A few keys to effective self-promotion from a music journalist
Self-promotion is the art of making yourself well-known and well-thought of. Seems straightforward enough, right? But as a music journalist often bombarded by people trying to promote themselves, I can assure you that a lot of what passes for self-promotion these days is actually an exercise in making people ignore you or report you as spam. So, having been on the receiving end of thousands of self-promotional efforts — roughly a handful of which almost required a restraining order — I’m here to pass on a few lessons learned
And now, for the lessons…
There’s a fundamental truth that most people who are very busy promoting themselves don’t seem to grasp: Self-promotion is not about you. It is about you trying to get the attention and interest of another person. In order to do that, you have to craft your promotion with that person in mind. You have to put yourself in their shoes and know how busy they are, what interests them, what information they need and want, and how best to respect their time. When promotion fails, it did not actually communicate to the person receiving it.
A prime example of counterproductive ‘self-promotion,’ and a good way to get people to hate you, is sending random links and “click here!” tweets on Twitter. I’m not sure if this actually works with other people, but never once have I clicked on a “click here” tweet, though I do remember seeking out the block button on a few occasions.
It would make a lot more sense to try to engage someone on Twitter and then suggest they check out your music, than to send a stranger a random, self-absorbed message and expect them to respond with anything other than irritation.
Another example of failed self-promotion is what I call e-mail vomit. That is, sending someone everything you’ve ever done in your entire life — regurgitated in the body of one email. For example, I had one promoter send me a very lengthy email about an artist they wanted me to write about. The email might have qualified as an abbreviated memoir, complete with roughly 17 links at the end of the email to what appeared to be every music-related site in existence. Even if that was the only email in my inbox, I wouldn’t have had the time or interest to read it. But it wasn’t. At the time I was receiving several promotional emails from both local and national artists on a daily basis. And the promoter should have given some thought to my available time, or lack thereof, when they were crafting their pitch.
A simple, ‘Hi Lauren, I’ve read some of your pieces about hip-hop and I thought I’d reach out to you about a new rap project I’m working on. Can I send you a copy of the album?’ would be much more effective than ‘Dear Lauren, Here is everything Lil Money Bands has ever done in the past 6 years. Support the movement!’
I too am guilty of focusing more on the ‘self’ than the ‘promotion’ aspect of self-promotion. It was only when I stopped focusing on what I needed and wanted — publication credits in a national magazine, awesome clips to add to my portfolio, my name in lights — and started focusing on the needs and wants of the publication I was hoping to write for that I actually landed assignments. And ultimately got what I needed and wanted in the first place.
Remember: When you don’t GIVE any attention to the individual on the receiving end of your promotion, you can’t expect to GET any back. When you don’t find out anything about your recipient, you can’t expect them to be interested in finding out more about you. When you don’t acknowledge the person on the other end of the communication line, you can’t expect them to acknowledge you. No one likes to talk to someone who only talks about themselves.
So if your self-promotional efforts have been less than successful, it may be a sign that you need to stop focusing on yourself, and start focusing on who you’re promoting to. Take the time to address the person on the other end of your promotion as an actual human being and not a robot programmed to click on your YouTube links or read your 18-paragraph intro emails. Find out who they are, and what they want. Speak their language. Respect their time. Pay attention to them. And you just might get some of that coveted attention back.