It’s time for vocalists to see themselves as entrepreneurs –says Jennifer Truesdale
Jennifer Truesdale has always been interested in the business of singing.
She’s the coordinator of Chick Singer Night in Boston and has spent 10 years in music marketing at a large independent record label – not to mention managing her own singing career and vocal coaching practice.
Now she’s written a book, Get Paid to Sing, to encourage all vocalists to monetize their music.
You’ve just finished a book on money and singers – when did you first get interested in this subject?
The idea really came about as a result of my work as a vocal coach. My vocal students – largely semi-professional and professional singers and songwriters – would ask me, “how can I make more money with my music?”.
So, what did you say?
Well, actually, my initial response was to ask them a question: how much? “More” is just too vague. I would first have them decide on an annual amount that they’d like to make in their first few years, then we would break it down by month and by week into “bite-sized” doable amounts. Then I would work with them to create customized plans for accomplishing these financial (and career) goals.
Did you ever get ripped off in your first gigs?
Oh, probably! (laughs). Though at the time I don’t think I knew enough to even know that I was getting ripped off! I was happy just to be singing for an audience and I wasn’t very knowledgeable about the business side of things.
OK – but in hindsight, would you have done anything differently?
Looking back, I think that I didn’t really have a clear understanding of the value of what I was doing, or more importantly that the music I was creating and performing had value! Music and art are too often undervalued, sometimes even by the artists themselves. In terms of what I would have done differently, I definitely would have asked a LOT more questions and sought out coaches and mentors to help me.
What were a few early lessons in dealing with money and gigs that put you ahead of the game?
The most important lessons I learned were: 1) clarify UP FRONT how much I am (or the band is) getting paid. For club gigs it’s usually a percentage of the cover charge, so be sure to know ahead of time what that percentage is 2) count how many people actually come through the door. Sadly, some of the door men at the clubs we played back then were less than upstanding and liked to pocket some of the money. It was helpful when we could say to them, OK, we counted 80 people, so at $5 per person that’s $400 for the band (or some such thing). 3) Get really, REALLY good at promoting the gigs! Do what it takes to get people in the door!
Let’s pick up on that last point. Tell us a real story of singer who promoted their gigs – what they did – and how they benefitted financially.
Absolutely! First, let me point out that until an artist reaches a certain level, original music club gigs really aren’t the best paying gigs :) Other types of gigs – corporate gigs, private events, college gigs, house concerts and the like – are much more lucrative. That said, every gig will go better and your financial rewards will increase, the better your marketing and promotion.
OK, point taken. Now – let’s have that story…
One local singer/songwriter that I work with did a great job recently promoting her CD release event. She sent out an e-mail announcement to her e-mail list 4 weeks prior to the event and then followed up with e-mail reminders one week and one day prior. In addition she fully exploited social media with a Facebook event invite, lots of follow-up posts and plenty of tweets.
Was all the promotion done on-line?
No – she put up really nice posters at the venue and even sent out around 100 full color postcards to friends and fans (yes, hard copy post cards!!). She talked it up with everyone she knew and also posted it on on-line calendars for local media. It was a lot of work, but it paid off!
How much did it pay?
Over 100 people attended the event (which was in a relatively small venue) and almost ALL of them bought her new CD! So while she only made around $500 for her percentage of the venue cover charge (with which she needed to pay her band), CD sales brought in over $800.
Let’s say that someone has done well with local gigs – what are some of the next things that your students have done to make money?
For many of my students, local club gigs are really only a part of the picture. Most of the singers that I work with are also busy performing at private functions (corporate parties & weddings), house concerts, college gigs and festivals. Short regional tours are also great and many of the singers I work with have also put together more extensive tours.
I take it that not all of the income is from ticket sales…
Sales of CDs, digital downloads and other merchandise represents a sizable percentage of their income. Additionally, since many of my students are songwriters as well, I always encourage them to pursue sync licensing opportunities – TV, film and advertising in particular. Many of them have done quite well in this area!
Thanks for being so down to earth with your answers – any closing advice?
For most of us, the music comes first. If we were in this just for the money, well, we’d be bankers or something, not musicians. However, it is entirely possible to make a good living making music and it’s OKAY to want that! I wish you abundant success!
Jennifer Truesdale is a singer, songwriter, vocal coach, music career coach, published songwriter, former staff member at one of the largest independent record labels in the US, and is the Director of Chick Singer Night, Boston. She teaches and mentors a very active studio of aspiring musical artists.