T Bone Burnett Is Wrong
While discussing working on the Coen brothers upcoming Greenwich Village folk-movement inspired soundtrack for “Inside Llewyn Davis,” with American Songwriter singer/songwriter/producer and auteur of the austere T Bone Burnett took the occasion to deride both technology and self-promotion.
Now the negative impact of technology on the music industry, from piracy to inferior audio quality, is well documented and debated. Given Burnett’s years of expertise as a successful musician and producer he has the upper hand when discussing technology’s impact on sonic and creative part of the music industry.
Where Burnett gets it wrong is when he says:
“Self-promotion is a horrible thing. As soon as an artist self promotes he ceases to become an artist, he becomes a salesman.’
T Bone should know better.
Many early twenty century artists that influence Burnett’s dust-bowl aesthetic were quite adept at using the technology of their day to have their music heard and to make people aware of upcoming shows and new releases.. They were equally adept at the art, yes art, of self-promotion as they were songwriting and performing.
Ralph Stanley, who Burnett worked with on the Americana watershed OST for ‘O Brother Where Art Thou,” recounts in his book “Man of Constant Sorrow: My Life and Times” that he, his brother Carter, regularly made use of the self-promotion technology of the day, radio, becoming regular personalities on the local station WNVA in Norton, Virginia.
After graduating from high school, and receiving an honorable discharge from the Army, Stanley returned to Virginia where he and Carter formed a and their band, the Clinch Mountain Boys, and established themselves in Bristol, Virginia’s WCYB scheduling.
Would Burnett consider Ralph Stanley a “salesman” in the derisive vein he spoke above? I don’t think so.
But there Dr. Ralph was, utilizing the social media of his day, the radio — promoting his music and upcoming live shows at local schools and churches. In other words self-promoting.
Many of the folk artists that paved the way for Americana and country music honed their chops, both musical and self-promotional, traveling with medicine shows. These mobile infomercials arrived shortly after the Civil War and employed tumblers, dancers, fire-eaters, snake handlers, comedians and hillbilly musicians to attracted the locals with pockets full from selling their harvest. Once a crowd had formed some smooth-talking huckster pitched some panacea sure to cure all ailments.
These traveling shows might not have cured folks, but they allowed musicians to perform in front of an audience. It also taught them the importance of promotion and selling.
T Bone himself owes much of his storied career to the tools of self-promotion. After a series of post high school bands he landed a plum gig. a touring guitarist for a master of self-promotion, Bob Dylan’s Rolling Thunder Revue.
In 2000, Burnett produced the soundtrack and wrote the score for the Coen Brothers film, ‘O Brother, Where Art Thou?’. The award-winning, best-selling soundtrack featuring Emmylou Harris, Alison Krauss, Ralph Stanley, Gillian Welch and others. This not only brought rural roots and blues music back into mainstream consciousness it brought it’s creator there as well.
More movies, like Crazy Heart and I Walk the Line, and production credits for Elvis Costello, Allison Krauss and Robert Plant, B.B. King, Elton JOhn and many others looking for a particular, and lucrative, sound followed.
These gigs didn’t fall out of the sky or find just the right man the right mix of talents serendipitously. Burnett’s reputation preceded him. A reputation formed partially by talent and partially by promoting, self or otherwise.
Art and commerce has always had a thorny relationship, Cultural artifacts — visual arts, music, theatre , etc. — in modern history have always relied on state or private benefactors to assure the creator the lifestyle to create more work and, ideally, free from intrusion. This arrangement doesn’t come cheap.
It’s cliche to say the music industry is in turmoil. Much of the churn is self-inflicted apathy fueled by short-term, greedy delusion that music would always remain trapped in physical objects. And that the price of those objects would forever be dictated by the labels.
But the Genie made it out.
We now see the product is not the record/tape/disc. It’s the music. The invisible music contained within the grooves or tape has been released, forever to buy on demand, anywhere. Or to steal just as readily.
But in turmoil there;s often opportunity and affordable technology has also allowed artists to take control of their careers by allowing access to production, communication and promotion.
I respect Burnett, and everything he’s done, and continues to do, for a the Americana genre I deeply love. But the above quote exhibits a state of ideal detachment, of artistic purity, that he himself has not practiced.
This idea that is dangerous for budding artists that want to make music a sustainable vocation, as well as for fans that want to hear that music. If this advice was to be taken as gospel many trees would fall in the forest unheard.
But young artists know better. They’ve grown up in a mediated culture that not only feeds into their art but also into how they present it.
Just as Americana music has to recreate itself to thrive as a viable genre in the contemporary world, and not a cultural tinotype thick with nostalgic dust, musicians have adapted and thrived. We have more music being produced now than anytime in human history.
Burnett , of all people, should understand that self-promotion, and prudent technology use with fair and equitable reimbursement, is a age-old practice that paves a way for creativity and discovery.
How does he expect today’s artist to get people to our shows or even know we exist? Also, i youtubed up an old interview of Bruce Springsteen saying “You cannot just wait for those fans to come to you. You have to go out and GET those fans”. Engagement through social media, though not what any of us necessarily prefer, IS the current model for allowing us to reach our audience.
Dear Mr. Lane
Let’s start here- do you support yourself by writing for this publication?
All the best
T Bone Burnett
T Bone. Thanks for your comment. No, this blog is not my sole support , and like most bloggers, it was never meant to be.
On the other hand it does open doors. If not for this blog , and supporting social media, nobody would be aware of me and the great opportunities that followed for me – being the Americana Grammy blogger, meeting many of my heroes, great music arriving in my mail and inbox, and now conversing with someone of your stature.
I am currently writing a book on music and do get the occasional paying speaker and writing gig. If not for this forum none of that would be true.
So does this publication pay its correspondents? It pays you?
