The best way to build your fan base is through gigs but also through creating engaging content to attract listeners online.
Artists want to create music and promote it to as many people as they can, but there is a financial element that has to be embraced. To an extent money gets in the way of what artists enjoy the most, making music. These interviews are aimed at understanding how different artists approach this challenge.
Sarah Proudfoot is a singer / songwriter in her early thirties based in Bristol; a city with lots of up and coming artists. She plays regular gigs in Bristol and London, support slots with the likes of Sound of the Sirens, Denai Moore and She Makes War, and festivals such as Dot to Dot, Bristol Harbour Festival and Oxjam.
She has self-released a six track EP ‘Let it Slide’.
We caught up with Sarah in between work and gigs to talk about the thorny subject of money and music and how she has approached this.
Photo by: Tom Sparey tomsparey.com
SL: “I started the interview by asking Sarah to provide a potted history of her musical journey to date?”
SP: Sarah started by explaining that she grew up with music. Both her parents are teachers and love music, playing in a band and performing regular gigs. Music was all around the house and she was encouraged to play. Sarah took violin lessons in school and joined School Rock Bands as a teenager and taught herself to play guitar.
Her love of music continued at university in Exeter where she met other musicians through music societies and open mic nights. After university she moved to Bristol to be part of the Bristol music scene. Many friends from university were there and she ended up joining a band called The Lasting Days, some members of which are friends from university. She is still part of this band today and they also play regularly in Bristol.
About three years ago Sarah made the decision to start her own solo project, writing and performing her own music. At the same time she met with Tom Mitchell, a fellow singer/songwriter that she knew from school who was also working on a solo career. They have since been supporting each other with their solo projects and have played often as a duo.
Today she is involved with all three projects and has been working on raising the profile of her solo work.
SL: “Turning to her music I asked Sarah to describe her musical style and which musicians influence her the most?”
SP: Sarah explained that she tends to describe her music as ‘heartfelt, acoustic folk-pop’. Her sound has been influenced by the music around her. This includes the bands she plays in and the artists she listens to.
Her influences are varied and eclectic but if she was to name people it would include artists such as Joni Mitchell and Gillian Welch and more recently people like Lucy Rose, The Staves, Lykke Li and The Be Good Tanyas.
SL: “I asked Sarah to describe her experience of how the market for promoting music has evolved; in particular, how important were distributors, streaming services and social media in promoting music and how has this evolved over time?”
SP: Sarah started by explaining that social media is important and when she started out it was as “simple” as setting up a social media presence and encouraging friends to spread the word. However she approached this with a business mind, putting together a photo shoot and a demo of her music so that she had something which people could engage with.
Initially she invited friends to join her Facebook page but gradually as she went out gigging more and more she was able to build her profile further.
The next stage was to build a website and she tied this in with a wider campaign of producing her first EP and getting this out to bloggers, creating a website and a You Tube channel with live sessions. The aim was to promote everything in a cohesive way and gain credibility. Additionally, she approached venues in London and achieved Radio Play.
I asked her about her approach to marketing and social media and whether there was a connection with her day-to-day job. She explained she had an English Degree and currently is working as a content web editor in a digital a marketing role which has helped her to establish and build a digital presence. Additionally, being part of the music scene, she gets a sense of what people are doing and this helps not only her music career but also her career outside of music because she gets to see how people use different digital platforms to communicate.
Turning to distributors and streaming services, Sarah explained that these are really important. The likes of Soundcloud are a great way for people to find and listen to you and build communities with other artists and music fans. It is ideally suited to people who are searching for new music. Spotify is great for artist credibility but doesn’t equate to a huge amount as unless you are attached to a label it is hard for people to discover you.
Distributors like iTunes are increasingly important because for many people this is the only way they will buy music. Although she has CDs to sell people don’t always have the means to play them! ITunes creates a great platform to share your music and encourage people to download tracks.
SL: “Artists have become more creative in the production of records; Sarah has released one EP. I asked her how she had approached the funding of her music?”
SP: Sarah’s main aim was to get an EP out there that she was proud of and sounded professional. The fact that she has a full-time job made the funding of it a bit easier but she still had to work to a budget.
Fortunately she knew a friend who helped her out with the recording and mixing process so on this occasion she didn’t have studio costs to cover. She went on to say that there is so much technology available to musicians these days that if you are able and willing to spend time learning how to use it there is so much that can be achieved yourself at home.
She often uses garage band to put down demos so when she gets to the studio she knows roughly what she is doing. This can be important if you are paying for studio time as being prepared will help you cut costs.
