Aggregator platforms are always talking about finding new content relevant for you; Netflix, Google, Amazon, Spotify. David C. Lowery has spent a lifetime figuring out first-hand how to find and curate audiences for his own bands, Camper Van Beethoven and Cracker, and now teaching all he’s learned as a Senior Lecturer at University of Georgia’s Terry College of Business. He breaks down how audiences were discovered and nurtured, pre-algorithm.
The Strategy Inside Everything is the podcast for people who think for a living. If you have an idea, a question or you want to push back on something you hear in this episode, go to https://thatsnotaninsight.com and leave a message or a voicemail for me. The best and most interesting messages will be added to future episodes, and I can’t wait to hear from you. Music for The Strategy Inside Everything is by Sawsquarenoise. Host Adam Pierno is an author, speaker and strategy consultant. Learn more atadampierno.com.
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Transcript of this conversation:
Adam Pierno 0:02
This is The Strategy Inside Everything. I’m Adam Pierno. The Strategy Inside Everything is the podcast for people who think for a living. If you have an idea, a question or you want to push back on something you hear in this episode, go to thatsnotaninsight.com and leave a message or a voicemail for me. The best and most interesting messages will be added to future episodes. And I can’t wait to hear from you. All right, welcome back to another episode of The Strategy Inside Everything. This is going to be a fun, pretty, pretty wide ranging conversation. I’m really grateful that I was able to carve out some time after after finals after the semester ended. But today’s guest He’s the senior lecturer at University of Georgia’s Music Business Program. This is David C. Lowery. David, how are you?
David C. Lowery 0:58
I’m good. How are you?
Adam Pierno 0:59
I’m doing really well and grateful for your time. I know we were we were waiting for the end of the semester, as we both had that rush. So Thanks for squeezing me in now that you’ve calmed down a little.
David C. Lowery 1:10
Yeah, now it’s fine. It’s fine. It’s the it’s the space between the end of the university work. And then I usually do some summer touring as a musician. So that starts in June usually, so yeah, yeah. So your timing?
Adam Pierno 1:28
Yeah, this is perfect timing. And you’re the probably the perfect person for a long time, I’ve been looking for the right person to talk about how we market musicians and art. And I caught a thread from you on Twitter a couple of months ago and reached out because you made some really interesting points before we touch base on that and have you explain your wonderful thinking? Can you give people just a little bit of your background, I introduced you as a senior lecturer. But I think they’ll be surprised and interested to hear kind of how you got started and all that you’ve done leading to that,
David C. Lowery 2:04
So I’ve had a long background in the music business, both as a performer writer, started Camper Van Beethoven, then later Cracker. I also started my own label, because we had to when we first started, and then later had an imprint with Virgin Records. That’s a sort of a, you know, a label that’s part of a majors what an imprint is. And then I also was a producer had a studio complex did a bunch of music, business stuff. And because I did all of that, in 2011, the University of Georgia was looking for somebody to teach a course, here that I think it was a little bit of the like the defense of the dark arts, they had a different professor every year. So it was a little hard course to fill, it was called Fundamentals of Business as Applied to Music Business, and just kind of a blank palette. So I started doing that. And then I realized that I had a dissertation that I could write on copyright in higher education and some of the public policy debates around that. And so I went kind of looking for a place to put that dissertation, it turned out that somebody that I parked next to was the former University of the former president of the University of Georgia, who was now running the Institute for Higher Education, and had been brought in to temporarily run the business school. This was
Adam Pierno 3:50
Just a little lucky break there.
David C. Lowery 3:52
Yeah, little lucky break there. And he put me in the Institute for Higher Education doctorate program. And I knocked out that doctor in about four years. And pretty interesting doing a doctorate when you’re in your 50s because it requires a lot of writing and research. But I did it. And now I’m kind of a regular. I’m the Senior Lecturer, kind of more of a official faculty member here in the music business certificate program in the College of Business, Terry College of Business at University of Georgia.
Adam Pierno 4:26
And was that research something that you’re kind of predisposed in, you know, are you to strike me as pretty analytical?
