This interview with our Director of Artist Relations, Dave Cool, was conducted by Ivan David Amaya to support research for his dissertation on entrepreneurial careers in the music industry. Ivan is a musician in the band Opensight and recently received his MBA at Ealing, Hammersmith & West London College, University of Wales. Ivan interviewed Dave about his thoughts on building a career in the new music industry and we thought it might be helpful for other musicians to read the interview. Enjoy!
According to your views, how has the music industry changed especially for new acts coming to the market?
That’s a big question. With technology and the internet, the playing field has been levelled, so the cost of producing and recording music has come down considerably so that it’s accessible to every band. Plus, access to a global audience of fans through social media and websites is available to all artists, as well as distribution, so any artist can get music distributed to iTunes or Spotify or any other music service. So you can record your music, you can distribute your music, and you can market your music, all for a relatively cheap or next to nothing, which is great and which has definitively transformed the industry.
However, on the flipside of that, music fans now have access to an unlimited amount of music and an unlimited amount of bands because of social media, the internet and streaming services. It’s great that there is a levelled playing field and it gets everyone sort of an equal chance to try to build a sustainable career, however, marketing, promotion and sustaining fan interest has become the real challenge for new artists who don’t have any history on record labels in the past.
According to those changes, how do you see musicians demonstrating greater entrepreneurship?
Yeah, it has forced artists to become more entrepreneurial. I’m sure for many they would rather focus on songwriting and their live show, but it has become necessary for artists to really take charge of some of the entrepreneurial aspects of their career, until it comes to the point where they can build a team. In the past, it was all about getting signed to a label, now it’s less necessary to be signed to a label, but the role of the manager, having a good agent and a publicist have become even more important. But at first all artists have to take it upon themselves to do it themselves and I think that’s a good thing because they can learn about all the aspects of the industry and how it works. So when they consider hiring people for their team, they know what they’re looking for, and they’re going to know those people are doing the job because they’ve done it already.
How do you know when to reach for outside help?
You can get young managers to help you out; you can get a friend to manage you initially. Professional managers who are making a living out of it, they will come to you. If you’re building enough of a buzz in your career, chances are the industry will take notice and somebody is going to try to work with you because they’re looking for people who already have a built in fanbase. I think a band needs to conquer their local market, and do some touring and maybe conquer a few other markets, get a good size mailing list and have some leverage in talking to managers and agents; be able to show them some real statistics of “well, we can draw this many people in this many markets and we have this many people on our mailing list, we have this many Facebook fans and Twitter followers, etc.” But again, initially you have to build that on your own.
What routes to market do musicians have nowadays? How do you market musicians in the present day?
At the root of it the artist needs to know what their story is, what their unique place is as an artist, and be able to express that through all the tools available to them. They need to have good branding; what image they want to project to their fans.
Once you have those two things as a base, your story and your branding, then you can extend that across to your website, which should be your primary hub on the internet. You own your website, you own your dotcom, you can control that, you own the experience; there aren’t tons of ads like on Youtube and Facebook. Your website is your hub, and your spokes are everything else: mailing list, Facebook, Twitter, Youtube, etc.
And you just put out content that relates to your personal career, to your story, actively engaging fans in a dialogue that is continuous. It used to be that bands would record an album, tour, then disappear for a year or two and then come back and do it all over again. You know, there’s a big battle right now for attention, you need to keep your fan’s attention, because they can go anywhere else at any time, so it’s about keeping an on-going dialogue, engaging with your fans; asking questions, responding to questions, responding to comments, etc.
So if everyone does that, how do you stand out?
That’s the big challenge. Nobody really has the answer because it’s different for every artist. That’s when an artist’s own unique story and creativity comes into play. Each artist needs to think about who they are, why they’re doing what they’re doing, what they want to accomplish, and start expressing that in unique and creative ways. It’s not going to happen overnight, or in a year, it’s probably not going to happen in three years, it might take five, maybe ten years of sustained work to really build a career. All the artists I know who make a full time living right now who I grew up with in my local scene worked harder than anybody with a day job I’ve ever met. They worked non stop, but they love what they do, so it doesn’t really feel like work.
Did these musicians you talk about have a job on the side apart from the musical project or venture?
Yeah, I think many artists have to keep a side job initially. And there’s nothing wrong with that. I know there’s a stigma around that and a lot of artists try to hide the fact that they have a side job, but everyone has to pay the bills, and there is no shame in having a side job. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that and I would never advise an artist to quit their job before their career is ready to sustain itself. You need to constantly reinvest in your career and sometimes having a side job really helps sustain an artist.
We’ve talked about technology routes. How relevant is the face to face approach to marketing?
I don’t think anything replaces direct contact. If I’m a fan of two artists and I have ten dollars to spend and one of the artists hides backstage and doesn’t interact with their fans, and the other artist comes to the merch table, talks to me, takes photos, signs autographs, remembers who I am from the last show… well, guess where my ten bucks is going to go? So that personal touch really helps an artist stand out.
On the industry side, it can be by attending music conferences, and shaking hands and getting to know people in the industry. You’d be amazed how much business gets done over a couple of drinks and a good meal and just talking about life and other things and the rest just kind of happens in the process. The age of social media and the internet has probably made direct contact even more important.
How do you define success? How can you quantify it?
Success really comes down to the individual, it comes down to each artist, what do they want to achieve with their career? Do they want to become a famous star? Do they want to make a living from their music? There are so many paths to take, and this is an assumption, but I think most artists want to be able to play music and earn enough of an income to not have to worry about working a day job, and I think that’s a good goal to have. I would consider any artist who is able to do that as a success.
On the flipside, if your goal is playing music as a hobby and you can make a bit of money on the side as extra income and that’s ok with you, then that’s also success. It comes down to what you want and I would never call an artist unsuccessful based on anything on my part, I would have to know what their personal goals are, and if they feel they are successful in their career, great; if they’re striving for more, that’s great too. It really comes down to each individual artist.
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