Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Status Update: Getting Consumed by the Marketing Monster

*Note:  Don’t worry, the irony of posting on this subject is not lost on the author.

As somebody who uses Facebook and has both a website and a blog (albeit a blog that is meant for shared artistic ruminations rather than self-promotion), I'm often grappling with the positive and negative aspects of social media and marketing.

First of all, is there really a need for young composers to constantly market themselves and, if so, why is there such a need? I can’t speak for everyone, but it seems to me that there is significant pressure to somehow become established at a young age. Concert music has a prodigy culture, which runs counter to the realities of developing compositional craft—a development that takes years, usually decades, to perfect (for example, how often do we really venerate the early works of composers over the later works?). Competitions like the Morton Gould Young Composer Awards often seem to be regarded as vehicles for establishing young composers, giving them a potential “in” for job opportunities, commissions, publishing deals, contact with “important” people, etc. It’s great to have so many “Young Composer” competitions in a number of ways, but they also add to this pressurized culture. 

The benefit of marketing and networking (side note: I will never like the word “network”…yuck!) via social media and sharing websites is therefore relatively obvious and important. Sharing your music and letting people know about your upcoming concerts is, as we all know, a great way to meet more performers, make connections, etc. Of course I’d like to presume that everybody gets a fair shot with competitions, admissions, and job opportunities, but I don’t think it’s cynical to say that it’s possible (probable?) that a heavily networked composer with “good” music may get a second glance more than an under-the-radar composer with “good” music. And when it comes down to places that have to sort through hundreds to thousands of submissions/applications, a second glance might be the only hope. In any case, it can’t hurt to market yourself at least a little bit, right?    

But, what are the drawbacks of encouraging and/or pressuring young composers to market themselves? When does marketing go too far?

Social media and marketing can be a huge time sink.  It’s true that many people are amazingly efficient with balancing their technological and artistic lives. I can only speak for myself, but I know that, as a young composer, that kind of time spent on marketing and self-promotion would only be taking away from time when I could be working on developing stronger compositional skills and ideas. Shouldn’t the music always come first, especially when you're still learning the craft? Or is that too Romantic of an assumption? But surely even from a purely marketing standpoint, it’s hard to “sell” if you don’t have a fully-developed “product.” And even if your marketing is successful, without a developed (or developing) "product" to back it up, the success established through marketing and networking most likely will only be short-term success.

Unfortunately, even that last statement is possibly naively idealistic. In the commercial realm we have all kinds of “products” that are hugely “successful” (reality TV is a case in point). Sometimes it seems like just getting hits on a site is enough to put someone on the radar, whether they deserve to be there or not (like the phenomenon of Rebecca Black’s most odious pop song “Friday” receiving over 64 million (and counting) hits on YouTube…I will not link to this because, quite frankly, she doesn’t need any more publicity…). And in this culture, both in commercial and artistic veins, being on the radar sometimes makes a difference, for better or worse. Ah, infamy!

I once heard a composition teacher underline the importance of setting up a website to a group of young composers. He emphasized that having an online presence would be an indication that you “actually take yourself seriously as an artist.” I don’t want to argue with this completely, because, as I say above, a certain degree of marketing is both necessary and savvy in our culture. Composers, whether we’re willing to admit it or not, need to be our own best businesspeople, should we hope to succeed. That said, there are very successful composers out there who don't have websites, and I don't think it's a necessity to buy into the hype. 

In my opinion, marketing should never, ever be the first priority and I’m not sure that advocating marketing to young, developing composers is always the best approach. It’s easy for young composers to get caught up in the pressures of culture, economics, and technology, without realizing that they’re losing touch with themselves as an artist in the process. I know I’ve found it difficult and overwhelming sometimes when I see all the “buzz” about various people on social networking sites and wonder if I should be more actively participating. And I absolutely believe that some people are at a stage in their career where marketing makes sense. But (and I’m a technological curmudgeon, so take this with a grain of salt), I think it’s ok to resist, at least for a little while...to maybe take a marketing chill pill.

If we want to really succeed (in the non-infamous way), we need to be good composers. And as young composers trying to develop our craft, I think the focus should be on the music. 

Posted by Natalie

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