Published on August 13th, 2010 | by Hugh Hession2
Interview with promoter and industry coach Simon Adams Pt 1
It’s my privilege to kick off our first interview with music industry guru Simon Adams. Over the past couple months that we have conversed, I have enjoyed Adams’ expansive knowledge and experience that he brings to the business and art of music. Like myself, Simon is a musician – and thus, his passion for music is his life imprint – the essence of his purpose. Through his cumulative experience and accomplishments, he is a credible voice to those of us who are dedicated to expanding our music careers. Originally a UK native; Simon now resides in The Netherlands.
Because of the quality of information, I decided that this interview should be delivered completely unabridged. So, I’ve split the interview into two parts.
HUGH: Welcome Simon! Good to talk to you again. For starters, could you give our readers some information pertaining to your background in music? How did you get started and how did that develop into what you do now?
SIMON: Wow where do I start! I feel like I have had so many lives in the music and media industries. I’ve been a musician since I first picked up the guitar age 6, and started in serious bands at 16 when I left school. Back in the 80’s in the UK, the first wave of indie music was just taking hold, and I became big fans of the post punk new wave bands like The Cure, and I also followed some of the Goth bands such as Siouxsie & The Banshees, The Mission and Rose Of Avalanche. My own new wave band Volume III did the rounds in the UK in early 80’s but when the technology explosion hit the recording industry I became intrigued with electronic music.
I left behind my guitar roots and started producing and DJ’ing around the time that Detroit and Chicago was giving birth to the original house scene in the USA. I’d collect pretty much everything on the DJ International label, all the stuff from
Kevin Saunderson and DJ Pierre, Masters at Work, these guys were the very first entrepreneurial musicians, and real trailblazers, but as with many innovators they got bitten quite badly at the time by their labels.
I started up an independent demo studio in the UK and I recorded quite a lot of tracks under different guises that I put out myself on cassette(!). A few years later, I was asked to set up a new community radio project in London, so I went off to set up and run radio stations for a few years.
It was whilst in radio that I also hosted many independent radio shows interviewing indie musicians and getting them some much needed promotion. We
did live sessions in the studio, artist interviews and much more. Through the 80’s and 90’s the first independent UK record labels were starting to emerge, Factory, 4AD, Mute and many more, although back then they all still relied on the majors for the distribution channel. I started helping artists with their promotion giving them guidance through the first wave of the music revolution.
Fast forward to 2004 and I got the bug to be a producer myself again. After moving out of radio, I paired up with euro dance vocalist Katy D which led to forming the band Kandystand. I started a new studio, a record label, a publishing arm and a media production company and we started up like many artists did distributing through CD Baby and going direct to the PRO with the publishing(firstly the MCPS / PRS in the UK and later GEMA in Germany). Then came the whole new wave of technological advances, and the music I was making became an experiment in utilising every new tool to get our music heard. Once again I was living and breathing a new music revolution.
As Kandystand became more successful (one of our singles got to #2 in the West Coast Dance Charts), I found myself reaching out and helping other artists to promote their music in the same successful way.
In 2009 I started MyMusicSuccess, a music marketing company and throughout the whole year helped new artists get exposure using the same online tools I had used to get our own music exposure. We started getting bands online exposure in Japan, we went to the Midem music conference and pushed a lot of bands there, and we even took a new independent teen artist by the name of Taylor Bright into the Billboard Club Play Top 30 for 11 weeks through our remix work with New York DJ Mike Rizzo.
After talking to and helping so many independent artists, what they told me time and time again is that rather than have someone doing the online marketing and PR for them, they actually needed the knowledge more than the leg work. For a lot of them –they had the time and the capacity to do things like press kits, press releases, and other promotions – but not necessarily the budgets or the knowledge. To fill this void, I started up a new company in 2010 called N2R Media, to expand into knowledge based products where I could disseminate all of my 25 years of independent music experience and where independent artists could learn all they needed to know at an affordable cost.
The first thing to come out of N2R Media was my new book 101 Ways To Market Your Music On The Web, which is a real in depth look at the best tools available right now to save artists time and money on music promotion, and also to give artists some insight into some of the specialist tools available such as online promotion to Japan. Our future plans are to develop new books on the new music industry, and start setting up a whole bunch of seminars and workshops around Europe. In addition, if we can get enough people together in the US, we will be able to educate many more musicians on the opportunities and promotion techniques available to them, and many other music industry related subjects too. We’ll be delivering all these through the MyMusicSuccess brand.
