Sometimes one of the best ways to grow is to take note of what is working for other artists. These Rising Bands are unique in several ways and fans are clamoring to them. See what they’re doing that has brought success.
When you think of Blue Collar, Working-Class Musicians, there is one name that stands out: Bruce Springsteen. However, for the 21st century, there is a fresh face who has picked up that mantle and is amazing music fans with his unique songwriting: Matthew Mayfield.
I first heard Matthew’s music when he posted his entire song catalog to Noisetrade.com a few years ago. I thought it was incredibly impressive to post 72 songs online for free, all with the hope of attracting new fans. It certainly paid off for him. Since then, we’ve featured countless songs from his songbook on The Appetizer Radio Show, also earning him top billing in some of our radio specials like our annual Cover Series.
When I was looking at new musician guests to add to the DIY Artist Route Podcast, Matthew was tops on the list. Having followed his career for the past few years, and learning that we’re from the same place on the map (B’ham, AL; Roll Tide!), making the connection with him was something I had to do. He didn’t disappoint.
What Makes Matthew Mayfield A Teacher For DIY Musicians
There are some specific attributes to his songwriting in the way that he crafts stories that pull you in from a listening perspective, added to that the gritty vocal tone he utilizes. It’s not a sound you would necessarily associate with folk or singer-songwriter styled music, which is what makes him uncommon.
I learned a few new things in our conversation, among them how well indie labels are doing in truly representing their bands, and how being a musical journeyman is a mantra not suited for every musician. We all have to make sacrifices in some way when we choose the path we’re on. Matthew was very candid in sharing these insights with me in this podcast.
I also wanted to make sure to include some clips from his songs, which you can hear laced in our conversation and placed appropriately in the themes of the discussion. The list of music from this podcast is here:
Matthew Mayfield. “Desire” Desire-Single. Matthew Mayfield, 2014. :50
Matthew Mayfield. “Wild Eyes” Wild Eyes Unplugged EP. Matthew Mayfield, 2015. 01:00
Matthew Mayfield. “Team (Lorde Cover)” Wild Eyes Unplugged EP. Matthew Mayfield, 2015. 01:45
Matthew Mayfield. “Mess Of A Man” Wild Eyes Unplugged EP. Matthew Mayfield, 2015. 01:30
Matthew Mayfield. “Quiet Lies” Wild Eyes Unplugged EP. Matthew Mayfield, 2015. :45
For Artists Using Cover Songs As A Way To Grow Fan Base
I love the way Matthew Mayfield does cover songs. It’s actually one of the things that first drew me to his music and made me dive deeper into his songbook. He does cover songs the RIGHT way. As you can hear in our Covers Series going back the past 6 years, a great cover song (in my book) is one that recreates the original, and does so in the style of the songwriter who is performing a cover. Too many new artists try to copy the original version of the song. This isn’t how you get new fans to dive into your songbook. Listen to Matthew’s take on Lorde’s Team or his version of Don Henley’s Boys Of Summer to get a better grid for this.
Matthew Mayfield is a great artist to follow and certainly one to take note of in taking your path to success with your musical brand. How did this conversation connect with you? Do you want to learn more about how you can carve out a unique path to growth with your music? Reach out to me and let’s have a chat about it.
You can also stream our podcast conversation (and grab other podcasts) via Youtube:
Jerzy Jung embodies everything you can imagine for a DIY artist. She is a musician, actress, music teacher, and practitioner of the golden rule. Her songwriting is comparable to that of Regina Spektor in how she takes common, everyday elements and pieces them together to tell a much bigger story. Her song Black Dress/White Dress is a prime example of using fashion as a metaphor for how society treats women.
I’ve known Jerzy Jung for several years, first discovering her music in 2009 when I heard her songs on myspace. We ended up doing an interview and have kept in touch since. She’s a regularly featured artist on The Appetizer Radio Show, and was a perfect artist to chat with in the DIY Artist Route podcast series.
Every conversation on the DIY Artist Route podcast has featured some great quotes. Here are just a few of what you can gather from this episode:
“The mindset of ‘pick me pick me and my whole life will change’ hurt me. The student mentality will help you better. Now I’m like ‘what kind I learn and attracting people who may help me’ has been more helpful. I make the best work I can and my focus is there, and on attracting people who can help.”
“This industry we signed into is not easy, it’s mysterious, and it’s not kind. You’re wondering where your road map is and you have this goal and no idea on how to get there.”
“To be a good community member you have to give in the ways that people are asking to give instead of just what you feel like giving.”
Hitrecord is this fantastic online community where artists connect from anywhere in the world. Nothing is too big or too small.”
