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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Keep your campaign page updated regularly – fresh content keeps it interesting and demonstrates that you care about those who back you.
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.
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.
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.
I was in discussions with a music professional recently about up and coming artists and building a body of musical work. He remarked that sometimes aspiring artists produce a very small amount of material and even though they may love the end results, they fail to appreciate that music companies seek out a body of work. “A body of work” means more than an EP of tracks of course!
He quoted a very well known indie band from 1990s and the fact that they only started to get notice after three albums. Similarly I have followed artists who also only began to become recognised after writing and recording a significant number of songs. In an era where there are individual songs as opposed to albums, often building a body of musical work gets ignored.
The Use of Social Media & Internet
Whether we like it or not, social media is here to stay and any serious artist needs to pay attention to having a presence online. Its no good having an ignored FB page and not bothering with a website. If you want to reach a wider audience, the minimum you need is a functioning website, a Twitter account, a FB page, a YouTube channel and an Instagram account. This is the minimum in ensuring that your body of musical work is available to a wider audience. Its also a good idea to blog so people get a sense of who you are. This means some time commitment and those who say “I don’t have time for all that” are respectfully missing the point.
Favourite Artists that have inspired me
Many of my favorite artists have had a work ethics that has driven them to create a hugely diverse body of music work that both inspires and frustrates. Such artists include Tom Waits, Neil Young, Bob Dylan, Bruce Springsteen and Nick Cave. All these artists have at times delighted, and mystified me, but also make me groan at what I am listening to. I’ve never really embraced Tom Waits “Black Rider” or Neil Young’s “Trans Am” but I can forgive them after regularly listening to “Small Change” and “On the Beech”
Building a musical body of work means taking a risk and having a strong work ethic. Knocking out a few tracks is not just going to cut it. I don’t by any means consider myself as a music professional, but I am pleased to have written and recorded 40 original songs to date across 2 bands and have at least another half dozen songs ready to record in the near future. Its a fascinating process and a massive education, at times hugely inspiring and sometimes massively frustrating. I wouldn’t have it any other way!
“When you’re writing, you’re conjuring. It’s a ritual, and you need to be brave and respectful and sometimes get out of the way of whatever it is that you’re inviting into the room”. Tom Waits
I was talking to a producer recently who was lamenting about how music students were taught at music college. His main complaint was that students were given an unrealistic set of expectations when they left studies and were in “the real world” This was around what they were talk technically in terms of recording as well as giving students unrealistic expectations of a career in music!
My own experiences on talking to a wide range of artists about the music business is that many aspiring musicians dream of getting managed, signed to launch a career, nit really appreciating that its not as simple as that. Often record company executives want to package artists to ensure they get a return on their investment. As I have often said “the music business” is like any other business and there are no short cuts to making a reasonable living.
I know one major international artist whose band signed to Sire because they had some of his favorite artists on their roster. Later he realised that the record executives tended to “collect bands” and his band found themselves stuck in a contract where they had very little creative freedom. When the contract expired, the band self financed a live album and this allowed them to explore new options. They are now doing superbly well, but its taken decades to get to this point. Many artists that get “signed” end up with massive debts as well as a serious reality check when trying to earn a living exclusively from music. Personally I can’t imagine anything worse than working for a record company, but that’s just a personal view.
Platforms like Drooble are full of naive aspiring musicians all believing they are “gonna make it” without realizing that in the real world, there’s a need for a great deal of work and knowing “the right people”
Time to plan and Strategize?
My own experience if music promotions is that to generate interest you need to invest a substantial amount of time to make this happen. That said, allocating time alone is not enough, you need a smart plan. This means seeking out good information and talking to other musicians who have invaluable experience in this aspect. Many people imagine that enthusiasm alone is enough, but like any promotion you need investment of time and money as well as a smart creative team.
In this internet era there are all manner of crazy online promises made to aspiring artists and most are quite frankly a total scam. Fortunately there are also some good resources like 60 second marketing which give simple clear advice.
As they say in show business, “It takes ten years to become an overnight success. The reality is that each person’s idea of success will vary massively. Personally my own interest is in building a catalog of great songs and working with like minds. Bands come and go, and as my producer often says “Its all about the songs” There’s no shortcut despite all the copy online about pluggers and publicists. That said, I love music and value every moment I am involved in writing, recording and playing live.
