Topic: Playing in a band

A short polite rant on audience etiquette…

I have been going to musical performances for 45 years and remain amazed at the differences in audiences. Perhaps I am in a minority, but when I go to a musical performance, I am there to hear the music and watch the artists. 

For me the best audiences are those who come to pay attention to the performers with respectful attention to their craft. More than ever I carefully choose who I go to see and avoid some venues where I know its probably not going to be a great experience for me. These days I prefer smaller venues like The Vanguard in New York which has a 125 capacity. True jazz fans know that if you get to The Vanguard for 7 pm, with the doors opening at 7.30 pm you are guaranteed being in the first two rows in the venue. There is a strict policy of no phones or recording during the set. This makes for a terrific music experience that is respectful of the performers. Its no surprise that The Vanguard has hosted the best jazz musicians for decades. This etiquette is unusual and if I had my way (which I admit I won’t) I’d extend this way of working to all live creative performances.

In stark contrast to such small gigs there are arena experiences. Of course many major artists will view these as better commercial opportunities, BUT often the audience experience is horrendous. Many attendees seen incapable of sitting still for a 90 min gig without either texting, talking and/or endlessly going to the bar. God only knows whey they buy what are often expensive tickets. The sound is also often not great as its a bit like being in an aircraft hanger with aircraft hanger acoustics. Equally bad are open air concerts where sound can also be an issue. I tend to avoid these as its in my view not the best listening experience. That said I did see The Rolling Stones play Manchester arena and they were terrific, but of course the lads have had a few decades to perfect their craft.

With some niche music genres (like the ukulele world), many attending are not that interested in watching and listening to seasoned performers, they just want to strum with friends! I get the enjoyment of social meet ups but remain totally mystified as to why anyone would pay for a festival weekend ticket plus accommodation and then avoid seeing professional performers. I’m even more mystified as these sets are often very brief so its not even a big time commitment, but that’s a personal view. One of the reason why you probably won’t see my band play any more uke festivals is that the focus is not really on the music, so its not to my personal taste. Yes a “Chas and Dave” style sing along may be great for many folks, but for me personally its like the eighth level of hell!

 In “How Music Works” David Byrne talks about different acoustic spaces for different types of music and this book is an essential read for any creative artist. I fully admit that I’m in a minority in terms of personal musical taste and have a definite preference for hearing original music. The audience is of  course an essential part of the whole musical experience.  I have learned that you never quite know what to expect. My band The Small Change Diaries recently played a gig where I introduced on of our tracks “Adam Blames Eve” as “a song of biblical proportions” and three elderly attendees ran for the door! Whats clear t me is that as a performer its best to adopt “an Ernest Shackelton approach” who famously commented

“By endurance, we conquer”

Its a privilege to play music to any audience and I am mindful that playing only original music is not a safe bet as it challenges audience expectations. That said personally I love this aspect of musical exploration and wouldn’t have it any other way 

 

Busking in 1977 – Nick Cody

My first experience of playing live to an audience was busking in Guildford underpass in 1977. Those days I played acoustic guitar and on average would earn around three quid an hour which was a pretty good rate back then. An album (this was way before CDs appeared) would be around two pounds forty pence, and I was delighted to fund my first copy of John Martyn’s Solid Air from this work.

Most of the songs I played solo or with my girlfriend at the time were CSNY or Neil Young tracks. I was back then and decades on remain a great fan of these artists. Dylan was also in one of his golden periods and Blood on the Tracks was back then and to this day remains my favorite album. I was just seventeen at the time and playing was pretty basic but extremely enthusiastic. I had an old Kay acoustic that really wasn’t that great and yearned for a Yamaha, but couldn’t afford one. A year earlier I had seen Neil Young play his Zuma set at Hammersmith Odeon in London two nights in a row. He did an acoustic set initially and then an electric set which included Hurricane which wasn’t then released until years later on American Stars and Bars.

This was a fun time and in my view a golden age for singer songwriters. Its funny looking back at this period and how many decades later I have returned to acoustic music with great joy. Its also interesting for me that most of the music I love most was created 1971 – 1975 and when travelling in Europe, USA and Asia most of my listening is from that period.