It’s not like a magazine or paper, It’s a sole proprietary entity. It’s just me.
I make some $ in ads and merch. It’s a labor of love mostly.
I’ll be in L.A. in January if you would like a face-to-face,
And by the way-
“If not for this forum none of that would be true.”
How do you know that to be true? Have you tried everything else?
(That sounds as if it might be somewhat hyperbolic.)
Okay, perhaps “if not for this forum…” might seem hyperbolic , but in the past being hired to write by Rolling Stone or some other high-level entertainment publication would have been the only way little post would have ever caught your attention? If not for the leveling power of the net there would be many gatekeepers to be circumvented.
And here we are, no RS paycheck or credentials forthcoming.
I’m in the tech industry and not a *legit* journalist. This gives me the freedom to choose and spotlight only music I love. I’ve found a few people that like that approach and the passion I bring.
That’s my value, my “brand.” Honesty. Integrity. But none of that would matter without awareness first. I’d be talking to myself and that would get old quick. Likelihood of quitting would be greater.
Same with musicians.
I’m happy to have this discussion here.
I will agree, however, that face to face is always better.
The actual trumps the virtual in my book.
So either way.
But since you are advising artists in your journal, I wonder what you have underneath you to advise them to ignore the thoughts of someone who has been living and doing good work in the world of music for fifty years.
I want to assure you that I do not intend to lead young artists down the primrose path.
I want to assure you that I am on the side of the artists.
I want to assure you that I have been paying close attention to all developments that effect the world of music- most certainly the recent ones.
Perhaps you have not understood what I mean, because I mean you no harm.
I enjoy your web log. Thank you for your interest in American music.
I wish you the best of luck with all that you undertake.
All good wishes
T Bone Burnett
This might interest you:
Also, here is something from this guy-
Mr. Burnett, I just want to say, as I did in the original post, i have the utmost respect for you and your contributions to the music industry.
But this doesn’t make you infallible. While giving an interview promoting a movie you spoke out against artist self-promotion. Forgive me if I interpreted this as a mixed message.
Artists, from Jimmie Rodgers to Bob Dylan, have used the media of their era to self-promote. I don’t believe their art suffered because of it.
It’s my belief that technology doesn’t circumvent a lack of talent or a commitment to craft. But once the work id done technology breaks down a lot of barriers that have been erected by the music industry to control and profit.
Here’s to the riff raff.
What should artists do to get their music heard? What is a proper path? I’m just an Americana fan always on the lookout for new music. There are a lot of great folks I wouldn’t know about without their own marketing efforts. Sirius Radio had an Americana channel but dropped it years ago. Thank you both for all you do.
Patti, thanks for your comment. My answer to a “proper path” is avoid it. It’s where the crowds are.
Unconventional would be best. Make sure your music stands out and your brand. I’m not a fan of OK GO, but if not for those videos would we even know who they were?
Thank you. I’d never heard of OKAY GO! Wow, I’d like to see the video outakes from This Too Shall Pass!
Okay, here goes the second-hand-promotion but it is relevant to the social media/music mix. My nephew and his wife are Douglas and Telisha Williams, and their band is Wild Ponies. They have worked so hard, honed their talents, and last week their CD was #18 on the Americana chart. I am in awe of their tenacity in the wild, wide world of music. I am also extremely lucky to have met so many of their East Nashville friends who are writing amazing songs, putting miles and miles on their cars, and doing whatever it takes to support themselves and their music. My husband and I been going to the Americana Music Festival since the beginning, when it was held in a hotel banquet room! Maybe fans like us don’t see the social media as “self promotion.” We see it as our people communicating with us. I love being able to tell Amy Speace or Elizabeth Cook how much I love thier songs. It’s personal. Music is personal! Oh, my. We love Americana music like other people like sport’s teams.
If an artist wants to get his or her work seen and heard, the first step and the best thing to do is get into a community of artists. Great art comes out of communities of live people working together toward a common good.
All good wishes
T Bone Burnett
“While giving an interview promoting a movie you spoke out against artist self-promotion. Forgive me if I interpreted this as a mixed message.”
Dear Mr. Lane
First of all, you are pre-forgiven for everything, as far as I’m concerned.
Here is the disconnect- You mistake taking time out of a busy schedule to try to help a small, independent film that you and a lot of friends are involved in as self-promotion. We have (under protest) been doing promotion for the film.
It is always the work, Mr. Lane. The self is irrelevant.
I am saying that self-promotion and acting out of self-interest is not a good way to order society. It is bad for the soul and destructive to the amount of time one has to spend on his art.
You don’t have to tell me I’m not infallible, I have a wife who is expert at that.
(Perhaps I should add parenthetically that you and I are both not infallible.)
But I am not wrong about this.
Artists make art. They do not have time to promote their art. Everyone else has to do that.
Promoters promote. They are two separate jobs. And, the world of promotion is filled with hyperbole and outright lies. That is the toxic water one swims in when promoting. That is your competition. It is a dirty, thankless job.
I’m signing off, now. If you want to meet in the actual, get hold of me. I’m not hard to find.
Again, best of luck to you.
All good wishes
T Bone Burnett
i love t bone’s production but if it wasn’t for my half assed attempts of me promoting me and my wife judy promoting me..i would have everything i own in a shoe box and be looking for a happy hour gig.
ray wylie hubbard
And Letterman, don’t forget Letterman.
Sorry Ray Wylie, can’t you tell he’s not talking about working musicians. He’s only interested in artistes! Which, by the way, is the reason the Inside Llewyn Davis soundtrack stinks. Marcus Mumford and Chris Thile, while darlings of the pre-fab, members-only Americana scene, lack credibility and authenticity when it comes to actual Greenwich Village-era folk music.
