What do you have to offer?

I apologize, it’s been awhile since I’ve posted. I’ve been doing a lot of learning this year and needed some time to process information.

This year has been a fabulous one, and I’ve met a lot of talented and creative people, both musicians and music industry folks alike. The music industry has changed a lot in the past decade or so, and it continues to change as technology grows. And there are many good and bad things about this.

I will try not to bore you with the details, but in a nut shell, music has become more accessible to the general public, which means there is less money in the industry, which means there are less opportunities for musicians. Labels no longer grow artists while under their label. They won’t take the time (or money) to sign someone until they’ve done all the hard work on their own. Until they have a following, sell out venues, are touring regularly, etc. Same thing with management, publishing companies and booking agencies.

The good thing is that this has set in motion the need for musicians to be more self sufficient. I’m currently not signed to a booking agency, and, thus, I’m fully aware of how difficult it is to book shows and go on tour. So when I eventually do sign with an agency, I will 100% understand the blood, sweat and tears that goes into their job.

The other side of this lack of opportunities for lower level musicians has created a window of opportunity for new, lower level industry positions. These are the people who have some knowledge of the industry and offer to help artists for a “small” fee. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing. There is a lot to know about the music business and it’s nice to know that there are people willing to work with us “little people”. However, as I’m sure you can expect, it also opens the door for lots of people giving musicians false hope. They see hungry, starving artists who just want to be heard, and they go in for the kill. Now of course this isn’t a new concept. There were plenty of corrupt label executives back in the day as well. But it got me thinking…

DIY musicians have the mind-frame that they are pinning to be noticed. If they could just play for the right person, or get more streams on Spotify, or play to a bigger audience they’d finally break through. We’ll almost do anything – and pay anything – just to be heard. There are so many musicians out there working for the same spot on the radio, that we’ll bend over backwards for the smallest opportunity. The funny thing is, there would be no industry without us. There would be no radio without new music; no audience without musicians. No labels. No ticket sales. No booking agencies. Nothing. Why are we musicians trying so hard to please the industry, when there wouldn’t be an industry in the first place without us?

Now there are a lot of us musicians. That may be one reason. And there are many of us who still have a lot to learn before we’re ready to sell out a theater. Many of us still need to work on our songwriting, stage presence, our brand or our marketing skills. Many of us haven’t quite “cooked” long enough yet, and there’s nothing wrong with that. But once we master the art of booking. Once we write a song that fits our brand. Once we figure out how to keep an audience engaged for a full set. Once we figure out how to release an album without going into debt. Once we’ve figured out all that, shouldn’t the industry be trying to prove themselves to us? Not the other way around? After all, they wouldn’t have a job without us? Just saying…

The mind-frame of wanting to go on American Idol and become the next big thing immediately has gotten DIY musicians so hungry, that we’re willing to pay thousands of dollars to just about anyone, for the smallest opportunity. But the reality is that, with the exception of a small few, there is no quick fix. It’s about sleepless nights and perseverance. It’s about getting so good at marketing, that when an agency finally makes an offer to you, you won’t feel like you need them anymore. They need you.

So ask yourself – and be really honest – do you know how to book a tour? Can you write a hit song? Have you played shows where strangers are singing along with your songs? Do you know how to market your brand? Have you built relationships with radio stations and blogs? If no, then keep working because you’ll get there. If yes, then keep up the badass work. Because there would be no music industry without musicians. And to every DIY musician out there, know your value and don’t ever forget it. Good things come to those who work for it.

 

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Just Keep Going

A couple weeks ago I wrote a post about faith. How you have to have it in order to have the guts to chase after your dreams. Now lets discuss what it feels like when that faith decides to take a vacation.

A couple weeks ago I wrote a post about faith. How you have to have it in order to have the guts to chase after your dreams. Now lets discuss what it feels like when that faith decides to take a vacation.

So I’m sitting at a friends show starting to write this post – thats right, I’m doing both. I’m a girl and I multitask. Also their on break…I’m not that much of an ass.

So I’m here. And the music is great. The players are amazing. The band is completely in sync. The bar is dope….And no one is here.