Part one of this article looked at what I would call basic commonsense business aspects of running any kind of musical project. That said, as an old boss of mine used to say “Commonsense ain’t so common”
Ultimately whether you are an artist, platform host or running a record business, unless you can fund the time involved, all the enthusiasm in the world is never going to ensure long term viability. Musicians and artists are well known for often (not always) having a pretty naive view of “the music business” which follows the rules of any other business. This is also true for signing to a record label. The record label will invest in the artist, but like any investor, understandably wants a return on their investment.
One of the smartest minds I have come across talking about such matters is Robert Fripp, who I have been following for 47 years. He talks about the reality of being a professional musician as opposed to a hobbyist, where music is not your primary source of income –
“I recommend my students not to be professional unless they really have to be. I tell them, ‘If you love music, sell Hoovers or be a plumber. Do something useful with your life.’ Robert Fripp
My own discussions with professional musicians (most of who are never on social media as they are working to maintain a living) reveal that earning a living from music is a huge amount of work and few people achieve the heights they aspire to. Personally I fund all such musical activities from other work so I am not beholding to anyone. I pay all band members for rehearsal and gig time from my own pocket and out of respect for them as performers.
Social media presents a very distorted picture of what its like to earn a living from musical activities. Many music based platforms are trying to sell all manner of services and in many (not all instances) these are not affordable to many musicians who have to think very carefully about how they spend money. Ad copy like “expand your career” always amuses me as in most (not all) cases the advertiser is trying to present a magic solution which is unlikely to translate into real life opportunities.
I’m working on building a music platform at present to be revealed later this year and its been fascinating. In looking at existing platforms there are some good ideas, but also some delusional thinking where people imagine have not thought through what they are aiming for and have now really tested the audience demographic to see what is achievable in the real world outside the mutual appreciation on social media.
There has never been a better time to reach a wider audience for musicians, but this requires constant reflection and refinement and not believing everything you read or hear! Ultimately I wish every artist well and am mindful of an old Eastern saying –
I was recently involved in a discussion about whether social media platforms should be advert free. The owners decided on a policy that they would only have their own banner ads and none from third parties. Don’t get me wrong I LOVE the sentiment, but there is good reason why business concerns seek predictable income from third party concerns to maintain financial viability…
Every business owner has the absolute to run their business as they see fit, but sometimes in a world where everything is describe.d as “awesome” there can be some optimistic thinking that doesn’t translate into good business practice. I worked in sales, recruitment and marketing for 15 years and in that time set up and ran two multi million pound concerns. In my early days as a manager I was shocked to receive my first spread sheet detailing profit and loss. I had no idea how much predictable income was needed just to keep a business viable. Often artists fail to see “the elusive obvious” when making business decisions and this can create all manner of unexpected problems.
These days in my other non music life I teach communication and business strategy internationally across Asia, USA and Europe.I don’t claim to have all the answers, but there are key pieces of advice I give any business owner.
Here are a few considerations
Listen to your customers, even when they challenge your personal vision of how the business should unfold
Don’t grow too fast, hyperactive expansion is the death of many concerns
Make sure the fundamentals of the business are stable and working – there’s nothing worse that offering services that are not reliable
Don’t insult your customers – pretty obvious but one music distribution service was terrible for this, so I moved 100% to CD Baby who have been great
There’s an old Japanese proverb “No one of us is smarter than ALL of us” This means paying attention to the detail of any business and looking at why established and successful models work so well. Its easy to insult concerns like YouTube and FB and yes they have their issues BUT they have a growing global customer base and continue to balance idealism and commercial reality. Smart business owners look at what works in the wider world and pay attention to detail in their own concerns while surrounding themselves with smart brains
I have just started working on the promotion for the Caravan of Dreams debut album and this is proving to be a big learning curve. The reason for this is that “the music business” is changing at some rate and this means having to adapt and course correct all marketing and strategic thinking
I’m lucky to come from a background in communication and marketing, so I have some skills, BUT the “music business” is a strange beast and is changing all the time. Its very clear to me that its perfectly possible to burn money on publicists and PR if you are not careful and that there is no “magic bullet” that will catapult any artist to mass success. Of course shows like X Factor and Britain’s Got Talent present the illusion of massive fame, but I have heard from very reliable sources that there is a lot of (I’m being polite here “crafting of artists” and what is presented to the public is essentially a carefully prepared image where “image” trumps music in every instance.
