Topic: Music business

Instrument explorations and inspirations by Nick Cody

Many will associate me with the ukulele as an instrument with my band The Small Change Diaries and in Nick Cody music, but the uke is  only one of many instruments I play and love. Others include acoustic & electric guitar, mandola, mandolin, dobro, walking bass dulcimer and of course concert, tenor, soprano, baritone ukuleles. Each instrument inspires different ideas, playing styles and different end results. My many years learning from Martin Simpson taught me the value of playing a variety of instruments and the importance of having an attitude of sonic exploration. This is a key ingredient to becoming a more creative and skilled musician.

For the last three years I have been writing and recording with my band The Small Change Diaries. To date we have recorded two albums (2nd album released Nov 3rd this year) and an EP. Its been an amazing journey and in 2018 we will continue to focus on live work and return to the studio in 2019. In the meantime I’m working on a solo project with the first track “He’s shooting blanks” already recorded, as well as a duo project with longtime bandmate Jessica Bowie and an instrumental project. The main band goes from strength to strength and we are delighted to be invited to play at some really wonderful events including Lagoa Guitar Festival, Ilkley Literature Festival and Wetherby Arts Festival. As a solo artist I also recently played in Japan and am soon to do the same in Austin Texas.

As Nick Cody the solo artist I am delibeately exploring sonic territory outside the ukulele and instruments like the Collings 4 string tenor guitar, mandola and mandolin mean thinking in a new way musically. When I first started with the uke I had no idea what I was doing and that naivity is actually quite useful in musical exploration. Of course when playing with a band some basic musical awareness and education is essential as well. I have always loved music and have a diverse set of interests. Instrument exploration and creating original material is a fascinating journey that means opening up your mind to all kinds of new possibilities. 

Yes the ukulele has potential beyond just playing chords….

Let me start by saying I have no problem with people strumming chords on the ukulele, BUT there’s so much more potential with this brilliant instrument. I totally fell in love with the uke three years ago and to date have written and recorded 25 tracks using the ukulele with many more in the pipeline. Prior to picking up the uke I had the stereotypical idea of the uke as a bit of a gimmick and not really “a proper musical instrument” Now I realise how wrong I was. If I had only watched YouTube clips and attended a few uke festivals I would probably have never explored the potential for this instrument. A lot of what I see and hear is at best pretty average. Fortunately there are some conter examples to this and when I set up Original Ukulele Songs (OUS) almost two years ago, players like Victoria Vox, Alan Thornton, Paul Cameron, Phil Doleman and others gave me some hope that the mighty uke can be used infar more creative ways.

My good friend and longstanding brilliant international musician Martin Simpson makes some really useful and insightful comments 8.20 minutes into this clip

Martin is the most extraordinary player and this is a rare clip of him playing the uke. Last year I saw him play live with the uke leaving the audience amazed at a quite extraordinary performance. Of course Martin plays a wide range of instruments and over the years we have talked about how this develops new ways of musical exploration.

I appreciate that there is a place for people learning the ukulele and starting out with simple chords, everyone has to start somewhere. The tragedy in my view is that often that’s where exploration stops when there are so many more possibilities. Such explorations are of course not for everyone, but if players and event hosts want to capture the public imagination in a far bigger way then its important to showcase the uke in a much more expanded way. A crucial part of this exploration is creating new music and not just recycling previous material and the OUS platform is a small but mighty group of artists who are helping with this task. 

Making an great impression & balancing the books

In recent times, I have blogged about the importance of making a great impression and balancing the books as an artist. Both are essential if you want to achieve genuine success, whether creatively or financially. This blog is based upon my own experience where I have made some ill-advised decisions which at the time I thought were great, but in hindsight really were not. I’m also writing based on my observations of other people. Lets remember we are all learning, but here are some pointers for anyone interested in such matters.

My own business background

I come originally from a business background in 1980s, setting up and running some substantial business concerns. This period was a real baptism of fire in learning how to manage time and financial margins, especially as most of my income depended on getting good results. This also meant working extensive hours, so a working day was often 7am – 6pm. In my other life as an international trainer, author and therapist I built up a body of work which funds my ability to invest in musical projects and instruments. This also allows me to personally fund all band recordings and ensure all musicians are paid properly for rehearsal time.

