I recently interviewed two of my favorite, no-nonsense women in the Seattle music scene, Robin Fairbanks (A&R) and Elizabeth O’Keefe (Operations). They are both part of a music consulting company called Setlist Music Solutions, headed up by Sean Hensley, which specializes in artist development and management. Part I of this series offers Elizabeth’s perspective, and Part II will showcase Robin’s point of view. Both of these women have a lot of hands-on experience helping indie artists succeed.
It’s no secret that the options for self-promotion are greater than ever before for musicians. As a DIY independent artist myself, I often find it overwhelming just to understand all the different business and marketing things I need to do on a daily basis in order to be successful – to say nothing of actually getting them all done – and I have an MBA (and experience in marketing!) Like many artists, I fantasize about a record label riding in like a white knight, begging to sign me and to do all the work to promote my career as a musician. While this still happens for some artists, for most of us, it’s important to move forward with the reigns of our careers still firmly grasped in our own sweaty, trembling hands.
So what’s a girl to do when she realizes there is no way she can do it all herself?
The idea of a boutique recording or music label has been around for a while, and has been written about in articles like this in-depth Baltimore City Paper article published in 2010 or in this article about the Arizona-based Cosmica Artists label. While the terms indie label and boutique label often seem to be used interchangeably, a boutique label generally focuses on a small artist roster, or even a single emerging artist. It may even be started and owned by a producer, or the artists themselves. It could be a non-profit artist collective.
The signed artist(s) may do none, or some of their own marketing. The boutique label may or may not act like a traditional label, providing (and funding) most or all of the services an artist needs, from recording to promotion, booking and tour management. Artists may have to pay for some, or all, services provided, but they get to say they are “signed” to a label. Boutique labels will not sign just anyone, but they might take a chance on a relatively unknown artist. The artist and label’s brands are associated with each other. The boutique label generally chooses the artist, not the other way around.
How Important Is Your Live Show To Your Career?
Tom Jackson believes that the most successful artists are those who are amazing live performers. A few weeks ago, Stevie and I attended a two day bootcamp with live music producer Jackson and his team to see how we could improve our own performance. I was not disappointed.
In his many years of experience working with everyone from big name artists like Taylor Swift, The Band Perry, or Jars of Clay to up-and-coming indie artists like the Canadian country duo The Reklaws, Jackson has learned that fans don’t just come to a live show to listen to music. They come to feel emotion. What they crave is to connect with an artist, and to have their lives changed.
As for merchandise, most fans don’t buy a CD because they want to listen to the studio version of the song they heard live. Merchandise, Jackson says, is a prop that help fans relive the emotional moments of a live performance. The merchandise is a memento, and the emotional moments in a show are what it’s all about.
The Steven Spielberg of Live Music Performance
Tom Jackson teaches musicians how to make their live stage show remarkable. He helps artists deliberately create emotional “moments”. Jackson is the Steven Spielberg of live music production. This is the science of stagecraft and performance art. He teaches musicians how to use moments to create true fans, because it’s those moments that bring people back again and again to see your live show. It’s those moments that create the word-of-mouth buzz that propels an artist forward.
Occasionally, I like to interview other musicians who strike me as having an unusual thing going on – whether it is their look, their music, or their marketing. I’m always learning, and it’s great to have role models. When I came across musician Elyas Khan and watched his music video, I thought, huh, here’s a guy who has these elements very together in an unusual way that appeals to me aesthetically.
I think there is a lot of marketing to learn from this actor, dancer, musician, singer and performance artist. He has been Amanda Palmer’s backup band, and Neil Gaiman and Sxip Shirey played bicycle bells on one of his newest songs (read more on that below). Now based in Berlin, Khan is touring Europe in support of his newest release, Brawl in Paradise, produced by Matt Booker. I interviewed Khan via email because I was curious to know more about him and his music. Check out his music video Bells, too, it’s uber cool in so many ways.
S: Thanks for agreeing to this interview, Elyas. I was really intrigued when I stumbled across your latest music video, Bells, on Twitter. I couldn’t look away, actually. Then, when I delved deeper into your background, I was further flummoxed. The biography on your website is fairly brief. Can you give us a little history and background on you as a musician? I see from your bio that you were in the Brooklyn-based band, Nervous Cabaret, for many years, and you have a very international background. Can you give us a little more about how long you’ve been making music? Do you have another career (as many musicians do) in another profession, or have you been a fulltime musician your whole life?
