Creation vs. promotion. Which matters more?
I read The Lefsetz Letter a lot. It’s written by a guy named Bob Lefsetz who has been in the music business for decades and is seen as a straight shooter who knows of what he speaks. One of his main themes is that in today’s world the musical artist’s only hope of standing out is to create something so good that people have to hear it and again, that they want to shout from the rooftops about how great it is, that they want to say to the world, “shut up for a second and listen to this.” As for promotion? Don’t bother. You’re far better off relentlessly creating new songs than constantly Tweeting or Facebooking. I suppose he’s right, which means that, so far, the number one reason I am still laboring away in total obscurity is that I simply have not written a song good enough to catch fire — or even glow and flicker a bit — and I just need to get back into the studio and get to work.
Maybe so, maybe I do need to just keep putting out song after song. But if a tree falls in the forest... I dunno, I think that promotion must count for something. Plus, I work in advertising, goddamnit, I should be able to do promotion well, right? Even with my far-from-bodacious budget.
But what is promotion these days? The old model was all about being selected by a mainstream tastemaker, probably via a hardworking publicist. I mean, if you got onto the cover of Rolling Stone or on stage with Letterman or simply mentioned somewhere in Oprah’s vast mediopolis you were going to have, at the very least a good couple of weeks, maybe even a month. Those days are gone. Now, being in mainstream media does not seem to count for much of anything (not that I would say no to Letterman, mind you!). But here’s a little secret: then and now the number one publicity tool is not a tool at all, it’s just word of mouth. Give people something they want to tell their friends about and they will.
So creation wins. Always has, always will. But if you’ve got something you think is good — and I confess, I do think I have good songs — you’ve got to get a few people talking, got to. And one way to do that is to just put stuff out there and hope. But another way, a better way, I think, is to go a step further and take an active role in promoting your stuff. Don’t try to ram it down people’s ears, but, you know, make your friends aware and make whatever fans you have aware, too, and then hope: hope that you’ve created something good enough for them to tell a few folks, hope that those folks will tell a few folks and so on and so forth. And if, after awhile, the silence is deafening, then put out something new and start the process over again. Harsh, but aren’t artists supposed to suffer?