A Conversation with Grant Evans | Promoter at Music City Booking

This month we’re focusing our conversation on booking live performances. Nathan sat down to talk to Grant Evans about booking shows in Music City, why we don’t think of Nashville as a country town, and why nothing compares to the honest hustle.

Grant’s Story:

Grant Evans works as a promoter for Music City Booking; They promote concerts within Nashville as well as Birmingham, focusing on the realm of all ages and working to fill just about any room around under a 2000 person cap. Unsurprisingly, he is a transplant, leaving Boston when he began college at Belmont. Like so many Music Business students, he had the tentative plan of creating a record label, and went so far as to be distributing cassettes, but he fell into success with booking due to a lack of knowing anyone in town. When his newly formed pop punk band realized they didn’t know the first thing about how to play in rooms around town, they did what any Belmont student would; turned a classroom into a venue and threw their own shows there. The Thrailkill classroom saw acts like Diarrhea Planet come through in their early years, and Grant quickly realized he could make as much money throwing one show as he could selling every cassette they made, so he began to follow into the world of booking.

We talked to Grant about what it’s like to book shows in a town that is known almost exclusively for country music, what a band needs to book shows and make their way into the scene, and what exactly an agent or booker can do for you. Grant’s company, Music City Booking, represents that thriving world of Nashville below the country town shadow. As Grant says, “There’s not many country promoters, it’s the in-house at the venue or it’s Live Nation”. His world traverses everything from pop to death metal, right back around to his punk roots. Music City Booking helped build bills for Warped Tour as it came through over the years, and Grant maintains relationships with many of the small punk bands that came through his classroom venue in the early days.

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Grant works with players on both sides of art and industry within the music industry, cultivating relationships with both musicians and agents alike. While he books many acts through these agents, especially ones that he trusts and knows, he also works with bands that lack this kind of representation. Bands really don’t need a legitimate agent in order to book shows, which is something a lot of musicians don’t understand or know. The first two years of touring should be seen as a marketing expense, because that’s what they are; touring will eventually become profitable, but not before you’re looking at breakeven for a good goal. Bands need to start small; which also goes for trying to get on shows around here. When Grant gets emails from local bands, especially those who are willing to play the smallest bill or smallest room, he always saves them in a folder to refer back to when a spot opens that could be a good fit. Bands trying to get on the bill for a massive show in town probably won’t be successful, opportunity comes to the ones trying to get out and play shows, to get their name and sound into the arena. And the fact is, a booking agent isn’t going to want to book those small tours for bands, even if they’re working for them. A booking agent exists to get bands supporting slots, opening up for the bigger bands on their roster, and throwing their weight around in their ability to push you upwards.

The Application:

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So how does one book a tour? And how does that lead to the addition of team members like promoters or agents? Grant makes it clear that the biggest thing you can do is go out, show up, and know the players in your arena. Opportunities arise from being a part of your local scene; when a band first makes it and begin to book a large tour, the first bands they want to take on the road are the ones made up of their friends. The other big thing is investing in the work it takes; committing to the hustle. What a label, management, or an agent wants to see is a band that is putting in the work; a band that is dedicated to the art that they’re making as well as the steps they know they need to take in order to find success. Success in this industry is reliant on getting the attention of the major players, and anyone in the music business is going to notice the hustle. While it may feel like tedious, thankless work, nothing is more visible than the grind; people will respond to it.

Here in Nashville, Elisabeth Beckwitt has been branching out through booking both small tours and starting projects in town to showcase other artists. Her first “Sad Girls Night” was in September and acts as a way to, as she says, “celebrate the beauty, vulnerability and power of some of Nashville’s most talented ladies”. Creating and curating this ongoing project allows her to showcase herself, to send a message about what is important to her, to give a platform to other deserving artists, and consequently, to expand her audience and brand. Like Grant did in Belmont’s vacant classrooms, sometimes the best way to find a show to play is to put it on yourself.

Even bands outside the Nashville climate have been able to branch out through self booking and cross-country relationships; In Orlando, the band “The Pauses” have tirelessly toured for the last years, slowly forming a solid following while they also meet and befriend bands from all over. These friendships with industry players all over the scene have allowed them to go even further with their music, collaborating and helping each other succeed. Now in 2018, The Pauses are embarking on an entirely self-booked, headlining tour, and they’ve expanded to creating a small booking company in their hometown of Orlando. When they aren’t playing their own shows, they’re making sure that the bands they love have a room and reason to play in their city.

Stay plugged in, follow up, be at shows. It’s almost comically easy to have a relationship with the players in your scene: you just have to go!
— Grant Evans

For a band in the early stages, booking may seem like a foreign, formidable mountain to conquer; but in a town like Nashville, it’s really much easier than one may think. You do not need an agent to book shows, or even a tour, but you do need to try and make friends. If you take anything from this interview, let it be the importance and benefits of simply being in and around the scene and its players. The biggest and most beneficial work an artist can do is just that: hard work. Putting in the effort and dedicating oneself to the hustle, be it getting out, trying to book shows, or plastering the city with flyers will always be noticed and appreciated.

Now stop reading, close the computer, and get out into the scene!

A Conversation with Wendy Duffy | Founder & President of Resin8 Music

This month we’re sitting down with Wendy Duffy, Founder & President of Resin8 Music Licensing and Management; talking about music licensing, what licensors like Wendy look for when partnering artists with companies, and life after a placement.

Wendy’s Story

Whether it was the first time she heard Michael Jackson’s Thriller or her countless hours spent watching MTV, Wendy was bitten by the music bug at an early age.

Music is her reason for everything. After managing VO talent for almost 6 years in Los Angeles, Duffy decided to take her knowledge of the industry and extensive contact list and apply it to her first love: music. With a background in radio, publicity, marketing and promotions, Duffy saw an opportunity to partner with artists and focus on brand initiatives as a musicpreneur.  