Our first seminar takes place at the Popkomm Congress in Berlin in September (2010) where we are presenting a Bandcamp called “The Music Success Mindset” focusing on developing the entrepreneurial way of thinking for success in the new music industry. We’re also at the Future Music Forum in Barcelona at the end of September (2010) presenting a keynote on managing change in the new music industry.
I suppose I’d currently describe myself as a independent music industry knowledge coach. Everything developed into what I do now, simply by jumping right into the middle of things as they happen and riding out the journey, its how I’ve always done things, and most likely always will!
HUGH: You are quite the advocate for the indie artist! This is a refreshing change from so many in the industry who I see tend to offer more discouragement than positive advice. To me, valid feedback can be a plus if it’s offered with workable solutions. So the question arises…how can an artist in today’s music business stick out of the pack? What are some things they can do to truly make a splash and separate themselves from the masses?
SIMON: Funny you should say that. Actually, I discussed this very same question today over coffee with my business partner, and we came to the conclusion that the reason that I’m such an advocate for indies is that although I have run my own independent label, produced, promoted etc., its all been indie. I have never in my 25 years in the industry worked for a major label or worn a suit (lol). I have always been a musical entrepreneur and saw the whole major label machine as bureaucratic and in many ways a stifling force for creativity. My attitude is why do I need to chase someone else’s approval, if I think that my music is good enough, I’ll find ways of doing things myself.
As a person, I always assume 100% responsibility for everything I do in life; my success and failures are totally down to me. So many artists in the past may have signed their records to a label only to see them never released, with the rights withheld so they could not do anything with the songs. That’s madness! No other industry works like that and thankfully, neither does the music industry have to be shackled to these practices any longer.
The music industry has gone through massive changes in the last 10 years and many professionals have not learned how to cope with change. Change is scary so many people react in a negative way hoping it will go away – it won’t. Change is inevitable; growth is optional as the great Walt Disney once said.
Because I have never worked for a major label, I come to the new music industry with exactly the entrepreneurial approach that’s needed right now. What is missing is indie A&R and artist development, people to coach and feedback, give advice and develop a band or artist. A&R was previously perceived as the carrot that drew artists to major labels, but where are all the major label A&R’s now? Looking for a job or creating their own agencies! However, because they come from a corporate background, their brains are wired for the old music industry practices; none of which work any more.
These are not the right people for the job any longer. How can someone used to getting a regular pay check from a boss for the last 20 years understand the needs of musicians who right now are having to get down and dirty into the trenches and build their careers from scratch themselves? That’s why I want to channel new ideas and knowledge in as real time as possible through MyMusicSuccess and N2R Media.
I’ve always practiced entrepreneurialism. All my endeavours have started from little or nothing. Get in the corridor with what you have today and grow like mad however you can. That’s the best advice anyone will ever give you and exactly the attitude that’s needed right now.
There are some new ways that bands are getting noticed now. Firstly of course make great music. That’s a given. If you want to be the best in class you have to make sure your skills are up to scratch first. Whatever area you are lacking in, make a commitment and a clear set of goals on what level you want to be at whether you are a drummer, guitarist or vocalist or what ever your role in a band. Your commitment to increase your skills as an absolute priority.
Secondly, you have to brainstorm some crazy ideas. History tells us that the craziest most ridiculous ideas work the best. The reclusive Barclay Brothers recently ran a drawing to give 100 of the fans that signed up for their mailing list a cheque for $35 and got some really good press for that in the print and online media. OK Go did the treadmill video…its an ideas society today.
Speaking of ideas, every band reading this go get a pile of blank exercise books and start writing down every idea you have, or capture it on your voice recorder app in your phone. Every idea is a potential marketing gem. You have so many ideas when you’re say, at a bar or in a café with friends. But, how many ideas do we actually capture? Less than 1% if that. Start collecting ideas in a journal and you’ll be amazed at some of the innovative things you think of every day.
Seth Godin has a good answer – build a tribe. It still holds up today and is easier than ever to do. The days of putting a million bucks from a label behind a band are over. I don’t believe artists like Lady Gaga will have the longevity of artists like Madonna. The world is moving too fast for that. Instead of putting out 1 album and looking for 200,000 sales, you should be putting out 10 albums and looking for 2000 sales of each. The commercial results are the same, and yes its tougher work, but on the upside, you get to make more music, which is good for your craft, and good for your fans.
