A blog for musicians and music industry people. It is a free educational resource and it is also the way I advertise my music consulting services. I am an entertainment professional with deep roots in the music industry. Throughout my music career I have been a major label A&R representative, a music supervisor, an artist manager, a reality show producer, a bass player and the head of a digital record label.
You Are Viewing Advice for musicians
No interview today. I apologize, I’m quite behind on interviews but I just wanted to write a bit about a disconnect I have been noticing with many of the musicians I know and have been working with in the last few months. When you cold call someone who is the one of the gatekeepers to a musician’s success – what do you think their desk looks like?
What I’m about to say is pretty blunt and I apologize but let me spell is out for you- No one gives a damn about your band. I know, that’s awful and sure you can point to a bunch of fans but when it comes to people who are gatekeepers to success it is really one of the most true things I have ever typed.
Why is this? Well most gatekeepers (Club owners, booking agents, music managers, A&R executives, music supervisors etc) got into the business because they loved music. They came to be in whatever their position by being an assistant, some by starting some entrepreneurial venture and some by dumb luck. Regardless of how they got there- as soon as they had spent several months or years in that position they began to listen to music in such large quantities that few of them are able to fully process and digest it.
People who filter large amounts of music are often overwhelmed with passionate people who can forget that said gatekeeper is running a business and has to make decisions based on the bottom line more than their love of music. If the musicians they are talking to haven’t demonstrated that they can sell tickets or merchandise or albums – it is very rare that an executive will take a chance on an unknown commodity for love of the music alone.
Be aware of this when cold calling people – don’t take rejection personally. Dig through the people you know who have a relationship with the executive you are looking to contact and get referred. Make sure when you do this that the person referring you has a good relationship though otherwise you may be better off cold calling. People respond to numbers. You don’t want to call someone and try to convince them that your music sounds great – they’ve heard that far too often. A much better tactic is to demonstrate that you have a viable product. Something like – “We bring an average of x people to our shows” or “We sell x amount of tee shirts every night” or “We have gotten our music placed in these shows, films, commercials”. With so much music out there it can really help to give people a tangible measure of your existing success to have them pause long enough to give your music a real in depth listen.
To this end your marketing materials are very important when reaching out to people who can help your career. They should be quick and to the point and highlight your achievements (no matter how humble) so they can get someone to pause long enough to live with your music. I often find that artists tend to seek out lofty industry executives without having spent enough time trying to target and convert everyday people into fans. It has been my experience that to get a gatekeeper to pay attention to a package that comes to them either unsolicited or from a chance meeting the best way is to provide them with proof (read: sales figures and statistics) that your music is viable to people who actually buy music, merch and tickets.
Rachael Sage is a singer, songwriter and record label owner. She has toured the U.S. and Europe and has been pursuing music professionally for more than a decade.
Tell me how you got into the music business.
I’ve been doing music as long as I could walk. I had a piano in my house, and my parents, who were both tone deaf ironically, were wonderfully encouraging despite their lack of musical interest. It was there, and I made friends with it from the time I was about two. I just started sounding everything out that I could possibly get my ears on. I started writing songs when I was about four, just playing melodies, and then words came as soon as I figured out that songwriting was essentially understanding what other people are saying and doing – and that’s often of even greater interest than your own life. That’s how I’ve approached songwriting ever since. That’s kind of how fiction writers probably approach their craft as well. Everyone sort of assumes my songs are about myself because a lot of them are first person, but as a rule, I usually start from the perspective of other people around me; then I realize how similar we all are…
As far as the label, that is a much more recent evolution. I started when I was a couple years out of college, and I had absorbed a lot of the West Coast music scene. Prior to that, I’d just been your typical “triple threat” – dancer, singer, actress – growing up. I went on auditions, I did local theater, I was a ballerina. I loved to perform, and anytime anything was suggested to me as an opportunity performance wise, I just went after it; I had that drive. Business wise, I had an epiphany when I was out there at Stanford and realized the kind of music I found myself wanting to make in my 20’s was a heck of a lot different than what I was doing in my teens, when it seemed like the doors were going to fling open if I wrote that extremely commercial Top 40 hit for myself or someone else, in terms of publishing.
You were skewing towards writing for commercial success initially?
In my teens, definitely. It was really natural to me. It wasn’t really a conscious choice. I just grew up listening to every format of radio and just being a typical kid in that sense of loving all types of music, listening to my parents’ music, listening to classical, listening to the radio; but at the end of the day, I was writing really hooky poppy tunes that put me in that world a little bit more in terms of my headspace. And then when I went to college – it’s sort of the cliché – but it was when I really figured out who I am and what my own leanings really were as far as what I wanted to say in my lyrics. I heard all kinds of great music on the West Coast like Ani DiFranco and a lot of local folk artists in the Bay Area, and it was just a revelation of what music could be for me. I guess in a nutshell I realized that it was going to be a lot more challenging to get that proverbial meeting with that big-shot manager or record label person or any of the number of people who were already in my Rolodex by the time I went off to college, being a New York ambitious singer/songwriter kid. None of that world really related anymore to what I was doing. I stated to wrack my brain on how I could get my music out there and what I could do to just create my own opportunities.
When the Digital Age dawned, you were already sort of doing the DIY thing.
My first big, bold move personally was I put together a record, but I wasn’t necessarily thinking about it that way yet. It was my first “no apologies” demo. I’d been working on that for years. I’d made demos since I was twelve, but this was one where I thought, “Okay, I’ve got ten or eleven songs here that not only am I excited to drop off at the Bitter End to get my first gig there, but I also would send this to my own idols. This is something that is me and is reflective of me.” That took several years, but I’d say that was probably 1996, and that eventually became my first record, Morbid Romantic. My acting training came in handy immediately as soon as I started re-approaching how to market myself in a way that didn’t necessarily fall in line with any of my previous industry sensibility. I started realizing that no one knew I didn’t have two interns and a manager and a lawyer; I could just present myself to the wider world as though all of that were in place and I had representation of some kind. I’d long known that was the key to getting anyone on the other side of the fence to give you any kind of advice. People have always been reluctant to talk to the artist. It’s different now, but back then that was very much the case.
