Any artist who plays live will appreciate that venue experiences can vary massively and at times can render an artist speechless and not in a good way either… Here are some real life observations that you really couldn’t make up
The duo gig in the fish market
Many years ago I was asked as a duo to do a set for a charity in Leeds market. This was in the very early days of playing live when I assumed that any host would have sound gear sorted for any musical event. We turned up to see that there was a PA at the back of the open air market with all market traders going about their business as usual, so not eactly what we anticipated. There were literally three people listening and a dog. Wose still throughout the 45 min acoustic set, there were constant chants of ‘GET YOUR FRESH FISH TODAY, MISS THIS AND YOU’LL MISS YOUR WAY HOME” Its like some mad dream, where you wake up and think ‘WTF was all that about?” except this was no dream…
The bloke said you didn’t need a PA
In the early days of playinmg with the 5 piece Caravan of Dreams ensemble we did a bunch of local gigs to warm up before an album launch. One was in a small tavern that would make for a low key gig and seemed like a good plan. I always like to arrive early ahead of the rest of the band and meet up with my sound guy. Experience has told me to always bring your own sound person for a good performance and personal sanity. When I landed Carl (the sound guy) seemed to be busy taping up some speakers which seemed a bit odd. On asking him about this he commented “They said you didn’t need a PA for the evening, so I’m having to put together a work around so the audience can hear you. They loaned the house PA out for the night!”
Monitors, BUT no kettle leads to be able to use them!
I assumed that longstanding venues that had been in existance for decades, would have basic gear in place for bands. I have since learned ‘ASSUME NOTHING!” We again turned up early noting once again it was a tiny stage (but we are used to that) and started to set up the PA. We found the monitors, but no leads to plug them in. Once again nobody in the venue seemed to know where these may be located…
Arts centres? <shudder>
Ok, lets not denegrate all Arts centres, BUT often these are run by volunteers and this can make for some “interesting experiences.” On my first ever duo gig, we had “Pete, the sound guy” My partner for the evening (on seeing him) spouted “Oh no its Pete!” This meant nothing to me at the time until we started playing and I realised her concerns. We had essentially two sound settings for the evening. the first was massive feedback which was highly unpleasant for the two of us on stage as well as the audience. The second option was NO SOUND AT ALL IN THE MONITORS. I was on stage playing to a packed room and I could hear exactly NOTHING! At another recent arts centre experience, the stage lights didn’t work and the volunteer commented “Yeah mate, that board has been broken for ages”
Ukulele festival experiences?
My band “The Small Change Diaries” played “The Grand Northern Ukulele festival twice. There was a strict limit on 20 minutes for any artist set, so we may squeeze in 5 songs at best. In both instances there was a problem with sound either in vocals or in the instruments. Again the problem was mostly not having professional engineers and two little time to ensure the sound was at a good standard. After the second experience I decided that I’m done with such events as it doesn’t make for either a great playing or listening experience!
Lets end on a positive note
Despite these nightmares, there have been some great experiences. Playing The Lagoa Guitar Festival in Portugal was terrific. The venue had been built for acoustic acts and the sound guy was first rate! In Leeds “The Old Woollen” proved to be a superb venue and I’ve done support acts for Martin Simpson and Jon Gomm, two artists who insist on great sound. I have learned to pick and choose venues and to look at Fri – Sundays for live events. Post covid there is from what I see more of a reluctance to go out mid week. I also now only play at and/or attend events where its a great listening/watching experience.
In recent times the subject of people losing confidence in attending live events has come up in many conversations. A well established local artist commented that since covid, many people are wary about events being cancelled and so wait until the last minute to book, which creates a nightmare for promoters. I also notice a number of festivals struggling and pleas going out for people to book tickets early as they had failed Arts funding bids. I’m a longterm lover of music and in recent years started to explore “the music business” and how best to promote my own work and other superb artists. No one person has the answers, but here are my latest thoughts and observations.
Factors creating a loss of confidence
Covid is just one of the factors that have created a hesitation in booking on live events. With many gigs and festivals being cancelled, many people are wary about buying tickets in these tougher economic times. One friend and colleague was not best pleased in hearing that a niche music festival had indicated that one of the main international headliners announced last October, now would not not be playing. She can’t get a refund and the festival still has not announced the artist line up for an event that is just a month away. Such actions don’t inspire confidence in future bookings and in my view its not smart business. Yes, there can be situations where a change of artist has to take place, but the same event approached another international artist and wouldn’t confirm the booking, so they kept their options open, which is in my view pretty disrespectful for the artists as the festival approached them in the first instance…
In recent years I’ve noticed that a number of niche festivals have had a heavy reliance on obtaining arts funding. The key word here is “reliance” The challenge for any promoter is surely to market the event in a manner where they can cover all costs. Idealisma classic risk/reward situation in business. Lets remember that “the music business” is like any other business in that its a case of supply and demand. Promoters take the risk on funding and event, but also have the chance to financially benefit from the event being a success. I’ve run numerous music events and always taken the view that the buck stops with me personally in terms of the funding. All artists will be paid as promised regardless of how many tickets are sold. At times this can be a reasonable financial outlay, but that’s what’s needed to maintain confidence from both artists and attendees. I have massive respect for any promoter, it takes real nerves of steel to engage in such activity.