Well there’s a couple people here. But not as many as there should be, talent-wise. They’re not letting it phase them like the pros that they are. But it means that they’ll probably walk out of here having made tens of dollars. If that.

Now imagine playing show, after show, after show like that. Then imagine being a solo artist playing show after show like that, while having to pay the musicians you hire. Then imagine being a solo artist, playing show after show like that, while having to pay musicians, while on tour…Now I’m not saying I’m as talented as that band. Or that just because musicians put on great shows that they deserve to have a good crowd. The world doesn’t owe us anything. What I am saying is that when you put your heart and soul into something you love and find out that very few are paying attention and that you’re losing money while doing it…it can be defeating.

When I first moved to Nashville earlier this year I was told by a very smart friend that in the music industry you play a game called “15 minutes of doubt.” At the time I nodded my head and chuckled. I had just moved and was feeling great about life and my decisions. I’m very familiar with doubt though and agreed that that was an accurate depiction of the industry. I even messaged him a few months later to see how he was and explained to him that I just went through my 15th minute and had a moment of doubt. We had a good laugh.

Now fast forward to today. I’ve been sitting on this post, wanting to discuss this topic and feeling stuck. I just got off a week-long tour that was amazing in a lot of ways, and frustrating in a lot of others. The summation of the tour is that tours are expensive and difficult to advertise to new people in new towns. It cost me so much money that I’m not sure I have enough to go into he studio again, which is scheduled in a couple months. And so much money I’m not sure how we’re going to find the money to tour and promote this next release. So much money that this 15 minutes of doubt has lasted several days now, which is the longest I’ve ever experienced.

I guess it makes you stronger to have that little voice in your head constantly asking, “Will this ever amount to anything?” “What makes you so special?” “Why even try?”. It makes you stronger to fight against that voice and overcome it for 14 minutes at a time. The day after I came back off the road I sat down and crunched the numbers on cost/profit of the tour. I knew the tour was going to be expensive but had no idea that it would be that bad. I literally sat down on the floor of my room and bawled. Like a child. I sat there in my tears and snot and felt sorry for myself for a good chunk of time, giving into that little voice. “Will I ever amount to anything? Is it too late for me?”  I finally took a deep breath and stopped crying. Not because I felt better but because I was dehydrated and literally had no more tears. I looked up and my eyes caught a picture on the wall. It’s a picture of a paragraph blown up to font 30 or so. Every word is crossed out though. Every word except,

Just keep going.

I sighed. I didn’t want to. That little voice was still screaming in my head, “You’re never going to amount to anything!” It wasn’t an aha moment were suddenly I found faith and hope again. It was a moment where I made a decision. Despite all odds. I will just keep going.

In a fairy tale the story would end here. Happily ever after. In reality, since coming back off the road I haven’t shaken this 15th minute of doubt yet. Everyday has been a decision. I wanted to share this not because it’s a profound story or realization. But because I think everyone has these moments. 15 minutes of doubt is what everyone has to battle with while pursuing their dreams. So just know that you’re not alone. Next time that 15th minute rolls around, let yourself wallow in it, take a deep breath and get up and just keep going.

 

Touring and such

I don’t really have a point to this blog post. I really just wanted to take some time to reflect on touring.

I just moved to Nashville a couple months ago, and despite the fact that I’m still not a 100% full time musician, I made the move specifically so I could have more time to devote to music. And especially more time to go on the road.

I just got back from a short tour (5 days) – which I struggle to even call a tour. I wonder what the minimum amount of shows a tour needs to have to, indeed, call it a tour….Anyway, I went on the road for a few days. 4 of the 5 shows were solo and then I played one show with my old crew. Despite the fact that this run was short, it was the longest I’ve been on the road so far, and let me tell you, you literally feel all the feels when it comes to touring.

I’ve always wanted to be a touring musician, ever since I was a little girl singing around the house. And although I still feel like a rockstar when I’m on the road, there are a s*** ton of things that you never thought of that come attached with touring. Especially when you’re just starting off.