The industry side of things has been considerably humbled, and rightfully so. You were a New Yorker, you went out to the Bay Area, you moved back to New York after college. Tell me about the process of saying, “I’m going to do this full time.” How did you go about the process of making music your living?
I think as with almost anything in life it was a good deal about doing everything I possibly could to put myself out there to the point of obsession on a daily basis, ritualistically, and then also when certain doors opened and there was a bit of luck involved, I just made sure I was ready. A good example of that was I had already been living in New York a couple years and putting myself out there. I studied theater at the Public Theater and then randomly one of my packages that I sent out to one of my favorite artists Ani DiFranco elicited a very positive response. By that point I’d already played a bunch of gigs in New York, but I hadn’t really toured. I’d played a bunch of universities, but I didn’t really know what touring was all about. But I had already been making my living professionally as a musician of sorts. I was writing jingles and doing jingle singing and voiceover work for a number of different music houses all over the city.
How did you network your way into jingles?
I think today it would be a lot harder, though it’s not impossible.
It wasn’t cool in the 90’s to do jingles. You got snarky comments back then if you were doing Coke commercials.
It ties into the idea of putting yourself out there and not being precious about it. The fact that twice a month I was playing shows at the Bitter End and twice a month I was at the Sidewalk Café doing open mics and sending out packages as though they were written by my manager/agent, virtually every day of the week made that possible.
What was your manager’s name?
My (fake) “manager”’s name was Jen Cohen, and she was a friend of mine that I met through a charity that I was involved with called the Kristin Ann Carr Fund…basically I got permission from a good friend to stick her name all over my stuff to pretend to represent myself. Eventually she actually decided to go into music.
My fictional manager was Jerry. He was on my answering machine.
You know all about that then. You just adjust your voice slightly, put on glasses when you bring your own CD’s to consignment down at Tower Records. I think the first opportunity I got doing jingles, I was already kind of out and about on the singer/songwriter scene and I got a phone call from a producer to whom I’d given my tape hoping and praying he’d want to work with me in an artistic way as a singer/songwriter. Because everyone is paying their rent somehow in New York City, I was completely naïve to the fact that this very well known, platinum level producer did jingles to supplement his own living. That was my first opening – this fellow Frank Aversa who produced the Spin Doctors and a number of other bands. He called me up and said, “Hey, this is Frank Aversa, and I’m wondering if you’re available to come in tomorrow to sing on a jingle and maybe even write one because I’m busy and I like your melodies. Give me a call. Thanks.” And I said, “What is that?” I had no idea what he meant or what that would entail, and it was a trip.
I guess I’d set the stage years prior in my teens, because I’d met the son of a very successful jingle writer in a taxi cab coming back from ballet. This young kid invited me over to dinner, just a totally innocent thing. We hit it off in a taxi, and he invited me over to write a jingle. So when I was sixteen I had written a jingle for Michelob with this kid who lived near me. I made friends with this guy and we sort of practiced and would compare and program drum machines, and he had a home studio…but I’d long forgotten about that.
Things can come full circle when you least expect it. I think one thing that worked in my favor is that I tried to not have a lot of rules about how I wanted my career in music to unfold, but I always kept my eye on my ultimate goal, which was to support myself doing music – and eventually that shifted into wanting to be a full-time touring artist; but I didn’t even really know that until I went out on the road with Ani DiFranco.
I’m guessing Ani was a big inspiration for you picking up the DIY thing, as she’s one of the pioneers of the whole “I don’t need a label” thing. But catch me up to date. What do you make your living doing? Are you building new markets, releasing new albums, sync licenses, jingles? How to you stay afloat?
All of the above. I’ve run a record label for over ten years – MPress Records. It’s evolved slowly from sort of a Wizard of Oz behind the curtain kind of representation for my own work to a fully-functioning, small staff, in an office in New York and we also have other artists and put out compilations. At this point we have a 15-album catalogue, and it’s licensed in the U.S. and all over the world – in the UK and Europe, and we’re working out new locations as well. There are the traditional record sales, which have greatly shifted towards digital, but the majority of our sales still are physical actually. That’s changing incredibly rapidly as everybody knows.
Personally, as an artist I’m basically doing what I’d be doing anyway if I hadn’t ever incorporated or started a label, or decided to go that route business wise – my own ‘dance card’ is always very full. For at least six or seven years, I’ve played as many as 200 shows per year consistently, whether or not I had a new album out in a given year. That model really directly takes inspiration from Ani DiFranco.
Music Consultant How did you get people to take you seriously?
I can tell you exactly how I started doing that. I opened for Ani DiFranco in 1998, it was a huge opportunity to reach out to media in a way that would’ve perhaps taken me another year or two or three. It was really a wonderful gift, and I just really ‘worked it’. I reached out to every possible regional press outlet, every gig I did with her. And then when I played for her fans I made sure I was ready with my mailing list and wrote follow ups to every single person I met on that tour. Shortly thereafter I auditioned for Lilith Fair, and I won that contest and ended up opening for the last year of Lilith Fair in 1999 at the PNC Bank Arts Center. Those were lucky things, that later prompted me to ask, “Why wouldn’t college radio want to play me just because I’m not on a major label?” or “Why wouldn’t I be able to start booking college gigs for a reasonable amount of money even though I don’t have a manager?” And I took those ideas and put them on paper and went to Tower Records and just presented myself in this way – the local gal that has done these particular things – and just started to slowly build my resume. In 1998 I had a similar thing happen. Someone called me out of the blue from an independent distribution company and asked if I’d like to be on their roster. He told me all I needed to do was get a Fax machine, learn how to fill out a one-sheet for retail, and try to play in- stores along my tours – all this stuff that I then immersed myself in and starting learning right away. Am I answering the question?
