Wednesday, June 25, 2014

"Shameless Self-Promotion: When is it too Much?" or "Remember the Good Old Days of MySpace?"

Hey all,

Getting down to the end of the final edit of Descent and I'll also be posting the new blogging schedule soon.

Also, if you haven't yet, check out my interview with Gothic Divine Magazine. 

I'll be getting back to my Night Terrors and Bygone Eras series, but I did want to address something that I have noticed a great deal of over the years of doing what it is that I do. I may even cover more in a future vlog.

I wanted to write about something that has been burning at my brain ever since I got set up on MySpace a few years ago (back when it was the thing to be on...yes, remember MySpace, everyone?). I'm sure everyone who has been on the social networking scene has been introduced at some point to the notorious 'friend collector.' The friend collector comes in many shapes and sizes. Some are your everyday average joes who like to play the popularity game for reasons only they know. They don't really do anything extraordinary that needs to be promoted, they just like to rack up their friend count as much as they possibly can. It's as though they attain some sort of self validation if they can get their friend count of complete strangers over a certain amount (in this, I can kind of understand Facebook's annoying friend limit policy). They get a certain "OMG! They added me! They really like me! Look at how many friends I have!" type of high.  They can then go about their day reassured of their cyber/virtual popularity. They don't even necessarily plan to interact much (if at all) with those newfound "friends," but their self esteem has been raised a few notches and thus they can get through their day (who needs coffee, right?).

Then there is the aspiring musician/band, filmmaker, etc trying to promote their work. Now before people start to get all worked up (I can hear you all say, "but aren't you supposed to promote yourself and your work"), I will say that yes self promotion is an essential tool of being in the entertainment field. In fact, SHAMELESS self promotion is an absolute necessity. If you don't promote yourself, no one else will. But, there is a certain finesse required to going about it. There are certain rules and boundaries that MUST be respected, otherwise your entire campaign will likely fall apart and you'll end up doing yourself more harm than good. 

I know when I had my MySpace page (pre-Facebook era), I would CONSTANTLY get bombarded with friends requests from other bands. Some would even include messages saying, "You like Depeche Mode!  You HAVE to add us!" (uh, no...I don't have to do anything). I would get messages and comments that included links to listen to and sometimes buy their music if they had a release (which most of them did not) and telling me how I MUST come out to a show, etc and so on. Meanwhile, I was also putting out my own music and filmwork.
Now, don't get me wrong. Anyone who visits my blog should be able to tell that I have zero problem with supporting other bands, aspiring filmmakers, authors, etc. In fact, I'll gladly allow others to promote their projects on my pages (within reason). It's a big part of why I blog and have my YouTube channel in the first place. But what annoys the hell out of me (and many others both in and out of the industry I've talked to about the subject) is the self-entitlement and lack of boundaries often displayed. Like the hapless non-artist friend collector, they get a certain sense of fulfillment in the fact that they have a new "fan."  They have been validated once more that their "fanbase" has grown.  They don't plan to network or interact with you at all except to flood your inbox and comments section with the same promotion spam over and over again.  It was due to this that I quit accepting friend requests from bands for a while during my time on MySpace.  While I felt bad about doing that as a musician myself, it was getting to be too much sorting through the spam to get to the messages from radio stations, reviewers, filmmakers, and other legitimate messages that I actually NEEDED to read and reply to. In fact, there were a couple times when an important message that was sent to me ended up getting lost in the shuffle of spam and I would have the sender messaging me again wondering why they hadn't heard from me. Not good. All because said band/s just had to send out the same message about their gig at a  bar about 10 times or more in one hour (no, I am not exaggerating). 

Ok, I get it; you want people to come to your show. I can totally understand and empathize with that. But really, 10+ times in one hour? All you did was turn me off to even wanting to check out your work while also leaving me irritated over wasting precious time shuffling through your spam to get to the messages I actually NEED to read. What is more, I am certain that if you did it me you've done this to others. Thus, many probably ended up doing exactly what I ended up doing (even though I felt a little bad about it): blocking bands and musicians from sending friends requests for a long while. So there, you may have not only cost yourself some new fans, but also gave myself and other bands/musicians/filmmakers/writers/etc who do our best to NOT spam a bad name, therefore costing us those who may have otherwise been into our music.

Another thing I found irritating was that when I would get these messages practically demanding that I 'check them out' and 'become a fan' was the fact that there was no mention or questioning of my own work. No mutual discussion of cross-promotion or anything. Demanding that I pay attention to them while they demonstrate no interest in interacting with me or developing some from of relationship can really make a person feel used. Like we're simply there as a pawn in a sophomoric popularity game. This may not be your intention, but that is how it comes across.

So how does one do the whole shameless self promotion thing without annoying the hell out of others and turning them off as a result?  Well, like I said there is a certain 'finesse' to it and while no one is perfect, abiding by these principles will save you from being an nuisance to others (and I'm sure you don't want to be viewed as a nuisance).

