A Conversation with Susan Hubbard | Founder of East Of 8th

This month, we’re talking with Susan Hubbard Founder of East Of 8th, a music writer with a hand in publication, public relations, and management, about engagement, and the power of acknowledgement when it comes to growing as an artist and respecting the art of those around you.

Susan's Story:

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Susan’s connection to music blossomed young and organically, not unlike many of us, when she learned to play the piano. When college came, though, she worried about how studying her passion could turn a hobby into a chore, and let a more ‘realistic’, science based major assume priority, with a focus in law at grad school. Over the following years though, she began to discover that need for a creative outlet, and with some encouragement that her words held weight,  Susan eventually launched her first music publication, “East of 8th”. The site, though it refers to 8th Ave South in Nashville, features alt-rock music from all over. Her second child, so to speak, is “Mother Church Pew”, a blog dedicated to Americana Music. Over the last few years, she has branched out further to both cofound a PR company in 2017, Lucky Bird Media, and take on her first management client, Jason Hawk Harris.

Susan's Advice:

For an artist, having someone write about or premiere your music can be a major push in reaching a bigger audience, making a louder splash, or simply just appearing like you know what you’re doing, especially when it comes to newer bands trying to break through the noise. At the very least, it is encouraging to know that someone who listens to and thinks about music for a living sees something worth saying about yours. This kind of writing is different than people critiquing your art, either anonymously or through a platform online.

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For Susan Hubbard, she recognizes the power a platform can have, and she’s determined to use hers to promote only the things she cares about. While she respects that there’s a place in the industry for criticism, it isn’t her site. With that in mind, she only writes about the music she connects with, and while she may not connect to a particular piece of art, she recognizes that her perception does not define how everyone will see it.

This rejection, or any sort of rejection, can be hard for an artist. Hearing someone say no is undoubtedly disappointing, especially when it’s attached to something you’ve poured yourself into. Artists have egos, and they need to, in order to go up on stage every night and sell something that has come from deep within themselves, but sometimes that ego will get hurt; in a business like this, it is fairly inevitable.

However, there are ways to try and minimize the no’s:

For instance, in Susan’s case, her publications are curated and niche, with a focus on specific genres. When writing about music, you can get up to a couple hundred emails a day or more, and it can be frustrating when a large percentage of those are from people who didn’t care to check or honor what the publication focuses on. Not all Americana songs will speak to Susan, and she has to picky in order for her opinions to be respected and heard. There are plenty of places to pitch your music or pitch your shows; it’s important to identify some people who work in a way that’s picky, and some that are more open, and it’s important to identify publications that your art could be a good fit for. It pays off to be thoughtful and intentional when it comes to distributing your music and sending it out to be reviewed. There are publications that showcase local music, undiscovered music, etc. Seek out a good variety of fitting sites to send your music to, rather than sending it out en masse.

If you have been written about, the next step is to solidify and foster the relationship that has been formed with the writer or publication. For Susan, the most important thing she expects from a musician is acknowledgement. It may seem basic, but just the simple act of reposting the article, giving her credit, or reaching out to give thanks is what reminds her that her time is valuable and precious. She writes about people because she cares about their art, and wants to use her own art to help give voice to what their music means; this is not something that gets her paid, and it is something that takes time away from her career, her family, and oftentimes herself. That engagement, the reaching out, is invaluable, because it forms a connection to the people who are consuming your art, and makes them feel even closer to it. As Susan says,

You can’t just expect people to do all the work, you’ve got to talk to people, and reach out to people, and engage with the people who are writing about you and pay attention to what’s going on. Otherwise, you’re wasting your time” and further, “There’s that social aspect to it, it’s not just art. It’s wonderful to make art, and if you have really good art, that’s even better; but no one’s going to hear it if no one necessarily likes you.

Artists who do reach out, who acknowledge the work that Susan does and who give her credit for the work she does, are the ones that she writes about again. When you’re trying to make it as an artist, you have to recognize that it’s not just about this single, record, or video does. It’s about how the next one does, and about the connections you’ve set up to help it go even better. All it takes is realizing and acknowledging that the person on the other end of the computer is someone who is dedicated, both to their art and to using it as a tool to uplift yours.