“I’m concerned with the business side (of music) but I try not to lose that playfulness.”
Lessons from crowdfunding: The fear of doing it is worse than actually starting and doing it.
“Doing the crowdfunder and making the video helped me to clarify why I make art and it felt really good to define it and see it on paper. It was a reminder to myself for why I chose this life.”
“The real test with all this ambiguity and all this disappointment, do you still love it (music) and just have to do it? Even though this life we picked is weird, focusing on gratitude is so important.”
*Note: I did just get the podcast on iTunes, yet there have been intermittent issues with the podcast host site, which is why I included the Podbean player above so you can hear it regardless.
I’m working to get that resolved so that this episode will be included in the iTunes list. Suffice to say, I’m learning from trial and error about podcasting and how it works best. I also am gaining valuable experience on who to use and who to avoid when setting up a podcast. If you have any suggestions or insight into the podcast realm, please share them with me. Thank you!
Subsequently, I did something I very rarely do. I bought a brand new book from the book store and paid cover price. You can call me cheap, and you’re right. I buy a lot of books (hard copy and paperback, not digital/Kindle) and my preferred sources are Half-Price Books and Goodwill. Amazon on occasion will do for hard to find stuff. It’s important that you know this little facet about me because I don’t buy new books hardly ever. I made an exception in this case and it was one of the best decisions made this year.
The Art Of Asking is billed as a memoir, and it is. But it’s so much more. Palmer is not your typical artist, both musically or visually. And her openness and honesty with her struggles, self-image, and relationship building pave a subliminal pathway to understanding how asking really works. I’ve struggled my entire life with asking for anything, especially for help and for money. Yes, the two things we as humans, as creatives, and as builders need more than anything are these two things and I have spent decades trying to do so much on my own out of fear of asking.
Asking is a fear shared by you and I and (really) everyone else
It turns out that I’m not alone in having this fear. There’s a strong chance you fear or are at least hesitant in asking for something, though it might not be what I am hesitant in asking for. I can say it’s because of how I was raised or grew up or something or other, but at the end of the day, I’m the common denominator for why I don’t have what I want and why I couldn’t ask for it. And I have to take responsibility for that.
The Art Of Asking was like a blueprint for me in shedding off the old skin that told me that asking for help, or asking for money, or asking for anything was a sign of weakness or failure, that it would annoy and bother people, that I would be perceived as a taker and not a giver, and that the answer would always be NO. Having written and now looking at that last sentence I see how frail my thinking and ideals had been for so long, which is why I’m so thankful for this book.
It turns out that Amanda struggled with asking too, though her reasons were different, and despite being able to ask her fans for nearly everything from promoting a gig to having a place to sleep after a show (couch surfing as she calls it) , there were somethings she struggled with for a long time before she could ask for it. It took nearly losing someone very close to her for that fear to break.
How to build community the Amanda Palmer way
The headline for this article states that The Art Of Asking is a community building manifesto and it certainly is that. From the perspective of audience growth, there are only a few other artists who have done anything close to building the kind of high powered, passionate, loyal and worldwide audience that Amanda Palmer has. She details what her fan growth process was and it mostly involves being WITH people, giving her fans access to her outside of the music stage, having personal and deep conversations with people who are strangers at first and then become something more.
This is how communities are built. Communication, openness and trust are the pillars of what build the communities we are a part of, be those artistic, business, or the locations we live in. Closing ourselves off from people and only giving them a portion of ourselves, or only showing them our gifts but not our faults limits the power of the community and the people who build it. This is not to say that there aren’t methods of safeguarding yourself against people who don’t have your best interests at heart. Amanda does give a few good examples of where openness went too far, and how she dealt with it. But being afraid of everyone in your community being a potential fiend is not how you treat the people who are building with you.
The Art Of Asking could have also been titled The Art Of Vulnerability or The Art Of Loving Completely. There are some very profound and powerful quotes that are still moving around in my brain, like seedlings just starting to grow roots that will sprout into amazing new things. I want to share some of those quotes with you here in the hopes that it will have a similar effect on you at the very least, and even more, lead you to read this book.
“It isn’t what you say to people, it’s more important what you do with them. It’s less important what you do with them that the way you’re with them.”
“If you love them they will give you everything.”
“It’s about finding your people, your listeners, your readers, and making art for and with them. Not for the masses, not for the critics, but for your ever-widening circles of friends. It doesn’t mean you’re protected from criticism. But if your art touches a single heart, strikes a single nerve, you’ll see people quietly heading your way and knocking on your door. Let them in. Them them to bring their friends up. If possible, provide wine.”
