Grassrootsy has gotten into the habit of interviewing singer/songwriters. Sorry guys! We forgot that there are bands out there reading this blog! So I’m excited to share Yours Truly with everyone. They’re a fairly young power-pop-rock band based out of Pittsburgh, PA and they sound great! I’ve got ears to prove it!
I ran into YT’s drummer, Eric Downs, at a show earlier this year and have since engaged in several great promotion-related conversations. I love a good idea! After his comment on last week’s “Should I Avoid Shows that Require me to sell Advance Tickets?“, I asked Eric if he’d like to answer a few questions. Read the below carefully because its good!
1. YT is fairly young. What’s the story on how you came together? Yours Truly actually formed as the result of a mutual contact, a contact you and some Pittsburgh readers may know, Gene Stovall. Gene’s been playing around the city for a long time, and at the time that we met (my junior year at Pitt), he was trying to put together a band to play re-made covers. This is where I met Huggy, who had been playing with Gene for some time. We gigged in, and occasionally out of Pittsburgh, for a while. One night, Gene got us a gig in Erie, PA, and Justin, YT’s leader singer and guitar player, happened to be in town from NYC. Gene asked Justin to join the gig, and Justin and I carpooled up to Erie together. During the two hour ride, he and I discussed everything we thought about music: our likes, our dislikes, our hopes, and our nightmares. By the time we arrived and set foot at the venue, Yours Truly had been formed, with the unknowing DJ Huggy enlisted on bass.
2. You’re the drummer huh? Grassrootsy often talks about how important it is for bands to split up the roles of their bandmates. What are each of your “roles” or do you find that you carry the responsibility to keep things runing? I think the roles in our band are funny. Justin and Huggy have much more experience in the music business than I do, and their specialties are songwriting and production/engineering respectively. That basically leaves me with everything else, haha, and it’s funny because these are things I’ve never even considered undertaking before. Things like managing, booking, finance, graphic design, merchandise, marketing, social networking, and more. With the exception of personally using Facebook, I had absolutely NO experience doing ANY of these things upon entering the band. However, what I think drove me to jump in and learn how to do these things was hunger. I truly believed (and and even moreso strongly believe today) in our product, and so I was willing to put in the time to research what it means to be a band manager, how to professionally book a venue, how to use software like Adobe Photoshop and Illustrator to create merchandise, how to copyright music, how to create and manage an e-mail list, how to develop a working expense system, and the list goes on. And it’s not like I didn’t fail at most – no – all of these things, but it’s like the Wright Brothers trying to fly a plane – all the failures are what make the success so sweet, but it’s the hunger to succeed that fuels you through the failures.
3. You’ve dropped a few of your novel ideas to me via email and in Grassrootsy comments (they’re always great). What has been your most original idea to date (if you want to share it)? Why has/did it work? Haha, I will say that I have had a few tasty morsels cook up in my head over time – many I’m quite proud of. If anyone is interested in these, I’d be happy to chat about it, but the most original idea I’ve had has got to be “What’s Mine Is Yours.” This is going to be a long answer (so if you don’t want to hear some blowhard ramble on for a few minutes, skip this section):
“What’s Mine Is Yours” was an idea for an event I had had that was centered around one thing and one thing only: everyone else. This idea spawned shortly after reading a short e-book written by Derek Sivers; something about “survival guide” in the title or something (you’d think I’d remember the name if it had this much of an impact on me, haha!). Anyhow, in the e-book, Sivers outlines many useful points, but the one that stood out to me the most is that “to be a successful musician, everyone else comes first,” or something to that effect. What this means is that, by whatever means necessary, the interests of the fans, the promoter, the venue, the other bands, the door man, the sound man, the merch producer, ANYONE with whom you do business must come first. Think about it. Who buys the CDs and t-shirts that pay your bills? Your fans. Who makes you sound good (or bad, ha)? The sound man. Who pays you a (fair) settlement at the end of the night and considers inviting you back? The promoter/venue. And this goes on. My perception of so many bands out there is that, “I think my music is good, so if I hold a show, I’m sure people will come and they’ll love the music because it’s so good so they’ll buy all my stuff and since I sound so good, the venue will have me back,” and I’m thinking, are you serious?? The sad reality of the music scene in it’s entirety is that it’s hard to find people who care. Why should people get off of their warm couches to come stand around in a smokey bar for 3 hours, leaving at the end of the night with a stench and a thinner wallet? The venue probably sees 10-15 bands a week – why should they care about yours? Again, the questions go on. What I began to do is try to start answering these questions.
