Tag: marketing

Making Connections: Helping Presenters Market Your Music

Say you’re a composer whose music is getting presented on a concert series that employs an in-house marketing team. You think, “Blessings! I finally don’t need to worry about concert promotion.” Not true! Just because a presenter has dedicated staff does not mean you’re off the hook. Administrators at traditional music institutions often struggle with promoting new music—how to convey to their audiences why this unknown piece by a composer they don’t recognize is compelling and intriguing and worth taking a risk on.

What I’ve noticed in my years of working at different music institutions is a distinct line drawn between the communications staff and the performers and composers. Generally speaking, there are a lot of middlemen in our industry: The director of an organization contacts the artist’s manager or publicist, who then get a response from the artist, and then that information (hopefully) makes its way back to the communications person.

Here’s the issue: If the communications person doesn’t have enough information to write compelling marketing copy about the new work on the program, s/he is likely going to focus on promoting another aspect of the concert instead. Suffice it to say, this is a huge missed opportunity for emerging composers.

It’s important to lean in—not step back—when you have a marketing team promoting your work. When you equip people with the right information, you empower them to use their resources to push your music out broadly to new audiences.

This is why it’s important to lean in—not step back—when you have a marketing team promoting a concert (or CD release, creative project, etc.) with your work on it. When you equip people with the right information, you empower them to use their resources to push your music out broadly to new audiences.

Bridging the Gap

The first step is simply to let the presenter know that you’re willing to work with their marketing team on promotion. I’d suggest reaching out to your contact at the organization, probably an artistic administrator, about two months before a concert (or earlier, if you’re in touch with them before). If the concert is arranged through the performer, have the performer introduce you before you jump in to offer help.

Once you’ve established contact, here’s what you can offer:

  • program notes
  • written interviews or videos in which you discuss the piece or your music in general
  • pictures related to the work
  • audio of the music
  • anything else that can be shared on the company’s website, via social media, in marketing blurbs and press releases, etc.

These materials can (and should) also be readily available on your website. The more content a marketing person can easily grab online without having to ask, the more likely s/he will push your materials out from the institution’s different platforms.

You can also offer to sit for a video interview, help with social media outreach, or answer a written Q&A interview for their blog. If marketing content is created (e.g., e-blasts, flyers, artwork), offer to send it out through your channels and suggest other networks that might be willing to give a shout out (e.g., the university you teach or studied at, ensembles you work closely with, a cultural society you’re part of).

[A word to the wise: There’s a fine line between being helpful and being overbearing. In all your interactions, remember to be respectful and let people do their jobs in the way they think is best. Writing the actual marketing copy for a marketing person or offering unsolicited feedback, for example, is ill advised. If you don’t like the marketing copy that’s written, try to let it go; if something is actually inaccurate or offensive to you in some way, then you should let someone know.]

It Begins with the Program Note

The composer’s program note is the first thing a marketing or PR person reads in order to quickly download what your piece is about. (Next, they read your bio, and then they read press to see how critics have described you.) Program notes help promoters figure out how to describe your piece, frame it in the context of the program, create fun marketing campaigns, and determine what angle to pitch to which press outlet.

Keep in mind that people are busy and don’t have a lot of time to get to know your catalog, or even listen to your work. You can make it easier for them by providing a program note that includes descriptive language they can use to write about your music.

Also, ask a friend to proof your program note to confirm it makes sense. Sometimes composers submit notes that are convoluted, vague, or overly technical—and administrators are not likely to come back with questions or suggested revisions because they don’t want to insult the composer.

What Marketing/PR Folks Want to Know

When marketers research your piece, they’re looking for details that might be compelling to audiences or journalists. Here are some things they’re keeping an eye out for, and what you can consider including in your program notes (or somewhere on your website or in an interview).

  • A narrative: Is there a story within the piece or behind how the piece came about, or is there a human interest angle involving yourself that explains why you wrote this piece?
  • Novelty factor: Are there any unusual/new techniques or instruments that you use?
  • Inspiration: Did you draw inspiration from something you saw, heard, read about, etc.?
  • Are there any themes in the music that are relevant to events happening today?
  • If you wrote the work specifically for this performer, is that somehow reflected in the music?
  • How is this piece in line with your musical identity/style [also: What is your style]? How is this piece different from other pieces you’ve written?

Here’s an example of a piece with multiple points of interest: Last fall, Sebastian Currier wrote a work called RE-FORMATION for the Minnesota Orchestra and Chorale. The Minnesota Orchestra had commissioned Sebastian to write a current-day version of Mendelssohn’s “Reformation” Symphony to mark the 500th anniversary of the Reformation. Sebastian responded with a piece that embedded fragments from Mendelssohn’s work, but also focused its attention on current environmental issues, which Sebastian felt mirrored the corruption and excesses that Martin Luther was battling five centuries ago.

There were a lot of angles to work with here: the Reformation anniversary narrative, the Mendelssohn inspiration, and the present-day environmental theme. To help explain all this, Sebastian wrote this program note, worked with filmmaker Michele Beck to create this video, and participated in this Q&A interview. We handed all this over to the Minnesota Orchestra, which then pushed the content out across multiple channels and were able to secure some superb press.

Being able to share this type of nuanced and specific information with the communications team leads to better-informed, more powerful messaging on the whole. The more we can open up channels between the communications people and the composers and performers, the stronger we can convey what music is being created today and what’s important to us as artists, and hopefully invite more curious people into the room.

Why Even Try?

When I made the videos above to promote Sybarite5’s new album Outliers via my new side hustle Bright Shiny Things, one of my fantasies was that someone in an office somewhere saw a video, cracked up, and then said to their office mates, “Hey, come over here and see this funny-ass video from Sybarite5.” I then, in my mind’s eye, pictured the entire office crowding around one screen to watch our videos, laughing and chanting, “We love Sybarite5!” for 5-20 minutes/hours. I know this is exactly what happened, at least on a few occasions. Please don’t tell me otherwise, as my fragile ego cannot take it.

Anyway, I sincerely hope the videos contributed to our fans’ enjoyment, as well as to the album’s #1 debut on the Billboard Traditional Classical Charts.

(Now, we know there are those who will throw their arms up and scream, or quietly mutter under their breath, that we’re cheapening this classical art music by adding humor. These are probably the same people who think we need to only wear tuxedos on stage forever. These people likely want us to be something other than what we are.)

So why do it? Why do I go to the hassle of doing this for “new music?” It’s not for the money, and it’s not for the fame. No one is #newmusicfamous or #newmusicrich.

Here are the stock answers: The work is fun, and I believe in the project. I believe in the ensemble, music, and the composers. I know this music needs to get out into the world, and I want to see that happen in any way possible. So if I need to make some videos, FINE.

But I think I can dig a little deeper. The next answer is still pretty simple—we as artists continuously need to find new ways to talk about the music and the art we are creating. And I’m not afraid to make funny videos about something that people may consider “serious” art. I’m just not.

There are many choices I make because I am afraid of the judgment of others, so now what I want to understand is why I’m not afraid to do something so I can live with less fear.

Now we get to the deep water—I have to admit to myself right now that it’s not easy for me to say that I’m not afraid of something. In our modern, social media-driven world, there is certainly at the very least a perception that there is a lot to be afraid of.   I’ve recently come to realize that there are many choices I make because I am afraid of the judgment of others, so now what I want to understand is why I’m not afraid to do something so I can live with less fear. I think that making promo videos or marketing materials has something to do with the fact that I see performing on stage and interacting with our audiences online as not being so different.

If I’m doing my job well on stage and if Sybarite5 is doing its job well, we share something with the audience. And we get something back as well. There is a relationship. There is intimacy and laughter, which are related by the way.

To truly laugh with someone—not at them or near them, but with them—requires a certain amount of intimacy. Because laughter, like any emotional expression, requires the safety to express that joy. The trust that your expression won’t be dismissed. The openness and sharing of the moment. It requires an understanding of why the moment is funny, and why the shared experience is important. —ourbodiesourselves.org

I see our social media accounts, videos, albums, printed and online materials as part of a conversation happening within the context of our on-stage relationship with the audience. And so to some degree, because we are sometimes funny on stage, we can certainly make some funny videos. It’s an authentic presentation of who we are as artists and as people.

Perhaps I’m particularly mindful of this because as I began my own career, I took a few wrong turns before I found my confidence and got going down the right road for me.

When I started my professional life in music, there was no path forward to have a career as a double bassist in chamber music. It simply didn’t exist. Most of my training was focused on getting a job in an orchestra, which I eventually did. And, while performing orchestra masterworks is something that gives me great pleasure and satisfaction, I knew very early on after getting an orchestra job that I would never have a say in the artistic production in a way that was deeply meaningful to me. So a search began. The search was within myself, and outside myself. I asked lots of questions. Is this an expansion of my education? A means to an end? Do I have already the answer? Is there an answer? I didn’t know. I just knew I needed to search. This wasn’t going to be easy, simple, or quick, and I knew it. Nevertheless I went there. I played for a lot more people and sought out new teachers. I eventually came up with musical and artistic growth as a path. I founded Sybarite5 and soon that became a vehicle for my artistic and musical growth in a more profound way than the orchestra.

Discovering this path took some time. I say to a lot of friends that I probably spent about five years scared shitless to even mention out loud that I wanted to have a career in chamber music to most of my teachers. They’d laugh out loud, right? I thought these people were orchestral gods of bass, and I think they would have seen chamber work as a total cop out to getting a “real job” in an orchestra. And, if I’m being honest with myself, which I am, those choices were being made because I was afraid of the judgment of others. This was often counterproductive to my artistic and musical growth. I’m mentioning this again now because if I had known what I know now then, just maybe I could have made my decisions a little quicker or with more ease, and it’s my hope that maybe some youngster will read this and they can skip the five-year indecisive torment plan.