First off, you won’t make money on a tour. If you break even, you’re lucky. If you make a profit then you should just go ahead and call yourself Taylor Swift. Touring is expensive, especially when touring with a full band. Expenses may or many not include a U-Haul rental (for those of us who haven’t gotten ourselves a van or trailer yet…which also costs money), gas money, food money, you have to pay your band every show (which is a set payment for me – even if I don’t make any money from the venue), then you have to pay for a place to sleep every night. Not to mention any money you’ve spent on advertising for the shows. There are a lot of costs and when you’re just starting off and building relationships with venues, you won’t often get a guaranteed amount of money. And why would you? It’s a business and they’re also just trying to break even. If you can’t promise to put butts in seats, why would they promise to pay you. You’re in this together.

Tours also take a lot of time to organize. I’m still booking and managing my own band, so I invest a great deal of time into the band. We’re going on a week long tour in 2 weeks and I’ve spent 6 months booking this (which is actually a short amount of time in comparison to most). This included mapping out our route, contacting 20-30 venues in each city (several times each), working out the details with each venue, contacting bands to open for us and help draw people, booking places for us to stay, reserving a trailer, hiring musicians and teaching them the material and, most importantly, advertising.

This is a big part of touring, and one that wasn’t obvious when I first started out. I mentioned above that this is a business, and when you’re trying to break into a new market and city, you don’t have a following yet and you can’t guarantee that you’ll make much money. This is where advertising comes in. When I first started I had the dumb assumption that people will just know. People will just automatically like my music, or know I’m playing a show and immediately become a fan. I was such an idiot. You have to reach out to radio shows, TV stations, magazines, news papers, blogs, etc. and tell them about your show and why they should be interested in it. Similar to venues, this requires reaching out to lots and lots of media and only hearing back from a small handful, if that. But if you want people to come to your show, you have to get creative with how to tell them about it. Again, it’s a business. If you want fans, you have to give them a reason to become a fan. What are they getting out of this?

I’ve found that touring can be draining and exhilarating when it comes to the people as well. If you’re touring on your own, you’re alone a lot of the time. You drive from one venue to the next, which takes half the day, but what do you do with the rest? If you’re with a band, you’re with people all the time. Then you’re constantly meeting and working with new people. New fans, new venues, new hotels. New everything. And as much as I love people, this can also be draining.

Ok, deep breath. It gets better.

One thing that I’ve found that has been a huge help is couch surfing. It can be tough sometimes to find a person willing to let an entire band crash with them for the night. And honestly, this doesn’t always provide the best place to sleep, but I honestly don’t think I could afford to tour without it. And so far, most people that open their house up to couch surfers are very kind, warm and eclectic people. So far it’s been a great resource.

Touring, also, allows you to see so many new places! Granted, you might not have much time in each city, but traveling is fun, and traveling with a purpose is even better.

And honestly, the best thing – obviously – about touring is sharing your music with people. And new people. The whole point of touring is to get your name out into the world and share your craft. And I can’t think of a better experience than sharing what I love with others. The whole reason I became a musician was because I want to make people feel something. I feel so much when I sing and I want others to feel that too. And when you tour you get the chance to make new people feel every single night. It’s amazing.

There was one moment on this last trip that stuck out. A stranger came up to me and shared that my first album got her through so many tough times in life. That one particular song about following your dreams always gave her the strength to carry on. She practically had tears in her eyes when she asked when I’d be releasing another album. It was a moment I’ll never forget.

This wasn’t a moment of sharing my music with a new person, but a moment of realizing that all of this isn’t for nothing. You contact so many venues, so many radio stations, play in so many different cities, spend so much money and time, and you question, every single day, if it’s worth it. And then you’re reminded that it is.

I really loved this tour, despite the fast that I was on my own and it was a roller coaster for many reasons (most of which I didn’t touch on). But I loved it and I’m excited for the next. So I’ll see you all on the road.

Up To The Mountain

 

Faith

Don’t worry, this isn’t a religious post. Spiritual, maybe. But there will be no preaching in this post.

I’ve been at the lake for a week now with my family – I know, you can hate me a bit. I will be jealous of myself as soon as I head home, re-enter the real world and think back to this glorious week of relaxation. But while on vacation, every night my family watches a movie. Cause we’re on vacation and we do what we want.

