Whenever I stumble upon an article or video on "how to market your music", "how to monetize your music" or the like, I listen attentively, but get very little in return. These are only my thoughts on the subject, and bear in mind that I'm mainly a musician (composer, performer); a guild not very famous for being coherent or well grounded (perhaps because, in a way, we are in the business of "having weird thoughts").
When speaking of "marketing music", the first thing we'd have to determine is if there's an actual "market" out there. From what I know, since we were convinced, at the final decade of the 20th century and first of the 21st, that everything had to be miniaturized and pass through the computer, music goods have become not only more "virtual", and cheaper if they are to be purchased (with no portion of that drop in expenses passed as profit to the musician, btw), but we've also moved to a culture where people has come to expect to get the music for free.
There are exceptions, of course; music still moves some money. You can always resort to sieg heil Google or sieg heil Apple and put your music in their "services", but that's a bit as if I cultivate pumpkins and specialize in selling them to Mormons or Amish, because I've found they are faithful consumers; I draw a line and make my distribution specialized; each of those services are like their own "cult", there is no longer the single, equalizing, big thing that you had with vinyl, CD or cassette, where you could manufacture, buy, and play your "music token" universally.
(And of course, none of those new services pay you more than peanuts.)
Then there's the streaming services like Spotify, which according to musicians whom I trust, pay fees beyond the insulting. The great "alibi" here is that they are great for "promotion", but I'm yet to hear of any band that has gone one step upper in the notoriety ladder because they became "a Spotify sensation". Additionally, besides the lack of monetary appeal, as a musician I have to refuse to join a service like that from an ethical point of view too, for the same reason I would refuse to buy say oranges from a producer whose practices I know ruin the soils and will leave us without oranges in a few years; musical services that do not support musicians look like a suicide to me, but I guess the problem has to do with the fact that they are 100% run by IT people, with no music people, and IT people deal in megas, to them a mega is just the same if it contains Led Zeppelin or Leonard Cohen or just some generic interchangeable crap; a mega is just a mega and it shows just the same in their statistics, costs analysis, etc.
Until here my 50,000ft, non expert overview on the state of affairs on music distribution, given only to illustrate that the notion of a "market" itself is quite shaky when we speak of "marketing your music". But my original motivation to write this post was discussing something else.
A usual recommendation that is given often to "marketing shy" people is: "imagine you had discovered a vaccine for back pain; wouldn't you want to benefit as many people with back pain as possible, by spreading the news on a huge scale and letting them know the vaccine exists? By not doing so, you're condemning them to their pain..."
This is a great motivator (think value), and very certain for a huge range of products (car solves mobility, a good chair solves fatigue, a plumber solves water flow...); however, when you try to translate the analogy to the world of music, you find it only works within limits.
Music is way more subjective than any of those other products. Some of the music I listen to sounds like a trash grinder for other people. Some of the music other people listen to sounds to me like an impossible to swallow 3 cubic kilometers of cotton candy. Even within the confinement of particular genres, which should be "secure", everybody has their pet peeves, go-to albums that nobody likes that much, or on the contrary, bands that everybody consider great but you just don't "get".
There's simply no "one size fits all" when it comes to music. I remember vividly the aftermath of the concerts I used to play with my band, where the feedback with the attendants was so direct. Some people came spontaneously to congratulate us for the concert, and you could see in their bright eyes they had had a fricking blast and were going to be turned on for hours, and they said things like "this is dynamite!", absolutely blown away. On the other extreme of the spectrum, I remember a couple of cases where I prudently had to skip the question "did you like the show"; to such extent their faces showed awkwardness, I would say even repugnance towards what they had just listened to and watched.
So this is not as simple as going to the middle of the "market" and shouting "Hey everybody! I'm extremely confident of what I do, so I'm here to tell you that this is the be-all-end-all of great music, it's gonna improve your mood, it's gonna reduce your blood pressure, it's gonna take your sex life to new heights and will also give you x-ray vision powers...!" (Marketing speech tends to be a bit hyperbolic).
This would be analogous to saying "¡Hey! ¡Apples are good for you! ¡Like the apples! ¡You hadn't realized the apples, you fool, but check them out, they're perfect!¡You need them!".
If a guy enjoys apples, no doubt, it will be a good thing to tell him. But he needs little convincing; he tends naturally to eat apples. On the other hand, if apples make him sick, there's little convincing you can do, no matter how much strain you put into the thing. And if, yet another option, you are trying to target people who is confused or dimwitted to the extent that you can convince them that they "like" or "dislike" something only through colors and verbal juggling, then your business model is based on taking advantage of other people's weakness, rather than on providing value; this is not only an immoral stance, but a very bad business strategy, as the ties you will create with those customers won't be too intense, especially considering that the parlor tricks you use will also be available for competitors who decide to play the same game.
So where does this leave us, what's the best thing to do? Not really sure. The only thing I'm positive about is that my relation with the people who like my music must be a direct one. No middleman. A guy sings and the other says "hey, I like this". In my case it has always been this way. In fact in a lot of cases that I know, that's how it works. Lots of bands whose names for sure you would recognize, suffered outrageous attacks in their beginnings from all kind of "experts". Those bands didn't care, they kept doing their thing, and more and more people said "I like this", and that's why we now have their music (and the experts now consider them "classics"). One guy plays and another one says "hey, I like this". The rest is background noise.
Perhaps the problem with all those "market your music" articles is that 1) they take for granted we live in a (social, economic) system that works. I disagree. We're living in swindleland, and sinking fast. And 2) they follow the very extended practice of "blaming the victim": to put the focus away from the fact that musicians have been robbed (great loss for musicians, but also for a society that needs them), the narrative gets changed to "You're not being smart enough, you have to make more efforts, etc..."; regarding this last point, of course it is true that musicians can and must learn about more areas and own more of their chain; the Leonardo Da Vinci model is always a good one to follow. But please don't tell me that the dices are not loaded. Please.
I have a guitar and I'm gonna use it