Sam Harmon – Music and Marketing Man

Positively Entertainment & Dining – Written by Bonnie Carter

10 years ago, I decided to go in a new branding direction with Positively Entertainment and Dining…we needed to freshen up the PED look a little. I knew of Sam Harmon through the NW music scene as lead singer of the popular band Thrillride. The band’s solid rotation in the NW music scene caught my attention. What also caught my eye was Thrillride’s stimulating promotional material. So, I reached out to Sam to find out who was behind the band’s promotional work. What surprised me was that Sam did all of the promo stuff himself. Digging a little deeper, I found out that he has a design business that has been providing services to many Northwest events and acts over the years. Waterfront Blues Festival. Bite Of Oregon. Washington, Clackamas, Clark and Oregon State Fairs. WoodburnTulip Fest. Oregon Airshow. Portland Roadster Show. Aaron Meyer. Petty Fever. Ellen Whyte. Etc… After seeing his portfolio of work, I couldn’t resist getting Sam involved with PED’s new branding direction. 

Besides celebrating PED’s 49th Anniversary, this is Sam’s 10 year anniversary of producing our covers. Let’s get to know the guy who has been an integral part of the music AND marketing of the NW entertainment scene for many years.

Bonnie: “Howdy, Sam! First and foremost, thanks for 10 years of cool PED covers! I’ve always wondered, what has been your process for coming up with the look and feel for each featured musician, band or artist.”

Sam: “Thanks, Bonnie…It’s been a blast! You’ve featured so many great NW entertainers…hope I made ’em look as good as they are. My process has been to understand the feeling of the artist and their music, then try to capture the same feeling using the great photos provided, many by the talented Kathy Rankin. I then use colors, graphics, layouts and fonts to represent the artist best as I can.”

Bonnie: “You have captured each artist well! Your marketing and promotional experience really shows for Thrillride, along with the other events and acts you have worked with. I had no idea you have been a marketing man for so many big and small events and artists.”

Sam: “Well, if it wasn’t for NW marketing and promotional icons like Clay Fuller, Terry Amato, Jim Miller, George Cordova, Peter Dammann, Andy Gilbert, etc…I would never have had the chance to build such a resume. It’s been a blessing to work with some of the best, and I have learned a lot about motivating people to go to live events and shows. The core lesson I learned is to visually entice people to desire the experience of the event or band live…as simply, originally and boldly as possible. Mainly, by using ‘Hierarchy of Enticement’ (HOE).”

Bonnie: “Hierarchy of Enticement? Do tell…”

Sam: “HOE is putting the visual enticements in the most impactual order. It’s invaluable as a guide to effective promos. HOE is the art of placing the most enticing visual message (image or words) as the centerpiece that draws the viewer in, then put the rest in the right order of importance. The toughest challenge doing promotion yourself is truly seeing things from an outsider point of view. It’s hard to realize that first time viewers aren’t even thinking about you. They are bombarded with life issues, along with all the promos from others. You have to do something very special to get their attention these days. Draw them in. There are so many subconscious ‘bells and whistles’ needed to visually entice and motivate potential patrons to take action.”

Bonnie: “Seems like we are just scratching the surface of the marketing/promo side of the entertainment biz. What other marketing ‘bells and whistles’ are you willing to share?”

Sam: “I’m happy to share a few more! I love the NW music family, and if a few things I’ve learned from years of marketing events and acts can be of help to my fellow musicians, that’s cool. Some may already know a few of the following marketing (promo) basics and are having success by engaging them. Awesome! For those who need a boost or their efforts ain’t pullin’ it, here’s a few basic promo suggestions, in no specific order: 

1. With your promo material, establish a unique visual look, feel and flow that best represents your live show. And, make sure it’s really REALLY good. Bad promo direction can do a lot of damage and turn people away who have never seen you.

2. Make sure your promos are bold, simple, impactual and readable from a distance. Less is more: What, When and Where, in that order. Make the rest smaller. The viewer will read it if you grabbed their attention in the first place. Be sure to make that centerpiece WOW! This ain’t the time to be generic. There’s way too much competition to be bland.

3. Never show live images or videos of your band playing with no crowd in front of you…it’s a promo kiss of death. It shows potential bookers you can’t draw a crowd, and potential newbies that have never been to your show, that it may not be a blast. Know that in most cases, it’s not just the act, it’s the validation and stimulus of being around others.

4. If making and posting videos, keep it short and sweet. Highlight only highlights. Get rid of mundane stuff like time between songs, generic parts of songs, boring stage moments, no crowds, etc. Make people want the experience.

5. Keep in mind, EVERYTHING you put out to the public is either enticing or damaging. Often times, the promo you present is all some folks will know about you. Don’t blow it.”

Bonnie: “I’m getting the feel of what you are saying. I think it can be hard sometimes for musicians to see their promotional efforts from the viewer’s point of view. Some seem to have issues investing in the ‘product’ side of their art.”

Sam: “Absolutely. There is a fine line between being an ‘artist’ and being a ‘product’. Us musicians want to do our thing and share our talents. But IF we want to make a decent living doing what we love, we need to also invest in what is most effective to sell ourselves to bookers and followers. Whether it’s not knowing how, or too big of egos, I see many gifted musicians who aren’t doing some of the basic and fixable things needed to be considered for the next level of marketability. Once you understand that you are an artist AND a product, you start focusing more on what an audience wants to FEEL at your shows.”