Playing live in Japan – Nick Cody

I just got back from playing with Brian Cullen and guests in Nagoya Japan. This was a wonderful evening in a small bar Country Joes which was like a small part of Americana in the middle of Japan. It was fascinating to play some of my songs for the first time arranged for mandolin and guitar as a duo. It was also great to sit in with many other great artists. There’s a wonderful “Anything can happen” vibe to the proceedings and I loved it. I’m hoping to do something similar in Austin Texas this Sept. Its a real joy to be playing original music in Japan and showing how the mighty ukulele can be used to create a wide range of music.

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

Nick Cody Live in Japan July 22nd

Next month I am delighted to be playing in Japan. This is a country I truly love, with great people, great music and terrific instruments.

This will be ny 16th trip there and I never get tired of visiting. I’ll be with my good friend Brian Cullen playing 

Country Joe’s 2 Chome-8-9 Shinsakae, Naka-ku, Nagoya-shi, Aichi, Japan 460-0007 on July 22nd at 8pm.

This is a small club, so we advise getting there early. We promise a great provocative evening of great acoustic music and original songs. This will be the first OUS outing in Japan and my plan is to have many more in this wonderful country

 

There’s a FB event page here – https://www.facebook.com/events/775084982673519/?acontext=%7B%22ref%22%3A%2222%22%2C%22feed_story_type%22%3A%2222%22%2C%22action_history%22%3A%22null%22%7D&pnref=story

This will be an opportunity to play some classic Small Change Diaries tracks as well as some material off the 2018 solo release for the first time.

Brian is a terrific artist in his own right and plays a variety of instruments including mandolin, guitar and ukulele, He writes terrific songs that stick in your head. We have jammed together during my Japanese trips but this will be the first time we have played an actual gig.

I’ll be travelling light with a Rob Collings purple heart tenor and any other instruments I pick up on route! Its going to be a great night out and I welcome all Japanese friends and fellow musicians to come and join us!

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

Why great music is not enough by Nick Cody

I have always been a passionate advocate of original creative music. As Nick Cody, I have also blogged extensively about those artists who have inspired me over the decades. Many of these artists I have followed forty years on with equal enthusiasm and genuine appreciation. Most of these folks  stuck to their guns and “played the long game” in terms of “the music business” This meant taking risks and not simply going along with the latest musical fad.

In 2017 its clear to me that creating great music in itself is not enough. I’d love to believe otherwise, but its definitely not the case. Of course in days gone by artists needed promotion to reach a wider audience, but now more than ever its crucial for artists to develop a public profile which means aligning many other elements. These include good social media presence, strong visual image, using video and making sure that anything that is released is of the highest possible quality. This means not blasting out low quality audio or video online. To quote the old adage “you never get a second chance to create a first impression”  In this “X Factor” era I lament how the quality of music seems to very much be second place behind many other factors, BUT creating great music is not enough, if you want to reach any kind of audience.

Differentiation is essential to stand out from the crowd

There’s an old phrase in marketing “difference dictates” If you are not different, then you essentially get lost in the crowd. Of course getting attention can be achieved in many ways. On TV shows often acts will have a backstory or a gimmick to stand out. I have a personal dislike for gimmicks, but appreciate that many folks in the ukulele world love acts who frame performances this way. My own preference is to create smart provocative original music, but I appreciate that I am probably in a minority in this respect! 

I set up the Original Ukulele Songs platform to promote those artists interested in creating original ukulele based music. To date I have been blown away by the quality and delivery of a lot of the material that has appeared from these artists. With my own band The Small Change Diaries I have spent a considerable amount of time investing in making the band’s online profile. This requires a great deal of energy and some funding. It took a while to get the best band line up and find the right producer for our sound.

The importance of visual image

I have also previously blogged about having great photographs and a strong visual identity. Karen Turner is our band photographer and Max Wootton is our illustrator. Max’s designs are very distinctive and wonderfully compliment the music and lyrics. Karen knows how to capture expression like no other photographer I have come across. Many artists don’t get the importance of having good professional photos. You don’t need to spend a fortune, just get some really good photos if you want a better chance of being noticed above the noise.

Another key element is to have a good well constructed website and to regularly blog about band activity. This can be massively time consuming, BUT is essential in this day and age. Aside from playing live gigs, regular rehearsals are essential. The core of the writing for The Small Change Diaries are myself and Jessica Bowie. We meet 2 – 3 hours at a minimum every week and have done so for the last two and a half years. 

