Written by Ryan Kershaw
Every week Muzic.nz gets tonnes of emails and requests from unknown bands. Add to that the thousands of artists on other platforms all uploading their music and making videos with their equipment at home and it’s easy to see why so many feel lost in the mix. The question was put forward recently on how to stand out; how to persevere and be resilient and get noticed.
There are many ways you can approach the question, though to start with it might pay to break it up into two main sections: Standing Out/Getting Noticed, and Perseverance/Being Resilient.
First of all if you want to stand out and get noticed, go to the toilet on stage like GG Allin or have someone take do it for you and hire a publicist with a track record of media contacts to send the story to various platforms. Seriously, getting noticed is not too hard. What will be a bit more telling in how you feel long-term about your career, is why you want to get noticed. If you are just doing it for fame than you can do similar to GG, and then pump money into publicity. Money buys fame – look at rate cards for magazines. Magazines can be bought, as can online ‘likes’, advertorials and even VNR’s (Video News Releases). Look at this video (especially from 6 – 9 minutes in) in which Frank Zappa lays it out for us.
However, if you want to get noticed or stand out because you have a message, then work on that message first, and align your actions with more of what you want. For example if you want to help animals, maybe you have been playing in pubs too much, when you could instead organize shows at animal welfare associations or regional parks and work with charities. Doing so will put you around more people that can help you to help animals, and people that appreciate your mission. As it is charitable it could also open up more opportunities for funding and support – if that is something that you think would help.
There is much to be said about aligning your actions with what you really want but here are some practical tips on getting noticed which you might not have been aware of – or may have known but not done anything about recently:
Hire a media coach
Here’s something that isn’t talked about too much in New Zealand, but certainly is in the entertainment industry in the States – hire a media coach. This is a great option if you don’t have it in your budget to hire a publicist. A session or two with a media coach will generally be a little more affordable, and should give you the knowledge and tools needed to at least get a few interviews on the traditional platforms of television and radio. A media coach is usually someone who either currently works, or has worked previously, in the media/entertainment industry and often will have valuable connections in media to just give your chances of getting publicity for your release or event a bit of a nudge. To help you, Louis Pagonis is a media coach I would recommend: http://www.mediacoaching.co.nz/about.htm
Hire a publicist
Taking care of every single aspect of a tour yourself will, 9 times out of 10, burn you out. You need to delegate – whether that is simply getting an assistant for a small tour, or putting together a team. Part of your team, would often be a publicist. Ideally as an independent artist you would have good communications with the publicist and – to save time or should things not work out with your publicist – you should make a simple list of the places where your story or project would fit, which can later be included or used as an influence in your press release list.
Do a Publicity Stunt
Although much pride is thrown around in ‘being unique’ it’s often not in the New Zealand culture to want to stand out – Tall Poppy is a thing. However if you can put that worry about what other people think out of your mind, you can make a publicity stunt which is fun, creative and fits with your ethos. Richard Branson would be an example of an entrepreneur who has been commercially successful with publicity stunts. The ‘ASB Ball Dogs’ promotion is a successful example close to home. This is one of those things where you might immediately cringe at the term ‘publicity stunt’, but to take the idea of being creative and spreading your message is not necessarily a bad thing – and it can be effective provided you time it well to leverage any momentum the stunt generates.
Tie in with a local event
Marketing 101 = bust some myths or tie in with a current event. To increase your chances for a television appearance for example, if you can educate the listeners, or link in with a current event, it gives the audience something to converse about and mention on social media, which is what producers want (because it spreads engagement and interaction to a larger audience). You can use a similar idea with standing out as an artist or group – tie in with local events that resonate with you, or use your uniqueness that might go against a stereotype.
Jumping into A Bigger System
I always recommend that private music teachers give their business cards to an instrument retailer, as this gets you to larger amount of your target audience (they hand out your details which gives you students, and in return you send them students to get picks, reeds, notation books etc). This is an example of jumping into a bigger system. Another would be to start with your own connections – maybe you work for a company that would either provide a platform for you to play in front of a large audience, or could sponsor your shows in some way, freeing up a little more money to put into your project. Provided things go well, both of these ways of jumping into a bigger system can help through word of mouth and can be linked in with the previous idea of tying in with a local event either through the company/sponsors event or in the story around what you are doing.
