Music Industry Monthly – Getting Started in 2021: Part 1

ThinkSpace Education Interview, Music Industry

Welcome to Music Industry Monthly. In this series we are having conversations with leading experts in the contemporary music industry. This is for those of you who are interested in developing careers in music management, marketing, promotion, and many other related careers in music business.

In this episode we are speaking with Lewis Evans, the saxophonist of the Mercury Prize nominated band 'Black Country, New Road'. Lewis Evans has some great insights into how artists can get their break, as well as conveying some personal anecdotes about what worked for them as a band in a niche genre. Also with us is Phil Larsen, a Grammy award winning artist whose career has come from a very different angle to Lewis'.

You can check out more from 'Black Country, New Road' here. We highly recommend taking a listen to their work.
Video - Interview with Phil Larsen and Steve Cusack

Phil Larsen

Music Production

Lewis Evans

Composer & Performer

What do I need to know as a new artist?

1. Write music you enjoy. You will never give 100% if you don't love the music you write. If you're a band, it's best to perform with people you know and respect. You will be spending a lot of time together rehearsing and gigging, so ensuring you can at least tolerate each other for long periods of time is key!

2. It's not all glamorous. Unless your lucky enough to have strong connections in the industry before trying to push out your content, it is likely you will have to do a lot of low paying or free gigs first. We can debate endlessly about the ethics of this, but the fact remains that this is many gigging musician's reality. The key thing to remember is that these gigs are also networking events. You may find other like-minded artists, or even amateur artist managers who are interested in working with you. This was the case for Black Country, New Road.

3 Be prepared to lose money. Being a musician is expensive. There's instrument maintenance, travel, rehearsal space, and money other costs that sneak up on your whilst honing your craft. The goal is to be earning more than you spend, but early on this is unlikely to be the case. For this reason, many upcoming artists support themselves with another career until they can break away from that and focus all their time on music.

How do you go about building a fanbase?

This is a fairly open ended question. Different artists will tell of their own success stories involving social media, live gigging, podcasts and Youtube vlogs, but ultimately it just comes down to engaging with your audience in a way that is sustainable and makes sense for your genre.

In Black Country, New Road's case, this was staying away from social media and interviews. They focused purely on the live music and did not focus on putting their perosnal lives out their online. For Phil Larsen it was the opposite. He focuses almost exclusively on building a strong social media presence and using that platform to promote music.

Record labels are traditionally the people that can help you wish this. It is possible on your own, but you can typically only reach a certain level.

When looking to expand yourself from a solo act, where do I go first?

Some kind of representation is key. A manager can start tracking down those higher paying gigs, and help spread the work about your work. They can give you direction about what to do and why, and can help organise promotion and marketing. Someone who can do this for you will allow you to focus more on the music and production of your work, and alleviate some of the administrative burden. It may be that you go through a few managers before you find one that's right for you, and even then you may only work with them for a couple of years before moving to someone else.

An important thing to remember is that early on in your career it's likely going to be a mutually beneficial partnership. As a musician newly entering the industry, your managers will likely still be learning the ropes and looking for artists to represent. We mention this because if you find that a manager isn't working out for you, or you feel that they are gaining far more out of the partnership than you are, then you should seek alternative representation. In these early stages, representation from someone who respects your process and is able to help launch your vision is key.

How important is collaboration?

Collaboration is so important to many artist's process. You will have a particular set of skills, but there is always going to be stuff you don't know. Whether you need an extra set of ears to help you write and critique your work, or you need someone to lead you on the business side of things, collaborating will nearly always speed up the process. Another benefit is simply motivation. When working as a solo act it can be easy to procrastinate, but when working with other people you tend to hold each other accountable for eachothers deadlines.

You will also learn plenty from other musicians. Everyone will have their own favourite guitar pedals, harmonising techniques, mixing tips and tracks, and plenty more that makes their music unique. By only working solo you can lose so much innovation from other artists.

Conclusion

This is the end of Part 1, but stay tuned for Part 2. A common theme throughout this has been perseverence and flexilibty. Musician's need to respond to the market they're trying to enter, and adapt their approach to fit the needs of the audience. There is likely going to be an audience for the genre you write in, so learn what they want, pander to their needs, stay true to your own creative goals, and have fun.

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