Friday, July 22, 2011

Want a touring gig with a Artist or band? Here's how it works.


A quick chat with road warrior and pro musician Andy Sheridan.


How did you get into music?

My life has revolved around music from an early age. I started taking piano lessons classically at age 4. Both my parents are musicians. Guitar came in high school. I was just trying to be cool! Piano wasn't cool to me then, I hated it actually when I was younger but my parents made me stick it out. Boy am I glad they did!

Were you in bands growing up?

Yeah I was in a couple bands. At the time I had my own original music, I was playing at church and I was also playing in a couple other bands throughout high school. My dreams starting focusing around music when I was in these bands. I thought to myself, well, we are making a couple dollars here and there, why not try and make a career out of it? 

Did you attend school?

One year at Kentucky Christian university as a church music major, I thought it'd be a good way to incorporate music an get paid for it...turns out that's not the greatest attitude to have towards church music. Through that year I slowly began to realize that me being in the middle of nowhere Kentucky wasn't helping my musical dreams to become a reality. So I decided to transfer, although I know why I went to KCU, that's where I met my wife! Decide to transfer to Belmont University in Nashville. Music city had to have something to offer me. Even though I still wasn't sure what I wanted to do with my life, I started school as a commercial piano major. I took lessons from guys that really kicked my butt. The good part of this was it was reassurance that I was doing the right thing. After 2 and 1/2 years of classes I got the gig with Phil Vassar.  
So I "postponed" my education. :) 


“It's not really about who you know, it's about who knows you”. 


How did you start playing for Phil Vassar?

During my time at Belmont I worked as a front of house engineer for a dinner theater where my wife worked. I met the husband of a gal who was in one of the productions with my wife. He was the fiddle player for Phil at the time. He introduced me to Phil and the gang one evening and I ended up doing an internship with Phil that summer. Lots of sweat, long days and hot trailers later, I was offered the full time position as acoustic guitar player and tech. Hard work actually does pay off. 

What are a few tips for the person trying to get a gig playing for some one?

Meet anyone and everyone that plays. Whether it's in town, down on lower Broadway or on the road full time, make connections. You have to shamelessly self promote yourself. It's not really about who you know, it's about who knows you. 

How does a typical Nashville band tryout work?

The band leader of the band or artist you are auditioning for will contact you and let you know which songs they want to hear during the audition. And depending on what capacity you are trying to fill, guitar, keys, bgvs..., you have a short amount of time to learn the tunes. The key here is memorization. They don’t want you to be reading charts when you audition. It looks bad on your part. Then they will set a date for the audition, sometimes only a few days away, then you show up, LOOKING THE PART, can't emphasize this enough. Look professional when you show up. Play the songs, and then typically within a few days they will let you know their decision. 
It could also happen a bit differently though, if the artist is in a bind, someone quit/was fired unexpectedly, they might bring you out for a few shows and that will be your audition. Tryout under fire!

How do you stay healthy on the road?

Staying healthy is one of the hardest parts. But it's all about a routine. Get in the habit of waking up early for a run, or walk, or try and hit the local YMCA or gym. Also, partner up. Find someone who wants to stay healthy too. It's much easy when you have other people to motivate you and keep you accountable. 

Other tips? 
I have always said/heard that your musicianship is only about 50% of you keeping your gig. You have to have a golden work ethic and a good attitude. Otherwise someone who is in line for your gig will replace you in a heartbeat. And that's the other thing as well, NEVER forget that there are thousands of other people that do what you do and don't have a gig. So keep yourself around by staying on top of the music, playing good shows and being a good hang. Remember, this won't last forever, so enjoy every show, long bus ride, and seeing new places. Practicing doesn't hurt either...  ;-) 

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

The Adventures Of Co-Writing

I was sixteen when I walked into my first pro studio. I was there to co-write with a producer who had been signed by Capital Records as an artist earlier in his career. It was a big deal! He came in sat down and after some brief chitchat he asked me what song ideas I had been working on. I showed him a couple and off he went taking my ideas into whatever direction he chose. Whenever I would speak up with an idea he would dismiss it because, after all, I was just a punk kid.  That was my first real co-writing experience. It was a bit rough to say the least. Since then I’ve had the opportunity to co-write with all kinds of people and it has honestly been one of the most musically rewarding things that I have ever experienced.

Two heads are better than one! 
When two talented people get together to write a song the results are, on average, far better than if it was just one writer.  You are constantly being pushed by each other to come up with that perfect line. You have twice as many ideas going. When you’re stuck they aren’t and when they are drawing a blank you have that perfect idea. Their not quite right idea will lead you to another not quite right idea, which will lead you to the perfect final idea.  It’s ideas going everywhere. Lennon and McCartney needed each other and if two of the best writers in history co-write then you should seriously consider it.

