Marketing Your Art 101: Creating Dances and Creating Audiences

By Joe Landini


FIRST LET ME START WITH A DISCLAIMER: Some of the ideas I broach in the next few paragraphs are practices that have not actually been implemented by our organization. Marketing for artists is a very popular topic right now, particularly because of the downturn in the economy. My original idea was to do a straightforward article about the importance of marketing and the kinds of options that dance artists have to promote their work. But when doing the research for this article, I realized that while marketing is obviously an important skill for artists to have, the more pressing issue is the amount of time it requires to execute a well-planned marketing plan. Who has the time to make art and then sell it? So, the challenge becomes how to create a comprehensive, expedient marketing plan that serves your purposes and actually leaves you enough time for art-making.

The first step is to identify what kind of project you want to promote. Most choreographers decide how to market their work after they have created the new work, so this idea might feel like putting the cart before the horse. Deciding who your audience is before you create the work can create an interesting shift in your marketing paradigm. And if you’re interested in developing your audience beyond friends and family, it becomes crucial. For example, I decided to present some work this spring and I knew that I wanted to have a multiple-week run. I felt like I could create a dance program that would be a good fit for the National Queer Arts Festival, which runs the entire month of June. The Festival producers were happy to have an audience-friendly show to market on the weekends when many GLBT visitors are in town, and I automatically had a demographic to market towards. When using this kind of marketing strategy, it’s important to make sure it’s a good fit creatively; luckily for me, I had a real interest in creating work for this particular festival. Also, I had a venue near the downtown hotels and Theatre Bay Area’s half price ticket booth in Union Square. All of these factors will help potential audience members find my show.

The next step is to create a realistic budget that you can use as a tool to help you brainstorm your marketing plan. The budget should be attainable and will help you identify the different kinds of income streams your marketing plan can promote. Recently an artist at The Garage made the decision to pre-sell all of the tickets to his performances. He identified who his audience was through his email list and spent six months pre-selling tickets online, emphasizing the idea of “limited seating” in a 49-seat theatre. This allowed the artist to have a clear idea about what his box office receipts were going to be and how much money he had to spend on marketing and production. Not all artists have access to large email lists but pre-selling tickets is an excellent way to promote your project and create some buzz about your performances. Audience members are more likely to discuss your show on Facebook or Twitter if they already have tickets.

This introduces an important issue: How much time should you spend on marketing? I think the answer is to spend one hour on marketing for every hour of art-making. Obviously this is not always realistic but keep in mind that the amount of time you spend on marketing will have a direct effect on the size of your audience. Also, keep in mind that many marketing ideas can be implemented early in the process and your marketing plan can be in place before you start making art. Websites, email lists, and social networks like Facebook can be established early, and being able to articulate your marketing plan is half the battle.

It’s important to think outside the box when you’re marketing your project: Identify what is unique about your project and utilize those resources. Try to include marketing as an integral part of being a working artist and it will help increase your visibility and expose your work to a larger audience.

Here are some marketing strategies to consider:

A) Select a neighborhood to promote yourself in. By selecting a geographic area, you can solicit support from local merchants, restaurants and bars. Your project will probably bring an influx of people to that area and you can help local businesses make connections with your audience. Encourage local businesses to offer discounts to your audience members by advertising on your website and postcards. Ask if restaurants want to host a reception that includes a discounted pre-show dinner. Bars will sometimes offer a free glass of wine. Last year, Denia Dance created a two-for-one ad in their program for a local café that then hosted their closing night reception at the café. The café ended up being full of audience members and they had to turn away their regular clientele.

B) Expand your online presence. Facebook, Twitter, Yelp and YouTube are all helpful resources and many of them can help you pre-sell tickets. Facebook actually has a ticketing service and there are many websites where you can easily post your event. But keep in mind that maintaining these websites is time-consuming, so make sure you know how much time you have to spend uploading information. Open your accounts before you start marketing your event so that you can save time later. YouTube is especially important for choreographers, so be sure your videos are professional and accurately reflect the project you’re promoting.

C) Put some thought into your marketing materials and be sure the information is professional and presented accurately. Try to make sure your marketing reflects your project and accurately represents what you’re developing. These materials will help you promote your work confidently and help you reach out to potential audiences. Audiences have many choices when selecting a show to see and it’s important that they feel their time and money are valued.

D) Identify your resources. Many dancers know visual artists, DJs, chefs, photographers, musicians, filmmakers and body-workers. All of these people can help with creative collaborations, fundraisers, silent auctions and receptions (all of which are great marketing tools). Find out who is interested in supporting your vision and be creative about how to utilize their skills. Create a working board of advisors that can help direct your resources and utilize marketing opportunities.

E) Create partnerships with other non-profits outside of the dance field. Non-profits are always looking for opportunities to promote their organizations and raise money. For our performances in June, we invited a different non-profit to host each performance. For each ticket the non-profit sells to their members, we donate half the ticket price to that non-profit.

This article appeared in the March 2010 issue of In Dance.

Joe Landini is a choreographer and arts administrator. He received his BA in Choreography from UC Irvine and his MA in Choreography from the Laban Centre (London). He received the GOLDIE from the SF Bay Guardian in 2013. His new work, Container/Vessel will premier at SPF8 at the ODC Theater in July 2015.