Artists, including musicians, typically don’t have the money or resources to promote themselves.
In the old days, before streaming, musicians trying to break into the business would cut a demo record, stuff the album sleeve with money — payola — and give it to radio disc jockeys. Hopefully, a song would get the attention of a record company.
“Today it’s dramatically different,” said David Helfant an entertainment lawyer whose clients have included Van Halen, Yes, Columbia Pictures, The Walt Disney Company and Lucasfilm, to name a few. “There’s no one answer, or everyone would be doing it.”
Helfant was speaking at Creative Sonoma’s Next Level Music Industry Conference on May 7 at the Luther Burbank Center for the Arts. Creative Sonoma, established in 2014, is a division of the Sonoma County Economic Development Board that supports area artists with workshops, grants and special projects.
Today, breaking into the business requires diligence and/or a viral movement on YouTube.
“There is a tipping point, and for whatever reason, you might get lucky with something everyone pays attention to,” Helfant said. “Everyone has an opportunity to get to the next level, they just don’t know what they (the opportunities) are. It could be a total fluke but grab it.”
There are certain things musicians can and should do, however.
Recording executives and talent buyers look at social media, especially Facebook numbers. They want to know if a musican has an active fan base, which would equate ticket or music sales. They no longer go with a gut feeling about an unknown band.
“Now, they take calculated risks versus chances,” Helfant said.
Sheila Groves-Tracey is a talent buyer to a long list of music festivals that have included Napa’s BottleRock. She also books McNear’s Mystic Theater in Petaluma, Uptown Theatre Napa and others.
She said she looks at Facebook numbers and other factors and “rarely makes a decision that comes from the heart.”
Ninety-nine percent of Groves-Tracey’s bookings she does via emails.
“Don’t take offense if I don’t respond,” she said. “Send three short, straight to the point emails, then call. Don’t be afraid to call.”
Groves-Tracey also advised bands to be honest about how large of a room they can fill.
“Don’t say you’re going to pack the house when you can’t. When it doesn’t fill, I won’t book you again,” she said.
Patrick Malone books acts at HopMonk Tavern in Sebastopol.
“If you can’t sell 200 tickets, partner and pool with other bands,” he said. “Before cutting your teeth on bigger venues, focus on selling out the smallest bar in town on the slowest night and even be prepared to lose money.”
Local musicians can, however, find a hand up through Creative Sonoma grant money. Each year a handful of musicians receive $2,500 to move their career forward. Grantees are also given one on one counseling with experts in the industry.
“It brought everyone in the band on the same page,” said one of last year’s winners, Mark Tarlton of Bootleg Honey. “We said ‘What is our goal?’ We identified what we need to do in six months and in a year. Our music got better.”
The Black Sheep Brass Band used the money to create a video for a contest for National Public Radio.