Sarah wanted to produce CDs to allow the option to sell them but it isn’t essential to do this and you could just choose to sell it through iTunes and other services. She did choose to not print a huge amount to save costs and opted for thin card covers with no booklet to keep the costs down and researched the companies to make sure she was getting a good deal.
SL: “Sarah has built a loyal fan base. I asked her how she had approached this and how hard is to build?”
SP: Sarah said this is primarily through building a digital presence through social media platforms and doing gigs but added it is very difficult to do and it takes time to build that fan base. At gigs she relies on people to go away and listen to her tracks and engage with social media.
The best way to build your fan base is through gigs but also through creating engaging content to attract listeners online. You want to tap in to blogs etc where you think your music would be well received.
Also make sure you are playing at the right venues too where you will get a good crowd.
SL: “In my next question I asked Sarah how important it is to be signed and whether being signed has the potential to bring compromises?”
SP: Sarah explained that if she was asked this ten years ago it might have provoked a very different response. At the time she didn’t have the songs and perhaps if she was doing it all over again she would have pushed much harder. However, her career outside of music is really important to her both from a security view point and professionally.
She explained playing music is who she is and makes her happy but being signed is less important. If people hear her songs and like them then that is the success she is looking for. She is happy to see how far she can push it and she is happy with what she has achieved to date. Rather than setting big goals she sets measurable targets and ultimately if people come to gigs, listen to her music and she gets good feedback then that is a good measure of success.
We talked about record label contracts and Sarah explained that if you are going to be signed you need to be savvy. There are now so many different options out there that you really need to be sure what you are signing up to. She added that being signed today is very different to what it was twenty years ago and doesn’t necessarily mean overnight success and lots of money. Make sure that you also know where you are legally with your own music and don’t sign anything until you know what you are signing.
SL: “Revenue comes from many sources – busking, gigs, festivals, ‘merch’ etc. I asked Sarah what she found were the best sources of revenue.”
SP: Sarah explained that unfortunately the thing she earns money for is the ‘entertainment’ gigs in pubs etc where she plays covers and sometimes her own music rather than gigs in music venues. Another reason for doing the music as a professional hobby more than a career is it allows her to be able to choose the gigs she does. She likes to work with promoters who are able to offer a fair deal to artists and work hard to put on a decent night.
It is also about having something to sell at the gigs which is helpful. Having a CD is a good source of revenue at gigs. She has found that in the band she is in (The Lasting Days) having T-shirts produced can also be a good way of earning a bit of extra cash at gigs.
Sarah doesn’t busk but she knows people who can make good money from doing this and it can really help get your music heard.
SL: “Sarah’s EP is available as a download and physical. With a declining physical album / EP market, I asked how important are physical albums / EPs for her compared to downloads?”
SP: Sarah explained that she felt the two went together and it is more about knowing your audience and how they engage with your music. It is good to have options but maybe try and get feedback from your fans on what they would prefer.
SL: “In the age of instant gratification where people may only download a few songs rather than the whole album, I asked Sarah whether she thought it was becoming harder to produce a whole album and is there a pressure to focus on one or two stand out tracks?”
SP: Sarah explained that the way people engage with music has changed and creating regular content is really important. Therefore, there is a need to view this differently and be creative. Rather than producing a whole EP or album it could be about releasing singles over a 12-month period with videos and then at the end introducing the album.
SL: “In my penultimate question I asked what was next on her musical journey, what motivates her and where she would like to be in five years’ time?”
SP: Sarah explained this is a very busy time of her life and music is big part of that. She would like to continue to be writing music and collaborating with friends, but equally she wants to be challenged and continue to be part of the community of musicians in Bristol.
SL: “And finally, I asked her to describe her favourite venue (or venues) to date?”
SP: This year Sarah felt The Old Bookshop on North Street has to be one of her favourite venues in Bristol. She added it was a small intimate venue with friendly staff and a great crowd. Sarah has also enjoyed many gigs at what was The Birdcage in town but unfortunately that venue has now closed. The Gallimaufry and Louisiana are other great venues she mentioned. She also had the pleasure of playing with The Lasting Days at ‘The Lantern’ in the Colston Hall which had an amazing stage and sound.
Moving forward there is a list of good festivals she would like to play at and venues in London.
We saw Sarah support Sound of the Sirens in the Old Bookshop.
Her EP “Let it Slide” is a beautifully crafted mini album which plays to the gentle folk pop she describes. Each song stands on its own but certainly tracks like “Let it Slide”, “Winter” and “Barriers” stand out for me.
Sarah approaches her music with a business head but you don’t feel the two clash, and her future aims are to continue to write and produce music. In a saturated market a voice like Sarah’s should stand out and it will be interesting to see how her journey progresses over the next few years.