In this extensive guest post, artist manager, Whitesmith Entertainment founder and MIDEM 2010 speaker Emily White explains how she started managing US group Family of the Year; and how social media is essential to their burgeoning success. A case study to be followed!
In August of this year, a musician friend named Sebastian Keefe sent me homemade recordings that he had made with his brother Joe and Joe’s girlfriend, Vanessa. Sixty seconds in, I was blown away. I signed on to manage the band immediately without ever having seen them play live. A rash decision for sure, but I had been a fan of the Keefes’ for years when they played in other bands and was thrilled to be working with them as well as the talented new band members.
The band was called Bogie Ogerton and had played one show to date. We quickly changed the name to Family of the Year. I was thrilled to have stumbled upon such incredible home-recorded music and the opportunity to launch a band’s career completely from scratch. All too often, I’m cleaning up half-plans or strategies that haven’t been executed properly, which is fine, that’s part of the gig of being a manager, but this time, the band members and myself could control and coordinate content releases and strategies from the absolute beginning.I’ve always believed that if you make great art, people will pay attention. The past four months have been a wonderful experiment in commencing the career of a brand new artist in the modern music industry on their own terms.
Everything Family of the Year has achieved over the past few months has started organically with the band members. Most of the opportunities that have come our way were publicly accessible. Our main goals were to get the band off the ground, release an album, and get them on the road.
But let’s start with the band. There are six members of Family of the Year and everyone is working incredibly hard with everything they can bring to the table. Sebastian (drums) is the liaison between the six members and myself, making sure everything is staying on track. When he realized the band’s recordings were something special, he took the initiative to send them out to every industry person he knew. I was lucky enough to be included on that list. Sebastian’s older brother Joe had written, recorded, and produced thirty or so songs with his girlfriend Vanessa. These tracks were completely self-recorded and ready to go, no budget or fancy studio necessary.
Vanessa is also an actress who had helped the band land a few syncs before I came on board and has designed the band’s artwork, merch, and overall aesthetic. James, who plays guitar, is a mastering engineer and when we whittled down the song list into a proper release plan of a tiered EP and LP over the coming months, James mastered the releases with Joe within a few days.
The main development I’ve hammered into the band’s minds has been fan outreach and connection. The Keefe brothers had played in a brilliant band called Unbusted in the past, but all too often, I was one of the only fans in the audience. As a friend of the band, I encouraged them to connect with folks directly as early as 2003, but as Sebastian recently explained to Musician Coaching, they had to learn the hard way:
Back in the day, [Emily would tell] us about mailing lists, social networking websites and things like that. She told us, “This is the way it’s going to be,” and we would say, “No, we’re a traditional band that is going to keep playing club after club and wowing people, and soon people will be showing up by the thousands.” Sure enough, we were wrong. We had some experience touring, but it wasn’t effective touring. You could go out there and spend two years touring the states, but if certain pieces aren’t in place, it’s not going to be a good experience.
We had fun, but as far as trying to build a career and a following and selling albums, it’s next to impossible if you don’t have the correct presence online. I think that’s the major factor these days. The biggest difference is an ability to connect with fans. It’s the only avenue these days.
Luckily for Sebastian, two more members of Family of the Year have helped us take our goals of fan connection to the next level. Christina (keys) had recently quit her day job at a PR firm and quickly wrote the band’s bio and press release while taking helm of Family of the Year’s newly created Twitter page. Since all of the band members are regular Facebook users, they frequently post from the band’s artist page and the fans love that it’s not coming from a marketer.
And last, but far from least, the band’s bass player, Brent, is a web designer and has been working on the creation of the band’s website based on Vanessa’s artwork. The fact that the band uses technology in their everyday lives has really accelerated everything. Sebastian doesn’t even have a computer; he runs all of the band’s business from his iPhone. When we noticed that #WhenIWasLittle was a Twitter trending topic and the band had a song of the same name, we immediately set up a Tweet for a Track promotion to push the song out. The band doesn’t flinch when I ask them to mess around with Google Wave with fans in mind or run campaigns like sending postcards from the road to fans (old-school Twitter!), then scanning them for their site with a mobile scanner in the band’s RV and posting content from the road while they’re speeding down the highway on their way to the next show.
I am honored to be a part of CASH Music‘s board and the always-amazing Jesse von Doom designed a direct-to-fan release page for the band’s debut EP, Where’s The Sun, which was released to start a fanbase from fan one. This was the lead up to Family of the Year’s full-length release, Songbook, which Jesse also built a page for and is aslo distributed on major digital retailers worldwide by Tunecore.
