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.

The importance of momentum in artist promotion

We are just a few days away from the launch of the Music for the Head and Heart evening and I’ve been once again reflecting on the whole issue of music promotion. I confess to having a problem solving brain and in my non musical life I teach problem solving internationally to groups.

It occurs to me that artist/music promotion follows many of the same rules as promoting any service or product.

Get attention

The first rule of any marketing or promotion is to get customer attention. “The good news” is that there have never been so many free mediums to connect with a wider public. “The bad news” is that there have never been so many free mediums to connect with a wider public! The advent of social media and YouTube are both a blessing and a curse. On the one hand these new mediums mean great opportunities, but the downside is that the promotion noise level is at an all time high.

Great video and photos are essential in getting the public’s attention. Increasingly people have very short attention spans, so “good” is not enough, visual mediums need to be great! I appreciate that artists will have financial budgets but its IMO better to have a few great videos and or photos than dozens of average ones. As I have always said

“You never get a second chance to make a first impression”

The importance of continuity and diversity

In my other life I have worked with many successful longstanding musicians. One of them had severe anxiety about live performances and was about to go on a major tour. I floated the idea of taking a break and he commented

“The music industry is very unforgiving. Once you are off the radar, that’s it”

The noise level in music promotion means that its easy to be forgotten very quickly if you don’t maintain a regular stream of creative musical output. The challenge of course is to maintain both quality and quantity. Artists can get known for just one classic track which can then define your entire career. Below is a wonderful spoof from Ralph McTell illustrating this with his classic track “Streets of London” Who reading this blog could name another of his songs?

Time and money investments

The most successful artists I see, have spent years developing their craft. In the era of talent shows there can be a belief that a person can achieve a level of fame really quickly, but that is often a myth. Many artists start off with great intentions with a musical college education, but only a few earn a living as a professional artist. Like any profession success depends on many factors including luck, but always a significant investment of time and money.

The money investment would often historically come from a record company, but the music industry has changed and those opportunities are less frequent. Many artists now self fund or will use some form of crowdfunding. This can work, but again this has become so common that it doesn’t have the same unique appeal as it once had. Pledge music was one of the biggest crowdfunding platforms, which ran into serious trouble, recently putting out this statement

“PledgeMusic entered liquidation with $9.57 million in debt and assets worth just $20,000,” it reported. “With an ‘estimated deficiency’ of $7,405.502.48 and secured creditor Sword Row, LLC first in line, there is ‘little prospect’ that artists and other creditors will be paid, according to the court-appointed receiver.”

So, what’s the good news?

If all this sounds somewhat depressing, then in my view there is also a wealth of good news to report. Its entirely possible to record and promote music to a wider audience in an effective manner, if you take into account many of the points raised here. I increasingly come across many superb artists and its my firm belief that the future is through artist cooperation. This is the thinking behind Music for The Head and Heart which follows the spirit of Robert Fripp’s DGM initiative, where the artist is front and centre.

The Laurent Zeller connection

One of the things I have learned in recent years is the value of seeking out the best musicians and building long term relationships. A friend of mine and longstanding musician commented “Always play with people better than you!” Never a truer word was spoken!

I met Laurent Zeller at The Lagoa Guitar Festival a few years ago when my band The Small Change Diaries was supporting his trio Les Kostards. Laurent Zeller and the other members of the trio are extraordinary musicians and Laurent was good enough to have us all play an encore at the festival.

In “the music business” often artists look after their own concerns and its rare that there is an attitude of sharing and reciprocation. I’m a big fan of both these elements and have found it leads to mutually successful long term relationships. This was one of the reasons I set up Music for The Head and Heart which is all about collaboration and avoiding the niche stereotypical categorisations that in my view a problem for the music business

After the Lagoa festival. Laurent was kind enough to play on some of the Small Change Diaries 2nd album “Lullabies for Cynics” and came over to the UK to play at the launch party. As usual he was brilliant. Since then Laurent has become a great friend and terrific sounding board for great musical advice. He was good enough to contribute to this promo clip for the album

There’s no substitute for experience and Laurent has this in spades as well as a wicked sense of humour and a great attitude of sharing so rare in the music industry. Below is one of the many clips you can find online of him playing with all manner of musicians.

