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Calling All Musicians: Learn How to Market Yourself

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With more than two decades gigging and touring as a professional jazz musician, I've learned to appreciate the value of Canadian Music Week. Musicians can learn a lot about the music business and the struggle to "make it" in a field that has both up and coming and established artists constantly fighting to get public and industry attention. But, when Music Week is over, then what?

Now, more than ever, with record labels substantially cutting A&R budgets, the pressure is on the artists, both signed and independent, to invest in their own marketing. Luckily, in the digital age, marketing yourself is easier than ever -- if you know how to use the tools properly.

Even after receiving a Juno nomination and signing an eight-record deal with New York-based independent record label Arkadia Records in 2001, the most recurring challenge that I faced as a musician was: "How do I get people to know who I am and remember my name?"

I began to learn about Internet and presentation marketing and social media, successfully building my personal brand online. Leaving the music business behind, I founded my first training company called "Success Tracks for Artists" to share this knowledge with other artists. I have since helped more than 30,000 people improve their marketing skills through my current company, Training Business Pros.

There are a number of things you can do -- personally and for free -- to rise above the competition, but here are three quick ideas to help you get started on marketing yourself as a musician:

1) Content is king: It is important to document all of your work by creating content that can be shared across multiple channels. For example, a video can be uploaded to YouTube, linked on your webpage, linked in a digital press kit, and linked to Twitter, and Facebook. Your content should be relevant to your audience. This is a great opportunity for you to get yourself heard and seen online, and visual and audio content is highly impactful. Keep it professional as much as possible while keeping within budget. But, always continue to stretch to the next most uncomfortable budget until it becomes comfortable then stretch again. Nothing big ever got created with a small idea, and you have to think big to play big.

In addition, creating a brand identity and a website for yourself is integral. The first step is finding a content management system that is easy to use. Wordpress is my CMS of choice and you can use it in many ways to differentiate yourself. Most people think it's too crowded at the top but personally I think there's plenty of room there, it's far more crowded at the bottom. Think about what is going to draw people to you and build your grass roots audience then service them with great content. Any record label would be happy to sign you if you bring them your own audience.

2) Getting online is about getting found: These days, marketing is all about what you are doing from a digital standpoint. Find out where your audience spends their time in the digital world. Then ask yourself the following questions: Is your website up to par? Do you have your website content and social media profiles set up to maximize your searchability? Everyone talks about SEO, but few take the time to learn how to maximize its value. Put some thought into what types of keywords or phrases your audience would use to search the Internet. Do some targeted keyword research using Google Adwords to start (it's free) -- then weave those words and phrases throughout your content and page headers. Sure, you'll always show up in a Google search engine results page for your name, but how many people are searching your name? Brand takes time to build and in the meantime, you'll be found for what people are actually searching for. For example; use phrases like "blues artist" or even "jazz piano online." Then, when they find your website or Facebook page, get them to join your mailing list by giving them some free downloads. One thing I know for sure is; "the money's in the list." Start building you list today and pretty soon you'll have an audience that you can communicate with over time to build trust, credibility and even a little respect.

3. Be a little bit better than your closest competition: Everyone knows the story about the music student asking the teacher how he can get to Carnegie Hall. "Practice, practice, practice" is usually the teacher's answer. What I've learned after practising for 30 years is that it's just as much about practising the business of music as it is the art of music. As a musician it is important to surround yourself with like-minded people who will challenge you to move to the next level. You are the company you keep. When you connect with artists that you respect and learn what they did to make themselves successful, it could mean the difference between turning your passion into a viable lifelong career and playing for free at open mic nights, hoping to be discovered. I always tell people, "Find out what you want to do then find someone who's already done that and ask them how they did it." Everything else is trial and error.

With some time and dedication, you can do all of this yourself. I made my first $2 million with almost no marketing budget and a little investment in training from established mentors who showed me the way. And, with a little effort you can do the same. Perhaps you could think about it this way; the extra money you earn could give you plenty of choices that you don't currently have. What would you do and where would you go if you had more choices?