One night we watched the old (ish) movie called “Contact”. The one with Jodie Foster and Matthew McConaughey where Jodie finds proof of extraterrestrial intelligence. And at one point in the movie Jodie is on trial to determine whether or not she’s a good candidate to be one of the first people to go on this mission and communicate with these aliens. The viewers are all rooting for Jodie because the writers did a swell job of sharing her back story about how she’s been focused on finding proof of life in the universe ever since her Dad passed. This court scene is stressful for us because she’s the underdog in a courthouse full of politicians and scientists with less interesting back stories. Then, suddenly, Matthew throws a curve-ball and asks if she feels like she is a person of faith. Stumbling and struggling to understand the relevance, she and the court eventually decide that she does not, and, thus, is not a good fit for the journey. Hearts sink.

Still unsure of the relevance of that question, later in the movie (spoiler alert) she finally ends up getting the opportunity to take this trip to try and communicate with aliens. Long story short, she ends up having an extra terrestrial, existential experience that cannot be explained by modern science. And when it comes down to it, she concludes that the world – as well as herself – just has to have faith that what she is describing is true.

Despite my poor depiction of this great movie, it got me thinking. She had such conviction throughout the entire movie that she believed we weren’t alone in the universe. This belief was the backbone to every decision she made, even when the government attempted to pull her funding because there was no proof of such. They felt like her research was a waste of money, time and effort – and yet she fought. I think most people can relate that when faced with doubt, it’s easy to start questioning ourselves, our motives, our pursuits. Even our beliefs. If one person doubts us…well they could be right…

So jumping to why this crazy alien movie got me thinking. As I watched Jodie fight, I couldn’t help but relate. I don’t know about you, but I get criticism on almost a daily basis. “Stop over-singing.” “Enunciate more.” “Stop sucking at the guitar.” “Use more eye contact with your audience.” “Use less eye contact with your audience.” “Learn how to be a leader, not just a boss.” Etcetera, etcetera, etcetera…Honestly, after all that criticism, why keep going? There’s no logic behind it. No guarantee you’ll reach your goals. No proof that you’re even doing the right thing. And yet…we keep pushing one. We still have faith.

Every creative person has built a career on faith and belief – whether or not you realize it. You have faith that what you’re creating will add to society. You have faith that people will pay attention. You have faith that you can make your passion into a career. Faith that you’ll be able to afford insurance through that career. Pay bills with that career. And more importantly, you have faith that every naysayer is wrong about you. Faith that credibility is just around the corner. Faith that maybe the masses will be at your next show. Faith that your next release might finally allow you to pay that outstanding bill you’ve been putting off. Faith. You have faith that your blood, sweat and tears aren’t just gonna be pissed on at the end of the day. That it isn’t all for nothing.

Faith can be exhausting. Faith can be exhilarating. It can be boisterous. And vain. Faith can be stubborn and frustrating. But without faith, what are we even doing? Or would we even be doing it?

Despite the fact that at the time, we hated Matthew for asking this of Jodie in “Contact”…he had a good point. “Do you have faith?”

Do you?

Whatever you’re driven toward. Do you have faith that you can – maybe even should – accomplish it? Do you believe that your passion is yours, despite all criticism? If you don’t, then keep looking…you haven’t found what drives you. Because as a person who is striving toward her dreams, all I know is it doesn’t have anything to do with choice, or logic, time or age, criticism or knowledge. What drives me is faith.

Deep down, somewhere, I believe that I have what it takes to record that gold record. To write that hit song. To sell out at The Ryman, two nights in a row. I believe I should be the one to gets that opportunity. There’s no reason behind this belief, but I have stubborn, un-relinquishing faith.

We’ll talk more in the future about keeping the faith. And about what dreams need in addition to faith. But first and foremost, everyone needs faith. So ask yourself…what do you have faith in?

So, as promised…here’s my latest video that I have faith will go viral…Up To The Mountain.

 

 

Not a girl, not yet a woman

Haha, ok first off, can anyone name who I just quoted with the title? Second off, sorry for the quote. But it applies, I promise.