Idealism v reality checks
I come from a business background and this is invaluable in figuring out how to run events. As previously mentioned its a case of risk v reward. In the theatre business its generally accepted that you need to sell 80% of tickets to make a profit. When running music evenings and signing contracts for known artists, I’m aware of exactly how many tickets we need to sell to break even and always ensure that the marketing is on target to make any event successful. I don’t claim to know everything about promotions, but all events to date on the Music for Head and Heart and Green Eyed Records have sold out.
Not everyone appreciates the benefits of sustained momentum in marketing. I agreed a few years ago to run support for a local artist and to fund half the cost of the venue and let him have 100% of the door, even though I was paying my band out of my personal finances. I also ran a good online marketing campaign again at my cost. I started to notice that with 6 weeks out from the event, the headliner wasn’t really pushing the event and although all his superfans had booked, we could still generate another 50% in attendance and reach a wider audience which he’d always complained about not having. When I voiced my opinion on this and pointed out it would also be a big financial bump for him as well as bringing in new interest, I met with massive resistance. Some people just don’t understand the basics of promotion and are so stuck in their own idealism that they will never reach a wider public. The tragedy is that they will endlessly complain about the lack of public interest in their work, even though their own limited thinking is the cause of the problem!
Collaboration is the key
When I set up Green Eyed Records, I realised that the best results come from collaboration. I’m massively grateful to established artists like Martin Simpson and Jon Gomm to be hosted at the Music for Head & Heart showcases. I’m also grateful to music heavyweights like Tim Booth and Jim Glennie as well as world class journalist Sylvie Simmons for discussions and advice. To quote a classic Japanese proverb – “No one of us is smarter than all of us”
Prior to tipping my toe into the music world and running events, in my other life I come from a business background which meant dealing with some really big business contacts up to million pounds. To quote an old saying when signing any contract, “the devil is in the detail!”
I remain amazed that in “the music business” many record contracts are a terrible deal for the artists. This of course is not news, but it surprises me that in this internet age where information is more readily available and music colleges are there to educate students. There’s also often a real lack of awareness about the implications of such transactions! Many artists and super fans are unaware of the implications of signing a contract and imagine that any such signing means the artist “has made it!”
Of course this is a very naive view and all contracts should be properly scrutinised to explore just how good or bad the deal is, The “record business” is like any other business, an entity that seeks above all to make financial profit. The “product: here just happens to be music, but otherwise any contractual arrangements are like any other business transactions, except in this instance often pretty poor for the artists! Here is an overview of some of the different types of contracts.
The 360 record deals
In recent times where streaming has largely replaced traditional product income streams for artists, record companies are looking for other ways to generate income from artists. A “360” as it’s called in the industry, is an exclusive contract between a label and an artist. In a 360 deal, a recording label not only takes a share of the artist’s music sales, but crucially also percentages of revenue from other ventures. These include concerts, merchandise, television appearances, or publishing.
The challenge for many artists starting out is to find a way of funding their music creation and many such artists don’t have the business awareness to know what they could be signing and possible implications. Any record company is going to want a return on their investment in an artist, its of course ‘a business transcation” and its naive to think otherwise.
Non exclusive record deals
A non exclusive record deal can appear attractive, but of course this usually means that the record company is less invested in the artist and once again the devil is in the details. The real question is “who gives what and who gets what?” There’s minimal risk for both artist and label and often minimal reward.
Many artists and fans have the romantic idea that “being signed = musical success” BUT of course any investor will want a return on their investment and record contracts are no different to any other business contract. There’s no right or wrong with deciding how to proceed, and many artists are terrible when it comes to business awareness as well as ignoring professional advice, insisting they know best in such matters.
Distribution record deals
Distribution deals rarely have any money upfront, and the artist is typically responsible for any recording and production, but crucially the artist retains the rights to their own recordings. The artist will approach the label with a finished product and the focus is on how to take the music to a wider audience. This can be a good option for many artists, but as always read the small print.
Major record deals
With major record deals, the label pays for everything, touring, promotion, videos, music production. This is a big committment and these days many labels are nervous about taking such a financial risk in the current economic climate, and many will play it safe. Often the label is looking to see an artist’s established fanbase before even considering signing an artist. The record company of course expects a return on any financial investment and owns the artist’s master recordings even after recovering expenses. A typical deal for a new artist is 11 – 15% of music sales and any ‘advance” is a loan against future sales.
