“Signing brand new artists is simultaneously the most rewarding and the most expensive thing to do,” Dan Michaels says. Currently the Senior Vice President for Marketing and Promotions at Fair Trade (formerly INO), Dan knows a thing or two about making musicians successful. A 25-year veteran of the Christian music industry who has helped oversee and develop a diverse roster of artists over the years, Dan has also served as A&R and Marketing Director at Benson Records/Provident Label Group, in addition to managing and consulting artists, Internet companies and recording studios. With Fair Trade, he oversees radio promotions, digital and new media, marketing, sales and publicity for artists such as MercyMe, Laura Story, The Afters, Phil Wickham, Skillet, PC&D and Disciple among others.
For independent artists, there’s more pressure to be better well rounded in the industry today. You may be clueless about the world of marketing, but you’ll be surprised to learn that it starts with focusing on the basics. Below are the three most important things you should be doing (and CAN be doing) to successfully market yourself and your music.
1. Know who you are as an artist or band.
“We’ve always wanted to work with artists that know who they are and know where they want to go,” Dan says. “That’s always been a mantra of ours [at Fair Trade]: Does this artist know who they are, and do they know where they want to go? We desire to work with artists that have set some sort of tone for themselves that we can come in and enhance with our abilities.”
Plain and simple – if you’re taking the right steps as an artist, people in the business will want to come alongside you and help you take the right steps on the business side. Capture attention by being creatively invaluable.
2. Play by your own rules.
“There is no template,” Dan reflects. “An artist’s success is relative to what they’re trying to achieve. Some artists that cannot sell a lot of albums are very popular touring, and they’re in demand. Others don’t tour very much, but they do sell a lot of records.”
Of course, there are go-to strategies most labels follow that you should be familiar with. “Radio, sales and distribution, and touring – those are the three things that generate the most opportunity for success with an artist’s brand,” Dan comments. “We’re limited to the media that’s available and interested in this format [Christian music]. We still have to focus what we do around touring, sales and distribution, radio, and then fill in the cracks around that with social media opportunities, visuals and content.”
3. Surround yourself with a team.
“Try to get people on your team that are passionate for you, understand your vision and want to help you out,” Dan suggests. “You can’t do everything yourself.”
Aren’t a genius at marketing strategy? Enlist the help of some friends who have a marketing background, graphic design skills, or are really great at photography. These individuals can come a dime a dozen. And never forget the power of networking. “I think the best thing an artist can do is network with other artists,” Dan says. “So many artists that have come to us have been on the recommendation of artists that are already on our label.” (Fair Trade’s very own Phil Wickham and The Afters were both notable recommendations from fellow artists).
The bottom line – as an independent artist, focus on the basics. Start with creating really meaningful and noticeable songs. Promote yourself in ways that make sense for your music and your budgets alike. “Do what you’re supposed to be doing,” Dan suggests. “Play shows as often and strategically as possible in the local market and in the region. Record an independent record. Create a website, Facebook, Twitter, and engage people that are interested in listening on a consistent basis. Have conversations with them. Take those steps an artist should take. If the music’s really good, it’s bound to be noticed.”