We’ve chatted about several ways to be a DIY artist these days. I’ve actually been sitting at Starbucks all morning today, working on booking, etc., and am reminded of just how many resources there are out there. I’ll get started working on one thing, and it’ll lead me to 2 other resources. So I’ll pause and look into those, which leads me to 4 others. I’ve never been diagnosed with ADHD, but the online resources for musicians definitely makes me feel like I should be.

So backing up to earlier in the day. I originally came to this coffee shop not only to get work done without being distracted by my roommates adorable dog, but to also meet with a professional about a few projects I’m working on. Exciting right?! Sure, yes, it is exciting, but it’s also humbling in many ways.

As a DIY, independent musician, you work with a wide variety of people. Some professions who know the business and their place in it, and some…non-professionals. One second you could be booking a slot at a festival selling several thousand tickets. The talent buyer is asking for fancy sounding things such as a tech rider, your stage plot and is asking what you’d like in your dressing room. Then the next person you work with is a venue that hardly responds to your e-mails and calls, becomes elusive when you ask about money, their sound system, etc. and tell you that they will not help you promote the show.  These situations end up leaving me feeling unprofessional around the festival agent and overly anal with details around the latter.

I’ve gotten to a place in my career where I feel like I’ve got a decent following, knowledge of the music business, songwriting experience, and at least enough experience to know how to fake it when I’m not sure what someone is talking about. At this point I feel as though I can give some advice to newbies – as many people did when I first started – and pass down gigs and opportunities that seem to be unorganized and not professionally run.

However, there’s still so much to learn. And sometimes, like this morning, that becomes apparent. Every question I asked seemed to be answered with a look of, “seriously?”. And every response I gave got cut off. I left the meeting with my tail between my legs and was reminded of just how much farther my music has to go.

It’s an interesting journey, learning the new music business. You don’t want to work with people who don’t know what they’re doing, but it’s difficult to meet and keep up with those who do. I don’t have an answer to this problem, and I’m not even sure it is a problem. It’s probably just he universes way of constantly keeping you confident and humble. I think the best thing to do is to keep being creative, keep sharing your creativity with the world, keep turing down gigs that aren’t a good fit for you, and keep reaching for the stars.

Cheers to making a few mistakes: Make A Mistake 😉

 

To Pay or Not To Pay

The music business is a strange place. There are musicians at the top of the pyramid who make more money than I can even wrap my head around. They have a thousand person team and, more importantly, make enough money to be able to pay that team. On the other end of the spectrum is the guy on the corner with his run-down acoustic guitar and an open guitar case with a hand-written sign that says, “Tips”.

Most of us fall somewhere in the middle. Some gigs pay well, others leave you in debt. This blog post could go into great detail about some of the costs that goes into playing a gig or going on tour, but I want to address a different topic today.

Unless you’re Justin Beiber, and Usher stumbles across your YouTube channel, every musician has to pay his/her dues. There’s no way around it. And to be fair, I’m sure Justin even had to pay some dues, in his own billion-dollar way.

Dues for a musician include many things. Putting in more time on the “business” side (i.e. booking shows, promo, making travel plans, etc.) of your music than the “music” side (i.e. making music); playing shows that pay little to none, or leave you in debt; spending time networking and pitching your music (and yourself); and so much more. Only those of us that LOVE what we’re doing will last, which is appropriate I think. If music was easy then everyone would do it. And to be honest, it already feels like everyone does it… But if you’re scared of a little hard work then the music business is not the place for you.

However, while paying those dues, there is one concept that everyone musician will come across at some point, and that is the “pay to play” show. This can be set up several different ways. One is a set, straight forward, you have to pay $____ amount to play this show. I’ve come across this during events such as SXSW or CMA. Bars know lots of people will be out during these events and they know musicians will be thirsty to play in front of all those people (definitely beats playing to an empty room). So they throw on a fee to play.

The other structure that I’ve come across for “pay to play” is this: the bar requires each musician on the bill to buy “X” many tickets and sell them themselves. Because they musicians have to buy the tickets, they have to sell them in person, which can become difficult when you’re not close to or know the patrons trying to buy the tickets. And also, if they don’t sell all the tickets then it’s the musicians loss, not the venues.

