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On Achieving DIY Success [Chad Lawson]

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In this article, award winning composer and pianist Chad Lawson outlines his process for achieving success in the music industry, discussing how one can take advantage of social media in unexpected ways, the importance of good networking, and why it is necessary to remain patient when making a career out of your music.

Guest post by Chad Lawson from his CDBaby DIY Conference presentation.

These are simply ‘fwiw’. Not everything works for everyone and even for me not every process below results in success. But the point is ‘the process’.

There are 4 P’s I live by: Process, Perception, Persistence, Patience.

Process

Call it what you will; your game plan, strategy, blueprint. Whatever. The most important thing is that it’s your Action. It’s what sets you into motion.

For me, it’s dropping the 5 year old off at school, grabbing an Americano then sitting down at the piano the second I get to my studio. The very, very second. If I don’t have at least 2 hours uninterrupted at the piano first thing, I never get back to it throughout the day. It’s gone. Lost. My phone is on silent, my computer screens are still off. Whatever it is, it can wait. No distractions.

After the last note is played. I go for a run. I read where Steve Jobs would have his meetings while walking. It completely makes sense. Get out of your element. Move your body, fresh air, change of scenery. You don’t have to be a runner. Maybe just a short walk, driving with the windows down, riding a bike. Something that (1) changes your surroundings and (2) stimulates your mind. For me, this is where my ideas come. For me, running is like a ‘mental sweat’. It detoxes my mind and allows me to think without distractions (there’s that word again). Who do I need to connect with today? What am I trying to accomplish today? Who can help me with this? And then finally, what is the most impossible thing I can shoot for. I mean, really impossible. No matter how ridiculous, no matter how absurd, no matter how “you’re going to be the laughing stock of everyone” idea. The word for the day is impossible.

And then, I begin.

Social media is your friend. But, not in the sense you’re probably thinking. While I’m on social media and use it, the most untapped opportunity is the access to find anyone. Need to find the program director of a radio station in Chicago? LinkedIn. Need to find the executive producer for a morning news program in Austin? LinkedIn. Need to find the arts/music critic for Really Small Town Idaho? More than likely, Linkedin. This is your first stepping stone. Your first setup in the process, your action.

Set your site on what you’re trying to do and work backwards.

So you’re playing Chicago, what indie/college radio stations are there? Okay, you found them. Who’s the program director? If you don’t know, look for him/her on LinkedIn. Cool. You found them. Are they on Twitter? Are they on Facebook? What kind of topics do they post? What hour of the day are they posting? Follow them (on social media. Don’t actually…like…follow them around in person. That’s a little creepy). Does the radio station have an email for them? If not, call the station and ask. You’re not asking to speak with them. You’re just asking for their email. “Hey, this is John Doe from the Doughy Johnnies. I have a press release I’m trying to send to - insert name here -, is there a way I can email it to him?" Then, reach out. Keep the email s-h-o-r-t. No more than 3-4 sentences. They’re (1) busy and (2) don’t care. They don’t. They don’t know who you are and what you’re doing. To them, you’re just another person asking them for something. Keep it short and create a reason for them to care, for them to reply. Create/send your elevator pitch. If you don’t have one, find an advertising/PR guru in your city (again…LinkedIn). Buy them lunch, a coffee, or if it comes down to it hire their services. It’s worth every nickel. If you’re sending out “I’m an artist touring through the area and would like to do an on-air interview/performance at your station”, you may get some response. But, if you’re able to send a pitch crafted by someone that loves creating pitches as much as you love creating music, it shows.

Persistence

They say no. It happens. And it will happen. There will be obstacles. I promise. Expect them, experience them, be educated by them. When they say no, thank them. A short email saying “Completely understand, thanks for the consideration. It really means a lot. Cheers.” If it’s really someone you’re trying to connect with, drop a thank you in the mail. Yup. Old school. They’ll be surprised and while chances are they won’t follow up, it’s worth the 1% they may. It puts something in their hands. It’s a reminder of who you are, what you’re doing. And next time you’re touring through the area, you reach out again. Maybe the 1st time it was too short of a notice, maybe they spilt coffee on their laptop, just got a speeding ticket. You never know. What’s important is you’ve made the connection. Keep the connection (if they’re that important to you). If not, move on. Say that to yourself; move on. There will be obstacles. Some worth breaking through, some worth not being distracted by (wait... there’s that word again).