Music for The Head & Heart

Three years ago I set up Original Ukulele Songs which brings together original ukulele based music from all over the globe. The idea was to build a platform online and then to run live events to showcase artists. We ran one stage with a UK uke festival in 2017, but I soon realised that this was a far too limited audience and as with many niche musical genres there was far too many politics. For this reason I abandoned sponsoring any more ukulele festival stages and instead starting to think about a bigger more inclusive platform for music lovers.

The problem with niche musical interests is that often (not always) the emphasis is on social meet ups and music becomes at best a secondary consideration. I appreciate that’s a personal choice, but its really not of interest to me. I’m far more interested in focussing on great music and not especially bothered about other issues. For me, music has the power to connect and inspire people and the best artists have a great love of what they do.

Music for the Head and Heart has been in the works for almost two years. The platform consists of live artist video and interviews, articles and live showcase events. All artist videos are transcribed as some people prefer to read as opposed to watch video. Artists are invited to the platform and artists who appear on the platform can then freely invite other performers. This ensures that the platform grows organically. Dean Anthony Murray, Nicky Bray and Nick Bloomfield are part of the Music for Head and Heart team and provide invaluable support.

To date we have recorded over twenty artists from all over the globe from many musical genres and the response has been terrific. As well as adding performers to the site, I am also adding interviews with promoters, the latest one being the Leeds legend John F Keenan, who changed the face of music in Leeds.

Live Launch Oct 26th

The live launch of the platform will be on Oct 26th in Leeds

 

The artists for the evening are

Captain of the Lost Waves

Miranda Arieh

Emily Mercer

Behla Hutchinson

BOOK TICKETS HERE

FB PAGE HERE


Show me the money – making a living from music?

I’ve recently had the pleasure of interviewing a substantial number of artists for the Music for Head and Heart platform. Everyone has their own story about how they create music, their inspirations and their writing process. They all uniformly confirm that earning a living from music alone is a tough call. Its one thing playing music for a few extra quid at the weekend, but making a living from music so music is your primary income and you become a “music professional” in the true sense is a very different matter.

There is a trend of venues opting for open mic evenings rather than paying for actual bands, which means less opportunities to earn a living. One artist commented that they would typically earn a predicable income from selling CDs, but now many people don’t even have CD players. Platforms like Spotify may be great for “exposure” but essentially recorded music is mostly free these days. HMV is the last physical store on the high street and almost closed down, which would mean all purchases would mostly have to be online. As a big fan of physical products I’m mindful that there are just a few great stores left, Tower Records in Japan and Dublin, Amoeba in California and Waterloo Records in Austin Texas.

Back in the UK pre brexit its increasingly getting tougher for many artists to find a paying audience and even tougher to find a an appreciative listening audience. Music for The Head and Heart will showcase four artists each quarter for a very affordable ticket price. Essentially I am underwriting the costs of such events to generate momentum for growing the platform. I have long pondered on creating a new platform which mixes the essential ingredients of live performances and an online presence. I truly lament the downturn in live music opportunities where bands find it increasingly hard to find paying gigs and promoters seek out open mics which mean paying less money or endless covers bands. I know many live this stuff but for me its my idea of hell.

Diverse income streams and streaming

Many artists appreciate the need to have diverse income streams and incorporate teaching, playing live and selling products. That said only this week another niche UK musician announced that it was no longer viable for him to be a professional musician, ie earning his main income from music alone. He is going to get a 40 hour paid job, so he can pay the bills. Previously he has played festivals, given music lessons and sold products, but all of these even in a good year don’t really pay the bills.

