It shows up in many forms for musicians — the I HATE TO SELF-PROMOTE syndrome. I had 4 conversations this past week with musicians who were struggling with versions of this issue and wanted help. It’s a real problem, because it’s a symptom of a mindset that creates barriers between you and your audience. And between you and your potential supporters and collaborators.
What’s even worse, musicians who hate to self-promote typically avoid doing it, and this of course limits their career growth—effectively cutting it off at the knees.
But self-promotion feels icky
I get it. We were all taught that it’s rude to brag. And nobody wants to come across like a cheesy used car salesman.
We hate being bombarded with advertising messages day in and day out. We worry that our self-promotion will come across as arrogant and obnoxious. And we’ve all seen lots of bad examples of musicians’ promo that’s over the top.
Nevertheless, the music industry is crowded, so in order to get on people’s radar screens musicians need to self-promote.
The good news is there IS help for musicians who hate to self-promote. You CAN self-promote without being pushy or awkward. And without coming across as defensive, resentful, aggressive—or apologetic and self-defeating. (I’ve seen all of these and more.)
So what’s the answer? Change your mindset
Here’s Veronika Palovska’s perspective from her excellent newsletter piece on self-promotion: she titles this segment . . .
“The life-changing magic of changing your focus
We’re afraid of self-promo because we don’t want others to think that we’re bad people. We want everyone to like us.
And that’s normal.
Now, let’s think about egoists: people who brag, boast, and thump their chests. Why do they do it?
It’s the same reason. They want others to like them.
The thing is, both shameless self-adulation and the fear of self-promotion focus on the SELF. The motivation is the same: to control what others think of you.”
But in fact, Veronika writes,
“You have little power over other people’s opinions.”
And the sooner you realize and accept this fact, the freer you’ll be.
Newsflash: Your music isn’t going to be for everybody. In the same way that everyone you meet isn’t going to be your BFF.
Veronika includes this quote—
“‘No matter who you are, no matter what you do, no matter who your audience is: 30 percent will love it, 30 percent will hate it, and 30 percent won’t care.’ — James Altucher, Choose Yourself
So, instead of trying to appeal to everyone, you can save your time and energy and focus on your 30 percent. The rest doesn’t matter.
And instead of focusing on the self, you can shift your attention towards something bigger than you.”
In short, Veronika advises that we . .
“Take the ‘self’ out of self-promotion”
It’s not about YOU. It’s about your music, your mission, and making a contribution—it’s all about connecting with OTHER people.
This means being real, being open-hearted, human, and vulnerable in your communications. Knowing full well that you’ll be rejected by some. Remember, rejection is part of the game. In fact, it’s part of the job.
The best way I know to reframe self-promotion is to see it as a two-way conversation with invitations—you are inviting people to check out your music. You are inviting them to have a shared experience with you in your live performances.
Here’s the logic behind the mindset:
You love your music, right?
You want to connect with people, yes?
And my guess is you also want to make a contribution to the world.
Well, then stop worrying about being judged, and instead, focus on your mission.
This doesn’t mean blasting them with your list of upcoming concerts and album release news. Because if that’s the only messages you’re sending out then you ARE doing the infomercial thing, right?
Real networking is about cultivating relationships with people—connecting. It’s about being human and treating others with loving kindness—not as prospects or numbers.
This means providing value—sharing resources, recommendations, and inspirations with others, not simply spamming your list.
You are inviting them to connect with you—it’s their choice. Nobody owes you anything, not even a return email.
How do you find your tribe?
How do you find that 30%—your “niche”? Start with inviting our friends, family, colleagues, your students, and build a community of people through invitation and connections online and in-person.
This isn’t about amassing FB ‘Likes.’ It’s about cultivating a supportive circle of contacts who care about your work and who you care about as well. And those people invite their friends and over time you expand the circle.
Here’s Seth Godin on this topic: “While it’s tempting to seek to be picked by authorities and found by strangers, the more reliable path is to organize and connect those that seek to be part of a tribe, to establish better cultural norms and then persist in making promises and keeping them.
‘Follow me’ on this journey is more difficult, but it’s also more effective than pleading ‘pick me.'”
Gaining career traction starts with adjusting your mindset and then taking action.
Repeat after me: self-promotion IS PART OF THE JOB. That means designating specific times during the week: making appointments with yourself to do the networking, to make phone calls, to go to other people’s concerts, to reconnect with individuals by email and social media.
To put this all together, here are Veronika’s fabulous takeaways article (altered below a bit below for musicians):
“✭ Self-promotion isn’t selfish. You’re here to make a contribution—to share your gifts with others, so you need to help them find you.
✭ Your music needs you and the world needs your music. It’s an essential part of your mission to promote it.
✭ Shifting the focus from the self to the mission will help you feel less awkward when you share news about your music.
✭ No matter what you do, you can’t control what others think of you. Concentrate on being of service to the people who get you and need you (your 30 percent), and forget about the rest.
✭ If you worry that you’re arrogant, you aren’t arrogant. Arrogant people don’t give a damn.”
Love it: thank you, Veronika and Seth!
Follow these tips so you can adjust your mindset and take the “ick” out of self-promotion—and instead feel generous and excited about connecting with people.
If you want to improve your self-promotion and have particular questions about it, hit me up in our free Facebook group. Happy to have you join the conversation and contribute to our supportive community!
Dream Big, Plan Smart, Live Well