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How to Market Yourself and Stay Relevant According to Darryl Hurs

by Pamela Denis / April 21, 2020

The music industry is evolving at unprecedented rates. We had a very interesting conversation with Darryl Hurs, founder of Indie week and director of market development at CD Baby at our weekly Music Industry Talks live webinar series.


Darryl has many years of experience working in the music industry, so we asked him some questions about how artists can market themselves, and stay relevant.


What has changed in the music industry since you started working in it?

I started off as a musician playing covers in bars. We were not allowed to play original music, but what I appreciate about that time, is that there was structure and it was easy to get started. By doing covers, you learn what's a good song, what a hook is, and what grabs the audience attention. You learn how to structure a live performance and how to get a reaction. There was a structure, and during that time, I didn't have to promote, I would just show up at the bar and play guitar. Through time, it has come down to the musician being responsible for everything when they start off. There is no framework, and everyone is trying to find their own way.


Today, musicians are resilient and innovative, and I'm seeing a lot of cool things starting to happen. If they are able to build their audience, when it all turns around and live shows happen again, they'll probably have a bigger audience. Artists need to learn that people add value. The more people they get to their shows, the more opportunities they will have. It's like a magnet that will then attract bookers, labels, and managers to them. Since we are stuck at home in quarantine, a good show to watch is "The Evolution of Hip Hop". Every episode is a blueprint of someone's success and there's a lot an artist can take from it.


Do you think people will have a better appreciation of the arts after the pandemic?

It's so early to tell. I just saw a post today of a venue in Toronto closing that has been around for years. We don't know which venues are going to survive this. When I first moved to Toronto, there were only six places to perform, and because of that, they were fairly busy and a lot of musicians went out too. The last decade, less and less musicians are going to see live shows themselves. Venues are business partners and every time they perform, it should be seen as a business agreement where everyone does their part. It's almost like artists are against venues, venues against artists, creating a weird vibe. Looking at the positive side, I'm hoping that what's happening right now is like a reset button, and that everyone will learn the importance of working together.


Artists are losing revenue from touring right now. Do you have any advice for them?

One artist that I think everybody should look at is Shawn Brady, a Toronto artist. He is doing these "Brady's Basement" live streaming events, where he brings in a guest performer and they play for an hour. He creates a ticket link with 4 pricing levels ranging from $5 to $20. They play to raise money for other artists. The musicians they raise money for, would then be guests on the next show, and then Shawn would choose the next band to play and raise money for. So it's a "pay it forward" kind of vibe, and cross-promotion tactic. If you have an angle that people can identify with and be supportive of, it will go a long way. Talking and engaging with people adds value, and if it's consistent and they like what you're doing, they will come back, and your audience will grow. It builds a community.


Sometimes artists wonder if it's worth it to attend music conferences. What are your thoughts?

This is a person's business and you need to go meet people. Sometimes, it only takes meeting that one key person that will make a huge difference in your life. If you stay on your couch, that is as far as you'll go.


What can artists do to increase their revenue and stay relevant?

First of all, radio is still big and very relevant. A misconception is that artists think radio won't ever play their music, so they don't ask and don't work with radio as much as they should. They get royalties from being played on the radio, so they should push radio play too. Streaming is really a marketing tool at first, until you get numbers that are significant. It is important to be on as many streaming platforms as possible. Try and build a pie chart with all the ways that you can be making money such as radio, streaming, youtube, merchandising. Get a little bit from everywhere. Right now, everyone is changing the way they do things, so as an artist, you need to diversify if you want to be ahead of the game, and be able to pivot. Sometimes I see artists that are great, but it's been five years and they are still in the same place. If something isn't working it's because they haven't adapted. I ask artists "did your revenue increase at least by 20% from last year or not?" and almost all of them can't give me a straight answer. This is because they are not tracking, they don't have a system for it, they don't know where their money is coming from or how they are spending it. When you start tracking the numbers, you can then get projections. Then you can set up goals and see whether they are being met or not. Planning, strategy, people, numbers, all these things matter!


We found Darryl to be really down to earth, very helpful, and eager to provide crucial information that can help artists market themselves and stay relevant in today's music industry.

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