Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Artist Networking

It’s not what you know, it’s who you know.
You’ve heard this worn out cliché before.
Now, I won’t disagree (that much) with it, but I will say that we give waaaay too much credence to the last half of the phrase and exactly zero to the first half.
If I changed it to suit my purposes it would be “It’s not what you know, it’s what you know about who you know.
I realize this sounds creepy - like ‘sitting-in-a-tree-watching-through-someone’s-windows’ creepy - but before you get all weirded out, come up in the tree for a moment and see what it looks like from my perspective.
You see, I believe the original phrase neglects the fact that knowing someone is really hard work.  It takes years of interest, dedication and follow-through to get to know someone, especially…
  • What their interests are
  • Where they spend their time
  • What groups/institutions they belong to
  • Their phone number even
  • The names of their spouse, girlfriends or kids
  • What makes them tick
We see the “it’s who you know” and immediately fill ourselves with excuses.  We say about the guy who got the private gig we didn’t, “He cheated, he knew the business owner.”
We scream, “I’ve been robbed!” when a band hires their friend to play drums for the tour instead of choosing you - even if you were a long shot.
But this is EXACTLY what networking in music is about; building friendships with a purpose.
This might be hard to hear but the people who got what you wanted simply played the game a little bit better than you.
That’s not a reason to be angry.
It’s a reason to take notes and be motivated.
So, in that vein, I’m going to show you 3 areas that successful independent artists need to master and then I’m going to give you an opportunity to see a behind the scenes video on the system I use to manage my contacts.  Make sure you read all the way to the end.

Networking with Venues

For indie artists, venues are initially the most fruitful connection…
  1. They’re good for getting you a gig on a regular basis, which helps you build a fan base and credibility.
  2. They become an opportunity for ‘trust builders’ with other artists.  This helps you build relationships with artists, which we’ll get into later in this post.
I also generally throw booking agents and promoters in with venues on this one - basically anyone in a professional music capacity that means they spend a lot of time out at shows. These people are great to have in your back pocket as they have a long list of contacts themselves and a long list of potential opportunities flowing their way. Truthfully the more people you have who book and schedule shows in your contacts the more opportunities you’ll have as a result.
Using your venue contacts to line up a gig for another band is single-handedly the best way to build relationships with other artists.  When I look back at the work I’ve done with artists, I see the following flow time and time again…
  1. Venue needs 1 or more artists for an upcoming gig
  2. Venue reaches out to me
  3. I can’t do the show but I specifically mention someone that I know who would be a great fit
  4. Venue/promoter/etc. wants to save time and almost always takes recommendations
  5. The artist plays the show and then returns the favour later down the road
Use your venue contacts to build relationships with other independent artists.
Lastly, building relations with venues opens up the door for the “we need an artist pronto!” emergency. The ones where you can shine by jumping into the line-up at a moment’s notice.  We’ve all heard of big acts rolling through town and the opener comes down with larengitis, gout or something equally gross , forcing the promoter into an immediate frenzy.  They rifle through their Rolodex looking for a replacement.
Wouldn’t it be great if you were top-of-mind in this scenario?

Networking with Artists

Some artists treat music as a competition…
  • Who can get the most fans
  • Who can 1-up your last show
  • Who can sell more albums
It’s either arrogance or fear that drive these misguided people.  Successful artists recognize that collaboration will get you muuuuuch further than competition.
Those that treat the space as collaborative…
  1. are happier people and better spoken about in the scene,
  2. are more successful at landing gigs,
  3. are able to efficiently reach the right fans,
  4.  and have less body fat and a more active libido.*
*this one isn’t real. 
Think of it this way; who do you want to share a bill with? Generally it’s…
Build your network of artists and you’ll have a lot of friends to share bills with. This means you’ll have more people calling you to play with them - increased exposure to paying gigs - and more people to call when it’s your turn to set up a gig.
So how do you fill your contacts with artists?
1. Be intentional about building relationships with bands by meeting at least 1 person from each band you play with - Get to know the people who are playing the same sized venues and to roughly the same crowds as you.  These are your “peers.”
2. Make a list of bands/artists that are at the next level above you and create ways to network with them - Starting in your home town, make a list of artists that are playing at the next level and creatively find ways to network with them.  One of the best ways I’ve found is to work with a venue to set up a gig and offer to line up the artists.  Reach out to big names on your list and invite them to headline, then throw your band on as an opener.
3. Please, for the love of all that is good, follow up with your contacts - I’m pretty sure this is the cardinal rule of networking.  If you don’t actually maintain relationships with your contacts, then what good is having them?
And don’t forget the little tip from above: the fastest way to build relationships is to set someone up with a sweet gig.

