My good friends (disclosing my bias early) Charlie the Most play some of the most thrilling funk, rock and soul music you will hear nowadays.
Last night they took the stage at the Middle East Downstairs in Cambridge, MA and proceeded to blow the minds of most in attendance. This particular show was an incredible opportunity for the band; they were opening for Coolio (of all people!) in a much bigger venue than they usually play and in front of many who had never heard them before. As blogger Mia Marchese describes, “they started their set like wild fire and didn’t have to find the pocket - they were already in it before they even stepped on stage." The audience was grooving hard to the music and every new peak the band reached caused cheers to erupt from the crowd.
Photo by Mia Marchese (@mia_marchese)
Suddenly Charlie the Most had their set (ostensibly) cut short by two songs. After being cut off while launching into another song, bandleader Charlie McCanless had to thank the crowd and say their set was over. The audience was not pleased to hear this and started chanting, “One more song! One more song!” The chant grew to a point when half of the packed club was demanding Charlie the Most continue to play. The person in charge of logistics would have none of it and the chant ended with the audience booing in response to the denial.
Charlie wasn’t pleased about being cut off. While I empathize, because I know how they had more they wanted to share, I think the performance could not have ended in a more ideal way. I’ve gone to hundreds of concerts and I don’t even need five fingers to count the amount of times an audience has demanded that an opening act play “one more song.” It wasn’t intentional, but Charlie the Most left their fans (some old, many brand new) begging for more. I have no doubt they will seek it out online and at future shows.
All artists should structure their shows and releases in a way that leaves their audience happy but longing for the next song - wherever it is they may get it.
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Do your concerts ever seem like the photo above? Here are a few areas you might be able to improve:
1. You’ve over-saturated your market with too many gigs too close to one another.
Read my post titled “Don’t Kill Your Hometown Crowd”
2. You are promoting to the wrong people.
Friends don’t necessarily equal fans. They may support you even if they don’t care for your music but only to a certain extent.
3. You are playing venues that your fans don’t like.
Are they too far away? Hard to get to by public transit?
4. You are sharing a bill with bands that aren’t a good match.
A $10 cover is harder to justify if your fans won’t enjoy any of the other music and will only be sticking around for your 45 minute set. You will also be unlikely to turn people that came to see the wildly different artists into new fans.
5. You Aren’t Collecting Emails
Imagine if you collect at least 1 email at each show you play. After 100 shows you’d have 100 people (likely many more) that you can target specifically about future concerts and releases. People that are willing to give you their email and risk getting spammed really like you (possibly more than the person that bought a CD). It’s scary how few bands take the minute to write “Mailing List” on the top of a piece of paper and leave a pen next to it. Don’t be one of them. Collect emails online too.
I like much of Macklemore’s most recent album but what I enjoy even more is how savvy he and his crew are. Macklemore’s brand is about fiercely supporting his fans in being who they are. In turn, the fans support him.
Macklemore doesn’t focus on the quick buck. Real artists that value a sustainable career never do. They want you to fall in love with their mission and want to be a part of it. Emerging artists need to do the same thing. It’s not about selling records or merch, it’s about building an army. Before you do that you must understand your soldiers.
Even better if you could be one of them yourself.
"When we arrive at the gym or a subway station, our devices will detect the location and play the mix that we like for working out or commuting"…"This is what the future of music is."
This quote from Daniel Ek, CEO of Spotify, is alarming.
The most powerful form of recommendation is word of mouth but in order for it to be credible it must come from a trusted source. Honestly, how many people can say they trust their computers with much at all, let alone making choices about art?
That fact that some technologists think they can replace music curators with an algorithm is the most disturbing trend yet in the music industry. The industry that was already bemoaning the devaluing of music is now on the way to devaluing those that expose wonderful art to a wider audience.
Are museum curators next on the firing line? Will we one day walk through a museum that senses our presence and displays only what a computer has been programmed to think we would enjoy?
The age of context holds so much possibility but we must realize the value of hand-picked curation will never be replaced, only supplemented.
Creators need to think past Klout scores and other “black box” metrics when identifying influential fans. These are more for vanity than anything else as they do not provide much in the way of actionable data. Being more observant of who is sharing a creator’s links, writing about them, bringing their friends to the concerts - I think these metrics are more meaningful.
Engagement and discovery will continue to occur on social media platforms but, like I state in this Hypebot article, the focus should be on bringing the new fans into your ecosystem and eliminating the distraction of the social networks and the millions of other tracks on places like Spotify.
There is a problem many bands experience when starting out which can be devastating to their careers: playing shows too often in their hometowns.
Unless people are breaking down the door to the club and there are lines around the block to see you perform, you should probably be playing far less in your hometown than you currently do.
Your hometown is where you should have the most excited and passionate fans. When you play there it should be a scene - a special experience. People should be excited to hear you again.
In order for this to happen you need to manually create scarcity. Sure, you could probably play at least one show a week in your hometown, but that’s no good for you because at best you’ll be playing to the same people, and at worst you’ll be playing to no one at all. For the fans it’s just as bad because they’ll hear the same music over and over and it will change from an exciting night that they’ve waited a month for into exactly what they just saw a week ago.
Create scarcity by playing once a month or less in your hometown. Supplement that with digital media that will get your fans amped for your shows. Get them to give you their email addresses to access this media so you can in turn promote shows to them.
