Selling Folk

Reblogged from Folk21
Originally posted on September 4, 2014

“Performers should do more promotion,” I hear venue and club bookers cry.
“Venues should do better promotion,” I hear performers grumble.

Some artists think it’s enough to have a Facebook page. (It isn’t.)
Some clubs think it’s enough to put a quarterly advert in their local folk magazine. (It isn’t.)

So whose responsibility is it to sell Folk to the potential audience?

All the artists on my agency have mailing lists, web sites, social media. My agency still supplies print posters and flyers in unlimited quantities (printing paid for by the artists), though it’s surprising how many clubs take the few samples we send them, but completely ignore the bit on the contract which asks them how many more posters and flyers they would like us to send. We get all the radio opportunities that we can to support gigs and tours. (Though folk radio is being squeezed out, which is a whole other issue.) An artist can and should do all of that. It costs almost nothing except effort. Even print costs have come down significantly thanks to online print outfits like print24.com.

Some artists even pay for a publicist – which is not cheap – to get press coverage, especially if there’s a new CD on the horizon. And some will advertise national tours in fRoots, R2 (Rock ‘n Reel). Living Tradition and the like, though, again, not cheap. (And those who are going to pay for such things must inevitably increase what they charge venues because money doesn’t make itself. Most folkies I know are not independently wealthy.)

It’s a performer’s job to raise their own profile. To build a reputation and create a buzz that will attract an audience. Sometimes it’s longevity and the dripping-tap method, sometimes it’s having a promotional machine that catapults them into folk awards territory. With the reduction of folk radio opportunities and the reluctance of festivals to book artists they see as ‘folk club performers’ it becomes increasingly difficult and sucks up a lot of an artist’s time and energy when not actually on the road performing. But it’s all part of the job. Harvey Andrews wrote a song about how ‘We’re all little businesses, now’ and how right he is. It’s not enough to be a great musician or singer. Artists need a plethora of support skills, too. (See my biog, above.) Or they need a manager (which sparks off a completely different discussion about the commercialisation of folk), or a dedicated mum, or a spouse.

It’s not, however, the artist’s job to do the local promotion. How can they when maybe they live a few hundred miles away? They don’t know the local newspapers, they don’t have contacts with the local radio. They probably don’t even know the advertising deadline dates for the local folk magazines. That aspect should be done by the club or venue. Yes artists should react quickly to requests for interviews and CDs, they should provide press releases and good quality photos for the club to send out to the local press (easy enough to do by adding a promotion page to their website). But the local promotion and advertising is the job of the people on the ground. They should take whatever publicity the artist provides and spread it around in the places THEY KNOW will be most effective. How many clubs have a mailing list? (Email or paper.) Those that do generally attract bigger audiences than those that don’t. How many clubs ask for sufficient posters and then go to the trouble to get them put up in libraries, information points and even supermarket notice boards? (I sold 8 tickets straight off Tesco’s notice board in Penistone the last time I had Vin Garbutt playing at Birdsedge. Not to be sniffed at.) There are many things a club or venue can do, from having their own brochure (as posh or as plain as you like) spreading posters and flyers, talking up the upcoming acts to audiences (enthusiasm goes a long way), advertising in local folk magazines, making good cointacts with local newspapers (to run no-cost articles) and local radio stations (not just the folk programme), having their own website (not just a Facebook page though that helps, too), maybe even a twitter feed, and, PLEASE, a dedicated mailing list. Use any and all methods. Leave no stone unturned.

It’s not Us and Them. The whole thing should be a symbiotic relationship. Artist and venue working together for mutual benefit.

Jacey Bedford

Jacey Bedford

Jacey Bedford

Jacey Bedford has worn almost all the hats on the folk song scene that it’s possible to wear – not sequentially or she’d be nearly a hundred! She’s been a performer (twenty years as one-third of Artisan plus reunion tours); a festival booker for eleven years; a concert club organiser for thirty years and a folk booking agent for sixteen years and counting. During that time she’s also had to learn to be an office manager, a database developer, a website writer, a negotiator, a publicist, a radio plugger, a designer for posters and CD covers, a transport and logistics manager, and a Tier 5 (entertainment) immigration sponsor (which requires a government licence, so it must be almost a proper job!) In addition to all that she began the Britfolk artists’ networking group, was a folk development worker for Yorkshire Folk Arts and is now one of the volunteers working on the Folk21 national committee. In her spare time she writes science fiction and fantasy and has a new novel, ‘Empire of Dust’, coming out from DAW in November (already available to pre-order on Amazon – and yes, that’s a plug.)

About Jacey Bedford

Jacey Bedford maintains this blog. She is a writer of science fiction and fantasy (www.jaceybedford.co.uk), the secretary of Milford SF Writers (www.milfordSF.co.uk), a singer (www.artisan-harmony.com) and a music agent booking UK tours and concerts for folk performers (www.jacey-bedford.com).
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