Topic: Music business

Don’t Panic! State control in live gigs…

My producer once famously commented “A live gig is worth ten rehearsals” and I have realised how true this is. Audiences and venues can vary massively and I have some to have a whole new appreciation and respect for professional performers.

nick codyOn stage there are endless moving parts and the possibility of “a fuck up factor” is always surprisingly high. To date I have learned two main lessons from live gigs. The first is regardless of what happens, carry on playing and singing. The second is that even it a song goes “off road” it almost all cases NOBODY NOTICES except the musicians on stage! I recently looked at some video of a live Small Change Diaries performance and was really pleasantly surprised at how well the set was played and the overall look of the band. It’s a totally different experience being in the audience, than being on stage.

To date the band have played a variety of different venues with an even bigger variety of “sound engineers” The best sound was when we used our own new Bose PA system and hired our producer and long standing recording engineer Carl Rosamond. The worst was a duo set when I couldn’t hear anything at all, no vocals, no sound, NOTHING! That was a somewhat surreal situation to say the least, BUT the key is carry on regardless. After all, there is really no other choice.

I was recently talking to a good friend and longstanding band singer of over thirty who sells out stadiums. He commented that he still gets nerves before gigs, but is fine as soon as he is on stage. In band situations its crucial that one member doesn’t start to trigger a chain reaction, so we don’t end up in a Clive Dunn type scenario in the classic Dad’s Army sitcom.

Playing live can summon up all manner of emotions and its an extraordinary privilege to be able to play to a live audience. At the end of this month The Small Change Diaries will be playing the prestigious 3rd Lagoa Guitar Festival. Certainly there will be no problem with space on stage looking at the photo below which I confess does start to crank the adrenalin just a bit…

 

lagoa guitar festival

state control in live gigs

 

Balancing the books – the music buisness

Background

I have a background in business, having spent many years in sales and marketing.
This has given me an acute awareness of the importance of how to fund time when engaged in any activity. I remember the first time I worked with a spread sheet and learned to difference between gross and net profit, it was quite a shock. Previously I have blogged about my observations of how tough it can be to earn an income purely from the arts and especially the music business. All the professional performers I know have a number of different diverse income streams that allow them to create a living wage and a smaller percentage of these are financially very well off, usually after decades of work.

Developing a body of work means investment

My own experience is that developing any body of work requires a great deal of time, energy, funding and of course talent. This is of course 100% true in the music business where in my opinion all four ingredients are needed. It’s not enough to have talent, the other elements need to be in place. I have previously blogged on music festivals and how in some cases I am baffled by what I perceive as a lack of business fundamentals. I applaud any attempts for people to create public events, but without a realistic awareness of how to balance the books, there’s a real danger of financial and other problems. In the 1980s I was involved in promoting a number of public events and I was amazed at the huge amount of work needed to make these happen. In 1984 I helped promote a personal development festival that attracted an audience of 2000 attendees over a weekend. The event generated a modest return in profit, but if I broke down the sheer number of hours I spent on it, this was not an easy way to earn an income!

The Small Change Diaries

The Small Change Diaries was formed in 2014 and in the first two years we have recorded an album and an EP. As well as the 17 tracks recorded on these two releases, we also have four other tracks ready for the 2017 second album release and are back in the studio this November. All this requires a lot of time and money, both being equally essential. On average Jessica and I allocate 2 – 3 hours every week for songwriting as well as full band practices. I sometimes joke “Thank god we are not a 12-piece band” as even organizing four band members can be a challenge! I love this band and all this has been done in an accelerated manner due to sensible investment of time and money. It also means a lot of time management and paying attention to social media, promo material and making connections with like minds. It’s a massive learning curve and I am supremely grateful to be working with three excellent musicians.

Investment in equipment

As well as investments in time, it’s important to invest in the right equipment. I have been surprised at how terrible a lot of artists’ sound both in a live and on recordings. These days with some careful attention its perfectly possible to get really good results. As the only saying goes “You never get a second chance to make a first impression” Personally I’m not a fan of IPhone video footage where the sound is terrible and/or video that sounds like it’s been recorded at the bottom of The Grand Canyon, there is so much reverb! I have two main types of instruments, those I use in a live context and those I use in the recording studio.
In the studio I use mostly Shimo instruments which are all custom builds, but in my view sound and play like nothing else. There is something about hand built instruments that makes them very different to others. The exception to this rule is Bill Collins instruments which are first class. In a live situation my main two ukuleles are both made by Rob Collins from Tin Guitar, an African blackwood tenor and a 5 string mahogany baritone. Both have McIntyre pickups and are played through Henriksen Bud amps with Lava cable ultramafic instrument cables. I have spent what seems like forever figuring out these combinations. Recently the Bose L1 Mark 2 PA is the final piece in the puzzle. This is no small investment, but it means we have a complete portable sound system of the highest quality that is fully portable. We’ll be showcasing this at The Wetherby Arts festival this October.

