by Nick Fitzsimons from Penny Distribution
Nick Fitzsimons founded Penny Distribution in 2007. Originally a physical and digital distributor, Penny has since evolved to include booking, promotion and marketing services for its artists and labels. Nick also helped organize UnConvention Belfast and the NI Music Industry Meetup series.
Peers, Friends & Fans
It’s one of the most memorable scenes from “This Is Spinal Tap” and marvelously summed up the prima donna cock-rock superstar. Tap’s guitar player, Nigel Tuffnell, draws his managers attention to the buffet plate back stage, complaining about the size of the bread, and that he can’t make a sandwich with tiny bread – “It’s a disaster!” he squeals like a 5-year-old.
Rightly or wrongly, the mythos exists that being in a “successful” band means being waited on hand and foot, being lord over all you survey (labels, partners, peers and fans) and that hissy-fits and difficult behavior can be excused because you’re an “artist” – some would even say that being difficult is a pre-requisite of being a true artist.
The truth is that working in music is essential working with people. Despite the appearance that a musician has single-handedly conquered his particular domain, there is a subtle and intricate network, usually numbering into the hundreds of people, who’ve all played their part in propping up this particular house of cards.
If you operate under the assumption that success in this industry can be achieved by you alone, you’ll probably last as long as one of Spinal Tap’s drummers.
And this applies to music businesses, too. Working as a label or promoter is such intensive work that it can be far too easy to become absorbed with your work, never looking up or taking time to see if there’re other businesses or individuals involved in similar or possibly complimentary activities.
With that in mind, I think we can divide the types of people that really matter into 3 groups.
These include artists, songwriters and other music businesses. The myth exists most strongly here – other businesses are the “competition”. (for the sake of this piece I’ll call all artists & music enterprises “businesses”). They might steal your ideas.
In today’s music business, I think we need to blow this thought out of the water. Ideas are so numerous people are giving them away. Whatever the idea, it’s the execution, not the idea , that matters most.
Not only that but interaction with other businesses is begun in the spirit of co-operation with the goal of mutual benefit or the achievement of common goals.
Of course you need to work with people you trust, with companies who share your outlook and ethos – but pulling down your shutters to the outside world because the chance exists that things may not turn out well is a sure path to failure.
Get out to networking events or start your own. Anything that gets your peers into a room together, talking to as many people as possible is of benefit. That was a main motivating factor behind UnConvention Belfast (and, I believe, Un-Convention in general) as well as the now-monthly Northern Ireland Music Industry Meetups in Belfast that followed on from UnConvention.
It’s not a question of competition or stealing ideas. It’s simply a question of optimism (think of what we could achieve together!) versus pessimism (they’ll abuse my trust and betray me somehow). Where do you stand?
These include bloggers, interviewers or radio – anyone who, for whatever reason, is interested in your music and is taking the time to talk to you about it.
Research the company behind the interview, find out who listens or comments on the content but above all else be enthusiastic.
I’ve heard so many stories from people in radio where the rock ‘n’roll ethos is so prevalent (among established and emerging acts alike) that the band or songwriter treats the interviewer with indifference, or worse, with “don’t-you-know-who-I-am?”-style contempt.
The truth is, no matter how successful you are, every person you interact with as a business has the potential to change the game for you and your endeavors. The problem is that there’s no way to tell who that’ll be – by acting like a Rockstar you’re basically destroying any chance that one of these people will help you in the future.
I’ve talked quite a bit about how to treat your fans, but the basic tenet to understand is that they have as much control over your success as any writer from Pitchfork or WOXY.
The amount of times I’ve seen bands treat their audiences with contempt is beyond count and, although disasters like Wavve’s recent meltdown in front of an audience of potential fans at Primavera are rare, there’re plenty of other missed opportunities.
Most bands will say “thanks for listening” after a show, but are they really thankful? If they are, how are they showing it? How about writing an email the day AFTER the show to thank attendees, including a demo of the new track you just wrote? Or making sure fans leave with some music as a tangible “thank you”?
The goal in all of this is that the next time you’re working on a new business idea / have a tour to promote / playing a show in someone’s town, you’ve earned the loyalty of people you interacted with the last time you were there.
Do you think you’ll have that loyalty if you run step-by-step through the Rockstar playbook?
I’d say if you toss aside the Rockstar shit, if you act with genuine enthusiasm, humility and with a sincere recognition that it’s a privilege to work in music, you’re much more likely to have that loyalty.
(Doubledown Note: I found this article to be spot-on, quite interesting, especially because I think it completely holds true in Second Life and virtual worlds as well as the real world.)