We've had the pleasure of talking to Rita Hosking, a country-folk singer from Northern California, who in ten years has released 5 albums and toured multiple countries. She has some really cool insight on booking, touring and getting your team of helpers together.
Atomic Disc: You have done a lot of touring, both national and international. How did you go about booking your very first tour?
Rita Hosking: I can't remember my first tour! They started out very small - probably my first long-ish one was to the northwest. I booked myself for about 5 years, then in 2010 I signed with the Americana Agency - a U.S. and Canada agency. Booking myself was the hardest part about the whole business - pitching yourself to people, people who have to say "no" most of the time and sometimes become callous. It's tough as we all know. All the same I made a lot of great connections, and I still do a good amount of booking on my own. I can't imagine not having that experience now, I learned a ton and still do. I remember I used that book How To Be Your Own Booking Agent, by Jeri Goldstein. It's still near my bed somewhere, I read it inside and out.
Atomic Disc: Unlike a lot of starting artists, you actually have both booking agents and publicists. On multiple continents! What did you do to set up those relationships and make them interested in working with you?
Rita Hosking: In most cases, it was a long series of emails, calls, and sending CDs to people. I started "courting" my American agent in 2007. I sent him (along with other agents I was interested in) my current recordings, promo material, etc.. He listened and was the only one who really engaged me and said he liked it, but it wasn't the right time. Finally after my 2009 record was finished I rushed him a copy, and he loved it. We arranged to meet in Memphis at a Folk Alliance conference where he and his wife could watch me perform, and we had breakfast together. A few days later I was on the roster. Took a couple years, and I am still very thankful.
It's a similar story with my UK agents, I courted them for a while, but they were unable to see me - they took a chance and they let me know it. I wanted to please them and do well there, so I found a well-reputed publicist to help out the release and tour. He was fabulous and I still hire him every release/tour. Unlike in the United States, you get paid for radio play in the UK - the royalties eventually compensate me for what I pay the PR folks.
For the Netherlands, I was very lucky to get a message from the agents there - they'd heard me online and offered to try out a tour with me. I checked out their roster and found many folks I knew, and figured it was definitely worth a try. Now I've done two tours with them. They are great.
I can't overstate the value of having a team working with you, meaning one or more professionals batting for you. It means a world of difference in the music business universe. Really, I think it's what keeps me somewhat sane. All the same, I still have to put a lot of energy into thinking about booking, of course. It's up to me to maintain good relationships with our hosts, to figure out where the heck we should go next, to book the travel arrangements, advance the shows, and in many cases help make the booking.
Atomic Disc: Writing, recording or touring? Which is the most rewarding to you?
Rita Hosking: Definitely writing. Recording is really, really fun and exhausting - partly because of the money it costs and the ensuing stress. As far as touring, I love playing for people, meeting people who connect with the songs - it means a great deal. However, sometimes I tend to have a hard time accepting the kind and generous praise, and it just sort of washes around me, though I really appreciate and value it. On the other hand, writing a song that I know is good is just about the best, most exciting feeling ever (as far as music goes.)
Atomic Disc: You recorded your first album in 2005, less than 10 years ago. And since then you have 5 studio albums under your belt. How do you find time for it all?
Rita Hosking: I'm not really sure how I found time for it all. I think more so it's that I found the drive. If you really want something to happen, you'll find a way somehow or another. My first couple of records were recorded when I was still a U.S. History teacher at the junior high near my house. (I resigned a couple years ago to just do music.) It was about half-time, so I still had opportunity to be there for my two daughters, who are teenagers now. In between it all (or during it all) I made music. Must be the teacher-multi-tasking skills. My husband (and father to our daugthers), Sean Feder, is also my main accompanist. He holds down a full time job AND plays dobro and banjo at most of my shows with me. I think he's the one who we should be asking! :-)
Atomic Disc: What does a typical day in the life of Rita Hosking look like?
Rita Hosking: A typical day depends on what's going on. I shift gears depending on what's happening. If I'm getting ready to record, then I'm working hard on songs. That's the best time. Just made a record and getting it out, like now? Computer, computer, computer, aaahhh my neck hurts. On tour? Driving, driving, meeting people, soundchecking, where the heck are we, keeping records...etc.. Somehow our children manage to thrive amidst it all.
Atomic Disc: You have a separate page on your website about house concerts. Do you do a lot of those and do you like that format?
Rita Hosking: I created that page after I did a slew of house concerts for first-time hosts. This was in response to my call for fans who would like to contribute to my recording budget by hosting a house concert of their friends. So many folks had so many questions, I decided to put that up. Also, I can now refer anyone to that who asks, and sometimes someone will get inspired by seeing it.
Yes, I do a lot of house concerts, usually as a duo with my husband. It works well for acoustic music, though we'll often bring a small amp and mic so I don't lose my voice trying to sing to the back of the room.
I think house concerts are a fantastic development in a world where venues seem to be closing left and right. They are a grass-roots empowerment among music fans and musicians. Also, when on the road, they will usually house you, which can be of great value as well. Attendance can be anywhere from 20 to fairly large groups. Some folks host them in good weather in their yards, and get 60 to 70 people. Presenters give all donations to the artists, so that can be a good payday, besides a very fun gig!
Atomic Disc: Can you describe your career? When did you start? How did you start? What has been the major milestones in building your career?
Rita Hosking: I began singing for people when I was about 14, in an old-time, all girls band where I grew up, in the mountains between Shasta and Lassen in Northern California. We just played small community events, the 4th of July parade, etc.. I had always liked to make up songs and sing, and in this band I learned percussion - the washboard. I continued with percussion and world music study in college. When I was 20 my housemates and friends realized I needed a guitar and very kindly surprised me with one. After that I learned a few chords and began writing songs with an instrument (instead of just in my head,) which was powerful. I did some open mics and such, but generally wasn't too excited about the performing part, and more interested in finishing college, getting a good job, getting married, etc...
After two beautiful daughters got old enough to tolerate me going out once in a while, I started playing and singing out some more. Not sure of major milestones... Maybe recording my first record. that was really in 2004, when I made a demo that would become half my 2005 record. I had met a wonderful DJ at a party in Nevada City. He told me he would play my record if I made one. I took it as an order, recorded a few songs, and got him a record. The day he played it, I was outside gardening, I had brought my radio out so I could listen in case he'd give it a spin. My song came on, and I threw up my hat, and I started waving my digging fork around in the air, whooping it up, yelling for the kids to come hear. I was pretty excited. :-)