September 09, 2019

Paying More Attention to Promo

I've been thinking more about distribution and promotion lately. For a long time I just kept my head down and was solely focused on actually making my cartoons, but now I'm realizing that's just one part of the process. I've never had a proper release strategy-- whenever I finish a short I just dump it online, tweet about it and maybe post some GIFs. But it seems like minimal releases only work if you're already big or very prolific. Obviously I need a better plan, so I've been looking at how other people do it, hoping to find an approach that makes sense to me. I don't believe good work will just naturally find its audience. That may have been more true in the past, in the early days of the internet, when people were actively seeking out weird new stuff... But I think the social media 'feed' format has dulled that curiosity. Now people just wait for cool stuff to show up in front of them.

As an independent artist, without any mechanisms around you for promotion, you have to be proactive in making people aware of your stuff. Some artists are good at the business side, but many aren't, and that's often romanticized or seen as more artistically pure-- to feign ignorance or disinterest in how people find your stuff. Promo work is mundane and it's not sexy to talk about it, but it is important.

We're often fed this notion of a 'pure' artist who churns out brilliant, successful work while scorning the commercial world. It's a romantic idea, but in reality with most of the art we enjoy, the story also involves a pragmatic, business-minded support figure-- a manager, producer, promoter, etc. Someone who sees the artist and goes "yeah, I can sell that." And that's not a bad thing, it's a necessary part of the equation. Sure, the Beatles were musical geniuses but they wouldn't have gotten nearly as far without their manager Brian Epstein, who got their record deals, booked their tours, and told them to dress nice and bow together. Audiences seem to want some kind of cohesive narrative or brand, something to hold on to when they discover a new artist. Whether good or bad, that's human nature.

I'm kind of rambling here, but anyway I've been researching what that promo work might entail, and also realizing that as an independent artist, nobody will fill that role other than me. I have to accept the importance of that stuff rather than ignoring it. It seems daunting, but I'm hoping to do it in a way that doesn't feel dirty or cynical. Studio Ghibli may be a model to follow in that sense-- I just finished reading Ghibli producer Toshio Suzuki's autobiography and I'll be sharing some details I thought were interesting.

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