Expert Testimony: Taking Artistic and Financial Control through the Internet
During this century, the means of delivering creative art to the public has changed dramatically. The decline in music revenue has made it increasingly difficult for artists to get record-company support. The minority who can sign with major labels are often offered a “360 deal” in which a significant percentage of an artist’s publishing royalties, merchandising sales, and live performance income go to the artist’s label. But some creative musicians have achieved artistic and financial success by going it alone with the help of the Internet.
British electric bassist and composer Janek Gwizdala, for example, created a personal sound by applying his classical-guitar technique to the bass with his unique talent and rare capacity for hard work. He has developed an international touring career and music sales that would be the envy of many established artists by capitalizing on the potential of Internet marketing and communication. His band has included trumpeter Randy Brecker, guitarist Wayne Krantz, and drummer Peter Erskine, and he has performed with Mike Stern, Pat Metheny, Delta Goodrem, Bob James, Bob Mintzer, and V.V. Brown.
How did you develop your musical concepts?
Studying classical guitar taught me how to practice and develop consistency in the fundamentals. During my one year at the Royal Academy of Music [1997–1998], I met you and followed your recommendation to move to the United States. I won a scholarship to Berklee in Boston but didn’t finish because of work offers.
Again with your encouragement, I realized that I had to move to New York City: the scene I wanted to be a part of. You advised me that to become an artist rather than just a musician, I should stress my unique qualities. I was soon working with many of my heroes and conceived my first album as a leader.
Your 2004 debut album, Mystery to Me, featured distinctive compositions and unique ensemble sound. It was a remarkably mature choice for a musician with your formidable chops to take only one brief solo on the album.
It was recorded quickly on a small budget. I concentrated on melody, on form, on compositions that were cohesive as a body of work. I’d always been fascinated with writing music for specific musicians, so when I formed the band that made up the recording ensemble for Mystery to Me, I had specific musical voices [those of guitarist Tim Miller and trombonist Elliot Mason] in mind when I was writing those melodies.
How did you use the Internet to build your career?
I had a product of my own for the first time, and the MySpace craze was taking off, as was Internet marketing: an explosion of online exposure. Making searches of people who listed influences in line with mine, I added many thousands to my network. But it was important to integrate all aspects of my online presence. My MySpace page soon included a YouTube channel where I could upload footage from live shows and an online bass forum at www.talkbass.com as a member of the “Ask a Pro” section. This created traffic to my various online outlets. With over 200,000 members, it raised awareness of my record releases and live tour dates.
Today, MySpace has almost become obsolete and Facebook has become a more powerful force. I make myself available to fans with the online messenger service. The more approachable I am, the more likely people are to want to follow my career, buy my music, and attend a show.
My current marketing tool is Twitter. I have both my Facebook and MySpace pages set up to show my status updates when I post or tweet on Twitter. Having it integrated with my other sites means I have to post in only one place to update all three. My BlackBerry has an application that I can use anywhere on the planet. So when I land in Sydney, Australia, for a show, I’ll post that I’m playing that night. This [update] will show up on MySpace, Facebook, and my Twitter page. Anyone who’s a fan in that city will be alerted.
This translates into an increase in show attendance, an increase in digital downloads and CD sales when I release new material, and a constantly growing network of fans that will stay with me longer.
How do you integrate your sideman work with your online profile?
For my current tour, I’m the musical director for V.V. Brown. Not only is she an artist on Capitol Records, but she’s an incredible singer and an absolute joy to work with. Also, it was a nice change having my schedule planned and a regular income. This allows me to make a new album in the summertime when we have a month off and time and space to plan my next tour as a leader. V.V.’s tour has also increased my online exposure through the enormous number of YouTube videos out there. It’s opening yet another market for me in the future as a leader.
How have you managed your extensive touring?
In 2006, I toured as a leader for a very successful trip to South America with Randy Brecker, [drummer] Gary Husband, Tim Miller, and Elliot Mason that I booked myself through online contacts. My idea to mix clinics with live shows and not to stay out on the road too long made for a lucrative first tour. In 2007, I released Live at the 55 Bar. We’d had a yearlong residency at the 55 Bar in New York and made some incredible live music without touring at all.
At the end of 2008, I did another international tour with [vocalist and pianist] Oli Rockberger and [drummer] Sean Rickman. Although this was a great musical success, financially it was an absolute disaster, with the crashing of the British pound just before we embarked on the tour. There were many lessons learned on both music and business sides of the touring table from that one.
But my spring 2009 tour in Europe was hugely successful, making up for the losses of the previous tour. A fall world tour took in Europe, Singapore, Australia, New Zealand, Indonesia, and Malaysia. I then did some dates in London at the Pizza Express Jazz Club with a band made up of [guitarist] Wayne Krantz, Peter Erskine, and Gary Husband playing piano.
What else do you do to make money on the road?
Giving lessons is a great way to subsidize a tour when I’m on the road for several weeks at a time. My overhead is huge for a quartet tour across the globe, so I tweet alerts for bass players wanting to take a lesson with me while I’m traveling. Three or four lessons a day, and I’m suddenly in great shape with my bottom line at the end of the tour.
What has online marketing enabled you to achieve artistically?
I’ve been able to thrive as an artist on my own terms without a record label, manager, or booking agent. And through the power of online communication, I’ve contacted all the people I need to book tours, productions, albums, and projects. I invest my own money to record, and I receive 100 percent of the income. I have to sell only 1,000 CDs at $15 to make $15,000. My albums cost less than $10,000 to produce, and they have sold many thousands of copies online, at shows and on the digital download market. Because of this, I am able to be an independent professional bandleader, artist, and producer.
But beyond using the Internet for exposure, your records sell well and your gigs are packed—largely because you are a compelling musician with something original to say.
Well, it’s no good doing all the things I’ve suggested without having a product that’s worth listening to or a live show worth hearing. Behind all the promotion is the nonstop learning and creative process of being an artist. The business success is based on constantly creating something unique and fresh to offer my fans. That will continue to motivate me to work harder and be a better musician. Everyone is unique, but this method has been working pretty well for me, and I highly recommend it to anyone with the time and patience to pursue it.
Dr. Richard Niles is a composer, producer, and BBC broadcaster. Hal Leonard Publishing has published his book The Pat Metheny Interviews (visit www.richardniles.com).