This month's column, in case you were wondering, borrows its title from the Taco
Bell Corporation here in America, purveyors of burritos, enchiladas and all things
Mexican in their attempt to get you and me to think beyond the mighty beef-burger
when that fast-food craving destroys our better judgement.
It's a statement you'll remember, you'll always associate with their product, and it
seriously gets you to re-evaluate your automatic instinct for MacDonald's or Burger
King. In time it will take a huge bite out of the burger giants' market share
without really being too confrontational. It's now up to the others to respond as
shrewdly. Very clever.
Marketing is a very ugly business. Loosely defined, it's the skilled and controlled
exposure of a product to a specially targeted consumer base. It creates a share of
the market place by offering that product as a continually available option until
most folks give just simply it a try. Its ultimate aim is creating familiarity. It
then relies on the law of averages for enough people to like it and remain true to
the product and those that don't can please themselves and either shun it forever or
come back to it at a later date. It's a brutal business that has all kinds of hidden
tricks and measures but no matter what the 'spin' or 'tactic' it relies on, the
basic product has to be of sufficient quality to stand the rigours of the market and
the scrutiny of the customer.
On the face of it, it doesn't seem it should have much place in the delicate and
subtle world of music making. It seems incongruous. There are many great players the world over who have never had a moment's recognition because of their inability to either accept marketing as a 'necessary evil' or simply they are just not very good
about 'marketing' themselves. It kinda feels wrong to 'blow one's own trumpet' or
perhaps deep down they know they're not really equipped to go out into the world
with their music, for one reason or another. There are many others who have
benefited from some corporate marketing machine that has elevated what is quite
frankly an average product into an iconic 'must have' by music fans in their
But, and here's the big deal, constant marketing of any nature finally really does
pay dividends. At least to some extent. If you're a kid sitting in a bedroom
somewhere in metropolis suburbia it's really an achievement if you can get anyone in
the same damned city to know who you are let alone someone at the other side of the
world. If you have made this journey already and made people of other cultures aware
of you little CD, I for one have the greatest respect for what you must have put
into your 'dream'. Even if I hated your music I would still shake your hand and
applaud your work ethic.
The power of marketing is always apparent to me. I have been all over the place with
the Neil Brocklebank tours and without fail, no matter where we play, someone will
approach him and say 'Hey you're Brocklebank, I think you are either great, or you
stink like shit as a player'. Of course we probably have no idea who they are at
all, but somehow we reached them ahead of our arrival. They may well be ten times
the guitarist Brock will ever be, but we'll never know. They chose not to put their
ass on the line and put themselves up for public consumption. Certainly the sensible
course of action! Getting a little recognition on the other side of the world isn't
a fluke. It's just a little bit of success for the efforts in marketing the player.
We don't get all overcome with vanity and self-importance, Neil and all of us around
him just get a small sigh of relief that some of our life commitment paid us back a
little small change. Pouring the last drops of your cash flow into more posters,
more flyers, more ads, more anything to reach just a few more people and be familiar
to people you don't know is an on going circle of existence.
Brocklebank doesn't have any corporate big guns behind him. In fact there's only a
tiny label with limited resources, but we pour everything we have into moving our
player forward. I've heard some say he is over-hyped... impossible I say! If you're
seeing the same ad for the tenth time, there'll always be someone seeing for the
first and as a consequence buying the CD's for the first time and telling others
about it. Just because the marketing has reached you too many times for comfort
doesn't mean we should stop. There's an awful lot more folks reading the same
magazine as you out there who whether you like it or not, we still want to reach.
I remember years ago getting an album by a fine guitarist called Dave Kilminster
from England and it just looked so cool back then in the 80's with it's black/white
chequered cover and all. I bought it on the strength of that. It turned out to be an
album that inspired me to really get into guitar and from then on I realized the
power of a snappy sleeve cover, a cool hair-do and a guitar that you wished you
could buy. I'd still go watch him play twenty years or so later if I knew he was in
town. A little bit of simple straight forward marketing created a life-long
association for me with the product whether I like it or not.
Something that guitarists sometimes seem to forget is that by and large they are the
product, not just the music they produce. Some I'm sure will argue this but
generally all the players that you really like have in some way marketed themselves
as a saleable commodity. It is often difficult to get the lesser-known artist to
actually see him or herself in this way. If, say a household-cleaning product was
marketed as the 'best cleaning product in the UK' it would probably not cause too
much controversy. If some others decided it wasn't, who cares? All they can do is
try to compete with their own brand. No one gets hurt feelings! If we market someone
as the 'UK's Premier Rock Guitar Player' then he had better get tough and treat
himself as a 'product' because it's going to get personal. It's no good him taking
offence when a battery of people disagree and hurl abuse. Cunning thing is though,
that once again the marketing has done its job. The more people get on internet
forums, letters to editors, chat rooms etc and argue the merits of such a bold
statement, we're very happy. The product has learned to not be offended by anyone's
remarks. Course we can't let all the good stuff flatter the artist either.
Labelling Neil Brocklebank 'The UK's Premier Rock Guitar Player' has caused both
agreement and indignant outrage. It is supposed to. It is a statement that we know
in reality is nigh on impossible to measure exactly. But it is based largely on what
we see. If you live in Scotland, Holland, France or frankly anywhere outside of the
south of England how many UK based good rock guitar instrumentalists have passed
through town recently? I'll be amazed if you can recall one. We try to get
Brocklebank to play everywhere all the time. Eventually this will pay off and we
will have developed enough of a sub-culture underground following to be happy. It's
very easy to take issue with the statement 'The UK's Premier Rock Guitar Player' but
if you live in North Wales, or North West England when was the last time anyone else
any more deserving of the title decided to play in your neighbourhood.Maybe we
should change it to `The UK`s hardest-working Guitarist!"
The bigger point here is, do not be scared of marketing yourself even if it's a
little against the grain of popular opinion or expectation. I remember when
Yngwie Malmsteen first broke way back in the early eighties. Once he'd been discovered in Mike Varney's famous 'Spotlight Column' in Guitar Player Magazine he made a great name for himself by making outrageous statements for the time in every interview he ever did. He aligned himself with the great composers of history, Bach, Beethoven and the whole gang. He re-invented himself as a latter-day Paganini. Still known as the master of that stuff today. Re-reading some of his words seem a little tame now but back in those days he said some pretty controversial things that created a crowd for him as well as a crowd against him. He was never out of the gossips columns though. A lot of people were shocked, but he could deliver no matter how much he and his record company pissed you off. You either loathed him or loved him. He courted that controversy and became a fascinating read every time he appeared on a magazine cover or on TV.
Malmsteen was good, very good, in fact still to this day one of my favorite players. But he knew how to market himself too. He definitely thought outside of the bun!