I talked to Jim Glennie from James about this whose band was signed to Universal and was quite shocked at the deal that was in place. In conversations with other established artists I was amazed at how low the advances could be for recording. The myth of “being signed” and the actual reality are poles apart. Many artists are only signed for a very short period of time. Jim confirmed that the band made money from live shows, but never from music product sales. He’s not the only artist to point this out
I’ve never made a dime from a record sale in the history of my record deal. I’ve been very happy with my sales, and certainly my audience has been very supportive. I make a living going out and playing shows.
50/50 record deals
These are essentially partnerships between artists and labels and don’t usually mean a big financial advance for the artist. Its useful to remember that it any contractual arrangement, the bigger the financial investment from the company, the more the company will want a financial return from the artist. All “record deals” are trades and each artist would be best advised to consider on whether the deal in place works for them both financially and creatively
In the era of social media, many artist fans imagine that “being signed” is the end of an artist’s problems, but the reality is that all contracts should be looked at in detail. On one extreme a record company can offer massive financial and promotional investment, but they are goind to want some security to take such a risk. The other extreme with non exclusive agreements can sometimes mean very little actual real committment in terms of financial and time elements, so it may sound wonderful “to be signed” but in the real world of paying bills and having artistic freedom, its not really going to make any real difference to the signed party. Of course there are always exceptions, so the watchword is “caveat emptor’ in all instances!
The average UK salary in 2023 is £33,280 p.a and many artists will earn far less than that, even with regular live appearances. Many who do well are not only playing live on a regular basis but also teaching. Those who drop off the radar from live performances and/or don’t expand their audiences inevitably will find it almost impossible to maintain a living. Some rely on a dedicated small fanbase and constantly appeal for funding, but that’s not a longterm solution, especially for those with families to support. Hats off to anyone trying to earn a living from music these days.
Creativity through collaboration – enter Green Eyed Records
I set up Green Eyed Records as a different way of working, where artists retain 100% ownership of material, but work in a collaborative fashion. I talked to world renowned journalist Sylvie Simmons about this and in my view this is the best hope for retaining creative ownership and reaching a wider audience. The Music for Head and Heart/GER showcases are a great example of creativity through collaboration. It can e a big personal investment, but in my view this is the best way forward.
I’ve seen some real car crash thinking from some artists who spectacularly snatch failure from the jaws of success as they don’t see the bigger picture and are often complaining about their lot in life as an artist! Its 100% their right of course, but the most successful performers have always embraced a wider vision and sought to build connections with others.
In recent years I’ve been increasingly interested in mental health in the arts and music industry. In my professional non music capacity, I’ve worked with many creative types over the last two decades and have noticed some common themes in behaviour.
In my musical capacity I’ve interviewed many artists at all levels about the reality of being a professional artist as opposed to a hobbyist where you don’t rely solely on creative work to earn a living. I have massive respect for anyone wanting to learn a living from the arts, but I’m noticing an increasing trend where many individuals feel an unhealthy sense of entitlement in being an artist and that kind of thinking leads to all manner of mental health issues. Before you read on, note I say “unhealthy sense of entitlement” The reason for this is that I 100% agree that all professional artists are entitled to be properly paid for their work, but this is about expectations and being fairly rewarded.
I set up Green Eyed Records to discuss and hopefully address some what I consider to be major injustices in the music industry.
The problem with encouraging an “unhealthy sense of entitlement”
Let’s start with a definition of “entitlement”
“The belief that one is inherently deserving of privileges or special treatment”
By “unhealthy sense of entitlement” I mean that in many cases artists have unrealistic expectations. These can be self-created or created by other parties.
Often these misconceptions can occur because artists have not taken the time to really educate themselves about the reality of what it means to be a professional artist. By “professional artist” I mean somebody who earns their money solely from their artistic efforts. Its not enough to have creative skills, other skills are equally important, if an artist wants to depend upon their craft to primarily support themselves financially.
When there is mismatch between expectations of what’s is possible and the reality of what is realistic, creates the perfect environment for problematic mental health issues.
Maintaining good mental health
The term “mental health” is increasingly bandied all over social media and there’s even an outbreak of people setting themselves up as coaches for others, sometimes with good intentions, but few actual skills.
A generally accepted definition of mental health is
“Mental health refers to cognitive, behavioral, and emotional well-being. It is all about how people think, feel, and behave.”
One of the biggest challenges for many artists is to maintain a predictable income source and a work/life balance in increasingly tougher economic times. The changing music business means that many traditional reliable incomes no longer exist and of course record contacts often are leveraged in favour of the record company, as opposed to the artist. This is of course not exactly news, but during covid 19, it became more obvious that the absence of live opportunities removed one of the last good sources of income for musicians. Many artists have to travel great distances at very unsocial hours for not a great deal of income. The unpredictability of work and cancellation of many festivals/events can massively add to stress levels.
Mental health issues usually occur when a person finds that their expectations of what they can do mismatch with the reality of their actual life situation. Many artists become disillusioned when the penny drops and they realise that their sense of entitlement as an artist is not going to happen in real life. There can be many reasons for this, including lack of talent, but its not just talent that will produce a successful life in the arts. There are many other factors that need to be in place and of course many painters and other types of artists could only find success through specific patronage from wealthy individuals who would fund the time needed for the creative process.