An article in Rolling Stone last year observed

By recent research estimates, U.S. musicians only take home one-tenth of national industry revenues. One reason for such a meager percentage is that streaming services — while reinvigorating the music industry at large — aren’t lucrative for artists unless they’re chart-topping names like Drake or Cardi B. According to one Spotify company filing, average per-stream payouts from the company are between $0.006 and $0.0084; numbers from Apple Music, YouTube Music, Deezer and other streaming services are comparable. That creates a winner-takes-all situation in which big artists nab millions and small ones can’t earn a living wage. It’s nothing new — one could argue that such were the dynamics in almost every era of music past — but the numbers are more dramatic than before

The Myth of The Golden Era?

Michael Ross from Guitar Moderne made some really interesting comments on this question of making a living from music in his interview for Music for The Head and Heart (soon to be released)

“You can make a living, there are people making livings playing music. It’s not easy, it never was easy, but the outlets are there. I mean, but as we discussed, part of it is going back to the early days of recording when nobody made money from records, but they were an advertisement for your live shows. So, if you can do a great live show, and you can bring people into that live show, and you’re willing to tour around, and you’re young enough or old enough but have the constitution to keep doing it and love to do it, you do it and you make money.
There were people back in the day who weren’t that famous, like the Meat Puppets, one of my all time favourite band names, if not all time favourite bands. They were all buying houses in Texas when they were playing around, you know, because they were living, first of all, in Texas, where it wasn’t expensive, and they were making money and, you know, travelling in a van and, you know, not, apparently, putting all the money up their noses or doing many of the other things musicians do, and they did find there are plenty of regional musicians like that who, you know, have regional gigs.”

Is getting signed the answer?

Some new artists imagine that getting signed to a label will be the solution to making a living from music, without perhaps realising that like any company “the record company” understandably wants a god return on their investment! I know of one terrific USA duo that released a number of albums with the record company were disappointed that there was not a year on year increase in sales, so they were dropped to the amazement and disappointment of fans. They then went their separate ways as they couldn’t make it financially viable.

Another industry professional when asked about this gave the following advice

I would recommend focusing more on creating amazing music that gets passed around and makes waves. Create a sizable fan base and buzz. Do some releases on smaller labels first. The majors usually come after an artist has a real track record and “story”. It’s great to want a record deal, but know which label you want to be on and why. Major labels can create huge results for some artist, but they are also capable of stalling careers

Getting a manager

Some imagine that getting management will solve all such problems, not perhaps realising that any professional manager will like a record company need to do a risk v reward analysis. I spoke to a very experienced music manager recently who was approached by an artist for management and he politely declined commenting that she didn’t have enough released material and social media presence to make it viable. Another manager who had a similar request from a female artist commented that at age 39, it was too late in the day.

The following 3 minute clip is worth watching to demystify the idea that a music manager will ride to the rescue of a creative artist and wave a magic wand to make sure the business aspect is sorted. Of course in the right situations a manager is a perfect fit, BUT the artist needs to have a body of work and be investable. Managing an artist means an investment of time and money.

Conclusion

Like any business the ability to make money depends on many different factors. Anyone can make some money, but earning enough to support yourself financially means a lot of work. The idea of creating a life of abundant wealth and residing in LA is with respect a bit optimistic to say the least… For most artists its about playing the long game and appreciating that its not about just talent, its about business strategy and a lot of luck. I fund projects for my love of music and would hate to depend on music for y financial well being, but that’s just a personal view!

Marketing momentum in Music

I set up the new Music for the Head and Heart platform partly as an experiment to satisfy my own curiosity as to how to get music to a wider audience. The Music for the Head and Heart platform is to promote independent artists who mostly don’t have record deals. I took a partial cue from the excellent Tiny Desk Concert platform along with Elvis Costello’s excellent Spectacle TV series where he interviews artists on their work.

Creating Music for the Head and Heart from scratch means a lot of work in sorting out the online presence and this requires clear thinking and ensuring that everything that goes into the public domain is of the highest quality.

You never get a 2nd chance to make a first impression

I’m constantly amazed that many really excellent artists don’t get the need to invest in creating a good impactful image and crucially don’t maintain good momentum in marketing their music to connect to a wider audience. Yes, social media is essential, but its not a replacement for a good functioning website. Many artists still don’t use professional photos or blog about their work. Of course everyone has budgets to consider, but often there’s sporadic momentum in connecting to a wider audience and many artists don’t have the stamina needed to maintain a constant presence in the public domain that strikes the right balance of maintaining public interest and not overloading people with information.