David C. Lowery 4:34
I was only because I Well, yeah, I mean, I do like digging around in the in the weeds of stuff and seeing how things got to where they are, but it was actually something I stumbled across. Because I was doing public policy research and advocacy, basically at the federal level for songwriters and musicians. And I just noticed a lot of the players that I was kind of either up against or in alignment with, had been involved in the copyright provisions that were in the 2008 higher education Authorization Act. Were the two sides had similarly fought over what were going to be the restrictions on piracy on university campuses. So it was adjacent to what I already knew about. And so that was fairly easy for me, I just, you know, was recognizing the names essentially, in Google searches and Google Scholar searches and LexisNexis. Searchers sent you
Adam Pierno 5:46
down a track. Yeah. So you have this background, I mean, you you had an imprint within virgin, which I don’t for, for younger people who may not recognize virgin as a monolithic huge record label. But you So you saw the recording industry, the music industry, from a lot of different perspectives, a lot of different angles as one of the early you know, independent bands, cracked, cracked the, you know, the top 40, or at least pop radio, and you saw you saw a lot of different sides of that business, both probably the good and the bad. So you have a pretty wide ranging experience.
David C. Lowery 6:29
Yeah, I mean, I started out on a really, you know, small indie label for our first release, we with Camper Van Beethoven, we kind of quickly over it was really little local la label, we could quickly sort of overwhelmed their resources. So we had to basically start our own label, and and then took over a lot of the marketing and publicity and stuff like that. So we were very, very grassroots, very independent, with Camper Van Beethoven in the mid 80s. And then towards the end of the well, Ada, I guess, 1988 We were on, we moved to Virgin Records, which at that time was like, the biggest indie label in the world, in a lot of ways, because it had such big hits. It acted like a major label, then it kind of was became, it was bought out by EMI,
Adam Pierno 7:34
right, so it became hot. Yeah, in the big dawg. Yeah, it
David C. Lowery 7:39
became kind of the main label for EMI as a major label. And then, you know, I went on to have some moderate commercial success with Camper Van Beethoven on Virgin Records as part of EMI toured the world, you know, but I don’t think we never got anywhere near gold and stuff like that. But we do get songs on like, MTV, specialty shows, and we were on commercial radio and a lot of markets. And they, you know, so it was, it was more or less big time, but it was good intermediate step. And then that band broke up and actually maybe we can say went on hiatus for 14 years. And in the sort of interim sinking in, you know, bands always get back together. So I’ll just do this kind of side thing with this guy. I grew up with Johnny Hickman. And, you know, really right out of the box, we had a pretty big hit. I mean, like within a week of our album coming out for Cracker we had this song called Teenage Angst that just solid across the board, you know, top can track at you know, what was then called the modern rock or alternative rock radio,
Adam Pierno 8:59
but it also after more after it, it changed from college from the college chart to modern
David C. Lowery 9:05
And crucially, this panel of radio stations as we call it in the music business. That panel of radio stations between Camper and Cracker had grown from something like 40 or so stations to like 200 and something right we Yeah, so like the the radio market completely changed in the two years kind of between me elite releasing a Camper Van Beethoven record and a Cracker record so in a lot of ways we were just sort of in the right spot at the right time. So that album eventually goes gold. An antique guy right? Hey actually has that officially listed as gold because it had two different Rhys can Have a lot of numbers, it’s confusing. And then the next year, we put out another record and that one goes Platinum with Cracker. So now, you know, we’ve gone from sort of playing in the clubs in a fairly short period of time, to where I mean, I remember with that album towards the end of the second Cracker album. You know, I think the high points we asked me to pick up a high point for Cracker I do well, so it was towards the very end of us marketing and touring for the album kerosene hat, it’s probably like 1995, we play at RFK Stadium in Washington, DC for one of these radio concert festivals. But we were what kind of one of the main three headliners you know, we’re playing like for 60,000 people. I mean, that’s not what we would get on our own. But you know what I mean, we’re playing in the stadium. And so that’s success that happens, you know, pretty shoot, that’s basically a period of four years, right.
Adam Pierno 11:08
And when you want to ride, when you describe your start with Camper Van Beethoven, and having to figure out how to scale up beyond what the label provided, you know, as that band grew successful, I just hear a lot of cues as like, I can tell you’re an entrepreneurial thinker. And I assume you did the same with Cracker where you were trying to leverage the Virgin resources as much as you can, and even and even probably add your own resources. You had posted on Twitter a thread in response to some an article about Spotify and referencing a lawsuit about the crazy copyright laws. And you had an point that I just have been swirling in my mind since I read it, which is that, you know, bands are little startups, do you still think? Is that how you really think about, you know, all bands? Or is that just what’s the approach that has worked for you?
David C. Lowery 12:06
No, I think actually, the vast majority of bands are really very similar to sort of what you see in the tech startup world, it’s like, handful of people. Couple of them usually are, you know, dominant owners, whatever they’re creating, and maybe they have some friends that they’ve promised equity to or money down the road, nobody’s getting paid. And you have to develop this intellectual property, and create
Adam Pierno 12:36
values working for pizza and equity.