Good point BKOM, there is an elite view, The Prairie Home Companion side of Americana, where some now live. Then there’s the blue-collar, living in a van and pay the bills from a tip jar.
The latter is working toward some version of the former. Only an idiot wants to starve for their art forever. The real crime, when you move from the latter to the former, is to forget the lessons of the hard times and to adopt some detached view of artistic purity.
Interesting discussion! Thought I’d chime in since my aunt mentioned us. First off, there have been a million times where I find myself sitting at my computer, or in a Kinkos, or in the lobby of a convention hall thinking “I am SURE Jimi Hendrix never did this shit…” But I’m not Jimi. And the musical world I live in – we all live in – is a vastly different world than the one Jimi lived in.
Every second I spend on facebook, or cobbling together a poster in Adobe Illustrator, or… whatever might be considered self promotion (responding to this blog?) is time away from my art. It’s time that I could be using to work on a new song, or run some scales, or read. But I have to find a balance – because I also have to eat, and because it’s a lot more fun to play to a room full of people than it is to play for my dog in my living room. (Actually Annabelle is a pretty great listener, but she never buys a damn piece of merch.) We have a great team that we pay to do a lot of those things for us now, but there’s still a LOT we have to do on our own, and it was HARD WORK to scratch our way up to the point that our art was bringing in enough to pay the light bill, much less a booking agent, radio promoter, publicist, etc. (…and honestly, we still barely get by, but I’m not complaining. Next month we’ll actually have HEALTH CARE!!)
I definitely agree with both of you on the community point. We moved to East Nashville two years ago because we were searching for community, and we found it. It’s the most valuable thing we’ve got now, for sure. Not just for our career, for our sanity. When we’re off the road, we spend a LOT of time cultivating that community. Artists need community. It’s nice to live in the same time zone as your neighbor, for one small thing. I love having folks stop by our place at 1am on a Tuesday for some whiskey and Willie Nelson records. So, this brings it back around – is the time spent on facebook self promotion or community building? Being a part of a community? I love interacting with our fans/friends. It gives access both ways. Plus, if no one ever knows you’re making art… I mean, you have to tell SOMEone, right? “Hey, look at this, what do you think?” The slippery slope of zero self promotion leads to no one even knowing you made anything. It’s a fuzzy line, and I think that’s the real heart of the issue right there. Where do you draw that line.
I don’t know. For me, I’m pretty happy with where we are, career wise and community wise. I try to stick to this- Make good art. Don’t make artistic decisions based on money. Hang out with people you like, and whose art you like. That’s a pretty good life, as far as I can tell.
http://www.WildPonies.net (<—self promo?)
I am not a professional musician or a promoter, but I am a music fan and I think Doug Williams has made the most sense here. Social media is a way of growing your community to reach new people.
FWIW I don’t think T Bone Burnett meant don’t use social media; he says “It is always the work, Mr. Lane. The self is irrelevant.” I.e. you get the art right then the rest will follow. Don’t do stunts to get yourself heard, don’t appear on “X-factor” just so that you sell more records, don’t agree to perform bad music just to get a gig. Stay true to the art and you will prosper and thrive.
That’s not to say don’t use the internet, just as previous generations used radio to get themselves heard contemporary artists can use the internet to broadcast the music that they’ve made; they can use it as a medium to reach a new audience, but they need the art to reach the audience and once its out there its up to their community and/or professional promoter to spread the word. I am from the UK and we are lucky to have Whispering Bob Harris on national radio here, who plays lots of interesting American music. Jo Whiley and Mark Radcliffe, also on BBC Radio 2 also play new interesting and independent music. But most of the music that I currently listen to I have found through twitter and the web.
It is worth reading the links that T Bone provided; “Lessons from the music industry” wisely advises that the technological based music merchandisers use the music to sell technology. At least the record companies needed the art to sell to make money. Tech companies don’t care what it is they just want to sell tech. to make money.
Most of the music I buy, I buy direct from the artist or from bandcamp. But most people don’t, most people I know don’t buy music anymore.; they stream youtube or spotify or just play old music.
The Saving Country Music website has a running theme about the increasing monotony of country music; unfortunately this is true for all music. An ongoing study has shown that modern music is increasingly less diverse. The loudness, the range of the vocals, the variations in melody, the variation of instrumentation and the frequent mention of trucks (OK I added that one) are converging. This convergence has increased in the 21st century.
Thanks for your comment.
Community is key. From musicians trying to make a living, to fans looking for like minded folks, To bloggers trying to bridge these worlds.
We need to get together. Technology is good at that.
In the spirit of artists growing community ( and brand) I won’t dictate that artists not do what you call “stunts.” Mna of the artists that performed on the early Opry programs had never worn cover-alls in their lives. he wardrobe was insisted upon to make them look “folky.” Was this a stunt? Yes. And it worked. We have bands like Mumford and the Lumineers continuing that Dust-Bowl aesthetic.
Radio is still the #1 way Americans discover music, and we have some great stations. But channels and time is finite and radio is still led by charts. Music discovery is dispersed and performers need to go where the people are. As real estate says, the value is location, location, location.
I’m wary of the definition of “technological based music.” Pick-ups on guitars are technology. Micing a drum kit is technology. Bjork uses technology predominantly in her work, and it’s great. Music tech, from mics to Autotune, are just tools to be used or abused.
So much of this is a generational conversation that is good to have. Buy first we need to stop sweeping statements that make tecjnology bad.
It brought you this conversation, after all.
it’s not the use of technology in music that I meant; some of my favourite music is made with electric instruments, I use twitter and other web based stuff. What I meant was the tech. based merchandisers who sell music – e.g. iTunes, who use content to sell more hardware. They see the technology as the end and music as the means, whereas those in the music industry see music as the end and technology as the means ( I know its not quite as clear cut as this)
The music industry was reeling from Napster. In response they unleashed their lawyers on fans instead of adapting to new terrain. They relinquished moral ground.