Here are some key principles I've found worked for me and other friends of mine in the entertainment field:

I know, I can hear it now, "but my music/film/writing style appeals to everyone!"
No it doesn't.
No one's style appeals to "everyone." There is always going to be someone who doesn't like or get what you do. The nice thing about many media promotion sites is that many offer statistics so that you may see who is into what you do from general age range to the area in which they live.
Also, I'm sure you have influences. Take a look at those artists who have influenced you and the habits of those who enjoy their work. When you then get a general idea, instead of blindly sending out friends requests, how about taking the time and effort to start getting to know them more personally. A metal band would get alot further interacting with, say, King Diamond or Dream Theater fans as opposed to sending blind requests to someone who would typically listen to Lady Gaga or Taylor Swift, and vice versa. And if you tried going into a Clive Barker forum trying to push your Regency Romance novel, you might get more than a few raised eyebrows (I know these examples sound far fetched, but you'd be surprised at some of the faux pas committed simply out of someone not paying attention).
I would suggest joining a fan forum for that respected artist, and instead of just instantly barging in with announcements about your project, make an effort to make friends in there. Get to know everyone, start conversations, join conversations, etc while mentioning very little (if anything) about what you do. Once the other members have accepted you as a legitimate member of the forum, THEN maybe find ways to subtly begin to work your band into the conversations (and the key word is SUBTLE).  Eventually, people would have already accepted you as a member of the forum and will actually WANT to check out what it is you do. See how that works?
Yes, it will take more time, but in the long run will pay (and is a much better approach than just blindly barging in and screaming out advertisements about yourself). Now, will you be surprised at times? Absolutely. On Jango Airplay, I've had my music popular with Lady Gaga and Rihanna fans even though my genre is different from theirs. I also one time had a young girl who was a huge Justin Bieber fan join my Artist Page on Facebook. So yes, sometimes you will be surprised at who finds you and enjoys what you do, but that also doesn't mean blindly send out mass requests to anyone with a social networking profile. One very important thing to remember: Building listener/viewer/readership takes time. Time and alot of patience.

A couple years ago, I read an interview with filmmakers JimmyO and April Burril, creators of the popular "Chainsaw Sally" film and webseries (check them out if you enjoy B movies and gore). While the entire interview was a good one, what still stands out for me to this day was JimmyO mentioning how he and April make it a point for their fans to be their friends. Ever since, that is a principle I do make it a point to practice.
For some reason, fans within the indie field crave a real connection with their favorite band, actor, filmmaker, author, etc. Perhaps it is because indie artists seem more attainable than the Hollywood superstar. Whatever the reason may be, indie fans almost expect their favorite indie celeb to make themselves available and interact with them. Despite that though, there are those in the field who still keep their fans at an arm's length.  I suppose such an action is fine if you're George Clooney, but I think one reason indie fans are drawn to the independent world is because it IS a chance for them to feel as though they matter to the artist. They're not just a number like they would be amongst a Hollywood celebrity. But some independent artists (usually those brand new to the scene) still try and maintain a 'rockstar mystique.' Well...that won't get you very far. No one is going to believe that you're Ron Howard or Brad Pitt, so stop acting as though you are. Take the time to talk to your followers online and answer their emails, comments, etc. As the numbers of your followers increase, will you be able to answer everyone right away? Of course not. That would be unrealistic. But setting aside a block of time each week to interact will go a long way in the end.
As long as you make that effort, people will notice and appreciate it, even if you cannot answer them within 24 hours. People will generally be more willing to support someone who treats them like a human being.
"But that's alot of work," I hear you say. My reply is ummm...yeah... Be prepared to do ALOT of work. Be prepared for the longhaul.  If you don't want to do the work, you're probably in this for the wrong reasons.

Remember the band that sent out 10+ spammails of the same message in one hour?  Well, in case you can't tell yet, that is an example of what NOT to do. Building an entertainment career is alot of trial and error and eventually, you do start getting into a groove for what works and what doesn't. A great way to do this is looking from the perspective of a consumer. How do you like spams cramming your inbox and social media homepage? Do you really want to hear about a gig 20 times or more a day (especially when you live nowhere near the area of said gig)? Do you like being ordered to "add someone" because "you just HAVE to"?  Do you like screaming spam flooding your favorite fan forum? Me neither.
Instead, learn about press releases whenever you have a new release, etc. Post links to those press releases on your site and/or blog and send out no more than THREE bulletins in an entire day on social media (although ONE usually suffices beautifully). Send out a monthly mailing list (made up of people who actually ADDED THEMSELVES) and post links on your site and social networks as opposed to sending out 10 of the same spammail in one hour. Sometimes less is more. Remember the "do unto others" saying? That should also apply in artist to fan relationships.

Bottom line is, no one likes a spammer. No one likes to be ordered around. No one likes to be told that they "HAVE to add someone." Even the most shameless self-promotion requires a certain amount of finesse and building listener/viewer/readership takes time and patience. No one is going to flock to someone who appears desperate and a nuisance. They will, however, be more likely to someone who is willing to treat them like a human being and with appreciation instead of just another number on their social network. Besides, which would you prefer? 5,000 people who could care less about what you do and probably only added you out of pity or because they got sick of you hounding them and wanted to shut you up, or a few hundred honest to goodness followers who care about what you, enjoy it, and are willing to share what you do with those they know?
Personally, I go for the latter and an honest assessment of how my work is received. And as for those pay for views/reviews/hits/followers/etc? Well, that is a whole 'nother rant...

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My stories, "The Cemetery by the Lake" and "Dusk to Dawn" are available at Smashwords and Barnes & Noble NOOK. More retailers will follow, but Smashwords is pretty compatible with most e-reader and PC formats.
and Amazon
"The Cemetery by the Lake" at Smashwords and Barnes & Noble NOOK
"Dusk to Dawn" at Smashwords
Tiffany on Goodreads
My music is also available at CDBaby
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