Music promotion

In days gone by, the record company would take care of music promotion for artists. Many outside the industry imagine that being signed to a level is when you have made it in “the music business” The reality is that the record company sees an artist as an investment and like any investor, wants a return on their investment. In all such contracts the small print is always quite revealing. The oft quoted $1m prize for winning some TV talent shows is not all that it appears to be on closer inspection. The prize is payable in a financial annuity over forty years, or the contestant may choose to receive the present cash value of such annuity.” Yes, it’s still a sizable amount, BUT yet another example of how it seems everything is hyped for effect…
Many artists play for free to “get exposure” This is fine up to a point, but ultimately if you want to be able to dedicate essential time to creating music, it needs to be funded in some way. This means either having a separate income stream, a wealthy patron or a strategy that generates allows you to balance the books. I am lucky in that “the other Nick” (my other career) allows me to be able to fund aspects of the band which means we can do things in an accelerated manner.
A month ago I was lucky enough to have a long conversation with a major artist friend of mine who has been signed to labels for three decades. I wouldn’t swap places, as it reminds me of my days of working for a company. The idea of playing to 13,000 audiences does however intrigue me somewhat!

Conclusion

“The music business” is just that “a business” Like any business, it’s important to balance the books. Professional musicians are the ones who derive a living from playing and writing music. I’m not a professional musician in that’s not how I support myself financially. This gives me a freedom pretty much to do what I want when I want in the musical realm. Developing a body of work also takes time and serious artists are fully aware of this
“The bigtime for you is just around the corner.’ They told me that first in 1952 – boy, it’s been a long corner. If I don’t hit the bigtime in the next 25 or 30 years, I’m gonna pack in the music business and become a full-time gigolo”.
Ronnie Hawkins
nick cody

Too many superlatives when describing artists?

I watched a brief clip of one of the current TV talent shows recently and noticed the trend of using superlatives to describe new artists seems to be at an all time high. It seems that every third act is described as “brilliant” “star quality” and “incredible” The problem with such a liberal use of language is that ultimately all such descriptions become totally meaningless. ..In my opinion there are a very few artists that are “brilliant” or “incredible” and many of these from my experience have been developing their craft over a significant period of time. Such artists have highs and lows in their professional careers, but are constantly pushing the musical boundaries to create challenging, entertaining and inspirational original material.

My personal list of  what I would call “brilliant artists”  include Bob Dylan, Nick Cave, Tom Waits, John Hiatt, Neil Young and Bruce Springsteen, among others. That said each of these artists have had highs and lows. Dylan when on form can be extraordinary with albums like “Blood on the Tracks” and “Highway 61” but who is ever going to listen to his X Mas album? Waits and Cave are always interesting but I can’t help but imagine Tom’s record company groaned when he released “The Black Rider” Similarly Neil Young was sued by Geffen for making “uncommercial music and although many will favour Harvest and After the Gold rush, I think his “Ditch trio” of “On the beach” “Time fades away” and “Tonight’s the night” are extraordinary.

On a recent social media thread I commented on my personal dislike for pre teen artists on TV talent shows. I don’t blame the artist, but I do think its pretty irresponsible  When an artist is “signed” the record company invests in that artist like any commercial business and like any commercial business expects a return on their investment. Yes, the artist can get massive publicity, but only a small percentage earn a substantial living as an artist. Recently I was talking to a fellow musician in New York, who commented that Alanis Morissette was touring with just one guitarist to make the tour commercially viable. Another friend of mine with over three decades in the music business is touring Australia but the record company will only fund economy class airline seats as the audiences are a mere thousand in each venue.

The problem I have with many TV talent shows is that they often promote the idea of “instant fame” and performers become almost delusional in their aspirations. This has also created from what I see more polarized opinions. Often when someone comments on such matters on social media they can be accused of “trashing” or “bashing” the performers, rather than engaging in useful and valuable discussion. Discussion and critical thinking are essential for any field to develop and I for one welcome such debates and discussion.

nick cody

 

 

 

Earning a living from music, part 2

In part 1 of this subject I talked a lot about mostly established artists who were “in the music business” . The common themes I observed is that these artists playing at all levels had a very strong work ethic, and usually ensured that they had multiple income streams to support everyday living. They all were great as musicians, but that’s not enough to generate enough income to support yourself.

