“Caveat Emptor” – A cautionary tale about music promoters

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…

Pesky details…

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-

Stop Press!

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!

The power of collaboration where everyone benefits

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.

The elusive obvious in music promotion?

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.

Nick Cody

Bye bye to 2021 and a great year ahead

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

Wishing everyone a very cool yule

Key considerations for having a brand for your music.

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.


Key Considerations

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.

What next for artists & music venues?

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.

Streaming options?

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.

Conclusion

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.

What are the future earnings options for musicians?

I am fortunate to know many excellent professional musicians from around the world and all of them have been by Covid 19. This is requiring a massive rethink and live appearances have all been wiped out. Its an extraordinary situation and it is not going to change anytime soon

Local musicians affected

Many local musicians were already struggling pre pandemic and I recall one niche musician saying he was struggling to make ends meet and wondered if he could MOT his car.

With the advent of covid 19 he is one of the many that may have to rethink whether its viable to continue to reply on music as a predictable source of income. I’ve long thought that many artists live literally from one gig to another and of course there is nothing new in that, but covid 19 creates all manner of additional problems

People and venue challenges

There is a current argument raging about the acceptable distance people for people to socially distance during covid 19. At 2 metres most indoor venues are not viable. Theatres generally need 80% capacity to be viable and the 2 metre rule means they can only accommodate 20%, which is not economically viable. Regardless of whether this changes, many smaller clubs and venues will close. As one producer said

“Many artists are gonna have to drop a division when playing live”

The second issue is whether people will even return to attending live events in the same numbers. Most people are creatures of habit and a three month total change of habits is going to have a lasting effect. My guess is that it will be a long time before audiences return to live events in the same numbers.

The Online solution?

As soon as the world went into lockdown many artists immediately and understandably shifted to running online events. There are many challenges with these format including the technical challenges in maintaining good sound and visuals.

My own experience is that the quality is massively variable. Some online efforts have been like watching a car crash, while others have been really excellent.

Jack and the Vox from USA have been putting out pairs of songs on a daily basis and have been terrific entertainment. What both these examples have in common is the attention to detail and really superb performances. They remind me of Daryl’s House, always engaging and unpredictable.

Martin Simpson‘s first live show was exceptional, really terrific sound, a great set and of course a superb performance. Martin is shooting a lot of video from home and as always he is truly engaging and fascinating to watch

The online medium is a different environment, like a TV show but without the high production values. This is totally different to a live experience. I’m personally not a fan of calling pre recorded material “festivals” or “mini festivals” as they are nothing like a festival experience.

Captain of the Lost Waves has done a series of terrific shows that have delighted his growing fanbase as well as connecting to a new audeince

All these artists have a strong work ethic and crucially smart strategic thinking.

The difference that makes the difference

Many people I know feel that social media is swamped by online events and many unfortunately are not that great. I suspect the ones that are more creative and themed will survive whereas the others will disappear.

Artists with strong fan bases will in my opinion do well and as always artists will need to find new ways to capture public attention. This is perhaps not a bad thing as it means there will be more focus on quality as audiences will have less spending power. Smart artists are always moving forward and exploring how to connect to new audeinces. This means focussing on differentiation and avoiding just doing exactly the same thing as everyone else.

Snatching failure from the jaws of success?

Unfortunately having great talent is not in itself enough to generate predictable income for artists, you have to also have some business skills. I’ve known some very good musicians who spectacularly “snatch failure from the jaws of success”

Usually they are too polarised in their ways of thinking and can’t seperate social and business interactions. I set up Music for the Head and Heart and Songs of Hope as a free resource for artists to connect to new audiences. This is one of many initiatives that I fund personally to help musicians.

Smart musicians appreciate that in order to earn a good living rather than just scraping by, you need to embrace a wider audience and that means building new connections all the time. I learned from my non musical persona teaching business skills, that often you have to expand thinking and work with a wide range of people rather than a narrow niche of people who agree 100% with everything you already think!

Conclusion

I predict new and more innovative ways of connecting with audiences will emerge. Many artists that were just scraping by will I suspect disappear if they don’t adapt to the new dynamic. I can’t imagine a world without great music and hopefully the “new normal” will result in some real great new entertainment. Of course its 100% up to the artists what they want to do and whether that want an audience of thousands, millions or just themselves, BUT for most people time needs to be funded in some way and these thoughts are on strategies that help make that happen.