David C. Lowery 12:38
Yeah, and you’re working for pizza and equity, exactly kind of like in the startup world, and then you hopefully can down the road. You know, everybody gets paid back. And oftentimes to, you know, like in the startup world, you know, some of some of your, you know, programmers or, you know, people helping you out might be working on in multiple, you know, startups at the same time. So if you want to put that in Camper Van Beethoven terms, Camper Van Beethoven was an interesting project, in the sense that it wasn’t the main band that any of us were hitting, we all had sort of moderately on a regional like Bay Area level we all had, or Santa Cruz area, Monterey Bay Area level, maybe moderately successful, local bands, right. And they were much more popular than Camper Van Beethoven. But the idea of Camper Van Beethoven was, hey, I was always the bass player in bands, but I felt like I was writing a lot of stuff as the bass player. And I also thought, you know, I was also the one in band that kind of, to sing the backing vocals, the only other person in the band could sing. I was like, you know, I should I started out on guitar and on a bass, I should just get a band going, where I’m singing and writing the songs. But this, you know, I’m not gonna be that great at it. So what I did is I found a bunch of, I found a bunch of people that I knew from the other bands that were also sort of learning other instruments. So originally, our drummer was this guy, Chris Mola, who was really an excellent guitar piano player, but he was learning drums. I was my sister had a friend who I was teaching giving bass guitar lessons to so I’m like, okay, so you’re in this band, with Jonathan say, go from Camper was learning to play violin, even though he was a really good guitar player. And so it was sort of a side project. And it’s sort of quickly, you can tell it was striking a nerve better than our other bands, which were all sort of in this sort of post punk sort of art rock sort of space, through the will well, trod path and Camper was sort of playing With folk music, and punk rock, and sort of we sort of have this concept we were going to be fake hippies, even though we kind of came out of the punk rock scene, right? And most people didn’t get the joke and just were like, Oh, they’re hippies, you know, like, what are these hippies doing? Playing in these punk rock clubs playing these, you know, in front of punk rock bands? I mean, we’re playing in front of people like the Dead Kennedys. You know, people like that, who were, you know, stalwarts of this scene? And that was like crazy. Oh, yeah, they were like, we like you get it, you know, like, they were sort of being on the joke. It’s like, you’re this is the indie. This is the punk rock, do it yourself kind of thing. And you’re kind of trolling the audience, we get it. And we wouldn’t have used that
Adam Pierno 15:48
word. But that’s essentially, the word didn’t exist. But the concept of it, yeah, the
David C. Lowery 15:52
content that we were essentially trolling the audience, and it started working, you know, really well, for us. And then the second thing that began to happen was, you know, we were looking at sort of a lot of this sort of 60s Psychedelic folk rock, and listening to this stuff. Because you know, partly what this was the stuff we were finding and thrift stores and things like that, you know, the cast off music, you know, previous generation, we’re listening to this, we’re like this, that’s pretty actually pretty cool. And there’s a lot of people our age, we think that would like this, right? So we start. So one of the things we did is we covered this traditional of death. But really what we’re doing is the arrangement that we’re taking is the arrangement from this band called Kaleidoscope, which is kind of really, almost exactly like Camper Van Beethoven, but 20 years previous, or 15 years previous, from the psych rock era. And we realize there’s a lot of people’s like a lot of people out there that this music is appealing to, partly because there’s nobody else doing this, right. There’s no, nobody’s addressing this audience. That’s exactly
Adam Pierno 17:07
where that’s exactly where I wanted to take take you.
David C. Lowery 17:10
Right. So nowadays, you found the sliver? Yeah, it will, it actually might have been bigger, it might have been a bigger audience than who we were playing to with our post punk art rock band. But essentially, you know, years later to the business college, right, I know, I’ve got my economics and finance chops together. But I’m sort of looking at things like marketing and strategy and management. And I’m, like, just grabbing textbooks here and there. And I come across this concept called the Blue Ocean Strategy. And so I look at this and I go, Oh, that’s what Camper Van Beethoven did, right? You know, we looked, we discovered, you know, just sort of by trial and error is like, Whoa, I think there’s a bigger audience over here. And you know, we can troll the punk rock audience. But I think it’s actually this bigger audience, which is sort of a post hippie audience that’s aware of kind of punk rock and these alternative, you know, indie rock and stuff like that. But they really like this sort of folk rock psychedelic rock that we’re doing, and nobody’s speaking to them. Yeah. And here’s a bigger audience that we can play to
Adam Pierno 18:21
is the was the trolling aspect. I mean, that’s what got you on stage and some of those bills. But that wasn’t that wasn’t the key. I mean, once you started playing together and realizing how it worked, it was like, oh, no, actually, here’s, here’s what we’re doing. It makes sense to that other audience that were that is interested in this.