Underexposure v Overexposure

In recent times as Nick Cody, I have chatted to many UK artists. Two of them lamented the lack of good paying gigs commenting “Its perfectly possible to get lots of free shitty gigs” Any effective artist promotion means getting the balance between underexposure and overexposure. This is always a judgement call. Our producers manta is “One gig is worth ten rehearsals” and I 100% agree. Live appearances give instant feedback on the band’s performance, whether positive or negative. With The Small Change Diaries last year’s festival appearances in the UK and overseas were invaluable in developing the band’s sound.

Make connections and have good manners

In my other life as “the other Nick” I teach communication skills globally in the USA, Japan and various parts of Europe. The core principals I teach in workshops definitely apply to the musician model. Any business requires good investment of time and energy as well as financial investment. Its important to seek out like minds and find people who have skills that you many not have. I groan when I see people talk about building their own websites “to save money” not realizing that a small investment will usually result in a much better end result. Similarly there are all kinds of possible playing platforms and audiences. In the ukulele world the quality can be like night and day. The best ones of course are massively popular and are like South by South West in Austin. Others will struggle creatively and financially and are not always such a great association for performing artists.

Most people have good manners, and its important to never underestimate the power of good will. The Small Change Diaries have an inquiry to play in New York. I’m there next week, so I’m going to talk to the promoter, especially as there are a number of logistical considerations when playing overseas. I have no idea if this will be viable, but its always worth exploring opportunities and taking the time to talk to people.

Final Thoughts

Creating and playing great music is not enough. If you want to reach a significant audience you need to address all the points mentioned here as a minimum requirement. My observation is that artists who play the long game generally do the best. This means having a strong work ethic, good organisational skills and of course the ability to create great music, BUT creating great music alone won’t cut it, if you want to reach a more substantial and long lasting audience. 

nick cody

Developing business skills for artists

The importance of working on the business and working “in the business”

shimo up coseI was reflecting today on the importance and difference of “working on the business” and “working in the business” Many artists who are self employed can miss the real need to “work on the business” and learn about developing business skills which will be a key part of any overall long term success. Often people can be so busy working in the business they don’t allocate time to work on the business. You can always spot such folks as they well always cry “I don’t have time for X and Y” and this is usually because they have not planned ahead and factored in how to balance time and money. Many artists can be extremely busy, but financially impoverished and emotionally exhausted as they have yet to take a step back and look at the full consequences of their actions

Of course its everyone’s right to dedicate as little or as much time they want to do in both of these aspects. In my other life (aside from music), I have started up and run a couple of multi million pound concerns and this has been a spectacular learning curve. I made some massive errors, which have led me to think carefully about how proceed with any project. This is not about becoming the next Steve Jobs, but rather paying attention to the simple factors that will make things easier and more fun.

Personal Experience with my own band The Small Change Diaries

This current band has now been going for two and a half years. Its been a lot of work and a massive learning curve in strategic thinking. Its also for the most part been a great deal of fun and at times a genuine baptism of fire, which is IMO no bad thing. When we had our first BBC Radio play by Alan Raw on BBC Introducing he commented “This band is everywhere, on Facebook, on Twitter, online and on bandcamp”  This was no coincidence, when deciding on the name of the band I also ensured that the online presence and social media were also fully in place. Whether we like it or not, social media is now key to marketing. With the advent of YouTube and Facebook, there has never been a better time for artists to connect directly with the public. I spend a significant time each week ensuring that these mediums are up to date. People can bemoan the amount of time needed for social media marketing, but our biggest gig to date came from a promoter noticing the band’s online presence…

Common Mistakes people make

My business and marketing background has taught me the need to importance of investing both time and money in making any enterprise a success. Of course there is no “right way” to do this, but here are a few of my observations of some common mistakes that in my view can limit the possibilities of success.

Online Presence – consistency and congruency

Nick CodyWhether we like it or not, we are now all in the computer and internet era. If you avoid spending time using these tools and mediums you are with respect pretty optimistic (many might say delusional) about marketing your services. I have often quoted the old adage “You never get a second chance to make a first impression” This is especially true with an online presence. 

