Q&A with Alumnus Mark Samples

By Cara Mico

Dr. Mark Samples of Central Washington University was kind enough to provide the University School of Music and Dance with a follow-up interview to his fall term marketing workshop. He will be returning to the SOMD on Friday, January, 27 at 2 p.m. to present another workshop on marketing for musicians. This workshop is part of an ongoing professional development series organzied by the SOMD Office of Graduate Studies. 

We spoke with Samples over the winter break about his top marketing strategies for musicians and performers. His first piece of advice? Know your craft, of course! A million-dollar marketing plan won’t help sell an average product. Samples received an early start with piano lessons in elementary school and continued on to music school to improve his abilities.

For all of his education in music, Samples’s schooling didn’t teach him the importance of marketing. Samples believes that marketing is critical.

"Musicians must develop a consistent brand to help fans find them, but to also help them to distinguish themselves as artists. I’m teaching musicians how to do this for themselves. Branding consultants do it for you, I empower students to do it for themselves,” Samples said.

Q: So where do you start?

A: I teach the principle of finding your 3 core values. Values are always being tweaked but shouldn’t be too transient. They define you and what you stand for. In the past, when people ask me that, I say your 3 core values aren’t public. Rather they’re meant to serve as a guide to remind you why you are doing what you’re doing.

His second tip, “think of the coolest musician you can, analyze their brand and try it on for size. As you try it out you see where they don’t fit.”

Q: But how do you find your fans?

A: It has to start with you deciding what your unique contribution is going to be artistically. If you just go searching for the biggest group of people, it might work but it won’t be fulfilling, you have to go small to go big. You’d be better served by looking for a smaller group of intensely enthusiastic fans.

Q: Social media as it has quickly become one of the top if not only method for artists to promote their work. How much is too much?

A: You don’t have to do everything, you simply don’t. There are plenty of musicians who don’t use all social media. Choose one to be your main channel. Instead of thinking of social media as your main outlet, you need to think of your website and your email list as your main point of communication. You don’t have any control over how Facebook will change the rules, and not all of the rule changes will be good for musicians. For instance, if you send something to your group, Facebook only sends to a subsect of your group unless you get a lot of likes. Musicians would be better served to have a small group of intensely enthusiastic fans, rather than trying to go viral.” If your fan-base is genuine there will be a level of social proof and you’ll avoid being a one hit wonder.

Q: What are some pitfalls of marketing?

A: A lot of people say ‘Who cares if anyone listens because I’m being true to myself?’ What I realized is that my artistic interests are quite broad and if I think about it I can find some overlap. I made a diagram on my website. ‘How to not sell out as an artist.’ Selling out is going where the money is when the money is outside your area of interest. (see below: Venn Diagram Samples created to illustrate this point.)