Get Testimonials: reviews, celebrity endorsements
Unfortunately, celebrity or even having a well-known name around your music or brand does draw more attention to it. Many musicians argue this but it is easy to see: people moan that underground bands don’t get support but then for many shows people don’t turn up unless there is a big name involved. I’d love to say differently, and though there are exceptions, you see it time and time again with festivals. Such a common question I get from newspapers is “who is the most famous person you have met”. Sad but true.
Anyway, aside from celebrity endorsements, getting reviews or testimonials is an excellent way to add credibility in the eyes of listeners. You can do this by asking the organizers of events that you have played at, or by asking other musicians or radio DJ’s to vouch for you. In a similar way, getting some reviews from publications can go nicely with your new release and whilst not a magic pill, it will add a little strength to your momentum when looking for other opportunities in the industry. If that’s what you want of course…
Getting Noticed and How to Handle It
As a musician
Something that isn’t talked about too much, but should be, is how to handle the attention when you do get noticed. Once you do get known, it can be a strange thing to not be able to go to the shops without at least 1 person that you don’t know stopping to talk to you about music. It is a good thing, but as that increases it can also be a little upsetting – especially if you are an anxious person or are entrenched in the Rock N’ Roll lifestyle. It is easy then to develop the habit of being a hermit and staying at home, or avoiding walking past certain shops because you know people.
The honest truth is that you can prepare for that through reading but like many things in life, you will only get a thorough understanding of what it is like through experience. I would suggest however that if you do have any anxiety around this issue, to go through to the heart of the storm – understand why this might be uncomfortable and do not avoid social interaction. Every gig comes with it the opportunity for true connection, which is what most people want in life. Be aware of how you feel when you get noticed – is it positive or negative, and why? If it is negative it will pay to either sort the underlying issue out, or forge another path.
Another thing to avoid is putting yourself down for fear of looking arrogant. Going in that direction only leads to a lack of true confidence, which doesn’t help anybody in the end.
In the Industry
Getting noticed in the industry is not always positive in New Zealand. You will be judged. In saying that be sure that you are not becoming overly judgmental yourself. Coming up as an aspiring musician you will hear utterances of resentment by older musicians towards other industry members at gigs and industry events and that negative perspective is all to easy to take on yourself. Try and listen to the positive industry members with experience when they give you feedback but ultimately listen to your gut feeling and act on it. Most of the time your intuition will be right, however even if you listen to your heart and it turns out to be a “wrong” move, use it as a learning curve to propel you in a better direction. Use the hurt as momentum and move on.
Sometimes good work will be frowned upon, and an honest opinion if against the majority is not always appreciated. Regardless, if you can focus on doing positive work and honest art for yourself and others, you won’t need to put others who seem “above” you on such a pedestal. Sometimes too much respect can have a negative effect. Be nice, but not so much that you keep banging your head against the wall trying to impress industry professionals. If they ‘get’ you – good; if they don’t… move on.
The same musician that is getting hugged at shows and having people come up to them crying, saying how much they enjoyed that musicians show, can feel inferior when talking to other industry members. If this is you – remember that you are getting noticed, and those audience members are just as important as the taste-makers around the desk. If you keep on the path and do your best work, what will need to happen will happen, though not always in the ways that you expected.
Many of us look in amazement as musicians who don’t seem to care too much about their careers get the royal treatment from managers and promoters. Apart from instances where it’s because they ‘know someone’, the working relationship can also be developed because of a natural rapport between the artist and industry member. Commercially successful music professionals often feel like everybody wants something from them, and friendliness if laid on too thick for the individuals taste, can be read as the artist just trying to use the professional. Unfortunately for many passionate musicians in New Zealand, desperation to succeed is also not welcomed by some industry members. It would be nice to think that passion is seen, but sometimes that energy comes across as being needy, and is a bit off-putting to the manager, promoter etc. Often when you can have the confidence to slow down and just be natural in important meetings, a healthy working relationship can develop more organically. At the end of the day, you would want that too – you might be working for a while with these people so if everyone involved can be honest with each other and not too rigid, that relationship will feel better to be in.
The following is taken from my book and audio series Musicians Values. Perseverance is #3 in the list of ten values that help musicians through inevitable challenges in both composition and career.