Jobs had hardware to sell. Hardware that needed content to be valuable. He set the new standard and the industry has had to dance to iTunes, and Spotify, Pandora etc. ever since.
Again, this is not new. Many of the early field recordings were made to sell expensive record players in furniture stores.
The difference now is that the studio, the promotion and the player can be the same device. This benefits musicians.
First of all, this is only my opinion. I am just as likely to be wrong as I am right. I simply hope this adds something to your discussion.
Technology is a good thing: promotion is a good thing. Self-promotion of music and musical technology is a good thing. When done correctly, wonderful, inspiring artists can find commercial success and popularity without sacrificing artistic integrity. However, an artist can lose his/her way should he/she become obsessed with self-promotion. Technology, when misused, becomes impersonal and diminishes intelligence and creativity. Combine the two and Mr. Burnett’s worst fears are realized. Not only do artists become salesmen, they become sell-outs. Fame and money replace their love of art. Society loses its sense of self and is spoon fed the latest popular trend in music instead of being rewarded with true individual artists. It is all related. I love social media and have found many quality artists through it. Social media also “dumbs down” a large portion of our society and creates famous people who are not artists. Mr. Burnett is both correct and incorrect. Artists should be artists. It is what they were born to do. Unfortunately, in our modern society, technology almost requires them to be salesmen as well.
Send me an e-mail,
Since texting works,
We type, and smile,
And bang, not yell…
We’ve lost our sense
Of who we are…
How fast, how far???
Keystrokes are made
Fingers do burn…
Poor souls, how much
We have to learn…
Walk and talk
Look eye to eye…
Speak and listen
Laugh and cry…
Or else, impress
In time, grow numb…
A victim who’s
Deaf, mute, and dumb…
Post a blog
And you will see…
Destroyed by fog
The wisest man
For somebody as connected and talented as TBone, he seems a bit out of touch. Of course a true artist shouldn’t have to bother with self promotion, thanks for that insight. Unfortunately this is 2013/14. Most people cannot even get a job, much less get recogintion for thier music. I know many many very talented artist that pine in obscurity. I wonder if Tbone would have been able to succeed starting off his career today. Best, M
Again, thanks for taking the time to read my post and gave at a little back and forth. I can’t help thinking this would make a helluva Ted Talk.
I think we agree on source of bad culture, technology. Where I believe we differ is that technology can be subjugated to serve technology. I am currently reading the excellent bio of Buck Owens (Buck ‘Em” with Randy Poe) The book is largely transcribed from spoken word tapes Buck made in his lifetime in anticipation of such a book. In it Buch states:
“A lot of singers and songwriters are afraid to pay attention to their own business because they’re worried it’ll take away from their being able to write their songs or something. I never understood that. Maybe it’s just never been a problem for me because I was already working all day and day and laying music at night from the time I was a teenager. Having my own publishing company didn’t cause me to write less songs. It made me want to write more songs so I would have ’em to put in the company – and that’s exactly what I did.”
I don’t believe Buck’s music suffered as a result of his enterprise. I thin it helped to feed his talent.
If a contemporary artists’s talent is fed from the same music sales trough they would starve. The current revenue stream is playing live. That means growing a fan base. That means broad reach to make sure that crowds in San Antonio, Texas to Flint, Michigan buy tickets and show up.
Technology is a tool. It can also be abused. But there’s no inherent morality in it without human utility.
You say the “It is always the work, Mr. Lane. The self is irrelevant.” I say the work is the self. And the message around the work is the self.
I am loath to refer to musicians as “artists’ as I believe it puts them on lofty pedestal far from the churches and front porches music evolved from. I, like Buck, prefer a more vocational view of the craft. On that the musician can guide as long as the work is done.
The mutations of technology and celebrity popularity contests should stand in stark contrast to the work of people making great and courageous music, and the shining a light toward it. Craft first, then promotion. That makes great music.
But technology isn’t the only culprit. Business abhors risk and being in the business of culture is inherently risky. Music Row is a perfect example of a Henry Ford wet dream of assembly-line hits made for a narrow radio format.
The Internet changes that. The genie is out of the bottle for anybody wiling to charm her.
I may be wrong. But the future is here and telling young musicians that it should have no bearing on their career direction is alarming.
You are in a unique position of being not only a well-known singer/songwriter but part of a much smaller club. A household name producer!
Very few people in music can simply sit back and pick and choose their next venture. Most musicians careers are constantly uncertain. Self-promotion puts the odds a little more in their favor.
I think both you Mr. Burnett are correct to an extent. Yes, making recordings and doing shows for money is a form of self-promotion, but it’s been that way for years. With the rise of the internet and home recording equipment, everybody can make an album (which is good because we get to hear more great music, but bad because there’s often no quality control these days) and with that many artists have to do the promotion work themselves rather than relying on a label or PR firm. Whatever your thoughts on that are, it’s simply a fact of life these days.
But if I’m being completely honest, I’m more likely to give your music a chance if I hear about it from a fan, a friend, or another artist rather than through an overhyped press release OR a band spamming my Twitter feed with links to their ReverbNation page.
We live in a cynical time. I am speaking about working musicians- the middle class of musicians that has been wiped out by a cult of disruption in Silicon Valley (and, of course, elsewhere).
This is not the first time I have heard or read the thoughts you repeat to me. In fact, for over a decade, I have heard almost no counter argument to the status quo you endorse. In fact, I’ve heard it so much that it has lost all meaning (or at least the meaning the words purported to carry). It has also lost all veracity.
