At my beginning, there was music and desire. That was enough. All I thought about was guitars, bands, writing songs, and performing. Then, other factors crept in, corrupting me and my pure little world. The feelings of self doubt that plague most performers started and stayed with me. My biggest fear was not being good enough. Still is, really. Trying to cope with those feelings led to to the self-medicating euphoria of drugs and booze, which were fun for a while. Soon, however, they took over my life and got between me and my music. Not feeling anxiety and inadequacy became much more important than just about anything. That pursuit of not feeling became the trap I fell into as time went on.
I think this happens to a lot of performers. Our emotions, which give us so much creativity, can also be our downfall if we can’t control them. Those same feelings that often drive our best work can also knock us out cold if we let them get the upper hand. We need to balance maintaining the healthy ego we need to get on stage or record but without feeding the negative mindset that comes from believing our critics and doubting ourselves. Easier said than implemented, I know, but the dangers of becoming an ego-ed out monster or, worse, a quivering pile of doubt and fear, loom so large that getting our heads right is of crucial importance. In my life, the things that got me off center were low self-esteem in anything but music, a difficult home life, and trouble relating to my peers. Self-medicating allowed me to adopt a different personality, one that people seemed to like more than the sober, nervous me, which was ok until that personality took over.
What got taken over was my desire and drive. Rather than driving towards bettering my skills and my music, I drove directly at not feeling those old negative feelings, no matter the cost. When this really kicked in for me in the years following high school, there were periods where I didn’t play or practice for weeks at a time. I got lost in the haze. I got trapped in that new personality, content to have a social scene and the ability to keep my weakness on ice. I consider this to be the single worst thing I ever did in terms of my musical life. At a time when I should have been going hard, I was partying hard, too hard, in an effort to repress and forget my own life. I was still in bands and gigging, but was just drifting thought it all.
This was the trap, my trap, and some of yours, too, I bet. Rather than owning my shit and improving it, I hid from it, gradually drifting off course until my life became about getting high and oblivious and I almost became a drunk non-musician. I lost a decade to that negative personality, years I will never get back. My lesson from this experience was that what needs to happen is life and our minds must be dealt with and not repressed. That does not mean that we have to live sober, but it means that we have to accept and improve ourselves and our lives rather than hiding from them. This type of mental game mistake derails more musicians than anything. Most of us don’t fail because our talent runs out; playing music is the easy part. A weak mental game will kill your career before it starts. I address this type of thing in my guitar teaching practice, which is pretty non-traditional, and feel these issues are just as vital as learning theory, reading, and technique to a developing artist.
Of course, partying too much is just one of many things we can get trapped in. What are some you have encountered?
By my calculations, the music business should have completely ended at least 10 years ago.
Or, at least, it should have if all the predictions were right about the sky falling.
Every since the first MP3 files were traded by college boys on their .edu networks, the hysterics have been flying. Artistry was going to be completely destroyed. Recordings would stop being made entirely. Nobody would ever make any money at music, ever again. The Earth would fall into the Sun.
I was part of the hysterical crowd, by the way. I couldn’t see the opportunities for what they were. I was used to a world (actually, a fictional one) where the whole point of everything was to get picked. Some record exec would hear a great demo tape, sign you, and your troubles would be over. If the record companies went away, HOW WOULD THAT HAPPEN?
Well, first of all, it didn’t really happen anyway. Any really sizable record company is afflicted by “big corporation” disease, which makes them highly allergic to anything other than a reasonably sure bet. They either grab ahold of someone who already seems to be building something great without their help, or they manufacture something that fits the style of the month.
But the thing is this: The artistry of music. The beauty. The sublime charge of emotion and movement and mathematical relationships…
…it has basically nothing to do with capturing a signal representing sonic events, and then selling that capture to people.
“Phonorecords,” as we’re used to in a conceptual sense, have existed since about 1890 or so. Humans have been making musical noises, on the other hand, for millennia. MILLENNIA, FOLKS.
That is to say, if you reference good ol’ Wikipedia, you’ll find that humans apparently were making flutes 40,000 years ago. So, do the math. The business of recorded music, with all of its arcane wizardry, chicanery of accounting and contracts, dashed hopes and dreams realized beyond all anticipation, is about 0.3% of the history of music.
From the statistical shorthand that “it’s got to be 5% before it’s relevant,” recorded music is completely insignificant when compared to the human experience of music on the whole. I’m not saying that it’s a passing fad; I don’t believe that recording will pass away into the aether – but I am saying that, as a matter of comparison, phonorecords and the selling of them is yet a tiny spark of nothing in the great sea of sounds.
So, why do I point this out?