For original artists writing their own material and looking to reach a wider audience there are IMO absolute basics that need to be in place for even the most remote chance of reaching a wider audience. In my view attention to detail and quality control are crucial. I was amused to read on one music social media platform, endless artists boast about how they never spent any money on music production and that such help was not needed. I appreciate that everyone has budgets, but its obvious to me that working with a professional with decades of recording experience is going to produce a better sonic result that trying to do that aspect myself.
Its clear to me that as well as really taking time to craft songs, its equally important to have a multi layered delivery system to connect to a wider public.
The absolute minimum means having the following in place
A professional website with great visuals, blog and regular content
Sound cloud presence
These are IMO the absolute basics and interestingly when I invested in a PR promotion from a distribution company, they insisted on FB, YouTube, Instagram, Twitter and sound cloud as a condition of applying.
I have also realised that the internet is essentially a visual medium, and its smart to invest in great photos, to attract attention. Many people really don’t get this and look to save money which IMO is a big mistake.
Prepare for some major work
I have realised that “the music business” like any other business requires a great deal of strategic thinking and building relationships. I recently attended an evening where industry professionals talked about what was essential in artist promotion and publicity. They stressed the importance of networking and didn’t think much of “professional pluggers” I surprised that it looked like I was the only person to audio record the event and one of the few people to ask as series of questions and to take up the offer to talk 1 to 1 afterwards which proved very useful. After all there is no substitute for experience and over the years conversations with professional musicians have proved to be invaluable and saved me a huge amount of time and money. I’m grateful to know a number of top class successful artists who have been very generous with their time.
Working on promotion means some major work and crucially sustained work. Its a careful balance of keeping an online presence that engages people and not flooding the internet with material. Often “less is more” and its better to pay attention to quality rather than volume.
With my first band “The Small Change Diaries” we initially looked at the ukulele market for an audience. I quickly realised after a few festival appearances that this was mostly not an audience that wants to listen to music. I’ve blogged about this many times, so won’t elaborate further on this aspect…
With “The Caravan of Dreams” we are far more diverse musically and I am investing a great deal more time in recording and musical promotion. This means a ton of work behind the scenes across many platforms. Other artists who have made any kind of impact tell the exact same story and “The BIG project” “Music for The Head and Heart” brings together all such artists who are more interested in promoting the love of music. Working with like minds is essential and I’m keen to promote mutual support. I am happy to share business awareness, do video and photographs as well as sharing other creative resources with appreciative artists who have a shared vision.
I’ve never been busier working on musical projects and have to work pretty hard to fund all of this from other work. To date I have avoided kickstarter style initiatives and I have seen some car crash scenarios where artists create a terrible reputation by failing to deliver after seeking thousands of dollars to fund their own recording time. There have also been major problems with Pledge Music in recent times which have been well documented in the media. Ultimately I prefer to literally put my money where my mouth is and fund everything independently.
I’m pay all band members for rehearsal and gig time as well as employing professionals for music production, photography and IT support. This leaves me to focus on what I do best. Its an ongoing balancing act, but quite a trip and a massive amount of fun. As I said in the title of this piece, its “unglamarous” as well as a constant learning curve, but despite the massive amount of work, I do really love it.
I’m a massive music fan and music collector. I also run two bands which play original material. Over the last five years I have had the pleasure of talking to any artists at all levels which has led me to many observations about the changing music industry.
There has never been a time when its possible to connect to the wider musical audience. This is both good and bad news. the good news is that there is an abundance of music out there. The bad news is that there is an abundance of music out there. Platforms like Spotify give the wider public massive access to a variety of music, and many people I know use this medium rather than buy music. Personally, I have always been a fan of buying physical products and own numerous box sets as well as high-resolution audio files.