Here is one:
People around the world have been outraged by the revelations of our government spying on us since the Edward Snowden leak, but no one has even begun to come to terms with the reality that all of our corporations- telecoms, retail, search engines, and the rest- have been spying on us constantly for years, mining our data, profiling us, and making great fortunes with that data while sharing none of that fortune with us.
They have stored all of your phone conversations and emails. They know your whereabouts at all times. They know how much money you’ve got, how much pressure you’re under, how much trouble you are in.
The World Wide Web was fielded by amateurs and is a massive fraud.
It has also been a catastrophic failure.
“The” internet has been the largest con in the history of the world.
Steve Jobs said, “Technology changes nothing”.
So you may disagree with me and Steve Jobs, but please be careful with the way you advise young musicians. They need wisdom, not boiler plate from an industry that has been controlling the medium and the message for twenty years, and has driven us all down a blind alley.
No offense, but it is clear that you are simply reporting things you have heard and hope to be true.
You are working essentially for free in a free medium making money for people you will never see and who will never share any of that money with you.
To quote the Dude, “New shit has come to light.” You are missing the new stuff. You are still trying to make the hype of ten years ago work for you.
That hype has been proven to be empty. The entire WWW was based on a lie- is a lie. Just the fact that the W3C allowed ‘anonymous’ comments on the most non-anonymous forum in history is clear evidence of that.
In asking their audiences into the World Wide Web, artists are asking their audiences to submit to a type of surveillance that we are protected by in the Fourth Amendment
You got sucked in. That is no sin. The technology companies, if we can call them that- to call them surveillance companies would be more accurate- have had a non stop publicity campaign going for almost two decades now. They have been controlling the medium and the message.
As far as the World Wide Web being a fact of life- I will not submit.
In the meantime, I’m looking forward to our meeting. Our interests are aligned in our desire to bring more notice to wonderful Twenty First Century musicians like John Fulbright and Shovels and Rope and Linda Ortega. Perhaps together we could come up with some powerful ways to do that.
It’s all about energy.
I’ll leave you a little reading material below.
Better times are coming.
All good wishes
T Bone Burnett
Your quote- “the work is the self”- is grasping at non extent straw. Raw nonsense, and you know it. The self dies, the works moves on. The present is here. Whatever future you mention as being here may have been the future once (in the past) but the future you say is here is actually the past- the past you are living in. I’m sorry, Mr Lane, you do not understand me. Please raise your game. We need you.
“Most musicians careers are constantly uncertain. Self-promotion puts the odds a little more in their favor.” Baron Cole
More nonsense. Pure hyperbole. No foundation to that statement. In fact it is clear the opposite is true. Self promotion is a disease that cuts people off from each others. Here are some of our great self promoters currently:
Self Promotion is obnoxious.
Post Post Script
I am looking for artists to invest in. I am not interested in investing in any who self promote.
Anybody ever see “Coal Miner’s Daughter?” remember Loretta sending radio stations her record and then driving all over the country to get them to play it? Good stuff. Bluegrass singe,r Jimmy Martin, promoted himself up to the end. After he had already worked with Bill Monroe and recorded classics such as Uncle Pen and Georgia Rose, And then recorded an album on RCA with the Osborne brothers, he continued to play and clubs and honky tonk, he continued to drive around to factories passing out little cards advertising is shows. up into his 70’s, he spent is on time money and energy promoting The Bean Blossom Bluegrass Festival, of which he was an ambassador. It is great if you have a big machine behind you, but that is not a luxury all artists have… not even all good ones.
I apologize for the poor sentence construction in the above post… wow it is amazing that I can post to the internet from a tiny smartphone, technology certainly has its frustrating drawbacks
I can tell you from experience that self-promotion is a thin line to walk. Unless you’re an ego-maniac, you will feel ill at ease doing it, and people will see through it. I don’t mean that you shouldn’t self-promote some…..posting your gig on Facebook is self-promotion and everyone does it. But it doesn’t dig into your time too much.
At first, like most people, I thought this “leveling of the playing field” could be a good thing. That was before mp3s came out. The playing field is now leveled in the sense that a building can be leveled by demo experts. 99.9 percent of artists out there are mediocre at best, and everyone is washed away in the flood.
Matters aren’t helped by online companies that give away music (illegally) thus devaluing it. You can’t open a box of crackers these days without something that passes for music pouring out. It’s everywhere and it’s numbed people down to the value of music. Most people don’t know who sings the songs they have on their phones, they just say they like track 34. Well, that’s a great help for self-promotion, right? In the “old” (successful) days, people had to make an effort to hear music. Now they have to make an effort to get away from it.
If we carefully consider what’s been lost, it might give us an idea as to how to fix it. It used to be that when you bought an LP, you couldn’t wait to get back to your car with it, rip the plastic off, look inside to see if there was a poster and other goodies inside, photos of the artist, etc. Now, the great artwork that albums used to have has been reduced to such tiny proportions, it’s worthless. (This is the same trend that killed the comic strips in newspapers, reducing the art to the point where artists couldn’t do anything with it.) You need a microscope to read any credits (more promotion) Also, the idea that you would be the first of your friends to have the new album by so & so….what has been lost is pride of ownership. Right from the start, people ripped off as many songs as they could from mp3.com and elsewhere just so they could say they had 3,000 songs on their ipod. Again, the artist was lost in the shuffle. Mindless accumulation became the whole point instead of fandom. (Another discussion for sometime is the plastic shallow crap that permeates the airwaves most of the time)
I agree with T-Bone that doing self-promotion is not a great thing for an artist, if you are recording and touring, there is some of that, meet & greets, and so on, and I don’t see anything wrong with that. I guess I’d say the real problem is that there is no support system for artists. Labels have become nothing much more than glorified distribution companies. They don’t develop artists like they used to when the whole industry was thriving. I’ve done that for fee with a couple of artists and while it was gratifying in it’s own way, nothing came of it. Artists don’t have much choice but to self-promote, and that’s a shame. They become hucksters. Remember, back in the days of medicine shows, people were a lot less educated and they’d gobble hokum out of sheer boredom. (and the hope that the snake oil had some alcohol in it)
Someone I think everyone should listen to is Moses Avalon. He has a series of books that are brilliant and fun to read. When I first read Confessions Of A Record Producer, I hurled it across the room about halfway through. It stayed behind a chair for 6 months before I finally finished it.