I point this out because the “sturm and drang” related to people supposedly not buying/ not valuing/ stealing/ recorded music is, in my mind, a distraction. We fail to see the whole picture of the musical experience, and we pin everything on demanding money for captured sonic events. Before anyone could even begin to think of selling something as antiquated as a physical record, there were centuries upon centuries of successful and unsuccessful musicians.
Piracy is not killing music. Streaming is not killing music. The music business is not killing music. Music is very much alive and well, because the emotional experience of it is what people can not help but crave. Artists who have made the most powerful of those emotional experiences are selling out venues of all sizes, all over the world. If music was actually dying – if the public no longer cared about it – that would most certainly not be the case.
Recorded music is no longer scarce. Our computers have seen to that. That lack of scarcity means that the demandable value of phonorecords is dropping. But that’s okay! Recordings can still be sold for something, and they’re still a valuable tool for you to get your art across to an audience. It’s just that they’re not the only thing, and maybe not the biggest thing.
That’s really fine, because, in my mind, no one has ever, EVER purchased music. What they have always purchased is an emotional experience that was packaged up in some way. For a few years, the king of those packages was the artificially-scarce phonorecord. Just because it WAS king does not mean it will always be, nor should it always be.
And let’s be honest – when you look at the numbers, that king was just a Johnny Come Lately anyway. Let’s all take a few deep breaths.
A while back, one of our Schwilly Family members, Adam Price, wrote me an e-mail to tell me how he is making a living playing music in nursing homes. I thought it would be a great idea to share with you all, so I interviewed Adam to find out how he got started and where it has led him. I know you’ll get some great information out of his answers!
Thank you very much, Adam, for sharing this idea with us and taking the time out to answer my questions. Let’s start at the beginning. Why did you start playing in nursing homes?
Actually, life threw me a curve ball. I was a marketing consultant working 18 to 20 hours a day and it nearly killed me. I had no time for music or for anything else except the business. After a time, I fell ill and was sent to the hospital. While I was there in the hospital, I realized that at least I would be able to get out, but many of the people there had only one way out and that was in a box. These are people who have built our local cities, business people, doctors, white and blue color workers, and many of them were lonely and didn’t have anyone.
While I was in the hospital, I LOVED seeing a new face. Being in isolation is extremely hard and lonely . . . and that is my WHY. The joy I give to the people in the nursing home is the joy I get out of playing my music to them.
What did you do to get started?
When I first started, I got in touch with the homes and quickly found out I needed to ask for their “Activities Director.” Many homes have more than one, but I speak to one and go from there. I needed to be ready to answer questions such as:
Where are you from?
Do you have insurance and tax forms for payment?
How much do you charge?
Do you have a criminal background check?
What type of music do you play?
Very early on when I first started, there was no payment for such gigs, only a $10 or $20 gift certificate or perhaps some money for gas. This is where some artists might think, “Oh, there is no money in nursing home gigs,” but over time I built a reputable name for myself as a professional entertainer who specializes in aged care and senior concerts.
After about 2 years of building up my name, I told them I couldn’t keep going without payment. When I set up a price range of $80 to $100 for an hour show, they were happy to oblige since their residents were already relying on my shows.
I also approached local businesses and got sponsorship from those who wanted nursing homes as their clients. Music was the perfect gift for the business to give to the residents and their business cards were left with the homes: A win-win situation for both (and for me).
Sure sounds like it. So, let’s get down to specifics. How often do you play? How long is a normal set? What is your audience like? How much do you get paid now?
I play 10 shows a week at nursing homes, mostly on weekdays. This is now a full-time income for me and makes up the bread and butter for my music career in between gigging on the weekends.
Typically a show goes for 1 hour and fits in with the nursing home schedule which is usually from 10:30 to 11:30 in the morning or 1:30 to 2:30 in the afternoon.
In a nursing home, typically you’ll have anywhere from 20 to 50 residents attend, but if you’re new, don’t expect too many to come. But over time, as they grow to like you and your music, they don’t want to miss your shows.
But it really varies. I’ve sung for a room with three elderly citizens in it (two of them dozing off to sleep but waking up to clap at the end of each song—hilarious!), and I’ve also sung for a room of 200+ seniors in local clubs where morning tea shows are held and attended by all the nursing homes in the areas.
At the moment, my rates are as follows:
Weekday shows – 10 am to 4 pm – $80 / hour
Saturday shows – 10 am to 4 pm – $100 / hour
Sunday shows – 10 am to 4 pm – $150 / hours
The important thing is to have a rate card ready, but DON’T talk turkey until after they’ve at least heard you play or you will shoot yourself in the foot and possibly close the doors before they even open.