It all answers the question, and frankly there is no one right way to answer any of these questions…
Basically, at the exact time that that happened, I’d also sent my album to 200 college radio stations. It charted really well, but I didn’t have a radio promoter – I was doing the ‘pretending to be someone else’ thing. I made sure that I only targeted stations that were also playing kindred artists like Jewel and Ani and Sheryl Crow. Having that feedback and being able say I was being played with these artists didn’t pay my rent at that point, but it allowed me to start getting my discs into retailers and keep getting bigger and better gigs and then get a college agent. It was kind of a natural progression that way.
Tell me on a very specific level, you were starting out and going into a new market you’d never been into and cold called a promoter. What did you say that convinced them to give you a gig and how did you get anyone to show up?
I didn’t cold call promoters almost ever until many years later. I really was stuck in the New York scene, in the showcase bubble of paying to play, because you’re paying your local musicians to show up and back you up and you’re hoping that lawyer or that label will show up. I did that for a long time and I spun my wheels, and it was really depressing for me. I almost hit a wall with it where even after a year I thought, “Maybe I’ll just do acting even more and do this every once in a while, because it’s not a living, and I don’t know when my break is going to come.” That was exactly the point I was at when the album I’d finished that I mentioned started to bear fruit. One of those was Ani, one of them later on was Lilith Fair. Those two particular things that I was able to get early on were my calling card.
So that was what you put into the pitch, “Hi, I’m Rachael Sage, I recently opened up for Ani DiFranco and was on the Lilith Fair stage.”
It was never first person, but yeah. It was always someone else representing me, amusingly. I think it could’ve been first person, but I was too insecure about what the reaction might be, because I also came from the world of acting, where if you don’t have an agent calling to represent you, there’s no way someone’s going to take your call. If it was in writing or even on the phone sometimes, I was often someone else, and then when I showed up I made sure I was as conscientious as I possibly could be. I’d say 90% of the time within the first couple years I started doing those concentric circles people talk about – of touring outside your home base – I was opening for someone else. That was really strategic, because I didn’t want the pressure of totally letting down a promoter or a venue because I only had five people there.
Those opening slots were …
RS: Much smaller than Ani. I did that and said, “Okay, that was an incredible growing experience for me as an artist and it blew my mind, and I played for huge audiences.” But then I came back, and no one cared.
But getting those openers was a networking thing?
RS: No, not at all. It was purely going out on a limb and pitching, and keeping track of who was playing where, sending out a steady stream of pitches and always trying to think of it from the other person’s perspective, which is something that a decade later is what caught my eye with the artist that we recently signed to MPress – Seth Glier – who approached us about a year ago in a similar fashion. He’s fantastic, and he pitched to open for me at a venue in New Hampshire. His pitch was so specific and honest about exactly how many people he could draw, why he’d make a good opener in that setting, what about his music really fit with mine, what some of his recent accolades had been. It was presented so professionally – he was 19 at the time – and it definitely reminded me of where my head was at when I was his age and putting myself out there. A lot of that probably just comes from growing up in the performing arts and having a drive to do it so badly that you’re unable to see the likelihood that someone will throw your package in the garbage or delete your e-mail. It’s kind of a singular vision. I’ve tried to always have that every step of the way. After I opened for very big people I was often then playing regionally in teeny, tiny little coffee houses and occasionally I still am. It’s something you have to get used to very early on. You’re never going to necessarily be doing all one kind of thing. I ended up touring a couple years after that opening for Eric Burdon and the Animals for two summers, and they were amazing shows, promoted on our behalf without us barely even doing anything. And because I was an opener, and I was playing these towns all over Germany and Austria where I’d never been and didn’t have a following, it was just an incredible opportunity to try to learn, to get a million cards, to figure out how to get back there if I didn’t have this gig next time, to figure out what the small coffee house was in every town I played, or the big festival…knowing full well the next time I played if I wasn’t with Eric, that would be the only way I could perform. That’s how I’ve tried to approach it all along. It’s about looking at every single gig as an opportunity to get people on the mailing list, connect with an audience and figure out what I can do that will help me stand out as a performer.
Let’s go quickly through online tools. Which do you use, which have you found helpful and why?
In the past year or two Facebook has become an amazing tool for us. I was initially dubious about it and had been a MySpace girl for years, and had worked diligently until the wee hours or when I had ten or 15 minutes between doing other things, trying to ‘friend’ as many people as possible so when I would issue a press release or an invite it went as widely as it could. Someone who actually worked with me in my office was pressing me to have a more proactive presence on Facebook, and she saw way ahead of me. Her name is Jill Sharpe and she’s our New Media person at MPress. She saw exactly where it was going and how it could be a great tool. I think what’s so much better about it at this point is that it does allow you to connect with fans in such a personal way. It’s the complete opposite of any scenario where you have to present yourself in some uber-pro way. People want to know about every little thing you’re doing in a way that’s bringing them closer to you. Twitter is also a huge tool for us. It’s just so immediate. You don’t have to over-think it, and it’s a natural extension of what you are doing and who you are as an artist. It doesn’t really require the same kind of reflection as a lot of the other media that we still rely on – traditional press, radio, retail. For instance, yesterday I was in the studio, and I wanted some feedback on something and just Facebooked it and tweeted it and instantly had dozens of people giving me their take on it. You don’t even have to pick up the phone anymore. It’s pretty amazing. Of course we use it to spread the word about all my shows – even those that are scheduled at the very last minute. That’s not a liability anymore. Now it’s a great thing – sort of like a secret last-minute show.
And I assume because you’re good with people you don’t use it exclusively for self promotion.
No. We did a bunch of outreach in terms of local press for a show I had a couple weeks ago at Joe’s Pub. It’s always a bit of a crap shoot, but you try to cover your bases. We reached out to all the regular outlets, from Time Out to the Daily News and New York Press. I think the two worlds now have collided to the point where writers who are do coverage for those outlets may be reading up about you on Twitter and Facebook. They might be checking out if you’re in touch or out of touch, how many friends do you have, but moreover are you effectively keeping in touch with your own community? I think those are things that make traditional press want to embrace an artist more because they add to your overall profile as an artist and your accessibility.
