Promotion is an ever changing game. These days the number, type and style of promotion "companies" is manifest. The advent of the Globonet and reasonably affordable image software has made it as easy as a few clicks on the computer to create promotions. The various fan sites and online music distribution outlets have made it even easier, allowing artists the ability to self promote and sell directly to their fan base.
We've all learned by now that this is a double edged sword. The days of a few music industry companies choosing your playlist are over. But the sheer magnitude of available music can be overwhelming. And the number of apps and websites available for purchasing music are growing daily.
Where does the local musician fall in all this? For a few savvy and well established musicians it means a nice backdrop for their live circuit. It means the occasional fan purchase of a few tracks or a t-shirt or two, and a permanent online portfolio for prospective venues, gigs or hopefully an interested label. But the number of "fans" actually engaged in a band's activities, if based on Internet "likes" can be misleading. And at what point does this translate into some form of income? The answer can be unsettling.
Just recently I was outside a well known local venue having a discussion with a well known local artist (The words "definitely off the record" were used. So no names). He had returned not long ago from a successful tour. His band has received numerous positive reviews from sources such as Paste Magazine and several others. Aside from our discussion of music coverage in Birmingham, of which he had much to say, we discussed the nature of pay in the music business today. He was not enthusiastic. I hear often how the pay rate for local musicians is very unstable, unfair and undeniably crap. And given the interest from abroad, the links that have been sent to us, the comments left and the emails received, I have to conclude that the above mentioned artist is correct in his conclusion that "It's the same shit everywhere." There are certain venues that pay well and a much larger number that, well...just don't.
So how does a musician make money today? We asked some of the musicians who are part of the BFP Music community to share some thoughts.
Brian Morgan: "Maybe it's because I'm a drummer (and I have no musical integrity) but I think the worst mistake that any band or musician makes is only look at things from the perspective of art and ignore basic business principles. In a perfect world, the general public would love anyone who makes music from the heart; but the world is over-saturated with multi-media and it is very hard to be heard over the din. It is my belief that bands need to have a business sense about them in order to work smarter, as well as harder. Who is your target audience? How do you get in front of that audience? What do you have to offer that is better or different from what everyone else is offering? I've watched (and been in) great bands that played incredibly, but got no reaction out of the audience. As musicians we tend to play what WE love to hear without considering what the audience wants. Musicians' tastes in music is very different from the general public's taste in music (which is why Justin Beiber is a household name while Pat Metheny is almost unheard of). There's a decision to make here; if it's about music and art for you, then be prepared to suffer for what you love and remember that most artists aren't appreciated till after they're dead. If it's money you're interested in, be prepared to compromise. In short, I suppose the first question to ask would be, "What kind of crowd am I trying to attract, and where can I find them."
Jerome Walls: "One way to make money is covers. Top 40. What people want to hear and lots of songs. That way when you build a relationship with the bars you can play the same venues on a static basis. Lesser immediate profit but residually advantageous. Having a multi-genre background is almost a must."
"I go outta town to Mississippi and Tennessee when I can, because you're a big deal to them. It's hard playing a 30 mile radius. Hit the road if you can."
Daniel Steel (Bad Robotz): "I don't think anyone is making money for real. a very few bars, some bartenders at a few spots are, no promoters, not sure of many bands, strip club djs, and a few club djs but not very many. Hardly anyone is consistently holding it down... maybe Within Reason and some others. but I know I dj more than most around here and it's poor at best. After 10 years in the scene I can say it's nearly dead here besides a select college crowd with their parent's or student loan money."
"People need to realize we are in a depression. But instead of soup lines we have credit cards from the govt. A 3 billion dollar sewer bill and all the tornadoes we've had here are not helping things either. If someone could organize all the bands, I could get all the djs and college dance parties to play a fundraiser. I did the 4 venue bar crawl for tornado victims in 5pts last summer. But there are about to be some more closings than basecamp and some more new places so maybe some things will change. But I wouldn't bet on the downtown ent. district being too big at first unless they bring in House of Blues, Coyote Ugly, and other big chain venues and give away a lot of alcohol."
Brent Gulsby (Black Veil): "Nothing like a coffee can with "TIPS" written on it and a vibrant street corner....Works every time!!! lol..."
"Touring and selling CD's on the road is the only way we ever made "Good" money..But now with ITUNES and hosting your own website and all the other Internet plugs, it's up to the musician how much they want to work and how they use these "new" tools..."
SharBaby Newport: "Well, I would say first of all get attention by having your own website where you can have your own store where fans can purchase your Cds and other memorabilia. Network as much as possible and build your fan base because they are the ones that will be buying your wares!!!!!"
Zach Doss (Zach Doss & Kentucky's Finest):"Learn a thousand songs and book a thousand gigs. And make sure they all pay."
Christopher Dann Hendrix (GNP, Throng of Shoggoths): "t-shirt sales, man! Beer coozies and hats and a hot girlfriend at the merch table. Learn how to screen print and do 'em yourself"
George Dudley (2Blu and the Lucky Stiffs): "Go after corporates (shows) and privates."
Russell Gulley: "Most musicians have always done better on the road. To folks at home, you are just the "Joe next door". The road is hard. Keep fresh merchandise. If you can't record a new one, take tracks from several of your previous ones to use for a compilation, a "best of" or remaster with a couple of bonus tracks. You have to think like a promoter and think like a business man... OH, and BTW..... I work with arts councils etc, so I present artists of all disciplines. If someone wants to book one of my events and don't have a press kit, whether EPK or hard copy ( sometimes I'm old school, I like hard copies), professional photo ( head shot at least, B/W, + color, and hopefully both horizontal and vertical layout, and a BIO with a good sample of work, what do you think the chances are that I'd hire them?"
Bobby Shiflett (Alamantra): "Chris is right on with the merchandising. That is where bands can make the most money from a show, without a club giving them a guarantee.
Session work and synch licensing. Also using music to create other revenue streams such as embedding ads into videos/audio streams, using a band site for ads etc..
We've been talking to a club that wants us to send a hard copy press kit. Since we've gone to the expense and trouble of creating an EPK and they don't want to adapt, we are thinking about making hard copy press kits that clubs can order for $20.00 + postage. They can either use the means we've provided them or pay for compliance."
Chuck Rackley(Who Shot Lizzy?): "Merchandise, and it has to be cool. Spend the money to get great graphics and remember when you are designing a logo that the design you go with will be your merchandise centerpiece."
This is only a sampling of the conversations we have in our group. I'm sure there will be more to chime in. I might even do a follow up if someone comes up with the idea of the century and wants to share it.
Ryan Flynt (Motel Ice Machine): "I am actually going to screen a bunch of Motel Ice Machine shirts for an out of town gig this weekend. Here's your quote though Lee... "The only way to make a living as a musician in Birmingham is to get a day job."