A year ago, I picked up an injured cardinal on the side of the road. I took it to a wildlife rehab center in my city. I wrote a post about it. On a whim, at the end of the post, I accepted PayPal donations for the rehab center. I got over $900 in three days. The two women who started the center cried when they received the check.
Weeks later, we had a conversation about their fundraising. They’ve always done it the same old way. Bake sales and benefit concerts. Both introverts, they loathe benefit concerts. In fact, they detest fundraising. Their talent is rehabilitating owls and hawks, and many other wild animals that have been shot, hit by cars, or wounded by some other human contact.
I offered that they eliminate the Bake Sale paradigm from their business model. (You gotta bake a lot of muffins to raise $900.) “Start a blog!” I said. I suggested that one of their volunteers could write daily reports about different animals. She could add photos for every story to create connection and heart. I explained how blog software links up and networks, and how Google eats it all up. I said that their donations could now come from across the globe – not just from the locals.
They were interested. But they told me they didn’t have the time or the resources to do a whole new thing in their lives as they could barely keep up with the work they do already. They have not started a blog, nor have they changed their website.
New Success Requires Letting Go of Old Paradigms
Here’s the Indie Musician’s version of the Bake Sale paradigm:
Find ways to get money to make a CD. Use credit cards. Ask your mailing list to pre-order CD’s. Then, make the CD. Go on the road for at least two years doing shows to support the CD. Borrow more money for promotion. Pay back debt and hopefully make extra money, too. Hope for Big Shows, opening act slots and festivals – along with all the other musicians.
It’s not a bad paradigm at first. I’ve always made my money back on my CD’s. I’ve obviously made a pretty good living at it. Lots of my friends have as well. Many people barely scrape by, though. And the rest of us get tired of the constant touring. Some nights we get sold out crowds. Some nights the seats are half full. Sometimes we drive 8 hours to get to the next gig, only to wake up and do it again. By 35, we look like Keith Richards.
And of course, the new issue is that lots of people aren’t buying CD’s anymore – especially on college campuses. (At one college last fall, many of the students had their laptops open during my performance. One of them actually admitted to being on Limewire and downloading my songs for free as I was playing.)
As careers get better, you might make more money, but you then have to subtract 20% for agents, and 20% for managers. And take into consideration that retail store CD sales offer pretty low profit. You have to stay on the road and keep feeding that paradigm. It’s a hungry paradigm.
An Example of The New Paradigm
So, what’s the new paradigm?
The thing is, there isn’t one yet. And there may never be. What it’s really all about is a new way of thinking, and a whole new set of ideas directed towards new kinds of goals. And there’s a feeling that happens when you start to “get it.” There’s the internet and all of its conversations and ways of reaching people.
I started my blog two years ago this week. My blog audience is not songwriters. I don’t write about the craft of songwriting, even though that would’ve been an obvious choice for me. My blog audience is my music audience. My posts don’t appeal to anyone in the music business, necessarily. Nor are they designed to publicize my music. I started writing my blog mostly to continue the conversations I was having with people as I signed their CD’s after each show. That’s it.
So, here’s what’s shaping up to be typical of my new paradigm:
I wrote a post about my personal experience of creating a Vision Board at a friend’s house. It was months before The Secret DVD came out. Upon the release of that DVD, people began to Google “Vision Board.” My blog post was the very first thing that came up. (If you Google “Vision Board” today, my follow-up post on the subject is on top.)
At that time, I was facilitating my retreats for women once or twice a year. I only offered them to my mailing list. At my October 2006 retreat – seven months after my blog was born – two women who had never heard my music or seen me perform attended. This was the first time that had happened. They had found my blog after they saw The Secret, and went to Google to find Vision Boards. Then they started reading my blog. Then they came to a retreat. They bought my music there. I still see them when I tour to their city for shows, etc. (One of them is going on a beach trip this summer with the other women from that retreat. They’ve all stayed in touch.)
In 2007, I offered four retreats. It was the most I had ever offered in one year. They all sold out, and each retreat was attended by a handful of people who had discovered my music because they found my blog first.
At the retreat I facilitated this past weekend, (2008) over half the women attending had found my blog first. This same expansion has been happening at performances as well – though I don’t make the audience raise their hands or anything. Mostly people tell me about it at the CD table after the show.
The Siren Call of the Old Paradigm
If you’re creating a new paradigm, you might have many days where you just want to give up and do it the old way. This has been my biggest challenge.
In fact, most music biz people aren’t all that thrilled about my new paradigm example because it seems like a painfully long wait for someone to “discover” you. It’s also lots of extra work, they say. After all, you can perform at a festival and stand up in front of 5000 people. Or you can get on NPR and the whole country can hear you! Why not invest your time and effort into that?
The festival thing is valid. You really do build your audience when you play at festivals. And nothing can propel a show into a sell-out like a great interview on a local NPR or community radio station. I won’t deny that.
However, if you have a new CD and you want to get it out to NPR, then most radio promoters begin at $8000 for a several week push. Several weeks is all you get. And most of them do little more than put some postage on your CD and send it to the stations, then follow up with a phone call about your CD (and the other four CD’s they’re getting paid $8000 a piece to promote that week). And since NPR is the only thing in the world music business not owned by Clear Channel, that’s what everyone is thinking. Every single person who’s releasing a CD – from Lucinda Williams to your cousin Travis – is looking to NPR for their airplay.
Festivals are cool. There are a handful of great ones. But they’re only in the summer. And most of them don’t want the same artists year after year. And most of them are heavily booked by certain agencies that offer deals to the promoters for booking more than one of their artists. If you do get in the line up, you have one hour to do great. And then you need to follow up in that same community later in the coming year, and promote the show well. In other words, one festival doth not a career make.
Besides, this old paradigm is driven by the agents and the managers and the promoters. The new paradigm is more fun. It’s artist driven. It’s reader driven. It gives me the option of doing it how I want to do it. I am not only wealthier now. I am also decidedly happier. Just ask my closest friends.
(My retreats are all in my hometown, by the way. No travel.)
The Unavoidable Challenges of Two Paradigms
I’m on line a lot. I read blogs. I get eBooks. When I can, I study anything from on-line marketing to code writing to WordPress plug-ins. When I’m in this world – even though I’ve learned a lot – I’m a moron. Everyone knows more than I do. This world is filled with on-line marketing secret formulas , mixed up with lots of code and Google analytics. I bow to the gurus so I can monitor all the changes. It is a big world.
Then, I turn off my computer and do a performance. Or I go to a radio interview. Then, I wonder where all those people in that on-line world live. In this other off-line world, lots of people still use AOL. And in terms of computer know-how, I’m Steve freakin’ Jobs. In this arena, I say the name “Seth Godin,” and I’m met with blank stares. I say “Brian Clark” and the stares get blanker. In fact, in this arena, many of the presenters, DJ’s, promoters, and managers are a bit disdainful towards my on-line-ness. One radio interviewer got an attitude when we were on the air. He asked me why he or any of his listeners should care that I have a blog or that I’m ranked on Technorati. (He pronounced Technorati wrong.)
So, I’ll be the first to admit that moving over to a new paradigm will take some courage, some weird looks, and some mistakes. And it might mean you feel a little on your own. And for a while, it may even mean less income. But as Seth Godin said in his oft-linked-to music business talk,
“The only way you get from here to there is to just do it. Now, you might be wrong. But the alternative is you WILL be wrong.”