Are you crazy? That’s awesome!
One of the great reasons to co-write is it keeps you from throwing out good ideas. I may be feeling sheepish about my bridge melody idea and ready to throw it out and the other person says “are you crazy that part is awesome’!  There have been times that I’ve almost thrown out the main hook of a song just because I was feeling insecure.  Nashville Producer Lynn Nichols used to tell me all artists are insecure about their music because they are sharing parts of who they are. No one wants to be rejected for who they are.  In my experience, he’s exactly right!

Find someone that is talented and fits you.
The only way to find the write co-writing partner is to just start writing with other talented people. You will know when its right.  If the person you are co-writing with isn’t talented well then none if this will matter. Your going to run into people who are talented, but for whatever reason the fit isn’t right. A lot of times people can be a bit selfish with their ideas.  Don’t be one of those people! Its only keeping you from writing a better song! 

Don’t let a bad experience stop you.
I’m glad that as a sixteen year old I didn’t let one bad experience stop me from pursuing co-writing with others. I would have missed out on so much. Not only can you write some fantastic songs but you create long lasting relationships that matter. 

Saturday, June 25, 2011

What Am I Waiting For?



Its a question that I've asked myself my whole life.
I nervously mumbled it before I signed up to play pee wee soccer. I asked it (in my tough guy voice) when my friends started talking about forming a rock band in the eighth grade. And today I'm still asking the same question.  What am I waiting for?  As a musician you live in a hurry up and wait world. You hurry up to travel to a gig and then you wait three hours to hit the stage. You hurry up and make contact with a booking agent and then you wait 3 months for them to get back to you. If your lucky you hurry up and record and then you wait for your label to release it six months later. Plain and simple, it sucks! One of the main reasons why artists don't have success is that they wait on others to do what only they can do.


Completely relying on others is a huge mistake!
Your manager or producer probably doesn't wake up thinking about how to make you successful in the morning. They wake up thinking about how to make themselves successful and that may or may not include you. No matter what level you get to, you have to be the one driving your career. I understand that you can't do everything and you shouldn't do everything yourself, but you should be the one in the drivers seat.

Here is what every artist should be doing!
Recently, Phil Vassar got on the phones and called radio station music directors all over the nation and he personally talked to them about his new upcoming single. How awesome is that? Every country radio music director gets the thrill of a lifetime by having Phil Vassar call and ask for them personally and chat for a few minutes. Phil gets a lot more plays on his new single and a lot more support from those core stations. Sounds like somewhere along the way Phil learned that if it was going to happen then he was going to have to do it. You may not be able to call radio stations, but you can call venues and you can make sure that your fans know that they are your priority. (Ever thought of sending out thank you cards to fans?)

Drive your career.
Always be brainstorming on how you can market yourself better. Are you communicating your vision to your team? (booking agents, managers, label, etc.) What if your not getting their best because there isn't any vision? If you don't set the vision, who will?
No vision equals no success! So, what exactly are you and I waiting for?

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Preparing For The Studio

So you’ve finally saved up the money to record your masterpiece. You’ve found the perfect producer that “gets you” and you’ve set the date to start recording. Life is good! Now what?  You know there is more to it. But what is it that you should be doing from now until your project starts? Do the people who make amazing albums just get lucky? No they don’t.  Being prepared means everything. Football player and Super Bowl champion Ronde Barber has this to say, 



"There is no such thing as luck. Bounces go either way.  Every day you have to take advantage of those situations. You call it luck and I call it being prepared”.

Here is a quick list of things that you need to be doing.

Make sure that your band is rehearsing like crazy
It’s simple.  The more time you spend on your songs the more you will know your parts and the tighter they will be.  As a producer, if I have a band that knows their parts and can play their instruments I can move on to helping them make the song better instead of being bogged down by sorting through a jumbled mess.

Pre-production is key
Keeping in touch with your producer and making sure that all agree on the album game plan will be huge in helping you make the most of your time. Elements like song structure, tempo, song key and song selection can and should be worked out before hand.  Every album and every situation is different, but this should be kept as a general rule.

Keep writing songs
Just because you’ve set a recording date doesn’t mean you should stop writing. Matter of fact, it means just the opposite! Great albums have great songs, so try to beat out what you already have.

Attention guitar players
Change your strings a week before you come to the studio.  New strings stretch and can cause some serious tuning issues, plus the tone isn’t the greatest right out of the package. If you forget and its last minute yank on the strings (Within reason.  Don’t break anything) to stretch them out.  Wipe your hands up and down the strings (get some of the oil off your hands on it) and leave it out of the case overnight.This will help speed up the pace of wearing in your strings.  Drummers should also change their drum heads well before its time to record.