David C. Lowery 18:40
Yeah, exactly. But I mean, the fact though, that we kind of trolled the punk rock audience made us sort of an artist that, for instance, you know, you had a really robust, local, regional, and national, you know, sort of scene of journalists that were writing about, you know, punk and post punk and stuff like that. They were aware of us, because we essentially, you know, had trolled sort of this post punk audience. And now these journalists were aware of us. And we got a lot of people writing about us pretty quickly. So that was the advantage of the trolling aspect. But then we could also get people into the clubs pretty quickly, you know, and
Adam Pierno 19:30
you mean to come to you versus that. Yeah, yeah. Yeah. And then you eventually became the headliner? Sure, yeah.
David C. Lowery 19:35
We became the headliner.
Adam Pierno 19:36
So how do you if you’re working with a new, a new band or musician that’s trying to figure it out? How do you guide them or how do you think about product market fit from from that entrepreneurial standpoint? You know, you you figured it out on stage, it sounds like is that is that the way or is there? Is there another? Is there a more strategic way to think about it? Well,
David C. Lowery 20:00
With that, I’m not going to discount what, you know, a more traditional way of looking at this. I mean, if you’re playing pop country music, like many of my students are, you know, kind of going straight up the middle to one of the most commercial markets. There is I think you do look at what the market wants, and you know, what people are singing about where you’re going to play and, and do all of that and guess pursue what I guess you would if you’re putting it into frame the framework of blue ocean strategy to pursue a written market strategy, right? If you’re writing songs, like, you know, being Luke Bryan, you know, you might want to really look at the audience to see where they’re playing, you know, what things are marketing. But music is always changing. And generally, if you’re, you know, if you’re in sort of one of the more edgier sort of styles of music, like you know, whatever indie rock is nowadays, or underground hip hop or metal, metals, fascinating, has so many sub genres and stuff like that. It’s crazy. You need a, you probably would pursue a strategy strategy like Camper Van Beethoven sort of stumbled across, which was this kind of song that we’re playing, which is not in a sort of a psychedelic folky, you know, pseudo hippie stuff, this type of song that we’re playing, isn’t the only thing that we’re playing. But this is resonating with of, you know, sort of this underground audience, and we think there’s more there. Right,
Adam Pierno 21:45
you found an aquifer? Yes, we
David C. Lowery 21:47
found an aquifer. Right. And I think most artists intuitively understand that without having to, you know, resort to the way that mean, you might, you know, the terms that mean, you might put it in? And that’s a good thing. Right? So they would probably sort of sense Hey, yeah, there’s these? What are the songs that are? Maybe they’re not engaging everyone yet? But what are the songs that are? What what is it about our style, or our songs, that particular style songs that we’re doing or something like that, that are getting intense engagement, rather than sort of a broad engagement? And that almost always leads you? Someplace better? Right? Do not say, right. 100%?
Adam Pierno 22:41
Yeah, it’s like, let’s figure out what is why they’re the most passionate about these facets of what?
David C. Lowery 22:48
Yeah, and because of that, again, artists seem to naturally understand this, whether it’s conscious or unconscious, is that will that’s where the viral word of mouth comes from. That’s where because musics always been word of mouth. I don’t care if you know if it’s like, yeah, it’s on a radio station, stuff like that. But really, ultimately, somebody hears it on the radio station is like, whoa, what does that sound like? You know, the words go back to the 80s. You know, somebody hears a song on KR o que in Los Angeles. And they’re like, Whoa, what is that song they call the station, they back announce it, or, you know, somehow they know about it, they tell your friends, right? There’s still even with top down media, there’s a huge word of mouth component with music. So if you find the stuff that has the most intense engagement, it’s probably got, you’re probably going to, you know, engage an army of fans that are then going to do a lot of the marketing work for you. Right?
Adam Pierno 23:47
How do you, you know, you that you’re talking about the 80s and the 90s, when you were able to figure this out through interaction with your audience, and you know, watching response to probably singles and stage performances, and you know, getting to know fans. But now we have all these other tools, what are the what are the tools that are the most useful now, for artists that are releasing music and able to look at that feedback?
David C. Lowery 24:15
Well, Pete asked me about 15 years ago, and let it said something different anyway. Yeah. So
Adam Pierno 24:19
let’s start. Let’s start 15 years ago.