Jim Glennie on mental health in the music industry
Jim Glennie is the founder of James, and I recently interviewed him for Green Eyed Records on the music industry and mental health considerations in the music business. I’ve known Jim for 40 years and he makes some excellent observations about the state of the music industry.
Here’s some of what he said –
“The industry as a whole has a terrible attitude towards mental health. There isn’t mental health problems in the music business. You’re available 24 hours a day, everybody is. Not just people in bands or musicians, but everybody in the industry. That’s just the way it is. And they talk about mental health now, as we’ve been doing for the last few years, but I don’t see anything massively changing in the way that is actually practically done to help people. I mean, the obvious issues of being in a band, at some point, you’re going to have problems with alcohol. At some point you’re going to problem with probably abuse, or the people around you do. Because those things are just considered the norm, they’re considered acceptable. I turn up to work and there’s a table full of free alcohol there, there is. That’s just every time I go to a gig from three o’clock in the afternoon, there’s a table full of free alcohol.”
The Elusive obvious
Many artists have little awareness or quite optimistic ideas of how they will earn a living and spectacularly fail to appreciate “the elusive obvious” in terms of what are the basics needed to earn a living from their craft. My experience is that many music colleges and TV talent shows encourage an unhealthy sense of entitlement for artists. That said, I totally respect anyone who has spent tens of thousands on education in the arts, expecting to get some good future work opportunities. Unfortunately, from what I hear many colleges and universities are complicit in creating totally unrealistic expectations, that of course lead to this sense of entitlement.
I have massive respect for anyone who decides to work in the arts as a profession as opposed to a hobby and have several friends who work in the music industry. They are all very grounded in reality and have spent years developing their craft. They also know the value of collaboration and working with people who have similar values.
Social media, the breeding ground for mutual appreciation
Social media platforms can be invaluable for reaching a wider audience. They also can encourage an unhealthy sense of entitlement for artists. Often fiends of an artist shower them will all manner of superlatives online that are well meant but are not always that useful. Terms like “genius” “awesome” “groundbreaking” are all trotted out on a daily basis online. Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for encouragement, but critical feedback often gets bypassed in favour of such superlatives. The same kind of behaviour exists in the coaching and therapy world, and this can create massive problems for people who sometimes begin to become quite delusional in their thinking. That then is a fast track to mental health issues.
Taking action and seizing opportunities
My advice to anyone wanting to be successful in any profession, whether this is the arts, or any other field is to take the time to develop those skills that will allow you to earn a living. This means learning about the details of how the business works rather than how you feel it should work. I’ve seen some artists endlessly moan about “the music business” and how “they should be treated” I’m more impressed by artists who seek out and act on offered opportunities. Over the years I’ve been amazed at how some individuals “grab failure from the jaws of success”
I had one artist who I’d given session work to and offered support slots on some music showcases, throw a tantrum, and even refuse to pick up the phone after he was unhappy about an online comment on social media. I suggested we talk on the phone and then if needs be agree to disagree and maybe part ways! A simple conversation would have given him the option for a big earning opportunity, and I suggested that its at least hearing what the opportunity was before dismissing it! The same character continues online to lament the lack of earning for independent musicians and how at times he struggles to MOT his car!
Here are some other typical scenarios and behaviors which mean missing potentially great opportunities.
Not replying to offers of paid gigs/sessions – amazingly some artists are incredibly lazy in replying to e-mails and/or calls and miss opportunities
Giving back word having agreed to paid work. I know one artist that having agreed to a main stage gig, the next day decided the travel was too far.
Refusing to take professional advice and insisting on maintaining a strategy that clearly isn’t working.
Not paying attention to your presence online. Some artists don’t even both to have a website and rely only on 3rd party owned social media outlet
Let’s end on a positive note
This blog points out “an unhealthy sense of entitlement.” I believe that artists are entitled to fair recompense for their work and the world is a better place for great music. The whole creation and consumption of music is itself in my view great for mental wellbeing. The issue here is the unrealistic sense of entitlement and those factors that allow for this. One of the reasons for creating Green Eyed Records is to promote proper discussion and education, that’s how we all benefit. I’ve worked with enough talented artists with mental health problems to know that many could be avoided with some better education and better decision making.
In recent times I’ve become increasingly aware of individuals setting themselves up as “festival and music promoters” who in my opnion (I’m being polite here) lack skills in making such events viable. Of course this is I suspect a minority, as there are many great, experienced professional promoters, but as the old saying goes “You couldn’t make it up”
What follows is a cautionary tale…
A friend of mine was asked to find acts for a festival and started to leverage his contacts to ensure that the event had the best available artists. Anyone in the music business will appreciate that professional artists will usually be booked up during most weekends, so its important to book well in advance. In this instance he only had two months to help out this promoter, who had left it to the last monment to secure musical entertainment. Organising musicians is a bit like herding cats at the best of times, but those of us who love music mostly enter into such activities out of love for music promotion rather than financial interest.