It’s my hope that maybe some youngster will read this and they can skip the five-year indecisive torment plan.

Actually, it probably took me eight years to really make a decision to put the majority of my energy into a career in chamber music (and therefore not into orchestra auditions). Oddly enough, the single moment that I can say I chose chamber music was when the New York Philharmonic called me to play as a substitute and I said nope, I had to study chamber music in Aspen. I wasn’t afraid, and I was too naïve to know that they’d never call me again. But in hindsight, I made the correct, if subconscious, choice by going with the thing that fed my artistic inner self. I took a path that had more potential for growth.

Recently I’ve been thinking a lot about fear and judgment, and how those two things influence the majority of the decisions I make. But there is one place that they don’t get a say, and that’s when I’m on stage performing new music. Why is that?

I guess I’ve got a week to figure it out and let you know.

Photos, Videos, Website: The Tools You Need and How To Get Them

Welcome to Post 3 in my series on the basics of how to promote and market your music! In Post 1, I covered the basics of publicity and how to think about the story of your music, and in Post 2, I laid out the ten most important things to know about social media.

Now, I’m going to talk about assets: the tools you need before you can do any sort of publicity or marketing around yourself and your music. The primary materials you’ll need are photos, videos, audio recordings, a bio, and a website to tie them all together.

There are two things you must consider about all of your assets:

1) Do they accurately represent you and your music?
2) Are they of high enough quality?

The former extends directly out of the work done in Post 1, as you must understand your unique brand and story before you can determine how best to represent that in a photo, video, etc. If part of your story is your commitment to contemporary music, but all of your videos feature you playing Bach, then there’s a disconnect there.

The latter will of course depend on what you can spend on these assets, but even if you’ve got a limited budget, there are ways to get high-quality tools without breaking the bank.


Even though we work in music, we still live in a visual world. When it comes to promoting yourself, the reality is that you’ll probably be seen before you’re heard, and that’s why your photos are so important. People will judge you (both consciously and unconsciously) based on what they see, and will act upon those judgments, so you need good photos that visually represent your music and personality.

For instance, are you fun-loving and easy-going? You probably don’t want photos of yourself dressed all in black, with dramatic lighting and pensive stares into the abyss. If you’re a performer, do you want your instrument in the photo or not? If you’re a composer, do you have scores with you? Will you wear formal or informal clothing?

Your photos should depict to some degree what people will encounter in your music, so think about your story and how you want to tell it (Post 1) before you invest the time and money in photos.

Ideally you should have 3-5 promotional photos, including a headshot for programs. Things to keep in mind:

  • You want a mix of portrait and landscape images.
  • Ideally at least one photo has some blank space where writing can be placed for marketing materials, album covers, social media banners, etc.
  • You can have black & white images, but I recommend focusing on color.
  • You want to keep an easily shareable folder of your photos (Dropbox is great, and throw in a copy of your bio too!), including sub-folders that have the photos in Hi-resolution JPEG (for printing, newspaper/magazines, programs, etc.), Low-resolution JPEG (for websites, social media, emailing to people), and TIFF (super high-resolution, for billboards, posters, etc. – these won’t be used often, but good to have when this degree of quality is available).
photo gear

Photo by Jakob Owens

BUDGET: Champagne and Caviar

A full-day, professional photo shoot can run well over $5,000-10,000, and can include the following:

  • Photographer (obviously)
  • Assistants (to help with lighting, setup, etc.)
  • Hair & Makeup (can be combined into one person sometimes)
  • Stylist (they will bring their own clothes, or borrow from showrooms/fashion houses)
  • Studio rental (unless the photographer has their own space)

For a shoot of this scale, you’ll want to work closely with the photographer in the lead-up, sending a “mood board” of images that inspire you and that you’d like them to keep in mind during the shoot. If you have a clear concept in mind, then the more that you can communicate to the photographer beforehand the better, as they can then assemble a team that can best realize that vision.

If the photo shoot is being paid for by a record label, presenter, or other entity, then you’ll likely sacrifice some of your own personal vision, but still don’t be afraid to speak up—ultimately, these photos are a representation of you and need to feel accurate in that regard.

You’ll also want to negotiate how many finished, edited photos you will get from the shoot, and what type of usage license you have for those photos (some will charge extra if you want to sell the photos, or use them on CDs/books/other merch that will be for sale).

BUDGET: PB&J Everyday

If you don’t have enough cash on hand for the full-on David LaChapelle treatment, fear not—there are plenty of options.

  • Professional photographers: Ask friends and colleagues whom they’ve used, and also ask what they paid (if you’re comfortable doing so), so that you have a sense of what to say when the photographer asks for your budget. The range will vary widely here, but if you hire a younger talent that’s just starting out, then you can often negotiate a lower rate and also get more finished photos out of them.
  • Use a friend: Instead of paying for a professional photographer, you could use a friend (or friend-of-a-friend) who is a solid amateur photographer and just pay them a few hundred bucks (or treat them to dinner or a bottle of nice Scotch) to shoot you. Pro-tip: bring someone else along to hold a reflector to fill in any shadows on your face.
  • Freelancers: If you don’t have friends (sorry) then other options are to ask local university film and photo departments, or go on websites like UpWork or Fiverr to find cheap freelancers; just go through their photo portfolios beforehand to make sure you like their work.
  • Equipment rental: If the photographer doesn’t have a pro-level camera, you can easily find a local photography store that will rent you top-of-the-line SLRs and lenses for very affordable day rates, so there’s no excuse to skip professional equipment. You can also buy various lighting and backdrop setups on Amazon, and then just return them after the shoot for a refund.
  • Locations: You can use an apartment or home if you have access, a rooftop can work wonders in an urban environment, or just go outside and find a non-populated area (though city parks can sometimes be risky as officials might stop you or issue a ticket).
Rink shoot

Photo by Jakob Owens

Whatever route you choose, just make sure that your photos are as professional as possible, and don’t look like you set up an iPhone on a table in your bedroom. Even a few hundred dollars can get you fantastic images that will carry you through the early stages of your career.

A note about post-production

Looking beautiful is nice, but being airbrushed to within an inch of your life can be a dangerous proposition. Photographers can do anything in post-production these days, but if you look completely different from your photos, then when people meet you that’s what’s going to stick in their mind—not your music. So skip the Kim Kardashian treatment, just a minor clean-up is sufficient.


In recent years, video has become one of the most important assets you can have from a promotional standpoint. A good video can be shared easily, used on your website, social media, presenter sites, embedded in articles, and more. It can be a powerful, compelling representation of your music and, if done right, can be useful for years to come.

So please, PLEASE do not have the only video material of yourself be a shaky iPhone video of your recital, shot by your mom in the third row.

There’s no excuse to not have at least a relatively high-quality video of your music in performance, and these days, you can make it happen on a shoestring. Regardless of budget, one thing that’s important to remember: You want to do everything in your power to have a minimum of two cameras shooting footage. That will give a more varied visual and professional feel to the video, and from a practical standpoint it will allow you to cover mistakes or jump edits by switching between the two cameras.

Another note: In general, video is less about the details of the performance, so you can get away with an imperfect interpretation. Audio recordings should have a higher standard here, but a beautiful video of a really good (but not world-beatingly-great) performance is worth keeping and using, since people will mostly view these on computers or phones, and won’t focus obsessively on the minutiae of the performance.

video camera

Photo by Jakob Owens

BUDGET: I live at the end of the rainbow and collect pots of gold

As with photo shoots, if you have money to spare then you can make a huge production out of a video shoot—director, multiple cameras, sound team, lighting, space rental, hair/makeup/styling, and more. Unless you have experience with video production, you’ll want to leave the technical details to someone else who can project manage the entire affair, and instead focus on the performance and creative elements, as those are where you should have more say.

BUDGET: A leprechaun took all of my money

You can still get solid video content with a budget of a few hundred dollars, and even one good video can go a long way. Some tips:

  • Hire amateur videographers: You can find videographers in a variety of places these days, from the film/media department of your local university, sites like Craigslist, local job boards, or just by asking around. Ultimately, as long as they know how to work the equipment, the footage they get will be professional enough to create a solid end-product with a competent editor.
  • Rent equipment: As with photo shoots, you can affordably rent a pair of digital SLR cameras with a wide angle and portrait lens, two tripods, and a solid portable sound recording setup, for very affordable rates at your local photo/video store.
  • Locations: You’d be surprised at where you can get a good-looking video. Rehearsal rooms, apartments, basements, backyards…obviously the more interesting the space the better, but if you don’t have the budget to rent something then go with what you have access to and focus the footage on the performance and performers by using lenses with tighter focal lengths.
  • Editing: You can learn a lot about editing (and shooting for that matter) online via YouTube and education sites like SkillShare, and both FinalCut and Adobe Premiere are very user-friendly editing programs. That said, you can also hire editors for very affordable rates on sites like UpWork and Fiverr. As long as you like their previous work, they should be able to edit a two-camera music video in a few hours (though definitely make sure you use someone who has experience with music videos).