David C. Lowery 24:21
Yeah. So 15 years ago. So this is a funny thing to talk about, but it was revolutionary at the time. And 15 So that puts us back 2007 Yeah. So 15 years ago, Facebook had just become public to people not on without an edu email. But it really wasn’t very important for music What was important for music was my space all thing
Adam Pierno 24:51
Oh, yeah. Because you could you could post your your favorite songs and have a track playing
David C. Lowery 24:55
music. You could post the videos, put your tour days totally ate. And it was relatively open in that the, there wasn’t really an algorithm that preferred certain people and posts and stuff like that it just literally was, you know, whoever you liked if you went to your feed whoever you were following you saw them chronologically what they posted and stuff like that. So for you know, so So to Cracker at that point, let me get let me get back the black, fill it back filled. So Cracker had gone from being pretty popular, being on radio, selling platinum records to sort of evolving into this other thing, which was more similar to what Camper done, which is kind of a cult following band, we weren’t getting supported by radio, partly because radio had just changed what they were playing, you know, there wasn’t really a format for us. And we had sort of found that our hardcore fans really kind of, we got the most engagement out of kind of the Americana country rock ish kind of stuff that we were doing. By this point in our career. That’s really what our fans want to hear from us. Whew, that was something very natural for me and Johnny to write it was basically what the first album was. So we just went with that. But there wasn’t a good there was a very small radio panel for that, like maybe 30 stations. And so we had to engage our email lists that we had at the time. And then we had this one social media tool that was relatively open that worked for us. And that was MySpace.
Adam Pierno 26:36
So you went it’s like a direct marketing strategy. Yeah.
David C. Lowery 26:39
Yeah, that’s, that’s exactly what we did. And we collected email addresses, it shows going back to the late 90s, we had a pretty robust email list. And then we had and from that, we could find people on MySpace. And then also, we discovered other bands, by crawling MySpace with these sort of aftermarket third party things that you’d be very careful with, because they they MySpace was where people were doing this. And if you did too much activity with these bots, they would shut down here. So we have a lot of trial and error and stuff like that. But we could crawl MySpace and find people who had the same had similar bands, or it was mostly other bands. So you can go,
Adam Pierno 27:28
they liked, you could create the Index brands of like if they liked us, they also like Wilco or they all said,
David C. Lowery 27:35
Yeah, and we did that by looking at our fans and just sort of reverse engineering it. And, you know, like, what were the other bands they listed? You know, and the great thing about this kind of stuff is that if you’re on the road, you have a lot of downtime, like sitting backstage. So this is just sort of essentially where we did like did the actual market research is like, what are our fans? What are the other bands that our fans like? Yeah, it was it. So sometimes it would be obvious it’d be stuff like Wilco, but then other times our olds 97. But then other times, it would be stuff like the Eagles. I don’t really see that why is it the Eels? And I was like, Well, okay, that’s, that’s interesting, or trying to do something else that was sort of not they didn’t sound like us, but there’s a big crossover. But sometimes it would be bands that we didn’t expect. We’re like, I don’t get that. But that’s there, right? So yeah, then what we would do is we’d follow people and send them a message with these bots on MySpace. And we built a pretty good following that way. But also, at the same time, what was probably happening around 2007 2008. And really, by 2009, it was really a problem was that just that Pat, platform became spammy? Nobody heard, you know, it’s like, suddenly there was a signal, you had a good signal to noise ratio. And then the noise floor came up, and then it was just like, it just, yeah, people just weren’t really paying attention to you. And so we had to eventually migrate to Facebook, which actually, perversely, the reason Facebook worked is because they had, you know, started working pretty well for bands when they, you know, allowed us to have pages for a time was that they had really strict spam rules, you know, and, you know, they really, I don’t know, the way the algorithm would work was, you couldn’t, you couldn’t really crawl the platform in the same way that you’ve called MySpace. So don’t get too far in the weeds, but that was what essentially how we manage that transition. You know, we, and by the way, before MySpace, we did that with Friendster.
Adam Pierno 29:50
David C. Lowery 29:52
about this, but it was, it was, you know, a great way to sort of take your email list and then And, you know, turn it in, turn it into some sort of social, primitive social media engagement and stuff like that. Yeah.
Adam Pierno 30:08
And when you’re when you’re learning, when you’re doing that research and you’re understanding the market, and you’re saying, okay, the boundaries of what they’d like, besides us is, you know, Wilco over here, and then something like Eels over here. Is that, did that influence what you were writing and producing? Or was it just one more data point that you were able to use? And say, like, Okay, if they like Eels, then they would probably tolerate, you know, as you’re choosing tracks to release your tracks on the record, you say, Okay, this one’s a little darker. And since they like Eels, we could say, maybe they’d like this something stripped down or, or something that fits that style.