My friend’s alarm bells began to ring when the promoter started ducking answering basic questions that any booker and/or artist would ask in such a venture. Lets be clear, we are not talking about forensic detail here, but rather common sense considerations for appearing at a festival. I know from running Music for the Head and Heart showcases how important it is to define expectations which of course is standard business practice in any industry including the music business.
The main website for the festival looked great on the surface but had no actual detail about what was being offered at the event. The homepage suggested “75 classes and activities” as well as “music” would be available, but I still can’t find any actual details of who or what will be appearing on the weekend! There are also no previous festivals of this name, so no momentum from days gone by to ensure good audience attendance. Of course its possible that people will flock to this first time event simply through word of mouth, but in my opinion that would be highly unusual…
Checking online for promoter’s credibility and experience
In this internet era its easy to check the credibility of any business online and for musicians its essential to check how and what you will be paid for your own peace of mind. The first alarm bell rang when the promoter was shifty about confirming in writing to artists rates of pay. He’d confirmed verbally to my friend, but ducked putting anything in writing to artists who were interested in playing. This does not inspire confidence and now the real danger is that my friend the booker could be left having to deal with the financial aspect of paying the artists, especially as artists were asked to invoice after the event had completed!
The second alarm bell was when I looked into the financials for the company which claimed to have been trading for 7 years and had run a series of events. The reality is that the company had only been incorporated in March this year and had zero trading history. The head of the company also was misrepresnting himself on business social media in this respect stating he’d been owner of this company for 7 years.
The third alarm bell rang when I looked at social media for this guts promotion business and found very little activity and/or engagement.
If it looks like a duck…
As the old saying goes “If it looks like a duck, has a beak and quacks like a duck, its probably a duck”
The lesson here is to scan for what I term “the elusive obvious” Its possible that a weekend festival could be really successful and attract a lot of exhibitors and artists without any contracts, marketing and promotion, but in my experience that would be a first. The reality is that any event, even if its an evening, never mind a full weekend, needs a great deal of work and attention to make it happen. In this instance neither is in place. As the saying goes “fail to plan, plan to fail”
These days many people are still apprehensive about attending any events even outdoors, so its crucial to make such opportunities attractive and that means giving detailed content on what you can expect
Good manners make for good outcomes
I come from a background in business and appreciate that we can all have different opinions, but good manners are always useful for good outcomes. When a promoter asks for help and then adopts a “don’t bother me I’m too busy to talk to the likes of you” approach, then that;s not good manners or good business.
In this instance the promoter has lost the goodwill of my friend the booker as well as all the artists who were willing to support the event. Its a perfect example of self sabotage and I note that one of his previous business concerns was dissolved in days gone by. Its a shame and a missed opportunity as this character managed to wonderfully snatch failure from the jaws of success. He would have had (note past tense) a host of different well connected artists promoting his event for FREE, but is too unaware to grasp the opportunity.
The lesson in all this is to define expectations and although we may agree to disagree, its always those pesky details that are important to ensure the success of any venture…
STOP PRESS – The terms and conditions for this festival have this clause
“If X festival is cancelled in its entirety due to any unforeseen circumstances for example covid related lockdown, Ink Events Ltd has the sole right to reschedule the event or issue partial total refund or NOT ISSUE ANY REFUNDS“
Note “any unforeseen circumstances” is pretty vague and most people will not dig into the detail here. To not issue any refund is highly unusual. Two words spring to mind-
The Terms and conditions have now been amended. The event has now been flagged as “sold out” but still there is zero mention of any actual workshops or musical artists. The promoter when questioned becomes extremely defensive. Make of that what you will…
STOP PRESS 2
Unsurprisingly the event is now cancelled, according to a post on FB, BUT the event is still live on the promoters site and shows as “sold out” They now promise a return for 2023. Its a masterclass in ineptitude and a perfect example of how not to promote events. Here even basic elements were never in place for this to be remotely viable. CAVEAT EMPTOR!
I’ve been thinking recently about “the power of creativity through collaboration” and how there are wildly different artistic visions among artists and every different behaviours. I set up Original Ukulele Songs to provide a platform for ukulele artists who are interested in creating original music. The resource was and remains 100% totally free for anyone interested and some artists have the ability to have their own bespoke pages on the site to promote their music. Its essentially a totally free advert for performers and to date over 150 artists from all over the globe have taken advantage of this opportunity. I then started to look at running live events for some of these artists and in 2017 sponsored a stage at a known ukulele festival. We showcased 7 acts, videoed the event and this also helped promote artist awareness. The feedback was terrific and it was a packed audience that stayed to listen to all the performers, even though most attending only knew a few of the artists. This was a great example of collaboration and artists working together, rather than in isolation.