My view is that if independent artists want to connect to a wider public, creating great music is unfortunately not enough these days. Many of the public will expect a social media presence and a web presence. Ignoring working on these elements is a real mistake if you want to reach a wider audience. I know a number of excellent artists that set up FB and YouTube accounts, only to quickly lose attention for maintaining momentum. One video or a few posts IMO is not going to cut it. Smart artists realize the importance of “working on the back end” which involves ongoing work and great attention to detail. Of course in days gone by a record company would employ people to do all this marketing work as the company would seek a return on their “investment” aka “the artist” These days independent artists mostly have to this themselves. Yes its possible to hire a publicist, but experiences can be variable and one artist I spoke to commented on how its possible to literally burn money by going down this route and with little useful end results.
Many artists start off with great intentions with blogs, audio clips, BUT don’t maintain a consistent presence in updating sites and social media. This requires an investment of time and money. I was amazed when my producer commented that many artists won’t pay for the professional version of Bandcamp and/or invest in professional photos. “They just want the cheapest option” he commented. The financial price may be cheap, BUT the cost may be a lot. “The price” is what you pay today, the cost is what you pay over a period of time and smart artists invest in long term longevity.
In terms of websites an essential book is “Don’t make me think” by Steve Krug. Krug’s book wonderfully describes “the elusive obvious” in maintaining a strong web presence that connects with customers. Many artists don’t appreciate the importance of using great photos and good video. As the old saying goes
“You never get a second chance to make a first impression”
Ultimately creating great music is not enough these days if you want to connect to a wider audience. Ultimately its for each artist to experiment and find out what works best. In my first band “The Small Change Diaries” we had 50% of our first album played on BBC Introducing. To my surprise this made absolutely no difference to site traffic, social media traffic or product sales, ZERO effect! I’m of the view that in many cases local radio these days does little to generate audience reach, but I am happy to hear opposing arguments.
Ultimately if you want to promote anything including your music, this requires a great deal of stamina, strategic planning and a fair amount of investment in both time and money. This means IMO you have to love what you do…
I was talking to some musician friends recently about the changing dynamics in music circles and the increasing movement from “bands” to collaborations and projects. Personally, I’m a big fan of working with a variety of different musicians and working across a number of projects rather than a single band.
The Value of Collaborations
“I enjoy the collaboration. I always envied people in bands who got to have that interaction. I’ve done so many albums where I’ve been in the studio for 14 hours a day for six months just trying to come up with things on my own. It’s a nice change helping other people with their music and not being all about what I’m trying to do myself. “Beck
In past times a group of friends may get together, form a band and then go down the traditional route of recording, playing gigs etc. These days more artists are appreciating the value of working in a number of projects and networking with a variety of musicians. Many of my favourite artists work in this way including Bill Frissell, Steve Earle, Martin Simpson and others. Each artist will be the centre of the ensemble writing original material but will bring in other musicians for particular projects. I have been a longstanding admirer of Robert Fripp who famously has had many incarnations of King Crimson and wonderfully commented
My own experience is playing with a variety of artists is hugely useful in maintaining and developing creative skills. With The Caravan of Dreams, I deliberately called the project “Nick Cody and The Caravan of Dreams” as it allows great flexibility in who is playing in the live band and/or recording at any one time. I have learned to double up on musicians, rather than have to rely upon solely any one individual. Yes, there will be key players, but the ensemble can take many forms and express the material in different ways. We have two great percussionists Rich Ferdi (longstanding founder member of The Small Change Diaries) and Josh Smout. On violin, there is Laurent Zeller a superb international artist constantly playing around the world with many ensembles and Jed Bevington who is more local. This to me is a much more practical and dynamic way of working. Many band members will have their own careers, so this way of working allows fro far greater flexibility.
I am also currently exploring a trio option for some new material, which will be different to The Caravan of Dreams in instrumentation and dynamics. There can be a crossover between all these different groups as I have learned that diversification is really useful to maintain musical momentum. Its also essential to develop what I can “the back end” of being on top of social media, web presence and recording. People’s attention spans are really short and its key to build a body of work and keep an online presence. Gearing up for one song or album is not going to cut it, and this means ongoing blogging, networking and social media interaction. I’ve interviewed artists who have been totally focussed on creating one song or album, often in an insular manner. I fully get why some artists go down this route, but often it can be like “having your egg in one basket” Of course spreading yourself too thin by being involved in so many projects you lose focus on developing your own musical voice.
In 2019 the Music for The Head and Heart platform will bring new opportunities for many independent artists and collaborations will be more important than ever.