Do you have an “oh no bag”?
This is the bag that saves your life.  The contents should include a tuner, extra stings, cables, picks of all sizes, tools, and amp tubes. Drummers should have an extra snare, sticks, heads, etc.

Squeaks and squawks
There have been many a session delayed by a squeaky kick pedal or a rattle in the back of a guitar amp. Go through your gear and if you find something let the producer know ahead of time. That way if a new amp or pedal needs to be found there is time to beg, steal or borrow another one.

Girlfriends and friends are not invited
Be a professional. If your not serious about what you’re doing then nobody else will be either. Keep the hang outs outside of the studio. If people want to drop in with lunch and chat for a second then fine, but anything more than that is counter productive.

Relax
Sometimes what we all need to do is nothing! Give yourself some time to recharge before you hit the studio. Fresh ears and a clear head are priceless.
I know musicians and football players don’t usually mix but I think Ronde is right on with this one. It is all about being prepared!

Monday, June 13, 2011

The next blog is up to you!


I'm throwing it out to you. What would you like the next blog topic to be? What music business question has got you scratching your head?
Leave a comment on the blog or simply send me a message through facebook  http://www.facebook.com/blake.easter

Thank you for checking out Swiss Cheese And Toilet Paper!

~Blake Easter

Thursday, June 2, 2011

What do you do when you don’t know what to do?

So, there you are sitting in front of the TV watching old reruns of The Young And The Restless, (80’s version. Oh yeah!) not because you want to, but because you don’t have anything to do today. You read in blogs and articles all the time about staying active in your career, moving forward and doing the little things that add up to big things in the future. In the music business you are always operating six months out. It takes six months (or close to it) to book a solid tour and have your marketing prepared. When your working on a new album, very rarely do you write, line up a producer and finish the recording in less than six months. Even ASCAP pays out every four months. (So if you have your hit guess what.  You’re going to be waiting for that check!) 




The fact is what you do today directly effects your success in just a few months!

Here are some quick ideas.

  • Write a song– If you don’t have good songs you don’t have anything! Co-writing is a huge music career help. It helps create and facilitate relationships and after all each song is a lottery ticket and you never know you might just score big.
  • Practice your instrument– Private accomplishments turn into public victories
  • Get on the phone– Call up those clubs, identify a specific location (50 mile radius) and call every venue that you can. Even if they say no as long as you were friendly and informative about your band the odds of a possible future gig at that location just went up.
  • Work on your merch– Do your designs need work? Do you need to research a photographer? Do you need to reorder/restock? How about brainstorming new merch items?
  • Go through your phone and email– Who do you know that is a possible musical contact?  How about just sending them a hello text or email? A lot of times when people hear from you they think “Oh yeah I forgot about so and so. I could use them for my upcoming event.”
  • Ask your contact for other contacts– Be careful as you need to know the person your asking pretty well before you can ask them for other names. Club owners know other owners. Pastors know other Pastors etc. This is an awesome way to book more shows.
  • Buy some thank you cards– Send out Thank you cards to people who have recently booked you or even fans that keep coming out to your shows. You do this and you will create fans for life!
  • Update your Facebook, Twitter etc– Make sure the bio, pictures and tour schedule are all updated.
  • Do you Blog?-Write about your experiences. Even if no one reads it, just by writing down your thoughts you will help yourself think through your situation.  Personally I find writing brings a ton of ideas. 
  • Go hang out where musicians hang out– If you hang out and make friends its amazing what opportunities you can get by just being friendly with people.

Friday, May 13, 2011

I’m Bringing Christmas In May!



Every year I walk into the mall on a nice fall day and at some point it happens.  I start noticing the red and green decorations and find myself humming “Chestnuts Roasting” (Yes, I know the real title is “Christmas Song”.  I choose to not use it as I think that’s a cop out title!) Last year, they literally had Christmas music and decorations up the first week of October! Before Halloween?!?!  Seriously guys! What’s up with that!?!?!
Here’s The Good News
The good news is that Christmas can be a really good time for independent artists to expand their fan base and exposure.  Every year right after Thanksgiving radio stations start switching over to their Christmas formats and that means there is a ton of potential for unknown artists to not only get exposure, but to get some serious consideration for future quality radio play! Bottom line…score with a Christmas song on radio and they will ask you what else you have for the rest of the year.
Christian Radio, Mainstream, Pop, Rock….eh, it’s all the same at Christmas
All radio formats will at some point play Christmas music even if its just the final two weeks of December or after a certain time of day. They still may stylistically separate a more rock sounding Christmas song for the rock station or a pop sound for the pop station, but almost every Christmas song has one thing in common.  It’s OK to be spiritual during Christmas. (Side note – Christian artists this is huge for you!)