People are always looking for video content these days, so if you can’t get someone else to pay for your video production then it’s worth investing a bit of money and doing it yourself – even if just to get a video of your most compelling piece or performance (or just a movement or excerpt). It’ll go a long ways towards getting yourself out there.

video production

Photo by Jakob Owens


I’ll speak more on this at length in Post 4, which will deal entirely with recordings. For now, suffice it to say that you want to be careful when it comes to audio assets, as they are the purest representation of your art form (and your business, given that you’re a professional musician). If you’re not ready to invest here, then hold off and create a few videos instead, as you can get more promotional use out of them in the short term, and the bar is lower in terms of people judging the sound and performance.


Wiser minds than my own have written on this subject, and there’s not much I can add to those words other than just to say that your bio will always be a negotiation between factual information about yourself that should be included to show your history, achievements, and the momentum of your career, and the more descriptive elements that speak to your unique brand and story, and why people should care about you and your music.

One other note: it’s worth having a short and a long bio on hand for each season, as both will have different uses.


Photo by Jakob Owens


Once you’ve got a bunch of great assets, you need to pull them all together, and that’s where your website comes in.

First things first: YOU NEED A WEBSITE. And it must be fast, functional, and responsive (meaning it looks good whether on a desktop, tablet, or mobile device).

This is not optional. A website is where you can curate and present your music and brand in a space that you control, and it gives you the ability to filter the content around yourself so only the best is on display.

With the options available to you, there’s no excuse not to have your own website at this point, as it can be built for free and maintained for a few dollars a month.

BUDGET: My swimming pool is full of gold coins

I don’t care if you are literally Daddy Warbucks, personally I don’t think you should spend more than a few thousand dollars on a website. As a musician, there are limited functionalities that you need from a site. To have someone custom-code a site from scratch is simply overkill at this point; you’re not building the next Facebook here. You should save that money to invest in social media or better assets. Or buying a solid gold donkey statue.

What’s most important is to have a content management system that you can update easily to add concerts, news, press quotes, etc. And you’ll want most if not all of the following pages:

  • HOMEPAGE: I advocate for a scrolling homepage that includes snippets of key info from other areas of the site (a few news items, upcoming performances, some key press quotes, photos, videos, social media, etc.). The more people have to click, the more you’ll lose them, so you want as much info available to them the second they land on your site.
  • ABOUT: Here’s where you can put your bio, other personal info, and a link to your press kit (hi-res photos, bio text, link to videos, etc.). If you have special projects, those can also go here or on their own page.
  • REPERTOIRE/WORKS: If you’re a performer, it can be useful for presenters to be able to see a list of what you play. And if you’re a composer, you’ll definitely want a page with info on all of your compositions, including links to score rentals, recordings, video and audio samples, etc.
  • NEWS: Here you can have posts about big performances, projects, or announcements. You’ll want to add in something every few months at least, just to show that things are happening on your end. These don’t have to be long blog posts; they can simply be a headline and a few sentences, plus photos or videos if you like.
  • SCHEDULE: Here you can list concerts (or performances of your music), with some brief info and a link to where people can purchase tickets. This is the most important page to update, as most people are going to come to your site to learn where they can experience you live.
  • MEDIA: Photos/Videos/Recordings – these can each have their own independent pages, or can be put on a single page with different sections, depending on how much of each you have. But you want people to be able to see and hear the beautiful assets you’ve created (again, only select the best of each), feel that you’re a professional who cares about how you are represented, and engage with your music via these assets.
  • PRESS: This is where you list recent reviews/interviews/pull-out quotes. Essentially it exists to show that people are talking about you and that your career has traction. This will be mostly for presenters and industry people visiting your site, so they can see what kinds of outlets are covering you. If you’re a young artist with no major press coverage yet, skip this page for now.
  • CONTACT: If you have booking, management, or PR, you want to list them here so people can reach out to them directly about you. You also want a contact form leading to your personal email address (or representative) so that people can get in touch directly – don’t list your actual personal email on the site though; you don’t want strangers to have access to that.

If you have those pages, you’re basically covered in terms of the info people would come to your site to get. You can of course add other pages around different aspects of your career, extra-musical interests, charities and causes, etc., but these are the core functionality pages you need in there.

BUDGET: I live in a van down by the river

Thanks to glorious advances in modern technology, you no longer need need to hire someone to build you a custom site. And if you want someone else to do it for you, you should be able to get someone to build you a great site for under a thousand dollars.

There are numerous DIY website platforms out there, but for the moment Squarespace is BY FAR the easiest to use. Wix and Weebly are both far less polished and can lead to messy, amateur-looking sites. Webflow is more complex and customizable, but is probably much too complicated for most artists.

I recommend building off of one of the templates on Squarespace – it’s very user-friendly, tightly coded, and easy to update. Downsides are that you have limited customizability, and Squarespace sites can look similar (though a lot of tweaking can be done on the Style Editor section). You’ll have to pay $150-200 in hosting each year, but that’s true of any website.

WordPress is another platform that people often use (my own company included). It’s far more powerful than Squarespace/Wix/Weebly, and infinitely more customizable, but it’s much less user-friendly if you have no experience with web development and design. And you have to constantly update it to avoid potential security breaches, so if you don’t know how to do that then you should avoid WordPress, or hire a developer to build and manage the site. (Again, you can find very affordable options on UpWork for this, and don’t need to spend more than a few thousand dollars here.)

In Conclusion

These are the core assets that you need to effectively promote your music, both via publicity and social media, as well around your performances via presenter pages. Even if you’re at the very start of your career, it’s worth investing a minimum amount money to get these done as professionally as possible, as they will make a major difference in how you are perceived, and whether people take you and your music seriously before even hearing a single note.

I’ll conclude the series next week with a separate note on recordings and how to promote them. Until then, my internet friends…

Top 10 Things to Know About Social Media Marketing

In my first post, I explained some of the basics of publicity and branding—the story of your music and how it’s told. I also gave some guidance on media relations and how you can try to work with other people to get them to tell your story to their audiences.

For this post, I’d like to talk about social media and digital marketing—something that many musicians dismiss as shallow self-promotion, a waste of time, or something they’ll never understand.

But it’s none of these things. Social media is something remarkable that represents an absolute sea change in our industry.

I urge you to think of social media not as a thorn in your side or something you keep pushing down the to-do list, but rather as an extraordinary opportunity to build a community of supporters around your music that you can communicate to directly with complete control over what you say, as well as when and how you say it.

This communication is a two-way street. You can get real-time feedback that once upon a time would have been impossible. And in the same way that people can come to your social media to learn about you, you can learn about your supporters—where they’re based, what their demographic makeup is, what they respond to most, and much more.

In the interest of demystifying social media and giving some concrete advice on how to manage it, below are the ten things I feel any musician must know.

1. Facebook Is the Most Important Platform

If you’re going to pick one social media platform, Facebook is the one to go with.

Many musicians avoid social media simply because of the overwhelming number of platforms available to them and the feeling that maintaining a presence on all of them will require too much time and energy.

Social media doesn’t have to be an all-or-nothing game. While it’s certainly better to be on as many platforms as possible (more on that further down), it’s far better to focus on one platform and do it well, rather than do a bunch of them poorly.

And if you’re going to pick one social media platform, Facebook is the one to go with, for the following reasons:

  • Users: With nearly 2 billion users, it is by far the dominant platform across the globe (though there are other country-specific competitors, like China’s WeChat or Russia’s VKontakte).
  • Content: Facebook has the most sophisticated platform in terms of the different kinds of media you can post (text, photos, video, links, etc.), and how people can interact with those posts. As a marketing tool, it has none of the limitations of platforms like Twitter, Instagram, or Snapchat.
  • Data: The analytics and statistics you can get from Facebook are more sophisticated than any other platform, and if read correctly (see #7 below) can give you amazing insight into your followers.
  • Paid Advertising: Facebook has the most complex advertising options available to its users, allowing you to target existing and potential users in ways that none of the others can even come close to.

As an extension of your professional music career, Facebook is heads and tails above the rest. And speaking of professional…

2. Personal vs. Professional Social Media

Everyone loves cat photos, but your professional social media profiles aren’t where you should be posting them.

You must, must, must differentiate between your personal and professional social media—not only in terms of what you’re posting, but also on a technical level of having professional pages that are public-facing and (if desired) personal pages that are private to all but your friends.

Everyone loves cat photos, but your professional social media profiles aren’t where you should be posting them (or at least only post them occasionally…). Your professional page is where you talk about your music, say what you’re doing and who you’re doing it with, share your successes and gain feedback from your supporters.

If you have a personal profile on Facebook, you can easily convert it to a professional page, or if you’d prefer to still have your personal profile, you can create a separate public professional page for yourself and then encourage your friends to follow that page for updates on your music (remember to make your personal profile private so strangers can only view your professional page!).

At the end of the day, you want to make sure that whatever goes up on your social media is polished, professional, and represents your music in the best possible light. Which brings us to voice…

3. What’s Your Online Voice?

It’s crucial to establish a consistent online personality that reflects your real-world personality—what’s called your social media “voice.” Are you serious or light-hearted? Formal or informal? Easily accessible or shrouded in mystique? Modern or more traditional? Opinionated or easygoing?

All of these things go into how you should present yourself on social media. One exercise: think of the three words that best describe your professional personality and try to reflect those in your posts.

4. Your Profile Page Needs to Look Good

If someone who is interested in you—whether it’s a fan, journalist, presenter, or anyone else—visits your social media profile and sees a half-finished, sloppily done page, then they’re going to believe that’s how you approach the rest of your career. (The same is true for your website, which we’ll discuss in the next post.)