One thing I discussed with him was the problem of the tech giants believing that content should be free so they can sell their machines. The music industry is now just a tiny department of huge corporations that don’t really care. I think one answer would be for the music industry to become the tech giants, make and sell machines. People love technology more than they love music now, and that might heal the breach a bit. And maybe that would lead to some quality control and artists would actually get paid.
One final thought. I may be a bit behind on this, but I don’t think so….in this digital age, how can it be that royalties from every source, aren’t tracked properly?
Don Coyer, Savannah, Ga.
Well, I’m gonna keep promoting myself. I have to eat. The bluegrass “community” does very little to nurture it’s own. The festival band lineups are 85% the same they were in 1997. I don’t have the far left politic that somehow matters in MUSIC and within it’s “community”…never quite figured that one out. Other musicians will say complimentary things about you in private, but in public it’s every man for himself. Soooo….how’s this community thing SUPPOSED to work? Guess I just have a different perspective.
This was by far the best article and commentary from all viewpoints that I have read on this crazy life we chose.
Mark, I deeply appreciate that.
Thanks for you post and well said. Pomoton has been part of the job description (and it is A JOB) for years even for the best.
I got all the respect in the world for T-Bone and the work he’s done in the past, but from where I stand he’s done as much to hurt roots music as he has to help it. It’s easy to chastise “self promoters” when you’re in the higher tax brackets. Listen to any T-Bone Burnett or Buddy Miller production and you’ll see there’s not an “edge” or anything progressive to be found; it’s all perfectly safe and sterile. I like to call it “NPR-ization”. Seems to me he’s a master of what “sells”, or else it’s a helluva coincidence.
“The latter is working toward some version of the former. Only an idiot wants to starve for their art forever. The real crime, when you move from the latter to the former, is to forget the lessons of the hard times and to adopt some detached view of artistic purity.”
You know what keeps an artist from creating art far more than this so-called “self-promotion?” Working a couple of crappy day jobs so that he or she can eat, pay rent, keep the van in working order, and have enough flexibility to slip out for a few days to play some gigs, hopefully to some paying patrons, in a few dive bars in cities within driving distance. And if those shows aren’t promoted (and, really, is there enough money in them for someone to actually get paid to promote them), they are going to end up costing the artist money instead of making him a little money. While the opinion of Mr. Burnett may be philosophically sound, it simply does not reflect the reality of life for most working musicians, and wholesale adoption of this philosophy would be a dagger in the heart of independent music, as the only people who could follow this credo would be those beneficiaries of wealthy patrons.
One aspect that *almost* got touched on is the idea that modern artists have to know more about the business end if they are to dive into the commercial end of the music business in order to get their music produced and distributed so that their art can be enjoyed by everyone. Over the past 6 decades, the commercial music industry generally turned many, if not most, musicians into indentured servants and/or marks. Part of this was from the naivete/greed of the young musician, which allowed one sided contracts to get them into so much debt that they became slaves to the company or they lost control of their music rights. Obviously, artists like T-Bone, neither being naive or greedy, were able to grow their careers organically, which is part and parcel to his main point. And yet, there is also something to be said for the young musician to be knowledgeable *and* proactive when it comes to business. Not everyone has a Paul McGuinness to relieve the burden on the business side – a guy who will protect his artists when it comes to contracts and exploitation.
There is a balance between pure art and commerce that modern artists have to strike. Some are doing a good job of striking that balance by taking marketing “personal” and using tools like Facebook, personal websites that market their music through the use of creative methods like multi-media offerings to fans (T-Bone’s ex, Sam Phillips has been a good example of this), media sharing sites that allow the artist to share things like demos, works in progress, one-offs, etc. There are artists like Neil Finn who do webcasts, which do take some energy and time away from music to run, but which further cements the bond between artist and fan. And, here in Nashville, we’re seeing collectives of the sort that Mr. Burnett implies with his comment about communities popping up with younger musicians.
Yes, Mr. Burnett’s warnings about letting commerce and self-promotion swamp art is well-taken. However, a balance can be struck and young musicians especially shouldn’t lose sight of the promotional possibilities that are out there (be creative about it – it might feed into the art) and they should be more savvy about the nuts and bolts of commercial music, especially when it comes to contracts. You don’t want to leave it exclusively to the managers, lawyers, labels, marketers, and promoters. A little self-awareness goes a long way.
I agree with Mr. Burnett. I am a bluegrass musician, and am not only inept at self-promotion, but I loathe it. At least when it comes to musicians, I think it’s helpful to group us into (at least) two groups. The singer/songwriter who may be gregarious and outgoing, able to and adept at self his own brand on one hand, but on the other, you have a very different type of person; the guy who spent most of his youth in a room with a guitar/banjo/fiddle learning to play. This type (I am one) is not only really bad at self promotion, but would largely rather have teeth pulled than to put himself out there hawking his wares. Both types may be creative artists, but the second group is always going to suffer from a climate neccessitating self promotion.
Jim, Thanks for your comment. i understand that there are musicians that won’t like self-promotion. i would like to get a job without having to go to interviews and wear a tie. But if I want the job I put on the tie.
I think where T bone and I are getting tangled up is on the matter of intention. Does a performer create music for the sake of promotion or do they make the best music they can create and then get it in front of the most people that they can?
