Why are traditional musicians so bad at promoting themselves?

With close to two years elapsed since the commencement of Tradconnect I have had the chance to come at the world of online/offline trad music and its promotion from a fresh perspective. I had no major knowledge of the online world other than the normal exposure of an individual. I didn't use Twitter, had a Facebook page I rarely used and I browsed the web in a brief way. Part of the reason for starting Tradconnect, apart from its twin goals of connecting musicians and promoting professional musicians was to learn more about social networking and the online world. I think it is worth assimilating some of this learning and feeding it back out in a article/blog that may benefit musicians.

One area in particular that I was about to do a piece on was an answer to the question, Why are Professional traditional musicians so bad at promoting themselves ? At a recent gig the band were selling their CD's at the door. A person familiar with the US market commented to me with the above question. He said that in the US the artist would most probably have music transcripts of the tunes, prepared in outline form and selling at a couple of dollars as well as the Cd's. He was referring to bluegrass and old time artists. However the same could be said about the artists approach online. Adding reviews that have been written to their CD baby profile, keeping their profile on this site up to date, adding music to their profiles on this and other sites, providing more information about the creative process.
So prior to writing an article I thought it would be a good idea of getting members opinions. We have a big US representation on this site. What are your opinions. Here is the question.
Why are professional traditional musician so bad at promoting themselves and what can they do to improve? Its a sweeping statement and hopefully any responses will be of benefit to musicians.

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Q/ Why are traditional musician so bad at promoting themselves ?

It's part and parcel of Irish culture and education not to promote yourself, not to stand out from the crowd, to play down any talent you may have and be humble about it, this is compounded even more by the fact that Irish music is traditional music and firmly rooted within the culture. 

So to  promote yourself (Irish Culture/Music) runs against the grain of what you are promoting and the education in which you were raised (an education that has probably changed a good bit over the last 20 years)

Q/  What can they do to improve?

Get a peer (someone respected on the music scene)  to promote them, that's always the best way in any case.

There are lots of other finer details that you could get into, but for me the main reason is a cultural one.

other reasons

eg they are musician not business people

eg they don't understand the benefit

eg internet as a promotion tools is relatively new etc..

eg admin stuff bores the crap out of them.

Most traditional musicians I know play to entertain themselves, they don't need or want any 'promotion'.

I think Tony is referring to the ones that are semi professional or professional

eg. they do paid gigs or have CDs etc...   by definition they are not playing to entertain themselves

Sorry guys. This is correct. My first posting did not have the word professional in it. I subsequently added it in so Jim read a slightly different original posting, all be it one crucial word. "Professional" Also bear in mind I am painting with a broad brush that does not apply to all musicians. Some are very much on top of their game.

John F has a good point. Also, I think that in a home where a child sings pop songs with a hairbrush and aspires to be a pop star, the ethos is 'some day you'll be famous' as opposed to the home where the child plays a traditional musical instrument and the ethos is 'some day you'll be a great musician'.

I think a lot of it comes back to modesty to be honest. Strangely, this is not a character fault but an exceptionally endearing quality that seems to be completely missing in the commercial music scene.

Professional trad musicians seem to be content let others blow their trumpet for them rather than doing it themselves. I've heard it said on several occasions that to do otherwise is interpreted by many as egotistical. One does have to ask why simply saying "I'm here and I do this" is interpreted in this way but there you go. There is a world of difference between saying that and saying "I'm here and I do this, are'nt I great?". Fortunately however, I don't think I've actually ever heard those words from a trad musician.

Then, of course, there is the fear factor. Anyone who is seen to promote themselves attracts people who will take great joy in knocking them. This in itself can then set the trend for how an artist is perceived. Its therefore seen as far better to attract a following by merit rather than promotion. The unfortunate thing is however that unless artists can have a platform to say "I'm here and I do this", then chances are that nobody will know of their existance!

There is a deeper problem here as well, though hopefully this is not the case in Ireland. Because the artists and the music are not known outside the confines of trad audiences, they don't get the wider audiences that they deserve. It is impossible to decide if you like a particular artist or style of music unless you have actually heard it ! I come across people regularly that have never heard trad before and have therefore never had the chance to either subscribe to it or opt out. Sadly, many of them will actually go out of their way to say how much they have enjoyed it. I say sadly because they have been missing out for years and because some of them may have had the desire to play themselves if they had discovered it when they were younger. How many potentially excellent musicians have we never had because of that?


The origins of the tradition are in small scale gatherings where there is no physical or, more significantly, social separation between the players and the listeners: the tradition of the céili house is continued as far as is possible in a modified but instantly recognisable form with the pub session.

Microphones and elevated stage platforms have the effect of destroying this fragile dynamic (which is why Singers' Clubs generally avoid them), and replacing it with 'performer' and 'audience'. The adoption of blatantly commerical attitudes and the commodification of culture further changes the purpose and direction of traditional music.

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