Music Industry 101 : Andrew McKnight Talks About Personal Goals
[This transcript is excerpted from the Songwriters’ TeleSummit.]
Viv: Andrew Mcknight, thank you for joining us today for the first call on the Songwriters Telesummit. What are we going to be talking about today? I know that our topic with you is, because you are the master of touring, we’ve been getting emails from you from years, before anybody else really actually started using the e-newsletter you were all over it and sending us out your messages from where you were headed, all the different concerts that you had going on and I’m fascinated by how you’ve managed to put this together over the years. Give us a little synopsis of what you’re going to be talking about today.
Andrew: My thing has always been sort of fan-driven if you will. That the people most responsible for me having a career are, I guess, maybe me only in sort of guiding the ship and really, the people who are enthusiastic about my music and what I do are the ones who really made so many things possible. They continue even now in these hard economic times that a lot of what happens with my career and my tour itinerary is driven by people doing things to get me to different places. What I learned early on, and maybe because of my past life as an engineer, I maybe embraced some of the
technology that has long since become passé as a real useful tool for making my own career opportunities grow. From the get-go I’ve never really had a whole lot of institutional, corporate, big support from big agents and record labels and all of that kind of stuff. It’s really been a lot of me being in the driver’s seat and one of the things that I really have learned is that you’ve got to handle your own business. And another thing that I’ve learned is that a lot of the opportunities that come to me are because of this crazy intersection of my music, my life, and that part about handling your own business. And where those three things overlap is what I call sort of the zone of opportunity. Today I’d like to kind of give people some insight tell them to, one, be themselves and go from there. If you were to take a piece of paper and write on it a sort of triangle music and then life, and then business. If you draw circles around them so all three of them overlap in the middle that area where your music, your life, and the business of making a living and paying your bills and all that kind of stuff. The place where those three things intersect is where I call sort of my own personal zone of opportunity. By life I mean the things that I’m interested in. I’m very interested obviously in environmental issues. I’m a seat of the pants American historian. I’m a new dad. I’ve got all these things that are my life. Well, for each of those things, your music is obviously likely to reflect your feelings about some of those things or be of interest to other people who are interested in those sorts of things. So it’s sort of helping you define some constituencies with common interests. The business part of it is using the tools such as your email list, the fan zine thing that we do here, social networking. All those things allow you to connect to those constituencies. Why I call it a ‘zone of opportunity’ is because a lot of what’s gone on with my career and my eclectic approach to touring if you will and cobbling together tours out of thin air really has a lot to do with finding the people who share some real estate in that zone of opportunity with me.
Viv: Being music folk, please tell us, as touring musicians or as beginning touring or even if we’re an experienced touring musician, what do you have to offer today in terms of where we might go with this and how we can create these tours that are within our reach. I think that’s been one of the big mysteries for people. They say, well, if I could just get a tour together and I could just go out and do this and shop my record maybe I would be more successful or whatever. What do you have to suggest to people to approach that?
Andrew: There is a general process as many different specific elements to it depending upon who you are, what you do, and what your goals are. I would say, though, that the crux of any of this being modestly successful is to really have good data. You really need to kind of develop a plan that makes sense, that has a chance of success. And by success I don’t mean ‘Okay, I made enough money in these three days to pay my bills for the whole month” but, rather, there are short-term goals, medium-term goals, and long-term goals that you’re trying to meet. And I think one thing that artists have a hard time with is this whole idea of strategic planning about being a good business person. Yet, I have to say, I really wasn’t a very business-oriented person. When I graduated graduate school I had a bachelors in chemistry and a masters in environmental engineering and was looking forward to putting down my guitar in terms of a performing vehicle because I was playing in rock bands in loud, smoky clubs late at night just to make enough money to go to school and when I finished and finally had a job where I could actually have two nickels to rub together it was like “Okay, I’m done with that. I’m going to put this stuff aside and play music strictly for my own enjoyment.” And I’m going to take away all of those other things that have forced me to do–some things were for fun but I was looking forward to leaving them behind nonetheless. And, I think that the four years that I spent as an engineer I started writing songs and playing songs in front of people and a lot of people say, “Well, you left your corporate environmental engineering career. Did you just one day walk into the office and say, ‘Oh I can’t take it anymore'” Anybody who knows engineers know that we don’t do anything rashly. It was pre-meditated and calculated every step of the way and it gave me an incubator to see if it was a viable thing. I left that career at the end of 1996 and it’s 2009 so I guess it’s been ok. It could be better but it certainly has been a wild ride full of a lot of emotionally and spiritually rewarding experiences as well as managing to scrape together enough to keep a roof over my head a lot of the time.