On touring Europe, quitting your day job and being a full time musician.Florida based folk band Whetherman just finished a month long tour of Europe, playing 33 shows in 30 days. We had the great pleasure of talking to lead singer Nicholas Williams about how they did it, his life as a full time musician, where he finds inspiration and how he keeps his head above water in this ever exciting industry called the music business.
How did you book a tour in Europe?Nicholas: The tour happened by submitting my music to an agency called Songs and Whispers, based in Bremen, Germany that a good friend of mine named Drew Davis had just announced she was working with. They run a two-three-act circuit, usually from different countries. After reviewing the material, they got back to me and offered the last spot of 2014 (June circuit) to me, which I gladly took. The other dates outside Germany, in The Netherlands, France and Spain I booked, by reaching out to some friends of mine, as well as JP Salvat (percussionist for Whetherman) who spent a lot of time in Spain and has contacts there as well as France.
There are several websites that help artists book out of state and country such as Indie on the Move, Reverbnation, Sonicbids, and SoFar Sounds to name a few. It’s the same email format I use to book locally, which includes genre, location, experience, members, links, dates seeking, and a short bio. That seems to be the universal understanding among venues these days for booking.
Did you make any money?
Nicholas: No, but when all was said and done I only spent a few hundred dollars in gas. We did a Kickstarter campaign to actually make the tour happen, and after a goal of $14,000 we raised $15,900 and successfully funded our entire trip. To successfully do it, I think you have to have as genuine a message to compliment your idea as possible, with keeping your campaign as concise and clear as you can. The biggest part of a successful campaign is your rewards. Do the incentives weigh in the favor of both parties, and if the band can realistically deliver on those rewards... which is the biggest downfall of even successful campaigns, not following through. Keeping your backers informed and a part of something that they will remember is vital.
While in Europe, passing the hat at shows proved to be very efficient, they really respect musicians differently than in the States. The point of the tour was to spread my music to new areas, rather than to profit. To have come out less on the low end was an added bonus.
How did the tour go?
Nicholas: Better than we could have imagined. With such a rigorous schedule, we really had to dig deep, and when you go through adversity smiling on the other end, beautiful things can happen. As a trio, our performances have gotten to the next level as well as our friendships. All of the people we had a chance to play for and meet through the medium of music were fantastic. Playing for people who TRULY respect music like they do was a treat in itself, and something I'll continue to go back there for.
How was attendance at new places you haven't been before?
Nicholas: About 80% of the shows we played were in front of intent listeners. Anywhere from 25-75 people typically. The other 20% were some loud atmospheres, which we adapted to, and did what we could with.
Did you get any press or publicity there?
Nicholas: We did, we were in five German newspapers, two radio stations and a local tv station. As well as several calendar listings throughout Germany.
What did you do to promote the tour and individual shows?
Nicholas: The agency promoted, by dropping cards and flyers all over each town we played in from coffee shops to bars to restaurants to art galleries. Other shows we relied on our local friends to bring in people, which proved efficient as well.
QUITTING YOUR DAY JOBNicholas: As of 3 years ago this fall, I quit after 7 years as a server and I've been playing music full time ever since. Doing the business side of Whetherman is a full-time job of booking, funding, promoting, publicizing, creating, writing, producing and managing. I assure you, I haven't looked back for a millisecond.
What were your reservation before quitting your server job and digging into music full time?
Nicholas: I think the only reservation I had was whether I could financially sustain myself through music alone. But once I started booking more shows during the week, I quickly found out that it was way more profitable and obviously more exciting and less strenuous than serving tables.
So how do you do it, what is a typical day like in the life of Nicholas Williams?
Lately, I’ve been starting my day off by not doing work right away. I’ve found that I get a lot less work done when I try to go full throttle too early and burn myself out, as I have a lot of tasks to accomplish each day, and each day I add more to the calendar. I usually start by reading and yoga, then gradually get into emails and social media. I pick and choose my days for booking based on what my timeline for scheduling looks like (as in, if I’m getting close to the two month point before booking a show, I have more of a sense of urgency). I also wait to do promotions until a few weeks before touring. Since information is at people’s fingertips they’re more likely to forget if you let them know too far ahead of time. Everyday I include social media and networking as a part of my routine, from Instagram updates to Facebook posts and getting videos/photos out to create more buzz.
I try to be active during the day as well, getting outside in some nature or by the ocean, maybe some light exercise. It’s important to step away from the desk and have a good balance. When I’m done with work, if I don’t have a show that evening I typically will work on new material, especially during a time like this when I’m about to record a new album starting next month. There’s a lot of preparation and fine tuning not just with the songs, but ideas relating to how I want the record to sound and how to be efficient in the studio with each part. If I do have a show that night, I typically like to take my mind away from music again and enjoy company or have a good rest. I rehearse a little, and then head to the show, usually a little later than anticipated :)
Do you feel hardcopy promotional materials like posters, flyers, postcards, etc. is important in your PR efforts?
Nicholas: I do, simply because if I’ve been in town before then folks have a better chance of recognizing me in the window of the venue or wherever it’s posted. At the same rate, people become more curious when they see a decent poster, and they might remember the name down the line if it pops up. Repeat exposure is key in order for people to remember you.
Is social media a big focus for you?
Nicholas: It certainly is! There is no better way to grab the attention of new listeners, and not only to display your musical life through photos and videos but also to creatively engage with people. Inspiration these days can come in the simplest form of a picture or video and you’re more likely to be instantly connected with that person. It’s a fascinating part of our current culture, not just musically either.
When playing shows, is merch, CD and vinyl sales a big part of your income? What can be found on your merch table and how do you entice people to check it out after a show?
Nicholas: Merchandise has become the #1 savior of the touring musician. It seems like proper payouts are less and less likely with venues, so you usually have to rely on your bread and butter, which is the product itself. My merch table is currently as abundant as it’s ever been. You can find physical CD’s, download dropcards, vinyl, T-shirts, load of stickers, a drawing/doodle pad and an email list. Usually, I wait until my last few songs to tell folks about the merchandise. I do that because when you’re performing, the majority of the show they don’t want to hear plugs about buying things, they want to hear about the songs themselves and just the music. That’s not to say you can’t mention that “This song is on my latest CD”, but I’ve found that it’s a lot more effective when you wait until the end and humbly present the idea of coming to the merch table after the show to say hello.
What inspires you? Who are your influences?
Nicholas: Being immersed in nature. Simplicities that get lost in the chaos of modern life. Raw emotions. Pouring your soul out. Poetry. Books. Stories. Art. Affirmations. Love and heartache. Old and new music. Some of my significant influences musically would be Sam Cooke, Nick Drake, Paul Simon, Van Morrison, and Ray Lamontagne. Worldly influences would be people like Jack Kerouac and John Muir.
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