I work as a  consultant for many business concerns as well as working with a number of business leaders on a 1 – 1 basis. 

 In terms of my own musical interest, not constricted by commercial considerations is wonderfully liberating as I don’t depend on generating a living purely from music. It also allows me to sponsor (sometimes anonymously) musical projects and I often joke that “the one Nick has to work like a dog to support the excesses of the other Nick” In recent years I’ve been interested in exploring the commercial considerations of being a musician and/or running artist events. This has proved to be quite revealing and this article details some of those observations. If you consider any such discussion as “negative” then stop reading now, but in my view it’s an important discussion.

Managing time and reliable income

My business background taught me a great deal about managing time and income. When I made a comment about not being surprised that a longstanding festival had thrown in the towel, this sparked a surprising level of fury from some music enthusiasts. They of course totally overlooked my comments congratulating the festival for its longevity. The hosts had a brand with years of success but in my view made a number of basic errors. The website was not great and in the era of WordPress there’s really no reason not to have a good online presence. The main issue is that they failed to focus on differentiation, so they became just another festival and inevitably this affected the attendance of paying customers. I applaud the enthusiasm for creating such musical opportunities, but unless you balance the books then such enterprises will inevitably be very short lived. 

Similarly, if any event wants to attract serious sponsorship, then it needs to be credible as a potential investment opportunity. If presented properly this should not be a massive task as the whole budget for the event is more than reasonable and the history alone should be attractive to some people if its presented in a positive and realistic manner. As an artist differentiation is also crucial. This is why I strongly endorse people creating and playing original music, as this lends itself to differentiation. Of course, it needs to be well considered and there’s absolutely a place for artists playing cover versions of existing material.

 Begging to be subsidized to play music doesn’t really create the best image

I’m lucky to know a number of people who earn a living from music and all of these have a very strong work ethic and are relentlessly touring and recording to maintain a standard of living. They of course also are highly talented, but talent alone doesn’t pay the bills. Many musicians would benefit greatly from learning some basic business skills which could make a big difference to their ability to connect to a wider audience. I understand the sentiment but I’m amazed when some artists have pages on their websites virtually begging for PayPal donations to allow them to subsidize their musical activities, but that’s just a personal view. A discreet box saying, “If you love my music, I welcome PayPal donations” is one thing. An entire page dedicated to charitable donations with an extensive life story of the woes of being a working (or not) musician is in my view not the best idea. Far better to think about ways to generate good value for appreciative rather than just ask to be bailed out financially. There are many ways to do this of course and most professional artists ensure that they have a number of different income streams, rather than rely on charitable donations to subsidize their musical interests.

Social Media, yes, it’s a business, but remember you don’t own it

The internet and social media platforms can be highly useful in connecting to a wider audience, but they can create an illusion of success that is borderline delusional. One artist proudly pronounced a record number of people liking a video on FB, but only had a tiny number of live appearances schedules and lamented a lack of income generation to support musical interests. The reality is that if you want to connect with a wider audience you need some basic marketing and business skills to make it happen. If you don’t have these skills then it’s worth learning how to acquire them or find somebody who can help you. I have noticed that some performers are so desperate to be noticed they will do almost anything to make this happen and often basic smart strategic thinking goes out of the window.  It’s important to remember that with platforms like FB, the customer is the advertiser NOT the user. The company exists like any business to generate income and like other platforms is there primarily to serve its own agenda: that’s business…

Live earnings

Its increasingly clear that live gigs and festival appearances can generate huge variations in income. My own personal experience is that for a festival set my band The Small Change Diaries have been paid anything from 100 to 1600 pounds! Of course, it’s not all about income, but simply the love of music alone will not pay bills. My own belief is that professional musicians should be paid a fee that is appropriate for their skill level and always seek to look after support bands and fellow musicians. I’m interested in exploring better live opportunities for original artists at present. I was talking to a seasoned musician recently who lamented the lack of enthusiasm in the UK for many people wanting to see even the most seasoned and skilled performers. Part of the problem is the number of enthusiasts just wanting to play for exposure setting up the unfortunate trend of free entertainment. Increasingly seasoned artists get replaced by performers of a lesser standard, and the quality of the entertainment inevitably is affected.