I did shows for free to a very little ($30) for the first year or so to get booked solid, then I told them I needed to up the ante to $50 / show for the following six months. After that I increased prices slow to get to where I am now.
Great! Now, tell us what kinds of adjustments you need to make in your show when you play in a nursing home.
You really need to think about repertoire and how you can get the residents (especially the high-dementia patients) out of themselves and reacting to the music you’re playing.
It is important to remember that it’s not about you or you music in the homes. It’s all about how skilled you are at holding their attention, interacting with them and making them come alive. If you do this, you’ll gain a place in the hearts of the nursing home activities directors and the managers as someone who is therapeutic to their residents, and you’ll NEVER be without paid work.
As far as volume goes, always ask the activities director if the volume is OK. I crank the volume up at some places but others need it at a whisper. But you will find that residents with hearing aids will cover their ears, not necessarily because you are a bad singer but because the loudness hurts their ears.
As for pace, do a mix of slow older songs (Frank Sinatra, Andy Williams, Englebert Humperdinck) and then mix it up with some faster rock ‘n roll and country rock—anything with a good beat they’ll like once you connect with them.
For interaction, do singalong songs such as “Let Me Call You Sweetheart”. Look up singalong songs on Google and you’ll find tons of them. The key is to ask the residents what their favorite songs are. You’ll get golden nuggets of songs you’ve never heard of before, but when you learn the song and sing it for them the next time, their families and staff will be amazed at how they “wake up” to their favorite songs.
That must be an amazing feeling to see that. Another question: have you been able to book other shows as a result of playing in a nursing home?
YES . . . Weddings, 60th to 100th birthdays (mind you, 100th birthdays play BIG TIME, like $1,000s for a couple of hours), engagement parties, special event days, etc . . . All of these facilities have staff and the residents have family members who have seen you play.
You can also take CDs/DVDs to sell at these places and they will buy them by the bucket load at some of them. At others not so many, but it all adds up.
Great ideas! I know that the Senior Center here in town has music for their lunch hour and many different holiday celebrations. I imagine that is similar to the morning tea shows you mentioned before.
Yes, any place or activity where seniors are specifically invited can be a potential gig. I would like to add, though, that it takes a special personality to get along best in this type of venue. You must be someone who GENUINELY cares about senior citizens and their well-being and who likes the crooning songs, old time favorites, and singalongs that they enjoy.
I once got some feedback about a band that said to the audience, “Don’t sing. We are the singers and you should be listening to us.” If you’re one of this type of entertainer and don’t want to hear the residents singing or yelling out of tune back at you, then DON’T DO nursing home shows!
One of the funniest times of a show is when the nursing home staff get involved and dance and try to sing along with me. The residents absolutely LOVE it when the staff they know get involved in a show, and so do I!
Thank you so much, Adam, for the great information. Do you have a website or e-mail address where other musicians might get in touch with you if they have any questions?
With almost 200 shows and multiple music conferences in the past two years, Maddy and I have learned a ton about the current music industry. For those wanting a career as singer-songwriters, here are a two things we think are worth keeping in mind…
PART 1: Making an album is no longer profitable, but we still need to record and release music.
We all know that while royalties and music sales have virtually disappeared, the costs of making a studio album has not. However, the industry still expects us to have a competitive album or demo before taking us seriously. Everyone is presumed capable of recording a high-quality production in their tablets nowadays, and many do. So albums and EPs have become a business card of sorts – a very expensive business card. What’s more, in today’s oversaturated market, fans expect to hear something new from you every 6 months or less. Otherwise, they may forget you exist.
I told someone earlier this week, if I was starting over right now, I would not do a full-length album like we did initially. I would put all my money in a high-quality EP (3 songs) and release them throughout the year as video singles. And then I would use the rest of my money to market those singles. An album no one hears may not actually exist. Concentrate on quality over quantity, and space it out properly.
If you don’t have the patience to release only 3 songs per year (which Maddy and I don’t), then you have to get more creative. Maddy and I write enough material for a new album yearly, and we want our fans to have it. One of the ways we’re tackling this issue is by doing live albums with lots of new material.
Last year we did a live EP at SugarHill Studios with an in-studio audience of friends and family. The response we received was well worth the experiment – especially to the live video footage.
This year, we recorded our first full-length live album at Lucky Run Studios on Feb. 27th, which we are currently mixing. We sold tickets for two separate performances which funded a large chunk of the project, and gave fans a very unique behind-the-scenes look at our work. And after it’s all said and done, we’ll end up with a lot of new material to release as singles every month or so. So far, the project seems like a winner for everyone involved.