Your website is like a shop front out into the universe. Its therefore worth making sure that you create the best possible impression and all information is up to date. Amazingly some folks forget to update courses, dates and news which shows a lack of attention to working on the business. The site also needs to be easy to navigate, Google mobile friendly and search engine friendly. Like a store shop front to get the best results you need to ensure that the site is attractive and easy to navigate. Also its useful to remember that Google searches on content, so regular blogs and article are essential if you want to maintain customer attention. Its also important to have a congruent message. Its also crucial to have professional photos and to invest in this. Anyone can “take a pic” BUT a pic is not a photo and there’s a good reason why all smart businesses and artists invest in professional photographers. You don’t need to go crazy, just have a few great artist photos that literally show you in the best light.

I saw one artist site that was wonderfully visual with useful investments in professional photos, BUT the main images on the site were of the artist posing with a glass of wine rather than an instrument, which looked rather odd to say the least. If you are clueless about creating a website FIND SOMEBODY WITH SKILLS TO DO THIS. The internet is littered with really poor websites that are a terrible advert for the artist. Sometimes people make the most basic of mistakes, because they don’t know any better. You wouldn’t open a shop on the high street with a terrible window display would you? Well consider your website in the same way, if you want to attract interest.

Balancing the books and time management

Deciding how to invest time and money and when to do so, is a real skill. I blogged recently on a colleague who was seeking music tuition and was finding it almost impossible to get a tutor to reply to his requests for help.  These tougher economic mean that we all need to work smarter and harder to maintain viability. Note I say “viability” rather than “success” as its pretty tough out there at present. this means making sure that you can cost your time properly so that all the key tasks receive an appropriate amount of attention.

Pricing services and products will filter the kind of clients you will attract. How you cost your time is crucial. My advice is always to be mindful of managing time to best effect. Its easy to get lost in time consuming activities, which would either be worth delegating or not doing at all. The idea that the lowest price is always the most attractive option is flawed thinking. There’s a fundamental difference between price and cost. The price is the financial element, the cost is what is involved in the overall trade. For example an artist may get a live opportunity that seems attractive until they factor in the amount of time travelling and other considerations. Sometimes the trade is worthwhile even if you are doing this at a financial loss BUT its not viable to do everything at break even or a financial loss. That is a recipe for disaster.

Working with like minds – “Hanging with the smart brains”

The first band I was involved in was “The Guest List”, almost twenty years ago. There were four of us. Myself and the singer attended all the rehearsals on time and spent a great deal of time planning the band’s material. the drummer and bass player always dragged their feet and this made the whole endeavor really hard work! In the end I split the band as I realized I was doing the majority of the work and two of the band seemed to have very little appreciation of the amount of work the two of us were putting in. Yes everyone has different strengths, but there needs to be an overall collective contribution to the project. Since then I have realised that sometimes you have to change personal lineups for a band to move forward in a productive and creative manner.

The dynamics of being in a band is different to being a solo artist. With bands there is always a dynamic of different individuals coming together and inevitably occasionally falling apart. Its similar to a business in that the overall success requires cooperation and working for overall project rather than any personal needs. Just as in business, different members of the band offer different perspectives and often the best creativity comes from discussion and debate. Its also smart to network and I find it highly useful to “hang with the smart brains” and have a number of folks I can productively chat to. If you become too insular in your thinking, there is a real danger that you will make more mistakes than if you interact with others. This is a two way trade and I am more than happy to assist others when asked.

Investing in the best gear you can afford

There’s an old saying “Buy cheap, buy twice”  I’m mindful that everyone will have different budgetary constraints, but in my experience its always smart to get the best gear you can afford. I have talked about the difference between musical instruments and “instrument shaped objects” Yes you can but a ukulele for thirty quid, but the chances are that there will be massive compromises in how it’s made. These days there are some great instruments which are affordable to most folks and its worth saving up to get something that will stand the test of time. Similarly with amplification there are many great cost effective options. After all with music its all about how you sound, so anything that will help you sound better can be no bad thing can it? A great source of information for this aspect is Barry Maz’s “Got a Ukulele” site which has a huge amount of practical help for anyone starting out.

Final Thoughts

My business background in marketing and running companies has been invaluable in working on music projects like The Original Ukulele Songs Project and The Small Change Diaries. Its clear to me that if you want to succeed you have to commit 100% and have an attitude of constantly learning and developing skills. The most successful business owners and professional artists have a great work ethic and are totally focused on developing their craft. Such creative folks have my utmost respect and admiration. 

