marketing2Does the starving artist really exist anymore? The image of a person working menial jobs and just scraping by in order to channel as much of his or her energy and resources as possible in creative pursuits was born of a different era – a time when artist types needed business types in order to break into a particular scene.

Gallery owners, booking agents, publishers, producers were all so-called “gatekeepers” who decided who was allowed to pass through the velvet rope.

Building an audience in the new millennium means budding artists don’t necessarily have to fight stray cats for food scraps in the alleyways. Technology has given artists of all stripes cost-effective tools that enable them to make a living off doing what they love.

Musicians, painters, dancers, ceramists, filmmakers, weavers, photographers, jewelers, and writers essentially operate as small business owners nowadays, doing all their own marketing and promotion in addition to producing the work.

Just like with any entrepreneur, the need to extract as much value from every dollar spent is critical when you’re just starting out. Here are some of the methods independent artists are using to successfully make a living doing what they love.

Email Newsletters

Even more important than a website, in some respects. When harmonica wizard Frederic Yonnet has video footage of him and Prince jamming, he doesn’t want to wait until a person stumbles upon his website to view it.

Delivering it directly to your inbox ensures it’s timely and promotes sharing with people who may not be familiar with Yonnet’s own CDs and scheduled performances.

The web is chock full of providers who enable you to custom-design templates and manage address lists for free while you’re gaining a following.


In a must-read article found on the British blog, Wishful Thinking, Shira Richter describes cartoonist Matthew Inman’s strategy of giving away free drawings on his website, which leads to people buying his work on items like coffee mugs as well as retaining his talents for custom projects.

“Even when Matthew gives away his cartoons for free, he’s not really giving them away for free,” Richter writes. “He’s giving his work away in return for attention. Now that he has an audience paying attention, he’s in a very strong position to sell.”

Direct Mail

Really? (You’re probably asking.) Yes, really. The tangible is still mightier than the virtual, and thanks to online vendors the designing and printing of direct-mail pieces has never been easier or more cost-effective.

It doesn’t need to be elaborate to be effective. For example, when La Voz de Trez travels outside of their New York City environs, they do a small run of postcards and mailing labels to advertise their concert dates to fans in the area they’re touring. Many visual artists do the same to advertise upcoming exhibits, giving recipients a compelling reminder to stick on their bulletin board or refrigerator.


Artist and graphic designer Falyn Arakelian sells limited edition prints in her Etsy shop. As demonstrated on her Mums & Poppies blog, Arakelian’s whimsical sketches are also perfect for greeting cards, giving customers the chance to act as a salesperson for her work when they care enough to send the very best.


Brattleboro School of Dance greatly expanded its clientele through a collaboration with Windham Regional Career Center that offers performing arts/dance study to students from several area high schools. Not only does this arrangement increase enrollment but it expands awareness about recitals organized by the studio.

Content Marketing

Lisa McCormick is a veritable cottage industry for aspiring guitarists. Her Getting Started With Guitar website has free videos, e-books, and other items to whet the appetite of beginning strummers and fingerpickers. Ultimately, if you’re charmed by Lisa’s teaching style you can enroll as one of her many online students and get personal instruction. You might even find yourself buying a CD with her original music.

Really, all of these ideas fall under the umbrella of content marketing, in one way or another. The big advantage of being a creative type is that you’re already producing the work you want to be known for. Using these marketing strategies is just the method to get it in front of as many people as possible and be successful. Maybe you’ll even get to stick it to the gatekeepers!

Chris Lenois is a business owner and freelance journalist writing for Vistaprint Deals, the official site for Vistaprint coupon codes, where artists and musicians can find discounts on business cards and other marketing materials to promote their work. Chris has contributed numerous articles on marketing and business trends to publications, including Wired and the New Orleans Times-Picayune.