Common Mistakes worth watching out for

Here are some things to consider 

  • Not updating websites and blogs – many individuals start off with great enthusiasm, but then lapse so such information is very out of date and it sends out a message that you are not really bothered
  • Poor quality control on photographs and video – it may seem a great idea to post lots of material taken with an iPhone but as the old saying goes “You never get a second chance to make a first impression” Better to have less material, but of a higher standard
  • Poor use of language and excessive use of superlatives – if everything is described as “awesome” then such descriptions become essentially meaningless.
  • Connecting with too small a pool of people. When I interviewed Bill Collins for a magazine a few years ago, his first question was “What’s the circulation?” These days paper format magazines are in decline and circulation is everything. Even niche music magazines generally have tens of thousands of subscribers to attract essential advertising in these tougher economic times. Before paying for any advertising look at the circulation potential
  • Poor time management. Proper management of time is essential if you want to succeed in any activity. This means a discipline and realizing that “what you want to do” and “what you need to do” are not always the same thing
  • Confusing social and business elements – This is a very common issue. You don’t have to like somebody to do business and its important to focus on “the trades” in any relationship. Many artists and promoters limit opportunities by only interacting with people they consider friends. Yes, it’s of course better if you like the people you do business with, but the focus should be on the business, not who’s your mate. This can result in a kind of evangelism that’s not especially attractive to a wider audience as it seems to be a self-congratulatory group dynamic. Smart artists are always seeking out new opportunities and this means looking beyond FB friends.
  • Over exposure – this can happen with both event hosts and artists where they become a bit hyperactive with gigs and events. The lack of scarcity usually dilutes customer interest.
  • Good communication. I’m amazed at how unresponsive some people are in communications. I have many examples of this including wanting to book advertising and despite promises never receiving information from business owners. All they had to do is e-mail rates and the money would be in their bank account. Similarly event organizers can be very slow to reply to artist applications or worse not reply at all, creating a terrible impression. I know of artists that won’t play events due to the promoter’s dreadful communication skills.

Conclusion

I’m mindful that this is a complex issue and these are my own opinions, others may disagree, which of course is fine. The purpose of such articles is to provoke discussion which is how we can all learn from each other. 

 

 

The artist search for the appreciative ukulele audience?

“We human beings are tuned such that we crave great melody and great lyrics. And if somebody writes a great song, it’s timeless that we as humans are going to feel something for that and there’s going to be a real appreciation.”

Art Garfunkel

I was talking recently to a fellow musician about the challenge of finding appreciative audiences, especially for artists who play ukulele in live sets. Note here I’m say “appreciative audience” and by that I mean one that is primarily there to listen to the music.

When I first started exploring the ukulele, I was taken aback by two comments independently made by people who were very familiar with this musical niche.

The first commented

“Remember Nick, these folks mostly want to play, not to listen”

The second said

“Twenty minutes is the maximum period of attention you’ll get from the audience”

As a longstanding lover of music, this struck me as highly unusual, but recent years have confirmed that both observations were spot on.

Rather play than listen? (both are fine of course)

“Intimacy comes from being yourself on the stage and making the audience feel, without trying, that you’re sittin’ down there with ’em, playing, and that can happen in a big hall, if you have a good audience that want to listen.”

Doc Watson

I have noticed that online there are often comments made about people preferring to strum at “festivals” in small groups rather than see the headline acts. Some of these acts may have travelled a great distance, so this personally surprises me. Don’t get me wrong, I think people can decide for themselves whatever suits, but it does mean that “the listening audience” is probably far smaller than many might imagine in what is already a niche musical field. In terms of 20 min sets, I fully appreciate that this strategy allows the audience to have a taster of a wide range of acts, so there is some logic to that way of working. However as a performer its a very short period and even an additional ten minutes allows for a lot more musical variation.

