This is an updated article that was originally posted in early 2010. The original article referenced CDs and Myspace a fair amount. Things change fast.
Over six years later, I continue to notice a disconnect with many musicians about what it is like on the other side of the pitching desk. I was reminded of this article because a group of musicians / songwriters / producers approached me cold recently and said, “We’d like to offer you an amazing position with our company where you get to shop our material to labels.” I mentioned that our company doesn’t do that, but if they wanted to send over some material I would check it out. They replied, “We don’t send any of our material out but we are willing to meet with you in person.” I had no resumé from them, no information and no one in common tying me to this project. I elected not to take the meeting.
Now, I am not a gatekeeper. musicconsultant.com offers marketing services, and, for the most part we listen to everything that is sent. That said, part of our job is leveraging our relationships to get gatekeepers to listen to our clients’ music. Even with a combined total of fifty years of relationships getting people to listen to music is a difficult task.
Why? Because the image below is what the average gatekeeper’s desktop looks like, at least metaphorically speaking:
Sad, but true fact: No one gives a damn about your music. The internet was supposed to be the great equalizer, and in many ways, it has been. It does have wonderful upsides, and people were right to tout its importance. What people seemed to overlook is that it flooded the market with amateurs and hobbyists who now have access to the same tools that everyone else has. The point being, it’s hard for people who listen to music for a living to part with enough time to give a proper listen, and it’s even harder than ever for them not to become jaded. It sucks that music executives are jaded, but it also sucks that so much music just … sucks.
Remember that most gatekeepers (club owners, booking agents, music managers, A&R executives, music supervisors etc) got into the business because they loved music. They came to be in whatever their position by being an assistant, some by starting some entrepreneurial venture and some by dumb luck. Regardless of how they got there, as soon as they had spent several months or years in that position they began to listen to music in such large quantities that few of them were able to fully process and digest it. (Matt Pinfield, wherever you are, you’re one in a million.)
People who filter large amounts of music are often overwhelmed by a lot of passionate people. It’s easy to forget that said gatekeeper is running a business and has to make decisions based on the bottom line more than their love of music. If the musicians executives are talking to haven’t demonstrated that they can make or are on the cusp of making a profit, it is very rare that these executives will take a chance on an unknown commodity for love of the music alone.
Be aware of the above when cold calling people. Don’t take rejection personally. Dig through the people you know who have a relationship with the executive you are looking to contact (hello LinkedIn) and get referred. Make sure when you do this that the person referring you has a good relationship, though; otherwise you may be better off cold calling. People respond to numbers. You don’t want to call someone and try to convince them that your music sounds great — they’ve heard that far too often. A much better tactic is to demonstrate that you have a viable product. Say something like, “We bring an average of x people to our shows,” or “We sell x amount of tee shirts every night,” or “We have gotten our music placed in these shows, films, commercials.” With so much music out there, it can really help to give people a tangible measure of your existing success. And that can often encourage them to take the time to give your music a real in-depth listen.
To this end, your marketing materials are very important when reaching out to people who can help your career. Your bio and any other written materials should be quick and to the point and highlight your achievements (no matter how humble) so they inspire someone to pause long enough to live with your music. I often find that artists tend to seek out lofty industry executives without having spent enough time trying to target and convert everyday people into fans. It has been my experience that to get a gatekeeper to pay attention to a project that comes to them either unsolicited or from a chance meeting, musicians must provide them with proof (i.e., sales, social numbers and statistics) that your music is viable to people who actually buy / stream music or buy merch and tickets.
Good luck out there.