I promote my friends’ art—books, records, poetry, film-making, visual arts, etc. Many of my friends promote each other’s work too. When my new book comes out in early 2017, I will ask my friends to help me get the word out. And many of them will.
Most of us will feel a little uncomfortable doing this, but we will use our voices anyway because we understand how things work in this moment in history, and because we want our friends to do well.
Promotion is strange work—especially for those of us who don’t make our living in the marketing world. It can seem (and actually be) that we’re asking our friends to say good things about us publicly in the hope that more people will discover, come to appreciate, and, yes, purchase our work.
Anyone who records albums or writes books can tell you this is a terrible way to make money. Hardly anyone sells enough copies of anything to make even a modest living, much less become wealthy. Good art seldom earns good money. Best-selling art is not necessarily good art. And work that a gifted artist sometimes can’t even seem give away is often truly excellent.
We live in a unique era when it comes to the production and distribution of art. Even twenty years ago, for music to have a shot at being heard or for books to stand a chance of being seen—let alone read—musicians and writers typically had to go through major labels, publishers, and distributors. We had no social media, no iTunes, no Amazon, and no easily sharable digital formats to speak of. Artistic industries had gate-keepers who were charged with minding the bottom line. I’m not making a value judgment about that—just acknowledging how the system once worked.
But now, artists have many ways to get their work in front of lots of people without relying on major labels or publishers. We have social media, blogs, email, mp3’s, pdf’s, Dropbox, iTunes, Kickstarter, and other music and content sharing and crowd-sourcing platforms. We can share anything we want – electronically, freely, instantly, and globally.
One complication that comes with having the ability to share our art and our work electronically, freely, instantly, and globally is market saturation. There’s so much out there competing for our attention. And it just keeps coming. Chances are you have albums in your iTunes or books on your shelf that you got for free and have never engaged with. Why haven’t you? Because, typically, free stuff has no real intrinsic worth. It was free. It was as easy to get as one of those old AOL CD-ROM’s from 1996.
Forget having a best seller. With so much out there, and so much of it free, it’s a struggle unto itself just to let the world know your art exists.
One of the benefits, however, of creating art in this moment in history is that our friends can have a real and honest influence on its distribution. When a friend of mine comes out with a new record or book, I want you to know about it, and I’m hoping you’ll purchase it.
Not because I want the book or record to become a best-seller. I can’t make that happen for anyone. The real reason I promote my friends’ work is because I believe their voices leave the world a little better than they found it, and because I want them to be able to keep going.
If I promote a friend’s book, I’m not promoting a product as much as I am supporting someone whose voice I believe in. I’m promoting my friend. This means sometimes I promote things that may not perfectly fit my preferences. Or material for which I may not be the target audience. I give my support because I know the artists (or know about them) and personally believe in and want to support their work. I want them to thrive and grow as artists.
So I promote their work. And I hope some of you will, in turn pick up that book or record, and then in turn tell your friends.
Promoting a friend’s work is sometimes awkward. And self-promotion generally feels gross to the artists themselves. Most every artist I know feels this way and struggles with promoting their own work—which is, nevertheless, an essential part of the process. But, I cannot think of a better way to distribute art than by word of mouth from people who have benefitted personally from either the work itself or the person who made it.
So I will go on promoting my friends’ work, hoping you benefit from it and come to love those artists as much as I do.
And if you end up buying their work, which will help set the stage for whatever they do next, that will be just fine by me.
Russ Ramsey is the pastor of Christ Presbyterian Church Cool Springs in Nashville, Tennessee, where he lives with his wife and four children. He grew up in the fields of Indiana and studied at Taylor University and Covenant Theological Seminary (MDiv, ThM). Russ is the author of the Retelling the Story Series (IVP, 2018) and Struck: One Christian’s Reflections on Encountering Death (IVP, 2017).