The business of music is more complicated than ever as musicians must coalesce traditional models of promotion and marketing with the brave new world of technology. Each method works in its own way depending on one’s target audience and budget. Conventional methods, though effective, can be costly, whereas the internet presents new possibilities for free publicity. Which is the better approach?
That was one of the questions tackled this spring when the New School hosted the ninth event in our Jazz Mentors series: “Creating a Buzz: Practical Tools for Today’s Marketplace.” Jazz Mentors 9 attracted a diverse audience of students, professional musicians, educators and the general public. The panelists for the evening were saxophonist Grace Kelly, bassist Gene Perla, artist rep Laura Hartman and on-air personality Sheila Anderson. The event was moderated by 802 Jazz Rep Todd Weeks.
Laura Hartmann, who has also produced jazz recordings, was a driving force in shaping the panel and its content. Her work repping Local 802 members Steve Wilson, Renee Rosnes, Mike Stern (and drummer Lewis Nash, as part of the Steve Wilson-Lewis Nash Duo), has allowed her to develop expertise across a broad range of subjects, including bookings, touring, artist management, project development, marketing, promotion and branding. She spoke eloquently about the need for artists to educate themselves about the marketplace, and to learn about the various components that work together to create a buzz and get their music to the public.
Hartmann spoke directly to the issue of promotion: “A publicist is key. If you have money, then hire a social media publicist to create a buzz. If you can find a friend or colleague willing to help you build an audience, all the better. Remember, it’s always about how many seats you can fill.”
Sheila Anderson, who currently hosts “Weekend Jazz After Hours” and “Salon Sessions” on WBGO, has had a lengthy career. She spoke about her personal trials in the business, and how determination and persistence paid off for her in securing her current position. She offered insightful information on ways to get airplay, including the basic approaches for musicians to use when calling radio stations or attempting to get their bands booked for live performances.
Anderson was careful to explain the need for young musicians to develop good social skills. Her advice: “You must do your homework and know to whom you are pitching your CD. WBGO’s music director Gary Williams will take personal calls from artists as well as publicists. But you must know what you want and be able to pitch it in a cohesive, polite manner.”
Preeminent bassist, educator and sound designer Gene Perla, who teaches a music business class at the New School, has developed his knowledge from years on the road with legendary artists Sonny Rollins, Nina Simone, Sarah Vaughan and Elvin Jones. Perla talked about the importance of networking, diversifying, and expanding one’s career. For example, in addition to Perla’s work as a musician, he has also worked as an educator, a web designer and a sound designer for Broadway shows. He understands the need to be able to wear many different hats in order to sustain a career in music. Perla spoke succinctly about his approach: “Networking is a major component of any successful career. In my many travels, I make a point of collecting e-mail addresses from friends and fans in each place I perform. Then, when I return to that place, I send out an area e-mail blast, and from that I get a nice audience.” He added, “It sounds old-fashioned, but get yourself a business card and keep them handy always!” With that, Perla promptly got to his feet and handed each of the other panelists his card.
The fourth panelist, Grace Kelly, is an award-winning saxophonist who has been recording and performing since she was 12. Now 24, she performs on “Late Night With Stephen Colbert” with Jon Batiste’s Stay Human band. She also tours internationally.
Kelly spoke about the importance of thinking outside the box when it comes to marketing, especially with regard to social media. As Kelly spoke, it was clear that she and her father, who acts as her business manager, work long and hard at the business of music. Kelly explained her strategy to the audience: “It’s about figuring out what makes you stand out and creating a game plan around that idea.” Kelly developed an intriguing web series called “Pop Up,” where she creates video clips of herself playing all over the world, sometimes in unusual places like at the Santa Monica Pier or a parking garage in NYC. A recent clip shows the power of this approach. Kelly was working on a jazz cruise that docked in Haiti. While relaxing on the beach, she decided to pull out her sax and improvise while standing in the azure waters of Labadee Beach in front of curious beachcombers. Kelly spoke excitedly about the result: “The video went viral on Facebook and has over a million hits.” This is priceless publicity with zero expense.
When the floor was opened up to questions, one young student was eager to voice his frustration at the general education curriculum for musician students: “Learning the business of music is so important and it’s just not offered in most music schools. That puts us at a disadvantage.”
Another audience member, the percussionist and educator Memo Acevedo, who has taught at NYU, explained about the emphasis he puts on teaching the business end of things: “By sharing with my students the importance of knowing that talent is not enough to succeed in their careers, they become aware they are entering a business field, where selling what they do requires a marketing strategy pointed up with wisdom and savviness, among other tools.”
This is exactly why the Jazz Mentors series is so important. Each free event features a discussion led by preeminent members and leaders of the jazz community about how to build and maintain a successful music career.
The next Jazz Mentors panel takes place on Thursday, June 29 at 5 p.m. at Local 802, and features renowned bassist Christian McBride and career architect Andre Guess.
Jazz Mentors is presented by the Council for Living Music. For more information, see www.local802afm.org/jazz-mentors.