This article first appeared on RootsMusic.ca in 2010. You can view the original here.
Last month, when talking about methods of submission to presenters, I wrote “I would… give a lot of thought before booking anyone who has not at least made an attempt at a professional presentation.”
So, does how you appear and present yourself matter? Well, of course it does. It matters in every single social interaction you’ll ever have, and influences the way people perceive you on a very basic level. But setting that aside, how does it affect your artistic career?
I know we’re all here for the music, and the other stuff is seen as often distraction; no amount of good buzz or connections or production values will make up for a dearth of artistic merit musically. Artists often get overhyped by enthusiastic supporters, or because of causes or people they’re associated with, or because they work with such terrific people that a little of the shine rubs off on the artist in question. Filtering out all of that and focusing on the music itself is the presenters job, absolutely. But your support material tells me more about you than you might expect.
As a presenter, I’ve often booked people at the very beginning of their career. Very occasionally, an artist’s musical talent will overwhelm me so much that I will overlook their complete ineptitude at putting together a professional presentation and book them on the strength of the music alone. Oftentimes, I regret doing so, even when the music is good.
There are a staggering number of skilled musicians in Canada, and a ridiculous percentage of those people are writing great music. Putting together any lineup, I consider a number of factors beyond just the music. I have to in order to make a choice, because I’m like a kid in a candy store, and I want to hire everyone I want. But there are things I need from an artist in order to properly promote them and the event; a good print-quality photo to send to the papers or use in a poster, a snappy sentence or two pulled from the bio to pique interest and explain what the act’s about, some MP3s and video to post online to give a taste of the performance. This is how I establish an audience for your music in my town, which will benefit both of us in the short term but in the long term means that you have name recognition (and hopefully, fans) in a city you can return to, regardless of which presenter you’re working with.
A well-written bio, good, professional-quality photos, a well-designed website, high-quality recording and producing, and good graphic design are essential. It bespeaks a level of respect – for the industry, for the presenter, for yourself and your own work. Why should I go to the trouble of trying to establish an audience for a new band if the band themselves aren’t serious enough about their work to have a good bio? I want to build relationships, find artists whom I can present regularly. If I see what I do as an investment in the cultural life of the nation and my city in particular, I want to work with artists who intend to keep going beyond this semester.
When I do, against my better judgment, book someone who sends me a really unprofessional promo package, I’m taking a lot of risks. They’re probably not being booked a lot by other presenters, so they tend to lack experience and professional courtesy. They sometimes have unreasonable expectations. They often don’t know to have their instruments tuned before they’re introduced on stage, or how to engage the audience. They ditch a festival workshop because they don’t get what it is. They’re rude to the sound tech because they don’t know better (yet). And yes, sometimes established professionals behave badly, but the music industry is a gossipy little place, and I can usually avoid those people via word of mouth.
A solid promotional package signals to me that you’re actually ready for the world: you’ve been around a bit and you get it and you understand the rules of the game. You’re serious enough to have invested time and/or money, so you intend to be around for a while. You’re not going to blow off fans after the show, or be a jerk to volunteers, because you’re a professional who wants to build a fanbase in my town, who understands that the music community is actually quite small and social.
Self-promotion is difficult; especially when you’re starting out, you have to be your own number one fan, friend, promoter, producer, and funder. I understand that, to someone whose primary art is music, it’s tiresome and counter-intuitive to worry about graphic design and writing. But just as you wouldn’t wear track pants to a job interview, you ought to be dressing your career professionally in your promotional materials. Help me – and other presenters – feel good about booking you; help us promote you to all those people who don’t know – yet – that they’re your fans.