In recent times, I have blogged about the importance of making a great impression and balancing the books as an artist. Both are essential if you want to achieve genuine success, whether creatively or financially. This blog is based upon my own experience where I have made some ill-advised decisions which at the time I thought were great, but in hindsight really were not. I’m also writing based on my observations of other people. Lets remember we are all learning, but here are some pointers for anyone interested in such matters.
My own business background
I come originally from a business background in 1980s, setting up and running some substantial business concerns. This period was a real baptism of fire in learning how to manage time and financial margins, especially as most of my income depended on getting good results. This also meant working extensive hours, so a working day was often 7am – 6pm. In my other life as an international trainer, author and therapist I built up a body of work which funds my ability to invest in musical projects and instruments. This also allows me to personally fund all band recordings and ensure all musicians are paid properly for rehearsal time.
I work as a consultant for many business concerns as well as working with a number of business leaders on a 1 – 1 basis.
In terms of my own musical interest, not constricted by commercial considerations is wonderfully liberating as I don’t depend on generating a living purely from music. It also allows me to sponsor (sometimes anonymously) musical projects and I often joke that “the one Nick has to work like a dog to support the excesses of the other Nick” In recent years I’ve been interested in exploring the commercial considerations of being a musician and/or running artist events. This has proved to be quite revealing and this article details some of those observations. If you consider any such discussion as “negative” then stop reading now, but in my view it’s an important discussion.
Managing time and reliable income
My business background taught me a great deal about managing time and income. When I made a comment about not being surprised that a longstanding festival had thrown in the towel, this sparked a surprising level of fury from some music enthusiasts. They of course totally overlooked my comments congratulating the festival for its longevity. The hosts had a brand with years of success but in my view made a number of basic errors. The website was not great and in the era of WordPress there’s really no reason not to have a good online presence. The main issue is that they failed to focus on differentiation, so they became just another festival and inevitably this affected the attendance of paying customers. I applaud the enthusiasm for creating such musical opportunities, but unless you balance the books then such enterprises will inevitably be very short lived.
Similarly, if any event wants to attract serious sponsorship, then it needs to be credible as a potential investment opportunity. If presented properly this should not be a massive task as the whole budget for the event is more than reasonable and the history alone should be attractive to some people if its presented in a positive and realistic manner. As an artist differentiation is also crucial. This is why I strongly endorse people creating and playing original music, as this lends itself to differentiation. Of course, it needs to be well considered and there’s absolutely a place for artists playing cover versions of existing material.
Begging to be subsidized to play music doesn’t really create the best image
I’m lucky to know a number of people who earn a living from music and all of these have a very strong work ethic and are relentlessly touring and recording to maintain a standard of living. They of course also are highly talented, but talent alone doesn’t pay the bills. Many musicians would benefit greatly from learning some basic business skills which could make a big difference to their ability to connect to a wider audience. I understand the sentiment but I’m amazed when some artists have pages on their websites virtually begging for PayPal donations to allow them to subsidize their musical activities, but that’s just a personal view. A discreet box saying, “If you love my music, I welcome PayPal donations” is one thing. An entire page dedicated to charitable donations with an extensive life story of the woes of being a working (or not) musician is in my view not the best idea. Far better to think about ways to generate good value for appreciative rather than just ask to be bailed out financially. There are many ways to do this of course and most professional artists ensure that they have a number of different income streams, rather than rely on charitable donations to subsidize their musical interests.
Social Media, yes, it’s a business, but remember you don’t own it
The internet and social media platforms can be highly useful in connecting to a wider audience, but they can create an illusion of success that is borderline delusional. One artist proudly pronounced a record number of people liking a video on FB, but only had a tiny number of live appearances schedules and lamented a lack of income generation to support musical interests. The reality is that if you want to connect with a wider audience you need some basic marketing and business skills to make it happen. If you don’t have these skills then it’s worth learning how to acquire them or find somebody who can help you. I have noticed that some performers are so desperate to be noticed they will do almost anything to make this happen and often basic smart strategic thinking goes out of the window. It’s important to remember that with platforms like FB, the customer is the advertiser NOT the user. The company exists like any business to generate income and like other platforms is there primarily to serve its own agenda: that’s business…
Its increasingly clear that live gigs and festival appearances can generate huge variations in income. My own personal experience is that for a festival set my band The Small Change Diaries have been paid anything from 100 to 1600 pounds! Of course, it’s not all about income, but simply the love of music alone will not pay bills. My own belief is that professional musicians should be paid a fee that is appropriate for their skill level and always seek to look after support bands and fellow musicians. I’m interested in exploring better live opportunities for original artists at present. I was talking to a seasoned musician recently who lamented the lack of enthusiasm in the UK for many people wanting to see even the most seasoned and skilled performers. Part of the problem is the number of enthusiasts just wanting to play for exposure setting up the unfortunate trend of free entertainment. Increasingly seasoned artists get replaced by performers of a lesser standard, and the quality of the entertainment inevitably is affected.
Common Mistakes worth watching out for
Here are some things to consider
- Not updating websites and blogs – many individuals start off with great enthusiasm, but then lapse so such information is very out of date and it sends out a message that you are not really bothered
- Poor quality control on photographs and video – it may seem a great idea to post lots of material taken with an iPhone but as the old saying goes “You never get a second chance to make a first impression” Better to have less material, but of a higher standard
- Poor use of language and excessive use of superlatives – if everything is described as “awesome” then such descriptions become essentially meaningless.
- Connecting with too small a pool of people. When I interviewed Bill Collins for a magazine a few years ago, his first question was “What’s the circulation?” These days paper format magazines are in decline and circulation is everything. Even niche music magazines generally have tens of thousands of subscribers to attract essential advertising in these tougher economic times. Before paying for any advertising look at the circulation potential
- Poor time management. Proper management of time is essential if you want to succeed in any activity. This means a discipline and realizing that “what you want to do” and “what you need to do” are not always the same thing
- Confusing social and business elements – This is a very common issue. You don’t have to like somebody to do business and its important to focus on “the trades” in any relationship. Many artists and promoters limit opportunities by only interacting with people they consider friends. Yes, it’s of course better if you like the people you do business with, but the focus should be on the business, not who’s your mate. This can result in a kind of evangelism that’s not especially attractive to a wider audience as it seems to be a self-congratulatory group dynamic. Smart artists are always seeking out new opportunities and this means looking beyond FB friends.
- Over exposure – this can happen with both event hosts and artists where they become a bit hyperactive with gigs and events. The lack of scarcity usually dilutes customer interest.
- Good communication. I’m amazed at how unresponsive some people are in communications. I have many examples of this including wanting to book advertising and despite promises never receiving information from business owners. All they had to do is e-mail rates and the money would be in their bank account. Similarly event organizers can be very slow to reply to artist applications or worse not reply at all, creating a terrible impression. I know of artists that won’t play events due to the promoter’s dreadful communication skills.
I’m mindful that this is a complex issue and these are my own opinions, others may disagree, which of course is fine. The purpose of such articles is to provoke discussion which is how we can all learn from each other.