I promise I’m not trying to bombard you with posts, but watching both of the Fyre Festival documentaries this weekend reminded me of something a college professor used to say and I had to share. I’ll get to the documentaries in a moment.
It was in a musicianship class in college, if I remember correctly. We had turned in our homework (a hand written musical exercise of some kind) and the teacher was going through them in front of the class. When he got to mine he said, “Wow, look at this one everyone.” He held it out to show everyone.
“Just beautiful,” he said. “Impeccable presentation. You’d never know from a quick glance that he has absolutely no idea what he’s doing.” My momentary surge of confidence quickly dissolved into embarrassment. “Presentation is everything.”
Of course presentation is not “everything” but it got me thinking how important presentation, marketing, image and reputation were to any business but especially to a composer who is essentially marketing themselves. I had subconsciously been wary of this from a young age having made elaborate printed covers and artwork for book reports when nobody else was. Part of this was having an art background but part of this was subconsciously knowing that the best presentation would stand out, regardless of the content inside the cover.
Cut to 2016 when the organizers of the ill fated Fyre festival used a slick marketing video, website and some celebrity endorsements to sell out a tropical paradise music festival that in actuality had no chance of ever delivering on it’s promises. While this is an example of the dark side of presentation, the side that misled people for months and defrauded them of millions of dollars, it is nonetheless worth studying its effects. I highly recommend watching one or both of the documentaries on Netflix and Hulu.
You’re probably wondering what my point is and why the examples of presentation being used to present less than worthy content. Well, if good presentation and marketing can sell something like the flaming dumpster fire that was the Fyre festival, imagine what it can you for someone that actually has the goods. I’m talking about YOU and your awesome music. Conversely, as powerful as good presentation and marketing can be to sell things, bad presentation can be equally effective in distracting from genuinely good content.
So here are a few practical ways to improve your presentation. Most of you are already pros at this but for every slick website I see I also see handwritten CD covers, poorly written emails and confusing content. Happens all the time. These tips are not in order of importance and just general suggestions.
1. Website. Not as important as it used to be but it’s the one place on the internet that you have full control of the presentation so why not make it slick, clean and concise.
2. Headshot. Invest in a good, professional headshot as well as other promotional photos that will show people who you are in one glance because sometimes that’s all we get. If you can’t afford a professional photographer you can rent a high end camera and portrait lens for the day fairly cheap. Cell phone photos are getting better but you deserve to be captured by the same quality equipment worthy of your idols, don’t you?
3. Correspondence. Do a little market research and find a way to make sure your emails (and letters) are coming across with the professionalism that you would expect from a major corporation. Spelling, grammar, font, signature and message are all extremely important. Invest in a stamp or address labels to avoid hand written envelopes for the rare occasions you send physical mail.
This also applies to business cards, CDs, cassettes and 8 tracks. Whatever you are sending out there is representing you and should look as professional as possible. It’s easier than ever to get help with this kind of stuff with templates and websites selling pre-designed material.
4. Social media. More than ever social media is your calling card. Make sure the presentation and content is consistent with the professional image you are selling. Study the presentation and habits of others that you admire. See what they do and more importantly don’t do. Then find your own voice.
Good social media presentation includes graphics and content but also encompasses online etiquette. That’s a whole subject unto itself but worth paying attention to because many of us will never meet in person but will make a lasting impression online with many.
Side note: If you are writing long posts, comments or messages on social media, try separating ideas into paragraphs by holding down the shift key and hitting enter or return. This will give you a line break without posting the comment and make it easier for people with short attention spans like me to read.
5. Branding. This can mean everything from getting a professional logo to unifying your message across all your platforms. If you are using your name as your business (which I prefer as a composer since you are selling “you” more than anything), then have an email that isn’t something like “firstname.lastname@example.org”. I’d also recommend having user names on social media that are as close to just your name as possible. When in doubt, picture yourself as a mega corporation and imagine getting an email from them.
6. Video. Video is an extremely effective way to present yourself but do your best to present the best quality footage possible. No shaky or dimly lit cell phone footage if it can be avoided and it certainly can. Hire a professional camera person to film your next session. Buy a decent lamp for filming podcasts or other self produced footage.
YouTube and Instagram videos are some of the most consumed content out there and the better the footage looks, the better your message will be received. Film more that you think you’ll need and sort through it later. Just look at that Quincy documentary and imagine it without all the footage he had of every stage in his life. You’re going to need it when they make a movie about your life.
Personally, I’m of the opinion that if your content (whether it be video or photos) doesn’t present you in a highly professional light, then don’t use it. I’m not saying “don’t post bad photos of yourself” because that’s obvious. I’m saying “don’t allow photos or video of yourself to be used that aren’t of the same quality you would expect from a professional or a celebrity”. There is a difference.
7. The extra mile. Find ways to present yourself that haven’t been done before. This is the most important step but also the most mysterious. Whatever you do, aim to stand out from the crowd in a positive way. It’s good to be different but don’t go so far down that road that you alienate people. Unless that’s your goal.
That was a bit of a long one so if you’re still with me, thanks for reading and I hope this is of some use to you. I will crawl back in my cave now and see you on the other side.