booksMarketing Yourself As An Artist

by Marianne Wong

The arts is a business, much like any other business. It may be a lot more fun, but always remember that it is still just a business. And, like all businesses, success depends on building and maintaining relationships with others.

In this article, I have chosen to look at the independent artist who has a product to launch or promote where at least a portion of this promotion focuses on a performance. This may apply to independent recording artists or bands, self-published authors, painters and other visual artists, and even some forms of multimedia art.

Part I - Marketing a Project

Any artist who achieves a degree of success in their field, is certainly not working in isolation. To be successful, an artist must be part of a team. No matter how big or small the project is, the artist must work with others to achieve success.

Some of the members of this "team" are made up of: a producer, the artist, promotion and publicity, distribution, equipment handlers, sponsors, and volunteers. There may be many more people involved, since the size of the team is somewhat dictated by the scope of the project and its budget.

The producer is the person in charge or the boss of the project. There are many different kinds of producers, but the basic producer team is responsible for the assembly of the project's "key people" as outlined below. For any project to be successful, the producer must be very organized, be a great judge of character, and must have a clear idea of how the overall project is going to take shape. The right person must be matched to the right job in order for things to run smoothly. Nothing can ruin a project faster than squabbling over details or the incompetence of key people.

The artist is responsible for the "artistic" portion of the show. This may sound obvious, but it is the artist who will ultimately decide what the shape of the product will be. If a performance is involved, the artist will be heading up rehearsals and deciding who else is needed for the show. A rehearsal schedule must be drafted as well as a list of equipment and other needs for the project.

Generally, there is no point in completing a project if there is no product to sell. The distribution person must be in contact with the manufacturers and retail outlets. The manufacturer must have the product ready in advance of the project in order to get the product to the retailers on time. The distribution person must make sure that the product is stocked in sufficient quantity and displayed properly in the retail outlets. The staff at the shops must also be aware that the product is in their store so that they can direct customers to the product.

Those who are directly involved with handling equipment where there is to be a performance or exhibit must be aware of any pieces of equipment they will be required to set up and take down. They must also be briefed as to the operation of such equipment, if required.

Sponsors are the companies and institutions who are actually going to pay for the project. "Payment" can take many different forms with the two most basic being: cash and goods/services. Sponsorship can be a wonderful thing, if it is handled correctly. The ideal here is to have a mutually beneficial relationship between the project and the sponsor. The project is there to direct as much business as it can toward the sponsor. If this is successful, the sponsor will likely be more than willing to keep sponsoring for future projects. The key is that you are getting something from the sponsor, but you also have to give something back, namely, publicity.

Promotion and publicity people let the public know about the project through the media (newspapers, magazines, television) as well as promoting the event in other ways such as through the Internet, posters, retail displays, etc.

There are many others who could possibly make up an artists' team. Often, the real backbone of an independent artists' business depends heavily on volunteers. For example, I have asked for volunteers' help in numerous areas from faxing out press releases to putting up posters, to hauling around heavy music equipment. These people have been willing to work as a volunteer for various reasons, but more often than not, I am able to provide them with a great job reference. I also have volunteers who help out just because they want to be involved in a certain project and want to be part of the team. These people are really "gold." If you are able to use volunteers on your project, remember to treat them well. A thank you party or small gift is a welcome gesture that demonstrates your appreciation to these people.

When putting together a project, allow yourself enough time to follow through on all of the things that need doing. This usually means estimating the lead time it will take to put together the project and adding a cushion of time to that total. You will be very thankful for this cushion because inevitably there will be delays of some sort along the way and that extra time is essential.

I mentioned the word "budget" earlier in this article. I cannot stress enough that in order to put together any kind of decent project, it is going to cost money. Some costs can be defrayed through goods/services sponsorships, but no matter how many sponsors are brought on board, there is no getting around the fact that some things are simply going to require cold, hard, cash. Leave yourself enough of a budget to complete the project. If you don't have all the funds, hold off until the funding is in place. There is nothing sadder than putting so much heart and soul into a project and then having to abandon it because the funds to complete it were not available. This factor is also important when sponsorship is involved. The sponsors are acting in the good faith that you will provide the exposure promised. Should this exposure not materialize, you can bet they are not going to be too happy.

The team that is behind every successful artist can be an important motivation for the artist to serve as a reminder that the arts truly is a business. The degree to which this business is a success often dictates the ability of the artist to continue their art.

Part II - Advice for artists

While I'm dishing out advice, I have a few words for those of you who are artists. If you seriously call yourself an artist, you really must continue to work on your art. This sounds so obvious, but I have met so many "artists" who continue creating new works, but never take the time to seriously study the artistic works of others. The works of peers as well as those who are "masters" in the field should be studied. In order to grow as an artist, one must continue to learn more.

If you are just starting out, I would advise that often the best way to start learning is to become a patron of the particular art form you would like to master.

As an example, I will use the case that you want to become a professional musician. There are numerous ways to be a patron of music and it doesn't have to cost you a fortune. Visit your local record store or library and have a listen to a variety of recordings. Decide for yourself what kinds of music you do and do not like to hear. Attend musical performances, whether they are the local symphony or an alternative rock band debuting their new CD in a local club. Build up your own personal collection of music. Request a song from your favorite local band's CD to be played on the radio. These are only some of the ways one could patronize music.

Continue your musical education and network with other musicians. Try joining a local music organization, an Internet discussion group, or going to a music conference. These put you in some prime locations in order to meet people who have similar interests to yourself. You need to be on the lookout for people who could likely be on your "team" that I talked about in Part I.

Never underestimate the value of research. It is as important to look at the "masters" in your genre and learn about their lives as it is to learn about those that are perhaps a step or two ahead of you in the business. When you do your research, try to read "between the lines" and to sort out the hype from the facts. In this way, you can hopefully put together the route you will follow to success and avoid some of the mistakes made by others who have traveled the road before you.

Finally, I wish you much luck in your creative efforts and on your road to success. But hopefully by now you will have seen that luck has very little to do with an artists' success.

All the best!


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