Amanda does talk a lot about naysayers, and breaking free from the ideals or criticism of people who consider asking to be the same as “shameless self-promotion.” This is especially hard for artists (or for anyone) who aren’t naturally social. This is what leads many artists to try and find a promoter or label to do the asking for them. At times that’s a good fit, but too often it’s not because the art of connection is the art of communication, and even people who think they lack a social strength still need to engage directly with people in some capacity.
Overcoming the fear of asking for help
All artists and creators face a similar fear: the fear of rejection or the fear of criticism. That’s honestly what kept me plugging away in near isolation building my work for many years. Thankfully I’ve been blessed to have some incredible friends, colleagues, and family who are givers despite my unwillingness to ask. Chances are you have connections with people like this too. What is keeping you from asking? Let me know, I’d love to hear your story and build community with you.
If you want more inspiration, enjoy her Ted Talk that would eventually lead to the writing of her memoir.
*Yes there are affiliate links to Amazon.com in this post for you to buy Amanda’s book should you be so moved by my experience with it and want to have a similar experience yourself. I appreciate you reading and choosing to buy through this page. You can click on this image here to see more details on buying the book on Amazon (which is cheaper than any other bookseller, and free shipping if you’re a Prime member).
Recently I was granted the opportunity to talk with a really great guy, Tony Lucca. I’d only heard his self-titled album before given the interview with him. Upon researching his background, it became more apparent that his story is incredibly valuable to both artists and entrepreneurs who have made fame their lone quest. Fame wasn’t Tony’s ambition, but he has achieved it.
The former Mickey Mouse Club Mouseketeer was in the same class as Justin Timberlake and Matt Morris. Matt is a feature artist on The Appetizer Radio Show, doing an exclusive in-studio session with us in 2011. Tony has also been featured on TV commercial and shows like Malibu Shores. His music career took him to the 2012 season of The Voice, being selected by Adam Levine and going on to place 2nd in the season finale. That led to being signed to Levine’s record label and a massive tour with Maroon 5. Isn’t this the dream of most musicians, or even entrepreneurs, to rub elbows and share social circles with prominent names?
All of that has its benefits, but Tony has since chosen a different path, that of an indie artist. The DIY artist and entrepreneur shares a lot in common with Tony Lucca. This podcast features the conversation he and I had about music, business, his advice to the DIY artist and entrepreneur, and an unsolicited vote of approval for indie radio’s role in helping artists grow.
What do you think of Tony’s perspective? Let’s talk about how his insights apply to where you are right now. Comment or reach out through email.
This is the heart of every organization, company, leader, speaker and author’s work. This mission statement defines your why to understand the purpose of your endeavors. Understanding your why is what connects other people to your cause, your music, your business, your brand, and ultimately to you.
World changers operate from a mission statement. They have to because there are so many voices, agendas, lobbyists, and intangibles all clamoring for their support or against their endeavors that, without a clear “why” for their purpose, they will lose their direction. Nelson Mandela was a man of greatness, overcoming 27 years in prison to unify his country and end apartheid. How did he do it? In his own words:
“Have a core principle-that people matter. Everything else is just tactics.”
That core principle, or mission statement, kept his mind focused while enduring imprisonment for over two decades, and was the central anchor in him leading his country to unification despite endless struggles, even within his own party. More on the magic of Mandela can be found in the book Mandela’s Way by Richard Stengel.
What is your music mission statement?
Every truly successful artist has a mission, whether they are actively pursuing it or not. Some artists aren’t aware that they are operating with a specific mission in mind, but there is something discernible that is leading the direction they are traveling with their music.
William Fitzsimmons, an outstanding songwriter and musician creates music from a specific place. For him, his professional background of therapy has spread into every area of his writing. He calls his writing “musical therapy” and in doing so, it directs how he crafts his songs. That craftsmanship and mission-led direction has drawn audiences across the globe to his music, allowing songs to be coping mechanisms for fans dealing with loss, depression, mental illness, and other ailments.
What is your music mission statement?
Fellow bearded songwriter Iron and Wine hasn’t operated from a directly implicit mission statement throughout his decade-plus career, though his early work is indicative of someone who wants to do similar things as Fitzsimmons: provide helpful commentary on life’s most difficult passes. His early work of Endless Numbered Days describes coming to terms with death as inevitable yet loving in songs like Naked As We Came. By making shared experiences a part of the coping process, we are able to live at peace with each other and our trials. Music is one key that unlocks this opportunity.
What is your music mission statement?