Musicians value #3 – Perseverance
Randy Pausch stressed the importance of putting life’s challenges into perspective at his last lecture when he said, “The brick walls are there for a reason. The brick walls are not there to keep us out. The brick walls are there to give us a chance to show how badly we want something, because the brick walls are there to stop the people who don’t want it badly enough. They’re there to stop the other people.” Another straight-talker, Winston Churchill, encouraged perseverance in an even simpler way when he said, “If you are going through hell, keep going.” I will add to that and suggest “If you are going through hell, keep going… don’t stop and burn”.
Having perseverance is an essential part of being a musician. Yes, it is ideal to go with the flow, though undoubtedly life will seem to throw at you some of those brick walls that Mr. Pausch spoke of. There are times to persevere but blind perseverance can do more damage than good. Let’s look first at when to stop rather than persevere…
When Not To Persevere
Musicians are often either not persistent enough, or too persistent to the point of annoyance. If you have been contacting a radio station or manager, and they have said ‘No’ once, it may be suitable to persist a little with a 2nd or 3rd attempt – especially if they have only said ‘not at the moment’ or ‘maybe next time’. However, if there have been numerous failed attempts to develop a working relationship with the radio station or manager, you will save frustration and make better use of your time and energy by redirecting your efforts to another area. It may mean contacting a different radio station or putting time into more research of how you can do better.
The second instance where it would be unwise to persevere is if you are going against intuition or what you really desire. If you are working in a relationship that is toxic or has been bad from the start, then stop! Stop now. The notes that you don’t play are just as important as the notes that you do play.
Exercise: Make a list of the things that you have kept pursuing but just haven’t worked and are causing you massive frustration. Write down the areas in which you could redirect this wasted energy. It might be moving to another country, contacting a different radio programmer, leaving a music group that has made you feel bad for too long etc.
When You Must Keep Going
Fortunately or unfortunately (depending on how you look at it) engaging in a music career is a sure way to experience a full supply of challenges. Many of these challenges are going to test you and your will to keep going. However, these challenges can be used to learn from and become a stronger musician and person of greater character. There will be times when it is hard to see them as such, though reflection after the fact will bring this view into focus. Here are some examples of times where you will need perseverance:
It can feel devastating when you work so hard to get a group together, learn and memorize a set, and finally get find that ‘click’ with other musicians in the group – only to have one of the members leave. It can put the whole group out of momentum and is especially disheartening if the band was just getting things going. As a solo artist it is easy to experience loneliness when you are trying to do everything on your own, and have no one to vent your frustrations to. In both instances, if it is in your heart – you must keep going. Persistence coupled with action will bring people and opportunities into your life that can open the door to wonderful new experiences. You won’t always know where or when, but what you need will happen. Do not give up.
Exercise: Get clear on what you want as a solo artist or group and write down where you are at with it all. Do 1 thing that will make a positive difference to the situation in terms of line up. For solo artists it might be working with a volunteer assistant or an acquaintance that can help with getting paid gigs. For a band, it might be making a necessary line-up change that you have been putting off.
These will happen. A lot. Do not compare the highlights of another persons career to your low points – it will seem like they get everything and you get nothing. This is not the case. Everyone gets a ‘No’ at some point. You might have had many, even more than most. Continue to learn from them and make the next best move.
There are a lot of reasons why your music or proposed ideas might get rejected. It can hurt, but it pays to see from the other person’s point of view. Sometimes they are under instruction from someone else in the company who has said ‘No’ to your idea. Other times they genuinely just do not like your music. Understand that it is good to get some rejections to learn of what does not work, and to eventually align with people who are on the same page as you. Your work or art will get rejected by managers, publishers, A&R and Record Company Representatives, other musicians, the public, agents, promoters, festival directors, venue managers and more. It happens to every musician – some learn from the rejections and some stay bitter. Decide today how to take it.
Exercise: Write down all of the music related rejections you have experienced in the past. Think of them all – from the small to the heartbreaking. Write down what you can learn from each rejection and how you can apply that life lesson in a positive way.