Playing one show (or less) in your hometown per month now allows you to spend more energy promoting the one gig instead of the four you might normally have booked. Decide on another market or two you think will be good for your group to hit next and play each once a month or less. Try to get a flow going. Sure, it takes more time to leave your hometown for a gig, but that’s what you’ll need to do if you want to get anywhere as a touring act.
Recently I’ve been spending a significant amount of time and energy deciding who and what, outside of our team, Bundio needs to grow over the next few months and years. While we’re a technology company, I think this exercise can be valuable for anyone starting a business (band, songwriting career, etc). Going through this process helps you diagnose where you are currently and the resources you will need to progress further.
I’m sure my opinions about this will expand but I immediately see five kinds of people that you will need in order to grow. I think they are all essential in their own ways.
This is the person that no matter how bad things go they will be supportive and encourage you to keep going.
The Drill Sargent
This is the stark contrast to the Champion. They will kick your ass. You will need that from time-to-time. You: “Hey, Drill Sargent, we sent an email to our fans last week!” Drill Sargent: “That’s it!? Come back when you have actual results!”
You will need many experts. They will not necessarily know everything about your business but they will fill knowledge gaps that you (and your team) may have. Identifying what you don’t know is crucial. Once you figure that out you must either learn it yourself or seek assistance from others. With Bundio we are finding experts in mobile and advertising.
You need this type of person. Without them there is no way to keep going.
The type of person that will sing your praises from a mountain-top (or an influential Twitter account). Ideally this type of person is also a customer because that adds more legitimacy to their endorsements.
Did I leave anyone out? Is there an archetype you would replace one of the five with? Tweet me @iamweisser with your thoughts!
We Are Our Own Responsibility
In general, an important goal for many artists is to share their work with an audience. Seth Godin goes as far as to say that artists need people to see their work and react to it before it can even be considered art. The hope of the artist is that their art resonates. This causes people to talk about the art and spread it.
There is a strange dichotomy; artists need their work to spread to become successful but they must be careful about spending too much time it promoting themselves. The goal must be to promote it to the right people that will cause the art to spread to others.
The most powerful endorsement comes from those that have no vested interest in the artist’s success other than enjoying their creations. When they say something positive about an artist’s work they have no incentive to do so other than to share something they love with others who they think will love it too.
Crowdfunding campaigns that really take off are almost always a result of shifting the burden of promotion from the creator to the fanbase. It’s not about the artist removing themselves from responsibility, it’s about them realizing when they need assistance and activating their fans. It is not a good sign if the artist is talking more about their project than their fans are.
A few steps to move artists in the direction of creating an army of evangelists:
- Create something that people cannot help but share and talk about.
- Start a project that is only fun or exciting if many people are involved in it (example: Eric Whitacre’s Virtual Choir)
- Make something incredibly unique based around a currently popular song. Straight acoustic covers won’t cut it. (example: Stony - Macklemore and Ryan Lewis - Can’t Hold Us [Looping Cover])
- Start a crowdfunding project or subscription where there is an accurate value alignment with your fans that causes them to help you reach your goal so they can get your art.
If you are in a band it is very likely that you greatly enjoy the genre of music your band plays. This is very valuable because it means you have opinions and ethos that are in alignment with most of your fans and potential audience (read: customers).
Because of this, you should constantly be looking through your “fan lens” as you think about what you do with your band. By that I mean you should look at what you are doing from the perspective of someone that loves the genre of music that your band plays. Do this when deciding on what kind of merch you will be producing, how you will engage with your audience online, etc.
As a fan of punk music would branded shot glasses be something I would like?
As a fan of New Orleans jazz am I usually looking for information on Twitter or artist/venue websites?
New Idea X
When you get excited about new idea x it can sometimes blind you and make it difficult to remember who your audience is and what they actually want. The easiest way to test the viability of any idea is to pause and ask yourself, “is this something that I as a fan of this genre would want/use/buy/watch/enjoy?” You must be honest with yourself in your assessment of x. If you aren’t sure it doesn’t hurt to gather additional data by asking a few fans.
Never lose sight of the fact that your ability to view at your band as a fan of the genre is of incredible value.
The music industry has moved to a place where artists need to do far more than create and perform. They must now engage with their audience in a way that just wasn’t possible even a decade ago. This requires work and time; both of which are finite resources. On top of that they must book their shows, collect emails, get press, and somehow monetize their art so they can continue to make it.
The skill sets required for creating art that resonates and running a successful business are not intrinsically linked. This leads many artists to bring on managers to run certain aspects of their careers that they feel fall outside of their art. This could be a smart move or a very savvy one - it all depends on the responsibility that the artist entrusts their manager with and if they really should be counted on as much as they are.
By bringing on outside management, a singer-songwriter or band is, in theory, reducing the amount of business they must attend to so they can focus their energies on creative endeavors. The artist is responsible for the actions of their management and any mistake by management reflects poorly on the artist that chose them.
As artists we must realize that all actions by the people chosen as our managers will reflect on us directly. Our management missing a deadline equals us missing a deadline. Our management being rude to the sound guy at a show equals us being rude to the sound guy at a show.
It’s not nearly all bad though. Managers can help take us from a great band to a great business which, like it or not, is what we must be in order to keep creating art.
How do we know a great manager when we see one?
- They do less talking and more listening.
- They ask for clarification when needed.
- They are eager to help.
- They are respectful to everyone, not just the artist.
- They are adaptable.
- They are accountable.
- Last-minute changes don’t disturb them.
- They thrive under pressure.
As artists we must remember that we are our own responsibility. When we pass off work to others we are still held accountable when it is done poorly or not at all. Choose wisely.