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April 29, 2014

Turning attention into traction - Mouthzoff column

This is my ninth column for Mouthzoff magazine. It was published in December. While a network fo highly skilled and motivated people in the indutry is vital, so is the attention of fans. Only they can form a foundation for a career to build, and without them the network will just suck up your energy.

Last edition we discussed the importance of building networks of long-term relationships with people in the industry. That's really important, but lots of musos have attracted attention from people in the industry and still gone nowhere. One of the questions I get asked often is "How do I turn that interest into a fan base and a career?"

Let's put aside for a minute the issue of people in the "industry" promising to make musos' dreams come true. Websites like Noel's List help to expose the worst frauds, and there's a pretty simple-but-clichéd rule: if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.

Let's also put aside the lightening strike of grabbing a major label deal through a TV show like Australian Idol or The Voice. Those are TV shows and the winners are all about TV. Very few of them have had anything approaching a career, even though they may have done very well out of their first post-show release. The reality is that those experiences cannot be relied on in any way.

This column is about the incremental process of building a following and a network one contact and one fan at a time. There are people out there, usually associated with major labels or big-league promoters, who can blow a career up very quickly by injecting a heap of marketing muscle and introducing musos to vital contacts ... but there's a catch.

The catch is this: those people are only interested in musos who've already built up a fan base and got their careers moving by themselves. This makes perfect sense - they want to put their money on the lowest-risk acts. Acts that already have a fan-base have demonstrated two things they are looking for: 1) a work ethic with business sense, and 2) music that people want more of.

So, how do you grow to the point where big-hitters may be interested? Well first, forget the idea of a single impresario coming up after the gig and offering to make you a star. It doesn't work that way. It's about accepting every little offer of help that you get, sorting out the people who are all talk (you'll meet plenty of those) and taking good care of the people who care about you.

For example, when you've just blown the crowd away at your last gig and people want to come up and talk to you afterwards, it's very important that you make contact. Most of those people will tell you you're great and that's all. That's wonderful and a boost to the ego, but it's not particularly helpful for the career unless you get an email address or a merch sale from them.

Every now and then, someone will come up to you after the show and say something like "you guys are great. Do you have a manager/agent/photographer/accountant?" These are the people who you need to get to help behind the scenes with your career. BUT you will need a smoke detector to figure out which of these people (it will be most of them) who are blowing smoke up your ass.

A smoke detector can be a simple question. For example, when someone tells you they love your album, say "Hey, thanks, that's great. What's your favourite track?" If they ummm and aaah and can't say, they're just blowing smoke. Similarly, if someone asks whether you have a manager, ask them exactly what they have in mind. If they don't have a clear answer, they're blowing smoke. The trick is to ask for some specific detail that only a genuine person will have. There's no reason you can't ask three questions if you're not sure ... see cliché above.

So, if you've received very specific offers of help from people who have been to a few shows and are keen to help, take them out for coffee and find out if this could be a genuine partnership. DON'T strike any deals in the heat of the moment - any offer of help needs to endure beyond the night you meet, and can thus be made in the calm light of the next day.

The lesson? A Musos' career can be built on many small offers of help from genuine people who want to help grow your fan base and your business. Keep accepting offers, building a network of helpful people, and succeeding, and eventually the big end of town will come looking for you. Of course, if an artist has already built their businesses up to the point where fans are already supporting them and they have a sustainable business and the big end of town is interested in helping them further, then an artist in entitled to ask whether they need any help from the big end of town - but that's a topic for another column.

Posted by DrHuge at April 29, 2014 2:21 PM

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