Creating a body of work

I was talking to a longstanding producer recently and he mentioned that the most well known band he worked with only received good recognition after releasing three albums. He laughed at the idea of an artist releasing a single or EP and expecting the world of A and R to flock to their door. Despite all that’s in the media most artists appreciate that to get any kind of attention you need to create a body of work.

This means balancing time and money. Many performers have supplementary income streams from teaching and doing function work and this helps sustain their creative output. Its a tough job and I suspect many of the public would be surprised at how little net income many artists actually make. Only today another longstanding musician commented on having to return to full time employment as music alone didn’t create enough predictable income.

Conclusion

In one of the first Music for the Head and Heart videos, Captain of the Lost Waves brilliantly talks about balancing commercial interests for financial survival and developing your own creative voice. Doing this requires a great deal of stamina and smart thinking. You may have brilliant material, but to connect to the wider public you need to have other skills to market your material or fund somebody to do it for you.

Why I now only think in terms of projects, not bands…

In recent years I have abandoned the traditional idea of setting up a band, but instead started to think in terms of projects. Part of the reason for this is the ever changing music industry and part of is that it gives vastly more flexibility in recording music and in planning live gigs.

The traditional “band format” means having access to the same musicians on an ongoing basis and that has its limitations. Most skilled musicians and artists I know are working across a number of different projects and not just limiting themselves to one concern. This in my view is the smart way to go these days. Yes. I tend to maintain a few core musicians, but it means I can record faster and it allows for much more creativity. I continue to be amazed at how any excellent musicians are out there and of course the Music for the Head and Heart platform has been great in networking with some really talented folks.

2019 was mostly about writing and recording music for “Tales of Dark and Light” with The Caravan of Dreams ensemble. The album has 14 musicians playing on it and at the launch party up to eight musicians were playing the material on stage at any one time. This made for a fantastic launch, but its a big amount of organisation and sizable investments in time and money. Understandably many Caravan members have their own projects to attend to, so the idea of projects as opposed to a static band works really well.

We have a few more Caravan of Dreams gigs to play and then in 2020 I’ll be unveiling two very different projects, one acoustic and one fully electric, with recordings and live shows. My producer Carl calls this “The Steely Dan model” where I write the material but add in new musicians as and when needed. This flexibility is really useful in creating new work at speed while keeping really good quality. Working in this way is quite fascinating as often just one new musician can open up a whole world of new creative ideas. I’m also writing more with specific musicians in mind.

Managing Time and Money in Music Creation

One of the major challenges for many musicians is to balance time and money in music to maintain predictable income. I have often blogged about the hyped expectations created in music colleges and with online talent shows. Yes, these can inspire aspiring artists to follow a path in music, but often the expectations are at least ambitious and often totally delusional.

Of course professional musicians know this only too well and the need to maintain this tricky balance and its not an easy task. The same challenge exists for authors. Many expect to be the next JK Rowling, failing to realise that that’s pretty unlikely. I’m lucky to be able to fund all music projects from other unrelated work and this gives me total independence in what I do. My other work across USA, Asia and Europe has taken 12 years to develop and an enormous amount of focussed work and networking. I would hate the idea of having to shift X amount of products or merch in order to pay the monthly mortgage or buy food for the cats. This is exactly why many aspiring and professional musicians maintain different income streams to balance the books.

Predictable Income

I remember reading back in the 1970s that Tom Verlaine when releasing his classic Television Marquee Moon album, still worked part time in the local bookstore. Many working musicians also teach privately knowing the importance of diverse income streams in this uncertain economic times and god only knows what will happen in the UK post brexit. That said, there are still opportunities to generate income and smart thinking artists appreciate that monies are no longer going to come from physical products as in days gone by.