E: Now music and composition are my fulltime job. My history as a musician is truly only 10 years old though…Out of high school I only had fantasies about the whole thing and fooled around with a punk band called “The Sarcastic Brats” but the guitar was sold early on, school was abandoned and I worked various jobs just living for the weekend. Buying records, new threads, getting to gigs, watching other guys chase women around and jotting it all down in massive leather-bound journals was what I was up to…I dabbled seriously in film school for a while and did well with my profs.
As with many things in my life at the time I just could not complete the program. 16mm film, processing costs and the time it took was just overwhelming to me. I was already doing a late night shift for UPS and washing dishes at a local bistro to keep my head above…
I forged many friendships with kids that were going to art school and got to pour over their books constantly and then someone approached me at the bistro. That place, The Loring Cafe in Minneapolis, was run by many Guthrie Theater and Children Theater alumni. They were about to adapt Siddhartha by Hermen Hesse for their new theatre venture. I was young and probably the only person they knew with Indian parents so they asked me to audition. I did, along with several hundred people and got the job. That started a long chain of events including dancing for a Ballet company, setting up my own company in Minneapolis called Famine Chorus, moving to New York and studying at Playwrights Horizon and then establishing a very active performance company called The Dean Street Field Of Operation (F.O.O.) and creating tape based, cut up scores with found sound and badly played instrumentals for our shows. The whole time I worked as a delivery boy of various goods (don’t ask) and as a mover (don’t ask). I got my SAG card and if you watch some old episodes of OZ and a number of shit films from the 90′s you just might spot me. The entire time I was intent on getting my head around finessing story telling techniques, theatrically, with film and scoring.
I like to profile indie DIY musicians in an effort to distill practical music marketing lessons that the rest of us can learn from. My fellow Seattleite, Seth Jackson, has been doing this on his website, HowToRunABand, for much longer than I have. Like me, he’s a musician, blogger, and music marketer (as well as a techie – website designer and software developer), and he’s been a role model for me for almost two years now.
Seth and I met in early 2012, when I was just beginning my journey as a music marketer. I was present at the first In Real Life (vs. social media) meeting between Seth and Brian Thompson at a Hard Rock Seattle music marketing panel discussion. Two peas in a pod, eh?
Seth has a new podcast series on his website called Work Hard, Rock Harder (WHRH), where he interviews other musicians who make a living fulltime via their musical talents.
Seth is now up to interview #37. I thought it was time to check in with him and see what this WHRH thing was all about. || Read more
I am in the process of creating a new visual brand for my music. I am not including links just yet, because it’s not quite done. Read on as to why.
This new “band brand” is for my duo, Solveig & Stevie, and it’s separate from my blogging and marketing online brand (Solveig Whittle). It hasn’t been a particularly fast or easy process. I’m certain much of this is due to my personal combination of obsessive perfectionism and lack of graphic arts skills. However, I suspect, fellow musicians, that I am not alone.
Perhaps you can relate: I’ve tried seven different WordPress themes for my band website. I have agonized over which band pictures to use. I created a band logo myself, after trying crowd sourcing one with two different websites. I started with one album cover, and then changed it.
Because this has been a difficult process for me, I thought perhaps it would be useful to share some of what I learned during this process and some of the online resources I used.
In Part I of this series, I focused on the successful Kickstarter ($20K+) campaign held last fall by the female-fronted indie Seattle band, the Aury Moore Band. Their recently released CD, Here I Am was produced this spring by Stevie (full disclosure). I’m not affiliated myself in any way with band, although I’ve shared some marketing tips with her over the years, and I appreciate what Aury has done to market her CD. In this post, I will detail Aury’s June 2013 CD release party for Here I Am, including the budget and key promotional elements.
I received several requests for more detailed cost information after writing a blog post about my own (much smaller) CD release party in April. I think Aury’s party is a better lesson on how to make money on a CD release party, so I asked her if she would be willing to share her numbers. She was most gracious, so here they are:
- Venue: $0
- Merchandise: $200 (most was left over from the Kickstarter campaign)
- Raffle Items: $100
- Posters, Flyers and VIP Passes:$260
- Pre-printed Tickets: $40
- 1000 CDs (jewel case, 4-page color folder/traycard): $1500 (roughly 400 were given out the night of the party, and an additional 200 mailed out to Kickstarter backers)
Revenue: Approximately $10,000
- Pre-sold Tickets: $4000 (online ticket fees were paid by purchasers)
- Tickets Sold At Door: $4000 (some attendees were “comped”)
- Extra Raffle Tickets: $200 (went to charity)
- Merchandise: $700
(I assume Aury has some kind of revenue-sharing deal with her bandmates, but I didn’t ask about that.) So how did Aury end up netting around $8K at her CD release party?