Marketing for musicians

I don’t think it’s any secret that most musicians dislike promoting themselves. 

I’ll go even further and observe that most musicians are uncomfortable with the whole idea of marketing and selling. Dare I say, they distrust it and most of its purveyors?

I want to offer to you the point that marketing and self promotion – when done well – is not only a positive force but a necessary one in helping the people who need you to find you and benefit from your knowledge, products, and services. Plus, it provides you with a material reward for your time and effort, and allows you to earn a living doing what you love.

Let me first define “marketing.”

Marketing is so much more than the stuff of advertising, logos, or websites. Marketing for you as a musician is everything from your playing and persona on a gig to what you present on social media to how you interact with your students, audience, or business partners. It’s the essence who you are professionally.

The hype-filled carnival barking of an overbearing self-promoter is marketing I do not want to be associated with, nor do you. 

In fact the better you are at those softer elements of marketing I mentioned above, the easier will be the actual effort of your self-promotion. 

Good promotion is not about conniving to convince someone to buy something they neither need nor want.


A good marketer understands his offering and is really good at finding the people whose lives will improve by buying it.

The concept of buying and selling is another uncomfortable concept for too many musicians. Money really seems to complicate things.

So what does it mean to sell something – your playing, your music, your books, your clinic services, etc?

Any successful sale means that the value you provide is worth more to the person buying from you than the money they gave you. And the money you earned from them is worth more than the effort you extended to provide the service. It was a mutually valuable trade. Both of your lives improved.

The difficulty of marketing and self promotion for many musicians arises from the need to “convince” the other person to make that trade. After all, much of what we are promoting is our music, that very personal emotional outpouring of our being. It feels wrong to “sell” that. It’s not exactly like selling a winter coat!

And I think this is at root of why so many musicians are repelled by the idea of selling themselves. At some level, it feels cheap and dishonest.

So how do you promote yourself without feeling cheap, compromised, or dishonest

I think it begins by demonstrating some sort of value you can provide people that costs them nothing. Help them get to know you first and let them test if what you offer is of value to them.

Woody Allen is credited with saying that 75% of life is just showing up. The truth in that is that you can’t benefit people with your expertise or products if they don’t know you or your offerings. So step one is to put yourself out there so people know you and what you can offer them.

Having an attractive interactive website plays an important role. So does having a good social media presence – one with more than just reposted funny memes. Intersperse your social pages and posts with videos or writing that solves a perceived problem for your audience, like the problem I’m trying to solve for you here.

By now, you’ve probably seen the pop-up on this page for my free jazz improvisation course called Pocket Jazz. Yeah, I know, pop-ups can be annoying, but once someone shows up, you need to ask the person to take an action. How you ask will depend on your personality and what you are offering, but human nature requires that you ask for the action!

There’s a very funny scene in the film, “The invention of Lying” that gives us an example of an advertisement for Coke that is completely absent of persuasion or any call to action – pretty much the exact opposite of our friend, Vince, pitching the ShamWOW above. Click the image to watch the short clip from the movie.



The truth about human nature is that our attention is constantly occupied,  from survival needs to the thousands of daily distractions all around us. So how do you capture the attention of someone who could benefit from you and your offering?

The unfortunate aspect of the Coke clip in the movie is that we’ve all pretty much been trained that persuasion is inherently dishonest. Shouldn’t we just say, “Here I am.” and people will give you their money? No. Sorry. We humans just don’t respond to that. For some of the science on that, read the classic book by Robert Cialdini called, Influence.

You need to help them (persuade/influence them) to know how they will benefit, but herein lies the difficulty.  

I could claim that my Pocket Jazz course will, within just a few days, turn you into the master improviser you dream of becoming. That’s a pretty appealing result, but it would be a lie. Honestly, I happen to error on the other side. In fact, a friend of mind recently told me that I should cool it on reminding people so often that mastering jazz is a long and difficult journey. From the perspective of human nature, he’s right. But I don’t care.

It was after that conversation with my friend that I leaned into it and changed my Music Savvy tag line to: “Putting the fun into the long hard journey of playing jazz well.” The truth is that I try to make my writing and videos fun, but the journey to mastery is long and hard, and I’m unwilling to pretend that it isn’t.

Would I make more money by claiming that playing jazz at a high level is easy, and if you pay me, I’ll quickly turn you into the player you dream of becoming? Maybe, but I don’t care. My marketing (advertising, course and book descriptions, and conversations) must be true to who I am. 

Enough about me. You must find your own sweet spot in promoting yourself. If your persuasion tolerance is at the level of the above Coke ad, consider the fact that without persuasion, you are preventing the people who could benefit from you and and your expertise from bettering their lives. In some way, you’re short-changing them.

Can you begin to see how you can become more comfortable with promoting yourself and your efforts to create value for people? You must draw your own line over which you will not cross that claim results you know not to be true. My experience is that most musicians have a good amount of room to go before they even see that line. My guess is that the value you can provide players is much greater than you know.

Create your own marketing that feels true to you and that honors the people that can benefit from what you provide them. And then deliver to them on your every promise because in the end, your delivery is the most important aspect of your marketing.


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Michael Lake

Michael Lake

Trombonist, author, composer, marketer

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This is just a fake book example for the type of website I can build for you. Just trying to use a little humor here!