I was also surprised that at some events a set may be just half this time and I have even heard performers travel hundreds of miles playing such slots for free. Hats off for the enthusiasm, but it does again highlight a theme. I also know of a number of really superb ukulele artists who regularly comment on how hard it is to get live work.  All this makes me wonder how big the listening audience might be for this niche. 

“There is of course significant playing enthusiasm with ukulele clubs appearing all over and of course many events even allocate a substantial part of the time of the event to people playing, as opposed to  listening to artists. This can of course create a dilemma for event promoters in attracting paying customers and of course the changing trends in ukulele festivals are well documented in recent years.  Of course, it’s useful to consider both these dynamics. A lot of ukulele meet ups can be primarily social events and there’s is a definite place for that.  Teaching schools often put on end of year concerts where players can perform to friends and family who would mostly constitute what I would term “an appreciative audience” I help out providing PA assistance for such events and when done well these can be great fun.

The wider picture?

ukulele magazineI set up The Original Ukulele Songs platform to give original songwriters a collective voice online. Its been a fair investment in time and money as the site receives substantial traffic and now there are 81 individual artist pages. In talking to many artists, I am discovering that with a few exceptions many find it tough to find appreciative listening audiences. Those who have managed this have from what I see done so by writing really good original material or reinterpreting older material in new ways as well as doing regular tours.  

Victoria Vox and Biscuithead Biscuitbadgers and others have in my view managed to reach wider audiences and built up diverse audiences. Andy Eastwood is also a great example of a hardworking multi-talented musician who seems to endlessly be touring and is a true artist. I recently blogged about these artists, but the responses on social media focused on almost everything but the quality of entertainment I was writing about! This entertainment factor is essential in connecting with a greater listening audience.  

The OUS platform is an initiative that gives voice to all artists who are looking to connect with a wider public and I’m happy to fund this as I think it’s important that such artists are able to be heard. As I predicted 18 months ago this platform has polarized some opinion and I have had (I’m being polite here) all manner of responses about what folks believe “I should do” and how “lots of people think x“. Personally, my view is that d debate is an essential part of the creative process and if the ukulele is to reach a wider audience such debate is essential. I have the greatest respect for all artists who are seeking to entertain audiences in creative ways and who stick to their guns in terms of the music they create. I may not always like their music of course but in my view congruency is a key part of building a body of work. 

Final Thoughts

The ukulele is in my view a terrific instrument for writing and performing. Despite my enthusiasm for the instrument I would never class myself as “a ukulele artist” but rather a musician that plays many instruments including the uke. Many of the most appreciative the listening audiences with my own band to date have been at Arts and Guitar Festivals where there is generally an appreciation of music on a wider scale. Two of the most well-known ukulele based artists The Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain and Jake Shimabukuro, have attracted wider audiences mostly though smart arrangements and playing well known material.

These folks provide superb entertainment and many of my friends who have no interest in the uke, have and will continue to see these artists when they come to town. I’m happy to be part of an appreciative paying audience with usch artists and as well as being entertained, I have learned huge amounts from such individuals. My view is that despite the enthusiasm online the actual listening/appreciative audience for ukulele based music is smaller than many might imagine. My hope is that this will expand and in my view the best way to do this is to show how the instrument can create a wide range of truly diverse and original music that bucks the stereotypical idea many have about the instrument.

Nick Cody

Global musical explorations, next stop Japan…

Having just got back from Vienna and seeing some great folks to talk about music, OUS and instruments, next week I’m heading back to Japan for the 16th time and this is a terrific opportunity to catch up with old friends, many of whom are musicians or instrument builders. First stop will be Takahiro Shimo in Tokyo as well as Dean Leoni at his excellent store. Both these guys have been hugely useful in obtaining some really terrific instruments that have been used on most Small Change Diaries recordings. I’ll also be playing with Brian Cullen in Nagoya as a duo and this is gonna be a lot of fun. As well as SCD tracks I have some new solo material to preview.

