Articles for music students for advice and inspiration.

MARKETING for the fainthearted by Linda Ang

If you are anything like me, I set out on my journey as a classical musician with a blind spot about marketing, secretly nursing the assumption that a fairy-godmother in the shape of a benefactor-agent would spot me somewhere one fine day and do it all for me. Now, some years down that road, I am regularly overwhelmed by a feeling of helplessness about the huge ocean of contacts out there with whom I ought to connect.

What I hope to do here is not to give you the low-down on how it is all done, but to create a platform to begin a dialogue, and encourage you to write back with your thoughts and suggestions with the intention that we would be able to help each other.

In view of the mammoth task that we face, I would like to consider a more holistic picture of us as artists with marketing as part of our ongoing life rather than talk about it as a disconnected activity, working on the premise that if we have the following in our working kit, our efforts might be more focused and therefore more productive.

GET Passionate

OK, so we have been through College, Music School, Private Musical Education, what next? Listening to the radio this morning, I realized that we are in the same boat as the University graduates who, having completed their degrees, are faced with no jobs except for the extremely lucky few. In some ways, fresh-faced young musicians just leaving college are better off than those who have been out in the jungle for some years, hungry for work, anxious to pay bills that the postman keeps delivering, and dwindling hopes of any kind of career.

Secret of Longevity

I cannot help feeling that the secret of longevity as human beings and particularly as artists is that what we have to offer continues to be fresh and continues to give us a thrill. After all, isn’t that what we did it for? If we have lost this intangible something which gets us out of bed in the morning, we might as well get the proverbial day job and earn a decent crust as opposed to scrambling for the crumbs which tend to be the norm for us.

Much of our work as an artist is repetitive, but the same is true of almost any job, and the ability to remember our first love is a secret well worth keeping alive. Meeting with other musicians or even artists with different outlooks can also help fan the fire when our inner flame is burning low.

Even negative emotions can be turned into gold. One artist said that she had an inner fury that needed letting out. Here is where anger can be turned into a positive emotion, and help us to heal as hurting human beings. I believe that this is what persuades us to become artists in the first place; but this is a subject for another article.

Reinventing oneself

The lives of other artists often provide rich pickings. It seems to me that we should particularly take notice of those who have had long careers, especially female starlets long past their sell-by date who manage to work and stay in the heady stratosphere of the extremely well paid. Think of Madonna, Judi Dench, Meryl Streep, Helen Mirren and Maggie Smith. These are women to be held in high esteem for their intelligence, tenacity and sheer passion for their work which has kept them in the lights whereas those intent on selling their bodies whilst leaving their brains at home have long since disappeared from our large and little screens.

It amazed me to learn that Meryl Streep auditioned for her role in the film “Mama Mia”, and what a triumph the film was. Madonna was not just the Queen of pop but the Master of Reinvention, with her endless re-makes of herself resulting in yet greater piles of Greenbacks in her bank account.

GET PROductive

Keeping the home fires burning in our artistic home will hopefully ensure that we remain productive even when the phone is silent. Those are the golden hours when we are able to work like happy amateurs and prepare, without deadlines, those works of art which will one day be seen and heard in public. One writer friend, when asked what her inspiration was, said that it was the sound of bills falling on the thread-bare doormat. In a programme on the artists Henri Matisse and Pablo Picasso, I was struck that both were in the habit of getting on with projects in response to external stimuli (like moving to another city) other than their agent’s voices on the telephone.

“The Artist’s Way”

If you have never read Julia Cameron’s book “The Artist’s Way” I would certainly recommend it. She is an American writer who penned the book for artists whose inspirational wells had dried up. She talks about making artist’s dates, spending an hour regularly doing something completely different as this replenishes the spring that keeps us refreshed as artists.

She also mentions that the best antidote for envy was working, something that I took to heart and never regretted. Apart from anything else, the artist’s life can be lonely, particularly if you are away from home and in an unfamiliar culture. I found that working on projects kept the howling wolf of loneliness a long way from my door.

GET PROfessional

For a long time, I lived under the misapprehension that it was talent that showed. How wrong I was. It is always polish and elbow grease that is self-evident and sets one apart from those who have not the same sparkle. The work of clearing layers of carbon reveals the true diamonds underneath.

Scott Peck’s wonderful book “The Road Less Travelled” speaks of self-discipline as self-love. If we care enough about ourselves and our craft, we will get down to the grind that turns us into mature artists; so guard against the drop in self-esteem that is constant and stops us from staying on track. As journeymen/women, we will be beset and buffeted by challenges of all kinds: setbacks on our projects, lack of finance, of emotional support and the difficulties of life in a large city. We need to find friends, people who are wise, kind and supportive, who nurture us by giving good advice and timely counsel that is purposeful and constructive.

GET PURposeful

We have just begun 2013 and this is always a good time to take stock, and plan. It has become trendy to create five-year plans and every other sort of plan for our lives. While it can be overdone, I have found it immensely helpful to think about a vision or mission for our artistic work, and melded in with this, the plan for our lives, because the two go hand in hand. We are only able to accomplish our artistic endeavours if our lives are so geared to make it possible. The person/people you share your life with will need to understand the amount of time and money your art requires; the work of an artist is all-consuming and consequently, the thrust of your life has to support your overall plan.

Contrary to what we think, the next step which requires our immediate attention may not be what we envisaged. In the business world, positioning is of utmost importance: taking a side-step in order to find funding, for instance, before embarking on a project may put us in a better place to accomplish it.