You need to have the following:

  • Profile image: Usually your best professional headshot. Don’t change this too frequently as people associate this with you.
  • Cover Image: A larger image, usually another promo shot or one of you in performance. You can also swap this out more frequently to promote specific events.
  • Relevant Info: Be sure to fill in the About section so people can find out more information, and curate photos and videos so that someone who goes to those sections sees only good content.
  • Integrations: Facebook allows you to connect to YouTube, Instagram, email marketing services like Mailchimp, and more.

All platforms periodically change elements of the layout, info, etc. Set yourself a reminder to take a look at your profile page every so often to make sure that it continues to look like it’s professionally presented. (Facebook and others have a “view as visitor” option in settings, so you can see it without your own administrative privileges—or just pull it up in a private browser tab.)

5. The Basics of Posting

Is this the best representation of myself and my music?

On a technical level, there are a number of things to keep in mind when posting on any platform, to make sure that you’re taking advantage of what the platform has to offer. Some general things to consider:

  • Length: Unless the post is specifically supposed to be a major statement, keep it brief. After 477 characters, Facebook goes into “read more” territory and you lose most people.
  • Timing: Try to avoid posting in the evening or weekends, as fewer people are on social media then. Your analytics (see point #7) can help you determine the best time to post. Also if you have fans in other time zones, bear that in mind!
  • Tagging: Typing “@” and the name of a person/organization usually links to their page, notifies them of your post, and will sometimes get them to share your post, which is an important part of expanding the exposure of your social media. Tag often, and try to do so in the flow of your writing (i.e. “This @newmusicbox article about social media is THE BEES KNEES!”).
  • Hashtags: Typing “#” and a word or phrase (without spaces) is a way to become part of a conversation around a topic, so that people who search for posts by that hashtag will see your posts about it.
  • Links: On Facebook, you can edit everything about a link after you paste it into the post box—including the generated image, title, and preview (try it!). Also you can use a link shortener like Bitly to make your links look nicer, plus it’s trackable if you make an account, meaning you can see how many actual clicks you get from a post. Remember that most platforms like Facebook will penalize you for posting links to external content (because they want you to stay on their site), so you’ll likely have to pay to boost those posts to get to more of your followers. And Instagram doesn’t let you include links in non-Story posts, but you can put one in your profile and direct people there from a post (i.e. “Link is in my profile”).
  • Photos: Experiment with the different options—from standalone photos (remember to double check how they’re cropped in the actual post), to galleries (What’s the lead image that people see first? Is it the best of the group?), to newfangled options like 360-degree images, GIFs, and more.
  • Videos: Always upload video separately to each platform rather than just posting a link to YouTube or Vimeo. A video uploaded to Facebook itself will get FAR more exposure from their algorithm than an external link. (Again, they’re trying to encourage you not to drive traffic away from their site.)
  • Livestreaming: Most platforms now have a livestreaming option, and it’s worth experimenting with (Facebook Live, Periscope on Twitter, etc.), particularly around live performances. The most important thing is to try to get someone who has a good following (or just as many people as possible) to commit to sharing the livestream as soon as it goes live, so leave a few minutes for that before the actual event starts.
  • Others: Geo-targeting (i.e. having a post only show up to certain locations/languages), location check-ins, events, notes, emojis, etc.

The above is just a collection of a few things to keep in mind. The key thing is to always double check your posts and ask yourself: “Does this look professional? Is this the best representation of myself and my music?”

festival message on cellphone

Photo by Kate Serbin

6. Understanding Content

This is a massive concept and one that could have an entire post dedicated to it, but for right now I’m just going to go into the basics as it’s a word that gets tossed around a lot without everyone being clear on what “content” actually is.

Content is simply the “what” of your posts (rather than the “how” of point #5): it’s taking the strokes of a brush and making it into art rather than just random lines.

Good content should be thoughtful, interesting, provide value and perspective to your audience, and somehow be uniquely representative of you and what makes you different.

Some basic points to keep in mind about content:

  • Variation: Think about different the kinds of content you might post (news updates, concert promotion, album promotion, posts about recent reviews/interviews/etc., personal updates, awards), and how each can be represented in different ways. For instance, you can post four times about an upcoming performance and each time just post the ticket link and say “Performance in NYC June 20, come get tickets!” OR those four posts can be: 1) a photo of the concert poster; 2) a video of you rehearsing a piece from the show; 3) a link to a preview feature or listing; and 4) a post with the ticket link saying how excited you are to see everyone there. Which of those two seems more interesting to you?
  • Timeline: For things that are time-specific, like an album release, performance, or similar, think in terms of pre, during, and post What can you post at each point to keep people interested? For an album: PRE could include a photo of the recording session, album cover, promo video. DURING could be a livestream of the release event. POST could include reviews, music videos, etc.
  • Tone: Consider the mood of your posts. Are you excited? Thankful? In awe? For instance: with reviews of your performances or works, it’s important to post these since that will give your followers a sense of success and momentum, but at the same time you never want to seem self-congratulatory or bragging. Be genuine and concise, and thank the outlet or writer for reviewing your work. You can include a pullout quote if there’s a great one, but again, try to insert some personal commentary that is humble and grateful.
  • Interactivity: Ask questions of your supporters, encourage them to start conversations about important topics in the comments of your posts, respond to their comments, and generally make sure to be communicating with them and encouraging them to communicate with you, in order to build a sense of community on your page.
  • Personal content: It can be good to include some personal posts mixed in with the professional: life at home; a great meal you had; photos from your travels; hobbies like photography or dancing; congratulating colleagues on their successes; interesting news articles; etc. These show aspects of your personality and interests, which will draw supporters closer to you. Obviously how personal you get depends on you.

This just scratches the surface, but you always want to be thinking about the content you post. Is it interesting? Is it varied? Is it something you’d want to see yourself if you were a fan of your own page? Are people responding to what you’re posting? That last point brings us to Analytics…

7. Analytics—Know Your Audience

One of the most powerful aspects of social media is that it allows you to actually get real data on your audience and your content. Some key things to keep in mind:

  • Following vs. Engagement: The number of followers you have is less important than the number that actual read and engage with your content. You can have 50,000 followers, but if only two of them like or share each post then that’s not a powerful community. This is where content comes in; the more consistent and interesting it is, the more people will want to be a part of it.
  • Reach vs. Engagement: If a post reaches (i.e. is seen by) a large number of people, but only a small percentage actually engages with it, then perhaps that’s not the most compelling content for your page. Conversely, if a post has a high percentage of people who see it liking and/or sharing it, then clearly that’s compelling content that you should post more of.
  • Demographics: Looking at Analytics/Insights, you can see where your followers are from, whether they are male/female, how old they are, which kinds of people are most engaged, what time of day and which days of the week they’re most engaged, and so on.

There is a wealth of other information you can find in the Analytics section of any professional social media page, but the most important thing to keep in mind is to try and understand what the data means in real-life terms, and how the information it provides can be useful in terms of helping improve your content and posting strategy.

8. How To Grow Your Following

This is the most common question I get from people: how do I get more followers? There are two ways:

Organic Growth

  • Posting good content that people share with their own followers, who then follow you to get more interesting content from you.
  • Being featured on the page of a colleague/organization and having them tag your page (i.e. do a Facebook Live interview with a presenting organization you’re performing with, on their page with them tagging you).
  • Tagging a colleague with a large following, and/or asking them share your post to their page.
  • Having online media (blogs, industry websites, etc.) link to your social media, or embed specific videos/posts.
  • Having presenter organizations always link to your social media.
  • Displaying your social media links prominently on your website.

Paid Acquisition

  • Pay to boost important posts so they reach more of your following, or friends of your followers (experiment with different settings).
  • Create specific advertisements targeting people who might know you and your music, but where you don’t currently see many fans when you look at your demographics data. For instance, if you’re a composer who studied and has had a lot of performances of works in Boston, but you don’t see many fans from the area when you look at your Analytics, then you could create a targeted ad that displays to contemporary music fans in Boston, encouraging them to like your page. If people see that and know who you are, there’s a good chance they’ll like your page. With paid advertising, you want to consider the groups of people who might recognize your name but not already be followers and think about how you can get to them via a paid ad on your platform of choice.

BE CAREFUL: Paid acquisition can be incredibly powerful, but it’s also an easy way to waste a lot of money to get very few fans, or to get a lot of fans who aren’t engaged with your page (which looks bad to visitors).

Once again, there is a lot more to discuss here, but what’s most important is that you keep gaining new followers over time, and if you see a spike in followers when you look at your analytics, try to understand what made that happen, and how you can replicate it.

9. Other Platforms

As noted, I believe that Facebook is by far the most important platform to invest your time and money in, but if you feel a personal attachment to any of the other platforms, or you enjoy using them personally, then it’s worth building a following on them around your professional career. For example:

  • Instagram: If you’re a visual person or enjoy photography (or are just really, really ridiculously good-looking), this can be a good platform for you.
  • YouTube: Do you like shooting/editing video? Do you communicate really well in-person with your fans? YouTube can be very powerful, but only if you take time to post videos frequently, and with a consistent brand/content style.
  • Twitter: If you are funny or good with one-liners, like expressing opinions, enjoy being a part of larger conversations, or understand memes, then Twitter is good for you. Otherwise it’s probably not worth your time.
  • Snapchat: Tough to “get” for many, and it isn’t really useful for professionals, but if you enjoy it personally then go for it!
  • LinkedIn: It can be useful to connect on a professional level with presenters, etc., but it has a very cold, corporate energy that can clash with a more artistic mindset. I generally encourage our clients to stay off of it.

