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A Few Ideas For The Commonly Depleted Artist

As independent artists, why do we find ourselves spending more of our time playing manager and publicist than creating and performing?

It starts the day that we decide to make a full time career out of our passion. For me, this was the time where I began to listen to the people behind the curtain. It taught me the art of writing for radio, production techniques and later, management and marketing strategies. The dream being to create a hit album coinciding with a sell-out tour that would make enough money for lifestyle and creative expansion.

At some point during that period, I was lead to believe that high media exposure equalled ticket and album sales. This meant that it was pointless pushing forward without one or two radio friendly tracks with corresponding film clips. Almost everything hinged on publicity across all media platforms. If this synced up with strong support and festival slots, headliner gigs and product sales would benefit. Independently running two bands since my major label solo career showed me that one key component was overseen – Something that has now changed my approach to music.

My first band had one single rotating on Australia’s biggest commercial radio station countdown for over three months, it even hit no.1. Our film clip ran for the same on Video Hits at peak time. There were front page articles in papers nationwide and TV and radio interviews plugging follow-up tours. Did it translate into gig and album sales? Hell no. Fifteen people and one pissed off club manager were scattered across the floor of a four hundred capacity venue the week after we hit no.1 on the countdown, midway through the campaign. Five thousand CD’s are still sitting in my parents garage. We (and my poor parents) put ourselves in debt doing it.

My latest band, Nat Col & the Kings, had casual play on Triple J, Triple M and many rural stations – no film clip play, no rotation slots. Most of our traction was gained through fantastic support and festival slots. BluesFest, Queenscliff, Festival of the Sun, Broadbeach Blues Festival, Sydney Blues Festival, Bridgetown to name a few…and purposeful print, radio and online interviews around our tours.

If you work on the premise that high media exposure equals ticket and album sales, you’d have thought this would have been a tragedy compared my first band. Wrong. Nat Col & the Kings fans built consistently with every tour. People were buying our merch. Artists wanted to team up with us. There was a lot of talk and magic in the air. Three EP’s, countless tours and tens of thousands of dollars in expenses that had us breaking even only after three years. We should have been happy, but we were exhausted, depleted and anxious. Tour schedules went from something to be excited about to the thing we dreaded the most. We had run ourselves into the ground, all in the hope that if we ticked all boxes, our dream will become a reality. Thus, relieving us of the ridiculous, creative-blocking work load that we put ourselves and our families through over and over.

 

Lachy Doley gives a great snapshot of what the daily tasks of an independent self-managed artist looks like:

Write the music (time)

Perform the music (time)

Record the music (time and heaps of money)

Mix the music (time)

Master the music (time)

Then I market the album (stupid amounts of time and money)

I also pay a publicist to market the album (I can’t say exactly the amount, but it’s thousands)

I send the albums off to radio, blogs and magazines around the world (stupid amounts of time and money, especially overseas radio stations, everyone wants a physical copy and postage is nuts)

This album makes 4 Studios albums and 2 Live albums plus a DVD since 2010 (WTF?)

I book all the shows , except overseas (so much time)

I promote the shows (stupid amounts of time and money)

I video a lot of the shows (so much money and setup)

I edit the videos of the shows (so much time)

I promote them on Facebook (So much time and money)

I built and update my website (Lots of time, some money for hosting)

I design all the artwork and posters (time)

I tour manager everything. Which I’m absolutely hopeless at. (time)

Public Liability Insurance (money)

My Europe tour of 2015 ended up costing me $6000 dollars. Having said that. My Europe 2016 tour broke even. So that was good 🙂

I ENGAGE WITH ALMOST EVERYONE WHO CONTACTS ME on fb, email, twitter and alike. But now I’ve got over 28,000 Facebook likes, this adds up to ten’s of hours a week just replying to people but unfortunately doesn’t do anything for my hopeless financial situation. I give out so much advice to musicians via comments and private messages it’s bordering on crazy. But I have to say I really do love this part of everything. It’s just so many hours.

On top of this I haul around a stupidly OVERSIZED HAMMOND ORGAN and WHAMMY CLAV all the around the world and then put in every single bit of energy and conviction into every performance, I feel like I’m gonna faint sometimes.

Not to mention the cost of maintenance and petrol on my van when it’s running over 15,0000 kms a year

 

Nat Col & the Kings had it’s own version, all in the pursuit of attracting enough album and ticket sales to allow us to spend more time in the world of creation. But if I’ve seen first hand that exposure doesn’t always mean sales, why the fuck am I spending all this time, energy and money on trying to achieve it? I thought. And what’s missing?

Chance! A conversation with manager and friend Paul Gildea from Icehouse had me walking away with examples of bands that have blown up beyond expectation due to factors that can’t be predicted. People and timing. Yes, it’s great to have all of the marketing and touring boxes ticked, but we have very little control over how our songs will be received. So as an independent act with limited resources, it would make sense to consider this when choosing where to focus energy.

Three years after turning my back on the thing I loved the most, the creative itch returns, but the questions have changed. No longer is it, “How can I make this the biggest fucking thing ever??” it’s, “How can I structure my life so that I can sustain a LIFE in music?” Which is based around knowing what it is about music that lights me up and working outwards from there. This also meant looking at everything around music such as family, money, physical and mental health. I know when I’m desperately hunting, everything will hunt with me. Absolutely everything. But when we all return with no kill, we all go hungry which is when life turns to shit. Creativity is ultimately sacrificed in the end. So in order to preserve the passion, and the creative spark, it became more about how to nurture creativity and connection, family and friends, lifestyle, and money (being a partial catalyst) as they all go hand in hand. This meant compromises, but at least they were made strategically and not as a result of mental breakdown when everything is compromised. This doesn’t mean we don’t have to put “all” into it or as writer Elizabeth Gilbert calls it, “Eating shit sandwiches” at some stage, but the foundations should align with the purpose of why we play music.