Even if you have brilliant musical skills and excellent songwriting, there still has to be a delivery system that connects with the wider world. As I said in the first part of this article, the advance of social media and online distribution are two edged swords. I set up Original Ukulele Songs as a project partly to explore this aspect. Originally it was just a FB platform and once we hit 1000 members I added the official site http://www.originalukulelesongs.com. The project continues to gather momentum and in my view this is for two reasons. Firstly it’s very niche and there’s nothing like it on this scale. Secondly I have spent a fair bit of time promoting it to crucially it captures artist and listener’s attention. That’s great, and although it’s not directly generating income it is creating greater awareness as the platform becomes a focus for original material.

Imagination rules the world

Napoleon once said “Imagination rules the world” and certainly capturing imagination is essential in marketing. As I have always said “Difference dictates” so if you want to stand out as an artist you have to be different. This means in the visual medium as well as the actual music. Video, photos etc are essential in creating visual as well as auditory impact. Amazingly many artists don’t invest in good websites even though this is relatively inexpensive these days. Steve Krug’s “Don’t make me think” is the go to book for learning how best to present a website to capture attention.

All these ingredients help with building a profile which in turn helps in getting live opportunities. When setting up The Small Change Diaries, I was very conscious that we needed a good website and good social media presence. In order to stand out we also use Karen Turner as our band photographer and Max Wootton as illustrator. Both these skilled folks help create a very specific image which helps to make us different. When we had our first play on BBC Radio, Alan Raw commented on the fact that we could be found “everywhere” on social media!  All of the above don’t generate hard cash, but they do help with building credibility. Our first overseas paid festival appearance came from being noticed online and that’s down to these efforts.

Smart investments

My own experience is that as an artist, its crucial to invest in what you are doing. These investments are in time and money. I allocate three hours rehearsal time as a minimum every week and have done so for the last three years. I have also funded the studio time and CD releases to build credibility and awareness of the band. The time investment can be significant. I estimate that I spend 15 – 20% of my working week on social media, blogs etc to maintain a presence online. Many artists will bemoan that they don’t have time to blog and be on social media, failing to appreciate that this is “playing the long game” and essential in building awareness.

Ultimately, for me it’s essential to love what you do. My experience to date, having run some very successful non music businesses is that the principals are very similar. You have to be focused and organized if you want to create something of substance. Many artists imagine that once they have recorded a CD, the work is done! Of course that’s just one small step in a much bigger process that requires ongoing attention. Income will come from lining up all these elements, and writing original material will be a big part of generating potential revenue.  Hats off to all artists that dedicate themselves to creating great music. Many of my favorites are not the most well known performers and I suspect not especially wealthy in terms of money. They do however continue to entertain and inspire myself and many others and I for one are supremely grateful.

nick cody

Earning a living from creating music?

“I recommend my students not to be professional unless they really have to be. I tell them, ‘If you love music, sell Hoovers or be a plumber. Do something useful with your life.”

Robert Fripp

This may seem a bit harsh but the public perception of what it’s like to be a professional performer is very different from the reality that many imagine. I say “professional performer” as the commercial reality of needing to earn an income from music means a whole bunch of very specific considerations.

This year I have had the opportunity to talk to a number of established musicians and ask the business aspect of “the music business” and especially the ability for artists to earn a living. Often members of the public have the incorrect perception that performers are earning millions of pounds and living in mansions or at the very least detached houses. The reality is of course very different and even the most established international artists have to work at an extraordinary rate a respectable living.

The observations in this article come from talking to three different artists. One plays UK gigs but is not a fulltime musician. The other is an international artist who has won numerous awards and is respected as one of the most skilled musicians in his genre. The third one fronts a band that tours internationally and has literally sold millions of albums worldwide. The second two artists both have longstanding record deals. What all three artists have in common is a serious work ethic and our conversations have really highlighted that earning even a modest living form being a musical artist is no easy matter.