I’ve already been to New York twice this year and will be back for a third time after first visiting Austin and Nashville. Hopefully I’ll be able to hook up with the guys again at Collings Guitars as well as visiting Hill Country Guitars which carries amazing stock. After Austin I get finally to visit very old friends in Nashville for the first time and then drop back to the UK via New York and attend my good friend Zeke’s book launch which is bound to be a great focus for NYC musicians.

Most of October will be spent finalising arrangements for the album launch and I’m already letting some people know what to expect. There will of course be the full SCD band with guests as well as no less than three UK support bands. There’s a lot to figure out in the rest of 2017, before a total revamp for the OUS platform in 2018 and 2019.  I’m lucky to have met some amazing people around the world who share a real love of music and an interest in smart musical discussions. In 2018 I’ll be back in Europe, USA and Asia, for more explorations and even have some 2019 dates in the diary. The OUS platform has meet meeting up with music lovers around the world in person rather than just online which is really exciting. 

 

That’s Entertainment Part 2

After the last blog which featured male performers, here are some more terrific  entertainers.

Victoria Vox

 Victoria Vox came over to my house with 16 other performers and her husband Jack, this May. They performed a couple of tracks in my kitchen and blew me away. Rarely have I heard such great harmonies and playing. The combination is a bench mark for all duo acts. This is music at its best, smart lyrics, great melodies and terrific playing. That’s entertainment in spades!
 

Astraluna

There are countless female artists online these days, but few who can play and sing at this level. Astraluna is quite exceptional especially live when she is playing all manner of loops, building up a sonic feast. 

 
The set at GNUF on the OUS stage was really exceptional and an example of genuine and crucially original entertainment
 

Katy Vernon

 
Katy is a seasoned performed and this is one of the songs that appeared on the OUS sampler at GNUF 2017. Its very catchy and a great example of how to create a simple captivating tune.  Live she has great skills to engage an audience and creates a really good range of music which is rare these days.
 

Nicole McNally

 
 
This is a great example of a younger emerging artist with a great voice. I have never seen her live, but in my view this clip suggests great things ahead.  One of proofs of a good entertainer is when somebody can play a simple tune and entertain an audeince
 

Conclusion

These are 4 great  entertainers. There are of course many more, but these are the ones that come to mind. They are this time all original artists but that wasn’t the main consideration in picking them. The world is better for such folks.

Positive and negative use of social media for artists

In a positive sense, it can be great to generate conversion and maintain contact with like minds. Good photos, on topic posts and good information are all great ways of using social media in a positive sense. Building a community of like minded people with mutual enthusiasm works well, BUT inevitably such platforms always attract detractors as well and especially what are wonderfully called “keyboard warriors” who are mostly self employed and status seekers. A positive way to guard against this is to ensure that such characters respect the rules of the group or exhibit good manners if posting to your personal page. Remember if its your page or group, its good manners for others to adhere to good behaviour. With these considerations in mind social media can be a terrific tool for artists, expanding their reach to new audiences.

Even though people may imagine that everyone has endless time to post online, of course working professionals mostly only have limited time for social media unless they have somebody doing this on their behalf. Social media used positively is terrific as a medium to connect to a global community. The key is IMO to offer good quality material, thought provoking posts and unique information. Its also important not to flood social media with poor video and photos as that usually dilutes audience attention. 

The OUS platform is a great example of positive social media in action. The public FB platform has 2700 plus members and the main webpage has 60+ artists with their own pages and of course many more have applied to be on the site. Its a free resource for original artists and in 2018 this project will be greatly expanded. With my own band The Small Change Diaries, we have received some great opportunities though having a good social media and online presence including being invited to a major international Guitar festival overseas.

The Negatives

Just as a village can have a positive communal spirit, there can also be disruptive characters also known as trolls. Such individuals are always status seekers wanting to be the center of attention and they usually hunt in packs of two or more. Anyone who starts to achieve any form of increased profile in the public domain inevitably attracts such characters. On a basic “Punch and Judy” level the behaviour is usually endless negative attention seeking negative posts. At the other extreme, this can mean actual attempts to hack your website and/or clone your account. I have experience of both of these and have a restraining order in place against one character!

