This article originally appeared on performermag.com.
Looking back, the outcome of our final meeting could have easily been predicted. However, at the time, I was completely disappointed. Our first meeting had gone very well, a lunch at a nice restaurant in midtown with the publicist who had put us in touch.
"I'm hearing some really great buzz about your work," was the first comment this potential manager made to me once we'd gotten through the initial small talk. I could feel every cell in my body smile when I heard those words – "lots of great buzz about your work" – what artist doesn't dream of hearing an expert in their industry say that to them? This was going to happen, I could feel it.
I went home that afternoon excited, called some friends, met for a few drinks. We talked about how hard we'd all worked, for so many years, and now finally, after so much time, I was going to get a break.
The second meeting was more formal. We met at their Music Row office with me sitting in one of the chairs in front of their desk. We discussed my influences, my vision, all the things a manager would need to have a deep understanding of in order to effectively guide my career. I was so excited to be having the conversation that I didn't pay any attention to the difference in tone this meeting had compared to the one a week earlier over wine and a casual lunch.
I was in the office of a professional, and they were sizing me up.
I answered all of their questions passionately, honestly, with sound affirmations of my commitment to a strong work ethic and building a career over the course of decades. I was saying all the right things and just as I felt like the meeting was going well, that was when things took a turn down a path that I was not prepared for.
I was hit with several questions about my business. My business? I was an artist, not a businessman. It was at this point that I started to get that not-so-happy feeling in my stomach.
How many albums have you sold since you released your last record? What do your monthly expenses look like on the road? How many new markets have you opened since you started promoting this album, and how do sales there compare to your more established markets?
I couldn't answer any of these business questions with any kind of absolute confidence. Most of my responses started with, "Well, I think…" or "I'll have to do some digging and get back to you on that…"
After an hour or so, they politely thanked me for my time and told me they needed to think about everything, and that taking on a new client was not something they did lightly. So we shook hands, and off I went… feeling unnerved.
A few days later, we spoke on the phone. They told me that they loved what I was doing, but I wasn't someone that they could invest in at the time. There were just "too many unknowns" when it came to what kind of business I really had. Basically, they told me that I was too risky, and that I needed to build a more investable story that could show the growth of my business over time. The last thing they said before thanking me one last time, wishing me the best of luck and telling me to stay in touch was, "At the end of the day, it all comes down to the numbers."
That statement echoed in my head. To this very day I still think about their final decision. The numbers? What about the music? What about the passion and artistic integrity?
In the years since, I've learned more about the industry than in all of my time touring as an independent singer-songwriter. When I look back, it blows me away how naive I was.
So what have I learned?
1. It's still about the music
You still have to have a song that resonates if you're going to be able to write, record, play, and perform your music for a living. Period. Even though it is "all about the numbers," you won't get those numbers if you're not still dedicating the majority of yourself to your craft and building a solid "product."
Using new tools available to musicians today, like Artist Growth, can make keeping track of the business side of things so much easier. I created Artist Growth to help myself and others streamline the time spent organizing and tracking everything from performance deals to tour revenue and merchandise sales so that it would free up time to focus on the most important thing: making music.
2. Social media numbers aren't the numbers to worry about
Yes, you should be present on the social networks that feel most comfortable to you, and you should engage. But you should not be spinning your wheels trying to figure out how to blow up your followers and shares.The numbers you should be focusing on are:
- How many different markets do you perform in?
- How many people attended each show?
- How much merch did I sell?
- How much did it cost me to make my albums, promote them with a tour, etc.?
The trend here is that you should be worrying about building up a narrative (via your data) and laying the foundation for a business. As those numbers grow, you start to become attractive to managers and other investors, like labels.
And, with that growth, your social media engagement will also expand.
3. They don't have to be huge numbers... you just have to know them
A perfect example of this is one of Artist Growth's early indie artist adopters here in Nashville, Sam Lewis. Sam meticulously logged all of his revenues and expenses and events into AG, and after doing so for a few years, he had built a pretty impressive portfolio. The numbers weren't big, but he knew them to the penny. So much so, that he was able to cut his expenses and quit his day job to pursue music full time. From there, he landed a booking agent and indie label deal by going into the meetings armed with reports and a five-year plan that was built on his actual business data to that point.
He didn't get signed because he was making tons of money, but rather because those professionals saw a young artist who understood what it takes to build a career, someone they could truly partner with. Nothing good comes easy…but if you focus on the right things, you can make the right kind of progress.
Matt Urmy is a Nashville-based singer-songwriter and Founder/CEO of Artist Growth, the only cloud-based solution on the market that offers managers and musicians the tools they need to comprehensively manage their career. Learn more at artistgrowth.com.