The competition in pro audio has increased a thousandfold in the past decade, just as it has in other industries. What had once been a fairly small circle of friends, where everyone knew everyone else’s name, has grown into a massive global collection of people producing, recording, posting, mixing, mastering and authoring audio. And just as in other industries, individual products, services and people have to find ways to make themselves known, to be heard above the din, so to speak.
Promoting yourself is not a simple ego boost anymore-it’s an absolutely essential component to building and maintaining a successful career. In a perfect world, an outstandingperformance would always be noticed, noted and applauded. But we live in a rather imperfect universe, and it’s getting more crowded.
There was a time when, during the course of a long career, certain people would come to be associated with a particular set of sounds or way of working. Producers would say, “I like the way George Massenburg’s or Allen Sides’ drums sound”; recording artists would say, “I like the way Phil Ramone’s records sound.” It wasn’t much of a jump for these citations to evolve into the “George Massenburg sound” or the “Phil Ramone sound.” Give credit where it’s due: These people are far from sonically monochromatic; their sound palettes are quite diverse. But in that peculiar way in which we need to put handles on things, that way of looking at the world was natural and inevitable.
But in a world where hit records come out of garages and spare bedrooms, where you no longer need the lumberingly predictable machinery of the music business to get across anymore, the business of building a career can’t wait for those sorts of associations to occur. It’s no accident that Massenburg, Ramone, et al. were able to, at least in part, leverage their acclaim into related pursuits, such as studios, record companies and equipment manufacturing. This business is moving far too fast to leave these sorts of things to chance and to fate. What used to be the result of years of accumulated acclaim is now called brand-building. Donald Trump, Ian Schrager, Halston, Bill Gates and others are acutely aware of the benefits of building a brand name. It’s an awareness that has been part of the entertainment industry for decades, and it’s slowly but inexorably seeping into the technical realm. It needs to do so faster.
This is not to imply that you don’t need the goods to get attention in the first place-you do. But for better or for worse, in the current business climate, being very good at what you do is no longer good enough.
There are plenty of solutions to this issue, and not all of them involve incessant e-mail messages to journalists or hiring a personal publicity agent, although more and more producers and engineers are doing just that. One avenue to pursue is to make sure that mixers, remixers, programmers, arrangers, etc., get proper credit on recordings and other media. A few million CDs have way more impact than a few press releases.
Be inventive: Keep a running log of productions on a constantly updated CD-R that becomes a calling card, and make sure your credits are correct on the All Music Guide Web site. Journalists look at it for background. Be persistent: Understand that incorporating self-promotion and brand-building into the career path is a daily task. Be available: Woody Allen said that half of life is just showing up, and although being elusive and reclusive works for a few like Mutt Lange and Phil Spector, it tends to backfire in most cases.
Be the best you can at your chosen art. Do it for the love of it, so you won’t lose the passion that got you into it in the first place. But every now and then, remember to let the world know about it, if for no other reason than it buys you another microphone.