PART 2: Most of the money in the industry is being made through licenses and merchandise.
If you want or need to make money making music, you should focus a big part of your efforts (if not all) on getting your music licensed and/or selling merchandise at live shows. For Maddy and I the goal is to become full-time performing artists, so we spend the time we have performing, and learning how to create a live music experience that results in the sale of a CD, t-shirt, etc.
If it sounds like we care more about making money than making music, consider we can’t make as much music if we don’t make money in the process. We work hard at creating a true musical experience for our audiences – which everyone reading this article understands has a huge personal value. If audiences find value in what they experienced, they’ll want to leave our show with something to remember it by. In our case, we keep our profit margins low in the hope that more people take our music home with them.
For those who are not interested in performing as much as we do, our advice would be to focus their efforts on writing, recording, and releasing music for placement in TV shows, movies, video games, apps, etc. With the plethora of media available in today’s market, one can make a reasonable income from this avenue, and the resulting exposure is often better than radio because people are actually watching these shows, playing the games, etc.
I spoke with Jonny Rodgers of the indie band Cincertalk. He has successfully licensed music for films as well as commercials, non-profits, live theater, and dance. He says artists can expect anything from $150 to $50K for a song placement depending on the use.
For example Broadcast or film tends to pay higher fees, but there’s a greater demand for web use or other lesser-paying media. There are a number of large stock music licensing companies like The Music Bed, Marmoset, and Brash Tracks, as well as boutiques music houses like the one Jonny works with thanks to a personal connection. He says if he was starting out in this industry he would join a performance rights organization like ASCAP, BMI, or SESAC, learn how to run a digital audio workstation, and get a couple of great mics ASAP.
“Take ownership of the recording process and get into situations where you are constantly creating great work, for yourself, or others, or both.”
He also cautioned that some of the larger stock licensing companies signs artists and not songs, “so you should make sure your ‘footprint’ as an artist is strong online; good website, Facebook artist page with fans, possibly videos, and just generally compelling work”.
Of course, there are other ways you can make money with your music, but if you want to make a career out of it, it is important to know that these are sustainable options the industry currently affords us.
Both take a lot of work, but for those who take this career choice seriously that won’t be a problem. The days of someone paying for you to make records are almost gone because the sales of records are almost gone. That’s the bad news.
The good news is that if we can figure out how to be artists and entrepreneurs at the same time, we will be the decision-makers of the industry, and we may be entering an unprecedented era of unbridled artistic integrity. People will always need new music. Our hope is that today’s musicians will re-claim the industry and make it their own.
In this inspiring TEDx Talk, our very own Shannon Curtis talks about what she’s learned through her work as a songwriter and performer about the connections we make with one another. It’s a lesson that began in living rooms and backyards all over the country, and culminated in a viral Facebook video watched by millions around the world.
We see this a lot in todays music, the collective mindset of a competition to decide whose music is better than another’s. In a sense it’s always been this way but has it gone too far in a certain way in which music is not created from the soul but from the ego?
I myself can see the point in having favorite artists and discussing with other people why you favor certain artists more than others. I see no problem with this as long as it’s done in a sane manner.
But with so much emphasis now on record sales and youtube views and a whole gauntlet of other means of measuring “success” have artists and fans alike lost touch with the soul of music.
Is being considered a great musician more important than actually making great music?
These two things are not the same. One may have all the technical skill and marketability that is now required almost, yet they may only be concerned with record sales as apposed to the quality of the record.
I know music for the most part is subjective, beauty is in the eye of the beholder. So it’s not that any particular genre of music is bad or anything, it’s that we are too caught up in the ‘success’ of the record and not the essence of the record.
It always boils down to where is the music coming from the majority of the time. I’m not saying don’t take into account your audience and what might make your music popular. I’m just saying that you want the majority of your sound to come more from the soul than the ego.
Some of us may be caught up in a vicious cycle that has artists catering to fans and fans catering to artists. A broad example can be an artists gets on with a major label and publishing company and with those kind of resources they plan on selling millions of records and making even more on the money side.
Well, an artist must produce material that will appeal to enough people to pull off those sales. Therefore, the artist is creating music that might not be from the soul but from an appeal to the masses way of creating. The fans in turn buy the music and the cycle is complete.
I know everyone knows this already but it gets back to my main point. Has competition replaced musical integrity, and does it trickle over even to parts of music that pride themselves on not being in the mainstream. The effect of this to me is a sad one.
Is it hard now for artists to really support other artists? Is it impossible for the fanbase of one act to support another when so much of it is seen as competition now?