I am reminded of a great interview I saw with Elvis Costello. After signing his first contract with his first record label he was told to produce three albums worth of music. The next day he returned to the office with all of the music finished. The record label was shocked and asked, what do you want me to do with this!? Elvis Costello said, I’ve upheld my end of the bargain! Now it’s your job to sell it! Elvis Costello had produced his art form, it was now up to the record label to promote his art. At the fear of going broke, the record label promoted the hell out of Elvis Costello. And at the same time ushered in a completely new genre of music. I’m not sure how accurate the story is, but I like it.
I’m sure this is apocryphal since the second and third albums were recorded later. Armed Forces wasn’t even recorded until Autumn ’78, even though he had been signed to Stiff since ’77. That doesn’t mean that he didn’t show up the next day with a briefcase full of completed demos though, some of them to come out on re-releases of those first three albums. It’s a good story though. As is the true story of him busking in front of CBS in order to force them to release his album and singles in the US.
That is a great story. I encourage every musician with the muscle ( and trust) within a big label to go for it. Of course all that promotion ain’t free and the label takes theirs off the top.
T Bone does a lot for American music. Point out the wrongs people do who are on the bad side, no need to knock one of the good guys for something he said off the cuff in an interview. Let’s focus on all the wrong pop country’s responsible for and leave T Bone alone. No good comes from a post like this – focus on the big picture instead of pinpointing one disagreeable thing a great artist says who supports and makes the same music we love. The only thing this does is drive a riff between folks in a community that should stick together.
“When the flower blooms….the bees come uninvited”
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To me, for any non-mainstream music to be noticed and to eventually flourish, both self-promotion and a supportive artistic community must BOTH be present. Self-promotion at whatever level, using any technology available, is necessary to get gigs and pay (some ) of the rent. This has always been true. AND being in an artistic community with something of lasting value to say to the human condition is the main job of the artist IMO. Anyone who plays out and gets paid is in the Music Business, deciding what level you are comfortable at is your individual decision. I’ve loved and played out on non-mainstream music for many 100s of gigs over the years. I do it because I love it AND because I derive some of my living from it. Art and Commerce are parallel streets but they occasionally intersect, witness the Beatles.
then there’s the problem of letting a record company promote people who have no talent. This has destroyed country music. I’ve got news for you, Kenny Chesney can’t sing!!! He’s terrible in fact. Trusting a label to promote someone narrows the field and limits the casual music lover to the taste of board room. And there’s is no good rock and roll anymore either, at least not on the radio. It’s a fine line between mass promotion of bad music and educating the public to what quality singing and song writing is about. I say go to your local venues, give them your money if the music is good and promote from your neighborhood. Don’t support the big record labels. They are selling, for the most part, really terrible music.
This is a fascinating conversation. Congratulations Baron.
For me, two things have gotten tangled up here that I see as drastically different.
If you consider Bruce Springsteen or John Lennon doing an interview with Rolling Stone as self-promotion that is inappropriate, then I suppose when I do an interview with an Internet blog that is wrong too. Make no mistake — Bruce, John, and I are all promoting ourselves, if in the context of a new piece of work. It is hard for me to see how this is wrong, or bad, or demeaning or hurtful to the prospects of music. On this matter, I just can’t seem to understand where T Bone is coming from.
On the lies of the Internet music revolution and the folly of putting up music for, essentially, free, we are in total agreement. This is top of mind for me because of where my career is and what comes next. I’m a very small fish who has gotten to the point where my records make money and are general well-reviewed. It’s a small time business for sure. For the new project, I am SERIOUSLY considering pressing vinyl only and selling it ONLY through my website. That will be the only way you can buy it. This is quite scary to me, but I wonder if all these years of Spotify streams for a 1000th of a nickle have made fans of people so that they might seriously support my work. T Bone’s call to step away from the free music supply business feels like the right message at the right time.
Lastly, i suspect there is something else lurking in T Bone’s comments about self-promotion. Based on what I’ve seen him say in other interviews I think he believes that one of the best things that could happen to modern music is for a very large percentage of musicians to stop recording music. There’s way too much content out there. So much, that the public can’t make sense of it, and has stopped caring. He may well be right about this. In a world where labels did the tastemaking, and the means of production were very expensive there was a much tighter supply. I can remember as a kid when I could count on one hand the records that were to be released on a particular Tuesday. Now there is an avalanche of content drowning us all.
If all the people who had to promote themselves would just stop making music, the noise would diminish and it would be easier to exault a few as true artistes who can some day play the Superbowl. Maybe this is also one of the lies of the Internet, “there’s room for all to be successful.”
Thanks Grant. You’re one of performers I respect and your views here are very valuable
I see three things getting tangled.
There the self-promotion that every artists in the history of music has had to undertake in some capacity if they wanted to make music their primary source os income. Be it posters, radio performances or a web site – this tactic is technology agnostic, but the right technology does better ensure a successful campaign.
The woes of the music business. thesis separate from the original theme and better qualified folks have weighed in on both sides of the issue. I’d be glade to discuss my views on this topic in a separate thread.
General paranoia around state and corporate use (abuse) of technology. Again, I have strong views on this, but that not the point of this post.
Again, I’d like to steer the discussion back to the “if a tree falls in the forest will anyone show up at the gig?” point I was originally making.
most stimulating read in quite some time regarding many issues we face.
thank you to all who contributed. lots to think about and process.
i found out in 2012 that professional PR as well
as engaging music fans on social media has an extremely positive result.
another artist told me back around 2002 that
i should stop conversing with fans on Bob Harris BBC forum. he said it wasn’t very ‘rock star’
he was wrong.
my whole point of making music and sending
it out into the world was to connect. so why would
you then disconnect after attempting to connect!
we are living in exciting times… i have high hopes
for what is around the corner.
as for over-saturated with too much music? that’s
an extremely sad comment. i wish EVERYONE could experience making music.
there’s room for everyone. but if you wanna be heard… you better have something to say. pretty voices are a dime a dozen. you better send something strong out there… so strong it cannot be ignored.
