A career in music is basically the same as a career in any other area, in that it requires detailed career planning. A musician is also a performer; hence, promoting your “brand image” is an important thing that musicians have to consider.
There are many promotion opportunities for a musician. Early on, musicians try their best to take every chance to please the audience. Not every performance will get a great crowd reaction. So then how does a musician acquire greater name recognition?
Photographer: Guangming Li
1. Open for other bands
Popular groups and musicians often utilize a local band or musician as an opener on tour. For a newbie, it’s better to take this chance whether or not you need it.
The first advantage is that the audience at a concert is “forced” to listen. They aren’t like an audience at a music festival, where they might only listen to the groups they like or the final band, while ignoring the early performers.
On the other hand, the space at a concert is more intense and closed. Only the stage is lit, so the audience has to pay attention. Hence, the only thing that an opening band needs to focus on is their performance.
The second advantage is that it’s much easier for audience to accept you. Since usually the style of an opener lines up somewhat with the main performer’s, the audience – primarily there for the main group – is a great potential audience for the opener as well. It’s hard to imagine a folk singer inviting a metal band as an opener. Additionally, anyone who comes to see a artist live is a dedicated fan, who has the patience to wait for the main artist. Thus, if the opener would catch the audience and can be accepted in one show, maybe they will turn to the main performers next time.
Any new musician needs opportunities to show their music to an audience. Opening for a more popular artist is a great way to win more fans by sharing a potential audience with the main performer.
2. Find the right crowd
Furthermore, a concert needs an appropriate time and place to draw an optimal audience for all the artists involved.
For instance, a folk singer with a fresh, pure style doesn’t need a club; for them, a coffee shop or book shop would be more suitable. Also, since folk musicians typically play there, people who frequent these venues are likely predisposed towards indie and folk music.
Hence, an artist would get the right response from the right people!
Finding the right time is much more straightforward; the weekend is always the best time! If you can’t find a weekend gig, Wednesday is another great choice.
After settling all this, you still need to promote yourself. The “right people” are active in the “right places” online. Online, people born in the 80s prefer Tianya or Maopu, while people born in the 90s usually use Douban and Zhihu. Thus, whether online or offline, find an appropriate place to showcase your music, and you’ll find a willing audience.
Instead of having loads of performances in different places, synchronize your style to a set of venues and times, then concentrate on those. It’s like a set of gears: the set is perfect only if every gear runs properly.
3. Bigger cities are not necessarily better
Different cities have different cultures and atmospheres. Some small cities have no indie-style coffee shops, book shops, or clubs. This is useless for an indie musician, since people here often only acknowledge singers as musicians. There are these small towns strewn all across China.
Unfortunately, for indie musicians who live in these places, they have to leave home and bring their music to a place where people can appreciate it. Provincial or capital cities are a great choice, where people listen to a wider variety of music and accept indie music more easily; thus, these audiences are capable of distinguishing the good music from the bad music.
Therefore, musicians can find more chances to perform at the better venues in these big cities, but the process is somewhat complicated. Of course, the problem is that neither a small city nor a large city are conducive to artist breakthroughs.
In Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou, the music and art scenes are rich and full; people in these cities have listened to many concerts. However, since they also hear so much music all the time, they also might ignore an excellent indie musician, simply because of diminishing returns.
Furthermore, these cities also often invite international musicians and superstars for performances. Hence, the more suitable place for indie musicians is this kind of cities, where people have great music appreciating level and wants to have more varieties of music.
“No Party in the Eastern Grass”, an indie band from Taiwan came to Chinese Mainland for their first tour. They held three concerts in total, two of which were in Chengdu and Chongqing. Why didn’t they choose Beijing or Shanghai? Thus, if musicians pick an appropriate testing ground, the rest will fall into place.
4. Maintain a good public image
When we talk about appearances, we’re not only talking about physical appearances, but also character traits. Dedicated fans are not just attracted to the music or the physical appearance of the artist, but they’re also drawn to an artist’s innate qualities and character traits, often times even more so than anything else.
An indie musician then doesn’t need to pretend to be someone else; he/she just needs be genuine. A musician’s stage persona is just a just one aspect of his or her life. Most of the time, people recognize musicians for their day-to-day personalities.
In 2009, the director Sheng Zhimin directed a documentary called Goodbye, Utopia for Chinese Rockers. In that film, the rock singer Zhangchu went into a record store and asked the manager, “Do you have any good rock music?” The manager asked what kind, to which he replied, “something beautiful.” This dialogue not only endears rock fans to the artist, but also reveals insights into his personality.
Nowadays, more and more directors take “indie music” as their new inspiration, and create documentaries for these musicians and bands. This is a great way for the musicians to promote themselves for an audience without paying much money. In addition, Weibo, Wechat and other social media are a great platform for them to show themselves both on stage and in their daily life.
Many things can go on social media: rehearsals, diaries, performance photos, videos, and random thoughts. You can also use it as an means of interacting with the fans. For instance, the indie band Sixteen Minutes published a small game on their page, based on the game Pong. With some simple programming, it allowed the players to control the damper with their voices.
This game was used in their concerts to interact with fans. This is a great, creative way of bringing fans into their lives. After watching this video, you developed an understanding of the band whether or not you were originally a fa.
Nonetheless, remember that everything you do should come from a genuine place; fans can tell quickly otherwise.
5. Be humble
Live music is an equal communication between performer and audience. If the foremost thought on an artist’s mind is “I’m the star of this show, and you are here just to see me”, then audiences will recognize that attitude and feel annoyed.
I once watched a show where the band members were dancing like crazy, without any crowd response. Then, the lead singer glared down at the audience and made yelled after accidentally falling on stage. There was again, no response from the audience. Between their over-the-top movements and arrogant attitude, they lost the audience’s respect. The worst thing of all was that their music was lousy.
There are a lot of great shows in the world where the artists use loads of body language, such as musicals, ballet; here, the movement communicate a sense of beauty to the audience. At music festivals, loud bands also have dramatic movements, and they can get the audience moving too.
When a performer is demonstrates a desire to connect with an audience, then people will respond well and reciprocate the performer’s energy, but if the artist belays a conceited attitude, then the show will quickly become a failure.
On the other hand, a few performers are too afraid when they’re on stage, which also alienates an audience.
Performance is communication; only if artists present an eagerness to really connect with an audience and display their genuine personalities will people want to know their music become their fans.
All in all, be neither too arrogant nor too meek; just show the real you!
Translator:Willow Ye, Even Yi
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