly promotional terms.

    Reply
  2. jeidson

    To expand a bit on Paul’s comment – something I have been meaning to blog about is composers not making their scores available on their webpages. As Paul says, his company is now firmly rooted in presenting their product via the internet, and composers seem to be hesitant to do the same when it comes to posting their scores. Often when I look at a composer’s page – and I’m speaking of younger composers in my age group, not 45+ and exclusively published by G. Schirmer here – they have a bunch of works listed and ZERO samples. Every once in a while there will be a recording (which is a good start) but I want to see what your music looks like, not just see a bunch of titles and your list of prestigious awards. I have PDF copies of all of my scores that are currently edited on my site for anyone to see if they so choose, although I am not quite as liberal with my copy protection as Kyle Gann or Jay Batzner who encourage you to freely print their works.

    In short – it seems that composers would do themselves a service if they would make their works (full scores or excerpts) available if they go to the trouble of having their own website.

    -Joseph Eidson

    Reply
  3. danvisconti

    Hi Joseph, you raise many good reasons that composers may want to consider posting scores on their websites; however I’d like to throw in some considerations to the contrary:

    As someone who used to make scores available for free download, there were certainly some cons. First, it became very difficult to control different editions/revisions of scores in circulation, and it only becomes more difficult to keep track of performances. Thus now I will email watermarked (unprintable) perusal scores, but I like knowing who wants to download my scores and why. Far from being a barrier, this sometimes initiates conversation about potential performances, and hopefully I won’t have to relive the time a group told me they received parts from “another ensemble” that were (incorrectly) cut and pasted from an old PDF score!

    I also feel that my work is worth money and I do make a small amount of my income from sales and rentals; as a composer I already have to do a lot of work to convince people that my work is even worth monetary compensation, so I’m not keen on giving complete audio or scores away for free–in the past I have found that this only makes it more difficult when I inform a group that the parts cost money–sometimes this is more of a shock when one has been making other materials available for free.

    Of course there are some very good philosophical reasons for making everything available, and everyone has different needs. I would just urge composers considering posting any materials to be careful, vigilant, and fully conscious of both benefits and consequences.

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  4. danielgilliam

    if you’re interested in how I use it.

    I also like Issuu for scores. Again, tons of sharing capabilities and you decide how your scores are viewed, downloaded, printed, etc.

    Reply
  5. Alexandra Gardner

    Joseph, thanks for raising the issue of posting scores. I am inclined to agree with Dan’s take on the topic. The composer John Mackey has what seems like a sensible system of allowing free downloads of full scores that are viewable but not printable, and then if one wants to purchase materials from there, one has to pay for them.

    Daniel, thanks for mentioning Soundcloud and Issuu— good resources for people to know about.

    And Dennis, yes I too bow to the social networking ultra-connected maven that is Alex Shapiro. :-)

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  6. Armando

    Great article, Alex, and great advice. I will echo that jettisoning My Space is a good idea. I gave up on it after much hesitation about a year ago and it really hasn’t hurt at all. I moved all of my audio samples over to Reverb Nation, which lets you design your page to look much like a press kit would look and allows you to share far more audio than My Space did (although with a limited compression rate, unfortunately).

    Now, Twitter I’ve continued to resist. I’m sure it will be useful and I know I should give in, but I fear spending too much time on the internet, which, thanks to my smart phone, I already do. Has Twitter translated into more gigs for you at all? Or more fans? How much more visible are you with the trifecta of your web site, Facebook and Twitter?

    Again, great article!

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  7. jeidson

    Dan & Alex: You are both describing the exact model that I want to see happen, and what I do with my own scores. Like Mackey’s band works, my scores are watermarked and not printable but fully viewable / available to save as PDF files. These are of little practical use to an ensemble as performance material but show exactly what happens in the piece rather than giving just a title and instrumentation. I do sell hard copies of scores and parts rather than give them away for free, and coincidentally have not had inquiries on a piece where I just have the title listed on the site.

    Great discussion so far, keep the posts rolling!

    -Joe E.

    Reply
  8. Alexandra Gardner

    Hi Armando – oh good, now I feel much better about bagging MySpace, thank you. :)

    So Twitter – the answer to your question is yes, it has translated into more gigs, and a couple big ones (which I can’t say anything about right now, sorry). It wasn’t the only factor, but…yes.

    Although I can safely say that I derive more personal pleasure from Facebook (it’s just nice to see what everyone is up to), for professional purposes I think that Twitter has proven more useful – but that’s just my story. If I were only able to have one thing in addition to my own website, I would probably choose Twitter.

    Armando, I think you might find it a worthy challenge to keep your posts to 140 characters! Hehe. ;-)

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  9. Dennis Bathory-Kitsz

    Yes, I had a brief appearance on MySpace and now it is fallow. I guess I should just cancel that account. Much more interest on Facebook, and performances & commissions from there. I put videos on YouTube as soon as I can after a performance, and that’s been okay. My audio comes out of my own server, so I don’t worry about storage or bandwidth.

    As for scores, mine are freely downloadable and printable, parts and all, with performance examples or demos as well. I depend exclusively on performance royalties and commissions from what folks see there. I’ve never been a ‘career’ person, and just want to create interesting stuff and get it out there. Old versions can float around; I don’t step back from previous pieces. My apologies to all colleagues who think composers like me cut into their possible profits, but it’s always been my way.

    Twitter has been fun, albeit not a ‘career’ thing either. Most in my age group don’t use it and I have few followers, so I’m just a bit of a voyeur into the community of musicians who all already seem to know each other.

