Music Industry Essentials : Andrew McKnight and The Business Plan
[This transcript is excerpted from the Songwriters’ TeleSummit.]
Viv: Andrew, how do you start the business plan?
Andrew: The thing about business plans is you really need to understand what things are going to generate revenue–and that would be whether it’s downloadable music sales, CD sales, gig revenue, licensing, any of those things, to understand them, understand how to grow them and also what expenditures you need to make to be able to do that. That’s travel costs, business costs, you know, the more money that you can save by doing things for yourself in the office that’s great. And then when you spend money to have somebody do something for you to really try to take that work and make that do more work for you. On my Facebook page and on my website, for instance, we have this thing called ‘A Pebble A Week’ where essentially we ask people to do one little thing each week. Whether it’s to take my Facebook page and paste it on their wall and share it with people or to just drop by amazon.com and hit the five star rating on a CD that they like or whatever. Just these little things that help build some momentum. Well, you have to allocate some time to doing those kinds of marketing things to help get people engaged and, as you’re doing these things, hopefully what they’re doing is they’re leading to opportunities. Now you could sit there and say, ‘Ok I want to do six tours this year and I want to go to Texas for a week, I want to go to California for a week. I want to go to the Upper Midwest for a week. The bottom line is just because you want to do those things doesn’t necessarily put those gigs in place. What’s going to help put those gigs in place is having people who are motivated to host a show, or lobby for you at a specific venue. For instance, I’m a Unitarian, I wind up doing a lot of concerts in Unitarian churches and Sunday morning special music services. I have friends who are Jewish performers who do performances related to the Jewish holidays and all that kind of stuff. It’s kind of part of finding your constituency and then, when you have a clearer picture of what things are possible, or maybe for those who are starting out pick two areas, say within no more than a day’s drive from home, and what you’re willing to invest in those areas to build them up to a point where you can actually go and do a $500 show or $1000 show.
Viv: I love that you have “A Pebble A Week” set up on your Facebook page. I had not been aware of that so I’m going to go check that out. That is brilliant because one of the things that I think that was very profound that you said earlier was that you’re asking people for their money and also for their time.
Andrew: And maybe the other way around in terms of importance.
Viv: Importance, exactly. I mean I was thinking that meaning-wise that what you were saying was that their time is really what is the most premium. In “A Pebble A Week” you’re asking people for very little time and no money.
Andrew: Right. Exactly.
Viv: And yet that forwards your career in a wonderful way.
Andrew: Keeps them engaged as well. It keeps in contact to know that they matter to me. The whole thing about the whole social networking stuff that people talk about nowadays is it gives you the opportunity to interact with people in a more personal kind of way. Let’s face it, we in the folk singer/songwriter world, personal is sort of part of the job description so it’s a natural extension of what’s going on onstage that people might want to stay in touch a little bit better. Truly, when they invest their time they really are like shareholders in what you do. When I talk about building a constituency or something like that I can’t tell you how many tours I’ve done where the bulk of the revenue came from shows set up by somebody who really just said, “Thirty of my friends need to hear what you’re singing about” or “You know, I think that this event that’s going on in our town would be really perfect for you to play at”. And they do some of that legwork and then when it goes off like gangbusters, they’re happy. I mean, they feel like they’ve helped me, I’ve helped them, and they’ve been able to share something that they really believe in, they love, with their community. To understand what people get out of their music is really important. I mean, talk about these things in a business standpoint and some of them are so darn metaphysical it seems kind of counterintuitive. To understand both means that you can kind of design the business to sort of help put you in places where that metaphysical energy is coalescing if you will.
Viv: Absolutely. You have to give yourself a platform upon which to stand so that people can understand who you are and what you’re offering. What might be a question that one could ask, that I could ask myself? To describe, where do I start finding out what it is that I bring forward for people?
Andrew: That’s a beautiful thing about social networking. You really do have that opportunity to let people say those things to you. You can put that out there. For instance, Facebook, people use it in so many different ways but I’ve seen several artists who will put a new songs out there and say, “Hey, let me know what you think of it.” And a lot of times you’ll get feedback about things that are really insightful. Sometimes I’ll put it out there that we’re trying to put together a house concert for this particular date in this particular place, anybody got any great ideas? I see a lot of that too. To me, the idea is that you use that to kind of give them the incentive and the tools to work with to help make something happen and then really appreciate it when it does and appreciate the effort when it doesn’t. And those rewards grow into things on their own as well.
Viv: When you start looking at your songwriting as a business proposition, the first question you brought forward was, what’s going to generate revenue? Can you talk about that a little bit more? All the different ways that you can generate revenue that are along with touring within your days drive, and things like that, but what are the other ways that you personally, you do to generate your revenue?
Andrew: There are going to be other people who can speak more about the specifics of generating revenue with songs like for film and TV and things like that. For me, I guess I think about it more as generating excitement and enthusiasm and those things start to generate some revenue. But, what I would suggest, is for me personally I live in a beautiful area of Virginia bordered by the Blue Ridge Mountains on one side, and the suburban sprawl of Washington, D.C. on the other. And so there are a lot people who are really passionate about land preservation. One of my songs from my third CD, Turning Pages, is called “A Letter to Colonel Mosby” and I wrote it back, not too long after the Disney corporation had planned to build a history-themed park out near here and a lot of people got pretty up in arms about the whole thing. It really started calling attention to the fact that there were people planting not houses in the fields out here but cities in the fields. There dense two and three thousand unit suburban developments where once had been really very productive farmland. This also happens to be the cradle of the Civil War in Northern Virginia. Manassas National Battlefield is only about twenty miles away and Antietum is about forty miles to the north and Harpers Ferry. Just in my own crazy imagination I got to thinking one day what one of our local colorful character, the confederate gorilla raider, Colonel Mosby, would think coming back to this land that he had fought for and to also realize that, even though, from his personal standpoint, not my personal standpoint, but his personal standpoint, having fought for the land he loved and lost and going to his grave thinking that it had been perhaps for naught, to realize that his name and historic legacy of what he had done actually gave the land preservationists here a tool to work with that we could say that this land has really historic significance. And so I distilled that in a letter to Colonel Mosby from my time, in 1999, to his time on the day that he told his men that we go back to pick up what we can of our lives after this war is over. That’s just one sort of specific example of how to tap into something that people are already passionate about. It wasn’t my intent to write an anthem around that, it was just something, I care about this land too and I wanted to express that in a musical way. It was my life allowing me to write music that intersected with one another. Well that song opened up some opportunities for me to do some concerts and it’s been on a compilation CD or two. So the business piece of it has been enriched a little bit by what I did because I was passionate about it.
Viv: And passion is where creativity lays so deeply.