After three albums with her band The Hush Sound, singer/pianist Greta Salpeter has a new self-released EP out with her new band, Gold Motel. She is one of many younger musicians who’s come up in an age that takes social media for granted. From the start, as she explains in this excerpt of our interview, she was concerned with talking to her audience, and she’s got a very clear sense of how she wants to connect and why it matters.
What I’m interested in is how musicians communicate with their audience, what they get out of communicating with their audiences, what challenges there are in that, and all of those things. So I guess the first question I would ask is, what are the different ways that you interact with people who listen to your music?
Well, I would say the first and most important one is actually meeting the audience in-person. Like it’s something – when I started my first band – in the Hush Sound, we were part of this community. The record label was called Fueled By Ramen, and there were about 20 or 30 bands, and we really, really had like a very successful niche in the music world, and I think that was because all the bands on that label really made an effort to reach their fans. Everyone did signings after every single show. We were a younger band relating to a younger audience, and so everybody felt very connected.
So that was one thing that our manager told me right when we started. We were playing arena tours opening for Fall Out Boy, and she said “Every single night, as soon as you’re offstage, have your techs take care of all the equipment onstage. You go right to the merch table and sign for an hour at least and just like start meeting people.” And it’s been interesting, because some of the people who are coming to my shows now are people I met four years ago, and a lot of it has to do with like that handshake, that personal connection, the one joke that connected each other, that kind of thing. And they know I feel the same way. Like, you know, if I meet someone and feel a connection with them, I’m more inclined to support them. I’m more inclined to follow their work in the future. I’m more inclined to kind of keep up with them.
And we always did it in a very genuine way. It was never like “Oh, let’s go to the table and sign so we can sell a bunch of stuff.” You know, it wasn’t – we were kind of kids when we started, and we just thought like “Oh, cool, we get to meet people from all over the place. This is so fun.” And that’s something I still do now, is just like every night going out, signing autographs if people want them, taking pictures, telling anecdotes, just talking to people.
And I think that’s one thing too – in being a musician, we travel so much when we’re touring that we kind of have to have a sense of purpose as a traveler other than just our musical career, because otherwise it’s just – you know, it’s too much work. So my kind of sense of purpose as a traveler is talking to people from all these different cities and sharing stories and learning as much as I can about different parts of the country and different parts of the world. So that’s the first one, just actually shaking hands, meeting someone in-person.
The next one would be all the social media sites on the Internet. So there’s MySpace, mostly used for people to hear our music, to see the photographs. You know, it’s like a basic template where the audience knows where to find everything, the photos, the music, the blogs, the whatever. So MySpace is a huge one for people to discover bands.
Twitter now is hugely important and made such a difference. Like I started a new band. I was in a band called the Hush Sound for four years, and I took a year off between and just started a new band. And one of my difficulties in starting this new band has been trying to reach the entire audience of people who liked the Hush Sound. So the Hush Sound sold like 200,000 albums and, you know, God only knows how many more people downloaded it for free beyond that, and we were selling-out tours when we headlined in the US and that kind of thing. And so when I started this new project, at the time I didn’t have a manager, I didn’t have a record label, I didn’t have a booking agent. I didn’t have anything, but I wanted to get the project rolling, so I started calling around and booking our tours. I started emailing venues who I had a good relationship with and booking shows. And I really used Twitter as the way to let the whole audience know where to find me, because at that time, you know, I had no publicist, there’s nobody working for me, and I just really wanted to get this band off the ground. So Twitter was like the best way– I happen to be at like almost 5,000 followers, something like that, but it really adds up.
Were they all on there from the Hush Sound days?
I think yes, yeah, mostly. Let’s see. Twitter wasn’t really in action during the Hush Sound’s career. It was kind of during that year off I took, I guess. Twitter probably really caught on in like the end of, you know, or mid-2009, last year. At least that’s when I kind of started being aware of it. So a lot of people found me, and that really was how I said like “Playing a show in Los Angeles in two weeks, come meet me there,” and 100 people would show up. And so that kind of thing has been really amazing to see, that like the power is really in the artists’ hands if they’re willing to adjust to the new technology and the new era of music. So that’s been excellent, Twitter.
The other one is Facebook, and like I’ve talked about this with a lot of people in the music industry. It sounds nerdy to say “Facebook is so important in a music career,” but really people are so busy that if you can’t find a way to sneak into their daily routine, they’ll miss your show. They’ll forget about it. You know, kids don’t read the newspaper anymore, people aren’t buying as many magazines anymore, and there’s so many advertisements constantly surrounding concertgoers. There’s just so much advertising that it’s hard to actually find the artists you like and get to their show. So Facebook is a way. Like, you know, I’ll put out an invite for a Chicago show and invite 800 people, and when they all say yes that they’re going, then all of their friends will see that they’re going, and their friends will tag along and that kind of thing. And you can just see this sort of like breaking-point effect happening, where one person finds out, and because they’ve posted it, someone else finds out and someone else finds out, and then the show will be full, that kind of thing.
Let’s see. So Facebook, MySpace, Twitter, and then I guess the next way, probably the most distant way would be through interviews and blogs and that kind of thing, you know, like where somebody interviews us, and we’re allowed to put our opinions and our quotes and our feelings out into the world, and then the audience reads them. But that’s not nearly as personal. That’s really like them reading about us and at kind of a disconnected level.
So I would say like the first way is in-person, most important. Second way is all the social media, MySpace, Twitter, Facebook, that kind of thing. Third way is through the press, where the audience can see where we’re playing, when we’re playing, how we feel about our new record, that kind of thing on blogs. They can see videos of us.
Also, I should add to the second category, the social media, we also have a YouTube page, and like every week or two weeks, we put up like a funny video from tour, that kind of thing. And that type of content is really interesting, because, you know, rock stars in the ’60s and ’70s were untouchable. It was this kind of like exclusivity complex where you couldn’t really know anything about them, and that’s what made it so interesting.And today it’s changed. It’s like if you make yourself invisible and you make yourself exclusive in this modern music age, people won’t care, because we’re so used to being able to look into the depths of someone’s life and know what’s going on. And so that’s one reason we use YouTube, and we kind of give people like a hint of what our touring life is like. And it’s just like silly videos to show like we’re normal kids too, and we’re just hanging-out on this road trip all over the country where we get to play music. And the audience, I think, really connects with that.
What parts of it do you feel like it’s important for you to do yourself? You mentioned your own Twitter stream. Are there are others that you feel like “This has got to be me, I can’t have an intern do this part”?
Yeah. I wouldn’t want someone ever pretending to be me. Even when our management writes on the band page, they’ll sign it like parentheses “Team Gold Motel” so that the fans know that it’s not actually the band, it is the people working for us, that kind of thing. Yeah, I feel like, you know, they kind of go in that order. The most important thing I can possibly do is meet the audience in real life and really try to connect with them at the shows. And then after that, you know, keeping my Twitter is important, and then, you know, thirdly most importantly is like doing the press, actually having that be me, you know, having these real conversations with writers. Even if it takes an hour instead of a 15-minute interview, to get like my real– the essence of the music and the essence of the personality out there, then that’s more important.
You can find Gold Motel on their own website, plus on MySpace, Facebook and Twitter. The band is managed by DIY artist pioneer Emily White of Whitesmith Entertainment, who is also a regular MIDEMBlog contributor; you can read all her posts here.
Nancy Baym, Communications Professor at the University of Kansas, has interviewed tons of stars for MIDEMBlog, about their approach to the internet, communications and DIY artistry. Recent interviewees include Billy Bragg and Richie Hawtin. Read all of Nancy’s interviews here