Expansion to Green Eyed Records platform
After a few years, I realised that the ukulele world was too small and there were too many politics. It made more sense to create 2 bigger music platforms, Music for The Head & Heart and Green Eyed Records. I’m grateful for some great assistance from a number of people who have supported this concept and in particular Sylvie Simmons and Frank Wilkes from Kycker who freely gave me a lot of time in thinking through the core concepts. The central theme for the OUS platform, MHH and GER are to promote the love of great music and the core ethos is doing this through collaboration and sharing. I’ve also realised the value to seeking out like minds and above all working with professionals. Its early days as the GER platform is less than a year old, but the FB page and the main site are getting great attention and feedback. More than ever this is IMO a time for creativity though collaboration to promote great music.
Why isolation is the death knell for most artists…
I’ve been happy to financially fund these resources and its interesting to have a huge range of reactions. On one extreme I have had some great article contributions and advice from seasoned professionals and at the other extreme I’ve had some quite bizarre reactions in promoting GER. On one FB I was promoting a live event cross posting and running ads for all the artists attending and one person hilariously accused me of incessant posting on a particular FB page. I immediately posted an apology for any offence created and politely reminded them that the the purpose to posting about a forthcoming live event was for her chosen artist to reach a wider audience.
Not only was I not taking any fee from the forthcoming event as a support act, but also was personally help fund the event to promote great music. All of this help fell on deaf ears and I realised that some folks don’t real get the value of working with others and prefer to work in isolation. That’s IMO always the death knell for most artists, both financially and creatively. Of course everyone has the perfect right to follow their own beliefs, but its hilarious when those who choose a path of isolation then complain about how isolated they are from reaching a wider audience essential for basic living expenses as well as being able to complete creative work to a good standard! Its a shame, but I have realised that there’s little point in explaining “the elusive obvious” in such situations!
I’m more interested in great music rather than being part of any artist fan club and I have become increasingly more selective about who I work with. In my non musical capacity I have a successful history of promoting events across the globe and running many productive marketing initiatives. The key ingredient in two decades of success is working with those who value collaboration and appreciate that
“No one of us is smarter than all of us”
Working with like minds and creating new opportunities
Later this year the next Music for Head and Heart Platform in association with Green Eyed Records will feature Jon Gomm as the headliner and Towse along with The Heartache as a support act. These evenings are all about great music and its an absolute joy to work with such professionals. Jon had already agreed to be interviewed for Music for The Head and Heart and its a real privilege to host him in a live capacity at a great venue in Leeds. The headline act for 2023 has also been signed and similar to Jon that performer has a very busy international schedule, so we have to plan ahead to secure the booking.
Green Eyed Records encourages artists to work together for the promotion of great music. I’m happy to put my money literally where my mouth is and to sponsor events, marketing and equipment with no strings attached. Many artists regardless of how talented they are, don’t have the individual reach to attract a wider audience. The old argument “We’re not interested in being big” is usually a cop out as many such artists often struggle to maintain paying weekly bills, never mind being able to invest in bringing their creative voice to the wider world.
A few years ago I was lucky enough to be invited to a major music producers house in the USA to listen to some demos of a new international artist’s album due for release the following year. One of my music colleagues and good friends asked the question ” In these days of social media, are record labels still important for artists? The reply was “Its all about reach” and finding new ways to connect to a wider audience! I’ve often commented that I’d never want to rely upon music solely from my income and am in a great position in that my non musical work and international profile as a communication specialist allow me to fund music projects for myself and others. It also allows a terrific freedom which means I have 100% control over all my material and when and where I choose to play live. I have the greatest respect for anyone wanting to work as a professional artist, its not an easy task. Below are some personal observations and thoughts. Feel free to agree or disagree!
Building a fanbase
Frank Wilkes from Kycker gave some good tips in one of the Green Eyed Records videos on building a fanbase
One of the reasons I set up Green Eyed Records was to encourage collaboration and discussion between artists and to look at sharing resources. Of course not everyone gets the value of this and to my great surprise I’ve seen all manner of individuals literally “snatching failure from the jaws of success” insisting that they know better than anyone else while moaning about their financial state as an artist, mostly as a result of a limited audience reach.
Yes, some may have a core base of fans and seek financial support from these individuals, but there is of course a ceiling to what is possible if you are not reaching out to a wider public. In recent years I had two solo performers actually voice their annual earnings (I didn’t ask for this information!) both indicating that their entire earnings for the year was less than the average UK salary!
Both these artists have had to date a small loyal following, but constantly in my view miss excellent opportunities to reach a wider audience due to their own narrow thinking. When challenged the response is usually something like “I’m not interested in chasing money or being commercial. I’m following my own vocation” which enlists lots of sympathy from core fans (nothing wrong with that) but they are mostly heavily dependent on the good will of a few people which is always somewhat precarious in the long term. Of course there are no rights and wrongs in such matters, but all the successful artists I have spoken to appreciate the value to collaboration and delegation in reaching a wider audience.
