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Self-Promotion Is NOT a Four-Letter Word

The post below has been adapted from a piece I wrote for The Developing Artist called “Shameless Self-Promotion.” I think it contains some important reminders for DIY musicians that not only is it appropriate to self-promote, but it is necessary–especially when you are on your own with it. Like I said in the post, if you don’t do it–who will?


I don’t know about you, but in my background, the term “self-promotion” was kind of like a four-letter word.  Except with 13 letters. And a hyphen.

Really, promotion wasn’t a bad thing.  It was the “self” in front of it that made it a four-letter word. It just seems distasteful to blow one’s own horn.  Better to have someone else do it for you…right?

But here’s the thing.  In the indie music business, especially starting out in it, nobody knows who you are–and hiring someone to promote you is usually out of the question.  So if you don’t tell people who you are–who else will?

You, see, this isn’t actually about pride or attitude or narcissism.  That would be distasteful, but that’s not what this is about.  It’s business–so let’s put this in business terms.

In business, you have a product, and a brand under which that product is marketed.  The whole idea behind business and marketing is to get the word out to the public about your brand and product.  Okay…so you’re an artist, not a salesman.  But on the business side of music, your music is a product.  And you? You’re the brand. It sounds almost dehumanizing to say it that way, but in a sense that’s what makes it–well–not narcissistic.  Self-promotion in music is simply about marketing a brand; it’s just that the brand happens to be you.  And self-promotion has to happen if you’re going to get an audience for your music.  There’s no shame in that.

Generally speaking, self-promotion for an indie artist takes many forms.  You promote yourself and your music to industry pros you want/need to work with, like record labels, venue owners, radio outlets, distribution outlets, etc.  Nowadays, especially in the indie scene, it’s also up to you to promote yourself to the public in order to build your fan base and get people out to your shows.  It can seem overwhelming to have to do all that business work yourself, but the silver lining is that there are now many tools available to you (for example, social networks and YouTube) that enable you to reach out directly to the public without the need for industry professionals to do it for you.

Here are a few things to keep in mind about self-promotion in general–things that apply to all the areas where you will promote yourself:

  1. Self-promotion and hype are not synonymous. Hype is when you make something out to be bigger than it is–a lot of empty noise. Hype works for awhile, but without any real substance to your music or your act, eventually the public will catch on.  (And when you’re promoting yourself to industry folks, they catch on even quicker.)  Whatever you say about yourself–it needs to be the truth.  You need to be able to back up any claim you make.
  2. Your “brand” needs to be genuine. Whatever image you are generating to the public needs to contain an honest representation of yourself, your voice, and the kind of music you want to make.  That’s the substance we referred to in the previous point.
  3. To be seen as a pro, you need to act like one. Have your press kit organized and your business cards handy, so you don’t have to excuse yourself and have to go fumbling around in your trashed-up car for a card when someone asks you for one.  When you make an appointment with someone, be on time.  If you say you’re going to do something by a certain time, make sure you do it when you say it will be done. In this business, you’re only as good as your word, so make your word count for something.
  4. Always follow up. Don’t just pass your demo off to someone and never check back on it. People are busy, and they sometimes need reminding. Don’t cross the line into being a pest, but don’t be afraid to follow up on each contact at least once.

Just as a closing thought…to me, shameless self-promotion doesn’t mean being brazenly obnoxious or anything like that. It just means there’s no shame in promoting yourself, especially when you’re an independent musician. It’s okay, even admirable, to be confident in yourself and what you have to offer, and being willing to get the word out about yourself.  And for the independent musician, quite frankly–it’s also a necessity. Be professional, be polite–be humble, even–just don’t be afraid to speak up.

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About the Author


Jeff McQ is a songwriter/composer/musician with a diverse resume that includes everything from directing music in church to scoring short films. In addition to his role as chief editor for Music Is My Oxygen (and writing our DIY Musician Channel), Jeff also covers the local music scene for Examiner.com in his hometown of Denver, Colorado, and maintains The Developing Artist [http://artistdevelopmentblog.com], a blog dedicated to offering advice and encouragement to indie musicians.

When he's not tinkering in his home studio or blogging for hours on his laptop at the local coffee shop (to the annoyance of the baristas), Jeff McQ enjoys taking in local shows, going on road trips, wandering aimlessly, and talking to himself.

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Posted in: DIY Music