Musical landscape post Covid 19?

The Covid 19 pandemic has brought massive change on the planet and of course the music industry is hugely affected. These are very uncertain times and I suspect the musical landscape post covid will never be the same again. As soon as ‘South by South West” was cancelled I realised that we had a massive problem.

All my professional artist friends had every single live performance cancelled and that meant zero income. Nobody really knows how the musical landscape will appear lost covid 19. My hope is that live music will return as such events are one of my true loves in life.An “egg in one basket” and the use technology? I have of course blogged in the past about the myth and reality in the music business and covid 19 will in my view create a massive reset for the music industry.

Use of technology during covid 19

Many artists earn a living with income from one gig to another and suddenly that income stream vanished. I have previously blogged about how tough it is for artists to generate a working wage from music and the pandemic has highlighted as one friend said “My egg was in one basket, and now that basket is no more!”

Many performers have started to use technology to stream live appearances with varying results. There are all manner of challenges with the technology and of course the number of people online is at an all time high. This affects bandwidth globally and that affects the quality of what is streamed. With the Music for the Head and Heart platform, we opted for recording artist material for this reason. That way we can ensure the picture and sound quality are at a high level.

Streaming and “festivals online?”

A number of friends have commented that social media and especially Facebook are now full of artists streaming music. The term “festivals” is now being applied to such events. The quality of what appears is variable to say the least and it will be interesting to see if this trend continues over a longer period of time as this is of course a few different form of interaction without mass human gathering. I was surprised to see one niche group of music promote a ticketed event as a “festival” when it was lot a live stream, but a series of artists having recorded in their homes! Personally I think this is a bit of a stretch in calling this “a festival” but that’s just a personal view and I appreciate that many people have to try and scratch a living in whatever way they can.

The biggest challenge for many artists in terms of generating income from online video is that the public to a large extent, expect video to be free. Youtube has a huge amount of free content, including full gigs often in high resolution with great sound. The experience of watching online is of course very different to attending an event, but with all the current uncertainty nobody knows what the future holds in terms of live events.

There’s an even bigger challenge for ukulele and many other niche music events is that in many (but not all cases) the audience are not there primarily to listen to artists but rather to play. As a longstanding ukulele player and teacher commented

“Nick, they don’t want to listen to music, they just want to jam with each other”

My experience is that this is true for some ukulele circles, but there are artists like Victoria Vox who are reaching a much wider audience. Similarly the Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain also attract a mainstream audience and are great entertainers. As the uke festival audience enthusiasts are generally older, this poses additional problems for future festivals as covid 19 is more problematic for that age group.

Studio recording during Covid 19

Studio recording in the traditional sense has of course been massively affected. During lockdown artists can’t go to studios to do recording so remote and home recording methods are going to be on the increase. I’ve been blogging on using Steinberg VST Connect Performer. This is probably the most advanced technology for remote recording and we’ve had good results to date. However this is not an easy option for many artists and even a seasoned producer may find that this is a very new way of working and Steinberg would do well to update their instruction videos as many aspects of working this way are not as clear as they could be.

I’ve also been using a UAD Arrow with an Acme DI into Reaper DAW to great effect. This is a simple set up which is producing some great results. I’ll send over files to my producer and we’ll then use VST Connect Performer to add additional tracks. I’m also using the Ear Trumpet Myrtle mic for all vocals and loving the results. I’m lucky to have amassed all this gear just before the pandemic and this allows me to work up new material at an accelerated rate. Its a bit of a baptism of fire, but I suspect that the future of artist recording will involve a lot more home recording than in days gone by.

This is a great time for learning about recording as there are many great low cost resources out there. One superb example is the Reaper DAW which can be used for free during the covid period. Check out Reaper HERE I use this DAW for all recording and it took just five minutes to set up.

Future live music events?

People are mostly creatures of habit and the pandemic has meant that live events have all disappeared. Some festivals and clubs may disappear of course through financial difficulties. One scenario may be that people value music more and flock more to live events. Another scenario is that people become more cautious about group gatherings and stay away.

My instinct is that the musical landscape will be very different and there will be a substantial reduction in live opportunities as even before the pandemic many festivals and clubs were already struggling. I’m a massive fan of live music, although I favour smaller venues these days and the idea of a huge festival is not that attractive. The major festivals in 2020 were all cancelled and I suspect many will be cancelled for 2021 until there is some kind of cure for covid 19. These are very strange times and I feel like I’m in some strange alter universe.

