I had a brief but interesting conversation with my friend Nikki the other day. It went something like this:
Me Are you going to go to any good shows coming up?
Nikki Last show I went to was The Kills. It was full of of hipsters. You?
Me I want to see K.FLAY but she hasn't played L.A. recently.
Nikki I've seen The Kills a lot, but I don't know... They're not as good live as on their albums.
Nikki Blowing up is all about who you know now.
Nikki's comment made me think... is blowing up, playing cross-national tours, and being able to make a living off your music really about the people you know?
Networking is part of why we (independent musicians) play shows and go to conferences, right? But whom are we trying to meet? Where do they hail from? What do they do? Are we trying to meet one person or a group?
Is that why we are all so apathetic? We're waiting for that person? We might as well be waiting for Godot.
God forbid that person catches us choking on a drink or enjoy ourselves, or danciiiiinnggg yeah yeah! Maybe we'd blow our chance to meet that person and they would just look at us, pause, and walk on by...
Prior to my conversation with Nikki, I read a comment forwarded by Bob Leftsetz (Bob Lefsetz writes The Leftsetz Letter, you can subscribe here. He will email you more than your girlfriend and ramble more than your grandma). The comment was a response from a well-known musician who claimed that succeeding in music is about whether you can hang.
Really? That's all? Musicians are notoriously good at hangin' out mmmmk? Don't tell us how to hang!
The real question is who do we hang with? Who do we impress? Is it that person we've been waiting for? Other musicians? Friends? Is it a company? A sugar-daddy? A group of people?
If said person happened to arrive and we successfully "hang" with them, what would they do for us? Would they invest in us? Book us? Market us? Help us get distribution? You're thinking: all of the above (you hope) and for a simple return on their investment. Right?
So, how do we make them help us? Do they have to like us? Do we have to have talent? Does talent matter anymore? Or is everything, including our success, just based on our ability to hang with the right people? ...JESUS. That's a lot of questions. All of this can't be dependent on our ability to hang, can it?
I personally think that talent does matter. And hell, you need a lot of it or some other kind of appeal. Let's be honest; we're all competing with the Beyoncés, the Mick Jaggers, the Justin Timberlakes, and the One Directions. And competing with that sucks for everyone.
Between the American Idol franchise, The Voice, booty-shakers, stargazers, and innovators, the music market is rough right now for the indie musician trying to make it. The market is brutal even. Television networks, producers, and labels are publicizing some of the best talent out there with way more money than most people will ever have in their bank accounts.
We have competition man! And you know what? We're not only competing with the multi-million dollar established artist who already has a piece of the action, we're also competing with the 15-year-old down the block who convinced his mom to take him to Idol auditions, who happens to have a voice sweeter than God's trumpeting angels and a ton of high school friends.
Regardless of what anyone says, FIRST, you have to be good. SECOND, you have to have talent. THIRD, you to have be tight. FOURTH, you have to have a cohesive vibe. FIFTH, you have to be personable. How you get to that point is another blog post in itself. BUT, there is more...
If you want to play stadiums to thousands of roaring rabid fans, which most indie bands gigging from bar-to-bar aspire to achieve, you have to impress the fans. The fans are The People You Need to Know.
I already know what you're thinking. That's it? Oh yeah, no problem! Fans will just flock to my shows... 'cause my music rocks. My band is bedroom rock royalty. John Lennon couldn't write better songs and my mom thinks I seriously kick bum.
NO! That's not how it works! Fans are hard to impress. Trust me, they're little flighty punks. Consumers have entertainment at their fingertips. They can vote to see who they want, they can listen to what they want without commercial interruptions, they can download what they want, and they will buy what they want. They'll vote you off the island because they don't like you're hair. Plus, you have a lot of competition! Remember?
So now you're asking, how do I impress the fans?
You start with one person. And if you can get one person to really like you and your band, I mean gushhhh over you like a 13-year-old over One Direction... then, one will become two, two will become three, three will become four...
Because, a fan who truly loves your music will tell a friend, who will tell a friend, who will tell a friend, just like a Ponsi scheme (minus the fraud). Hell, they'll post your music on Facebook and will want to tell all of their friends about you because they discovered you first. Soon enough, you'll have 20 million hits on Youtube faster than Taylor Swift and you'll be fighting Kayne back for the mic at your Grammy acceptance speech.
But, remember, if you wear your sunglasses at night and you're too uptight your fans will be out of sight because you can't get to know the people!
The people want to CONNECT with you. They want exclusive access to you. They want to know what you're doing, where you're playing, what new songs you're writing, what books you like to read, and how many cats you have. They want you to instagram your dinner. Mmmmmmk?
So chill out, take off the sunglasses, and hang with your fans. Give them benefits for passing on your music. Interact with them and be friendly. Don't hang out in the green room after your gig! Go out, be merry, sign the autographs, and take the pictures. Do all of this regularly! Think of new and innovative ways to get the fans involved with your band and your music. CONNECT.
Nikki was right; it is about the people you know. Just make sure you're hanging with and getting to know the right people. You feel me?