The tools are available to everyone. Worldwide distribution, digital recording capability, social media accounts to stay connected with fans…these all level the playing field as far as musicians who are trying to record, release, and distribute their music. So, why isn’t every musician successfully living the dream of being a full-time musician and having their music support them?
Creativity. While the tools have made it easier than ever for musicians to succeed, it has also made it easier than ever for musicians to be lazy. You no longer have to work for a record deal to make a recording; you just make it at home. You no longer have to hunt for a distribution deal, you’ve got worldwide distribution available (in any format), available just a click away. It is possible now for any artist to put the least amount of effort ever into writing, recording, and releasing a record, and that’s the part that can make us lazy. There’s no producer breathing down our neck to say, “You can play that part better” or “That phrasing on that line you sung was weak – do it again,” we just do it until we feel like we don’t want to anymore. There’s no engineer telling us that the EQ in our mix is unbalanced or that a bass track is over compressed. There’s no accounting department telling you that ordering 5000 vinyl records may not be the best investment for you; and there’s no marketing department telling you that your best market is in digital sales in the UK, not in Canada with vinyl.
I realize that some artists still work with record labels and some of those resources are still available to them, but for the majority of artists, you’re doing all those roles on your own. As daunting as that sounds, there is a huge creative opportunity there. What are you doing to create music that is unique and appealing? How are you practicing to make sure that you are mastering your instrument instead of just keeping the status quo? Who amongst your other musician friends are you running your lyrics/guitar tones/melodic choices/percussion sounds by? When do you set aside time to be inspired by other music/art/nature/beauty/faith/friendships/love? How do you search for opportunities to reach your fans above and beyond what other artists are currently doing?
All of these are huge opportunities to be creative. They all require time and hard work to do. The artists who leverage their creativity are the ones that we listen to each day because they’ve created something that no one else has. Let’s be those artists.
I got married almost six months ago to the day. Besides the absolute beauty and wonder of the wedding and the following months of marriage, there’s been an incredible amount of introspection and change that’s taken place in me (which, to an extent I was expecting, I just wasn’t sure exactly how it was going to unfold). It’s been an incredible journey thus far, and I can’t wait for the rest of it.
Of course, to say that life is compartmentalized and love doesn’t affect work, that work doesn’t affect hobbies, and that hobbies don’t affect love (and we could continue with examples), would be shortsighted and naïve. The last few months have given me an unexpected opportunity to reflect on where my music career has been, and where it’s going. Just as two people in a marriage will change over time and the dynamic of a marriage will look different, so will artistic visions and the environments that house those visions.
Just to make sure I don’t get too esoteric with this topic; I'm going to go through some takeaways that I had about the state of the music industry and the state of my own artistry. I will list them in a series of posts, over the next few weeks. The first, for me at least, is that national touring should probably wait...
National Touring Should Probably Wait – I spent the greater part of the last 7 years trying to play a live show in every corner of the United States. While I can look back on this as one of the most enjoyable times of my life, it made little sense in the way of developing a real listener base. I would do a two week tour in the Pacific Northwest through the major cities and a few of the smaller ones, and I wouldn't make it back up there for at least another year because I was trying to book shows throughout the rest of the country for the next 9 months. So I was essentially living on the road, and I was always trying to promote for my next tour of shows while I was on a tour already.
This remained difficult even when I had a booking agent that took over a large part of the booking process, because most of the new cities where I played, I was a completely unknown artist. As an unknown artist, I had no radio exposure, and no nationally syndicated press clippings, and my agent was not booking shows that were part of a bill with other bands/artists in the region, so very few people knew that I was playing in their city even if they would have liked to come to the show. I was limited to playing for the people who just happened to be in the venue during the time when I was playing.
Even social networking promotional value had declined greatly since I first started touring back in 2005. In the time of Myspace (remember that weird thing?), artists could contact unreached fans directly and invite them to concerts. It wasn't unusual at that time to show up to play a concert in a city where I had never played before and have a solid 50 fans come out. But with Facebook and Twitter being the primary social networks that have gained prominence, artists have little opportunity to contact unreached fans in a new city where they are playing because both networks don't feature that same kind of personal interaction with unreached fans.
So – where have all these observations led? 3 ideas:
- Play concerts in cities that are easy to come back to. This one seems like a no brainer, but it’s easy to get caught up in the excitement of traveling and playing every show that’s offered to you. If you play consistently in a city, and know that you can come back soon, you will almost inevitably build relationships with the fans in that city. As those relationships grow, they can lead to introductions to friends of those fans, places to stay in the city, introductions to other venues in the city, and the list of benefits goes on. I plan to play shows regionally throughout the major cities in the Southwest until they grow to the same size crowd I can draw in hometown.
- Go for quality over quantity. People like to be blown away. If they attend a concert by an artist a handful of time times, and each time they walk away with the response, “That was alright,” more than likely, they’re not going to be long-term fans. My planning for concerts has changed drastically, because rather than trying to hit people with as many shows as possible, I try to hit them with the best show possible. That’s not to say that if you have a quality concert prepared that you can’t play somewhere 3 or 4 times in a year, just make sure that each time the focus is the best effort you can put forward, and not a phoned-in, obligatory gig.