I was talking to Tim Booth, lead singer for the band James at one of our regular 1990s Leeds United football match meet ups, about how they made way more money from merch than from music. Twenty five years later we discussed the changing world of the music business. This gave me a whole new insight into “the music business” and why I would never want a record contract and/or to work for a record company. It all looks so glamorous from the outside, but those working as professionals know just how much work is required to earn even a reasonable living.

Self Funding?

I’m a big fan of self funding and literally putting my money where my mouth is. At times it reminds me of an old Blackadder joke –

“I feel like a penguin, everywhere I look there’s a bill in front of me!”

I’ve never used Kickstarter or similar fan funding platforms, and artists have had variable experiences. A local music college gives the following advice

Set an achievable goal, but factor in the additional costs of any rewards given (physical costs involved, shipping, transaction fees) – work out your net income and what this allows you to achieve.
Time and time again musicians forget to factor
this in and eventually lose money on any crowdfunding campaign.

  1. Leverage your network – ask your friends and family before asking more widely, it’s easier to gain support from your fan base towards your final target total rather than at the very beginning. People want to help you get over the line, not to it.
  2. Keep your campaign page updated regularly – fresh content keeps it interesting and demonstrates that you care about those who back you.
  3. Offer rewards to both existing fans and potential new supporters – crowdfunding is the ideal opportunity to increase your fan base and help create a deeper relationship with existing ones.
  4. Keep engaging with supporters after the project is funded – it’s a relationship, not a transaction. You’ll reap the benefits if you value your fans long term.

All common sense advice, BUT there are so many artists seeking funding in this way its like watching daytime TV where the audience is bombarded with adverts for charitable causes. The challenge is to balance maintaining your own creative voice and also be able to pay the bills. A lot of new musicians have great enthusiasm but lack essential business skills and imagine a manager or promoter is going to do all the work for them I talked to one manager who was closely aligned to a music label for many years as well as being an artist in his own right. He told me he’d been approached by a new female artist for management and pointed out that for his 10% to be viable, she’d need to generate many times that amount and that was (I’m being polite) somewhat unrealistic.

My own policy 2 Strikes, then move on…

I have a policy of carefully noting how people respond to any opportunities I offer. I’ll usually offer something a couple of times and if a person doesn’t respond then I’ll not offer a third time. Its nothing personal, but if they don’t see the value I don’t really want t invest in time convincing them.

Sometimes I am astonished at how people miss great chances presented to them n a plate. I’ve had artists fail spectacularly to deal with their own online presence and even fail to secure a domain name for their own artist name. They totally miss “the elusive obvious” and not amount of enthusiasm or aspiration makes up for good strategic thinking.

I am currently developing two big platforms for promoting music. To my amazement a few of the artists I have invited ave been incredibly slow in responding (its free publicity) or in one case rearranged meets 3 time! My biggest pet hate is doing a bucket of work and then asking for feedback or a date to meet to discuss and hearing NOTHING! I appreciate that many folks consider themselves “busy” but I suspect their idea of busy may well be different to mine, but then I did work in a marketing sector for 14 years where you lived or died by meeting strict deadlines and we often worked 7 – 6pm with virtually no breaks!

Ok, without sounding like some ranting old fella, these days its mostly a 2 strikes policy and then move on as I only have a certain amount of time available. If someone is busy and they send a note “Let me get back to you” that’s fine because at least we have some communication in play.

Conclusion

There’s no magic wand to balance time and money investments in music. I’m regularly evaluating “risk v reward” in terms of my own projects. Sometimes as my old mentor would say “That dog ain’t never gonna hunt” about a particular project. What I have learned to date is to gather together the best creative team and work with like minds. The same goes for working with musicians. Finding talented and reliable people is often tough and its useful to cut loose anyone who is not a good fit either musically or business wise.

Managing time is essential and this means working long hours, but also working smart and not spending time on activities that don’t return a creative or financial return. Its not just about money, but any artist that takes their eye of the ball financially is at some point going to have a major problem. The smartest individuals have diverse income streams and are constantly reviewing how they best spend their time. Its easy to be extremely busy, but unproductive. I love writing and recording music and do it mostly for the love of the experience. Its been a fascinating journey to date and has allowed me to meet many amazing people from all over the globe.