To see a full lifespan of how these relationships can evolve, you just have to look to her first management client; Jason Hawk Harris. Jason was in a band for several years that is now retiring, and when he set his sights on a solo career, he remembered Susan from when she had interviewed the band. He reached out and asked her to premiere a single last fall and she did. When he extended appreciation after the fact, they struck up and conversation which led naturally to friendship, and he began to ask her about the industry. When he found out that on top of everything, she was a licensed attorney, he asked her to think about doing management for him; and for the first time, she agreed.

Art can be a lonely and isolating thing: writers spend hours alone at their computer with only their thoughts to sort through, musicians spend days in the studio trying to make a concept come to life through instruments. What we can’t forget is that connecting with others is what spreads the art we make. It can be intimidating and it can involve hearing the word no, but there’s hardly any way to move up without making yourself heard and fostering the conversation that comes afterwards. Success comes from intention, connection, and acknowledgement within our interactions or relationships, and through the art that we make.

A Conversation with E.T. Brown | Manager of Creative Services at SESAC

We're talking Operations this month and Nathan sat down with E.T. Brown, a  Manager of Creative Services at SESAC to chat about the role of PROs in an artist's career, making connections with industry folk, understanding the different jobs on your team, and more. 

[SESAC] is much smaller by design, we are highly selective, we are the PRO that you graduate to.

Whenever a song you wrote is performed in public via a recording or live performance, you are owed performance royalties. This includes plays on the radio, TV, sports stadiums, in venues or over the speakers of businesses. This money is collected and paid out by a P.R.O. (Performance Rights Organization) or M.R.O. (Music Rights Organization) such as ASCAP, BMI, SOCAN, SESAC or AMRA. 

SESAC (founded in 1930 as the Society of European Stage Actors and Composers) is the second oldest PRO and the fastest growing in the United States. Their approach to growing their roster is “Quality over Quantity.” This is why their application process is invite only.

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Since their job is to collect royalties from virtually everybody who plays your music out in public the your PRO's representatives end up working with people from all over the industry; from music supervisors placing music in TV shows, to venue owners, to radio stations. Having these connections awards them the opportunity to help guide artists along their career path and introduce them to the people they need to be meeting. That's where E.T. comes in. As a Manager of Creative Services his job is to interact with the artists on SESAC's roster and help them with whatever they need. Sometimes that's the administrative stuff like fixing a mistake on a song registration, or helping them access their account information; other times it's listening to a demo and giving them some feedback, introducing them to potential co-writers, or sitting down with them and helping to strategize what their next steps should be towards reaching their career goals. 

When it comes to the day-to-day operations of an artist's career there are a thousand different jobs that have to get done.

From band meetings to studio time to finances to release schedules, how you run your career sends a clear message to anyone paying attention about how serious you are about making it in the music industry. Most developing artists think that if they could just find that manager, or that agent, or that publicist then that's going to be the thing that catapults them into the next level where they can focus 100% on the music while the team makes the business happen.

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Back in the day when record labels were plucking musicians off the streets and turning them into stars that may have been the case but not anymore. These days you have to prove to these people that you're going to succeed with or without them before they even consider joining your team. 


Executing a solid plan on your own is a good way to find your new team


In 2014 Americana/Blues artist Levi Parham self-released an EP called Avalon Drive. His overall campaign involved two singles each with their own music video along with an extensive tour following the release. 

He had met producer Jimmy LaFave earlier on in his career but after watching the rollout of Avalon Drive, and seeing the hard work Levi was putting into his live performance strategy, Jimmy wanted to turn right around get started on a full-length. In December of 2015 Levi was signed to Music Road Records and immediately got to work on his latest LP "These American Blues." 

The album quickly rose on the Americana Music Association Charts; climbing all the way into the Top 40 and staying for several weeks, topping out at #23 and opening up opportunities for even more touring. Levi spent most of 2017 playing around Europe before coming back to the states to get back to work on another record.

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Proud sponsor of The 615 show on Lightning 100


Always Be Creating

If you're looking to build a team that is excited about championing your art...you need to be making art. Every piece of content you release is an opportunity to show the world how you execute a release plan. Putting out a three song EP and trying to gain momentum with it over the next 2 years while you wait for the muse to strike on the your masterpiece full-length debut record isn't going to cut it.   