Final thoughts

Nobody knows what will happen post covid 19, but in my opinion the musical landscape will be very different. Adaptability will be crucial and this means thinking in very different ways. One thing is certain, artists will continue to entertain and in my view the world needs as much of that as it can find right now.

The price you pay for “free music”

In doing interviews for Music for The Head and Heart I’m increasingly finding that artists have a real challenge in generating predictable income and many are asked to play charity events, fundraisers and similar live gigs for no remuneration. I have absolutely no problem with charitable events, but one good friend pointed out that perhaps a charity event to support the working artists might be a good plan? This raises the whole question of the price we pay for “free music”

Here are some thoughts

The value from “trades”

With the advent of Spotify and many other music trends the performing artists are increasingly disadvantaged financially. Hobbyists as opposed to professional performers are often favoured by local pub venues and open mic type situations meaning less financial outlay for business owners. Its all sounds great doesn’t it? Free music for the masses? Well any smart person knows, there is always a cost involved in any relationship and this is no different…

” I’m not a fan of artists paying for “exposure” as often its a means for promoters to get free entertainment and in many cases the artists don’t even receive expenses for their work. Every year I have one promoter asking my 5 piece band to play for a charity gig where the artists don’t even receive the most basic of expenses. I think such expenses should always be on offer and then its up to the artists to accept or refuse on a case by case basis. When entertainment is increasingly presented as being available for no financial cost, then people start to devalue what is on offer.

I set up the Music for The Head and Heart Platform to give especially independent artists a voice and a means to connect to a wider public. Artists are invited to appear on the platform and the “trade” is that they get to be interviewed and play some songs which are then professionally edited and promoted to the wider public. The “trade” is mostly in time and for around an hour’s meet up, and with no financial outlay, many performers can have some really excellent footage produced and in some cases be part of one of the live paid showcases. Trades are not always financial trades, BUT ultimately professional performers need to earn a living and that means figuring out how to balance time and money.

Pricing and expectations

“As for the music business itself, the key things have not changed that much. It operates like any business and money still keeps things moving.”
Tom Jones

I’m a big fan of collaboration and reciprocation. I have built up a business reputation over many years that allows me to fund my love of music. I literally put my money where my mouth is and always ensure that artist’s work is valued. This means funding support acts and shows irrespective of whether I receive any income. The reason for this is that if we fail to value creative work then ultimately the quality of what is on offer will diminish as performers can’t maintain a time/money balance.

I’ve previously blogged about how many performers return to paid salaried work as they can’t earn a reasonable living from music alone. This inevitably means that the quality and diversity of what is available is increasingly reduced and I have often joked that all will remain will be open mics and giant stadium gigs with nothing in between.

So what next?

In my view, the best way forward is for performers of like minds to support each other and to create exceptional entertainment for the wider public. Its down to the artists to entertain and to ensure that they don’t give away their skills without factoring in the bigger picture. This is a tricky balance but many music enthusiasts can unwittingly become complicit in devaluing musical entertainment by being to ready to give away their art. This creates an understandable expectation from the public that music “should be free” and that’s IMO a real problem. Promoters and festivals also have IMO a responsibility to ensure artists receive fair pay for their entertainment skills.

I even recall one festival asking what “contribution” an artist might “need” if they are accepted to play one of the stages. I can’t imagine a top chef being asked such a question and in my view its disrespectful to performing artists. As a lover of music, I want to see more great live music and that means artists need supporting in their creative work. Imagine people then decided that they wouldn’t pay to see films at cinemas, the cinema industry would soon start to deteriorate and ultimately disappear. Agree? Disagree? Don’t care? All feedback welcome as IMO its an important discussion

Time and Money in Creating Music

One of the biggest challenges in creating and promoting music is to be able to fund the time needed to make this happen Unless you have a wealthy patron or other financial support, it can become a real issue. Here are some thoughts and observations on this.

Predictable income challenges

In recent months I know three musicians who have returned to full time employment as they can’t earn enough predictable income fr om music alone. I’ve blogged extensively about how paid work is tougher to find for artists and its no surprise that ecomonic consideraions ultimately prevail. I remember reading that Tom Verlaine from the iconic band Television was still working part time in a book store in New York even when his classic Marquee Moon album was released.

