“Marketing is the final extension of your art.”
This quote is from Derek Sivers, in Your Music And People.
The way an artist discusses their art, distributes it, and promotes it — all of this is a continuation of the creative act.
If I take Sivers’ point seriously, what does it mean for my own efforts at sharing my music? If I really think of marketing as an expression of my creativity, rather than as a chore, what would a “creative” marketing effort for my album Meteorite look like? And what would I do if money and time were no object?
It’s taken me a year of personal change and family tragedy to come to answer. I’ll save the backstory for elsewhere and jump to the vision I’ve arrived at.
To be clear, this isn’t a vision of how I’d handle the nuts and bolts of PR, like how I’d grow my mailing list, what I’d post on social media, how I’d reach out to journalists, etc. I don’t need a vision for that, I need a schedule. What I’m presenting here is a vision for how my album, or really any album, could be more engaging, to more people… how, to some extent, it could be set up to market itself.
The vision is that the album is more than what I’ve made. My music is the inner core. Around it, there’s a whole sphere of music and art — made by other artists — that connects to it and plays off of it. That will be true if I succeed. Imagine this:
Along with a great album cover, there’s a portfolio of visual art that goes with the album. Maybe there’s enough art for a gallery exhibit, or a small book. There’s enough art that an interested viewer can spend as much time looking at the album as they can spend listening to it. Each piece of art has a story about how it connects to the music. Each track in the album has its own illustration, and there other artworks that depict musical processes, moods, common themes at play. There are many connections among the artworks and you can see some artists responding to work by others.
Along with music in the album – 35 compositions written by me and performed by my collaborator on clavichord – there’s other music surrounding the album, music that connects to it, echoes it, reinterprets it. Other musicians have taken themes and fragments from the album and created their own remixes. Maybe there’s an EDM track where you can groove to one of my tunes against a dance beat. Or maybe there’s a fantasy or a fugue that a classical composer has built from one of my canon themes.
Along with the music there’s also choreography. You can see videos of dancers moving to the music. Maybe there are animations. Photographs. Maybe there’s some poetry too.
The idea is that the album would be more than just my music, my creativity – it would be a larger constellation, including work by other artists, work that plays off of mine and engages it in a kind of counterpoint. Each piece of art or music in this larger sphere could serve as an entry point, helping a listener get interested in my own material, but it would go both ways: my material, my project could help a listener discover another artist.
To achieve this, I’d basically be taking my PR budget and not spending it on conventional PR but investing it in artists. I’d take any advertising funds and use them instead as a commission fund. I’d hire other creators to make something that expresses their own creativity while connecting in some way to my material, using a fragment or idea from my material and developing it in a new way. I might define how this should be done and provide detailed feedback along the way, or leave it all to the artist — each piece would be different. Along with commissions, some of these projects could be structured as collaborations.
This is not to say that all these artists would be a big group of friends or that they’d all even have to know about each other and be on board with the larger vision I’m presenting here. In some cases, I might simply hire someone to make a piece that I want made, without their needing to be aware of the larger context; in other cases, the artist could become a co-creator with me in this larger outreach experiment.
How would any of this help with marketing or promotion? A few ways:
- Each artwork in the larger sphere is a chance to “reach” a new listener or viewer who might respond to its particular style
- Listeners and viewers who encounter the project would have a whole universe of interrelated art to explore
- Each artist involved in the project might share it with people they know, because their work is part of it
- People might take an interest in the project because it’s an unconventional way of doing outreach and they want to know if it works
The main point is that art is powerful. That’s why I make art. But the particulars of style and format can limit the size of an audience. Not everyone responds to canons on clavichord or even knows what those things are. The question is, if you were to bring the full power of art, music, and dance to bear in translating and amplifying those canons on clavichord, would all that power be sufficient to gain a wider audience, well beyond the small group of people who already like this sort of thing? I can only believe the answer is yes.
Am I really able to do something like this? Is it pie in the sky?
Earlier I wrote: “What would I do if money and time were no object?” I believe that a good way to lead one’s life is to ask that question, write down the answer, and then find a way to do that thing anyway, even if money is an object and time is an object.
My answer is, if money and time were no object, I’d do what I just wrote about. I’d commission artists to make stuff. That’s because the only thing more exciting to me that creating new stuff is supporting, inspiring, or encouraging other people to create new stuff, especially if it’s stuff we both like and stuff that helps us both.
I didn’t quite know all this about myself until recently. I’ve been finding it out. I began learning it from another project that I started in 2022 (still ongoing) to actually buy music from independent musicians. And I’ve learned it from some mentoring that I do at my day job, totally unrelated to music.
As I write these words, I’ve commissioned three pieces of visual art for Meteorite and am starting to collaborate with a friend on the first EDM track based on material from the album. Of all the things I’ve done in my life, making my album felt pretty amazing but doing these commissions and collaborations has felt, well, equally amazing. So I’m going to figure out how to keep doing this, in whatever ways I can, with the resources that I do have available.
Commissioned art as of 2/25/2022: Meteorite Impact, Magic Mirror, The Garden and the Cosmos
One thought on “An Experiment in Engagement”
I love this post for several reasons. First, the thought experiment of asking yourself, “What would I do if money and time were no object?” I love that because it’s the equivalent of a brainstorm session where no ideas are prohibited. You can dream 100 miles out, then, perhaps, pare it back to a 15-mile workable concept. Second, the idea of a wide-ranging artistic experience is really cool. Why not? Third, because I have worked in marketing, in part the concept you describe here is called ‘leveraging’. So Joe Unknown works with a greater known artist called Heather Established. When Heather shares her work, Unknown benefits from the wider audience that already knows Heather’s work. Fourth, a friend of mine did a slightly scaled-down version of the art experience you describe. He wrote a book, and I believe he commissioned a musician and an artist to provide work to accompany it. I can find it if you have any interest in checking it out.