Market this

As is often the case, today's post is inspired in part by a couple of great recent conversations.

This afternoon a young musician dropped by the office to pick my brains (such as they are) on topics related to being a jazz musician and the music industry in general - how to get involved in more than just performance, steps to take, etc. And last Friday, I had a great lunch with Dan Bodanis, a local jazz musician and businessman - someone I hadn't yet met, but someone for whom, based on what I had seen and heard, I had a lot of respect.

As my conversation with the young jazz musician was wrapping up this afternoon, he asked if there were particular aspects of the music industry at large he might consider researching. I gave it some thought - the industry is obviously diverse, with many different potential avenues of exploration. Eventually, though, one word came to mind: marketing.

In my various experiences over the past fifteen years, marketing - the requirement to publicize shows, reach out to and engage an audience, create brands, manage customer service - has been a constant thread. Whether for my own projects or for employers, marketing has always been required. If there is one skill set required - beyond being a proficient performer - I think marketing may be it.

One of my favourite radio personalities is Terry O'Reilly. On a recent episode of Under the Influence on CBC, he was talking about the little (and, sometimes, big) gestures that certain companies have employed to help them be memorable to their customers, and to stick out in all the right ways. According to Terry, it was as simple as a charity following up on a donation with a phone call to say "thanks" or a note slid under the door of a hotel room at the end of the day saying "Nighty-night". Not rocket science, but his point was that since few companies go that extra mile, those that do are most memorable.

These concepts were still fresh on my mind during lunch last Friday. The conversation was fairly wide-ranging - as first meeting conversations often are - but at one point Dan and I spent time discussing his approach to booking gigs, and to hiring side musicians. In his mind, he would only take a gig if the pay was respectable (and included contributions for musician pension and union work dues), he got paid up front (and could therefore pay his side musicians up front or on the gig), and the band got fed. The result? Great gigs, and happy musicians. Again - not rocket science, but by taking these extra steps, he's doing things differently…and memorably.

So what's my point? From the perspective of Artistic Director for the TD Toronto Jazz Festival, my point is that we have to be doing everything we can to engage our current and potential audiences, spread the word about our shows, and ensure a positive experience for everyone who takes in some part of the festival. From the perspective of a musician and bandleader, my point is that I have to be doing my most to set my projects apart - ensure they're of the top quality, that they're unique in some way, that I engage the audience with my witty (?) banter, that people leave wanting more. And from the grumpy perspective of someone who evaluates a lot of submissions (and goes to a lot of shows), my point is that there are a lot of musicians out there who should perhaps give some more thought to how they are marketing themselves: the product they're putting out, their stage presence, their professional attitudes.

I personally find marketing fascinating - it's so much more than an ad in a newspaper or a logo on a page - but I recognize that few people may share my marketing-related enthusiasm. The reality, though, is that in a saturated entertainment market such as Toronto, we - the festival, musicians, the jazz community at large - need to take a few simple steps to ensure that we stick out for all the right reasons. No rocket fuel required.


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