Photo credit: Gideon Tsang Flickr – Creative Commons
Have you ever heard of an elevator pitch? It’s the classic sales technique of a being able to describe exactly what one’s company does to a potential client or investor in a literal elevator ride, being short and fascinating, and handing over a business card before the new contact gets off on their floor.
Musicians, as entrepreneurs too, should have an elevator pitch that gets tailored to various people, from a label’s A&R rep, to a potential fan. Each pitch is organized into three parts: “who I am”, “what I do”, and “why you should care,” transitioning smoothly.
However, what we’re going to talk about today, is what I’ve called a genre escalator pitch. Imagine two escalators side by side, one going up and the other down. If an artist and a potential fan both stepped on at the same time, they would meet in the middle for a few short seconds, before being rolled along their separate ways. That’s the amount of time a musician has to describe their sound to someone when they say “oh, you’re in a band? What type of music do you play?” Artists need to be as fascinating but time-aware as possible.
In this day and age, attention spans are limited. May it be on your website, in your Twitter bio, or even as a tag line, a way to describe your specific sound is essential, if not for industry big-shots, for potential fans who are deciding whether or not to listen to your work. I’m going to break
down two different techniques that can be used, to get you on the right path.
Technique #1 – The other artist comparison
This technique will only work for small artists, but is an excellent place to start.
First off, you need to name more than one. If a singer came up to me, asking for an interview and said “I’m just like Lady Gaga,” I’m probably going to see them as not having their own personality and identity, and possibly over-hyping themselves. Remember that there is only one Lady Gaga, Freddy Mercury, Beyoncé, and someone can never climb high without honing in on their own talents and image.
A classic technique is to describe oneself as a cross between two other acts, so “I’m what happens when Alison Krauss parties with Lana Del Rey.” This immediately paints a picture of soaring reverb-y hooks with an ethereal voice and an acoustic guitar.
Words of note: Be honest about who you sound like (vocalists, especially) and don’t name acts that are super obscure (hipsters to Top 40 fans, especially), or sound too similar to each other (super fans of one genre, especially).
Technique #2 – Cool adjectives
If you don’t want to put yourself in a box or make the person you’re talking to think of others artists, this one’s for you.
To start with, you’ll need your big umbrella genre. This is the basic one iTunes classifies you under. Now, you get to spice it up by either adding your own unique adjectives in front (“coffeeshop soul”), or using a sentence (“country music by someone who takes the bus”). Either way, you want to paint an auditory picture. The options are as endless as your imagination, so go for it!
I was at Canadian Music Week last year. On the second day, I listened to a speech by the head of Capitol Records. After his speaking time, musicians all lined up to hand him a business card while describing their sound, hoping to pique his interest. That’s the amount of time an artist has
to describe their work. If I at the time had gone up and said “hey, I’m a folk artist,” does one really think he would have kept that business card? People like these have hundreds of wannabes flocking to them at every conference. We’ve got to stand out, and one way to do so iso to escalator pitch your sound.
Clara Charron is a rising music industry writer from Ottawa, Canada. You can read her excellent business advice for emerging musicians over at popofcolourmusic.com.