 

Stefan Sobell mandola workout with Nick Cody

I have been experimenting with the new Sony HDR MV1 and just recorded this clip playing the Stefan Sobell Mandola. There are only two of these made to this spec, Martin Simpson has the other one. Its a terrific instrument which I used on “Commons Senses” which appeared on The Small Change Diaries “Protest Songs” EP

The mandola is a very different instrument to ukuleles and guitars and has a very unique sound unlike anything else.  Its a HUGE sound which is typical for Stefan Sobell instruments. The build quality on this is extraordinary and there’s an 18 month waiting list to request one. Personally although I am still figuring out how to play it, I absolutely love it and will be using it on future recordings

This mandola also has a Highlander pickup which wonderfully amplifies the natural sound of the instrument.

Playing the long game in “the music business?”

I just returned from playing at the excellent Lagoa Guitar Festival in Portugal and have been reflecting on “the music business” and the ingredients that are needed for an artist to actually make a living as a professional musician. “Professional musicians” are of course those who make a living from playing music and that means maintaining consistent predictable income.  

My background is in teaching communication skills and each year I run events in Asia, Europe and the USA. Its taken over a decade to build my reputation in this arena and I am discovering that many of the skills from this work are directly applicable to my music initiatives. This is all about “playing the long game” and creating great music is only one aspect of being successful.

Balancing Time and Money

I was taking recently to a great professional musician in Portugal, quizzing him on his own experience of the music business. Often people can forget that any “business” means balancing time and money. Predictable income is essential to maintain any realistic standard of living and that can be quite a challenge. I am fortunate to know a number of professional musicians and all of them are extremely hardworking having built reputations over many years. This is a far cry from the reality show style instant success that is promoted in the media, where artists are manufactured and packaged in a very specific manner. Most of these individuals quickly disappear without trace and are never heard of ever again.

I have blogged previously about artists playing for free or even playing to play at events for “exposure” Yes, I appreciate that there may be instances where it’s worth playing without financial reward, BUT ultimately its unrealistic to work without any kind of financial remuneration. Balancing the books is essential in any business and the music business is no exception. Similarly promoting festivals and other events means paying attention to this aspect. I have also blogged in the past about many such events are based more on idealism and enthusiasm than any sound business sense. In recent times two “music festivals” announced early bird options. The first one announced a long list of artists from all over the globe almost a year before the proposed event. I was amazed at the timing as this defies all conventional marketing wisdom in terms of creating audience interest. Unsurprisingly many months on these early bird discounted tickets have still not sold out. In stark contrast another festival sold out all its early bird tickets in a couple of hours without revealing a single artist! That is a great demonstration of smart strategic thinking and playing the long game which requires having a bigger vision.

The Importance of social media and content online

Whether we like it or not, social media has become a key ingredient in playing the long game in the music business. Mediums like Facebook and Twitter are key platforms for artists to promote their work. The name of a band is also really important. I recently googled an artist name to  find the artist’s site and instead found that they had chosen the same name as a well known commercial brand. This creates a confusion of identities online and of course marketing 101 tells us to secure top level domain names to protect the brand name. 

Google loves content and even if you have a great band website and band name, it’s important to have good content on your site. Blogging and articles are a great way to do this. That means investment in time. I’m always amazed when artists make the comment “I don’t have time to do social media or to blog” Such folks don’t appreciate the importance of playing the long game. When I was at the Lagoa Guitar Festival I asked the promoter how he came across and why he chose to add us to such a great international lineup of artists. He came across us on social media and had looked at the band presence online.

The image is as important as music

I have also blogged on the importance of image in the music business and in playing the long game. This again means investment of time and money. Its obvious to me that professional photographs and video are a key element to creating a memorable impression. When The Small Change Diaries played Lagoa, I made sure we flew the band photographer Karen Turner out to capture the event. Below are some of the excellent photographs from this event which will be used when seeking out further festival opportunities in 2017.

small-change-diaries-lagoa-2016-14 small-change-diaries-lagoa-2016-103

Conclusion

There’s an old saying “Its takes a decade to become an overnight success” Smart musicians and promoters appreciate the value of playing the long game. This requires have a great work ethic and ensuring that you align with others who have similar values. Personally I love writing and performing with The Small Change Diaries and we are back in the recording studio this month working on the second album. We have also invited a number of guests to play on the album and all such individuals are established musicians with superb creative skills.