Never involve yourself in a “pay to play” gig. Ever.

I’ve never owned a venue, nor have a I been a talent buyer, so I can’t speak for their point of view. And like I said before, I am a strong believer in every musician paying their dues (which says a lot, since I am currently a musician paying my dues). But shows that are structured like this make me see red.

First of all, we’re all just trying to make it. Venues, musicians, drunk listeners, everyone. But when a venue takes this to the next level by trying to extort the musicians, that’s taking it too far. It’s one thing to not get paid for the services you’re providing. It’s another to have to pay. Would you expect any other profession to pay for their services? A new lawyer paying you for their consultation because they just got out of school? Or a teacher paying you because they haven’t taught many classes yet? It’s ridiculous.

Second, it is everyone’s job to promote the show. Let me repeat, it’s EVERYONE’S job to promote the show. This includes the venue, talent buyer, musicians, managers, booking agents and maybe even the patrons. No one gets paid if no one promotes it. And if everyone works together, everyone gets paid.

Let me be very clear: no gig is important enough to pay to play it. Don’t involve yourself in those deals. Not only will it leave you with a bad taste in your mouth, but it only reinforces more gigs to be structured like this. And even worse, it will cause me to go on more rants about the subject. So please, don’t pay to play.

Angel From Montgomery – Live at City Winery Nashville

just be yourself

Ya, ya. It’s been said. Who did you think I was being? Can you be more cliche? Etcetera, etcetera. The concept isn’t a new one. Or a complex one. But it’s important and it’s easily lost in the chaos that can sometimes be our lives.

Think back to the last person you met. At your job, at a party, wherever. Think about whether or not you liked them all that much….think of the answer? Now ask yourself if they seemed “real” to you. Did they seem comfortable in their own skin? Did they seem like they were trying to be someone they’re not? Did something seem off? We may not be purposely thinking about it on a day-to-day basis, but if we meet someone who isn’t being “themselves” we can sense it.

So now ask yourself, when was the last time you didn’t feel like yourself? I’m not sure about you, but there have been several groups of people throughout my life that I thought were pretty cool, so I did my best to morph myself into a person that seemed fit to “hang” with them. This, of course, never worked out for too long. Either they got sick of me or I became exhausted from working so hard on being something unnatural to me. Either way, it didn’t work out in the end.

So here’s the dilemma. Last post I discussed the art of networking and the necessity of becoming skilled at it. So what do you do when you are put in a position to work with someone who don’t feel like you can be yourself around?

I was writing a few weeks ago at a place that allows musicians to rent rooms to write, record and network. Everyone is really friendly, supportive and easy going. There was one young songwriter who was very sweet and very excited about getting into the music business. Her enthusiasm led her to be very chatty and slightly pushy with having people hear her music. Her enthusiasm and insecurities were heard clear as day as she talked to people, and unfortunately you could see it quickly turn people off. It was difficult to build a relationship with her and talk with her because her effort to be someone she wasn’t screamed over every conversation. I’m sure everyone has experienced this, both from an outside perspective, and from within. I wanted to shake this girl, tell her to take a deep breath and stop trying so hard to be someone other than herself. But it’s a lesson learned best from personal experience.

Here’s another, similarly awkward situation: Have you every been thrown into a group of people who are ALL putting on a persona? I don’t know about you, but these situations and common and exhausting. Everyone is trying to tell the funniest joke, or share the coolest story, or not care the most about everything. Everyone wants to be someone…other than themselves. Sometimes it can feel difficult to find people who are 100% themselves. Especially in the music business.

I’m not sure I have a piece of advice in this post. Mainly because I’m no better at this than the next person. Sometimes it’s more fun to be someone else. Sometimes I just don’t feel like being me. And other times it’s exhausting being anyone but me. Who you are might not always feel right for every situation, but perhaps not every situation is right for you? I think some of the most successful people out there are the ones who unapologetically embrace who they are. They’re kind, giving, empathetic, and not perfect. And most of all, nothing but themselves.

Here’s my cover of LOLO’s “Not Gonna Let You Walk Away

Photo by Lindsay Bittfield and Madison Palmer. 🙂