Let’s be honest and open-minded with each other: from a market standpoint, the music industry is more supply heavy than the oil market. There are producers of music in every single zip code in America, with many more globally, and all are trying to grab a piece of the limited pie that is the music fan base. We as a music audience collectively are not in a shortage of supply. Demand is also at a medium level considering the massive amount of channels and listening options available to any one person as any time. From terrestrial (FM) radio to online radio to streaming providers (Pandora, MOG, Spotify, Apple Music) to satellite radio (XM among others) to youtube, to cable TV (too many numerous music stations there) to independently produced web stations, the choices are often too many to quantify.
With all of this content, music for music’s sake is an offering that doesn’t warrant attention. Not in today’s market. There was a time when music for the sake of a fun beat and a good time might have gained an audience. But not today. There are too many places where that can be found.
Look inside yourself, your music, your writing, and the thing that drives you to create songs. What is it that you want other people to connect with you on? Be specific. If all you want is “for other people to feel like I’m with them on their journey,” dive deeper into that line. What aspects of that journey do you want people to connect with through your music. You can have a few key parts, from good experiences to tragedies, but be specific.
The more specific you can be about your music mission statement, the better your ability will be to connect with music fans who will support you. Sometimes artists have a very hard time defining who their target audience is. The music mission statement solves that problem.
I’ll ask again: What is your music mission statement?
Let’s talk about it and find out how to take your mission statement to the audiences that are actually look for it so that your audience can grow and you can experience more success with your music.
For folk and alt-country fans, Brandi Carlile isn’t a stranger but a friend who has made music more than just an entertainment source, but a comforting oasis. She may not have the name recognition of other female vocal powerhouses like Adele, Katy Perry, or Christina Aguilara but Carlile’s yodel-styled voice has more majesty than pop radio deserves. Perhaps that’s why her ardent followers have been so enriched in the latest release The Firewatchers Daughter.
Here’s what indie music fans know, and fellow songwriters/artists should pay attention to: Brandi is well aware of the power of strong storytelling, and she knows where to showcase this magic.
Her latest album was released in early March 2015 and was prefaced by a performance on Conan and public radio’s A Prairie Home Companion. Here’s where it’s worth paying attention musicians. Carlile has been a successful recording artist for 10 years, her debut album released by Warner Bros in 2005. Since then she’s come full circle and gone the indie road, now on ATO Records. Conan O’Brien’s TBS talk show has an audience base of young professionals in the 30s and 40s. Music fans who know of her and those who don’t but who caught her performance are likely to do some looking up on her new album and past releases. They’re likely to buy that music too.
The feature on A Prairie Home Companion is more telling though. The media age for that program is not the 30s and 40s crowd. On the contrary, this radio stalwart has been around for quite a while, making the majority of its audience in their 50s and 60s. What benefit is that for a musician in her 30s with a growing audience? Why play a radio show with such an older demographic, doesn’t that go against progress?
Not at all. A Prairie Home Companion is arguably one of the most popular radio shows on public radio, produced not on NPR but on a smaller network of programs (American Public Media). Unlike NPR’s All Songs Considered which regularly cover trends in indie music, new releases and emerging bands, the show created by Garrison Keillor regularly features folk, country, singer-songwriter, jazz, and western acts. Brandi Carlile is and has been a perfect fit for the program. Plus, older audiences do something younger audiences can’t seem to get a hold of: they support the music they love with their dollars.
At the end of the February 28th radio program airing, and subsequent repeats on carrier stations across the country, Brandi set up nicely to have her new album sell very well. She also kicked off a nationwide tour which is already starting to sell out. Musicians take note: your target audience may not have a specific age, and those who are most likely to support your art may not be hipsters in their teens and twenties. What works for those who know how to reach their real fans is worth taking into account, maybe even mimicking if possible.
Oh, and make it worth your while to check out The Firewatcher’s Daughter. The simple recording setup that made this album is a great story by itself. Get it here.
I wrote previously about the difference between trying to gain 100,000 Twitter followers (or simply a giant group of music fans online) and focusing your time, energy and money on a specific group of people. Numbers are a big sales point that most people are looking to increase, but when your focus is on the wrong number for the wrong reason, you don’t win as much as you want to. Here’s why:
You need to grow your audience to be able to keep making more music. That’s a bottom-line reality every musician and small business faces. And yes, you are a small business once money enters the equation. A focused group of fans is much more powerful than a giant number.
The confusion between real, prosperous success and fame (or what is considered “success” in young markets) is an obsession with the wrong kind of number.