The Record Company model

When many people see reality shows like “The X Factor” and hear talk of major financial opportunities, they imagine that the artist becomes instantly wealthy. The reality is of course very different. Back in 2011 The Guardian had an article on this very issue with some interesting observations

“The X Factor has dropped the “£1m recording contract” top prize. Apparently this happened in 2009, but contestants were sworn to secrecy, so the change has only now come to light. The contracts this year’s finalists have been asked to sign give them an advance of “just” £150,000 for their first album, according to the Sun. The advances for the follow-up albums increase by just under £100,000 with every release, which means the act would have to release four albums to earn a million pounds. No act has so far managed to reach that point before being dropped.”

Robert Fripp released a series of audio books talking about both music and the music business which are quite fascinating. On one of these he lamented any news of bands signing record contracts from his own personal experience as an artist. He spent years battling his old record company over contract issues and until recent times all but retired from performing as an artist.

“When a record company makes a mistake, the artist pays for it. When a manager makes a mistake, the artist pays for it. When the artist makes a mistake, the artist pays for it.”

Robert Fripp

Show me the money!

The internet and downloads have been a game changer for performing artists. The good news is that any artist can put music online. The bad news is that any artist can put music online. The two artists I talked two both have very niche followings created over a long period of time. There’s an old saying in show business “It takes ten years to become an overnight success” Many performers simply don’t have the stamina. I remember in 1970s reading that guitarist and lead singer for the band Television was still working part time in a New York book store even when the highly acclaimed album “Marquee Moon” was released. Many performers today I know supplement their incomes from private teaching especially when for every CD sold they may earn just a few percent. That percentage will of course be even less if they are not the writer of the material.

One of the ways to generate substantial income is to have one of your songs featured in a blockbuster movie. This happened to Nick Lowe with “What’s so funny about peace, love and understanding”

“In 1992, this was covered by Curtis Stigers for the Whitney Houston film, The Bodyguard. The film’s soundtrack album went on to sell 44 million copies worldwide, landing Lowe a large royalty check. Lowe told The Telegraph: “It was a tremendous piece of good fortune. I made an astonishing amount of money from that.”

Rumor has it that Lowe opened up his mail to discover a cheque for 1m dollars from this particular track!

Of course this particular occurrence is a combination of the right song in the right place at the right time. That’s not in my experience an everyday occurrence!

The average working artist needs to build up their own client base to generate public awareness that can ultimately translate into actual cash.  For most musicians this means taking the long view in terms of playing live and choosing the right gigs. It’s easy to be busy and earn zero money from live performances as promoters assure you “It’s great exposure” BUT that doesn’t pay the bills. Merchandise has also become a great source of income and its clear to me that artists need to have a distinctive image that is as recognizable as their music.

My own experience is that having access to and/or generating money can make a massive difference. My international friend talked of studio time being a thousand pounds per day, so the record company can have you in hock for a very long time. I think it’s possible to earn money from being a musician, but you need multiple income streams and predictability of income is invaluable. Residences and regular festivals can make a big difference. Being an independent artist can assure you of better unit value for CDs but you have to use your own promotional methods and companies like Ditto and CD Baby can be invaluable. Ultimately in my view you have to love what you are doing for everything to ultimately work out, both financially and musically.

Nick Cody

 

Business sense in the “music business?”

“The music business is a cruel and shallow money trench, a long plastic hallway where thieves and pimps run free, and good men die like dogs. There’s also a negative side.”
― Hunter S. Thompson
(there is some debate about the full accuracy of the quote, but it suits the purpose of the post here and to paraphrase Groucho ‘This is a quote, if you don’t like it I have others”

Discussion and debate are healthy

I blogged recently about different trends in music festivals and some of the factors that ensured success for some festivals, while others disappeared without trace. The ones that folded did so often because the promoters lacked basic business common sense and/or ignored professional advice. That particular article was not aimed specifically at the ukulele festival scene and was actually quite mild compared to what I could have said! Some folks described writing such an article as “brave!” My own view is that it’s healthy to discuss such matters if we are to truly collectively learn from the past.
I originally come from a marketing and sales background long before I formed a band and wrote about the music scene. With “my business brain” much of what I see in the world of music is (and I’m being polite here) somewhat “surprising” and often totally bonkers.  Often basic marketing and business principals are ignored as individuals hurtle headlong into disaster. We are all at various stages of learning, (god knows I’ve made some cracking mistakes in judgement over the decades) but often ‘common sense is not a common as you would think when it comes to “the music business”

The dangers of working solely for “exposure?”

nick codyThere’s in my opinion an unfortunate trend on the music scene where performers are expected to work for “exposure” also known as working for no financial remuneration. I hear now that some music festivals even expect performers to pay for the privilege of attending for the benefit of “exposure!” Yes, in some situations an artist or band may benefit from agreeing to waive a fee for an appearance, but if this becomes a common trend then often the only exposure you’ll get is exposure to potential financial ruin, unless you have a rich benefactor or a secondary income. I can’t imagine many areas of life where skilled professionals would be asked to work in this way!
Every business relationship is a trade of sorts. The financial aspect is one element of this. It’s all too easy to be “busy” but nonproductive as an artist or promoter. It worries me when promoters make the comment “We just want to break even” as often they have not fully factored in a financial safety net for projects and this can lead to all manner of problems.