Christmas in May
Here is a quick list of elements that you need to be successful during Christmas.
1. The right song
Do not pick “O Holy Night” (I love this song too!) Everyone and their mother will choose this and you will lose to a bigger artist. After all a radio station can’t play five versions of the same song in a row, can they?

2. The song has to be up to pro production standards
There are lots of producers, including myself, who you could contact. Its amazing how useful Facebook is! Be sure to be polite after all they are just people. (I used my mom voice while typing that one.)

3.  You will need a quality Radio Promoter
Think of radio promoters as booking agents for the radio waves.  You pay them to promote one song and they use their connections at stations to get radio play. Understand you may hire the best radio promoter in the world, but there are simply no guarantees. That’s the simple truth. Here is an awesome company to check out if your looking for radio promotion!



4. You had better get a move on
Radio promotions last on average 4 months, which means that when you hit July or August your already pushing your luck. Now is the time to start working on your new Christmas hit!

I still want my candy!

Christmas in October still really gives me the creeps and I’m not quite ready to trade my Halloween candy for mistletoe and tinsel. But as a professional musician and independent artist, it is great to have a longer Christmas season to make the most of it.  And more time for my music is always a pretty awesome present!

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Bill Gaither Is The Future Of The Music Business




“If you want to understand today, you have to search yesterday.”  ~Pearl Buck

           




Complete panic. People are downloading and not buying music, record labels are closing and even radio is seeing their listeners wander away from their favorite FM stations for YouTube or Pandora. The music world is ending, as we know it. You may be thinking, “OK Mr. Smarty pants, what’s the answer to the music world’s problems?” Two words:  Bill Gaither. 
            For those of you who may not follow Southern Gospel you may be in the dark. Let me fill you in on a man who may very well rival P-Diddy and he did it with little to no radio!           
            Bill Gaither is a songwriter, performer, label owner and entrepreneur.
Gaither's Homecoming tours, which started in 1991, brought together major stars of the southern gospel and CCM industry, sparking a revival of the genres. The tours have sold more than 1.1 million tickets across the world and have included such notable venues as the Kennedy Center and Carnegie Hall. Pollstar listed the tour as selling more tickets in 2004 than Elton John, Fleetwood Mac or Rod Stewart.

Quick rundown on his major achievements
                Among the top 75 American entrepreneurs: Entrepreneur Magazine
                Grammy Awards in 1973, 1975, 1991, 1999, 2009; additional nominations in 1969, 1974, 1984 (x2), 1987, 1993, 1997, 1998
                Dove Awards in 1970, 1972, 1973, 1974 (x2), 1975, 1976 (x2), 1977 (x2), 1978, 1979, 1980, 1981, 1982, 1986, 1987, 1988, 1991, 1992, 1993, 1994 (x3), 1995, 1999 (x2), 2000.
                Multi-platinum albums: 2. Platinum albums: 22. Gold albums: 21.

Say What!

Here’s my point.
The future of the music industry is utterly and completely about niche marketing and Bill is the perfect example. He knew that his fans were older Christian folks.  He went to where they already were. (Look around the Cracker Barrel restaurant store sometime)  He connected with them on a emotional level and he never ever strays from his Gaither brand.  But most importantly he gave a select group of people that nobody cared about exactly what they wanted...constantly and continually.   Since 1991 Bill has released One hundred and eleven different “Homecoming” DVD’s! Understand that’s not including any of his bazillion (yes I know that’s not a real number!) CD’s.  So why are they so successful? Simple. Bill makes the emotional connection and his fans feel like he’s a good friend from just down the street.

Do yourself a favor and don’t be to cool!
            Isn’t it amazing that one of the “oldest” and most “dated” genres would be the prime example to show us the future! Go check out Bill’s empire and I promise you, musicians, if you aren’t to cool to learn from him, Bill might just be the one to take you down memory lane and show you the way to the future. 

Thursday, March 24, 2011

"Bands and Photography" a quick interview with Photographer Will Knowles






Question 1 - How should indie artists go about starting their search for a photographer? 

The first thing an artist should do when starting their search for a photographer is figure out an ideal budget and what they want their end product to feel like. Generally speaking, you get what you pay for... If you pay your friend to take your pictures for a $100, it wont have the same polish if you hire a photographer that requires his rate + a budget for rentals and a(n) assistant(s).