David C. Lowery 30:44
Yeah. There’s, it’s hard to avoid doing that. Just because as an artist, as a self released self promoting artists, because you eventually also have to be the marketing department to, but as an artist, I kind of jacked to doing that, even though I, we’ve done that from time to time. And the reason for that, and there’s and then there’s kind of a counter to that. It’s like, Well, I hope that what what our audience really wants is for us to write authentically what we feel like writing, right? So I try not to get into let’s write a song like this, let’s write a song like that. Like, there’s a little bit of that going on. But I try to write what we authentically feel like we should write partly because this is an echo back to our blue ocean strategy. In a way. It’s like, Well, hey, if we feel like writing a song, like, this is something that we want to do right now. There’s other people out there that feel like that. And eventually, somehow they’ll find this or will fight now.
Adam Pierno 32:08
Yeah, and that’s exactly why I’m asking because usually, you know, if something hits the top 10, the record labels would traditionally release 20 more artists that look and feel that sound just like that. And so it’s easy to get pulled into a trap like that. So as you’re building up this understanding of your audience, and then able to leverage it into growth, you know, going back to the startup model, and you’re saying, Okay, we’ve got, we got these 5000 people on MySpace, and now we’ve identified another 20,000 people that look like them. What was the next step to reaching those people? Or what did you do with that information? If your core, you know, your music stayed authentic and true, it was just the reach was was improved in the direct flow?
David C. Lowery 32:55
Well, in the say, in the 2000, sevens, what we’re doing is kind of maintaining a niche audience, which is really different, right? And so we’re just making people aware, hey, we’re still out here. I know, we’re not on the radio, we’re still making records, we think you’ll like here’s our shows, this is where we’re playing. There’s something similar that you do live music wise. Where, you know, it’s, Hey, if you’re on Virgin in 1996, and you’re putting out a record with, you know, a half million dollar promotions budget from a major label and stuff like that. There’s a kind of show that you’re going out and doing and a market that you’re hitting when you’re down in the niche audience in 2007. A lot of what you’re trying to figure out is where are artists? What were these people going to see shows because it’s really different. Like I remember around that in the early 2000s, or the mid 2000s We figured out it’s like, hey, a lot of our fans actually go to these kind of old hippie foci you know, kind of coffee house type places like what is it in the birch mirror in Washington DC Am I mixing up the name but it’s that has been commercialized and a and a turned into a robust I don’t want to insult them because that’s what I’m trying to do but essentially chain of clubs called the city winery
Adam Pierno 34:44
David C. Lowery 34:45
Yeah. And also probably an interesting strategy conversation there but like we noticed suddenly, it’s like, oh, our fans go to shows up these kinds of places. So But, you know, we should look at what are the so, so by looking at those, so in 2007, we’re looking at those type venues and looking at the artists that are playing in some of these places. Where else do these artists play? Like going out another sort of concentric circle? You know? Yeah. And that was super helpful for us to get in front of a live audience that was a little different than what we would have done by going through the standard not to insult Live Nation because my wife is Live Nation executive, but joins us live nation, AEG club, what are these other places out there? Right?
Adam Pierno 35:47
And is is, you know, albums, and now singles are the core of what you’re doing. But the live performance is another way to, for the startup to bring in revenue and to draw on new listeners. So was it trying to book for Cracker and trying to get filled a place for Cracker or was the idea to get on bills at some of those places and reach reach new people that you thought were like your core audience?
David C. Lowery 36:15
bumbled both. One thing we discovered in various venues like this, say in the mid 2000s, was the ticket price was much higher, you actually got paid better for playing these places. So it actually really helped. Stable stabilize kind of our why music thing, which is important for paying your employees. But the principles main revenue stream in a band, the songwriters, main revenue stream is from the recordings, right. So you’re trying to do both. with live music shows, and this, this is the same for bands that are just starting, you’re going to, you’re going to pay your crew, your publicist, your managers making most of their money, and the reason they’re managing you is going to be off of live shows. But really, ultimately, the net on live touring is really, really small. A lot of artists don’t realize this, because they just look at the gross numbers. And yeah, but you know, you could have just, you know, basically all that many money went to supporting your infrastructure is a band. So that’s the important thing about live touring. But that’s not really where the net profit is for the principles in the band. And then the net profit is still largely on recorded music, even though streaming revenues are so far down. Well, they’re not super down. They are, they are what they are, and have been that way. You still find that, for instance, you know, for a band like Cracker and Camper bands like Cracker and Camper Van Beethoven a lot of our money’s coming in from licensing recordings for film, television and commercials and video games. That’s a big source of revenue. But not to startups can’t do that, though. But the other thing we discovered is that physical products sold on the road is actually even though if you look at the gross revenue, it’s not that important. It is for the net, because it’s almost pure profit.