Get mobile friendly or lose 40% of potential customers

In this internet age a good online presence and social media presence is a must. Many artists and promoters have not paid attention to this aspect and amazingly many sites are not even mobile friendly. One of the major ukulele festivals in the UK, still have not adjusted their site so it is optimized for Google on mobile devices. Another festival in 2016 also missed the opportunity to ensure their website is mobile friendly. This means losing up to 40% of potential traffic from Google searches.
Research suggests that 74% of consumers will 5 seconds for a web page to load on their mobile device before abandoning the site! If you are serious about having a good online presence, you need to be Google mobile friendly. Check here to see if your site fits the criterial – https://www.google.co.uk/webmasters/tools/mobile-friendly/  The internet is primarily a visual medium and smart individuals also invest in professional photos and video when marketing services.  A website is like store front into the universe, so it’s a good idea to make it a memorable and attractive one. Creating great music is not enough. You need many entry points where people can discover who you are if you want to capture customer attention.

Work ethic and other considerations

guitar gearIn these tougher economic times both performers and promoters need to work harder to maintain a viable presence. I am fortunate to know some international artists and know just how hard they have to work. There is often a constant demand from the record companies for them to create new material of a high standard.  The most successful artists have great stamina and immerse themselves in their work, while at the same time paying attention to the details of how they conduct their business. This means balancing time and money. Its wonderfully naïve to suggest that money doesn’t matter, but without a predicable income stream life becomes pretty problematic on many fronts.  A good friend of mine who fronts a major international and currently on tour has a grueling schedule for media appearances and gigs. It’s certainly not an easy life and not for the faint hearted! He’s been doing this for three decades and I have seen go though some really tough times. He stuck with it and new is selling out stadiums as well as having top 3 album positioning.

Less is more, the dangers of overloading customers

Good marketing is all about GETTING ATTENTION. This means working in a manner that creates interest and of course as I have said many times “difference dictates” Social media can be great for reach out to a wider audience, but there needs to be some strategic thinking behind what is posted online. When people flood forums and FB pages with the exact same post, it creates too much noise and that kind of overload will drive often away customers. Post 5 great photos and you’ll get interest, post 500 and you’ll lose people’s attention. Post one great thoughtful video and you’ll most likely get shares. Post endless shaky camera phone clips and it’s probably going to drive customers away. As the old saying goes “You never get a second chance to create a first impression”

Timing is everything (well almost everything)

Smart marketers appreciate the value of timing in marketing and the need to create and crucially maintain momentum. If you are promoting an event or a product, if you advertise too far in advance you may get initial sales, but longer term you’ll lose momentum. If you leave it too late you’ll miss the boat! Of course smart folks will look at how other successful artists and promoters already do this rather than “having a go” themselves! A common mistake in business is to avoid doing proper research. I applaud the enthusiasm of many folks, but do sound a note of caution that enthusiasm alone without some sound business thought is not a great recipe for success.
Once again look at what works and how successful businesses operate. Learning from other’s existing successful strategies is smart. Ignoring what works is just plain daft. In this internet age we are literally bombarded with sensory information on every front. Most marketing professionals believe that unless you are Peter Jackson announcing a Lord of the Rings sequel, nine months is a maximum lead period to announce any major activity.

Final Thoughts

A great deal of “business sense” is common sense, but often as artists and promoters we can become too engaged or too enthused in our own activities to miss the elusive obvious. Smart folks look at what already works and seek to improve on those existing models. There’s a wealth of examples for us to learn from and the key is to always pay attention to feedback from customers and fellow artists. In my view it’s also important to have a point of view. We may not always agree, but that’s a good thing as discussion and debate allow us to review and refine how we work for greater success.
(Thanks to Ian Emmerson for the Hunter quote)
Nick Cody