My biggest question concerning this is: “What has all this done to music in general.”
If an artist has to dig deep within themselves to create meaningful music, but at the same time make music that can compete with the rest of the world, are we getting music that is conflicted?
As artists and fans of music have we become jaded?
I’m not saying there is anything wrong with making music that will reach the most amount of people. In fact I think it’s a great thing to want to influence as many as possible.
But are you doing it with your soul or ego?
I think artists should support other artists, and fans to do the same. If this was more of the attitude, I think we would see more heartfelt songs being made that might even surprise the artist themselves, if they feel they are not in competition to the level it’s gotten to.
In May 2012 I played a gig at The Railway. I was supporting an artist and was expected to not only bring an audience but to sell and collect money from advanced tickets. For some artists this is the norm but for me with a very small “audience” it was pretty discouraging. I can’t remember how many or IF I sold any tickets. I do remember thinking that must be a better way to promote live music.
A few weeks later I came up with a plan: create a special night, hire a venue , get great artists to play (including me!) sell tickets and put on a great show. Simple eh? The idea was to create a regular show – a brand if you like – that people would buy into, that way they would come and see it again and again without needing to know who was playing. They would attend because they knew that it would be a great night.
So I set about finding artists that I thought people would like and planning how the show would work. I wanted the show to be properly compered and took on that role myself. I wanted the artists to play 2 short sets as opposed to just one each as experience had shown me that sometimes an audience can leave after their particular artists has performed. There would need to be an interval, there has to be a raffle, artists would get paid (a share of the profits) AND the most important part ARTISTS WOULD NOT SELL TICKETS. That for me was the most important element and was vital to my business plan.
I wanted to make sure that the audience bought their tickets from me, that way I could take their email addresses and let them know when the next show was and that way SELL THE BRAND.
I would like to say at this point that I AM NOT A PROMOTER, I am a full time musician.
After deciding to hire The Attic at The Railway and securing the artists for the first show, I printed small posters and put them up all over the place, contacted the local paper and found a few “What’s On” type websites to advertise on. I carried these little posters everywhere with me and gave them to everybody I met.
I sold advance tickets that I hand delivered personally. On the night I gathered email addresses of those who wanted to know about subsequent shows and the raffle was a great success.
People love a raffle and it’s a great way of making a bit more money (keeping me and the artists happy) as well as ensuring that folk stay until the close (keeping the bar and venue happy).
It was a bit stressful as I had to put up £120 of my own money to pay for the hire of the venue BUT I made a small profit and had a ball.
Apart from a few short breaks over the summer and a couple when I couldn’t book the venue, I was putting on shows each month right up to April last year.
We had some great shows and the audiences were the best.
I got to meet some great artists.
I was able to put on acts from out of town. Dirty Proper came from Texas!
I NEVER MADE A LOSS. Although I got very close, one month I made £5 profit!
I was able to pay the artists MOST of the time. See above plus some nights weren’t that busy and sometimes the artists didn’t want the £2.50
What I did I did out of desperation and the belief that if THE PROMOTER actually promotes the BRAND and not the BAND people WILL COME. Yes I didn’t make a load of money but then I am not NOT a promoter.
I know there are loads of great promoters out there but I think that they need to stop looking for artists to sell tickets, generally they (artists) are rubbish at it. We have to sort out songs and equipment and travel and parking and merch and a myriad of other things AND actually perform.
Plus, if you continually use that tired old model of bands selling tickets, you are starting fresh every time you put on a night, it’s crazy. When you book acts GET THE AUDIENCE TO SIGN UP TO YOUR MAILING LIST and YOUR TWITTER FEED. That’s what the bands are doing and they are taking their audience, the one they played to at your venue, with them.
And before you poo poo the raffle, that raffle often made the difference between loss and profit. The prizes were generally naff and donated by the artists and once included a bag of bagels…with one missing….from Grant Sharkey!
You might be thinking that I just got lucky and that the time was right, I got the right venue/area/artists.
A year later I did the same thing with the old magistrates court in Eastleigh and used the same methods to put on four very successful shows. One show in particular I managed to pay the artists over £60 each and they all sold cds!
I have now decided to use what I have learned to plug my own solo shows as …. I’m not a promoter!!
Nick Tann is a British singer/songwriter who, three years ago, took the plunge by quitting his job and becoming a full-time musician. He books all his own gigs, publishes and releases his albums, builds and maintain his own websites, produces a quietly popular independent music podcast called “Is This Thing On” and does all his own publicity… He even wrote this! You can see what he is up to by following him on Twitter @Nick_Tann and checking out www.nicktann.co.uk where you can see what all the fuss is about