Adam Pierno 38:19
Right? Right. And that’s merchandise T shirts, as well as recordings and other
David C. Lowery 38:23
things. Well, recording, merchandise and T shirts are pretty good. But it’s you know, selling, you know, CDs and vinyl on the road. And by the way, CDs are fantastic for your profit margin. And there’s sort of been a weird little there. I’ve been noticing it for a few years now the mainstream music business talking about it’s like, hey, CDs are having this comeback. And we’ve been having a great time selling CDs over the last seven or eight years at our shares. So it’s still recording music that still ultimately is your profit as the principal creators of the recordings in the song, right? But live music is important for supporting all the other infrastructure that you need. Yeah, so it’s almost like a loss leader like this summer’s gonna be we don’t have enough shows because partly, there’s a lot of competition on the road this year. Everybody’s gonna suffer as a loss leader for us because we just don’t have enough shows. But it keeps all of our structure intact. It keeps all of our musicians playing with us, keeps our crew people working with us it gives our publicist some money. It keeps our manager you know, paying the bills so that they can you know, do all the hard work and such right
Adam Pierno 39:42
it’s so interesting to hear you describe the the revenue streams and the business inside of it. Yeah, I know. I have never thought of a band as a business that way obviously, because I’m not a professional musician, but it’s interesting just to hear your your perspective there. And the idea of a lot, you know, tour as being referred to as like a loss leader, as a, as a product or service, that is enough to keep the lights on and keep the organization moving into the next season for whatever the product is that comes next, or whatever the the offering is that comes next.
David C. Lowery 40:14
Yeah. And that’s, that’s thank you for summing it up. That’s exactly what I’m saying about touring. Now, it can be different, though, for other artists. Certainly, though, my experience with what we’re doing right now, aside from the licensing thing is really similar to what bands starting out would be doing, though, because when you’re a startup band, you know, it’s very similar to like, you know, a band like myself, that’s essentially a niche product with a loyal audience. And, you know, we’re, you know, we’re trying to maintain, you know, our audience, right, with the occasional weird upside where Judd Apatow is going to use a song in the title sequence of a new movie or something like, Yeah,
Adam Pierno 41:00
you can’t control for that. Yeah, you’ll enjoy that that wave, right? Yeah, exactly. So when you’re talking to your students, you’re you’re talking to them from that startup perspective, and not from the the RFK presenting and playing in front of 60,000 people perspective, right, that they only can hope to get to.
David C. Lowery 41:20
Right. That’s what I tried to do. Now. Now, a lot of my students are in the business school, and they don’t, they’re not musicians, their tenure, they actually, you know, many of them actually do go out and work for the major record labels that are essentially signing the artists that go into the stadium. But there is, you know, that the quickest way into the music business, they quickly figure out, is to just start work, either start a band and start playing shows for your friends, you know, whether it’s a frat house or house party, or whatever the venue is, yeah, right. Yeah. Or managing their, you know, sorority sisters band or you know, somebody else that’s in their dorm, managing those bands or trying to book those bands. So yes, a lot of the focus does go to the very grassroots, like, how do you start out right? What what do you do you know, what, what are the basic things that you do, we begin to focus on. And it’s great to because, you know, a lot of the kids also are much better, like, I could start at tick tock to count for Cracker and Camper Van Beethoven. But literally, nobody in our audience is on that platform.
Adam Pierno 42:40
You know, your audience? Well, yeah.
David C. Lowery 42:41
Right. So I have a couple of students who’ve been trying to help me figure that out. Right. And one of them’s a kind of a, I think he’s brand is he’s kind of a bad Twitch streamer game player. Right? He’s kind of plays games bad because she’d come out and play games badly with me, and we’ll play your music while I’m doing it. Right. So I find all these interesting ideas for us. Because, you know, because the idea is like, Well, maybe he it’s like, I’m young. I like your music. Why wouldn’t more people like the music? So
Adam Pierno 43:15
David C. Lowery 43:16
pet think about, like, sort of doing some things that would be more like younger bands would do just to try it out. But why not, you know, and stuff like that. But a lot of my focus really is about getting those gigs, using social media in kind of a local regional way, among your friends and your circle of friends, and maybe another band or you know, stuff like that.
Adam Pierno 43:42
I have one more question for you. And then I’m gonna let you go. Because you does your knowledge and awareness of the business side effect or diminish the passion you have for playing at this point. You’ve got a PhD, you’ve your lecture, you have experienced, you know, decades of of the business and kind of operating it as a startup and now as a mature business. Does that change how you when you plug in and play? Does that change how you feel about the music itself?
