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How to Promote Your Career as an Independent Artist

Jon Vanhala is the SVP Digital & Business Development at Island Def Jam Music Group and former Vice President of New Media & Strategic Marketing for Verve Music Group.

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Jon Vanhala discusses promotion techniques for reaching a wider audience as an independant artist. Jon talks about the various ways of using sites online to promote an artist's music and gain exposure. Jon explains the importance of developing a fanbase outside of the digital realm and creating a demand for your music. He discusses the importance of using CD Baby, MySpace, blogs, podcasting, and video podcasting to promote your music.

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[Jon Vanhala: How to Promote Your Career as an Independent Artist]

Vanhala: There’s a couple of great websites that almost every independent artist by now probably knows about and if they don’t, I hope I’m helping them by saying it. And one is The Orchard. I mentioned it earlier. A great distributor of digital music. And there’s others. There’s another company called it’s like AWaL: Artists Without a Label. I believe its It essentially provides those kind of, uh, digital distribution functions. If you wanna sell your music, uh, through digital means, which is really beneficial to a young artist—you don’t have to press inventory, you don’t have to take that risk, you may still wanna make a hundred up to send to people to write about. Of course CDBaby is another great choice, and the guy who runs that, his name slips me at the moment, but he’s a great guy. I think he’s very artist friendly and he has, uh, he does things that, that are from a really good place, and it’s a really good business for him, but it’s also really good service and business for independent artists. So I think in terms of going commerce, those are a couple quick hit choices that they could go after.
Myspace is really important. It’s garnered a lot of press, you know, since Rupert Murdoch’s company bought it. But it still is one of the big, big, uh, communities out there. A big part of that community is music, so Myspace is a great tool. You can create your own page, upload your own content, and market yourself within the community very easily by just spending a little time every night. Uh, most record labels are actually doing that as well, for their own artists. We do it for almost all of our artists. Yeah, and it’s a really valuable tool, but if you’re if, you know, if it’s Jon Vanhala singer/ songwriter from Muscatine, Iowa, I could do that myself, too, for myself, and you know, have a presence online, have a presence at Myspace, have your website. It doesn’t have to be expensive or extravagant, but it should represent you, it should have some music, and it should have some ways to get a hold of you if you want a gig, and just talk about it every time you gig. It’s easier said than done, but play live as much as you can. Find jobs, create jobs for yourself. Play wherever you can, and develop an audience, you know. And online there are… there are more and more self-publishing tools, like blogs, pod casting. Now that Apple’s gone video, and others will follow, video pod casting. Shoot your band live. Get a friend to bring a, you know, a nice vidcam down. Hopefully, the better the quality, the better. But, there’s all these self-publishing opportunities, and I just recommended people try to take advantage of whatever they can.
I heard one… I was doing a panel for a thing down in D.C., and someone got up in the audience and had a suggestion to answer another person in the audience’s question, and this was the best advice, way better than any of the panelists all day. And this person got up and said, “When I call to get myself work, I pretend like I’m my agent, so they think I’m more important than I really am.” And I just thought that was cool, so representation of yourself, depending on where you’re talking to… This made a lot of sense. This was talking about live performance, right? You call a club booker. Some of them are gonna be more impressed by the fact that you have an agent ready to go rather than, “Hey. It’s Jon Vanhala. Can you book me?” They’re also feeling a little defensive.
Anyway… online presents a ton of opportunities. I do think it’s still important to get people to see ‘em. If you could put a site up and it’s the old adage, “If you build it, will they come?” you know, you gotta get people to come. You gotta develop your audience both online and off.
We really don’t use instant messaging too much. We’re looking into some things. We’re really, we’re very adamant about not spamming or doing anything to people that they haven’t asked us to be involved with. Beyond, you know, it’s just not cool and it backfires. It’s not good marketing because people are just gonna shut you out and not let, not give you a second chance. So it’s again, you wanna be selfish; you have to be cool, right? So, we do and, do collect cell numbers from those that are willing to give them to us and then people can opt in to receive, you know, news alerts and maybe new release information and things like that. We’re developing, we’re about to launch it, actually. It’s a cool feature of our website that will incorporate mobile, e-mail and/or cell, depending on how you opted in. And it’s essentially alerts based on new things that happen in our website database. So let’s say you sign up--I like new releases that are straight ahead jazz. New releases and reissues. Then, even if I’m asleep and, uh, we put in a new release like that during the day, at night, my website’s gonna send you an e-mail because you asked it to. We’ll be able to send those alerts out to your phone as well. You know, we’ll see. I think people are becoming more and more immune to e-mail. I am. I think everybody in this room probably gets way too many e-mail blasts a day.
But, I mean, so we collect as many names… it’s important to us, and we want core fans to sign up for our info. At the same time we have to be really aware of what we’re sending them so it’s the right thing. If I’m a fan of John Coltrane, I probably don’t want to be sent something about a smooth jazz artist. I may or may not, but at least if they’ve told us that, we can kind of better customize it. I think that’s important.

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