Yes, take care of image but…

nick codyI have become increasingly aware of the importance of “image” in music promotion. I grew up listing to music in 1970s which in my view was the golden era for music songwriting. I remember David Bowie playing “Starman” on Top of the Pops, which was literally unlike anything anyone had seen before. Fortunately, the visual image was as captivating as the music which has stood the test of time many decades later. During the same era Alice Cooper was similarly considered highly controversial with a carefully formulated rock image and Alice is still selling our concerts today…

Difference dictates

Anyone involved in any music promotion or any form of marketing appreciates that image is an important aspect. Whether we like it or not, artists will often struggle to be heard unless this visual aspect is taken into account. Many record labels package artists in a very specific way to maximize what they regard as “their investments” I am fortunate to know some very well-known international artists, one of whom talked recently about “the dreaded photo shoot” It was obvious to me that the music business, is like any other business in that the first rule of marketing is that “difference dictates”. If you don’t stand out from the crowd, then essentially you are just the same as everybody else and probably won’t he heard above “the noise”

An outbreak of cute girls/boys plus ukuleles?

Online there is an increasing trend of what I would respectfully describe as “cute” girls and boys playing ukuleles. Nothing wrong with this of course, but if you close your eyes and just listen to the music on its own, its rarely original and really not that great. The ukulele is all too often more like a prop than a musical instrument for creative expression, which I think is a real tragedy. The uke is a magical instrument that is in my view like no other and quite brilliant for songwriting. To reduce its function to a stage prop is criminal and such folks should be placed in the village stocks and pelted with appropriate amounts of rotten fruit.

On the Original Ukulele Songs site (www.originalukulelesongs.com) there are all manner of really great artists that do far more than simply pose with a uke. These artists have taken the time to really develop something original.  From what I see many are hardworking and really care about their craft.  I saw one female artist online who has a nice voice, but all the videos were of her in a bikini (often on a beach), which I thought more than a bit odd…

Enough of the pouting please!

My absolute pet hate is carefully choreographed pouting artists. Amazingly many of these can have significant video viewings but the material is in my view just pretty bland. The ukulele is a wonderful instrument for great sonic explorations. Increasingly there are artists who are really showcasing just how expressive this instrument can be. While I may not always love the music (give me three soulful notes rather than a technical flurry of 30 notes!) the best artists have a real passion for what they are doing and a definite musical point of view. Bravo to all such folks, whose songs will I suspect be around decades to come.

A

Best Regards

A

NC

A

(If you don’t like these views, I do have others)

nick cody logo

What makes for a great music festival?

What is a festival anyway?

A festival has been described as

“an organized series of concerts, plays, or films, typically one held annually in the same place.”

One of my earliest experiences of live gigs was bunking off school aged 13 to go and see the original line up of Gong playing Hyde Park with a number of other artists. This would not fit this classic description of “festival” but over the decades I have attended well known festivals like Womad and Pink pop in Holland. So a festival in the true sense is not a one off occurrence but has some history, is organized and is more than a single performance, which of course makes it very different to a gig. I mention this because in recent times concerts are described as “festivals”

I think it’s also useful to differentiate between these different forms of event both from the artists and the public’s perspectives, as from what I see there’s a lot of confusion about what a festival even is! This  article is of course highly subjective based on my 45 years’ experience of attending a wide range of music events. Many reading this (especially promoters) may have different views and that of course is fine! The article also includes references to ukulele festivals, but looks at this subject from a wider perspective.

First, let’s start with a “Homer Simpson” question?

The first question to ask is “What’s the purpose of the festival?”

nick codyThere may of course be a number of purposes, but definition is key for a successful outcome. Often amazingly promoters often are somewhat fuzzy about this question! You can always spot an event that is not well thought through and/or designed by committee as there’s no clear vision! The problem with this is that usually the end result won’t be as impactful or memorable which means that there will be no longevity for such events. In 1980s for a while I was involved in running public events and each time it would require a fairly substantial commitment of cash before anything could be initiated! Anyone who thinks they will become rich running events, would be advised to think again. Like all successful business it takes a great deal of time, energy and skill. Most folks don’t have the stamina for such endeavors. The most successful festivals will capture the public’s imagination and will seek to be more than just a meeting place for the same recycled artists and ideas.

Location, location, location…

Anyone running an event of any sort appreciates, that it’s a great deal of work. Customers only see the final result and would probably be amazed by the sheer amount of work that is needed to make such festivals happen. It seems to me that there is an abundance of festivals in recent times and inevitably not all of them will be financially viable as there are only so many people that will attend. The location of any festival is of course crucial as unless customers are local they have to travel and organize accommodation. If families are attending and the weather is not great, then can ruin the overall experience.