As for finding a photographer, you can google around for photographers, but the best thing you can do is ask and take recommendations from friends. Look through portfolios and find which style best represents who you are as an artist. It'll pay off in the end to hire someone you can trust and who naturally communicates your style.

Question 2 - From your perspective is it better for an artist to know exactly what they want or in your experience has it worked better to let you be more spontaneously creative?

This comes down to preference for the photographer... Its a good thing to feel out in an introduction. As for me, I generally like someone who has an opinions and/or concepts, but isn't pushy about ideas and trusts me when I suggest something different. With that said, some people don't really have ideas/believe that's why they're hiring me... and at the end of the day, they're right. I just like to give people the option of being involved.

Question 3 - What are things that are red flags for artists to look out for when searching for a photographer?

Photographers should be part artist and part business person... If they lack the business acumen, they might leave you with an incomplete project, stretched over a ridiculous time frame, and ultimately leaving you wishing you had gone with someone else. 

Communication is key. If they don't respond promptly the first couple times, you'll probably have a hard time getting in touch with them post-project.

Question 4 - What should an artists expectations be coming into the shoot? Does a photographer fix collars and roll up sleeves or should they bring along a makeup artist and stylist?

If you trust your photographer, they should come in expecting to have a good time... Having your picture taken can be tough... the more you can stay loose, the better the end product will be.
Its odd, the more you pay for a photographer, the less they do... production wise. If you have your friend take your pictures, they'll probably be more than willing to help out in any way possible: styling, make-up, etc... However, if you hire out a legit photographer, they'll want to hire a team. The thought being, hire experts and let people do what they're great at: A make-up artist does a much better job with make-up than a photographer. Feel free to hire your own stylist/make-up artist, especially if that's who you feel comfortable with... just ask first.

Question 5 - How does artist photography differ from standard ad photography?

There isn't a huge difference on the photography side. Its more the business side. Most ad photographers have a day rate and then make you rent the images for a specific period of time. Artist photographers generally bill you once and just make it count.

Question 6 - What is one piece of advice that you could give artists that may not have a large budget for images?

         Look hard. Ask around. Eventually you'll find someone that fits your budget. 
         Using a student or a friend can be a crap shoot, but with all forms of gambling and
         ... sometimes it pays off.

Question 7 - What comes in a standard package? (How many images do i get? What do I have the rights to use? etc.)

        There isn't really a standard package... it depends on the photographer. Some photographers would burn you a disc of all the pictures and call it a day... Some will charge you based on how you use the images. The most basic package you could end up with is one that gives you x amount of images with rights to use it with print and web.

For more information on Photographer Will Knowles please visit http://willknowles.com

Swiss Cheese And Toilet Paper

video

Thursday, March 17, 2011

What I learned From Justin Bieber -Part One


Baby, baby, baby oh…Ok I’ll stop right there.  So the story goes that Justin Bieber and his mom uploaded videos of Justin singing at a talent competition on YouTube in 2007.  The next thing you know he’s having a meeting with Usher and on his way to stardom.  Wow!  That is one crazy story!  So anyone can do the same thing and just wait for that major record label to call them,right? Lets just say the odds are not good!
Instead of kids getting their new favorite artists from pop radio, kids discover music on the web. We live in a fast instant gratification world and there is a vast amount of information.  Which means for artists that your 15 minutes of fame (AKA Vanilla Ice) is now 15 seconds of fame.  So as artists, how do we use internet marketing in a way to get real results?
Well lets go back and look at Justin Bieber and break that story down.
A.     Justin Bieber has talent and is a good looking kid
B.     He focused on a specific website where his potential fans (i.e. 10-18 year old girls) already were.   YouTube is the second most used search engine next to Google!
C.     He used an already popular song (i.e. Ne YO) to grab the YouTube user’s attention.
D.    He moved quickly after there was a fan base to get constant songs, pictures, video’s out to them as fast as possible. I believe that more songs of average quality are more valuable in this market than one amazing song! (Man that really hurt to say that!)
E.     Justin had an interesting story that made the media take notice.
F.     Lightning struck and he’s making the most of it.
G.     I’m still not convinced that this wasn’t a record label manufacturing a rag’s to rich’s story.  Even so, it doesn’t matter because it worked!
Less about Justin Bieber and more about You
Let’s make this less about Justin and more about you. No matter what website you use that website has a shelf life. Remember when MySpace was the greatest thing ever? Facebook and YouTube at some point will be replaced so throwing your career to the internet fates is not a wise thing to do. Instead stop and think about who your potential fan base is? If you’re a finger style guitarist then 40 - 60 year old men are right in your target market. Find websites where those people are already hanging out and focus your efforts there. There are even websites for certain religious denominations, so if you’re a Christian band then go find the websites that you know people will identify with you.  Check out shoutlife.com
One of the mistakes that I made as an artist is that I tried to sign my band up for every website in the world in the hopes of being at the top of the search engine listings.  Here is what happens when you do that: you end up spending all of your time signing up and loading music and images when you could be focusing in on the right two or three websites and constructing a plan that would build as you go and not just be Facebook “Likes”, but real fans.