- Use finances wisely. Most independent artists have a limited amount of money. Actually, most artists on a label have a limited amount of money too. If an artist is going to spend thousands of dollars on a two-month long tour across America, he/she probably better make sure it’s going to provide some sort of return on the investment; either on growing a fan base, or providing new opportunities to play, or generating ticket and merchandise sales, etc. The easiest way to use your finances wisely is to ask the question, “If I’m going to spend money on this, what is the real benefit to my music career as a result?” Though it’s glorious to state that you’re going on a nationwide tour, it’s not that glorious to say that your van got repossessed two months after that tour was over because you’re broke.
Obviously, there’s much more to be said, but those were my big three takeaways from touring. Thanks for reading, and tune in next time for A New Beginning Part II.
As much as I would have loved to call this post “The Road to Butter” and talked about my usual holiday eating habits; I figured it’d be more worthwhile to talk about the ever-increasing standard in music, and really, most everything that is business/education/customer service related.
In truth, if you find that you most commonly play the role of the consumer in any sort of transaction with artists, musicians, photographers, cell phone carriers, cable companies – your expectation for outstanding customer service is probably very high. For transactions involving more “creative” or “artistic” products, not only is the expectation of the customer service of the vendor high, the expectation of the quality and value of the product is extremely high as well…maybe as high as it’s ever been.
This is a great thing if you’re the consumer. Expectations are as high as they are right now (at least, a primary reason), because everyone can communicate so easily and so quickly about their experiences with a product or a service. If an artist puts out an incredible record; your friends and other sources of information can let you know about it almost instantaneously after they post or deliver their review. Similarly, if an artist puts out a record that doesn’t meet their fans’ expectations or is even considered “self-indulgent tripe,” that evaluation gets out and around just as quickly.
So what is the cure for this if you’re an artist? There is certainly no way to block the comments and opinions of your listeners to getting around to other people, so the cure must be…you must create the best product possible, and deliver it in the best way possible.
That may not be as encouraging to you if you’re an artist, but it should be. If your art (product) is something that genuinely affects people; they’re going to feel motivated to let others know about it. You may have to ask them at times to let others know, but the word will get out if it is supposed to.
The incredible encouragement to artists is - people really aren’t satisfied with “pretty good” or “nice” anymore, so you are free to create something truly great. They want something that is undeniable, because their expectations are high. While it is a long road if you want to put out the next “Rockin’ the Suburbs” by Ben Folds (please check it out if you’ve never heard it – one of my favorite records out there), it will be worth it all in the end because it will be undeniable.
So artists – don’t settle for “good enough.” Even if it takes you twice as long as you think it should; make something great.
And fans – please be understanding when artists are working their hardest (and, if they are not, please let them know kindlyJ). I think we’ll all be better for it.
This has been an incredible season of life for me. After releasing my third full-length studio record in September and getting married a month later; it's been an amazing ride, but needless to say, it's been busy.
First of all, thank you all so much for the support in the funding and releasing of History - it has been my most successful debut of a record that I've ever had! The sales and reviews (and overall reception of the record) attests to that, and I can't say thank you enough.
That being said, I want to make sure History is heard by as many people as possible. So...here's where you come in.
If you are willing to share History with 5 people (that is, tell them about the record either through email, text, Facebook - however you actually communicate with each of the 5 people), I will gladly send you a download code so that you can get my latest record, History, for free. I'll give you a template of a message to send each person, and you can modify it how you want to suit each friend you are sending it to.
I'm doing this because you guys are the greatest resource to my music career; without you all, I certainly would not be where I am today. So, when you think of the 5 people that you would like to tell about this record, hopefully they are music fans like you and would genuinely be interested in hearing and supporting an artist they may not have heard before.
So here are the steps to help, and then get your free download of History:
1. Think of 5 people (or more, if you think more would like to hear about it!) that would like to be introduced to new music from a new artist.
2. Email, text, or Facebook message those five people an email like this (you can feel free to modify it to suit your voice, but this is the basic information to provide):
Dear (person's name),
This isn't a marketing blast or a ploy - I'm writing a personal message to you to let you know about a musician that I follow and support. His name is The Real Matt Jones, and he just released a new record called History that charted #16 on the Amazon.com Singer/Songwriter charts, and has received critical acclaim so far.
I want to recommend his music to you because I know you're a music fan, and I know you like to hear about quality new music. You can hear music (and buy it) here:
I’m going to let him know that I contacted you regarding his music, so that he can keep track of who is being exposed to his new record and where, and he’s actually giving me a free copy of his record to help him get the word out!
Thanks, and hope you enjoy it!
3. After you send the message to those people, email firstname.lastname@example.org with their names, email/facebook info/phone number (whichever one of those means you used to contact them), and zip codes so I can keep track of who is hearing about the record and where.
4. You’ll get an email back from me with a download code for History
Sound easy enough? Let me know if you have any questions, you can email me at email@example.com
Thank you all incredibly again and I hope you and your friends and family will enjoy History!
The record that has been 4 years in the making is finally out! It has been a wild time to get all of these songs written, refined, recorded, and released, but the day has come. This record has been a trial of endurance, but it's also been a mark of a thriving new-world-style music community where the entire production of this record was paid for by fans through a crowdfunding site called Indiegogo.com.
I'm eager to share more of how this record came about and the stories behind it in the weeks to come, but in the meantime - let's make sure you get a copy and listen to it first! Here are the major places to get History:
iTunes - Click Here
Amazon Mp3 (only $5.99!!) - Click Here
Physical Copy of the CD - Click Here
The record is also on streaming services like Spotify and Rhapsody, so I hope you all get a chance to check it out, and I hope it affects you in some way - as all art should.
Thank you to everyone, and I look forward to hearing about what you think of History!