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Is saying your name on stage like advertising?


Incorporating big company advertising procedures into how we promote independent art…

The other day, I was reading a listserv used by a bunch of folk music people like me. The debate of the day (among other topics) was should a musician say their name 15 times on stage because that’s what advertisers do to get people to remember them. (Okay, the real debate was about whether or not performance coaches are helpful, but I don’t really feel qualified to blog about that and my personal opinion ain’t worth much to you either, so I’m going to latch onto the part about advertising and self-promotion here…)

Here are a few snippits from the healthy debate so you get an idea of the diverse perspectives on the topic, as well as my thoughts on the issue to follow:

Question: Should a musician say their name 15 times on stage?

DEBRA (performer’s coach):
Think of the hyperbole as telling someone to do something 10 times, maybe they’ll do it once. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen openers who never say their names — not once. Maybe the announcer says it at the beginning — just as often, not. There are ways to do this, where it’s not obnoxious. And I think that for most performers, the issue is a complete lack of self-promotion because of stark terror that they might be perceived as self-promoting. In the advertising world, it is an accepted fact — 15 times — that’s the magic number. Someone has to see/hear something 15 times on average before it sinks in and becomes real in their minds. 15 times.

MIKE (audience member):
I find that an excess of self promotion from the stage to be very distasteful as an audience member. I find it a big turnoff when a performer prefaces every song with “And here’s another song from my CD…” or the like. It’s OK to plug it, but not to excess. If you’re worth remembering, I’ll remember you. […] Yep. After I hear the name 15 times, I REALLY know whom to avoid. Again, a personal perspective, but holding up the advertising world as a model to follow is absolutely the wrong tactic to take with me. There are brands that I’d sooner be in a dragon’s colon than buy because of their obnoxious ads.

ANNIE (musician):
i have to admit this is one of the most difficult things for me. i just find it awkward. i don’t know why. guilt? catholic school? i know i just wish i could just give them away to people as gifts & watch them smile. that’s the truth. i’m told time after time that i don’t tell my audiences enough that i have cd’s for sale. i know many other artists struggle with this as well. i’m told “annie, aren’t you proud of your music? don’t you stand behind it? aren’t there people & reviewers who tell you they love it too?… then just tell your audiences you’re proud & excited to have cd available… or at least just tell them you HAVE cd’s!”

MATT (audience member & house concert presenter):
I find such conduct from a performer a real turn-off. It’s important to say your name, of course. But if the music is good and speaks to me, I’ll make it a point to find out who the performer is. If the music doesn’t make an impression, then saying one’s name or mentioning one’s CD over and over won’t change that — it just annoys, and may leave the impression that the performer doesn’t have much faith in value of their music.

SCOTT (show promotor/presenter):
If the presenter/MC is doing his or her job, the performer won’t be put in the awkward spot of pushing her name and her product. I make sure to reinforce the opener’s name while the applause is still ringing (“Remember that name……I’ll bet you’ll be hearing it again”) and to say something like “And for your convenience, he’s put his name on every one of the CDs he has for sale in the lobby.”

VIC (audience member):
Perform good songs with energy, skill and conviction and entertain your audience. If you do that you have already done all the on-stage self promotion you need.

What Market Monkeys Had to Say…

Well, I gotta bite on this one. Anybody who knows me would know that I can’t let the advertising discussion go by without saying something. And I hope I don’t come off as the devil here…

(Note – I’ve found that generally artists don’t trust advertisers so I had to lead off this way. Who can blame ’em? For decades advertisers have exploited creative talent for their own purposes, and they flood the market with useless chatter about products we don’t want. But it’s important to learn something from society’s failures. It’s important to learn from advertising, and harness certain parts of the profession to further independent music and the arts. Otherwise we would have all endured the neverending heavy-up of 30 second spots and teaser/reveals for no reason at all.)

The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly
There are good things and bad things to learn from the world of advertising. I’m a lifelong student of advertising, and I’m not ashamed. It’s how I built my career, and it informs the way I help the musicians I manage and promote navigate the tough decisions they make in development of their careers. But I tend to rely more on the tertiary things I learned from my career in advertising and online marketing. Because those are the things that actually work.

It’s true that in advertising you build awareness by putting as many impressions as you can afford into a given space, targeted at a certain market segment. Likelihood of brand recall and intent to purchase increase the more you saturate the market with your impressions. Sure, I know this. When Lori McKenna does it I’m happy for her – when Walmart does it I cringe. But either way, it’s true.

Advertising Combines Reach, Frequency & Integrated Channels
Thing is — it’s not just about the frequency with which you say your name when you’re performing that’s going to make an audience remember you. In advertising principle, it’s a combination of “reach” and “frequency” that matters. Also, advertisers are beginning to recognize that it is an integrated approach that not only builds true customer loyalty, but also satisfaction and evangelization. It’s not how many times you hear a name in one mode – it’s how many times combined with the different modes and the quality of channels in which you hear it.


How does this translate in music?

We’re actually all culprits of this type of marketing. How many times have you heard a new artists’ name, and then a buddy of yours at another venue, or another radio station, or another manager mentions that same person to you? Then you go back to the CD they sent you 2 months ago to hear what everyone’s talking about. It’s not just about repitition – it’s about multiple modes and channels of impressions, and the credibility you assign the “brand advocates” – in this case, your colleagues.


Scott has a good point – when the promoter announces the artist it’s a third party endorsement. It goes a long way, and the artist can choose whether or not to say it again. But it really does help when it’s not just the artist saying the name – it’s also someone else saying their name.

Sometimes when you are playing a gig, it becomes uncomfortably obvious that the presenter doesn’t know, or isn’t around, but it is clear that nobody is intending on introducing you to the stage.

What do you do?

Say Your Name Like You Mean It
A good study in this is Johnny Cash’s signature move — comes on stage and says who he is. “Hello. I’m Johnny Cash.” Now that’s something. Because everyone knows who he is, and it’s a moment that takes the crowd by surprise. In some way, he also says, “Sure I’m just an everyday guy.”

I generally say, if an artist is opening — say your name at the beginning and the end of your set (especially if the presenter doesn’t help you out). The headliner might say your name too, and that’s gravy. If you’re a headliner, well, you know… People already paid to come see you, so I hope they know your name. You can say it if you like. Some folks might have just wandered in off the street. The tickets at the venue might not have your name on em yet. Be like Johnny Cash tho. Say it in an impactful way, at an impactful moment. Maybe you say it after the song you think is the strongest in your set. Work it in naturally when you introduce your band. You’ll know the right way to do it. It will be authentic.

The moral of this blog:
Advertising is as much about integrating efforts as it is about reach and frequency of impressions.

You probably don’t have to say your name 15 times. Rather, try saying it 15 ways…

1 – once on the press release you sent to local writers 5 weeks in advance of the show,
2 – once on the posters you hung around town to promote the show,
3 – once in the newspaper, radio, and other local calendar listings,
4 – once in your email newsletter that went out at least 2 weeks in advance,
5 – once on the club’s web site calendar,
6 – once on the club’s print calendar at the venue,
7 – once on the poster in the bathroom that you sent to the club the month prior,
8 – once on a local or online radio show the week leading up to the show,
9 – once on the top of your email list at the merch table,
10 – once on your CD cover art (also on the merch table),
11 – once on the postcards you have for non-buyers to take,
12 – once by the person selling your merch (maybe that’s you!)
13 – once by the show presenter,
14 – once by the headliner,
15 – once at the beginning or end of your set.

Okay – there are my 15 cents. Whether or not you asked for it… šŸ™‚

Happy Advertising,
Michelle