Unknown Speaker 44:10
Yeah, but for the most bizarre, obscure reason, and this is something that has sort of grown out of nowhere to in the last 15 years being a real issue. States have gotten more and more clever about raising taxes. We have to file tax returns in every single state. So we will literally, okay, we got an offer for a soft ticket. These are either festival dates or things put on by city state state fairs. It could be anything a corporation or something like that. We’ll look at something and go okay, we have an offer for a soft ticket in South Dakota, you know, and we’re gonna have to play a few shows with that. What are the tax reporting requirements for those states and it’s an email to our accountant, because it’s so crazy. It’s like an email that I’ve put to my account. And they’re like, oh, South Dakota is great. Don’t worry about it, you know, or, you know, go ahead and play those shows, or literally, like, I don’t know, there’s like a minimum, like, you know, it’s gonna cost you $800 For me to like, now start filing for your corporation in the state of South Dakota for the next three years. Maybe you should say no, if the profit is only $1,600, on that show, you know what I mean, like, for the principal’s maybe it’s not worth it, you know? So it’s really bizarre reason. But it does illustrate that there are times where you go, should we really do we want to is the busy work ultimately going to take and this is the way to really think about it, is the busy work really going to take away from the summer season, when that’s also the best time like me, as a teacher or lecturer. That’s the best time for me to develop new music or recordings or write songs, or even just, you know, compile, you know, a live concert album from Spain, you know, like, where we just went, we had really great recordings, right? That’s going to ultimately generate more money for me. So there’s, there’s a balance there of like, how much touring? Do I really want to do? Because there there is, unfortunately, because I am, you know, the business person in the band. Yeah, I do realize, like, for instance, like, Oh, my God, we’re going into a tax reporting nightmare, you know,
Adam Pierno 46:52
yeah. Or even thinking about the flights or the travel. That’s like, yeah, it’s gonna get three stops, and I have to move all this stuff from plane to plane, that’s going to be this disaster.
David C. Lowery 47:00
Yeah, exactly. Right. Yeah. Yeah.
Adam Pierno 47:02
That’s crazy. That’s what that’s exactly what I was wondering.
David C. Lowery 47:07
There’s one of the reasons somebody says, Why do you play in Spain, so much I go, because the structure of their music business is totally different. I don’t know if people know this. But it’s vertical. Like you go over there. Often you go over. And you play with a concert promoter who also is your agent, and will also be your record label. And the concert promoter provides all of your crew. So you simply fly to Spain with your guitars. And often they have backlines as they have this weird vertical integration as some other countries. There actually may be more countries in the world that do it that way then the American British German models that say, Yeah, that’s interesting. Yeah. So
Adam Pierno 47:48
and there’s a definitely a tech analog there of like, who’s the most friendly for you to plug in your service into our national model here?
David C. Lowery 47:55
I literally you go to the airport. I mean, there you you get to the airport, and then you’re on their dime. Yeah. And, and it’s always packaged in this way of like, X amount of time this many shows flat fee. Wow. Yeah.
Adam Pierno 48:18
So it makes it really simple for you. The business side of it just gets unplugged, and you can just go enjoy playing. That’s the dream. Yeah. David C. Lowry. I’m so grateful for you making time. I’m glad we were able to get you through finals and have this conversation.
David C. Lowery 48:34
No, it’s something I love talking about.
Adam Pierno 48:39
Great, great insights. Where can people find you? Where can people best find you online?
David C. Lowery 48:44
You can find me at David C. Lowery on Twitter. I’ve got an interesting experiment going on right now. I’m also David C. Lowery at Telegram. And if you follow me there, I have a bot that should give you a couple of good channels that there’s a Cracker. There’s publicly searchable telegram channels for Cracker and Camper Van Beethoven and also what are called the Crumbs. The Cracker fans call themselves Crumbs and they’ve kind of organized the telegram channel, but lately my experiment is seeing if I don’t know I’m getting the feeling something like Telegram and a couple of the other apps might be what social media really ends up this sort of decentralized social media.
Adam Pierno 49:39
David C. Lowery 49:39
Yeah, Discord, which is the next project this summer is trying to set up a discord thing and I don’t know. I’m experimenting with it right now. We’ll see.
Adam Pierno 49:51
I will post the links in the show notes along with some of my favorites. David, thank you so much for making time for me. I appreciate it.
David C. Lowery 50:07
No problem. Thank you.
Adam Pierno 50:12
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Transcribed by https://otter.ai