Networking Via Self-Promotion

In all my experience I’ve never understood why independent artists don’t see self-promotion as a networking tool.
Think about it this way; networking with venues and artists is active networking while self-promotion is passive networking.  Self-promotion is a way for potential contacts to find you.
Maybe the reason most of us don’t promote ourselves well is that we’re taking the humble route (or maybe it’s just because you’re Canadian like me) and we’re bread to think that self-promotion is arrogant.  Or perhaps you’re the opposite and see self-promotion as a weakness.
But when done right, it’s a very effective networking tool.
I think of self promotion as raising my hand and saying “I’m here.”
So, how do you promote yourself for better networking opportunities?
A lot of this is tied to how you promote yourself as an artist to fans and the way you use your social media and your website.
  • Communicate that you are open to opportunities on your social media pages
  • Start an artist networking group for your town on Facebook
  • Offer to teach other artists something you’ve learned
  • Do something consistently that showcases your abilities and post it to social media
Here’s an excellent example:  One person that I’m coaching had the simple idea  - that is also proving to be incredibly effective - of posting 15 seconds of video to his Instagram feed EVERY DAY of him playing a different beat on the drums.
It shows a) how awesome of a drummer he is and b) how seriously he takes his profession.  After only a couple weeks doing it, he has added 100 followers to his account.  It’s simply a matter of time before some interesting opportunities pop up because of this little consistent action.  (I haven’t asked him permission to link to it yet, but I will and if he says yes I’ll link to it here).

Provide Value

In all aspects, networking is about providing value.  If you can consistently provide value to other artists and venues while looking valuable in your self-promotion your network will blow up in no time.

How to network better

Alright.  You’ve read this far and it was a lot of information.  You must be one of those unicorns that takes networking seriously.
 Here are the bonuses I’ve put together for you:
  1. A video walk-though showing my system for storing and managing contacts (a system that is free and anyone can use)
  2. A networking check list that takes this post and makes it hyper-practical

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Lots of great advice for anyone in or thinking of getting into the Music Business, especially females.