Building relationships and engagement in every area of business is becoming more and more important as a way to differentiate yourself in the marketplace - the music business is no different. There is a lot of talent out there and you need to focus on your brand, your engagement and what makes you stand out. Then, you need to really promote those findings,
— Wendy Duffy

This idea and passion is what forged Wendy to start Resin8 Management alongside iV Music Licensing, which Wendy launched in July 2013.

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In April 2016, she went solo, launched a licensing division and started building talent awareness by partnering with artists to get music placed in advertising initiatives such as TV promotion and Film Trailers. By forging relationships with top companies such as Capitol Publishing, Secret Road, Peer Music, Kompass/Kobalt, NBC, CBS, ABC, FOX, MTV, Disney and VH1, Duffy continued to grow her brand and become a top player in music licensing.

The Placement:

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The Wendy Duffys of the world are viewed as a golden ticket you randomly find which will get you instant, viral fame from some crazy commercial or movie placement.  Once you have found your ticket, you’ll live happily ever after while rowing down a chocolate river of money. However, a better analogy would be the cereal box toy in which you have to put in some serious work on the Lucky Charms before getting to the bottom of the bag. Likewise, success with music licensing doesn’t happen overnight. There is a plethora of work to be done and songs to be written in the process of getting your music licensed. There’s more cereal to be eaten.

For Wendy, it’s more than just finding the talent. It’s about finding the right person. Are you a good human being who fits into the family which is the core of what Resin8 stands for.  Can the relationship supersede the talent itself? Can she be excited about who you are? That sentiment goes beyond just one person. Anyone on your team should be equally excited about what  you’re doing. They should be energized to work with you because they love your music. In return, you should want to work with them because you love the work they’ve done. The whole team’s enthusiasm shows through the accomplishments you’re making together and as individuals. No matter how much love and respect we might have for one another, it can be a brutal world out there. Unfortunately, love and respect doesn’t resonate with the production team making the movie trailer or commercial. Only talent does. It’s about being a great songwriter who is able to create music with an identifiable emotion. Then that emotion can sonically match the emotion a supervisor is looking to represent their brand, commercial, or whatever they’re working on. To do that, it takes a great depth of talent.

Like anything in the industry, there are “Gatekeepers” that make this extremely difficult to land syncs on your own. Still, getting connected with these people can open doors. Trendsetters in the industry, like Wendy, are a great first step; they have the keys and the willpower to do the work.Wendy has even made changes to her company to be more open to additional music discovery through Resin8.

A massive part of getting music licensed is the research. As an artist who is growing and team building, it can be a very daunting task to do the massive amount of research and outreach to land a placement without help from Resin8 or another music licensing company. Wendy doesn’t believe it would be advantageous for an artist to search out a placement on their own which could take years to accomplish. She also doesn’t think that’s the best way for an artist to be spending their time; and she’s not wrong. As an artist building their career,  there’s your recording, live shows, PR, marketing, and branding to focus on. Without a team behind you helping in these areas, you can’t reach the numbers or fans needed to make it worth it to these gatekeepers.

A great example is Jung Youth, a hip hop artist out of Nashville who has made awesome strides the last couple years. This year, Jung hopped on a track with Sam Tinnesz and the hit-maker himself, Super Duper,  to create “Untouchable Now” that landed on the 2018 NFL Draft. Additionally, he put out an EP earlier this year “61502” which earned glowing reviews from Earmilk, Nashville Scene, and One’s To Watch. He’s humble, fun-spirited, and has a work ethic that drives it all home. He continues to grow his visibility, landing placements on international movie trailers, award show promos, and more. Jung Youth is a hidden gem in the Nashville streets and it’s only a matter of time before the rest of the world joins the wave.

What does Jung Youth have to do with this blog? Well, he works hard, he’s extremely talented, overall a great human, and oh yeah, did we forget to mention... he’s one of Wendy Duffy’s clients at Resin8.

Here are a few tips on how to prepare for success in music licensing:

  • Make sure that you understand and prepare the licenses needed to sync a track with a TV show, commercial, or film.

  • When finishing your recordings, have a mix engineer deliver instrumentals and TV versions of the songs.

  • Make sure that you have contact information readily available on all websites in case someone stumbles across your music and is interested in licensing it.

  • Register all your recordings with a PRO.

This preparation will last a long time after the current project you are working on. Even small licenses can provide sizable royalties if you are properly setup to receive them. Prior to the start of the entertainment company, licensing played a large role for AGD founders, Nathan & Tim Dohse, while performing and recording with the rock group Fight The Quiet. In fact, an ad agency recently reached out to license a track for a local Arizona commercial after having found the old Facebook page for the band.

The request came completely out of the blue. Fortunately we had everything in place to quickly clear the track and have it placed in the local commercial. Having friends and family across Arizona text to tell me they had heard our song in the placement was a big dose of nostalgia. Though this type of thing is rare, you have to be ready for success if you want to be successful.
— Nathan Dohse

Music licensing is not a new thing. It can feel that way to many people but it’s been around for a long time. It can be a way to kickstart some careers or a tool of discovery for fans. The point is everyone wants music and that includes brands, TV shows, movies, commercials, and even podcasts. Landing a placement can be a life changing event. However, as an artist, it’s not the only thing that is important. Building a foundation that generates value around your talent enables these “gatekeepers” to consider choosing your music for placements. Professionals, like Wendy, are opening so many doors for artists, but they are also gatekeepers. They are picky about who they spend their time and energy on. It was a pleasure that Nathan and AGD got some of Wendy’s time to dig deeper into music licensing, the process behind it, and her view on bridging the gap between artists and the buyer.

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.