Choosing a band/artist name? Always check before you start marketing
Before creating and launching a website and ramping up social media, its a good idea to check that your band/artist name isn’t already being used by a Las Vegas Strip joint or lingerie clothing line! Sounds like basic common sense doesn’t it, BUT I’ve seen countless examples of this kind of mistake. This can cause all manner of confusion online and in the worst instances mean that you can be sued by another party. As always its the details that are important here and it doesn’t take a great deal of time to check domain names and do a proper search online to see if anyone else is using that specific name. In my non music capacity I advise on branding and marketing and run trainings for other professionals in UK, Europe, USA and Asia. The name of a band/artist is crucial in the same way as the name of any business.
Common misconceptions about social media?
Not a week goes by when I don’t see somebody moaning on social media about social media and especially with Facebook. What these characters don’t appreciate is that
“THE CUSTOMER IS THE ADVERTISER, EVERYONE ELSE IS A USER OF THE SERVICE”
The expectation that FB will accommodate all your commercial needs for NOTHING, is totally delusional! These social media platforms are businesses in their own rights and like any business are there to make money. Its also not compulsory to appear and spend time on these platforms. Yes, the argument can be made that the users supply data for the platforms, but its extremely naïve to imagine that these platforms are going to be charitable concerns for those who don’t pay to use the service. In recent times I noticed a post from a business owner flagging up that social media is all about “engagement” This is not news unless you’ve been living in a cave in some remote part of the world! There are many benefits of using social media, BUT it requires learning some time and financial investment to really discover the benefits. Simply moaning about the platforms on the platforms is quite frankly bonkers.
Always watch the figures to avoid car crash scenarios
I’m lucky to come from a business background and have an awareness of the need to watch margins. A great example of this was running the first two Music for The Head and Heart events. I’m always keen that the artists get a good deal for playing and the audience get good value. This was a challenge when we had a maximum capacity of just 78 people in the room. Assume there are 3 artists playing at these MHH events and they each bring a guest. That immediately means we are down to 72 people. With myself and the sound producer, we are now down to 70 people. One artist suggested “Nick, you can’t charge more than 6 quid for anyone to attend” If I went that route, The maximum income from that evening would be 420 and out of that I need to pay all the artists, sound guy, the venue and all promotions.
I suggested to another performer that they move an event from one with 120 max capacity to one with 230+ capacity. That immediately would have created more “headroom” for sales as well as meaning there was more space for covid considerations. Past the initial break even figure the evening then had the potential to generate the artist substantially more income. Of course its down to each artist whether they want to limit numbers or expand their audiences and potential earnings. Either way, its always smart to look at margins, so you make live work financially viable and often this attention to detail at a most basic level simply is not there. People who bang on saying “Its not just about being commercial” are often the exact same characters who reply massively on the good will of others and bemoan their lack of income! There’s no rights or wrongs, but as always attention to detail will always make for avoiding car crash scenarios.
Most of this is of course common sense, but as an old boss of mine used to say “Sense ain’t that common” Again each person needs to decide for themselves what works and these are simply my opinions, but they they are informed opinions from a proven business background and a fair bit of discussion with a wide range of musical artists from those scratching a living playing to a small fan base to those selling out huge stadiums internationally.
2021 has been quite a year and a record year for writing new material. I currently have 48 tracks “in the vault” and 34 tracks already to go for a very different project. The main focus has been on the Heartache material as well as releasing the first track with Towse. I also set up Green Eyed Records which is an expansion of the Music for The Head and Heart idea which promotes “creativity through collaboration.
Special thanks to Sylvie Simmons for a great interview on GER and a series of terrific conversations about the music industry and to all those who have posted on the GER FB page, which is growing at an amazing rate. 2022 will see the emergence of a Music for The Head and Heart live showcase on a much bigger scale with some fantastic artists. There will also be a major MHH showcase in 2023 as we have already agreed to host a major performer to head up a great showcase. Thanks also to Jen Geering for great behind the scenes work to keep GER on track, Carl Rosamond for amazing sound production, Neil at KimWaves for radio promotion, Rob at Fans for Bands, Frank at Kycker for great advice and everyone who has been involved in creating such great music.
Special thanks also to all the radio plays from Andy Coote, Nick Field, Shelly Morgan, Mike Evans, Daz and many others
I recently had to figure out a new name for a music project and it occurred to me that there are several music branding considerations always worth checking before you decide to action any project.
What is “Branding” and how is it useful?
Effective branding sending a message about your music, making it memorable for the public. It communicates to the wider public about who you are as an artist. It maintains consistent message about your own creative voice. It helps develop and maintain a connection with your chosen audience. It helps audience members connect with each other and celebrate your music.
What image/impression do you want to create? Does the name of the band or musical project reflect the intention you have in mind? A golden rule of marketing is if you must explain the term you have chosen, then its probably not the best fit for what you want to do. Is somebody already using the same term? With bands and musical projects, its easy to come up with what you think is a great name, start building the musical image and then find somebody got there first. I used to know the original bass player for the UK band “Embrace” who were going to call themselves “Curious Orange” until The Fall used it in a title for an album.