There are more social media platforms emerging every day, but my general advice at this point is to focus on Facebook in terms of your time and money investment, unless you personally feel drawn to another platform (but even then, you should be on Facebook, too).

10. Email Marketing

Email is BY FAR the most powerful form of marketing.

Just a final point: you need an email list. Email is BY FAR the most powerful form of marketing. It is the best in terms of getting actual results (i.e. selling actual tickets or recordings), and gives you the most control over how you express yourself.

Go with Mailchimp. It’s free up to 2,000 subscribers and is the easiest to use. Have an email signup field on your website and start sending out update emails every few months, telling recipients about your upcoming concerts, past successes, new photos/videos/recordings, and so on. Occasionally drive your social media fans to sign up. Ask people you meet if you can add them to your mailing list. Do whatever you can to grow this list.

ONLY email them with interesting content. It’s better to skip an email if there’s nothing to say then to send a boring email to your subscribers. Every blast they receive from you should give a sense that you have cool things happening and that your career is on the rise.

As with social posting, consider the tone. Are you conversational (“Hi friends! Another update from yours truly!”) or professional (“Dear friends, I hope you’re enjoying the spring. I have some exciting updates from my end…”)?

Also similar to social media, Mailchimp has amazing analytics reporting, so you can see how successful each email is in terms of opens, clicks, and more. Use that data to improve your email blasts!

In Conclusion

I know social media can feel like a time drain for already busy musicians, but I cannot stress enough how important it is, and how it will only become more important in the coming years to have your own following of supporters that you can communicate with directly. So take the time to grow and nurture a community around yourself. You’ll be glad you did.

Next up, the assets you need (photo, video, audio, website, and more) and how to get them on a budget.

The Basics of Publicity

If you’re reading NewMusicBox, chances are you’re someone in the music industry working to make a career for yourself (unless you’re someone with an actual, physical music box that’s broken, and you’re trying to replace it, in which case try here). If you fall in the former group, then at some point or another you’re going to need to think about publicity, and so I’ve written these posts on the basics of publicity as a primer to help get you started on the winding, sometimes treacherous road of self-promotion.

Before we go any deeper, however, we need to be clear about what we mean when we’re discussing publicity.


At its core, publicity is about the public face of your music making and how people perceive it. What is the story of your music? What distinguishes you from the sprawling hordes of other people out there doing the same thing? Who is telling that story, how are they telling it, and to whom are they telling it? Essentially, it boils down to trying to get someone to care about what you’re doing, and then having them tell other people that they should care, too.

In the golden days of yore, that public-facing story was told in a rather controlled way—a publicist spoke about you to the decision-makers at a handful of very powerful media outlets (newspaper/magazine/radio/TV), and those media outlets either told your story to their readers/listeners/viewers and made you a star, or they didn’t.

Then the internet happened, and there was a flood of new ways that the story of your music (and your music itself) could be exposed to the public. As a result, the ways in which people heard your story, and told it, changed dramatically. Instead of a handful of highly controlled outlets, all of sudden you had blogs popping up like rabbits in summertime, not to mention forums, podcasts, video series, a parade of social media platforms, your website…even the older media outlets began expanding into digital and social media, in addition to their traditional platforms.

What is the story of your music? Who is telling that story, how are they telling it, and to whom are they telling it?

So today more than ever, if you want to get your music to an audience that’s larger than yourself, your cat, and your mom, then you must consider the question of publicity and how the story of your music is being told. And that begins with your branding and media relations (with or without a publicist), though it also extends into your social media and digital marketing, as well as your public-facing assets (photos, videos, website, and recordings—the last of which deserves its own category). But let’s start with the first of these.


At the risk of sounding like a budget Don Draper, you need to consider your brand. Yes, “brand” is a terrible word, and yes, I do feel a little bit dirty every time I say it, but I’ve yet to find a suitable alternative (though if any of you wordsleuths have a suggestion, please share in the comments).

You should think of your brand as the best possible slice of yourself and your music. It’s about taking the gloriously messy complexity that is your life, personality, and creative process—most of which is (spoiler alert) not very interesting to anyone other than your closest friends and family—singling out the most compelling parts, and shaping them into a narrative that people will want to hear and want to talk about.

It’s the difference between saying this: “She’s a young lady who spent her childhood in rural Montana, then studied to be a hotel manager at a state university while also singing on the side, and then, on a whim, she applied to a conservatory in New York, was accepted, and then after finishing her studies, was offered (via a close friend) a chance to be a cover at the Metropolitan Opera, and when the lead fell ill suddenly, she got the chance to sing in an actual production.”

Or this: “She grew up in the middle of Nowhere, USA, until a top-level conservatory heard her, brought her to New York, and four years later she was singing on the stage of the Met.”

It’s the same story, but the second version cuts out what’s extraneous and focuses on a concise story with a few “hooks” that people can easily catch on to, remember, and repeat to others.


Let me just pause for a second, since many people will read that last section and say: “I’m an artist…I don’t want some skinny-tie-wearing, hair-slicked-back hustler trying to sell me like a bar of soap. MY MUSIC WILL STAND ON ITS OWN MERITS, and if it’s good enough then I’ll succeed without any branding or publicity!”

Except it won’t. And that’s not what this is about anyways.

If you don’t promote your music then it won’t be heard, no matter how good it is. If you don’t talk about your art, no one will.

Listen, I understand that being a musician generally reflects a certain baseline level of commitment to integrity and a belief in the inherent value of art. And I also understand how people feel that any sort of promotion might somehow risk compromising that and cheapening their art, but the fact is that 999 times out of 1,000, if you don’t promote your music then it won’t be heard, no matter how good it is. If you don’t talk about your art, no one will.

The distinction—and it is a vital one—is between talking about what you have created in a way that is thoughtful, concise, and honest versus being a crass, egotistical self-promoter. We all know the latter when we see them, and while they might get some more exposure in the short term, they always lose in the long run since people get tired of having something pushed on them.

So once again—if you wish to be a public figure in any capacity and to have your music reach an ever-larger audience, then you simply must come to terms with the idea of talking about yourself and what you’re doing. The important thing, as I’ve said, is to do it well, and to always to be true to yourself.


So how do you figure out what your brand is and how best to tell your story? Well, you can hire a publicist and have them figure it out (more on that later), or you can go the DIY route. The first step is write down your story in your own words: how you’ve come to where you are now in your music career, step by step, in as much detail as you can. Then write about how you approach your music making: what you think is special about it; what you love most about making music; what you think is important (and not important); the people and experiences that have influenced you and why. Get it all out on the page, even if it’s messy and longwinded.

Next, come up with a list of close friends—people who you feel know you, and also appreciate and enjoy your music. Call them up, tell them you’re doing an exercise and were wondering if they might be willing to tell you what they find most interesting about you, what they enjoy most about your music, and how they would describe you and your music to other people. Write it all down. Yes, it’s going to feel a little bit awkward, but get over it—again, this is part of being a public figure, and if you don’t want to do this then it’s back to the basement with your mom and cat.

Once you’ve gotten some external opinions, you should start to see some patterns emerge. Compare those points to the story you originally wrote down and see how you can consolidate the two into a narrative that is true to yourself and your history, but speaks to the things that other people find engaging. Then read it back to those friends and see if it strikes a chord.

After that, you should at least have a much clearer picture of your brand and how to better tell the story of yourself and your music.


Now that you’ve got a story to tell, the next step is figuring out how to get other people to tell it—both to get the word out to new and larger audiences, and also to validate the elements of your story. So instead of you saying, “Hey, this is my story and it’s true, I swear it!” instead you can say, “My story is such-and-such, and here’s a sweet pull-out quote from a prestigious media outlet that proves it!”

This is what media relations is about: finding a way to get people in the media—journalists, critics, producers, bloggers, influencers, and anyone else who has access to a platform that reaches an audience—to talk about you and your music, to that audience.

Once again, there are two ways to do this: 1) you hire a publicist who has the media contacts you want to reach, and pay them to get your story told, or 2) you do it yourself. Let’s once again take the DIY route first.

If you want to do your own media outreach, then the most important thing you can do is actually engage with the media that you want to be featured in—read the blogs, newspapers, and magazines, listen to the radio, watch the TV shows, follow the social media accounts. See who covers what, how they talk about it, what stories, angles, music, and personalities seem to pique their interest…then start to think about how you might be able to make them interested in you. Do they write about live performances in NYC featuring avant-garde music by living composers? Don’t pitch them on your Gershwin recital in Kentucky. Do they do long-form, in-depth interviews with established stars? Don’t pitch them a listing for your upcoming house concert. When you’re reaching out to media for the first time, it’s crucial to show that you understand what they’re about and that you’re trying to present them with a story that they might actually be interested in telling, in the way that they like to tell it.

Be to-the-point and polite in your pitches—say who you are, what you’re doing, and why you think it might be of interest to them, then thank them for any consideration. That’s it.

Once you’ve identified some outlets and contacts who might be interested, you have to research your way to their contact info. Alternatively, if you’re performing with a venue or presenter that has a PR/publicity/marketing person or department, you should get in touch with them and see if they’d be willing to make the pitches, or at least give you the contacts. Or, if you have colleagues who have been featured in certain outlets, ask them if they’d be willing to give you a contact or make an introduction.

Be to-the-point and polite in your pitches—say who you are, what you’re doing, and why you think it might be of interest to them, then thank them for any consideration. That’s it. You can follow up once or twice after a week or so of no response, then let it go and try again next time. You’ll never get everyone to respond in the first go-round, and you shouldn’t take it personally if you never hear back from people.