I think writers now don’t approach artists that much differently from fans. They still want to get to know you in that personal way without that much of an effort. We had a really great experience after this last show I did where we were active on the social networks promoting a gig in New York, and it sold out. We were sort of left afterwards saying, “Wow. All that work paid off, of not only doing one thing, but being proactive online and issuing press releases to blogs and online websites and listings and traditional press and also Facebook, MySpace, Twitter.” It’s all become very important now. If I could just do one thing, I could find more time to work on my music. But I definitely haven’t found that one thing yet!
I think it’s more of a global problem in this economy. Where we had one job, we now have fifteen. The music business has just been underwater longer than the rest of the world. If I could just ask you one thing that you wished you knew starting out that you’ve come to learn, what would that be?
I can’t really say I didn’t know how much dedication it would require, how hard you have to work and how much you have to believe in yourself. Those were all things I thankfully knew. They weren’t a shock. One thing I don’t think I realized was how important it is to play a lot when you’re first starting. I had the grand illusion like many people do when they first start that something bad will happen if you overexpose yourself or play more than one or two gigs a month in your hometown. That’s going to come back to haunt you, or that somehow the approach should be more rarified. If I could do it again, I’d probably get a regular weekly gig immediately, at some hole-in-the-wall dive where I could just play, and play, and play. The bottom line is, until you work out all those kinks in what you do and learn to connect with an audience in a really meaningful way consistently, it doesn’t matter what else you’re doing. You’re getting good practice marketing yourself, but you’re not going to make that connection. I wouldn’t say I spent many years figuring that out, but I think a lot of young people today are being instilled with that value very early on, and I think it’s awesome. I think people aren’t as precious about it. But there’s a certain humility you have when you realize how many people make music, how many people are damn good at it, and what it comes down to is the work. I don’t think that’s something I really realized in the beginning.
I got an email from my friend Cameron Mizell who runs the site MusicianWages.com recently. He told me Musician Wages was going to be doing a blogging blitz where lots of folks who blog about the music business would write about the topic “If you could go back to 1999 and give yourself one piece of advice, what would it be?”
That skinny kid framed by Atlantic Records founder Ahmet Ertegun and Jason Flom, then the President of Lava / Atlantic was me in 1999. I was an A&R representative at Lava at the time. Although it wasn’t really that long ago it was quite along time ago in terms of what has changed in music and business.
If I recall correctly:
- The Matrix came out that year.
- The swing music revival was just about at its peak.
- Something called Napster showed up.
- Cher’s “Believe” introduced most people to auto-tune
- No Itunes – no Ipod.
It was slightly later – in early 2000 when the Camp Chaos video went viral – at least in the circles I traveled in at the time. I never thought that piracy and file sharing would have been so rampant. I remember thinking this video was funny…I guess it still is in a much darker way. I can’t say exactly why but it reminds me of that time period a great deal.
That’s more than enough of a stroll down memory lane though. The question at hand? What one piece of advice would I give myself? Other than the suggestion to my mid twenties self that spending a majority of my disposable income in bars was probably not an advisable plan for the future I suppose I would really want to convey to myself the importance of being patient, persistent and consistent.
By nature I’m a pretty black and white thinker. I have a very addictive personality and patience has never been one of my strengths. This combination of traits have made for more challenges than I could possibly describe in a blog post. Thankfully, I have started to find ways around this and forced myself to find some semblance of a normal pace with my work and my life. It has taken ten years of looking at my life and the lives and careers of my friends and peers to realize that those who never strayed from their goals and found ways of working towards them slow and steady seemed to be the people who have made the most impact.
Patience, Persistence & Consistency. I have no significant regrets in my life. In truth I find myself more regretful about the things I didn’t do than the things I did. I believe that trying my hand at many different jobs and careers was a requirement to help me figure out what I did and didn’t want to do but if only I could hop in to a Delorean and pay my 1999 self a visit I would just try and explain that what I have seen and experienced in the last ten years leads me to believe that there aren’t any shortcuts (at least not ones that tend to last) and that people who become great at whatever they do tend not to chase their goals at an unmanageable pace. People who become great never seem to take their eyes off of their goals and make small strides as often as they can. If I could speak to the guy I was in 1999 I would try to explain that just because something I tried to master didn’t happen for me quickly did not mean that it was not worth pursuing… It just meant it was going to take a while longer than I wanted it to.
I don’t really feel the need to translate that into what that means for a musician or a music executive except to say “stick with it” whatever “it” is. I have been asked few times throughout my life what I would pay to live the life I wanted to live and my response has never wavered – “any amount of money”.
Happy New Year all…
I get roughly 4-5 show invites per day. Come see my band play, come see me spin- stick around for our friend’s band. It’s funny too because realistically I don’t actively socialize with a large group of people, nor do I go out as regularly as I did as a younger man so if I’m getting 4-5 invites per day I can only imagine what it is like for people who are a much better target as a potential audience member.
I must admit I delete a fair amount of FaceBook event invites and E-vites and emails after only skimming them. It is very rare that I get an email that stands out- I’m over-saturated as I’m sure most people are in this day and age.
I recently got an email that was forwarded to me by a friend of mine and had I not had any plans to be elsewhere that evening I would have showed up and that is very rare for me especially when the event is featuring an artist or DJ I am not familiar with…
An untimely grease fire at the workplace has left me temporarily unemployed. You can imagine all the snivelling phone calls I’ve been making to everyone I know who might have the power to get me any kind of paying Disc Jockey gig. One such call has resulted in my return, tomorrow (Friday) evening, to the venue where the string of disappointments that is my New York City DJ “career” was launched, way back in the roaring nineties.
Come by after work, if any of you still have a job. I will be there playing rock & roll records, if I can figure out how to undo whatever the DJ from the night before did to all the plugs in order to hook up his or her computer software. Alcoholic beverages will be served, gently separating you from your money. As a bonus, the anthropologically inclined among you will get a rare opportunity to make field observations of our modern craven capitalist society at its absolute worst: Ludlow Street on a Friday night, 2009.