You can also adjust along the way with this method to. If you get feedback from your first album, use it to improve your second and so on. The fans love the whole feedback involvement, and what better A&R feedback can you get than from the very people you seek to serve. Build your fan base steadily over a period of time, and make sure you build an email marketing list which you regularly service with a newsletter.
There are no quick wins in the new music industry (my view is that there never was in the old industry, just apparent “splashes” that were making huge losses). Growing a band organically is a much better long term practice and offers less financial risk, as you have the opportunity to change course quickly if something’s not working as well as you expected.
HUGH: Sometimes it can be advantageous to look at what “not” to do. What do you see artists doing that are deterring them from getting ahead?
SIMON: Too many bands are still chasing label deals instead of investing in learning the business side themselves. Whether you ultimately build a team and manage it yourself or get an independent manager to help you, assuming responsibility for your musical career is something that you must never pass over to anyone else. Even if you work with a team of people in the future and don’t do all the physical work yourself, you still have to understand what everyone is doing.
On the marketing side, make sure that you are not wasting any time or money on promoting your music to people who are not going to be listening. Spend more time focusing your attention on your “ideal fan”. If you build your fan base organically over time you will get to know who these people are.
HUGH: Historically, record distribution was heavily guarded and controlled by the major (record) labels. It can be argued that now, more then anytime in music business history, an artist has more opportunities to promote their music online, as the distribution barrier has been shattered. Do you feel that even though their are more opportunities, it is more difficult for an artist to get noticed because of the barrage of bands competing on the same scale, or is it easier?
SIMON: It is true that the distribution barrier has gone, CDBaby saw to that seven or so years ago. However the biggest mistake that indies can make is to just put their music on the download stores and expect people to come along and find them there. It never worked like that for major label CDs in Wal-Mart, and it won’t work like that in the virtual stores either. Putting your track into the iTunes store isn’t promotion that’s pure distribution; a method to deliver your product to customers. Once your music is in the distribution chain, you have to go tell people about it and give them a reason to buy.
That’s the great thing about building up a mailing list. If you have 20,000 fans on your mailing list and you announce your new release via a newsletter, even with just 10% of fans buying, that’s 2000 sales from on source. That’s why organic marketing over the long term has so much power. You’re building trust and brand equity as you go.
There are also some clever ways you can use online tools like Twitter searches to find people who actually buy music from iTunes for example. It’s easier to compete in the music marketplace, but only if you work smarter.
Fortunately everyone can learn the skills needed to succeed. It’s not about status any more, it’s about seeking out the knowledge, and having the willingness to learn and experiment. That costs nothing except commitment and perseverance.
HUGH: Very few, if any artists go on to global acclaim without a team around them and the financial resources to make it happen. Do you see more indie artists in the future building their empires from their bedroom to the boardroom? Meaning, can the DIY artist truly make it happen with the resources available to them on the Internet and redefine how it is done?
SIMON: Artists have to accept the need to become entrepreneurs more than ever. That means that at first you have to do a ton of jobs yourself, build everything up from the ground, and then slowly farm out tasks and build a team as you grow.
The good thing about this is that there are so many ways in which you can work in a virtual capacity. Take outsourcing sites like Elance for example. You can put up a job for a website design on Elance and get coders to bid against each other for the project; meaning you get a whole bunch of people you can virtually interview, and negotiate the best price for.
The very first site I set up for MyMusicSuccess cost me $200 to build. Once I started making some profits (which thanks to the cost efficiency of hiring virtual staff, was sooner than I could imagine) I could hire the designer again to make some new changes, which then brought in new work. It’s a keep the cost down, make the money, reinvest, grow and repeat culture out there right now for everybody, and musicians can take advantage of that too.
It’s a myth that you need huge financial resources to win at anything. We use less than 2% of the most valuable resource we possess, our mind.
Another thing is simplification. This is a process by which you strip away everything you don’t need that’s costing you money that you don’t need to spend. Do you need such a big car, such a big place to live, can you reduce your rent and free up cash resources for a press campaign instead?
There are a lot of people who think that they need the latest guitar, the latest mic, he latest gadget and that they can’t survive without it. Think about everything you own and spend right now, is it totally necessary? How much cash could you generate by simplifying your life? Could the money you save be invested in your music career to bring long term results?
Go to Part 2 of Simon Adams Interview