GET PROactive

An article about Kate Winslet who won the Oscar for her role in the blockbuster film “Titanic” caught my eye. When the director, James Cameron was casting for a female lead, Kate Winslet was not yet on the Hollywood “A” list. It is reported that she wrote repeatedly to him from the United Kingdom, persuading him that she was the right person to be cast as Rose, the female lead. She got the job and the Oscar!

At the same time, I have realised that a huge amount of work comes through people that I know, so keeping in touch with your data-base, yes I know it takes a huge amount of time, is a must. On the other hand, some of my work has come simply because I smiled and talked to someone I might not have otherwise have spoken to. Keep smiling, keep learning to care for others and their interests, and they might just put some work your way.

One very important bit of advice they should dish out liberally at Music College is: stay open! Music College was, in my time, geared to turning us all into concerto players. Thankfully, the situation has now changed, but not enough. We need to keep our minds open, and be willing to have our boundaries challenged all the time. My professional playing little resembles what I was trained to do and you may also find this to be true.

A, B, C’s of the M word

Just to summarise what we have encountered so far:

A: Staying alert means keeping our ears to the ground, finding out what is going on means being able to get the application in for funding, competitions, etc

B: Business Cards. These are now relatively inexpensive, keep a stack with you at all times. Be innovative with your design, have an eye-catching card.

C: Conversation. Some of us are better at talking to strangers than others. Cultivate your conversation; it will pay dividends.

D: Data-base. This takes time to build and maintain. I don’t see any other alternative. I remember reading a report that people don’t like being sold to; however, if they know you, they are likely to buy from you.

E: Emulate. The stars have usually got to the top for some reason. We could all do worse than to find people we admire and work out how they got there.

F: Fame and fortune: not always the best goals.

G: is for Gold. We all have our own pot of gold which is the God-given unique combination of our personal talents, personality and character. “G” is also for “gradual” as it takes a bit of digging to find.

H: Hope is something we need to keep alive. Stay positive. A happy person is welcome anywhere. Think of the alternative, but not for too long. Negative thoughts never help anyone.

I: “Imagine”, said John Lennon in his song. We need bucketfuls of this. Let your imagination run riot, be a child again. It’s also fun!

J: Jealousy, a common and natural emotion. The best remedy is to start a project and to get working.

K: Kindness: not something they teach at Music College. Kindness is free, but very difficult to give away because it keeps coming back.

L: Love your work. Loving something means lavishing everything we have on it, making the necessary sacrifices.

M: Metamorphose: change, re-invent yourself and keep doing it.

N: Network! Need I say more?

O: Stay open to new possibilities. It may generate more work than you ever thought possible.

P: Passion. All the self-help books I have read say follow your heart and the money will flow in. Yes, we do have to be able to eat as well. We have all been in the position of doing odd bits of work to stay alive.

Q: Quit? Never!

R: Relationship. Building good relationships with our colleagues is vital. Remember that they are a good source of work.

S: Sabbath. Take time off. The word “REST” sometimes needs to be written in the diary.

T: Technology. Use it, all!

U: Uphill? Yes, marketing is uphill all the way, but no one ever set out to look at the view downhill. Also, there are fewer people on the mountain-tops.

V: Vision. Have a game plan and be disciplined about putting it into action.

W: Wannabe. The jungle is full of artistic wannabes. Remember that every big name was once a little wannabe. Find out how they got there. It has been said that Lady Luck is planning and hard work in heavy disguse.

X: Exact from yourself the highest standards and no one else will!

Y: Yourself. You are unique and this is your number one selling point. There is no one else like you. Gerry Anderson, the creator of “Thunderbirds” is reputed to have said never second-guess your audience. Do what you do best, make it your own. If the audience likes it, great; if not, become a green-grocer.

Z: Zone. If you are passionate about what you do and you stay positive, finding “The Zone” which means working at your peak will not be difficult to find, whether it is in your work or marketing.

See if you can come up with more, and email me!


In conclusion, may I share a word about life. Many years ago, I came across a biography of Margot Fonteyn, the incomparable ballerina. Reading it, I came to the conclusion that as artists, it is imperative that we also grow as human beings. The alternative is to become stunted. I have observed one or two colleagues who were quickly successful and then came a cropper because of an emotional Achilles heel. Maturity means coming to an understanding of our strengths and weaknesses as artists and as people, and seeing our shortcomings with clarity. Accepting them and working at them humbles us, keeps us growing and keeps us compassionate about the weaknesses of others.

A.S. Byatt has recently become a favourite of mine. In her book, “The Biographer’s Tale”, she tells the story of an explorer-writer advising a young lady who had submitted a dramatic poem to him. He tells her that in order to become a successful writer, something more than talent is required. To him, human beings are spiritually, long-sighted creatures; we see most clearly at a distance. I take this to mean that we begin to understand “life” better as we grow in maturity.

We all want instant fame and fortune. I have to constantly persuade myself that this is not the best road to take. We need time and patience to find out who we are as human beings, find our artistic voice and work on this because it is what makes us unique and ultimately, infinitely marketable. God help us to find friends, wisdom and good advice which will enable us to persevere with courage and diligence, and may we all find our own pot of gold: the voice of one human being with his/her picture of life to share.

Bon voyage!

Linda Ang Stoodley

Please feel free to write back with your views and ideas:
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January 2013