Is the domain name available?
I am amazed that some artists go to the trouble of selecting a musical identity without checking that they can obtain the domain name. I always check I can get the .com and well as the.co.uk for brand protection. Amazingly some artists just grab the.co.uk or worse still don’t check at all. There is nothing worse than going to all the trouble to choose a musical identity to then find it’s a domain for a strip joint in Vegas or another venture that is not helpful to your own efforts. I’m surprised that many artists don’t both to create their own websites and instead reply totally on social media. All social media platforms are 3rd party businesses, and most people are users and not customers. These platforms exist to generate income for their shareholders not to give free marketing for artists. As the old saying goes “You get what you pay for”. Yes, social media can be useful, but its smart to have a web presence you control 100% that is your interface to the wider world. Is the artist/project term you use memorable for the public? In one of my consultancy sessions for business I could not (despite being told many times) remember the company name. One of my recommendations was to change and simplify the brand name and once they did their marketing went from strength to strength. Invest in a good visual image and/or logo and use professional photographs. There is an old saying – “You never get a second chance to make a first impression.” I continue to be amazed that many artists do not invest in good visual images.
Today sees the welcome funding for the arts finally from the government, but covid 19 has created a major problem for both theatres and music venues. I’m hearing that one of the key issues is that most venues need 80% capacity to maintain predictable viable income, but with even a reduce 1m social distancing rule, that will be more than halved.
Mark Davyd of the music venue trust commented
“When we eventually emerge from lockdown, Grassroots Music Venues, the absolute bedrock, the foundations, the cornerstone on which our world beating £5.2 billion per year industry has been built, are going to be essential to live music bouncing back. It is therefore economically short sighted and frankly ridiculous to put a £5 billion a year industry at long term risk for lack of a short term £50 million investment.
The generosity shown towards our #saveourvenues campaign since we launched it in April has been staggering. The £2m we have raised to date has saved literally hundreds of venues in the short term, but the situation is still dire and relying on donations simply isn’t sustainable as we move into a recovery phase. With that in mind let’s act now and protect what we have, because what we have is incredible and it is ridiculous to put ourselves in the position where we might permanently lose it for less than 1% of the income it generates for us every single year. £50 million in financial support and a temporary tax cut, that’s all we are asking.
Who loses if this doesn’t happen? Not just the venues, not just the artists, not just the audiences, not just our communities. The government is the biggest loser of all here; billions of pounds of future tax revenues is on the line. Every other serious cultural country in the world is acting to protect its future talent pipeline…. and they don’t even have the incredible talent and the vibrant pipeline we have in the UK. We need our government to step up we need them to do it now.”
I’m not sure how much, if any of the government package will reach grassroots venues, but my own observations are that many were already struggling pre covid 19. I’m fairly sure that the big venues will survive, but my concern is for all those 100 – 250 capacity venues which IMO offer the best environment for seeing artists.
My heart goes out to all those artists who reply upon such venues in maintaining an income as its a hammer blow to maintaining any kind of regular income. I also feel sorry for all those music students graduating from university, who suddenly discover that the world will be very different from now on.
Some venues like The Vanguard in NYC have moved to streaming concerts and this maintains an audience connection. It is of course a very different experience, but one that we may have to accept as a substitute for attending live events. The irony is that for years I have lamented the apathy of people attending live events and the classic Joni Mitchell line comes to mind
“Don’t it always seem to go, you don’t know what you’ve got till its gone”
The challenge with streaming as I have previously blogged is to maintain good quality sound. For this reason when we run the Music for the Head and Heart shows with artists from all around the globe, we pre record the material. Social media is currently flooded with online performances and I’m not convinced that there is an audience for this volume of material. The danger is that people literally start to switch off from watching and listening.
Promoting new music?
I know of a number of artists who planned to release music in 2020 and who now are having to rethink how to promote their music. Traditional PR companies are IMO similarly stumped as the whole world has changed. One PR company’s strategy was to only focus on promoting artists via Spotify and personally I am unsure that such a narrow approach is commercially viable.
Live music has traditionally been a key ingredient in music promotion and of course this is how artists develop musically. I was reflecting on all the gigs I did with The Caravan of Dreams and treasure those moments and who knows when such opportunities will return? Last year I was lucky enough to see the last Martin Simpson gig of 2019 at Firth Hall in Sheffield that was one of those magical evenings of entertainment, which is never the same when watched on video.
Even if a vaccine appears in the near future (the best guess is around 12 months) I suspect the world of entertainment has fundamentally changed. Major concerts like Glastonbury have indicated that they will not be viable if they cancel in 2021.
Personally I’d like to see a return to smaller venues where people come to watch and listen to artists, but who knows when that may be possible? One thing is for sure, I massively value all those great gigs I have both attended and played at in days gone by.