If I were the target of this promotion, what would get my lazy butt off my couch to come out to a show? Again, more often than not, the music is not enough. What else can I do? Well, I figured that people generally like free stuff, so I started to brainstorm on what kind of free stuff I could give away. I started digging around my house and realized I had an old PS2, a TV, and a season of Family Guy I didn’t use anymore, so I gathered them up, continued looking, and instructed the band members from my band and the others on the bill to begin assembling stuff of the like. Originally, I had wanted to find a business or two to sponsor the event and buy giveaways prizes in return for advertisement, but I couldn’t find one, so I drafted a business proposition and delivered that along with our band’s business card and a flyer to the show to EACH and EVERY business on the South Side (where the event was taking place) bar none. I let the businesses know that by donating coupons for their goods, they’d be gaining advertisement to a demographic who would be letting out of a show around 10 PM and would be hungry after standing around for a few hours. Of course, any employees of these business that wanted to attend got free tickets, too. I got three businesses (Carson St. Deli, Primati Brothers, and Blue Grotto) to donate gift certificates.
When people started to file into the show, they received a small piece of paper, informing them that our goal for the night was to have nearly every person in the audience leave with something in their hand that we gave them for free. It informed them that there would be four awesome bands playing that night, and that each band would have an e-mail list set up at their merch table. Each time you sign up on a band’s e-mail list, you get a raffle ticket, so, 4 bands = a total of 4 possible raffle tickets. We would draw for the raffle at the end of the night (as to prevent “show-up-for-my-friend’s-band-and-then-leave syndrome”).
All of this translates into a winning situation for literally all parties involved. The audience gets to see an awesome show, but then on top of that, most of them receive a free item (most of the time of notable value) ranging from a TV to a t-shirt to a pre-lit christmas tree to gift certificates to local South Side businesses, etc. When they take that prize home, even if it just sits on a shelf, every time they see it, they’ll have a visual reminder saying, “oh yeah, I got that Sega Genesis + 6 games from that awesome show I went to!”. The venue gets a packed house (we aimed for 150, we got 147 in the Smiling Moose!), so both the venue and the bands get a nice chunk of change and the venue is more likely to host the event again. The bands get a huge influx into their e-mail lists (so valuable), and they get to get rid of a bunch of stuff they don’t want anymore. Plus they have a big audience to which they can sell merch!
Ok, whew! What a freakin’ mouthful! Anyhow, again, this all stemmed from thinking of everyone else first.
4. As a young band, what is a hard lesson you’ve had to learn? Pick your gigs well. If you don’t do your homework (what day? what time? in what order will you be playing? what other major shows are taking place that night that will take attendees from you? what’s the settlement? mainly, WHY WILL THIS SHOW BE WORTH IT?), you’ll screw yourself and waste your time. Sure, when you’re starting out, take what you can get, but as you grow, only play in your primary/home market once every 2-3 months, and make them huge shows…no…huge EVENTS (use a theme or something to make the night something BIGGER than just 4 bands playing) that you can plan for and work on ahead of time, using smaller, out-of-town shows to promote. Finally, most people don’t care about going to see new local music. Give them more of a reason to come. “What’s in it for ME if I come to your show?”
5. Here’s the question Grassrootsy asks all of its interviewees: What do you think is the single most important thing an artist should do to promote themselves better? Haha, again, think about it from everyone else’s perspective. Why should someone come to your show rather than eating microwaved pierogies in their underwear while watching House reruns? Why should a venue/promoter book you? What’s in it for them? If you were someone to whom a band/artist was beckoning for attendance, what would make you come? What wouldn’t?
Also, make it easy for them to continue to support you. A popular promotion Yours Truly does on all of its show is offering 50% off of any one merchandise item if an audience member bring their ticket stub from the last show. They walk out with your merch, they came to another show (and maybe they brought a friend!), so big deal if you sell your shirt for no profit? The 5 bucks you lost is worth it for a more devoted fan, which, again, is the most valuable thing you can have.