    It’s funny that it was my sig that caused the ‘promotion’ kerfuffle. Since I depend almost exclusively on individuals and businesses for funding, I always use a sig with a link. I’m not a grant-hound nor an academic, so it’s been seat-of-the-pants for over 40 years and 1000+ compositions to stay solvent and still get heard. In the case of Erzsébet, it’s expensive to produce an opera no matter where, and raising $23K in Vermont for a chamber monodrama has been no easy task. To me that’s survival, not promotion.

    Dennis

    Reply
  10. danvisconti

    Hi Dennis, I have never bought the argument that people who give things away for free are lowering profits for the rest. This is like saying that a teenager giving away CD-Rs of his or her band is cutting into U2’s bottom line; in real life (fortunately) we look for quality and particularity of vision to guide our purchasing decisions. Or to put it another way: the kind of person who really wants to perform Corligliano but instead opts for some Bathory-Kitz instead for purely economic is the kind of hypothetical I’m not sure actuqlly exists.

    Thanks for your posts!

    Reply
  11. Rob Deemer

    Working on TS-PC Part 3…
    as I write this (my chatter column will dovetail what these two columns have said and look at what evidence I’ve found through my interviews). I keep forgetting that you got on Facebook because of my invite!

    I’m glad you brought up the concept of generosity, since it’s not something that leaps to mind when you think of composers as a group – we are usually forced by the world around us to compete in some form or fashion to get our music performed and into the ears of our intended audiences. One fun example of this generosity was a concert that just happened this past Tuesday in Manhattan – the 2nd annual Social Networking Concert, curated by composer Douglas Townsend. Douglas asked me to submit a work last year and it was not only a nice musical experience, but it was a lot of fun to meet all these different individuals who I’d known about through Facebook (and Myspace before that). The entire experience was a helpful reminder that the primary reason for all of these fancy toys on the intertubes is to allow for us to interact with each other more easily.

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  12. holbrooke

    One piece of advice: work with a professional publicist! If a real label is releasing your recording or a decent organization is producing your concert they will take care of this for you. But if you self release the only way to be taken seriously is to hire a publicist. Sure there is a bit of a ‘pay to play’ feel, but you’ve worked so hard and spent so much money getter there, it is a shame to waste it with a totally under the radar release or concert.

    If you don’t care enough about your work to spend a little extra to get the word out how can you expect the New York Times, or Pitchfork, or The Wire to care enough to review your work?

    Reply
  13. Armando

    Hi Armando – oh good, now I feel much better about bagging MySpace, thank you. :)

    So Twitter – the answer to your question is yes, it has translated into more gigs, and a couple big ones (which I can’t say anything about right now, sorry). It wasn’t the only factor, but…yes.

    Although I can safely say that I derive more personal pleasure from Facebook (it’s just nice to see what everyone is up to), for professional purposes I think that Twitter has proven more useful – but that’s just my story. If I were only able to have one thing in addition to my own website, I would probably choose Twitter.

    Armando, I think you might find it a worthy challenge to keep your posts to 140 characters! Hehe. ;-)

    Okay. Thanks for the advice. I may just take the plunge now (though verbiage will be a challenge, heh heh). See you on Twitter, I guess!

    Reply
  14. jonrussell20

    recordings and scores
    My approach is to have free, downloadable, complete recordings of all my pieces available on my website – I don’t have commercial recordings out anyway, so I’m not losing any money by giving them away for free. Then I have a sample page of the sheet music, so people can see that it’s professional quality engraving. And then I make it very easy to buy the sheet music with paypal buttons, either in PDF format or hard copy. I know some composers don’t like the idea of PDFs at all because it’s so easy for people to forward it to their friends. But the upside is that there’s no cost in time or money on my end – rather than having to print, bind, and mail, I can just send the PDF and I’m done. It seems to be working out pretty well, I get a decent number of sales of sheet music, and the system is very simple and efficient. It’s true that because it goes through paypal, I don’t always have any personal interaction with the purchasers and thus don’t always know very much about if and when the pieces that are bought get performed. But ultimately I kind of like the idea that my music may be being performed out there and I don’t even know about it, I like the idea that my music may be taking on a life of its own. It’s very possible I could be making more money if I were more vigilant about keeping track of who has my music and who is performing it, but I think my current system strikes a good balance between trying to get my music out in front of as many people as possible, while still making some money from it.

    Reply
  15. philmusic

    “…If you don’t care enough about your work to spend a little extra to get the word out how can you expect the New York Times, or Pitchfork, or The Wire to care enough to review your work? …”

    You mean I can’t get reviewed unless I pay for it? Whats is the going rate? Do bad reviews cost more?

    Phil’s ready to buy a review page

    Reply
  16. holbrooke

    You mean I can’t get reviewed unless I pay for it?

    I’m not sure really. But I can’t imagine serious publications reviewing work that you send in yourself. I find it strange when artists pay for everything: materials, food, shelter, transportation, their education, etc. but somehow it seems wrong to pay a professional publicist to do their job.

    Reply
  17. rtanaka

    You don’t have to hire a professional publicist necessarily (the good ones will charge thousands of dollars per month), but you should definitely try to meet a few of them and get some pointers on how to go about promotion or self-promotion. I took a few coaching sessions and now I have a much better idea of how to go about it now.

    We live in a fairly transparent time so there aren’t really any “trade secrets” anymore. The PR people I’ve met don’t feel like they need to hide anything mostly because they know that promotion is a lot of work and most people will end up paying them anyway to do it. But if you don’t have that kind of cash to spend, then you can definitely make up for it in labor.

    Hardest thing for a lot of composers, I think, is being able to define what they’re doing clearly enough in order to get other people excited about their work. Not sure if things have changed since I left school, but this is something they typically don’t teach you, even though it’s an absolute necessity for any working musician.

    Reply

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