Sometimes amazing things pop into your inbox to break up the mundane with little nuggets of specialness. Just over a week ago I had the pleasure of speaking at the MMF’s “The New Artist Model” event in my hometown Berlin. I remember being rather flattered and shortly after flustered, when I received an email, reading something along the lines of:
“Dear Roxanne, would you be free on September 4th to be part of our event in Berlin? We’d love for you to be on a panel with Tim Renner (Motor), Fran Healy (Travis) and moderated by Brian Message (ATC Management) to talk about being an artist in today’s world”.
A cool person may have replied something along the lines of: “Hm.. let me ask my secretary…”, but instead I reacted a little like this:
What is the new artist model?
So it was time for me to do some homework and think about what I was going to say on this panel. I thought about my life over the past five years and tried to make sense of it all in tidy little headlines. The first thing I concluded was that as an artist today, you need to realize that you are an entrepreneur. This doesn’t sound very rock n roll, but I certainly have learned that no one will work as well for you as you. If you believe in what you do and are prepared to work hard, it will not go unnoticed. A friend and songwriter in New York once forwarded this article to me and it really helped me a lot.
We live in a world of peer to peer information exchange, which is good news for independent singer / songwriters. I do believe that now more than ever it is possible to carve out a successful, sustainable career circumventing all traditional outlets: you don’t need airplay on a major radio station, you don’t need a record label, you don’t need a TV appearance. What you do need is to gig lots and spend time connecting with the people who like and support your music on- and offline. Media exposure can be bought, but relationships with those who will enable you to make and record music cannot.
Away with the fairies (insert Scottish accent)
Halfway through the first panel, Fran made the point that artist are weird creatures (true dat) and that we don’t really want to concern ourselves with such things as royalty distribution, Spotify deals, etc. and that artists should be artists, write songs and be away with the fairies. At that point I interjected to explain that I’m not as far away with the fairies as I’d like to be. As an independent musician I have to know about these things. Not being involved is a bit of a luxury. Of course Fran is right. One of my biggest challenges is to divide my time correctly. Somewhere between doing my accounts, booking shows, arranging travel and accommodation for tours, doing the promo, keeping in touch with people, uploading my set lists and registering songs with PRS, I also need to find time to do what I’m actually supposed to be doing: writing songs, experimenting with sounds and working on my live shows. Doing all of this can be both frustrating and rewarding, depending on the day and how much coffee has been consumed.
One of the best moments to date for me in this crazy music world was when Fran turned to me to say: “I’m in awe, I don’t know how you do what you do, I couldn’t do it”. Here’s a picture of him saying that:
That’s not true of course, he totally could if he had to, but it’s great that he can be away with the fairies to write more awesome songs like this one.
Getting the balance right
I keep coming back to this analogy: If artists today are entrepreneurs, my “business” (cringe) is a start up. It would be good to have more record companies act more like incubators or hubs where start-ups can get support (be it infrastructure, finance or expertise, depending on what suits the particular start-up / artist best) and guidance without giving up control. I do think that’s the way forward.
I feel really privileged to have been part of this event. I also got to hang about at Berlin Music Week and talk about copyright with lots of very clever people. If you’re feeling hardcore, you can watch that talk here: Berlin Music Week C3S Panel
Here’s me saying something and making funny hand gestures:
So, when your day is dull, just remember that any day now the phone could ring or your email can ping and it will be something sparkly and awesome.
Photos by: Tobias Koch/tobiaskoch.net (except for the kitten, which I borrowed from Google).