Usually ignoring and/or blocking such characters is the best strategy. Mostly there will be a small group that will back each other up and egg each other on. ALWAYS screen grab any particualarly libellous comments and store up information. If you go a legal route this will require detailing a full paper trail and that can take time. Fortunately the law has changed in recent years so this is a lot easier these days. Its useful to remember that social media can massively distort communications and of course over hyped claims usually backfire and genuine artists also look to “play the long game” and build up a body of work that stands the test of time.

Conclusion

Social media is one of many ways to connect to a wider public. Aside from my musical projects I have FB platforms that connect with substantial numbers of people. I teach communication skills in 13 overseas countries and many countries have their own social media platforms to ask and answer questions about courses. I also run many blogs which are mostly specific information about subjects. I have a policy of growing interest organically platforms like OUS have in a short time brought together many terrific artists who may have not otherwise got to meet each other.

I recently met Gregor Nowak in Austria who I met on FB and Alan and Terri Thornton stayed for a week at my house after having only known them on FB. I also had a great meeting with Bernd Holzhausen in Vienna, who I had previously only known online. These are great examples of turning virtual friends into real life friends.  

STOP PRESS – Seems from pm’s these observations are not uncommon in this cyber age!

 

Life The Basic Manual Video Platform

I  was approached a while back by the guys at “Life the basic manual” to shoot some video taking about the ukulele and ukulele related subjects. Of course there are wholly my opinions and observations and to paraphrase Groucho “These are my opinions, if you don’t like them, I have others” It was fun to bring out and talk about a number of different instruments from around the world as well as the growing OUS movement that is gathering pace.  This platform covers a massive range of topics and I think its great that the mighty uke is now included. Inevitably people will have all manner of opinions, but discussion and debate only enhance learning and in this era its wonderful to have such platforms that connect people all over the globe.
 
 

 

The dangers of overexposure for artists?

I was talking to a fellow musician recently about balancing “overexposure” and “underexposure” as a performing and/or recording artist. I think it’s a very interesting area of discussion and inevitably one that will provoke all manner of responses. She was commenting how in one area of music, in her opinion the exact same artists seemed to be headlining all the main festivals and other festive events. One the one hand you could reasonably say “Let market forces dictate who is most in demand”, but I think this does raise a genuine issue of overexposure which has its own consequences. 

Booking agents and festival promoters understandably want to hire artists that will put bums on seats, and they don’t call it “the music business” for not reason. This is a commercial reality and one of the side effects is that often most of what we see and hear is a repeat of what has already been seen and heard.  This commercial reality means that with a few exceptions promoters will take the safe route and book the same individuals. The performers often also take what IMO is the safe route and play familiar material. Again nothing wrong with this, but it doesn’t really factor in a great number of opportunities for anything new or dynamically interesting. 

 In the UK, you can literally drive from one end of the island to the other in a number of hours. There is a definite limit to the number of festivals and locations you can play at in a fairly small geographical location. This would be quite different in the USA, which is of course a number of “united states” many of whom are very different.  If an artist is perceived to be playing almost everywhere, the demand for them is inevitably diminished through “overexposure” If they are almost never seen they run the danger of “underexposure” In the conversation my friend commented that she stopped attending festivals as she rarely saw or heard anything new, so in her opinion it was no longer good value for money. In these times pricing has become a big factor with the cost of travel and accommodation now being quite high in the UK.

Robert Cialdini – The Scarcity principal 

A really well respected authority on the subject of persuasion “Robert Cialdini” talks about “the scarcity principle” as one of the six key elements in human behavioral responses. 