If they do respond, and you end up getting some form of coverage, then keep a list or spreadsheet of that, and whenever you have other things going on that might be of interest, reach out to them again. It’ll be much, much easier the second time around.

I could write another ten pages on media relations, but those are the core basics if you want to handle it yourself. Alternatively, you can hire a publicist—which leads to our final area of discussion.


I can’t tell you how many people have asked me the question: “so, what do publicists actually do?” There’s a lot of confusion—not to mention smoke and mirrors—around the work of publicity, when it’s needed, and how to tell if it’s being done right. Let me try to clear the air a bit.


First and foremost, there are two types of publicity: campaign-based publicity and ongoing (or “retainer”) publicity. Campaign-based publicity is when you hire a publicist or publicity firm for a specific time period around a specific event or series of events, like a major performance, tour, album release, announcement, etc. Here, the goal is for the publicist to determine the best way to tell the story of your event, and to try to secure as much media coverage as possible for it, in order to achieve both general exposure for yourself and your event, and also to help achieve whatever the concrete goals of the campaign are (selling tickets or albums, for example).

Ongoing publicity (also referred to as PR or public relations), is when you hire someone to be your constant advocate and mouthpiece to the public, to shape the longer arcs of your story and career, and to also pitch and coordinate media placements around your important events. If you’re a top-level established artist, then this becomes more about controlling the flow of communications, deciding which outlets can run which stories when, and so on. For the rest of us, it’s about building a sense of momentum for your career and making sure more and more media outlets cover you in increasingly visible, impactful ways. It can also be about forging brand partnerships, collaborations, putting on showcase events or performances, and managing your social media and digital marketing, depending on the publicist and your own career goals.


Here is the cardinal rule: only hire a publicist when there is something truly of note to publicize.

Here is the cardinal rule: only hire a publicist when there is something truly of note to publicize. If what your trying to promote simply isn’t a good story, or doesn’t have the necessary elements in place for media to want to cover it, then you can pay A LOT of money (see next section) and get very little in return—and believe me, there are plenty of people out there who will gladly take your hard-earned cash if you’ll give it to them.

For campaign-based publicity, if you’re not playing a thoughtfully programmed concert at a relatively noteworthy (or a wildly unusual) venue, or releasing a professionally recorded album with a compelling theme on a respected label, or receiving a significant award that media have covered before, then you will most likely not get your money’s worth from a publicist.

For ongoing publicity, if you don’t have a relatively full schedule, ideas about interesting projects you want to do, a willingness to do interviews and promo performances, and at least a baseline of industry bona fides (top conservatory training, competition wins, awards, successful recordings, social media traction, etc.), then you most likely will not get your money’s worth from a publicist.

There are a lot of people who hire a publicist just because it makes them feel like they have arrived at a certain career milestone. This is not a good reason. Let’s briefly look at how you can tell if a publicist is actually getting results for you.


There are a few ways to tell if a publicist is actually making things happen or just taking your money and laughing all the way to the bank:

  • Media Placements: Listings, previews, interviews, reviews—are media covering you and your events? Also make sure to distinguish actual media placements with smoke and mirrors media placements (i.e. places that simply re-post a press release, tiny blogs whose readership is literally you, your publicist, and the person who wrote the piece, or pay-to-play websites where your publicist pays them to review you so they can say, “Look, I got you some coverage!!”).
  • Traffic to your website and social media: You should see a gradual but steady increase in online traffic and engagement around you (which, by the way, you should know how to read and monitor—more on that in another post). This might not happen overnight, but if you’re paying someone to increase your public profile, that should be reflected in the numbers.
  • More people should know your name: Even if you’re not getting covered immediately (and it can take a moment for the rubber to hit the road), then at the very least your publicist should be talking about you to people and trying to get them interested in you. And eventually that should somehow filter back to you via the trickles of communication that make up any niche industry. If after a few months of publicity, someone doesn’t say, “I heard about what you were doing from so-and-so!” then you should ask what’s being done for you.
  • A sense of momentum: This is a bit more difficult to quantify, but if you’re paying someone to promote you, you should feel a sense of excitement and an upward trajectory to your career—that you’re headed in a positive direction and taking significant steps to get there. This is crucial, but it’s also an area where many publicists can talk a great game to their clients, and sell them on the belief that they’re becoming stars, without actually delivering on any of the first three points…so while this is important, if it’s all you’re getting then you need to be wary.

Those are a few pointers in terms of deliverables. Now let’s talk money…


This is the question I get most often—how much do publicists charge? Obviously it depends on the publicist, how established they are, what other artists they represent, etc., but there’s one hard and fast rule: good publicity is expensive. If a major market publicist is charging less than $1000 a month, then chances are they don’t have the contacts or influence (or confidence in their abilities) to really deliver for you. Good publicity takes a certain level of expertise and experience, as well as contacts and relationships that are established over a long period of time, and you will pay a premium for access to both of those things.

Generally speaking, campaign-based PR is more expensive since it’s a shorter time-period, and has more concrete and high-pressure deliverables for the publicist. You should expect to pay at least $1000-1500 per month on the low end, to $5,000 and up (though for niche genres, unless you’re a superstar you will quite frankly almost never see a financial return on that kind of an investment). Ongoing publicity rates can depend on the length of the relationship and how much you have to actually publicize, but you should still be prepared to pay north of $1000 a month. Think of it as hiring a part-time employee to work with you on your career.

There can be countless add-on costs as well, such as press release writing, social media and website management, event management, and so on.


Hopefully that gives you an understanding about the core concepts of branding, media relations, and when to hire a publicist. Next up, we’ll look into some other ways that you can tell your story and present your public-facing brand: your website, social media and digital marketing, and the various audio/visual/written assets that represent you and your music.

Andrew Ousley

With more than a decade of experience in the music industry, Andrew Ousley has worked with artists and organizations such as Lawrence Brownlee, Conrad Tao, Kevin Puts, Warner Music, On Site Opera, and more. He has overseen the marketing, promotion, publicity, and project management of fourteen #1 albums, from core classical to crossover. He is the founder and president of Unison Media, an integrated music company that handles publicity, marketing, social media, websites, and more. He is also the creator, curator, and presenter of The Crypt Sessions, a concert series in a crypt in Harlem, and runs Burger Club.

You Need a Better Bio

This is part one of a four-part series of articles that will explore why you need a better bio, how to create an effective and vivid bio, how to describe yourself and your music without sounding like an ass, and how to be real in words so that readers can connect with you and your music.

It’s Not Me, It’s Your Bio

You know I think the world of you, and I’d never, ever want to hurt your artistic sensibilities! It’s just that how you describe yourself is . . . uh . . . it’s just . . . so. . . so BORING!

YOU and your CRAZY MUSIC aren’t boring! But baby, it’s your bio . . . it’s FALSE ADVERTISING! Makes you and your music sound so generic—it’s embarrassing and so not YOU.

Look, I know you hate promoting yourself, but I just can’t take it. Either you upgrade your damn bio, or I’m serious . . . I’m gonna question your commitment to your own work!

Writing about yourself is hard, writing about music is ridiculous, and writing about your own music can be excruciating.

As a music career consultant, I love working with musicians on their bios. It’s fascinating: helping creative people uncover and articulate their stories. It’s part detective work and part investigative journalism. With clients, I listen and learn about their work, projects, backgrounds, and goals. It’s about finding the real story—the connective thread that helps shape and give meaning to experience and intention. Together, we work to reveal the artist’s truth and communicate it through their promotional materials: their websites, program notes, and online profiles.

But I get it, most musicians find that writing a bio ranks right up there with getting a root canal. Writing about yourself is hard, writing about music is ridiculous, and writing about your own music can be excruciating.

Popular Excuses for Having a Crappy Bio

‘Who Cares?’ Excuses

Hey, my friend wrote mine using my résumé. What, it lists what I’ve done—what’s wrong with that? Covers all the bases and I come across as “professional,” like all the other musicians I know.


No one reads bios anyway—they’re just there to fill up space on the program or on my website. It’s not about the person: it’s about the music.

‘Too Shy’ Excuses

It’s uncomfortable to brag about myself. It feels too “sales-y.” Self-promotion is awkward, and I’m not about any of that.


Writing my bio unleashes all my self-esteem demons so I just keep using my same crap version with occasional updates.

‘Up Yours’ Excuse

I really don’t care if anyone hears my music: I write for me and my cats.

‘Too Busy’ Excuse

I don’t have time to work on it. I’m too busy complaining about how hard it is to get my music out there.

My Personal All-Time Fav Excuse

I want my music to speak for itself.

Sometimes your music only gets to speak for itself AFTER you’ve spoken on its behalf.

To be brutally honest, most musician bios are cliché-ridden boredom fests of performances, awards, and degrees. Composers and improvisers have the added challenge of describing their music. That’s where things usually go from soporific to seriously awkward. Descriptions of music are often word fogs. They come in two varieties: incomprehensibly poetic or analytic jargon-filled academic-ese.

As a field, we can do better.

You may still be thinking, “So what? My bio doesn’t impact who comes out to hear my music or who gets involved in my projects.”



With a more human, personal connection, an effective bio can enhance:

Your Buzz

To get a feature story, an interview, or even just a highlighted “pick of the week” for your upcoming premier, a journalist or blogger has to find something newsworthy about you and your music. Your bio is key to the press release: it needs to be a compelling read for non-musicians.