Deleting or Losing Files and Music
I found myself in a situation today to which I could have easily reacted negatively – I could not find my written notes for a series of articles I am creating. They were so important to me that I had kept them safe whilst traveling over various parts of the world – from New Zealand to Italy, to France, and now in Ireland. I had the titles and the outline and losing them had the potential to affect me in a bad way, as to me it seemed that I depended on these notes. However, I knew from experience that getting worked up or stressed out would not help me to find the notes. Rather than choosing that option, I chose to relax and re-write from scratch. No, I’m not saying that I am superman and always react perfectly to testing situations, but the point is that in learning from past experiences I was able to relax and approach the situation in a more constructive way. I viewed it as a chance to instill confidence in my own abilities. I put the meaning to the situation that by losing the notes I could create the series again, and this time it would be even better!
Try this approach if you accidentally delete an important recording or lose some treasured written work. It might even have cost you a lot of money but by using your strength of character in this situation, your execution of the ‘perseverance habit’ is more easily brought about in other situations where it is needed.
Exercise: Although it is a bit of a trend at the moment, ‘mindfulness’ is a useful topic to be aware of. Read an article on mindfulness in everyday situations. A book that I recommend is Mindfulness for Worriers by Padraig O’Morain
Few things can be as testing as starting a new venture or changing direction with your life. Whether it be a change in lifestyle such as giving up drinking alcohol, starting a solo career, or separating from a particular working relationship – these things can all bring about overwhelming feelings of uncertainty. Utilizing your perseverance here is crucial. These are points where you can stop, or you can choose to keep going. Keep your focus on what you want rather than dwelling in the bad feelings from what went wrong. Often these ‘unfortunate’ events influence change that wouldn’t have happened otherwise, so be grateful that new life is coming from the pain. Persevere to create a new chapter.
Exercise: Take half an hour to think about the positive aspects where you are or what you have achieved in your life, and how some of that has come from bad things that have happened. Write down some good things that have come as a result of being frustrated enough to make a move and take action.
There is so much in life that can stop you if you let it – and there are some legitimately massive blows that are painful for anyone. Things like getting ripped off by someone in the industry or being struck by a debilitating illness are bound to upset your equilibrium and can even affect the amount of joy that you feel from creating music. This is why perseverance is so important – if you don’t have it, you stop when you are challenged and if you stop when you need to keep going, it’s game over.
Remember: the master has failed more times than the student has even tried.
Exercise: Do something to reward your perseverance through life’s hard times. Invite a friend to have dinner with you, so that you can both celebrate overcoming harder times in your lives, or celebrate at a local venue. If you are alone, get something nice that you have always wanted or just spend a couple of minutes to relax and appreciate your effort. If you never do that it can be hard feel when things do go right. Celebrate just being alive and a musician!
Things may be challenging for you at the moment but persevere. Perseverance will see you become not just a greater musician; it will also strengthen your character.
In a world where the corruptions in the music industry are being made aware of more and more thanks to the internet, it can be all too easy to think of the industry as a puppet factory where stars are made – and a lot of those stars end up dead if they are worth more dead than alive. Fame is not everything. Holding onto a dream so tightly that you are clenching means that you won’t enjoy many of the aspects of the dream as it goes along. Let go, don’t clench your fists constantly.
Ultimately, to get noticed: let go of having attention as your main priority and use creativity to express your custom vision. Perseverance with compassion for yourself and others, including their faults, keeps the wheels turning together. Authenticity stands out to the right people in the end. Even if you don’t make that childhood dream, you might find that just as when you were in the womb you didn’t have a say in everything that happened; things turned out okay.
Whatever happens: if you keep learning and enjoying each day on it’s own with music, this whole circus will be all right.
You are a musician, not a puppet after all. There is nothing to fear.
Author bio: Originally from New Zealand, Ryan Kershaw is a musician and music educator, author of “Use Your Buzz To Play The Guitar” and creator of the Musicians Confidence Course. He helped to strengthen the music education community in New Zealand by bringing organisations together including Music Education New Zealand Aotearoa, Smokefree Rockquest, and Independent Music New Zealand. He is the founder of the New Zealand Underground Festival, which provided New Zealand underground musicians with a platform to connect with the industry, and currently writes for The Guitar Association of New Zealand, Audioculture and Muzic.nz. Ryan is now based in Ireland and continues to record, play and teach music.