Principle #6: Scarcity

In fundamental economic theory, scarcity relates to supply and demand. Basically, the less there
is of something, the more valuable it is. The more rare and uncommon a thing, the more people
want it. Familiar examples are frenzies over the latest holiday toy or urban campers waiting
overnight to pounce on the latest iPhone.
o Experiment conducted
In 1985, the Coca-Cola Company made their infamous switch from their traditional formula to
the sweeter formula “New Coke.” Their taste tests indicated that 55% preferred the new Coke
over the old. Most of those tests were blind, but some participants were told which formula was
new and which was the original. Under those conditions, the preference for new Coke increased
6%.
Despite the taste tests, the switch to new Coke triggered incredible backlash against it. Time
magazine later dubbed it “the marketing fiasco of the decade.”
“The company must have looked at the 6% difference between blind and non-blind preferences
and said to themselves ‘Oh, good, this means that when people know that they’re getting
something new, their desire for it will shoot up.’”
“In fact, what that 6% really meant was that when people know what it is they can’t have, their
desire for it will shoot up. Later, when the company replaced the traditional recipe with the new
one, it was the old Coke that people couldn’t have, and it became the favorite.”

Robert Cialdini

Another Farewell Tour?

The famous “farewell tour announcements” work using Chialdini’s principle and are well known strategies to regenerate major audiences. This is a perfect example of the scarcity princile in action. Festivals and events that announce their final trow of the dice, inevitably  generate increaed attention from using this principle. Sometimes such acts and events truly have called in a day and sometimes it’s a marketing ploy of course. Numerous artists including The Eagles and Phil Collins and Cream have used this farewell tour tactic to boost ticket sales. However, Cream did wait a respectable 37 years before playing again. 

In marketing “difference dictates” For example, if the exact same artists appeared at the same event, then geography and price mostly become the main variable factors. Of course, the artists are only one part of the attraction for some events. Others can be meeting up socially and whether there’s a good supply of beer on tap! Often music festivals leverage the same artists to try to generate interest and sometimes events are cancelled due to lack of headliner availability.

When there’s a lack of scarcity, there’s ultimately increasingly less interest. Despite the sentiment in the song “I wish it could be Christmas every day” if that were true then it would no longer remain a unique once a year event. Every day would essentially be the same as every other day, so Christmas would no longer stand out as a special day for many. 

Playing only for exposure?

Another regular topic among artists is the question of playing only for exposure also known as playing for free. The term “for free” many means that there is no financial exchange, but there may be many other benefits that are as or more valuable. Such benefits include being able to network during the event, photographic opportunities and getting good live video. That said any artist wanting to earn a living from music needs to generate predictable income. The key word here is “predictable” A lack of predictability in income streams can create all manner of problems. Some artists and promoters are well intentioned but delusional when it comes to making basic business decisions and this can cause them major long-term problems. 

Getting useful exposure and “playing the long game”

With my own band “The Small Change Diaries” we received our first overseas festival invitation on the basis of reputation and online presence. We have since had other overseas enquiries and I have made sure we don’t appear as a what many may think of as typical ukulele band as that’s not really our target audience. We also play 100% original music which is not a safe bet in terms of audience reactions. Martin Simpson paid me the highest compliment by saying “You really don’t sound like anyone else” 

With the band, I make sure that everything we put out was of good quality and there were no shaky camera videos taken on IPhones! Personally, I would never want to reply only on music for an income and professional artists I know comment that this is not exactly an easy life. The balance again is maintaining some exposure in the public domain but not oversaturating the market so you appear everywhere and lose impact. Once again Robert Cialdini’s observations are worth bearing in mind. This is IMO all about “playing the long game” and that means careful investment of time and money. Inevitably there are major lessons along the way of course.

Online video

Another challenge is the increasing amount of material posted online on video platforms, especially YouTube. If you put everything online members of the public can think “I’ve seen that set” and not bother to see you play live. Kate Bush pleaded with her audience not to video her string of shows to maintain the scarcity element and of course one fan couldn’t resist. Artists who post everything online also can create problems for themselves in terms of overexposure.

