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Riffing on the Tradition: A Beautiful Friendship - Meet Sarah Gromko

[New Orleans musicians have a new ally. Meet Sarah Gromko, a music marketing professional dedicated to helping artists embrace online business strategies.]

If you follow my column, you know I don’t hide my ambivalence about trends in music business and dependence on social media. One reason I became a musician in the first place was to justify being less social. Sometimes, I even joke that the reason I play jazz is because I don’t like crowds. So, at a recent music business workshop at the Tipitina’s Music Co-op, even though marketing professional Sarah Gromko has some excellent things to say about building a fanbase, I became physically tense hearing about "engaging loyal fans," and thinking of them not only as my customers but as my employers too.

Sarah is enthusiastic and empathetic to musicians' needs (Prior to her work as a marketing educator and consultant, she made a living as a musician), and I was excited to learn that she has recently moved here to New Orleans. To let musicians to know more about her work, I spoke with her in advance of the third part of her workshop, next Thursday (Feb. 16): Fanta$tic: How a Broad Understanding of Your Fan Base Can Increase Your Bottom Line

First I asked her what advice she has for musicians like me who are less accustomed to focusing on their own promotion and find aspects of that frustrating? She reminded me that musicians have always had to be self-marketers. The main difference now is that we need to realize that instead of putting ourselves out there to be discovered by a label, the goal is to be discoverable to people who want to listen to what we do. For Sarah, the most important thing musicians can do, regardless of what style of music they play, is to keep track of the fans who express interest in their work. She is not only an expert on the Internet tools that can help us do that in an organized way, but she's also adept at how to keep following us interested.

So, "Yay," we're building a fanbase. We’re on Facebook and Twitter instead of stapling flyers to telephone poles or bulletin boards in grocery stores and coffee shops, and we’re spending as much time on our Webpages as mastering our craft. But who truly has the time to keep fans engaged, AND hustle work, AND develop as artists? Well, Sarah acknowledges how daunting that is. For her, it’s also important to remember that anyone successful in music has built a team to help with the business side. On that front, she’s full of unique ideas about what those relationships look like. Help could be from a devoted fan working in trade just as easily as a hired marketing consultant like her.

Part of what excites Sarah about New Orleans is seeing demand for what she does. She loves teaching musicians how to embrace their creativity and helping them envision and develop sustainable careers. She is also impressed by the demand for live music here and its importance to the identity of the city. I pointed out that our music is largely tied to our tourism and asked what we can do, as a music community, to generate demand for our music on its own merit, not only to sell hotel rooms and drinks?

Echoing what the Co-op's Mark Fowler said, she emphasized that each musician is responsible for themselves and representing their unique vision. Sarah is optimistic that, though generating demand for what we do is a long process, educating our “active” fans by staying in contact with them will gradually help them be more discerning. In short, it’s up to us to help them develop more specific expectations of what they want to hear and where they want to hear it.

Welcome to New Orleans, Sarah, glad you're here.
[Sarah Gromko’s third workshop, Thursday, February 16 at 4pm, is open to members of the Music Co-op, although priority will be given to those who have attended previous sessions. Learn more about her at http://www.gromkomusic.com/ ]

Evan Christopher is a noted member of the New Orleans music community and advocates for the cultural workforce. Click here for his performance schedule. He writes MAC-Notes for NolaVie. Email him with your comments about cultural issues, particularly in the music world, at [email protected]