Back in the 1980s I was good friends with Tim Booth, lead singer for the band “James”. I spent a fair amount of time with Tim and accompanied him at many Leeds United football games at Elland Road. We also shared an interest in personal development and meditation.
These years were a terrific opportunity to talk not only about music, but also what it was like for him and the band in terms of earning a living as a professional musician. It was also a great insight into the creative process of writing songs and I recall Tim always had a big notebook available at all times and would regularly doodle and write lyrics. I can legitimately claim to have contributed one line to one of his songs when I mention a quote from Lao Tzu Taoist philosopher who once wrote “The further you go, the less you know” Tim used this in the James song Five O which appeared on their bestselling album Laid
“I’ve been looking for truth
At the cost of living
I’ve been afraid of what’s before mine eyes
Every answer found
Begs another question
The further you go, the less you know
The less I know”
The Importance of Practice
One of the main observations I had during these years was how Tim’s band would practice a lot and be pretty committed to creating some quite excellent music. Like any business endeavor there was a lot of hard work and of course some luck involved. Back then there was no social media and James signed to Sire Records only later to regret this and amazingly the record company let the contract expire, so the next album “One Man Clapping” was funded privately.
Of back in the 1980s there was no Youtube, Twitter or internet. These mediums have radically changed how music is heard and delivered. Facilities like Bandcamp have also meant that bands can now communicate in a very different way. With The Small Change Diaries I have made sure that we are on all social media and digital platforms. Alan Raw played “Birman on BBC Introducing and commented on how people could find us in a lot of different places!
Successful Music Promotion and Vision and the Need for Stamina
Any successful marketing requires ongoing dedication and endless energy. A good friend of mine and brilliant songwriter and guitarist Martin Simpson always thanks all fans after each and every gig. He also makes sure that he has many ways to connect with his audience, video, social media, private/group lessons and a lot of gigs. From what I see most musicians and bands won’t/won’t commit this amount of time and energy. There is of course no requirement for anyone to do more than they feel comfortable with, but in this X Factor age most folks don’t have the stamina or dedication for such activity.
Usually bands start out with a burst of enthusiasm, but that then peters out. Amazingly some bands do not have websites, never mind good websites and don’t actively promote their own material. Amazingly at live gigs many bands don’t have any merchandise or means to build mailing lists. One musician I know commented that in the last tour they sold a substantial number of CDs at gigs. Beyond their expectations. Back in the days of James, the T Shirts generated substantial income for the band.
Working with like minds and excellent professionals
Working with experienced professionals is crucial to any business success. When we were recording “Adam Blames Eve” for “The Small Change Diaries” one musician proposed that I could buy some good microphones and we could do all the recording ourselves. The guy is an excellent musician, BUT in my view quite deluded in appreciating just how important it is to align to the right professionals to get the very best results. Of course the most talented professionals will always be in demand, so even if you can afford them, they are unlikely to be available at short notice. Planning is therefore essential and many folks won’t want to commit the amount of time to do this or know how best to do this.
In 2015 the music business is very different. Producers I have spoken to all comment that bands and artists need to think differently and use social media and video in order to communicate to a wider audience. As the old saying goes in show business “It takes ten years to become an overnight success” Personally I’m not convinced that it takes an entire decade to be noticed and we can of course debate what “success” actually means to each person. However in any business if you want to be on the radar for people to know about you, then taking the time to engage in connecting with a wider audience is essential, if you want to reach a wider audience! Writing and recording with The Small Change Diaries has taught me a massive amount. Firstly it’s essential to work with musicians who have the same vision and who can communicate well. Planning and organisation at every level is essential. Its also key to connect with like minds and sometimes have the willingness to just ask for assistance. I have also realised that as with any successful project, it’s important to really commit to making it work. This is both time and money and there will be occasions when both of these resources can be stretched, but it’s I’m my view if you want anything to happen in life you have to put energy into making whatever vision you have become a reality.
My own experience is that in any kind of promotion it’s essential to work with like minds and find people that are fully invested in whatever vision you have for the band. Communication and planning are crucial for any success. I have massive respect for any performing and recording artist, as such a path requires tremendous dedication and resolve as well as excellent creative skills! The learning process never ends and although at times being in a band is a bit like herding cats, ultimately it’s wonderfully rewarding!