I can’t help but think about what LEVON would say.. and that makes me smile!
Peace, Soul & Appalachian Rock N Roll,
From the actual.
Mr Cole, your ideas are severely out of date. Why are you promoting a clunky, outdated Twentieth Century technology like the World Wide Web? You are whistling past the graveyard. (Your whole argument is a straw man fallacy to begin with.) If you actually do care about music- as I believe you do- you should probably rethink all this. The Arts have been sacrificed on the altar of technological advancement.
“When the flower blooms….the bees come uninvited” Ramakrishna
Thank you, Mr Carney. (Finally someone talking some common sense.)
“Technology changes nothing.” Steve Jobs
Peace on Earth
Good will toward men
In case I haven’t sent this one yet, Alina Simone makes an important point- not everyone wants to be an entrepreneur.
Peace and Love
With all due respect, neither Baron Lane nor T Bone Burnett have any business “advising” musicians on how they should manage their affairs. Artists, like everyone else, should do as they please. If they despise self-promotion and they avoid it even to their economic detriment, they should be applauded. If they enjoy self-promotion and excel at it, they should be applauded. I don’t give a fiddler’s fart if somebody out there thinks I’m a sellout because I sent my record to the local college radio station. I got a kick out of hearing it on there. I don’t give a fiddler’s fart if somebody out there thinks I’m a starry-eyed dope because I won’t play 200 crummy gigs every year in order to “move product”. I reserve the right as a free American to allocate my precious time as I see fit, to be as involved or detached from commerce as I please. Nobody has the right to tell me that I’m doing it the wrong way. If I’m happy at the end of the day, then I’m doing it right. I don’t see any other reasonable way to go.
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This is an incredibly lively and very important discussion, and it is a reality I live in every day. I straddle the line on this topic and while I know that it is absolutely necessary to self-promote in this current world, I believe it can also be highly destructive to an artist’s mentality.
I’m a singer, though not a ‘creating artist’ and because of this I have straddled myself with the promotion of the band I am in, solely to shelter the songwriter from it. He is an artist, a creator, and he is a great one. He is not, however, a natural entrepreneur or a self-promoter. I’ve watched him attempt to navigate the world of social media and self promotion and I have seen what destruction it does to his artistic spirit. I feel for him and have attempted to remove him from the promotional tasks of his music because the toxicity of the promotional industry damages his creativity.
It’s hard enough on my own psyche to self-promote, and I’m just a part of the music. I can only imagine how painful it is to self-promote when one is the sole creator of the music. T. Bone hit the nail on the head when he said that “not every artist wants to be an entrepreneur’. The self-promoting artist fares the best in this current environment, because many artists can and do have the ability to handle both streams at the same time. But not all artists can handle this, and that is just fine. One’s ability to self-promote should never impede their ability to make amazing music and have it heard.
In summation: I totally agree with T-Bone that self-promotion can be very destructive to the artistic spirit and I look forward to the day when I can hand off the promotion for my band to a professional promoter on a full-time basis. It will allow me so much more time to pull from my creative well, which has been all but tapped dry in the last year as I fell heavily into promotion and social media for a band. It’s clear to me though, that without self-promotion in this day and age, the chances of ever getting to a point where a professional promoter can take over are very very slim. It’s a double edged sword I live every day.
I’m a little late to the party, but this is some of the best discourse I’ve come across in a long while. Thoughtful, considered and for a rant on self-promotion, refreshingly devoid it. I’ll lurk around for a while before seeing if I’ve anything to contribute. Thanks for the morning starter Mr. Lane.
Joe, thanks for stopping by and having a read. And by all means contribute where you see fit.
This is an amazing and incredibly important conversation. It has also been conducted with civility which is rare – in fact I can’t remember the last time I saw an online conversation that didn’t devolve into childish personal attacks.
I agree that we are currently awash in a sea of mediocre recordings and that it’s difficult for the average casual fan to discern quality from crap. But to sum up your philosophy with the pithy quote “When the flower blooms….the bees come uninvited” is to me the essence of elitism. This presumes that the truly talented artists would naturally bubble to the surface and go on to long happy careers if it weren’t for the din of amateurs and hacks trying to claw their way into the club. First off, how do you account for the great artists who toiled in obscurity and were discovered late in their lives or after their deaths? And there must certainly be unknown artists from every genre and era who never made the right connections, never caught a lucky break, and plied their trade in anonymity. There are great artists who clawed their way in and talentless hacks who were handed careers on a silver platter because they had money, connections, a great rack, etc. My point is – I hate to see anyone imply that if you are truly deserving then you will be anointed and everyone else should keep their heads down and forget about making their own luck.
The other thing that I think we waste way to much time on is the Artiste vs. Wannabe conversation. When I sit down and write a song that I’m proud of and gets sincere appreciation when I play it live I feel a tiny bit like an artist, for lack of a better word. When I stand in the corner of a bar and bang out the covers for $100 and a few beers I know damn well that in that context I’m a technician, maybe a craftsman, but I wouldn’t call it art. But it’s a hell of a lot of fun most of the time and if I wasn’t doing it I’d come home from the bar $200 in the hole instead of up $100. So there are millions of people out there in the same boat – artists yes, but their flower aint going to bloom overnight so they play gigs, release songs independently, self-promote and enjoy the ride. I’d rather look for better ways to sort through the noise than to curse the fact that anybody with a decent mic and a laptop can make a tolerable recording.