Come support me as I make every effort to befuddle the kids who will be running the world when we are old and helpless!
Motor City Bar, 127 Ludlow Street on the Lower East Side, Friday December 4th from 7 to 11 PM…
The gravy on top of the sundae: When I am done, Messrs Larry and Suke of Born Loose/Candysnatchers take over on the turntables. It could end up being the most Three Stooges-esque DJ changeover in history.
Call me crazy – I figured that the event would be a good time because I got the sense that the author who I have never met (save to ask his permission to re-post his invite) would be having a good time. I am not suggesting anyone copy the style of this letter but rather be made aware that personality can still get through to people even in an email. I was also inspired by the fact that sometimes reality is the best pitch there is…
David Garrison is the Chief Marketing officer at Indaba Music which is a…well, it’s sort of a …
What is Indaba Music?
DG: Indaba Music is the leading online collaboration tool for musicians. We make it possible for musicians in different places to find each other and then make studio quality music together all online. No download necessary. We have a variety of tools, so there’s a community side to the site, which is 300,000 members right now, 185 countries, growing double digits each month. That’s where you find people who you discuss things with. That community is pretty robust – it’s everybody from 13-year old garage bands who are just learning their first chords all the way up to Grammy Award winners. The common element of them all is that they’re all serious musicians and they are passionate about the music they’re making. The community piece is the lifeblood of Indaba that makes it work. On the flip side, there’s the technology piece, which is the suite of tools to enable a musician to manage their digital life online. And that’s primarily on the music creation side right now.
What is the feedback you’re getting from your community?
DG: We have success stories. For example, recently we ran a campaign with the Derek Trucks Band, which is a bunch of musicians’ musicians, an awesome group. Derek Trucks is an amazing guitarist. One of the people who entered the contest was a guy named Mike Gannon who just graduated from university, was a guitar player and had always loved Derek Trucks. He entered the contest and did a cover of the song. At the end of it, Derek and the band chose him. They thought it was a really awesome version of the song that they’d made, really different, unique, good sound and so they gave him the prize, which was to go up and meet the band backstage during a concert. So he went up to Boston, met the band and hung out with them for a while and they had a bunch of great talks, went backstage with them as they got ready. The band went out on stage and the sound check guy said, “So, Mike, did you bring your guitar?” And the sound check guy gave him Derek’s Les Paul ’59 and pushed him out on stage, and the band started playing in front of a large crowd. And this young guy that had just graduated from undergrad whose hero was onstage just started playing with the band. And everyone took a solo, and he ended up getting a solo in front of a big live audience and got a standing ovation.
There are a lot of good success stories like that?
DG: There are definitely success stories through the contest, but each campaign is different. When we dealt with Mariah Carey, she wanted to retain all the rights to the song so people when they submitted gave up their rights to the music. Other artists like Carmen and Camille — this little unknown duo from Canada – used a Creative Commons license that was basically just attribution. So you could actually go out and sell your remix of their song and make a profit off it as long as you just said it was their vocals. It runs the whole gamut. Depending on the artist, you give up some of your rights, but that’s the price you pay for participating in a really cool collaboration and getting a lot of exposure and getting noticed. There are lots of A&R people hanging around the site and paying attention to the contest.
Musician Coaching: Are there things that people are using the site for that are getting them exposure?
DG: Yes. There are things we intended for them to do with it. But what’s always surprising to us is how people take a platform we’ve created and use it in a way we hadn’t expected. The things we intended for people to do are to find someone to make a piece of music with, collaborate, promote it on the site, and people hear it and more people collaborate on it and it becomes this big thing. A good example of that is Peace Partners, which is a group of musicians who got together, founded by a guy in Quebec who wanted to donate music to the cause of peace and freedom. He got together what’s now a group of over 150 musicians from across the world who are donating songs to an album the proceeds from which will go towards organizations that have a demonstrable impact on peace in the world. Amnesty International Canada Francophone signed on. There are some interesting stories about how people use the idea of coming together to collaborate to do really interesting things.
Musician Coaching: So you’ve started to garner brand attention, and I’m guessing someone participating in a community has a better chance of getting the attention of a brand or a strategic partner and ultimately getting a shot on their own. Have you seen people use this community to procure strategic partners?
DG: That’s another way people have used it. For example, there’s a duo out of the UK called -Felsite-. -Felsite- is this pair of guys who had never met. They met on Indaba and created a song on Indaba and then created a whole album on Indaba and had never met. And then they were heard by a small UK label who really liked the sound and signed the album and the duo. They’re on their second album now. There are absolutely stories of people getting exposure that leads to commercial success through the site. The thing I like about that one is that it’s not like a major artist came out and said, “I’m going to use this site to do something really cool and get exposure for my stuff on it” when he already had a world of listeners. These are two people who had never met each other, didn’t know each other.
ARTISTS THAT HAVE USED THE SITE: Mariah Carey, Yo-Yo Ma, The Roots, N.A.S.A., Third Eye Blind, K-OS, John Legend, Rivers Quomo (Weezer), Marcy Playground, Kennedy, The Crystal Method, Erik Truffaz, Deerhoof, Alkaline Trio, The Derek Trucks Band, Coallesce.
Using Indaba as a marketing tool for them and getting extra exposure is leveraging a bunch of assets they already have. What I like about the -Felsite- example is that it’s creating a reputation from something that really didn’t exist before they met on Indaba. So it’s starting from scratch. That’s the stuff we imagined would happen. And then there are a lot of people using it for things we never would’ve thought of that make total sense. For example, a middle school music teacher in Seattle uses it as a practice mechanism for his choir to look at how the different parts go together, they can use it for homework because it’s taking a rehearsal session that they can record directly into Indaba and then review on their own time and you can comment on specific points in the wave form. It’s really useful as a pedagogical tool. Does it make sense? Of course it does. Would we have thought of that as an application immediately? Maybe not. I think there are a lot of cool things that happen because this exists and there’s a really strong community around it.
Musician Coaching: You’re an MBA, chief marketing officer and have been in the music space for quite a while. Do you have any parting advice for a musician pursuing a career?
