In the current market, actually making music is the smallest piece of most jobs. The biggest piece is probably marketing and promotion.
Colleges have started to realize this, and there’s now a big effort to teach music majors not just musicianship, but also some business skills. However, I think that sometimes students take away the wrong message. Any promotional work you do is in service of your product. You must first have a high-quality product that people want, or your marketing just looks pretentious.
Imagine for a moment that you manage to schedule coffee with a key contractor in town. At that meeting, you give her a really classy-looking business card. Impressed with your professionalism, the contractor visits your beautiful, modern website and clicks on the “media” link. Inside, she hears sloppy, amateurish playing. Not only will she not hire you for her upcoming gig, but you have lost all credibility with this contractor and anyone else she talks to. All the effort that you put into making your branding memorable now works against you; because the contractor will remember you, but in a negative way.
Yes, develop your brand, but also practice your axe. Until you consistently sound impressive, most of the time you’re spending on marketing might be better allocated in the practice room.
Once your playing is reliably high-quality, it’s time to think about packaging. Very few people can get away with marketing themselves as “a great trombonist.” There are a lot of really skilled musicians out there; unless you’re playing in a top-tier orchestra and/or working every week in the Los Angeles or London recording studios, you’re not going to stand out from the crowd on the strength of your playing alone. Instead, think about your work as a product you might sell at a store. Who is your target clientele? What do they need, and how can you meet that need?
Of course, you’re a well-rounded musician, and you can do many things well. But a nicely packaged product will focus on a specific service that you can provide. Are you a great doubler? Sell the economics of needing to hire fewer musicians to produce a wider range of timbres. Populate a YouTube channel that demonstrates this skill set. Do you have extensive experience in a particular popular genre? Design a stylistically appropriate business card to make it more likely that you will be hired for those types of shows. Like any business, you can assemble multiple products to sell; your holiday brass quintet and your wedding jazz combo products can coexist. But, if you try and just market yourself in general, your prospective corporate party gig might never even find your website — and if they do, they might not look past the New Orleans funk videos.
Like anything else in life, self-promotion is about strategy. Be organized in your efforts, and have a reason for every move you make. We all have limited time and finances, so it’s very important to maximize the return on any investment made in branding and marketing!