Many festivals are also run during the holiday period so festival attendees need to plan ahead or potentially find they have an issue. I saw one festival starting to market the following year’s proposed event a full year ahead and some folks commenting on social media that it was too far ahead for hotels to take bookings! Advertising a year ahead presents other problems, but I’ll get to that later…

The WIIFM factor?

The “What’s in it for me?” factor (WIIFM) is key to attracting and maintaining customers. I say “maintaining” because often promoters can generate short term attention but fail to maintain creating a successful annual event. When Peter Gabriel first promoted world music in the 1980s, many people thought “What the f**k is this?” Similarly, Womad was a bold initiative, BUT crucially DIFFERENT and of course any smart marketer appreciates that “difference dictates” in generating customer awareness. Often promoters become complacent and think that it’s just about booking one BIG ACT, which in my view is a simplistic view. Personally when I make decisions about which events to attend, I look at all manner of elements before making a final decision. I have noticed that the most successful festivals have a specific identity and loyal following that makes them rather special and of perennial interest

Pioneers in promoting festivals and promotion

Peter Gabriel’s Womad is a great example of a bold creative statement. I remember seeing Jah Wobble play in the 1980s at this festival. It was an excellent day with great cuisine, stores and terrific atmosphere. I regret not attending Glastonbury in 1970s and 1980s and of course Michael Eavis would be regarded as a pioneer, even if I did groan when I heard that the headliners this year are “Adele” and “Coldplay” hardly the cutting edge of creative entertainment in my opinion! Inevitably many folks will seek to copy such pioneers, BUT usually won’t succeed as they lack the creative skills and imagination to continue to develop and evolve events.

The timing of promotions for an event is crucial. If you leave marketing too late then there is a danger of missing the boat. If you promote way ahead, then as the old saying goes “You never get a second chance to make a first impression!” A lot happens throughout a year and crucially people’s attention will be focused on more than one festival weekend way off at a future date, especially with so much happening in a world where there is instant information available globally! Ultimately its more than simply booking acts, it’s about THE WHOLE EXPERIENCE, and that requires some smart thinking. Again I applaud anyone wanting to promote a festival but I really encourage folks to think about many of the points I have outlined and probably others I may have missed!

Attention to detail and making an impression

Any smart promoter appreciates the importance of attention to detail. This applies to everything from the official website, programmes, social media etc. In recent times I attended two ukulele festivals within a month. The first one had a 40+ page programme crammed with information, with excellent design and was available for all those who had bought tickets. The second have a fraction of pages, 50% were adverts! Both examples create an impression of course… The one with the expanded program had 3 main stages for artists playing over the whole weekend, the former had a fraction of the number of acts, all of who played on the first day. The rest of that weekend was essentially a cheery singalong which is fine, but not something I would personally pay to attend! This is of course highly subjective view and many folks will have a different opinion which is fine. A number of festivals in recent years realised a month before launch that they would lose a substantial amount of money and had to go back and beg artists to review arrangements. Another festival I came across was advertising “workshops” without any details 8 weeks before launch!

Trends in Festival popularity

NC NYIn 2013 there was a YouGov survey on music festival trends and this is what they concluded

The report reveals that just under a fifth (19%) of UK festival-goers surveyed (i.e. those who have attended at least one music festival in the past) plan on going to a music festival in 2013, while 54% say they won’t be going at all in 2013. 37% of respondents say music festivals are over-crowded and involve too much queuing. Of those who do not plan to attend a festival in 2013, 35% say they are too expensive, 18% are put off by poor weather and muddy fields, and 22% say they plan to take a holiday instead of attending a music festival.

Of course it’s a few years on, but it is interesting to see what’s highlighted here. Many reporting online suggest that more niche festivals are the way forward and my gut instinct is that this may be correct!

Looking at current music festival attendance globally

It’s interesting to look at this from a global perspective to see what’s really drawing crowds! I don’t subscribe to big = best, but it does show what’s capturing pubic attention

Festival figures globally

Here are some interesting stats on festival figures globally

Conclusion

Everyone will have their own preferences for what makes for a great music festival. Personally now I’m in my fifties, I don’t have the enthusiasm for standing in a field regardless of which act is playing. I’m more of a “Vanguard in NY” kind of guy! Ultimately the festivals that have a genuinely unique identity will be around for a long time. My hope is that regardless of my own personal bias, promoters will continue to innovate and be creative in how they organize and run such events rather than simply recycle what has gone before! I have the belief that the festivals that will prosper will be those that focus on developing what is new and of course that will include a lot of ORIGINAL music!