DG: If you’re a musician – especially a rising musician – right now, you should be on Indaba, largely because it’s growing so fast, it’s an easy, untapped source of inspiration, exposure, tools to support your creative process. More broadly than that, I think one of the things a lot of musicians don’t recognize is the degree to which their fans want to be involved in their creative process, even at their infancy. There is immense appetite for understanding how music is made. We don’t just listen to recorded music because it’s a cool sound. We listen to recorded music because for us it represents insight into the recording process, in the same way that the live music industry is still big. People like to be around created music. What that means is that Indaba is a creative tool and a forum where you can talk about it and actually watch people create. I think with all the social media that artists have at their fingertips – Myspace, Facebook, Twitter – a lot of artists forget that what’s interesting to audiences about those is this constant insight into what you’re thinking about as an artist, into how you’re making the music, into your life as a musician – things that don’t necessarily occur to the artist. We were talking before about how few people actually do things on a regular basis. Someone said to me once that the thing that defines a blog that’s worth following and will be popular is that you may not know what topic they are going to talk about, but you know what stance they are going to take on it. That’s something that social media gives people the capability to do – just talk about a range of topics and then engage fans. Being in touch with people on a regular basis feeds itself. And it doesn’t have to be big, it doesn’t have to be hard to be involved, it doesn’t have to be a big deal, but I think a lot of these tools are built for, but not necessarily used for, this pinging.
My advice is, particularly for rising musicians, to create a relationship with your audience – no matter how big or small it is – by creating a persona so they know what your opinion is going to be. And give them a sense of when you’re going to talk to them – whether it’s once a week, once a month or once a day.
Please check out Indaba Music, it is a very cool collaboration tool.
Or is it great managers make great bands? Chicken and the egg I suppose.
As some of you recall I interviewed Emily White of Whitesmith Entertainment about music and management not too long ago. She had just started working with a group called Family of the Year. Granted Emily is a gifted manager and got the band in front of the right people but I thought it would be interesting for everyone to see the progress they have made in the last few weeks. They are doing some interesting things to tie in show attendance with their new release and some cool promotion ideas. I won’t tell if you decide to steal these ideas.
I suppose it might seem odd to interview a band that hasn’t made it but when I speak to people who have followings they tend to speak more about maintenance than building…
From Emily @ Whitesmith:
The band is releasing their debut EP, Where’s The Sun on their brand new imprint, Washashore, which will be available exclusively by donation on 9/22 at FamilyOfTheYear.Net and up on itunes/amazon via Tunecore, shortly after:
People who show up at the 9/16 Knitting Factory (LA) show will get an advance DL code for free (7:30 set time, fyi). The band also plays The Knitting Factory on 9/27.
After interest from various agents after playing only TWO shows, the band signed with Steve Ferguson at Paradigm on Wednesday. Steve immediately locked a support slot at The Troubadour (10/12) and The Great American Music Hall in San Fran (supporting World/Inferno Friendship Society) and is working on an East coast tour around CMJ.
The band will be playing the Whitesmith Entertainment/Indaba Music showcase at The Living Room at CMJ on 10.21 and Whitesmith/CASH Music party at Crash Mansion on 10.20.
To help fund the trip for CMJ, the band is doing an “Old-School Twitter” promotion. Next week, we are launching the EP promo page that will also allow fans to buy a postcard for $5.
FOTY will send you a postcard from the road as a thank you to help fund their trip. However, before it gets popped in the mail, we will scan it and upload the various postcards online, so fans can look online where their piece of the tour story falls in the collection.
Also, we are collecting email addresses with Google Voice at shows. The band made this sign to show it off during their set.
I would like to say that this band is moving forward so quickly for three reasons:
1. They made incredible music. I say all the time “make great art.” We tend to get caught up in all of these business models, platforms, and strategies and sometimes I think both the artist and industry forget why were actually here.
2. They’ve been blessed with a team of volunteers and early supporters (not all Whitesmith) to help out with the band for the love of it. We couldn’t do it without them. But don’t over think this, it’s about 5 people total ranging from an 18 year old Boston University intern who is currently in classes and helps in his spare time.
3. The band all know their roles and are each bringing something to the table. Joe Keefe (lead vocal/guitar/piano) has his head in songwriting, that’s where it belongs. His brother Sebastian (drums/acoustic guitar/vocal) is the liaison from me to the other 5 members of the band. He makes sure everyone stays on the time line we set in place. Christina (keyboards) has a day job at a PR firm and helped to write the bio, skin the Twitter page, and runs the MS and FB page (so great when it’s genuinely the artist and not one of my peeps!). Vanessa (female lead) has been designing the EP and merch artwork as well as hooked up a film crew for their first show, who owed her dad a favor. Jamesy (electric guitar) is a sound guru and has been handling all of the mixing and mastering that we’d otherwise have to pay for, even though we self-recorded everything in their rehearsal space). And newest member Brent (bass) is a web designer. They are like trivial pursuit pieces of pie that all fit together perfectly. I am honored to work with Family Of The Year.
The band also quickly wrote a song based on a Twitter trending topic (yesterday) RT @FamilyOfTheYear exclusive song for today’s trending topic: “When We Were Little”
I am sitting at the edge of the Grand Canyon with a teaspoon trying to fill it in. That’s what marketing and self-promotion can feel like in the digital age or at least, that’s the way it feels to me.
I walked into a cavernous Barnes and Noble last night. They just opened another location by me on East 86th street in New York. I can’t begin to describe how big it is. I’ve lived in Manhattan my entire adult life so I do a double take when I see wasted space- but this? This place is ridiculous. It completely freaked me out. I felt a primal fear that I haven’t felt since Sylvia Rhone (former CEO of Elektra) used to scream at me but that’s a whole other blog post. I’ve spent considerably more time than I originally thought I would writing and creating content for this website and to realize that this one store contained a million or more books and these were just the books that were deemed the best by major publishers meaning the total volume of writing out there is… staggering.