Although it can take a bit of education to explain to an artist who may have grown up with the goal of getting “signed,” many of the tools from recording to distribution to promotion are now completely accessible to all at a significantly reduced cost and with the ability for the artist to control their rights and the release of their music. Anyone can release music this way and although CASH will be going open-source soon, there are wonderful companies like Topspin, Nimbit, and others who make their tools accessible to artists who want to go this route.
Family of the Year’s album is donation-based through their site. The average donation has been around $15 due to a clear artist statement from the band and the fans’ willingness to help the cause. The vast majority of our sales have come directly through our site as we make a point to direct as much traffic as possible to the band’s homepage. This also allows us to capture email addresses and locations of fans, which in turn allows us to strategize where we should be touring. Gotta love Google Analytics.
Ok, so we had a team, songs ready to go, and a release plan. But we all know that any artist can get completely lost in the 150,000 or so albums that are released every year. How do we stand out? Again, we worked hard to seize every opportunity that came our way. I had been tipped off that Sonicbids was running a public contest in which Ben Folds and Keith Lockhart would select a band to open for Ben with The Boston Pops at Symphony Hall. I submitted Family of the Year and was pleasantly surprised that they were selected for the slot out of about 700 other artists. I called Ben’s manager and The Pops to thank them and they made it clear that the selection of Family of the Year strictly came from Ben and Keith through the Sonicbids contest; it didn’t matter that they had a manager or agent, the band won a public contest that anyone could have entered. And thus, Family of the Year graced the stage at Symphony Hall for their fourth show ever.
I explained to the band that although we now had a wonderful agent at Paradigm (note! I’d never worked with said agent before, he just plain fell in love with the band’s music), most opening slots come directly from the artist and to reach out to as many of their friends in other bands as possible. Lo and behold, Vanessa received a facebook message back from a friend inEdward Sharpe and The Magnetic Zeros encouraging us to submit to open shows for the band and everything came together. We completely capitalized on this amazing opportunity and Family of the Year continues to work extremely hard, rehearsing nightly and perfecting their show, but also will talk to any fan who will listen and you can barely introduce yourself to them at the merch table without the response of “Will you please sign up for our email list?”
Due to the above work, a rep from Billabong caught the band on tour and is featuring their music in a campaign for their spring line. MTV reached out directly to me (not through a pitch person!) saying that they fell in love with the band on Myspace and want to feature Family of the Year’s music in upcoming TV shows. More and more opportunities have been coming our way just from the band doing everything in their power to spread the word about their music and making sure our contact info is accessible and that everything is replied to in a timely manner, be it fan or industry person.
We’ve been documenting this entire process through a filmmaker friend who is donating his time and resources to tell the story of a band trying to make sense of their career options in 2010 and beyond. In the meantime, we’ve been posting pieces of content from the film as we make it on the band’s Youtube channel.
I speak frequently about the above story and strategies and many think we’re lucky to have band members who function as modern music industry team members. Don’t get me wrong, we are. But even if your bass player isn’t a web designer, there’s a good chance you know someone who is HTML savvy and it doesn’t take much to get going by using WordPress, free social networks, the direct-to-fan platforms mentioned above, an email list, worldwide digital distribution through companies like Tunecore and just plain working really hard to tell everyone you know about your music and live shows in every way possible. We actively embrace technology, trying almost everything that comes our way, be it a webcast with Justin.tv, or using a Google Voice number to encourage fans to text in their email address from their phones at a show. Sometimes these strategies make our Google Analytics spike through the roof and other times, it’s a blip on the radar. But in the meantime, I am so excited and truly honored to be working with these musicians and developing their careers in the modern era
and over the next decade.
My point is, don’t look at this story and think “But I’m a solo artist, this isn’t fair.” Quite
the opposite — ask around, you have family, friends and fans (even at the very beginning of an artist’s career) who are generally happy to help out if you just ask. Asking people you know for the privilege of their email address is a massive start, and why not make custom business cards with a link to download your music in exchange?
Again, as always, the music has to be amazing. Focus on that first and foremost. But when you feel like it’s ready, start reaching out to people. The balance between art and promotion is a delicate one, and I often say that musicians shouldn’t spend more than two hours a day social networking so as not to mess with the creative process. And if it really messes with your creative process? Again, find a family member or enthusiastic friend who can help you out to make sure the information is getting out there. Of course, a Tweet, blog, or Facebook post directly from the artist can go a long way, but even one a week directly from the artist in conjunction with someone maintaining online properties can make a huge difference.
What’s next for Family of the Year? We’re plugging along and working on an “E-mail list Single Series” to be launched in January in which we’ll give away an exclusive unreleased track every month through the band’s Fanbridge email list. Beyond tha, be sure to sign up to hear directly from Sebastian, Vanessa, Joe, Christina, Brent and Jamesy from Family of the Year and experience some of our ongoing experiments to get music out and interact with fans socially, creatively, and beyond.