When I left music college (nearly) 20 years ago, the approach to building a healthy portfolio of freelance work as a trumpeter was rather different to now: Face-to-face networking; Being in “the right place at the right time” with the right people; Backing up any opportunities by being a “good guy to have around” and a good player. This was pretty much the limit to one’s self-marketing.
It struck me at the time that even when things were busy, and the diary was booked up a couple of months ahead, there was never a feeling of being in control and having ‘ownership’ (this seems to be the buzz word) of your career. This is what led me to start to explore other things that I could do alongside the trumpet-playing that could bring me more of a sense of control over my own career.
Speaking to younger professionals now, I see quite a different picture. The opportunities that the internet has brought are vast, and musicians are quickly learning how to maximise what it has to offer. Players now have limitless control over their own image and career. This series looks at this in more detail:
First up in ‘Part 1’ to help me look at this in more depth is Becca Toft. Becca is a London based freelance trumpet player and founder of the musician’s online marketing website DIY Musician. She is currently lead trumpet of the Jazz Jamaica All Stars Big Band and the Prince tribute band, New Purple Celebration. Becca is a part for the trumpet quartet Bella Tromba where she also acts as their in-house arranger. Becca’s career has developed with the help of social media, leading to a strong following on both her freelance trumpeter page and her ensembles pages. She has developed DIY Musician to help others understand the benefits of social media and personal websites.
What led you to take up the trumpet?
I learned how to read music before I could read words and growing up I played a number of instruments, but when I was 10 I joined a marching band, and they needed trumpets, so I was given a trumpet and was told to learn it. So, I did and it soon took over my life!
What did you expect working life to be like when you were at college? Were you given any specific career development guidance?
I had a lot of friends who were leaving college when I was starting, so I got a first-hand look at what was to come. I saw people doing amazing things, and I saw people struggling to pay the bills.
College focused on two things: auditioning to get into an orchestra, and teaching skills. I knew that I wanted to do projects and learn skills that weren’t on my degree course syllabus, so I looked elsewhere to pick up the skills I wanted.
How was reality different to the theory? Do you think that educational institutions need to look again at how they prepare students for a career in music?
Having a career in music is extremely broad and it is hard for institutions to cater for every pathway of a music career, but I do think they should be teaching core self-employed skills, self-promotion and marketing.
You have a number of varied and interesting projects that you are involved with, can you tell us a little about them?
As you might expect, as a freelance trumpeter I am in a number of different ensembles and bands of different genres. My trumpet quartet, Bella Tromba, focuses on classical recitals, concert society and festival dates. I am in a jazz collective called the Nu Civilisation Orchestra which is an arts council funded group that perform nationwide projects. I play for a thrash brass band (Brass Funkeys), a Prince tribute band (New Purple Celebration) and a local function band (Soul Calibre).
When I get involved with a project, I find it hard not to get involved with the marketing/promotional side. I love taking photos anyway and I am always happy to share footage with the others involved.
Do you find that there are particular marketing outlets that work better for different kinds of projects, whether it be an album release, or live solo performances etc? For instance, would you hit YouTube, FaceBook, Twitter, Instagram, Blogs, your email-outs in a similar way, or do certain platforms work better for different projects?
You have to work with what you are comfortable with and on a platform that you know you can maintain. Each platform has its positives and negatives, yes, but there is no point using twitter if you hate writing or using Instagram if you only have grainy photos. If you can do 4 things (website, email-outs + 2 social media platforms) then that is enough. If you spread yourself too thin then you can miss out on the benefits of each platform.
How differently do you approach “just promoting yourself”, to promoting a particular project?
I have a clear objective for each account I have. My trumpet Instagram @horn_identity is almost like my own online CV. It shows an overview of what I do as a trumpet player, adds a bit of personality and it connects me with other musicians doing similar things. Each ensemble has its own Instagram with its own character, theme and audience objectives. For these, I am attracting fans of the music and engaging with people who are potential audience members.
What would you say have been your most successful and also least-successful ways that you have tried to promote particular projects?
For 2 years in a row now my trumpet quartet has received packed out audiences in our London concert. This audience is different to our usual audience when we tour more rural areas of the country and can be communicated with through a mixture of Facebook, Instagram and our mail out. These gigs are much easier to have control over as you can see the response there and then. When we go to concert societies, they always comment on how bright and appealing our pictures are and have a big impact on the awareness of the concert.
Sticking an event or page up on Facebook and hoping people will flock towards it is probably the thing I have found least useful. It is good for awareness and so people can see that you are working, but normally people do not attend on that basis alone.
How do you keep track of your promotional activities? Do you draw up a plan/strategy for each project, or is it more instinctive?
I love a plan, and I believe for any project a plan is a good starting place. I have an initial plan outlining post and engagement qualities and then review it every month or so to see what is working and what is not. It is very important to have a goal in mind. For example; increase engagement by 20% in the next month or increase audience by 100 in the next week. Although these goals are small, they all help you get to the end result with greater ease. I believe using many smaller goals instead of a single end goal allows for an element of flexibility.
With your crystal ball, how do you think things will change further for musicians looking to promote themselves, and find & engage new audiences?
The people I see with the most success treat their ensembles like a business. They look at how they can sell their product and how best to market themselves. This is hard as musicians often think this will restrict their musical freedom and allow less creativity and fun. But this should not be the case! It is just letting the world know what you are about and finding those people in the world that love what you do!
Do you have any further advice for fellow musicians?
I would always advise keeping your personal life separate from your professional life online, create a separate artist page for gig and promo pics and leave your friends and family with all the pictures of you and your pet!
Also, think about the time of day you are posting. You might be up and online at 2am, but no one is going to see your post, so wait, put it in your drafts and save it for a more appropriate time!