Conceptualize, Create, Execute

The release of your record isn't a beginning, it's an ending. Once you've released it, it's out there and you have significantly less power over when and how people are introduced to it. Once you've built up your catalog of songs to a place that lets you choose the narrative of your next release, get to work on a release strategy. Work with your team to build a cohesive and executable plan that builds excitement for the release. If you don't have a team then you have a lot of work to do, but it can be done. Keep your plans small enough to be successful but ambitious enough to make a splash. Once the plan is in place it's time to make the art. If you get the strategy in place before you start the recording process, you'll be able to focus on what you're really here for in the first place; making music. 


As a rule we don't schedule release dates for a record until we have the master recordings in hand. This way, when it comes time to begin our release schedule we get to sit back and let it happen. At that point everything is ready to go and it's just a matter of executing the plan.


Now that you've made your plan and executed it flawlessly, check in with E.T. (or your own rep) to make sure all your songs are registered.

Don't forget! after you get back from your tour you can register those performances with your P.R.O. and collect some royalties!

If you're an artist who needs help strategizing your next release

or you're ready to hire a team to handle your day-to-day operations 

catch the full interview with E.T. here:

A Conversation with Jack Davis | Founder of Good Neighbor Festivals

Nathan sits down with the Founder of Good Neighbor Festivals Jack Davis and talks about the importance of confidence and honesty when it comes to crafting a live performance. They touch on the importance of promotion, some things festivals are looking for from their performers, how to submit your music, and more.

According to Jack, if you're trying to get your band booked at a festival the number one thing they're looking for is confidence.

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That comes with knowing who you are as an artist. Typically you’re not very confident when you’re trying to fit a mold that is not you.

It isn't easy to stand out as an artist in an industry with as much volume as the music industry. With companies like Good Neighbor being bombarded by hundreds, sometimes thousands of submissions it's crucial that you're doing everything you can to exude the confidence they're looking for. 



So how do you do that?

How do you show festival promoters, booking agents, and talent buyers that by booking you they're booking  a professional who can captivate an audience ? 


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Promote your shows

If you want people to believe that you're a big deal act like every show you play is a big deal. If you're promoting every show that you're apart of, even the ones that you don't think are going to be very successful, that shows that you don't care if you're playing to 20 people or 20,000 people; you are there to do what you do best and you're going to crush it. If you want to get booked at a festival, people like Jack will be looking back at how you promote the shows you're in . Do you post about them on your social media before the day of the show? Do you champion the other acts on the bill? Do you run any ads? Are you engaging with your fan base and encouraging them to come out? Are you making sure to thank the venues/promoters/sponsors? These are all things that are being looked at and if you ignore them you're going to get passed by.

Remember, you never know who's watching

Nashville based emo/alternative band Secret Stuff learned that lesson in February 2017. After a few years being immersed in the local community Michael Pfohl found himself as a key figure in it's growth with the founding of his punk-geared booking company Fountainhead Booking.

Secret Stuff's involvement in their community and killer promotional efforts landed them a mention in an article from Noisey about the Nashville Scene.

It wasn't long after that article was published that emo/alt rock outfit Dashboard Confessional announced the lineup for their series of performances at The Basement East they were calling "Homecoming Week." Inspired by the Noisey article they had read, the entire bill for these sold out shows would consist of local emerging acts like Secret Stuff. 

We try not to book the same acts over and over. We’ll wait at least 3 or 4 years before booking an act on the same festival agin.
— Jack Davis

Another pitfall acts fall into when trying to capture that elusive festival spot is the same one they find when trying to book any gigs; they're setting the bar too high. If you've never brought more then 10 people out to one of your shows, should you be trying to play at a 500 cap venue? It isn't any different on the festival circuit. If you've never played a festival before don't waste your time and energy trying to play Bonnaroo, or Newport Folk Festival. It isn't fun to submit to a ton of festivals and not get selected for any of them but on the flip side, what if you get lucky and end up booked at a bigger festival before you're ready? You may not be in the right position to capitalize on that opportunity yet, and now you're less likely to play that festival again for a few years.

Instead, focus on your hometown markets. There's a local music and arts festival in every community across the country, our friends at Good Neighbor Festivals are responsible for 10 in the greater Nashville area alone! The rules are all the same; get your online presence in order, radiate confidence in everything you do, have video proof of said confidence readily available, play shows in as many markets as possible and promote every show you play

catch the full interview with jack here: