JUST FUCKING DO SOMETHING: Mikal kHill on Indie Art, Touring & Online Sales
A while back I said I was going to start posting about indie art and touring and fielding questions in regards to what it is like to do indie rap on tour and stuff. I waited so long to start replying that tumblr erased the questions from my inbox, but I’m going to start addressing some of that stuff in some new blogs I’ll be throwing up over the next couple weeks. Today I’m going to talk about the IMPORTANCE OF TOURING in regards to spreading your music on any level at all (with a bunch of extra ranty stuff towards the end). Obviously, the stuff I’m saying here is strictly from personal experience and I don’t speak for everyone’s experience so don’t get mad at me if none of the shit I suggest works for you.
Bandcamp has a new feature for premium users which enables you to see all the sales you have made globally, represented on a zoomable map. Zoomed out, the bigger bubbles represent places you sold a lot of stuff, and as you zoom it in it becomes a little more apparent how many sales you got in those areas. As a rule, the “premium” bandcamp features are a joke, honestly, but this specific one is fascinating to me for one main reason: The centralization of my online sales around areas where I have performed on tour.
Something that grabbed me while I was looking at the map is the number of sales I’ve generated online in Charlotte, the 17th largest city in America, and the city I perform in more than ANYWHERE. I play here constantly. It’s my home, and where I have lived for 30+ years. I’ve played shows with everyone from Astronautalis to MC Frontalot to Sole in this city and I have tirelessly (and sometimes fruitlessly) promoted my music and shows in this area for at least 10 years.
The total number of unique customers i have on bandcamp that are from Charlotte specifically is… two. There are some scattered sales from areas around Charlotte, but it’s worth noting that I have more sales in Raleigh, which is three hours away and where I have never actually thrown a show AT ALL.
The number of unique customers in the town I consider my “home base” is two.
TWO, GUYS. TWO PEOPLE.
THAT IS NOT A BELLYACHING “OH MAN MY SCENE SUCKS” STATEMENT. I actually think my scene totally rules. But my scene isn’t the scene that my art really works with, my scene (from my perspective) is primarily comprised of classic-rap afficenados and punk bands. The guy doing rap songs sampling TV shows or songs about how fucking sad he is is not really blowing minds in my local community. That’s fine, a lot of my music is stuff that appeals to a niche audience that is more scattered about and harder to reach directly.
Because of that, I went on the road and that is how I built and maintained the audience I have now and, frankly, I have NO IDEA how to promote on a local level in the same way I have on the road. Obviously. To be fair, the main way folks are buying stuff at local shows is at merch tables, and those sales are not represented here at ALL, since I have not normally provided DL codes with physical purchases of my records in the past (something I intend to rectify on my next tour). Obviously it also doesn’t account for sales on itunes or other download services (which is a really REALLY minor part of my online sales).
The point is that when you are at home, people aren’t driven to support you in the same way because they see you ALL THE FUCKING TIME. They see you open for bands they love, sometimes they come out just to see you do your thing by yourself and just in general you are ALWAYS FUCKING AROUND. When you are on the road, you’re seeing fans that NEVER get to see you, and the savvier fans understand that if you remember that you sold a lot of shit at a show you did on tour, you’re more likely to come back as soon as you can when you pass through on your next run.
I’m telling you this because, while folks normally don’t talk a ton about sales publicly in the indie music world, I think it’s important that folks understand the kind of work that goes in to building and maintaining a fanbase. It’s easy to get bitter or feel like you are not getting anywhere with your art when you are staying in one area for a long time, and it’s easy to forget that there are other avenues to promote your art and develop your music and build the audience for it than playing locally all the time. It seems risky and daunting to tour, but honestly, I have NEVER lost money on a tour. I’ve lost PROFIT by way of poor planning or mishaps, but I’ve never failed to at least break even, and I mitigated my risk by planning minitours that my job was willing to work with me on my scheduling or whatever (when I still had a job). Eventually I’ll go back to having a day job, and it’s how I’ll continue to do things. A great example of pursuing your career AND your artistic passion is Dual Core, and I might touch on what he does, and what my own goals are for the future of my art, in a future blog.
I felt like this is something worth pointing out and that it might help fellow artists who feel like they are fighting an uphill battle with their music or whatever and want to know a way to get their music into the eyes and ears of other people. I never saw a proper return on my investment into music until I hit the road and started doing shows outside of my area to new crowds of people.
The best thing you can do for your music is tour. Learn about ways you can mitigate your financial risks and help each other. Get better at using the fucking internet. It’s 2014, don’t spam people with your fucking soundcloud, nobody cares about soundcloud. Don’t use reverbnation as your primary means of promoting your music, nobody (fan or artist or venue) will fucking take you seriously. Don’t use reverbnation at all. That site is fucking awful. Finish an album and tour on it.
Network with out of town bands that play in your city, give them your demos, invite them to town and promote and put on a good show for them while they are there, and then they will reciprocate when you are in their town. It’s how it works. It’s how it has ALWAYS worked for folks doing it at this level. Look around on bandcamp for local artists, try to attend their shows and network with them the same way. Treat your art like a job if you ever expect it to actually BECOME one. Ambition, son!
Fucking do something!
PS: If you have a question about anything in regards to music or art or touring or pancake recipes or whatever, just leave it in my ask by clicking this line.