The Benefits Of Video
Try to use video as much as you can! Honestly, this is something that I need to start working into my blog! These days people don’t like to read so try to use video as much as you can. It’s amazing what you can do with a $200.00 flip cam and imovie. (Every band or artist better have one!)
Your Website Needs To Be Your Anchor.  Find ways to funnel traffic from your Facebook, Youtube, or whatever it is back to your website. Example: post a few pictures on Facebook as a teaser.  Then post,  “To see the rest of the photo’s click on this link”, which takes viewers back to your webpage. Always, always, always make your website more of a priority than your Facebook page.

There Is No A+B=Record Deal!
There is so much to cover on internet marketing, so in the coming weeks expect more on this topic as we are just scratching the surface. Remember there is no A+B=Record Deal, so what works for you in internet marketing and what works for someone else maybe be all together different.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Toilet Paper And Swiss Cheese


At least once a week I get a CD of an aspiring artist handed to me. I’m convinced Starbucks is the music and business hub of Nashville. I really try to make an effort to listen to everything that I receive. After all, I know first hand from the last fifteen years how hard being an independent musician can be.  You never know, that blank disc with the band name scribbled in mint green marker just might be the next Coldplay.
Ninety-nine percent of the time the CD is sonically not up to par (this is my nice way of saying absolutely freaking terrible!) and there are always basic song writing mistakes spread through out. Now if you had stopped reading here you would walk away thinking there is no hope and that Blake guy is a total jerk. But wait, there is hope! This is the point where we all sit back, take a deep breath, take a sip of our favorite coffee, and address the issue of why working with a producer is so important.
A friend of mine once told me about when he fell into an opportunity to work at a small boutique ad agency in the late sixties. He had just gotten back from being on a two month long tour with his band.  To land a job that wasn’t bagging groceries was a huge stroke of luck. As the agencies youngest employee, he soon found himself marketing everything from toilet paper to Swiss cheese.  Once a week they would all gather in the conference room set the product for whatever new account they had just landed in the center of the table and they would start brainstorming. “What’s different about this product than its competition? What are the products uses? What are the benefits? What are the negatives? How do we hide or spin the negatives?” It wasn’t long before my friend realized how much his new work at the ad agency was a perfect image of artists in the music industry. The point is, when you are “the product” it is near to impossible to be blatantly, terribly, and ruthlessly honest with yourself about the quality of your product. I think the job description of a producer is this. A person that helps you do what you do better, or as my mentor Lynn Nichols say’s “Let’s figure out who you wanna be when you grow up”. 
We live in an amazing time where every ten year old kid has a pro tools setup in their bedroom. Don’t get me wrong, I love the idea of every artist spitting in the eye of the cigar smoking, music biz fat cat! The fact is, in order to compete in today’s music business you need great songs and a great recording. Yes, I know there are, of course, exceptions to the rule. We’ve all read articles about the guy who recorded his whole Grammy winning album in his bedroom in Iceland or whatever. That’s great for him, but for the rest of us mortals we need to seek outside input to reach our potential.  Don’t let pride or even fear be the reason why you release sub par music.  Find yourself a producer!


Written by Blake Easter
blake.easter@gmail.com

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

I Pity The Fool!

When I was growing up in the eighties one of my favorite shows on TV was The A-Team.  I can still picture the awesome black and red van, hear the theme music playing, and I chuckle when I think of all the over the top explosions where no one was ever seriously injured.  The A-Team was always up against some impossible mission.  Hannibal, the leader of the A-Team, would help devise up a step-by-step plan (usually with junk yard car parts, a machine gun and one of the guys dressing like a woman) that would accomplish their goals to perfection. It always ended happy and the good guys always won!       

Dont you wish it was just that easy in real life!