The question that finds the highest priority is, “At the end of my days, what do I want to make sure I was doing? If it all turns to shit, as long as I was (blank) I’m good!” For me personally, if it all turns to shit, as long as it all centered around expression and connection, the soul will remain warm and thankful.

Funny, this is exactly how I used to live as a kid!

I’d love to hear from those who have found themselves lost in the storms of music and business, how you found clarity and were you working yourselves crazy for the “pay off”. Please feel free to debate or add to these ideas! We’re all just trying to work it out! And by all means, if you think this may resonate with a struggling artist friend, pass it on. Thoughts?

 

Links

Photo taken by Eric Chow

Nat Col & the Kings

Elizabeth Gilbert – Shit Sandwich

Lachlan Doley

Icehouse


For those who are new to the site, hit up my introduction post and the about tab to understand what inspired this website as well as what’s to come. 

14 Comments

  1. Mal Gully03/04/2017

    Oh this resonates, I spent ages being limited to being creative, being in the army engineers you do as your told, I eventually got some projects that defied logic, were flick passed to me and I rode by the seat of my pants and had some victories and praise and was hooked. Creativity came from dreams, instinct and risk. There was no issue with money I grew up poor so a wage on the lower Tradie soldier rung was paradise. But construction creativity is still creativity (and a site radio sets the tempo for artistic debates on my sites – definately no crap music! I made a guitar in my spare time, took lessons. But to feed the family when I left the army I did jobs (gigs) and broke even and was initially running on the spot faster and faster. Music, instruments and lessons fell to the background and many stories of my peers successes were either lies or exaggerations , potholed with tragedy, alcoholism , drugs, suicide bankruptcy. What works is modest goals, acceptance of limits and use that creative spirit and connect with people. That doesn’t mean “network” which is expedient befriending and isn’t genuine. Whether you strum a guitar ,bake a cake, paint , draw, recite or design – make it creative or collaborative and you’ll be happier in the journey. At 57 I don’t work for people now, only friends. The music is back on the menu TAFE even! Which is challenging but that’s the – get out of your comfort zone growth bit that must always be part of your life. And something I was raised on years ago as a kid “if you have food on the table, roof over head and clothes with bills paid that’s all that’s expected””anything else is a bonus and little fish taste the sweetest , no need to own a house, renting is fine”. Big splash big crash. I think we’ve driven ourselves as a community too hard and there are too many “you can do anything you want gurus” some people can’t sing for shit, or run a business, or cope physically with normal life. Sickness can hit, kids , your own , can be pricks! (Mine are ok) but there’s no prizes in the end. So connect (smile), collaborate (be gentle) and create (play, cook,gift, build, compose etc) and appreciate (buy a ticket, a book, a coffee, an album, pay a decent hourly rate, tip!) Thanks for listening ?

    Reply
    1. Nathan Cavaleri05/04/2017

      Always filled with wisdom mate! So true. And I hope you’re all good at TAFE!

      Reply
      1. Malcolm Gully05/04/2017

        Thanks for the compliment Nathan, yep some progress and some lovely people “sounds of silence” there were ohhs and ahhs, when some singers needed a guitarist and I was all they could get….Not alot of experience but a sweet 12 string mini Maton that covers beginners steps. ?

        Reply
  2. Andrew Tierney03/04/2017

    What’s your reaction when you hear your music is being played on the Radio?

    Reply
    1. Nathan Cavaleri05/04/2017

      It’s damn weird! Victorious really… Kind of like the feeling you’d get if your song started pumping at a party. A great feeling and doesn’t get old.

      Reply
      1. Andrew Tierney09/04/2017

        As a well known Musican one thing you can do is acknowledge the good old days and homage your younger years through your music

        Reply
  3. Adam Mccomb04/04/2017

    Hey thanks for the insight and honesty Nathan, your blog is always a great read!

    Reply
    1. Nathan Cavaleri05/04/2017

      Thanks Adam. Much appreciated!

      Reply
  4. Roddy.05/04/2017

    I always get pissed off when someone makes comments about a Musician’s performance when they don’t know what is behind all what you see onstage.
    Money wise is not worthy, you just do it for the love of music and for the real Fans.

    But still is not worthy ….

    Reply
    1. Nathan Cavaleri06/04/2017

      Oh yeah…. Nobody can ever know really unless you’ve done it! I’m even guilty of dismissing a song that I don’t like without thinking about how much blood went into it. That’s the nature of it though!

      Reply
  5. Micah Luchetti05/04/2017

    I can’t relate to any of the business side of this Nathan, but it’s eye-opening having an insight to that experience. I have been singing since shortly after birth (according to mum) and people have been saying for years I should get in a band or do something with music, but I actually just referred to myself as a muso in conversation for the first time last week haha. I have always felt like making music my source of income would put pressure on and take away the fun of it for me, and hearing some of the realities from you, I think I might have been right (for me). I really admire my friends though who are full time musos and make it a sustainable path for themselves. And I am glad that there are many who do, because getting along to their gigs, experiencing live music, shared with friends, brings so much joy to my life. I look forward to being able to get along to one of your gigs again too, when you’re good and ready xx

    Reply
    1. Nathan Cavaleri06/04/2017

      Hey Micah! It’s smart. Many assume that you need to turn what you’re good at into a full time job. If you get a chance, watch the Elizabeth Gilbert interview… She talks about supporting her art by having a day job (future post). Just do it because it’s fun and if something more comes of it, great!!! THanks for the support.

      Reply
  6. Matt Beare08/04/2017

    Such an insightful read.

    Reply
    1. Nathan Cavaleri09/04/2017

      Thanks Matt!

      Reply

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