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The evolution of the internet for a DIY artist

Working with punk rock and DIY acts over the years has taught me the importance of respecting and cultivating a community.

With technology catapulting our artists’ work on a global scale, allowing them to create their own communities to speak and listen to, we are in a new and exciting era of the music business. DIY artists currently have the ability to create a powerful and, if properly tuned, extremely beneficial digital engine.

Six months ago, two digital agents joined the UTA team here in London, bringing enthusiasm and access to digital strategy, and giving our music agents a new dimension of representation.

I’ve since found myself in conversations advising clients on how to effectively fine-tune their digital engine online, and how to think differently about new technology. Similarly, brand partnerships, if executed correctly, can help finance an artist’s creative pursuit in the digital space. I have witnessed this with clients becoming plugged into a larger team in our North American offices.

When it comes to the essentials of my job as an agent, crafting tours for clients, I too have had to evolve. Being able to make well informed (yet still gut-instinct) decisions with promoters on when and where we tour and how we market to fans is something we still do every day, but exactly how an agent discovers, markets and tours an artist has changed. We no longer rely on traditional indicators like radio and TV stats – now analysing digital stats has become the norm. Tour marketing is vital to our thinking, and knowing how an artist directly communicates with his or her fan base is key to effectively crafting a marketing campaign.

We have created tours from scratch for acts on my roster in this new era. Take for example the Juno award winners for group of the year 2016, Walk Off the Earth. The act first made a name for themselves with unique cover versions on YouTube, including a cover of Gotye’s ‘Somebody That I Used to Know’ (with all band members playing on one single guitar). Access to YouTube enabled them to create videos gaining a significant amount of online attention (they currently have over 660 million views on their YouTube channel). To harness this fan base and build up their headline touring, we scrapped the traditional tour-marketing model in order to emphasise digital marketing – a tactic that is now our norm. Consequently, Walk Off the Earth sold out London’s Roundhouse without a shred of print advertising.

“Working with punk rock and DIY acts has taught me the importance of respecting and cultivating a community”

When I discovered them through their managers Marc and Jonathan (the MGMT Company), the band was selling out 1,000-cap. venues with no radio or traditional street promotion. They soon sold out venues across North America and Europe, like London’s Brixton Academy, and Paris Olympia, and are booked for festivals such as Lollapalooza Paris, Pinkpop and Mad Cool Festival Madrid.

Another client of ours, Jacob Sartorius, a 14-year-old actor, musician and all-round entertainer, is evolving from online stardom to the mainstream by following a path of his own. Sartorius ignited the Musical.ly movement and is now one of the app’s largest users with 17 million followers. Now, his own music is being consumed in the tens of millions on YouTube, Spotify, etc. His first self-released single, ‘Sweatshirt’, achieved RIAA Gold status in America last year; he self-released his first EP, The Last Text, in January 2017, with an accompanying video gaining over 8 million views on YouTube. The release coincided with a world tour within which his first ever European dates sold over 10,000 tickets.

While crafting that new tour earlier this year, we looked at things in an innovative way – our digital department was able to study a number of online analytics. That intelligence pointed geographically to cities where we could discuss headline shows with promoters. It was then a matter of developing marketing plans to amplify what would be broadcast on Sartorius’s social channels to promote the tour. Sartorius’s fans listen to his music on YouTube, but his footprint on Facebook and Instagram are now substantial enough to invest marketing dollars for touring in those locations that made sense – money well spent.

That said, on one of Sartorius’s shows, we sold a 1,200-cap. room with very little spent on advertising. You don’t always have to spend big, but rather spend wisely.

Digital strategies are being used across our global roster and the ability to amplify creativity grows by the day. However, one thing still hasn’t changed – if artists deliver a good show, fans will always come back, spread the word and support them.


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DIY is the best way to do it!

Things changed for The Broken Ravens after our invitation to showcase at a local industry event. Seminars with various industry professionals were run through the day, giving an in-depth insight into the business, as well as invaluable advice for the aspiring unsigned band. Meanwhile, showcases were staged at night, providing real opportunities for participating acts. We left the event with a plan. “Let’s do this, and do it ourselves!” Move up a gear.

Since the band formed in 2012, we have orchestrated everything ourselves – writing, recording, producing, shooting videos, PR, promotion, flyering, design, artwork, social media, branding, tour managing, making our own guitars, pedals, amps and, most importantly, financing. We are all veterans of the music scene and we have a wide variety of experience in the business side of things.

We spent two years back and forth from various bodies that are there to help aspiring musicians. A business plan was painstakingly created to co-ordinate a release; US dates to coincide with the release, and to follow-up on interest shown; and a detailed budget was devised that was easy on the wallet. We’d already released a single, toured, and put out two videos that had been received well. But frustrated by the lack of support and encouragement, we took it upon ourselves to put our new plan into action in autumn 2015. We headed straight to a local studio and recorded ten tracks and shot another video.

“There are so many hoops of fire to jump through with releasing material independently: demands for PR at a moment’s notice, and not to mention the nightmare that is the US working-visa application”

In November 2016, I combined a holiday to Los Angeles with business and set-up as many meetings as possible. Armed with Harris Tweed bags filled with USB sticks (containing the usual EPK and mixes of new recordings – that were still being mixed while I was in the air); Ishga luxury skin products (made from Scottish seaweed); band merchandise; and the deal-maker: good Scottish malt whisky. I found myself not only being a representative for the band but also for our island (Lewis in the Western Isles) and its produce.

The trip was a success, which resulted in The Broken Ravens being offered some showcase opportunities to interested parties. We went to town, quite literally, with our band merchandise and social media. Such was the overwhelming response locally, we raised enough money through selective home shows, sponsorship and merchandise, that we were able to book a trip to Los Angeles to showcase ourselves, hired a PR company to back the release of an EP to coincide with the showcase, and booked studio time to record more songs so that we could choose the most solid release possible. We were also fortunate enough to license music to a new video game and co-ordinate that with a PR campaign running at the same time to increase awareness of the band, in both the UK and US.

Not all as easy as it sounds – there are so many hoops of fire to jump through with releasing material independently, demands for PR at a moment’s notice, and not to mention the nightmare that is the US working visa application. It’s hard enough to find a company that won’t charge you the earth, let alone as an unsigned rock band having to prove that your talent and ability is internationally recognised. I sometimes think it would have been easier to break into Fort Knox. It’s been a steep learning curve that involved a lot of juggling and copious amounts of luck – two steps forward, then three steps back – but the most important thing is we are doing it, and, so far, we’ve done it all by ourselves. We made this happen.


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