So what is a good music biz plan? Is there a mystical A+B=record deal formula? Where in the world do I start?  Through the years Ive learned that when youre dealing with the music business you constantly find yourself living in a big picture world.  Goals like getting signed, building a fan base or the big one of making it can seem out of reach and completely overwhelming. I have lost many years and many dollars spinning my wheels because I was unknowingly playing the part of Future man. When your Future man your focus is constantly on the big picture which causes you to lose focus on what needs to be done today. Seeing the big picture is a very good thing, but seeing it all the time is crippling to your career.
Take for instance that the task on hand is building a band website. (Big picture) Sounds simple enough, but if you start with the website your getting the cart before the horse (You can thank my mother for that one).  Before you hire a web designer there are a few things that you may have already missed. Do you have your web URL purchased? Do you have new photo images to provide the designer to design around? Do you have new music finished? Has your merch been photographed for your website store?  Ok, stop! This blog isnt about building a website (although that may be a future blog), its about being able to work backwards from our big picture goals to a tangible first step. 
Example: Lets say your big picture goal is to get signed.  If we follow our train of thought all the way back to the beginning we find ourselves facing the simple questions of do you have a band? Do you have original music? Then we take another thought forward to what do you have on your merch table to sell? Are you playing shows? Do you have a professional recording?  Do you have professional images? See how this moves forward? At each stop, say the Do-you-have-a-professional-recording step, we can seek in depth help from the many credible articles and blogs out there to help us in that specific step. Google search it!
Yes, I realize this is all seems obvious, but ninety percent of the time you and I miss this stuff and guess what happens when we miss it? We have to back track and that costs us opportunities, money and the big career killer……. time! 

Proverbs says, Wise men learn by others mistakes, fools by their own.
Mr. T was right I really do pity the fool!

Written by: Blake Easter
blake.easter@gmail.com

Sunday, February 20, 2011

The Desert Island Merch Table

I’ve been constantly frustrated by music business magazine articles, blogs or eBooks that present the problems of the industry and in the end don’t provide any helpful information on what in the world the artist should do! So lets get down to it. What is do or die? What piece of the business of an artist’s career makes the biggest impact? What part of your business should you get right even if you end up messing up everything else? The answer is quite simple. Merchandise Table!
Selling merch is the difference between you having enough gas to get home and being stranded in Southern Georgia. (Trust me, I know.  It’s no fun). It’s the difference between getting paid a couple hundred bucks for a gig or a couple thousand.  Understand the information listed below is by no means the only way to do it. But my tips are battle tested and have helped me immensely in giving me a career making music.
            Know your audience?
Bear with me for a moment, as I’m about to go a bit extreme to make a point.
Look at the difference between Metallica and Brittany Spears.  Who buys their music? What do they wear? Where do they shop? What other products do they buy?  Metallica for instance has made millions off of selling Black everything; black albums, black t-shirts, black stickers, black hoodies etc. Why? Because that’s what their fans want and that is what they already wear!  Brittany on the other hand has bright “girly” colors; pink, white, blue, etc.  She would never sell on her merch table what Metallica has sold a million of. Why? Because it’s just not the same life style and its just not the same fans.
            The wonder of T-Shirts.
The band t-shirt was basically started by arguably the greatest band of all time: The Beatles. Since then, every band (including mine) has made a lot of money off of this no brainer.  First rule of T-shirts (keep in mind the know your audience rule) Simple is always best.  Go simple with your design and colors. Black T-shirts almost always sell the best. People just want your band or artist name across their chest.  The great news about this is that what people want the most is also the cheapest to make! Cool designs are still a very valuable commodity, but in my experience they will not be your biggest sellers and the will cost you a lot more. Always, always go with a comfortable material over a fancy design.
            CD’s are still the bee’s knees!
Lets imagine I just saw you play live and guess what…you killed! I rush over to your merch table to buy your music and all you have is a download card or a flash drive?!?! The after show buzz is gone! I had visions of rocking out to your last song in the set on my drive back home.
Here’s the deal. Technology is great and I would encourage everyone to look into download cards, flashes drives, iPod docks etc., but never, ever choose these before you have a CD.  CD’s are still by far the most cost effective way to sell your music and they provide the fan with very important instant satisfaction.

     Bundles work.
You have three main items on your merch table; a simple t-shirt, a CD and a poster. Lets say all of these items combined cost you $6.25.  When fans approach your table with a 20-dollar bill they are already willing to spend it all.  Give them a reason to spend it! Create a deal for them.
Take that black T-shirt that you sell for 15 bucks, add in your CD for 5.00 and something cheap, like the poster, that you also sell for 5 bucks and sell it for $20.
Your pitch is “If you buy the “special” then you get the T-shirt and the CD for $20 and we will throw in the poster for “free”. That’s a $13.75 profit.  Your fans will be walking away thanking you for an awesome deal and you’ll be thanking them for the extra five bucks. 

Quick recap. Happy fans equal more money for you and more t-shirts, CD’s and posters out there advertising your band at your fans expense.