I Am Womack, Hear Me Roar


Her seated posture is perfect. Her hands are tightly clasped and laid squarely in her lap. Then, singing from her diaphragm—the way the great ones do—Lee Ann Womack reminds us that her voice is just as disciplined. Immediately, Womack’s suite at Austin’s tony Hotel Saint Cecilia, designed as a tribute to the decadence of the Rolling Stones’ Exile on Main St. period, is transformed into a house of worship. When she sings “Send It On Down,” a song about the intersection of God and the bottle, and gets to the hook—“Jesus, can you save me from going crazy?”—the dozen of us in attendance look on reverentially. There are no camera phones, no movement. Just silence. She’s so inside the song—each line struck with a precise fusion of righteousness and weariness—that even before her brief, four-song set is over, we’re left with an indelible takeaway: if all you know about Lee Ann Womack is the schmaltzy megahit “I Hope You Dance,” then you probably don’t understand her at all.
This modest get-together held for the benefit of a handful of journalists may seem an odd choice for a high-wattage star who has won a Grammy, six Country Music Association awards, and five Academy of Country Music awards and sold more than six million records. For years the Jacksonville native traveled with the sort of entourage modern country stars believe they’re supposed to travel with. Label representatives. An assistant. Publicists. Hair and makeup people. Press and documentary-video crews. Once, the story goes, when she misplaced her driver’s license, her publicist persuaded TSA personnel to let her board a plane by matching her face to an album cover.
For this brief promotional trip, though, Womack was downright giddy about doing things the rest of us do because we have to: booking her own flight from Nashville, renting a car on her own, and making her own hotel reservation. “It’s like being seventeen and getting your first car,” says Womack, over coffee at Jo’s, a casual spot in the shadow of one of downtown Austin’s gleaming new skyscrapers, the day before her performance. “And then you take your first road trip and there’s that exhilarating feeling of ‘I’m out here, by myself. I’m responsible.’ This feels normal. And exciting.”
It’s not lost on Lee Ann Womack that you probably just rolled your eyes a little. But she isn’t trying to sell her current situation as a woe-is-me story. In fact, she corrects her friends when they use words like “bold” or “brave” to describe her departure from the Nashville hit-making machine and her embrace of the world of independent labels and self-promotion. You don’t deserve a pat on the back for being yourself, says the 48-year-old, especially when it took so long to do it. But to understand why her new album, The Way I’m Livin’, released on the small but respected bluegrass and Americana label Sugar Hill Records, feels like freedom, you have to know where’s she been. 
“When I was little, I listened almost exclusively to men—George Jones, Buck Owens, Merle Haggard—singers who sing in their true voice, so when they talk to you or sing to you, it’s the same,” says Womack, whose father deejayed at a string of East Texas country radio stations when she was growing up. “It’s not like ‘Now I’m going to perform!’ Merle picks up his guitar and it’s like he’s talking to you, only really pretty. I’d like to think I’m one of those singers, singing in my true voice.”
After graduating from Jacksonville High School, in 1984, Womack spent a year at South Plains College, in Levelland (“It was basically a bunch of hippies that wanted to play music; it was the best thing I ever did for myself”), before decamping to Nashville, where she interned for a while in MCA’s A&R department. In 1990 she married Ricky Skaggs’s bassist, Jason Sellers, and had a daughter, Aubrey. Womack took a job at a day-care center to make ends meet. “I didn’t just think I would be a country singer,” she says. “I knew it, almost like I’d already seen the movie. But when I was pregnant with Aubrey, I thought I might have blown it. I knew it was going to be tough to compete with a kid at home.”
Despite her reservations, Womack never quite gave up; she spent the little free time she had writing songs and showcasing in tiny Nashville clubs. And in 1996, 31 years old and heading for divorce, she signed a seven-album deal with MCA’s Decca Records. “It was the Nashville fairy tale, if your fairy tale involves a ten-year wait, a marriage, a child, and a divorce,” she says.  
As a little girl, Womack dreamed of sitting next to Loretta Lynn and Conway Twitty at award shows. Instead, by the time she got there, Shania Twain and Toby Keith were her peers. And while there are some traditional country songs in her catalog, there are just as many examples of her swinging for the fences with a glossy, overproduced pop ballad. “I’m guilty of playing the game,” she admits. But she argues that there’s a difference between selling out and doing the job you were hired to do.
“I was raised to honor responsibilities,” says Womack. “I signed a contract to make commercial music that Decca could sell. I wanted to do the best job of it I could do for them. At every turn, I tried to give them as much as I could without giving away too much of myself. But my husband [producer Frank Liddell, whom she married in 1999] says it’s like being a bar of soap: they’re just going to keep going and going till there’s nothing left.”