Final thoughts and a counter example

Interestingly there is a counter example to all of this in that an increasing number of popular artists make EVERY SHOW available to their fans. You can literally buy every show of Springsteen’s “The River” on CD, high definition audio and mp3, literally hundreds of hours of listening. Artists like Nick Cave have technology that in some cases allows you to have a recording of the show directly after you have attended it. These are exceptions to “the scarcity principle” 

Of course, the other extreme is underexposure which is equally problematic, but that’s the subject for another blog

robert cialdini

Setting up for the main stage at The Lagoa Guitar Festival 2016

Finally this is not a new topic and despite some folks dismissing the whole subject out of hand, its been written about extensively from many angles and perspectives. Thanks for all the private messages about this and those who have contributed in a mature way to the discussion

Stand for something or stand for nothing?

I had a long conversation recently with a very established artist where we talked about “artist positioning” and artist identity. He pointed out that those artists who have created a body of work that has stood the test of time, stuck to their guns in maintaining a very definite musical stance, while at the same time evolving their own material. There are many examples of such individuals, including David Bowie, Neil Young, Bob Dylan among many others. When Bowie released “Low” there was some surprise as to how an artist who created “Ziggy Stardust” could then release an album that was 50% instrumental! Of course Bowie was a brilliant composer as well as a performer and was often well ahead of the curve. Decades on its appreciated as a classic. Hendrix had the same experience with Electric Ladyland, another of my all time favorites. Of course when Jimi touted “Hey Joe” most record companies were not interested…

Similarly Neil Young drove his record company crazy with some of his releases causing Geffen Records to suggest his music was “noncommercial” Dylan has always massively inspired and frustrated me in his choice of releases. At his best, he released “Blood on the Tracks” “Oh Mercy” and “Time Out of Mind” but the last two had the magic Daniel Lanois ingredient that worked so brilliantly with Emmylou Harris’s Wrecking Ball, another superb album. Emmylou received a lot of grief from people who preferred “the traditional country sound” but I applaud that she stuck to her guns and didn’t simply pander to what people expected. The best artists in my view have the metal to challenge an audience and create something new. This is NOT the safe option and it’s far easier to just roll out a familiar tune that will instantly be recognizable to an audience. Yes, there’s absolutely a place for that, but please lets also have music that takes people to new places and is gimmick opefully free. Without new music we are left with an endless recycle of what has gone before. Without artists taking risks and sticking to their gugs many of the classic albums would never have been made.

I therefore continue to have a massive respect for artists that maintain a consistent position, even if I’m not a fan of their actual music. This is one of the reasons i prefer original material as by its nature such music always brings something brand new to the table. Its also clear to me that a lot of the best music requires cooperation with like minds. Even though Dylan and Young are known as solo artists, without “The Band” and “Crazy Horse” a lot of the best music would never have manifested.  

“With Crazy Horse, it’s all one big, growing, smoldering sound, and I’m part of it. It’s like gliding, or some sort of natural surfing”

Neil Young

There are many other examples of this including “The Talking Heads” and although “The Tom Tom Club” created many great tracks. the full Talking Heads ensemble were quite extraordinary. Long term collaborations are rare as its like a marriage, there needs to be some give and take. Years ago I was in a band called “The Guest List” and out of the four of us, one member always used to freely proclaim being a lazy person, which at least was an accurate description! Ultimately we parted ways as he was being carried by the rest of the band and it wasn’t even remotely an equal collaboration. These days I’m very careful to ensure that I work with people who have a shared creative vision and who are prepared to put in the actual work needed. 

I have come to respect folks “who stand for something” rather that those who don’t hold a particular view and try to be all things to all people! I’m not a fan of this as in trying to be “all things to everyone” IMO you end up being “no thing to anyone”. Far better in my biased opinion to maintain a stance that you remain true to. The artists I respect the most have always done this and in doing so they have received all manner of negative comments. This weeks is the 50th anniversary of Sergeant Pepper, a classic Beatles album which set the world alight all those decades ago.  Most of the greatest music is ahead of the curve when released and its only later that it gets fully recognised. Of course ultimately its a personal choice and I fully admit that my taste is not the same as the masses!

Ultimately the best art and music comes from cooperation and collaborations, with essential focus and stamina. I’m lucky to increasingly know a bunch of folks who have a great love of music, as well as terrific skills.