Sydney Wayser is a talented singer-songwriter who’s recently released a critically-acclaimed second album, The Colorful. We spoke about what it means to be a young person seeking a sustainable career in music, the kinds of connections with audience you need to build, and the network of paid and volunteer intermediaries it takes for her to make it feasible.
What are the different ways that you communicate with your audience at this point?
Wayser: Anything from my mailing list to a blog to this website called Indaba Music, which is an interface for people to collaborate. They have artists in residence where they teach or talk about their life experiences and so on. I’m the singer songwriter there, so I’m the one actual musician, the others are a guitar teacher and a bass teacher and stuff like that and computer programmers. And I’m the one that is talking about how to be an independent musician.
And in other ways, like Twitter and Facebook I am very open about talking to my fans. I feel like I wouldn’t be here if they weren’t interested in my music so for me to kind of snub them and not give them any time of day I feel like is counterproductive. I want insight, I want to know what they think and I want to build a relationship with them.
And then I have a blog which I’m talking about this process of recording of an album. I’m working on my third record right now. And so it’s starting from the beginning, picking the songs to how to work with my band all the way up to asking my fans to pick the track list. Once we have the songs down, I’ll put them up so people can sample them and they can make their own track list and they can tell me what their favorite songs are and kind of direct artist to fan relationship, asking for their help because they’re the ones that I want to buy the record so I want them to like it.
Most of the people I’ve been talking with have been at it since the ’80s or at least the early ’90s. I was interested in your perspective coming into music at this time what your sense is of what it takes to build a sustainable career.
Wayser: I think it’s a slow incline. I think it’s really about making a fan connection which is more than just they put your record on every once in a while. These people don’t have to buy your record, they can get it for free. And maybe they don’t even buy your record, they could love you and love your music and not buy your record. So you’d stream it for free, but then they go to your show and they buy shirts and they get presale tickets, they will support you if you’ve made that connection. But you can’t just show up and be a rock star and not put the effort in to showing your fans you care anymore. I feel like before you are able to just be a rock star, be aloof, be a drug addict, go on tour and it was cool, you were cooler for it. And now I feel like you have to put in a lot of work to keep them interested. If you release an album every 10 years you’ve lost a lot of people because you didn’t release something then. Even if you didn’t release a whole album, you know, like Radiohead, but they’re going to release a constant stream of singles, that’s very interesting. And they’re constantly saying to their fans, “We’re still here. We’re still here. We’re making stuff. “
Do you feel like it might have been kind of nice to have been doing this 20 years ago when you didn’t have to worry about that so much or how do you feel about that change?
Wayser: That’s interesting. I haven’t really thought about it because it is what it is. I also, I like knowing who listens to my music, I like talking about just life with them and I like hearing their feedback. But I can imagine just only having to think about music and having everybody else take care of everything, it’d probably be pretty nice.
I was interested in your French-American connection and I saw an interview where you said something like “I just want to travel the world being a musician.” It seems that you’re taking sort of an international stance towards your career. What’s your sense of how easy or difficult it is to frame yourself as an international artist at this time?
Wayser: Well, I’ve always kind of felt that France would be really good for me musically. They love singer songwriters, they love the fact that I am half American and my French accent is clearly an American speaking French — I mean, not clearly, but they know that I’m not living in Paris. They think it’s cute and endearing, especially when I speak French on stage, they all giggle. I think Europeans love Americans just as Americans love Europeans. I think France is a really good market and I’ve always kind of known that I need to do that. And then Germany just kind of fell into place because of a festival I play there.
But as far as what we’re doing businesswise, I think it’s important to have each country have kind of a whole new set up. Like I have a label in France and an agent for France and I have an agent for German, Austria and Switzerland but we’re looking for a German specific label. It’s a lot more work for my manager but isolating each country really helps you focus specifically on that country because it’s really, really different from place to place. I don’t think that you can expect to go to Spain and go to Finland and have the same exact marketing campaign. You can’t reach out to your fans and audience the same. And you need specific people in that area who know because I don’t know.
Can we talk for a second about the intermediaries that you have? So you’ve got Emily White who’s managing you and then you’re talking about having specific agents in specific locations.
Wayser: Yeah. I have Emily and a day-to-day manager and then as far as blogs go, I have a blog that I write on once a week and as well as Indaba, I write on both of those once a week. I do everything, that’s kind of like my little responsibility. I do all of the blogging. But sometimes Facebook posts, like my musician’s page, if there’s a review, Emily or an intern or someone or my day-to-day manager will post it just to get it up there. Emily’s big thing is content. So the more content you have — especially on Facebook I feel like it’s actually a really good example, like the homepage, the more you post, the more you’re on the homepage. And then the more on the homepage, the more people see your page and click on it.
So I try and post as much as I can and then if stuff kind of slips through the cracks, Emily and her team are there to post whatever else they can, just like new photos or when I’m back from tour, “Here’s some photos, here’s a video clip.” We’re still getting videos from our tour. A fan actually reached out and wanted to film it. So that’s the thing, if you get fans, they really want to help you, they want to be involved and they want to do stuff like that. They’ll make videos or they’ll make a drawing and send it to you and you could put it on a t-shirt, they could make your album art, they can really do whatever. They want to help you, they want to send you what they do.
So you’ve got a lot of people.
Wayser: Yeah. And then I just got a business manager because I have dual citizenship so we’re trying to just figure out the whole tax situation and between anything I do in Europe because I can work in the European Union without having to get all those papers in. So we just got a business manager to help with that, which I’m so glad that I can just send him my receipts.
I think when people think about being a musician they think about playing their guitar and singing their songs and they don’t really think about filing their taxes and getting their visas in order.
Wayser: I have to say, trying to be creative when all you can think about is finances is also a really complicated thing. So I feel like I’m really fortunate that I’m able to have these intermediaries that can kind of do their own thing and having to focus on one– each person focusing on their one aspect makes that actually work better and then I don’t have to think about it, so I can do what I do best which is write the music and play the music. And my blog posts.