Womack’s traditional-leaning 1997 debut earned her a Top New Female Vocalist award from the Academy of Country Music. The blood was in the water. “Once they sell that many records on you,” she says, “they want to do it again.”
But the business, she noticed, started getting less and less country. “Eventually they’d let me cut some of the kinds of songs I like, but they wouldn’t put them out as singles,” she says. “The whole time I was saying, ‘One day. One day. One day it’s gonna be driven by the music, not by the marketing and radio departments.’ But it was never ugly. I was trying to do my best, and they were trying to do theirs.”
Three records in, “I Hope You Dance” changed everything—except the pressure to produce more hits. It topped the country chart and helped sell three million copies of the album of the same name. Womack sang what would go on to become a wedding standard at the 2000 Nobel Peace Prize concert and the 2004 Republican National Convention. “The little girl who wanted to be a country star got to be a country star,” she says, although it wasn’t quite what she imagined.
“You think being rich and famous is going to make you happy,” says Womack. “And it didn’t. It can be part of what makes you happy. I wanted to sing; that’s what makes me happy. But after ‘I Hope You Dance,’ I spent very little time singing. A lot of time talking. A lot of time smiling. And a lot of time pursuing things for other people’s agendas. These aren’t things you picture when you’re a little girl.”
Instead of using her newfound clout to make the records she’d always hoped to, Womack folded under the pressure to keep crossing over with 2002’s slickSomething Worth Leaving Behind. The rootsier There’s More Where That Came From (2005) was a step in the right direction, but a couple of years after 2008’s Call Me Crazy—the last record she officially owed Decca—things got interesting. In 2010, during his tenure as chairman and CEO of Decca’s parent company, Universal Music Group Nashville, the well-regarded label veteran Luke Lewis gave Womack carte blanche to make the record she’d always wanted to make, no strings attached. With Liddell co-producing, she cut The Way I’m Livin’ in two 3-day sessions. 
Before Lewis could figure out the specifics of its release, Universal merged with Capitol/EMI, and he was replaced by longtime Capitol Nashville chief Mike Dungan. Almost immediately, Universal shifted focus to an even more hit-driven approach and asked Womack if she’d consider going back to cut a radio single or two to include on the record. She thought about it and declined. And in a move that was, by all accounts, a rarity for the music industry—and a sign of respect for someone who always pleasantly honored her end of a deal—Dungan arranged for Womack to leave the label with the unreleased album. She owned the masters, free and clear.
Then, she says, time got away from her. What she imagined as a three-year gap between record releases became six. She played the occasional gig but mostly raised her kids (she has a second daughter, Anna, with Liddell) while she considered and, again, declined offers from major Nashville labels that thought they could do something with The Way I’m Livin’. Ultimately, she went with the independent Sugar Hill, whose artist-friendly ethos appealed to her sensibilities.
For all those complications, The Way I’m Livin’ doesn’t sound terribly threatening. In fact, much of it wouldn’t sound out of place on a Miranda Lambert or Kacey Musgraves record. And there’s a reason for that: Liddell co-produced all five of Lambert’s albums. But Womack isn’t jumping on some country-grrrl bandwagon. The raw, unadorned songs she and Liddell chose for the record feature characters so rough-hewn and sad that even Musgraves might shy away from them. Womack describes the tracks—one written by Austin’s Hayes Carll and two by Austin’s Bruce Robison—as “songs that tear holes in life.” The characters who populate the album question their faith, their identity, and, just as often, whether or not to ask the bartender to pour one more. 
“I don’t look for dark songs,” she says. “But I’m drawn to them. I think it’s the way I was raised. There was a lot of church—services every Sunday, youth group on Wednesdays. And football games on Friday nights. We ate at the same table every night. But later, I also spent a lot of time in bars, a lot of drinking for entertainment. And I saw a lot of folks using happiness as a mask. When somebody comes through the door acting like they have the world on a string, the first thing I think is, ‘I bet she’s miserable.’ ”
Womack doesn’t seem the least bit miserable about the fact that her days as a country radio star are likely behind her. “I’d probably look foolish trying to play that game,” she says. One of the best outcomes she could hope for is to learn the answer to this question: What if the most honest album of your career reached the smallest audience of your career? Womack says she’s excited to shift from playing hockey rinks and the rotating stages at rodeos to the theater circuit, where people she loves, like Lyle Lovett and Patty Griffin, play to audiences that come to hear the music. She’s got a few shows scheduled, but she’s willing to wait and see what kind of demand there is for more. For the moment, she says she’s thrilled by the uncertainty of it all.
“One thing that I had when I started was a real strong gut,” she says, “and the more success I had, the more of that gut I lost. And I feel like I have it back again. I don’t have anything planned. None of it. But I have a gut feeling it’s all going to work out.”