By Stacey Robertson
Central Washington University Music students are already benefitting from the expertise of one of our newest assistant professors, Dr. Mark Samples.
A musicologist, Dr. Samples examines how branding and promotion influenced the careers of some of the most familiar names in music history.
“Every composer or performer, who has gained wide attention and recognition, has either been a great self-promoter or had a champion,” Dr. Samples said. “Musicians have long been successful as entrepreneurs in a field that has historically been suspicious or even outright hostile to commercialism. In my scholarship, I provide a fuller account of how musicians have navigated this minefield both in the past and today.”
Jenny Lind was a Swedish vocalist, who captivated American audiences during her 1850 tour, thanks to the machinations of legendary promoter P.T. Barnum. Although the “Swedish Nightingale” was already an European star, she was relatively unknown in America, prior to her first tour. Thanks to Barnum’s public relations expertise, her first concert alone brought in $10,000 (1850-era valued dollars).
“Barnum’s pre-promotional campaign prepared the American public for Lind’s arrival by creating a clearly defined brand persona based upon three qualities: celebrity, artistry and charity,” said Dr. Samples.
Lind’s success involved more than Barnum and his hype machine. It certainly did not hurt that she was a talented singer, and many European musicians including renowned composer and pianist Frédéric Chopin were also in her corner.
Showman and businessman Barnum was not the first to become very successful in the entertainment business (e.g., “The Greatest Show on Earth) and certainly was not the last. Samples’ points to Richard Wagner and Igor Stravinsky as not only great composers, but reputable self-promoters in their own right.
What is a Musicologist?
Dr. Samples considers himself a cultural historian of music. The linkage to Communication and History is obvious, but keep in mind that he is also an accomplished musician in his own right. Though his main performance venue today is the classroom, he is adept at both the piano and the saxophone, and has played both instruments in school, jazz, pop and folk-rock bands as he grew up.
He received his undergraduate degree in Music Theory and Composition from Pt. Loma Nazarene University and his Ph.D in Musicology from the University of Oregon in 2011. He joined our faculty here at Central Washington University in 2015.
Photo by Erin Zysett
Can a musician succeed on marketing alone?
Dr. Samples acknowledges that plenty of “shallow music,” succeeded because of excellent promotion. Conversely, there were undoubtedly many talented musicians who failed to develop a following because they did not have champions.
Dr. Samples hopes to provide our skilled musicians at Central with expertise in branding and promotion.
Teaching Today’s Musicians To Be Their Own Advocates
Technological breakthroughs from Gutenberg’s printing press to the digital world of the Internet have repeatedly transformed our world. All of these “disruptive technologies” made it infinitely easier to communicate, but also harder to break through the competing “noise.”
Dr. Samples is concerned that young musicians enter the job market with high levels of musical skill and experience, but a lack a complete set of complementary professional skills.
“Talent is essential, but talent alone is not enough to make a career in music,” said Dr. Samples. “It also takes diligent practice, great networking, the ability to know yourself as an artist and to tell your story effectively. These qualities are not only true for performers, but for music teachers as well.”
That’s why Dr. Samples uses his research to create workshops for student and professional musicians called, “Branding for Musicians.” The workshop teaches musicians how to discover their core artistic values, and has been presented at music schools across the country including SMU’s Meadows School for the Arts and most recently at the School of Music and Dance at the University of Oregon.
The workshop is also drawing interdisciplinary attention, demonstrating how the CWU College of Arts and Humanities mission can resonate outwards. At the University of Oregon, Dr. Samples’ workshop attracted a diverse audience.
“In addition to musicians, I had people from the School of Business, the Journalism school, two music festival administrators, and even one from the Department of Interior Architecture, all gathered in one place discussing music,” said Dr. Samples. “It was exhilarating.
“The real goal in my mind is not teaching musicians how to become famous. Instead I want to teach them smarter ways to organize their careers so they can get back to doing what they love, making music.”
With Dr. Samples’ expertise, CWU music students will be better equipped to advocate for their artistry, tell their own stories, and ultimately bring tremendous value to their audiences, students and communities.
To learn more about Dr. Samples’ work, please visit mark-samples.com