In 1980s my friends in the band James in the early days were volunteering for drug trials in Manchester to generate income and for years lived on a shoe string. Even when signed by Sire, it was hard work and only 30+ years on are those in the band capitalising on decades of work.

Image v working reality in music

Many artists don’t in my view fully appreciate that if they want to connect to a wider audience, image is important. I’ve seen many posts on social media which to put it politely are in my opinion ill advised. Examples include begging for accomodation in a city at short notice from anyone online and other photos of being very drunk online. Yes, this is part of daily life for many folks, but as the old saying goes “You never get a 2nd chance to make a first impression”

Its not just individual artists who are unaware. I saw a festival once try and position themselves as the next Glastonbury for a niche music concern. The ad copy online was as impressive as the claims for what they said they were going to achieve. I then saw a photo of the headliner and thought it must have been during a soundcheck. The reason I thought this was that there was a small group of people huddled under umbrellas which suggested a very different image, but yes this was the final audience…

Funding Time for recording & Gigs

I just finished my third album and I have realised that in order to work up material for the studio and live tracks means a lot of rehearsal time. My policy is to pay the band for all their time and I fund this from my other work. This means working very hard to make this possible. I also pay all band members for gigs, irrespective of whether we get paid by the promoter. These costs can really accumulate, but its an effective way to get the work completed without resorting to Kickstarter style operations. Such operations work well for some people but I’ve steered clear to date.

Regarless of finance, simply being able to get a band to all meet is a challenge. I joke that “thank god, we are not a 12 piece band!” I have learned that the best model for my ensemble is to have a core trio and then hire in other musicians. I have an inner FB group for all those involved in musical projects and that allows for good communication.

Reciprocation & Shared Values

I’m a big fan of reciprocation and shared values. I’ve run music events where some artists have been brilliant in their cooperation and involvement. In contrast I’ve had artists want to bring a crazy number of people as guests, many of who disappear after their friends have performed! Neeedless to say, such folks will not get future opportunites from me. Fortunately these individuals are in a minority and are often seriously unaware of opportunities. With one artist I offered them all manner of possible commercial opportunities and they simply didn’t respond. Yes, its for each artist to determine what works for them, but to not even check out an opportunity seems seriously daft to me…

I’ve learned to pick and choose who I involve in projects and as band members. There are some really nice folks out there, but it can be a massive amount of working organizing them. This inevitably leads to a lot of frustration so now I’m super careful about who I involve in work. Another issue is that many artists can’t work in an organized manner and that is essential if you want to build and release a body of work. My advice to all band leaders is to work with people who are like minds and who have shared values.

Music for The Head and Heart Platform

I set up the Music for The Head and Heart platform to bring together artists and work in collaboration. To date we have run a terrific launch party and the second live event is Jan 25th and we still have a few tickets here. To date we have interviewed 35 artists from all over the globe and its been fascinating. This means allocating a great deal of time and some financial investment. I fund this to date from other work and by year two my plan is that at least the live events break even. The main investment is time in organising artists and planning video and audio. People who attend actual events often don’t appreciate the crazy amount of time and goodwill involved in many these showcases happen.

All this time has to be funded in some way and that means thinking smart and working with people who have shared values. In terms of the platform I have a policy of inviting people and then sending a reminder if I don’t hear anything. Many such artists simply don’t have the momentum and stamina to create a body of work and to reach a wider public. Often they are by nature too insular and inevitably never create and release a body of work.

Time to think and plan

Personally I need chunks of time to plan and to create new music. I don’t work with a regimented work schedule for writing, but I like to always have instruments to hand and free time to play around. Its also invaluable to be able to step back from projects and take a second view on how to proceed. I think its also invaluable to have a variety of interests in life which can inspire the creative process. That means using time in a particular way to not just get stuck in one medium of musical creation and to embrace working with all manner of other people. As Nick Cave would say

“A rock musician’s career is short-lived. To extend it, you need to do other things to keep yourself fresh.|
Nick Cave

Final Thoughts

Collaboration and sharing skills and resources are the best way to being about any vision. Many performers can be tunnel visioned in how they work. That’s fine for them, but IMO its not smart business. A better way is genuine cooperation and collaboration to bring great music to a much wider public.