Let’s say you have 10,000 Likes on Facebook. For some artists, that’s a small number, for others it’s a goal they’re still trying to reach. In either case, how would you view a band who has 500 Likes on Facebook or 600 Twitter followers? You might consider them to be rookies, newbies, or not very good musicians because the number of followers is small. But what potency does the 10,000 have that the 500 doesn’t other than sheer volume alone? You don’t know, because all you see is a number of followers.
Image by Dave Catchpole
This obsession with the high number without knowing much about WHO is in either group is what’s wrong with musicians and bands trying only to grow the number-base of their audience without trying to grow a specific group of people who are prime fans for their work.
You can buy Likes and followers on any social platform. You can purchase enough “followers” to make it seem you have a substantial fan base when reality tells a different tale. So how powerful is that giant number now, or better stated how real is it?
What the number metric misses is Potency, or strength. This factor is key to success in the short and long term of your music career. Potency is driven by real connection with a focused group of people who are passionate about the unique aspects of your music. Artists and bands with incredible potency include KISS, Bruce Springsteen, Radiohead, Red Hot Chili Peppers, and The Shins. Their fans go out of their way to showcase how much they love these bands including costumes, fan made documentaries, and traveling large distances to see shows.
Think about it in terms of two very popular and potent brands: Apple and Microsoft. Chances are you are using one of these brands right now in some capacity. Mac users are hardcore, passionate and extremely brand loyal. Most PC (Microsoft) users will go with whatever maker or brand they feel like who runs the software they’re used to, be it HP, Sony, Dell, etc. Yes both are powerful brands. But where Apple’s user base may be smaller in size compared to Microsoft, it’s more than compensated with user (customer) potency.
Can you say the same thing for your fan base?
If 10% of your fan base shares your content with their friends (be it online social posts or old fashioned word of mouth promotion), you have a really strong connection with your fans. That’s a high conversion rate for most bands and small businesses. What if only 1% of your fan base is an evangelist for your music? That’s still a good portion. But when a fraction of a fraction of 1% is talking about you, that big number of your fan base that you brag about isn’t as powerful. Actually, that’s more indicative of what your true fan impact is.
Focus on connecting with a specific group of people, a targeted section of folks who make up your Ideal or Super-Fan group. This is the potent, focused group of fans who will increase your music success a lot more powerfully than an arbitrary number of followers online.
How can you grow your connection with a targeted group of people? The strategies and tactics for doing that are outlined in an upcoming webinar. Sign up here.
Buzzfest 32, an annual outdoor alt-rock festival in Houston, brought P.O.D. this past year as part of its lineup. It was the main reason I went to the show, since they are a remarkable act live and the last time I tried to see them the festival cancelled (due to weather). Before they took the stage, the radio station hosting the event did a little Q&A session with band members. Frontman Sonny Sandoval, while answering a question seemingly unrelated, made a statement that profoundly stuck with me.
“Their fans are like family, so naturally we wanted to connect with them and their scene,” Sandoval said. He was referring to the band The Deftones, and his response was to a question regarding why the band (P.O.D.) has been doing more with the Deftones in recent months.
Prior to that statement, other band members made some remarks about the nature of music and music fans that is true and very telling. As a whole, music fans are fickle. Today they like you because they heard a song (or part of one) and it was catchy. But tomorrow, or 2 hours or 20 minutes later they’re on to something else.
This is the nature of all consumers in every market. It’s why businesses are constantly marketing their brand on every platform all the time. However, constant promotion can turn some of the right people off to your band.
When your fans aren’t just people who “like” your music, you have something that’s very powerful. But if even a platinum-recording and major alt-rock act like P.O.D. experiences the negative side of a fickle music fan community, imagine how true that is for smaller indie acts. The need to make strong, dedicated impressions with your fan base is essential to you having the success you want with your music.
If the thought of your fans being so close bothers you, that’s ok. I’m not saying that you need to invite them all over to your house, or that they need to know your personal information. But consider that early in your music career, your family was probably the most supportive group of people backing everything you did. They told their friends and colleagues about your work, went to your shows and bought your music. They supported you in real, tangible methods. This is what you want with your fan base.
What does this look like, to have fans who act like family in their support of your music? Look at artists who have that cult following, who have built die-hard and dedicated followers over time. P.O.D. (aka Payable On Death) is certainly one band who has done that well, as are the Deftones. Bruce Springsteen, though he’s been playing music for several decades and has a zillion hits over the years, still have one of the most dedicated audiences in music history. On a smaller scale, Aimee Mann has a cult following in folk circles.
Further investigation into how this phenomena works will shine a lot of light into pathways for success in your music career. It’s the experience of your artistry that connects true fans to your music. What experience are you giving people to connect with?