Your Fan Base

Your friends and family will come to your next performance, and they’ve agreed to each bring two friends to the concert. They send invites with links to your site so people can read about you and the upcoming event. Especially for people new to new music, an engaging bio and description of the work—written with non-musicians in mind—can motivate people to attend. Make sure you offer material that is FB, Twitter, and Instagram-friendly so that your supporters can help enlist new fans.

Potential Funders

The people who donate or commission works are those who have first become fans of you and your music. That means they need to get to know you. What helps strangers want to come meet you after a performance? It’s how you come across in the program (or online before the concert), along with how you introduce the work verbally from the stage. Do you come across in print, online, and in person as an engaging human being with a story a non-musician can relate to?

Your Collaborators

How do performers find out about you and your music? They too are influenced by what they find out about you online. Does your bio help make connections by revealing your personality and perspective? With a more reader-friendly, direct, and personable bio, you make it easier for people to want to work with you.

Your Self

In working with musicians on their bios, the ultimate focus is on their mission. When musicians become clear about why they do what they do, and can articulate it in words and convey it in their promotional materials, it has a marvelous effect: they become more centered, more confident, and more productive. It enriches their networking and their everyday behavior. As a result, their projects and careers start to move forward with new energy.

This may seem counter-intuitive. A bio is simply a marketing tool and who cares about words—it’s all about the music, right?

Actually, what I’ve found is that working with musicians on their bio helps them clarify their purpose. Then it’s easier to align their mindset with their actions, and for their careers to gain traction.

A bio is just words, but these words are gateways for your music. Words can motivate people to click and listen, to attend, to collaborate, to promote, book, and fund your music. Words can also help you clarify your values and goals—as both an artist and a person.

I found my favorite response to the “I want my music to speak for itself” rationale on CDBaby’s DIY Musician site: “Sometimes your music only gets to speak for itself AFTER you’ve spoken on its behalf.

Most musicians are confused about who they’re writing the bio for and why.

So let’s start with the ideal: an effective bio conveys a vibrant, distinct impression of you and your work. It communicates who you really are as a person and what your aesthetic sensibility is. As a marketing tool, bios need to pique readers’ interest, motivating them to click, listen, and connect with you.

The good news is that there are examples and tools that can help you write a better bio. I want to leave you with an example of a terrific mini bio (a perfect introduction for a website landing page):

A jazz singer and new music composer of eclectic tastes and prodigious gifts, GRAMMY®NOMINATED Theo Bleckmann makes music that is accessibly sophisticated, unsentimentally emotional, and seriously playful. His work provokes the mind to wonder, but connects immediately with the heart.

I love the description of his music. It’s humanizing: no clichés or jargon in sight. The three contradictory descriptive phrases help us imagine the sense of layered meaning in his work. And the last line describes how his music affects listeners. This isn’t hype. His recordings, full bio, and press quotes make clear he’s the real deal as described. This bio is more than accurate: it piques my curiosity and makes me want to click play. It works as a call to action.

Admit it, your bio could use an upgrade, right? Don’t be part of the problem: we all want more people getting turned on to new music and it can start with your own bio.

Stay tuned for next week’s installment with the first of the seven keys to writing a better bio.

Angela Myles Beeching

Angela Myles Beeching

Music career consultant Angela Myles Beeching helps musicians book more work so they can live the life they desire. Author of Beyond Talent: Creating a Successful Career in Music, Angela also writes the popular weekly blog Monday Bytes. In her sordid past, she directed career and entrepreneurship programs at Manhattan School of Music, Indiana University, and New England Conservatory. Comments, complaints, questions, career coaching needs? Reach her directly at [email protected]

Finding a True Name in a Post-Genre World

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Photo by Quinn Dombrowski, via Flickr

Writing just this week in The Daily Beast, Ted Gioia includes among his “Five Lessons The Faltering Music Business Could Learn From TV” the advice that the industry should “resist tired formulas.”

Now, no one’s really speaking up in favor of tired formulas as such, but reading on, it turns out what he’s really against is classifying music by genre. Observing that programs like The Sopranos and Breaking Bad became critical hits in part because they broke the predictable conventions of TV genre shows about cops, doctors, or lawyers, Gioia notes that “every album and song nowadays is marketed as part of a genre—rock, hip-hop, country, jazz, etc.

“But the very decision to sell songs to targeted genre fans has turned into an aesthetic straitjacket,” he continues, suggesting that the music business should “emulate the boldness with which the leading pay TV networks have sabotaged genre recipes.”
Still, even as Gioia correctly notes that there already are plenty of people making excellent music that doesn’t fit easily into a particular category, and even if you agree with the premise, the post-genre future remains at best, to borrow a phrase from the speculative fiction writer William Gibson, unevenly distributed.

Parts of it undoubtedly are widespread already. Thanks to technology, musicians and composers have access to a lot of useful new tools; computer-enabled formal ideas like the mash-up have emerged; and musicians are able to collaborate across time and space in ways that previously were impossible. There’s also the notion that by making it easy to find people with similar interests all over the world, the internet provides an alternative way to form musical communities that theoretically can make music scenes tied to geographic location less important.

Of course, the internet also can “silo” people into self-selecting groups that only reinforce their existing ideas and beliefs, which isn’t exactly broadening. And when geography isn’t the determining factor bringing musicians together, how do they find each other online? More often than not, it seems to be through shared fandom, often of specific artists but sometimes entire genres. (For handy examples of this, just consult the “musician wanted” section of your local Craigslist.)

Technology also has made the process of music discovery much easier. When I was a teenager in the 1970s, one might follow a reference to a previously unknown band or musician found in liner notes, Rolling Stone, or Down Beat to a half-dozen record stores and the library, and still come up empty handed. Now, anyone who wants to find out more about Sun Ra or John Cage or Edgard Varèse can simply type their name into a search engine, and in seconds the internet will deliver biographies, photos, journalism and critical opinion, and most important, audio and video.

So with the internet letting us hear just about any music and see any musician any time we want, for a comparatively low cost of entry, in theory it could provide an ideal opportunity to get rid of genres. Unfortunately, one thing technology can’t do is make the day longer than 24 hours. There’s more information, and more music, more easily accessible to more people than ever before, but no one actually has time to read or listen to more than a fraction of it. So we still must rely on gatekeepers and sorting mechanisms, one of which is musical genre, and radio, retail, presenters, and media all continue to categorize music according to whether it is rock, pop, hip-hop, country, R&B, classical, blues, folk, jazz, and so on.

While some musicians embrace genre labels for marketing purposes, others are understandably reluctant, or even antagonistic, toward having their music pigeonholed, or just want to make art for art’s sake. Nevertheless, presenters, labels, and media want to grow their audiences, for all the obvious reasons, and even musicians who claim to be unconcerned with commercial success still want their music to be heard. As long as that’s the case, genre labels seem likely to persist.

For evidence of that, look at what’s known broadly as “electronic dance music,” touted as a major growth area of the industry and one that seems to spin off hyper-specific sub-genres at a dizzying pace. Wikipedia’s list of electronic music genres contains 22 major sub-categories, each containing at least a half-dozen sub-genres, totaling more than 200 different varieties. Outsiders may be hard pressed to distinguish among, say, two dozen different varieties of house music, yet to those on the inside, the distinctions are critical enough to warrant coining new terminology.

If nothing else, this proliferation of sub-genre names should give listeners in the know a fairly specific idea of what to expect, and it also gives musicians and composers a wide variety of specific channels or identities that can be used to get their music to the public.

Given this example, I wonder if, rather than anticipating an end to genre designations, perhaps new music needs to cultivate a whole lot more of them, since much of the terminology currently in use is overly general at best, and vague or misleading at worst.
In marketing speak, it’s called “segmentation,” and it can serve a useful purpose in helping sellers identify potential buyers and buyers to find things that interest them. For music that’s distributed online, specific sub-genre designations could be particularly useful and can serve as keywords or metadata, helping listeners locate music of potential interest.

Even the umbrella term “new music,” while well understood by the readers of this publication, often is interpreted by others in terms of the plain English meanings of its component words, which can lead to some convoluted explanations.

In the 1990s, when I was a board member and later an administrator for New Music Circle in St. Louis, I was also playing blues and rock gigs, and I’d get into conversations with other musicians or fans in which I’d mention that I was working for New Music Circle, putting on concerts. Inevitably, they’d ask me some variation on the question, “So, what kind of music do they do?” and twenty years later, I find myself having similar conversations trying to describe the Mizzou New Music Initiative, with highly variable results.

Calling music “avant garde” or “experimental” seems to have a polarizing effect, immediately attracting interest from some while repelling others. “Contemporary classical” and “post-classical” are descriptive enough in one sense, but even setting aside the former term’s unfortunate oxymoronic quality, at least some of what we call new music doesn’t really have any relationship to classical music, so these terms are of limited use. On the other hand, the evocative term “creative music” may suggest something about the intent of those who are making the music, but doesn’t do much to locate it in terms of any specific sound, tradition, or genre.

Comparative recommendations—“If you like X, you may also enjoy Y”—can be useful, but only in those cases when you already know something about the person’s interests and preferences. That’s easy for Amazon or Google, but in casual conversation, or for a musician or composer trying to describe her latest work in liner notes, a news release, or a one-sheet, it can be little more than guesswork or wishful thinking.

Does new music necessarily need more than 200 sub-genres? Probably not, but if genre designations are going to be with us for a while, perhaps some imagination and some more colorful language could make them work to our advantage.