When they say yes, acknowledge it. Thank them. Be kind, don’t be a rockstar. They don’t need you, you need them. They are the avenue for your audience. They are the gatekeeper and they just let you in the front door. Radio interview? You just met a new audience of people that have no idea who you are, will potentially go to your show that evening, buy your merchandise and tell their friends about you. The picture is bigger than the lens tend to show.

Perception

Not every opportunity is a promotion, but every promotion is an opportunity. Read that again.

You just landed a radio interview. Run with it. Start reaching out to every local blog & newspaper and local television program you can find. You now have the ability to say ‘WXYZ endorses us.’ That’s tremendous. You’re no longer just another artist trying to get mentioned in a newspaper. The idea of perception is powerful one. This artist must be good if WXYZ is having them on the air. I love that station, they wouldn’t have them on if they weren’t any good. Maybe I’ll at least do a paragraph in the “about town” section. Now, you have 2 incredible assets; a radio & newspaper feature. In your next pitch use these. “Did you see the write up in the Tribune? We’re also going to be on WXYZ at 2pm to play the single from the album. Any chance you had a slot in your morning news program for me to do an in-studio?” You don’t have space for a full band? Completely understand. Mind if the singer & guitarist come in while the rest of the band pass out flyers?”

The goal is to reach a large audience with as little effort as possible. What’s easier; going door to door telling people about your new album/tour or broadcasting it to thousands, tens of thousands or hundreds of thousands in 2-3 minutes? Exactly. Use social media to find the editor in chief at TimeOut Chicago, the Tribune, whatever. You’ve been promoted, use it to your benefit in selling yourself. Again, regardless of their response, thank them. Build the relationship. Even if it’s not what you were looking for. Write them a short email or better yet drop them a short thank you card. Seems silly, but if you don’t exhaust every opportunity because you think it’s silly, then you may want to consider what you’re doing. Just speaking truth. You don’t have to be someone you’re not, but you do have to try everything in your power to get in front of people; silly or not. Build the relationship. Don’t just ask for things. They get enough of that.

Patience

Work hard, be patient.

It sounds easy, but there’s a reason why this one is last. It’s the most important. Nickels add up. Moments add up. Things add up. It wasn’t until I released I released my 10th release, The Space Between, that I was asked to be on NPR’s Talk of the Nation. Getting to that point took time. Took persistence. I heard one of my songs from an earlier album as bumper music on the program. I immediately started looking for the shows producer on LinkedIn (I’m hoping you see a pattern here) and sent a thank you card. A handwritten, thank you. She emailed me after receiving the card and we kept in touch for over a year. In that 1 year timespan, I never asked her for anything. Ever. I would email and say “loved the program today” or something relevant. I found a way of connecting where I wasn’t asking anything of her. When The Space Between was about to release, I sent her a copy in case she wanted to use it as bumper music. When she received them album she said “you wanna come on the program?” Talk of the Nation (no longer on the air) had a listening audience of 3.2 million weekly listeners. I waited for over a year for that to happen…and it did. While there, I met an assistant producer for All Things Considered. She was a singer/songwriter. Every conversation the other producer and I had from that point on was strictly about her music. Where was she singing? I watched her YouTube videos and commented on them, I built the relationship. When she found I was in LA and about to release The Chopin Variations, she sent the album to the executive producer. I was featured on NPR’s All Things Considered the weekend before the album released. It debuted #1 iTunes Classical & #1 Amazon Classical. I waited (again) for over a year before ANYTHING was presented. From there, came CBS Sunday Morning with an audience of 6.5 million. #1 Billboard Classical, #1 iTunes Classical (2nd time), #1 Amazon Classical (2nd time) and #1 Amazon ALL GENRES. My album was (at least for 1.5 days) the most sold album on Amazon. Above Taylor Swift, above Beyonce. It wasn’t until Iron Maiden’s new release knocked me down to #2. And I’m completely okay with that! Run to the Hills, baby!

My point is, these things take years. Y-E-A-R-S. If you’re not in it for the long haul, then you’re not in it. And it’s OKAY if you’re not. As long as you know going in. Know your expectations. If you’re doing this on the side because you love what you’re doing but have a full time day job, then love what you’re doing. If you’re trying to make this into a career, you have to work hard and you have to be patient. You can’t have just one.

All this to say, there’s never been a better time to be an independent artist. With tools from CDBaby, licensing, and social media making the world smaller and smaller, you have every advantage you can ever need. It’s just a matter of following the process. This is what’s worked for me. I can’t promise it will for you, but I can say it will only help if applied diligently.

All the best,
Chad

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