Bonnie: “Interesting! I do remember you saying something about there being musicians and entertainers, but rarely both. Is that tied in to marketability?”

Sam: “Oh my yes! Yet, I want to be careful not to tell any fellow musician how to do their thing. We all default to a natural, comfortable way we express our music, and we perform accordingly. 
Bonnie: “And to let the reader know, you have had pretty decent success ‘doing your thing’. You have opened for some big national acts, did a USO tour to the Middle East during the 1st Gulf war, TV appearances, were a featured band at the opening of the Moda Center, played nearly every fair, event, casino (and bar) in the NW, had a little success with airplay of originals.
Sam: “I count my blessings and have a soul full of wonderful memories! To break down the product side of being a musician, marketability is all about assets you can provide to venues and attendees to entice their expectations. In the entertainment biz, those assets are how many people want you and why. This results in creating the ONLY thing the events and venues want: Attendance. To build the ‘want’, it’s paramount to learn about psychological elements people subconsciously (and consciously) respond to that make them prefer some musicians/shows over others, resulting in bigger followings. It’s very much related to the Four Fuels of the Soul studies: Stimulus (the experience at a show), Validation (how the musicians made them feel at the show), Fairness (whether the time, money and effort was worth the experience at the show) and Security (if they felt safe and with ‘family’ at the show). Fulfill those, and you will build a product in demand.” 

Bonnie: “Sounds like there are underlying elements to the process of success. Do you have any suggestions?”

Sam: “A few, with consideration that some of the following suggestions may not fit certain acts. Here are a few fundamental pointers I’ve picked up from bookers, agents and promotors that seem to work to improve marketability:

1. People at our shows are motivated by, and sometimes live vicariously through the actions, personality and passion you show on stage. So, act like you are possessed by your own music, just like you want the audience to be. Move. Dance. Show passion and emotion. This ain’t easy when you have been doing the same songs and the same shows for so long. Believe me, I know! Yet, you will be enjoyed more if you keep the audience feeling you throughout the show.

2. Move when playing your music. Imagine there is a trap door under you that leads to a pit full of music-haters, and if you stand in one place too long, the door opens and you drop in to musician Hell. Use the stage as much as you can. Give your audience something to watch. I’ve seen many  a band that are musically tight and had good song choices, but just couldn’t get the peeps off their butts. The all too often reason is the peeps didn’t FEEL them. Static and expressionless delivery takes the fire out of the room. Always remember: Peeps follow you.

3. Try to smile or show your soul often and genuinely. Make your aura be one of enjoyment, friendliness, passion and pleasure. Take a look at your live band photos/videos. Do you look disconnected from an audiences point of view? 
Always show passion, even above ‘looking good’. One of my little tricks is to imagine many photos are being taken and will end up all over social media. I always want people who have never been to a show to feel they missed out on a great time. Plus: if you genuinely appreciate those who are at your show instead of someone else’s show, you’ll have a reason to smile all show long! 

4. Tell the story of each song you are playing: instrumentally, vocally, physically and emotionally. This is the secret sauce to connecting and keeping an audience’s attention. Learn creative/theatrical ways to turn each song in to a mini play. Use body and facial language. If the song’s a heartbreaker, play with a broken heart. If the songs about partying, pump it up and party…you get the idea. This is the way to be a band in demand, not a human jukebox in a bar.

5. Whether it’s clothes, actions, staging and/or stylizing…do something bold, unique and significant. The more senses (sound, sight…maybe not so much of smell, taste or touch) you connect with, the more of a memorable brand you develop. Someone once told me that you should be able to tell who the band is during a break by the way they look. Loved that!

6. Show a camaraderie and connection with your fellow band members on stage. Go to them. Play with them. This communicates a family connection and positivity that the peeps will feel. Of course, Play through errors. NEVER show negatively. You never want to break the fantasy the audience and band are living at the moment. Trust me, we know when we mess up. Keep investing in making your bandmates feel like the rock star they want to be. Fix it later.

Bonnie: “Those are solid insights that a few bands I’ve seen could use. So, Mr. Harmon, I’ve had a few people say they haven’t seen Thrillride in a while, What’s been going on?”

Sam: “Just over a year ago, I chose to take a break from music to focus on a few other creative and business adventures. My focus now is on my promo and design services for musicians, events and other clients (, which I kinda left behind when Thrillride was my life. I was also going through a little burn-out from working all week and performing on weekends. As much as I love blowing off ‘life-steam’ on stage nearly every weekend…I was missing personal and creative time, hiking, fishing, drawing, painting, hobbies, being with and taking care of loved ones, etc… As far my marketing business, I’m now working with a few NW events, musicians and artists to build attendance and following, along with some other fun projects, including original songs ( I do intend to get back in the music scene when the right situation develops. I have a few ideas floating around in my cranium that I think would be tons of fun! I miss all the peeps in the NW entertainment community!”

Bonnie: “Well, we’d enjoy having you back on stage, and look forward to seeing your creative and marketing work in 2024. And big thanks for the covers!”
If you’d like Sam to help with your music or event marketing, branding, promos or graphics, call sam direct: 503-233-4408 for additional info.

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