Dean Minderman is a writer and musician in St. Louis, Missouri, and the founder and editor of the website St. Louis Jazz Notes. As a consultant with the firm Slay and Associates, he currently works with the Mizzou New Music Initiative and other music-related projects of the Sinquefield Charitable Foundation, assisting with publicity, marketing, and strategic communications. A graduate of the University of Missouri’s School of Journalism, he has experience as an arts administrator and consultant, advertising writer/producer, music journalist and blogger, publicist, and event producer; and as a performing keyboard player and singer, composer/arranger, and bandleader.

You’re Doing Targeted Marketing Wrong

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Photo courtesy of timlewisnm on Flickr.

You want to grow your audience, but you have limited resources, so you target your marketing efforts at the groups most likely to respond to it.

Sounds familiar? Sensible?

It is. But almost everybody does it wrong, often alienating core customers and defining their offering by the needs of a completely imaginary group of people instead of the community around them.

Generally, we begin screwing up by turning demographic research into inaccurate stereotypes. We find out how our audience differs from the general population, define it by those differences, and then aim our outbound communication at an imaginary person who embodies every one of those differences.

You might discover that, compared with the general population, people at your concerts are more likely to be old, rich, smart, and male. You might then devise a marketing campaign to target smart old rich men. If you asked for a show of hands, though, you might also find that while the old, the smart, the rich, and the male are all overrepresented in your crowd, there isn’t a single smart rich old man among them.

This sort of thing isn’t sensible targeted marketing. It’s desperately clinging to any piece of information that comes along. When you’re adrift in a sea of ignorance, almost anything looks good to hold onto, but crude generalizations can be anchors instead of life rafts.

In that case, what is demographic data for?

Institutions love demographics. It’s easy to collect this type of data (you ask a sample of people at a concert), and sponsors/advertisers often ask to see it. As a result, the marketing department generally has a very good idea of the typical ages, incomes, occupations, and educational backgrounds of their customer base.

Let’s imagine, for a moment, that you’re not selling music. If you have an unrelated mass-market product to promote and you’re considering sponsoring a single event, then demographic data provides useful information. You’re being offered access to a room full of people united by an interest in something that isn’t your product. You don’t know anything (else) about what they like and there’s no easy way to ask, so you look at gender or social class to determine a rough fit.

It’s a blunt tool, and while it’s better than nothing, the results are underwhelming unless both groups significantly deviate from the general population. If the customers for your product are split 60:40 male to female, then advertising to a 60:40 male to female population split should result in a 4% greater response than advertising to a population split 50:50.

With results like this, targeting groups that are moderately overrepresented in your audience is not going to change the world.
If the question we really want to answer is “how can we sell more tickets?” then demographic research seems like it would help, but what we’re really doing is substituting the answer to a different question because that’s the information we have on hand.
Marketing Infographic
The average concert audience member might be a little older, richer, and smarter than the average American. This is something to tell advertisers who are bad at statistics and want to reach old rich smart people. You know something substantially more valuable about this crowd: every one of them came to your concert.

So what do you ask?

The question to ask them is: why did you come to this concert?

You’ll find people who came because they wanted to see something at the venue, and this was what was on. Others will tell you they’ve always wanted to hear this repertoire. Another group have been following the artists for some time, and this was their chance to hear them live. Some people were dragged there by a date who is doing your marketing for you.

These are the reasons people left their homes on a cold night and paid money to hear some music, and they have everything to do with human motivation and almost nothing to do with income, gender, or education.

It’s the same with record sales: people are loyal to artists, composers, and sometimes even labels. They’ll buy records out of curiosity and they’ll buy them for who or what was on them. They’ll buy them because they’re beautiful, because they’re ugly, because they’re expensive, or because they’re cheap. They’ll buy them as souvenirs, they’ll buy them on impulse, and they’ll buy them as a culmination of a lot of research.

This is not the same as, “How did you find out about this concert/album?” The vast majority of the people who find out about your CD or your concert don’t go on to buy a disc or a ticket. It’s widely accepted in the world of marketing (indeed, it’s common sense) that people often make a purchasing decision only after hearing about a product many times. The thing you need to know is what sealed the deal. Why did they pick your event out of everything on the website? Why did they buy your album out of all the others on iTunes?

Knowing what motivates your customers is the way to improve the story you tell them. Knowing where they found out about you might tell you where to get the message across, but it doesn’t help you to figure out what that message should be.

That’s it?

Of course not. If you target based on motivation instead of demographics, there are still plenty of opportunities to screw up. Perhaps the most prevalent of these is making the mistake of preaching exclusively to the choir.

The people who come to your concerts, buy your CDs, or visit your website are a self-selected subset of the public—a tiny fraction—on whom your marketing efforts have worked thus far. They are not representative of the general public and they are not representative of the group of people who would come to your concerts if you did marketing differently.

Worse, any assumption based purely on your existing audience is likely to lead you round in circles, ultimately becoming self-fulfilling. Pick the largest group in your audience and market primarily to them, and your audience becomes smaller and, crucially, less diverse. Repeat this process a few times, and you have the audience of a modern major symphony orchestra.
For individual artists with a tribal following, it’s not necessarily a bad thing to ignore a whole section of society. For an ensemble, festival, or venue that purports to be a part of its broader community, though, this is a fatal error. If you want what you’re doing to be perceived as suitable for and relevant to the whole community, you have to speak to them all, and be seen to speak to them all. Otherwise, you become the Abercrombie & Fitch of music, scaring off those outside your target groups with an environment that is openly hostile to them.

Then again, maybe there’s something to be said for defining an audience by the people who aren’t in it.

Unadventurous thick people? This music isn’t for you.

The Occasional Cheeseburger

The student new music organization which I serve as the faculty advisor for had their final meeting this week. In addition to finishing up end-of-the-year duties, we discussed our concert series for next year and potential adjustments to how we publicize each event. Several of the students brought up the fact that it was difficult to convince their friends—even those studying music—to come to many of our concerts because of the overriding perception that they were all too “serious” and not very entertaining.
Now, I know for a fact that our music students don’t have a strong bias against new music, as in the past two weeks I’ve witnessed student performers—more than one hundred in total—play on a composition studio concert, a choreographer/composer collaboration concert, and four student composer recitals. That being said, the fact that even these students have a hard time being enticed to come to a concert with a guest artist or composer because of the “seriousness” they’ve experienced in the past did get me thinking…of cheeseburgers.

For years, I’ve used food as an analogue for music in my teaching and writing; one of my first columns, for instance, compared one type of composer to a chef or cook who “collects” ingredients from the pantry and then builds a meal around those ingredients. I also find that using descriptors typically associated with the sense of taste tends to work well when trying to describe subjective aural or sonic characteristics—much better, in fact, than the typical visual color cues that many tend to use (synesthetes excepted, of course).

In fact, one of the few cable channels I tend to follow regularly is the Food Network because of the similarities I see between the creators and the consumers on those programs and creators and audiences in music. One overarching trend that I’ve noticed through those programs involves classically trained chefs “going back to their roots” and exploring the possibilities of combining complex flavors and structural forms with seemingly mundane “comfort” foods. Time and time again, we are presented with the desire of creative culinary artists to make dishes that are both at a very high level of complexity but also will be enjoyed by a wide audience that may not understand their underlying subtleties. This is the concept—providing one’s audience with an experience that not only stimulates the intellect but connects with more visceral, foundational, and intuitive sides as well—that I think has a lot of relevance to our current musical world.

All of that brings me back to cheeseburgers and the equivalent lack thereof in our current repertoire.

I feel—and this is, of course, only my own personal viewpoint—that there is a dearth of musical “cheeseburgers” in contemporary concert music today. Before y’all smirk and roll your eyes, hear me out. I’m not saying that composers shouldn’t be writing intellectually stimulating and complex works—that will always be part of the culture of creative artists. What I am saying is that the other side of the coin—music that is dripping with pure joy or whatever other base emotion you choose—is hard to find. Music that fits that description is often not encouraged by those who teach or by those who act as gatekeepers for funding opportunities, awards, etc., and is many times shunned or ridiculed by those whose tastes or proclivities are focused elsewhere.

Cheeseburgers are useful here because of the associations we as a society have with them. It’s hard for us to take something seriously that one can make on a backyard grill or order at a late-night diner, and perhaps it is time to encourage composers to write music that may have a similar lack of serious intentions. With full knowledge that being labeled one of Deemer’s “cheeseburgers” is not exactly the first thing composers would wish on their music, I present two examples of works that, at least for me, fall under this category:

“Better Git It In Your Soul” by Charles Mingus from the album Mingus Ah Um

“Black” by Marc Mellits/Will Obst and Sumner Truax, baritone saxophones

The Mingus album is interspersed with several works that I might consider more entertaining or “cheeseburger”-like (“Better Git It In Your Soul,” “Pussy Cat Dues,” and “Jelly Roll”) alongside more introspective, dark, and complex works. The Mellits piece, originally written for the bass clarinet duo Sqwonk, conveys that sense of pure joy I mentioned before whilst not being “simple” by any stretch of the imagination. I might even look at Caroline Shaw’s Partita as a piece that speaks to an audience’s “comfort food” tastes in several ways.

To bring us back to my students who worry about convincing their colleagues to attend our overly “serious” music concerts, we’re already thinking of ways to not only pick the right artists for the series but what kinds of programs we can suggest that may look to this approach I’ve been describing. If composers, artists, and presenters keep an open mind both in terms of the new literature that’s being written as well as the programming choices through which audiences will interpret that literature, we may yet have an influx of “cheeseburgers” as part of our balanced musical diet.