Written by: Blake Easter
blake.easter@gmail.com

Saturday, January 29, 2011

What Every Artist Can Learn From The Joshua Tree


           

















1987. Regan was still president, Beverly Hills Cop 3 was at the movies, and a little band named U2 released an album titled “Joshua Tree”.  Joshua Tree is considered by many music critics as one of the greatest rock records of all time. Not only are there gaudy album sales to prove this album was special, but amazingly artist after artist and band after band continue to list this record as a major influence twenty-four years later. Cool. Fine. Great…but why?
Great songs are everything!
When I sit down and start listening to songs like, “Where The Streets Have No Name” or “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For,” I don’t notice how bad the bass tone is or how sloppy the drums are. I hear huge energy, great lyrics and above all amazing melody. How in the world can a recording be that “bad” and yet are considered as an all time classic? Honestly the answer is quite simple. Great songs. Great songs can make fans forgive a band for a bad live show. (Watch the band Keane live sometime) Great songs can help listeners ignore a terrible singer. (Bob Dylan, please forgive me.)  And in U2’s case great songs help us forgive a pretty bad recording. If you don’t have great songs then you have absolutely nothing.
Most independent artists are under the impression that the unobtainable “hit” song is written by a mysterious person born with super human musical genius in just five minutes. Then simply recorded in thirty minutes and then sent to radio. This is nowhere close to reality. Trust me when I say even the most talented songwriters are very human. Writing a great song is a fight! It’s pushing through and not letting yourself settle for that “just OK“ melody or lyric. It’s finding all the parts of the song that your gut tells you are just OK and replacing them with something that excites you. My producer friend Lynn Nichols says it best when he says, “Great songs are not written. They are re-written”.  Don’t be afraid to tear apart your songs and rewrite them.  I guarantee that’s just what they need.
           

Written by: Blake Easter
blake.easter@gmail.com

Saturday, January 22, 2011

White Guys Can’t Jump!



Remember the 1992 film, “White men can’t jump”? Woody Harrelson, playing the geeky but some how loveable Billy Hoyle, hustling LA’s toughest basketball players? Man, I loved that movie. As a short, white and probably geeky kid myself, I loved the playful banter that addressed certain stereotypes that otherwise might have been taboo. The movie made it plain and undeniable. Sometimes generalizations are just flat out true. Recently, I’ve started to become aware of certain “general” truths concerning bands or artists in the music business. It seems the same handful of issues just keep coming up.
          
General Truth #1:  Band’s are there own worst enemy
How many times have we heard of a band breaking up just when things were about to break? In the last year I can think of five different artists right off hand that have ruined opportunities just by their bad attitudes and ego. Bands that find a way of staying together have a way of being successful. It might seem like I’m playing the part of Mr. obvious here, but it’s the truth. After all, in your town who is the most booked band? Who has the best merchandise table at shows? Who has the most industry connections? The band that has been together for a while, that’s who.
            General Truth #2:  You don’t need a manager until there is something to manage
Every band that has credible talent will at some point be approached by somebody that wants to “manage” them. This can easily be the biggest mistake you will ever make in your music career, so be very careful! Industry standard for managers is 10-15% of gross earnings. That means they make money off of everything from shows to t-shirts to the movie you just starred in. A good manager has there hands in everything as the job description reads something like, “to enhance and create opportunities for growth in all facets of the artists career”. The only times that you should hire a manager is if you have so much going on that you can’t handle all of it yourself or if the person wanting to manage you is the manager of U2 and somehow fell in love with your music and is willing to stick by you as you grow.
            General Truth #3:  In an artists development there are no shortcuts
We’ve all heard the term “pay your dues”. When I hear this I instantly think of the old, chain-smoking, blues man.  This is a way of quickly describing the process labels refer to as “artist development”. Every show you play, every fan you interact with, every interview you conduct, I mean everything you do, will help form you into a better artist. It’s worth noting that even American Idol has its contestants for almost a year prior to you seeing them on TV. Why don’t you know that? Simple, contestants sign a contract with a gag order and if they talk about it, they are history.
            General Truth #4: Anything worth doing in life takes sacrifice
If you don’t believe in yourself enough to sacrifice for your dream why should anybody else? Every producer, engineer and record label executive has worked and sacrificed to be where they are. They have no time for wimps. Suck it up, work hard or go home.
Treat people the way you want to be treated. Enjoy the experience and whatever you do don’t be your own worst enemy!  For every Billy Hoyle you will find a white NBA dunk contest champ like Rick Barry or Rex Chapman. Sometimes the general rule doesn’t apply, but we would be foolish to let our pride blind us to the fact that most the time it does. This short, geeky, white guy is finally willing to admit white guys, on average, can’t jump!


Written by: Blake Easter
blake.easter@gmail.com