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Mystification about “The Music Business?

In recent months I have increasingly been scratching my ahead about a lot of what I see in the music business. As someone who in another life works as a consultant for business, a great deal of what I see and hear to me makes no sense at all!

The fundamental elements that determine business success are the same regardless of the market or product in question. Its doesn’t matter if you are promoting a festival, product or band, if you ignore key sound business considerations then there is  great potential  for financial disaster! Often enthusiasm overtakes sound business sense and business owners realize too late the error of their ways. Some of the thinking in these situational is at best naïve and at worst totally delusional. If you are faint of heart stop reading now! Otherwise read on and see if you agree or disagree…

Marketing 101 – Get attention, create the “WIIFM” factor

nick codyAll marketers appreciate the importance of getting customer attention and addressing the “What’s in it for me factor” for customers. If you don’t get attention and capture the imagination of customers then there’s very little chance for success. In this internet era, online communications and social media are essential in generating client interest. This means creating really good visual impact, so yes invest in great photos, video, websites and illustrations. All successful businesses appreciate this and realize that such an endeavor is an ongoing process. There’s an old showbiz saying

“It takes ten years to become an overnight success!”

With the advent of TV shows this consideration is often of course forgotten and many like myself groan at the formulaic X Factor type production line for artists. There’s very little original new material and we are left we endless (mostly bad) recycled cover versions! Some artists overuse FB and a few simply blast out the same post to endless groups. This is true in the ukulele world where I groan in seeing the same endless promotion blasted to every group and little wonder there’s very little engagement with such posts. Sometimes “less is more!” (:

Online presentation and confusions?

Although social media like FB have become crucial in marketing, its important to remember such concerns are businesses in their own rights and any artist or business owner would be advised to remember this. Years ago Myspace was a vibrant forum for artists and yet now its hardly mentioned as trends change. One thing is certain, a good online presence is essential. This means having a site that communicates to the wider public in an effective manner. Lets remember, the internet is primarily a visual medium, so how a site looks is as important as the actual content. A must read book on this is Steve Krug’s “Don’t make me think”

Recently I spent 30 minutes on a music festival site trying to determine the running order for who was playing at the festival. It was like being in Hampton Court maze and eventually I gave up looking and I suspect I was not the only one reaching this conclusion. Other festivals are trying to sell tickets without even detailing what’s happening at the event, so the ad copy is littered with “TBC” Yes, sometimes it’s wise to gradually drip feed information on an event, BUT who is going to book time to attend an event when there’s a lack of basic information? A friend of mine an fellow musician mentioned that one festival didn’t even list a location…

Fair exchanges for artists?

Another anomaly in “the music business” is that many “promoters” expect artists to perform (aka work) for free or even to pay for the privilege so they “get exposure” Imagine asking a Michelin star chef or master craftsman to work for free to “get exposure” Sometimes the tack is “We are a charity, so can’t afford to pay artists” yet many charities have highly paid staff…That said, “fair exchanges” for artists are not all about financial considerations. Sometimes it is worth reflecting on other benefits that could ensue. That said it’s easy to become the person who works for free and then the expectation is that you will always do so!

Do what you love, love what you do

I have found some terrific kindred spirits in the world of music. Two notables are Martin Simpson world class musician and Tim Booth lead singer of the band James. I recently saw James sell out a 135000 venue in Leeds as part of a national tour. The band have been together for over three decades and it’s clear to me that there’s an immense amount of work involved in maintaining this level of success and the record company want to recoup their substantial investment in the band. Martin has produced an extraordinary catalogue of work and is constantly gigging and crucially developing his work. Like all great artists he never stands still. Both artists have a genuine love for what they do, but also have good business sense as well in how they present themselves to the wider world.

Original Ukulele Songs, music and business

nick codyI set up The Original Ukulele Songs Project to foster and encourage  new music. So far this project has good momentum with almost 2000 FB members in the first 6 months and now the official website www.ukulelesongs.com which showcases many of the best original artists across the globe. This has been a lot of work, but I am greatly encouraged by the quality of contributions. It occurs to me that there’s “music” and there’s “business” as well as “music business” Anyone wanting to financially support themselves solely through writing and performing music is going to have their work cut out!

Like any business there’s a lot of work involved and the most successful with not only have the creative skills and musical skills, they will also have the much needed business skills as well.