What could I possibly have to offer that wasn’t already written somewhere?
It made me think about the quality of what I write and the quality of my coaching. You really have to be exceptional to make it these days. It reminded me of a conversation I had with my friend Mark Hermann recently about “just because you can – should you?”
We were talking about music and how there were no more barriers to entry and how on the one hand – what a wonderful freedom! On the other hand – how can we hear any one thing if we are in a stadium full of people screaming and demanding to be heard? Would we know if one of these voices was the next Beatles? Probably not. I love that image and wish I could claim it as my own but it belongs to Mark and I think he’s right on. One of the larger music management companies in New York has a sign on the door that reads “It’s about the music, stupid.” I think we are very quick to forget that these days.
I have been consulting and coaching artists informally for years but have only really begun Musician Coaching as a business in the last month which is when this site went live. I help people make sure they are in all of the right places online and to make sure that their website accomplishes what it needs to accomplish. I help people by providing a critique of their audio and video materials and their marketing efforts, their live show and the way they approach the people who sit behind one of the many desks where dreams go to die that stand between them and opportunity.
Sometimes I need to spend more time telling people to continue to develop their product and how best to do that because it can be worth the wait. The Beatles wrote a hundred songs before you ever heard note one of their first record and had played covers for several years. R.E.M played pizza joints in Athens Georgia in complete obscurity for a long time. Peter Frampton toured non-stop for three years before recording Frampton comes alive.
I can wake up tomorrow, write and record a song and have it up on MySpace tomorrow but should I? I’m not saying there is anything wrong with doing so but I do think if you are just starting out you should have realistic expectations of your abilities and the level at which you expect people to respond.
Why doesn’t anyone care anymore? It is simply because there is too much mediocrity out there. I say this often “There is no one in the audience because everyone is on the stage.” Cheap recording gear and low or no cost international distribution are now tools that are in everyone’s hands. The music business is no longer an exclusive club – if you’ve got an Internet connection and a mic in jack you can now be considered a member.
“It’s about the music, stupid.” It’s a great reminder. All I am suggesting is write 100 songs and put the best one of those 100 out for people to hear. I am suggesting that if you have to cut your teeth playing live and are struggling making it solo- try to do it as a sideman or a hired gun. 99% of the “overnight success” stories you hear involve someone working their ass off behind the scenes for a long long time before they broke. If you want a good read- check out the Hendrix book “Room Full of mirrors” – Jimmy played 2nd fiddle to a ton of people before going out on his own.
In America there seems to be this feeling that everyone gets their 15 minutes or worse yet- everyone deserves their 15 minutes. We have been sold this vision that at any moment fame and wealth may strike without working for it. There is something tattooed on the back of our brains that somewhere out there Ed McMahon is looking for each and every one of us with an over-sized check and that the rest of our lives will be taken care of from that moment on… I’m all for the Lotto slogan “Hey, you never know” but I’m sure as hell not depending on it.
What is my point? My point is, and I don’t exclude myself, we have to spend less time on marketing and more time making sure we have products that are worth marketing. There is more music out there than ever before- everyone you know is a “musician” or at least a hobbyist and consumers are very jaded. Before shotgunning your product out there and whipping your fans into a frenzy about your new release you had better make damn sure that you have a product that is not only competitive but stronger than most of the stuff you see and hear or it’s over before it starts.
Below are some examples that were sent to major label A&R people recently. How much time and effort would have been saved if these people got feedback from anyone, even their friends and family before putting this out into the world? These are extreme examples but if you wonder why music business people are jaded…take a listen.
For those that don’t know Andrew W.K. is a gifted multi-instrumentalist, performer, inspirational speaker, TV host and more recently a club owner. He is probably best known for his single “Party Hard” off of the Album “I get Wet” which was released in 2001 on Island Def Jam. What many people don’t know is in spite of the single “party hard” which became a drinking anthem, there is an enormous amount of depth to Andrew as a performer and a person.
The only comparison I can make is what happened to the Beastie Boys after releasing “fight for your right to party” and the world wrote them off as a one trick pony before they were rediscovered by the public at large as artists of real depth. The difference between the two career paths was that the Beastie Boys released “check your head” with the help of huge corporations in an era when there was still a clear mechanism to break artists. Andrew is out there converting people fan by fan in a new world. He has been great and finding alternative ways of promoting himself on TV, through speaking engagements and through collaborations with other talented musicians. I learned that Andrew has a very different strategy than most artists…
Andrew thanks for taking the time to speak with me. First of all, you have a record coming out very soon?
Yes, that’s correct on Tuesday, September 8th.
Tell me about how you built your following and were first noticed by Island / Def Jam in the mid to late 90s. Obviously people found you to be talented but there must have been a great deal of self promotion involved. Tell me about that…
I was fortunate enough to meet several people in New York who were willing to help pass my music out and one of these guys was a man named Spencer Sweeney who I now work on the nightclub with. He helped me get my first few shows in New York and was extremely friendly and outgoing and through him I met his cousin Matt Sweeney who became my first manager that had real connections and vision and experience. It was exciting because just starting out there was nowhere to go but up. Matt got the music to Gary Hellsinger at Universal publishing who I am still working with and Gary signed me and Matt also passed the music to Lewis Largent who had just left MTV for Island / Def Jam and Lewis signed me there. Through Matt Sweeney in the course of about two months it all got going.
I don’t know if this would work for everybody but for my personal experience – I never shopped around and I haven’t really done that in general. I have had more of a faith… When an opportunity came to me I just said yes. A lot of people told me to get second opinions or that I should try to start a bidding war, back when that was more common, or I should try to not make friends with these people and not just go with the first person who wants to work with you.
