As a musician, and a serious one at that, you have to continuously evolve yourself in your art as well as the way you present your creation to the audience. Whether it is through recordings, live gigs, online streams, and downloads, etc. — you have to be at the top of the game in order to survive purely on your art.
Knowing how other successful artists do it is always helpful. We talked to one of the best independent musicians out there, guitarist Carl Weingarten, about his music, role of technology in music and how to make sure the music sells.
Q1. What makes your music sell when it comes to reaching a wider number of the audience?
That’s the million-dollar question. Some of my releases have done better than others, and I’ve learned that no matter how well my last project may have done if I don’t reach out and promote the new one, they’ll be staying in the garage. Bigger labels can afford the cost of a media blitz to speed a release into the market, but that’s out of my reach. I take the long view. I manage the label myself and hire a radio promoter when I can afford one. It’s one album at a time, stay active, and make the most of every opportunity.
I can’t say what strategies work for others but I’m sure there are new tools out there with promise. My approach comes from about three decades of experience as an independent. I focus on direct connections with listeners. Those connections tend to stick. Having a good website is still important. I try to convey the feel of the music with the design and have something to offer with each click. I still make CDs because I want my work out there in hard copy. Whether they sell or not is a matter of timing, but the discs will be out there and available for a long time to come. I delay selling mp3 downloads for a number of reasons, including, in my experience, offering songs one at a time kills album sales. I produce albums, not singles. But I know a lot of people prefer mp3s, and so I offer downloads selectively on services like Soundcloud and Bandcamp. I also offer fans download cards with each LP or CD they buy.
There are other ways to develop an audience, aside from music. For me, it’s branching out in photography. I have a visual arts background, and I’ve been taking pictures since I was eight years old. When digital cameras arrived, I suddenly didn’t need a darkroom a could take as wasn’t limited to 24 or 36 images per roll of film. I discovered new directions for my photos including fine art and drone photography. I’ve since had several gallery showings, which have led to reviews and press that link to my music. We’re in an age where media has become incredibly sophisticated, with artists crossing disciplines all the time. Diversity used to confuse people like, “Musician, Photographer, and a Writer? But what do you REALLY do?” Now it’s accepted that one person can pursue a creative life multiple art forms.
Q2. How do you adapt to the technological changes that are happening in the music industry?
You have to stay on top of the new. Technology is important, but it’s how artists and the industry use that technology that matters most. Can these tools help me improve on what I’m already doing? Will this help more people discover my music, or will my music just go onto a list with everyone else? Will I have control over how the technology exploits my music? Can I shape or customize these tools for my music and listeners?
Q3. Do you feel it is all about numbers (sales, downloads) or making good music still counts?
That depends on who the musician is. If you sell enough music to make the numbers pay off, then congratulations. Few musicians that I know of, especially independents are generating enough downloads or streams to pay the bills. The royalty rates set by the media companies are little more than a token. For me, it’s always been about the quality. That’s the only thing I have any real control over. Before I started my label, I was a record collector and then part of a record store. I saw what music mattered most to people, and it was not the latest hit records. The music that customers most often talked about and came looking for over and over, were the records that held up over time. The resurgence of vinyl isn’t just about the format. Much, if most of the physical inventory found in today’s vinyl record shops were pressed decades ago.
Q4. What kind of strategies do you adopt for marketing your music?
I’m old school but media friendly. By the time I have a new release out to stores, I’ve already done several months of networking. Promos have been mailed to press and radio, and with any luck, the CD is getting some play and reviews start appearing online. I also have a list of personal contacts that I reach out to. These are friends in art, business, and music circles who, if they like the music, will put a good word out to their own contacts. You just never know where the interest is going to come from.
I try to do some shows because the best way to let people know you have something special is to get out and perform. As a solo guitarist playing instrumental ambient music, my options for paying gigs have always been slim, so I make the most of each by documenting what I can and sharing the event online. I’ve also built relationships internationally with radio programmers, music writers, press and record shops. Effective networking is staying in touch without overreaching. I keep friends up on what I’m doing, and when I have a new release or show coming up, I let them know.
There’s another stage of music marketing that I think is important is keeping the catalog relevant. Most of the music promotion I see online is about new releases. That makes sense in the short run. But if the artist has a number of titles, the older ones tend to get displayed as ancient history. An artist’s catalog has great value, even if the titles are not selling. A catalog is a measure of an artist’s vitality. Every release is a chapter in the story. My label, Multiphase Records has over 20 releases going back three decades. My latest recording, “This Is Where I Found You” was released this last summer. But two recordings I did in the 80s (Dreaming In Colors, Living In The Distant Present) have just been reissued by labels in the U.K. and are, honestly, getting more attention than my new one.
Q5. What’s your motivation and also intention when you create new music?
Brian Eno pointed out that inspiration comes from the act of working, not waiting. I’m in my studio every day, developing new material, and often have several projects at one stage or another. Creativity is about discovery, and my motivation is the music itself, and the possibility of coming up with something new.
Q6. Any message for upcoming artists or our readers?
Feed your music with an enriched life. Be with good people who support what you’re doing, and show them your gratitude. Feedback and criticism are learning experiences. By listening to, you either learn something new about your music, or how little the other person knows about music. Trust your instincts. Waste not a minute with naysayers, egos, perpetual failures, discontents or stay in any relationship unless those people wish the best for you. Soak up as much other music and art as you can. Every expression has something for you to experience. And do more than just music. Find one or more creative passions that you enjoy (repainting, writing, travel, cooking, photography, acting, dance, teaching, or reading) and do those without expectation of reward beyond your personal satisfaction. The knowledge and fulfillment you gain will find its way back into your music.