All of that makes sense in theory. I do agree with that idea of getting a diverse range of opportunities to choose from but with my career for some reason I was just so excited about doing things and moving forward that taking time to decide what to do or which one to choose didn’t appeal to me and still doesn’t. I would rather be actively working and making something than deciding what to make or with whom to make it. Somehow the inertia of doing that makes opportunities come to you in a very natural way. This way you don’t have to be wary of opportunities- you can decide that these opportunities wouldn’t have presented themselves if they weren’t meant to be. That’s not to say I do every single thing but I’d say I do 90% of the opportunities that I am presented with…
When I first started playing with my band, I hadn’t even met them. I trusted a drummer who I had written a letter to, having never met him, and asked him to be in my band. He agreed and formed the rest of my band. Part of me realized it was kind of crazy to put together a band with people I didn’t know but there was something driving that whole era when I was first starting that just took away that kind of worry if this was the right choice. You can always wonder if it was right choice but I’m extremely grateful that these people came into my life and that I took these opportunities when they came up and I didn’t second guess them and I didn’t listen to other people who told me not to do them. A lot of the time I just did the opposite of what people told me to do.
If you were starting over today, given that the world communicates completely differently than when you were first starting out, what do you think you would be doing differently with all of the online tools available or what are you doing differently now? How are you keeping in touch with fans? Can you tell us some things that have worked and maybe some things that didn’t work?
I was fortunate enough like a lot of people my age to be able to come up when there weren’t computers like there are now but young enough to appreciate them when they did come around and that’s a unique position to be in. Some of my friends who are maybe ten or so years older the computer is still newer to them and the people ten years younger than me didn’t really experience a time when there weren’t computers or at least they had a lot more time with them. I’ve always really believed in the computer as a tool and a creative instrument as much as a paintbrush is a creative instrument or a guitar is a creative instrument but on a much more powerful level. I enjoy the ways a computer can help an artist to make material, to distribute material and to interact with people about their material.
At first it was kind of strange because it (the online experience) didn’t seem to exist in a real way but the feelings that can be had do exist and the experiences DO exist. So even if it is not a physical copy of a CD or a physical location outside of a computer screen the sensations that I was experiencing and am experiencing and other people are experiencing- those are real. You can listen to a song on Vinyl or over the Internet and sure there are variations in sound quality and texture and color but if the melody of a song moves you it is going to move you either way. I guess I am a big believer in the computer as a way to expand humanity.
What specifically are you doing to engage your fans. I noticed that you are really good at getting back to everybody. Is that what you feel your responsibility is to your fans or…tell me more about what you are doing online.
Part of what Andrew W.K. is about is being available and accessible and present and around. It’s a friendly experience. There are all kinds of performers for whom it makes sense to not be as available and I respect that as well. My interactions are more about celebration and friendship and that really lends itself well to the Internet. The Internet is a social phenomenon in so many ways and things like MySpace and Twitter are just perfect. Before those things were really up and running as they are now I was using my website to answer questions from fans and doing everything I could to make it seem like we were in it together. If that works for a band I think it’s great but it doesn’t make sense for every artist. If it does work though, boy, it’s really powerful.
Could you tell me, having been on both sides of the label fence, the pros and cons of being on a label vs. being on your own? What are some of the struggles on either side?
Well I really like working with people. Working with anyone is great whether it a band member, a friend or a large record label or a large group of people working together. I was warned that I shouldn’t be friends with the people I worked with, I should keep it on a business level but from my experience when you are working with someone everyday on something you are going to become friends no matter what unless you really don’t get along and in that case you probably shouldn’t be working together anyway. It makes it a lot more fun when it feels like you are part of a team. Ultimately you are all going after the same result and that is a very thrilling and satisfying life experience to have- I hope everybody gets to have that feeling even if it is a sports team. I really like working worth labels but I really like working on my own too.
Speaking of teamwork, let’s talk a bit about your manager Pete who I like and admire a great deal. I notice that you guys have a very different dynamic than most artists and managers – he seems to be more of a peer and collaborator on your music, your marketing and your image than a traditional manager. Would you say that this is unique to both of you or that this is something that this type of relationship is becoming more prevalent in the music business?
From my experience not having seen more working relationships there are all types of managers just like there are all different types of record producers. There are record producers who come in and don’t play any music know nothing about music but comes in and says “this sounds good” or “that doesn’t sound good” to me and then there are the kind of producers who can play every instrument on the album and co-write the songs with the musicians. Much like that there are managers who check in on their artists and say “having fun? Okay good, I’ll see you later” it’s almost like they are just there and then there are managers who can really craft the entire idea of what the performer is going to do. They can be so creative that they are almost the artists themselves.
What motivated me to work with Pete was that he looked at Andrew W.K. as entertainment not music and that was the feeling I was having at that time. I didn’t want to just play music- I wanted to be in show business. Pete has helped me learn that there is a difference between someone who is a musician and someone who is an entertainer. Learning that I wanted to be an entertainer was extremely liberating. On the one hand I got this sense of freedom and possibility because I realized I could do anything because so much falls in the realm of entertainment. On the other hand there was a great focus because allowed everything to be very broad but gave me a sense of purpose that I had not previously had.
I recently read that you have just started a label.
Yes, I wanted to have the ability to work with other people on music and have a place to release it. I had been working with others and producing other artists and that’s what started the idea of having a label. I am very fortunate to be partnered with Cargo records for manufacturing and distribution. My new record will be coming out on this label as well.
W would you say it is that you do differently that has made you successful? How are you able to open so many doors in TV and press? Is it just that you are easily bored and always seeking out new and interesting (press worthy)? Also how do you manage all of your varied projects – do you find that they help or hinder your music?
It does seem that I am busier than ever but the varied projects I do seem to tie in to one another and feed each other. It takes away the feelings of anxiety that I am doing too much. Because of the fact that I enjoy all of the things I am doing and because they all do relate in terms of entertainment. It comes back to the inertia I spoke of earlier that makes it not so overwhelming. I am always trying to broaden myself even if it can feel like contradicting myself and sometimes it can be painful. It can feel like going against some kind of personal integrity. At times we can mistake something for integrity that is actually a fear or a self imposed limitation. So I try to do things that can be very scary and every time I’ve done it- it has opened up new opportunities.
It also helps to be nice. If you are easy to work with… That is probably the number one reason I am still working today.
Well, I always liked you.
Follow Andrew on Twitter