This summer, NPR ran a very nice profile on me for their show Weekend Edition Sunday and it caused their Arts Editor, Tom Cole, to wonder in a blog post if being a DIY musician with my own record label and website has negatively impacted the time I spent making music. I thank him for his kind words about my music but I do want to provide my perspective.
The jazz community that I know and grew up in has, to one degree or another, always had to take responsibility for making things happen. The life of a jazz musician requires that you both create music and create the opportunities to play that music. You can’t just sit back and wait for it to happen.
As a young musician I would often rely on others to take the initiative, but while I was learning about the music I was also watching and learning about how various aspects of the business work. During my time touring and recording as a sideman I began to learn about what was involved in leading a band. I was told of the benefits of having your own publishing company so one of my early acts of business independence was to start my own publishing company, LoJac Music, in 1973.
I eventually started my own band in 1983 and in the early years it really was DIY. My wife Clare and I were running the business side of things on our own, doing everything from calling promoters to mailing out press kits. It’s what you have to do when you start a band and we gradually started developing an audience for the music.
We launched the first daveholland.com website in 1996 in part because I wanted to provide accurate information about my work and activities to writers, promoters and fans. Our current site also provides an outlet for recorded and printed music.
Since 1997 we have been working with Vision Arts Management. My manager Louise Holland was the person that put together the business conditions that allowed Dare2 Records to happen. The decision to start the record label was not because there were no other alternatives. It was to have more control of how and when the music is recorded and how it’s marketed and distributed. It also enabled me to retain ownership of the masters.
While I may no longer work with a record label in a traditional sense, I do have a team of talented individuals that I work with, led by my manager. Musicians may not need traditional record labels as they have in the past, but we do need help and advisors. You are correct, Tom, our jobs as musicians are first and foremost to make music. Having my own label is something that I had been thinking about for some time, but I needed to do in a way where I could still have a support system of professionals.
As for networking, I look at interacting with fans online as analogous to a set break at Birdland. I like to say hello to people, shake their hands and when I can talk with them for a minute. I’ve met some great people and the reason I’ve had the privilege of performing my music for so long is the support of the fans. The audience completes a circle of energy in my music and I am grateful for it. Twitter, Facebook – forget the channel through which it is done – you should always make time for interacting with and thanking your fans for their support.
Also, social media has also been an extraordinarily valuable substitute for the steadily decreasing number of traditional media outlets. NPR is one of the rare national media organizations that pays attention to jazz, but unfortunately profiles like the one Mr. Cole recently edited do not come around very often. Should jazz music marketing plans simply be reduced to “Get NPR or the NY Times to cover it”? Musicians can’t rely so heavily on an increasingly small handful of outlets to gain exposure for their work. I’ve worked to build an audience for my music over the years, and I must take advantage of my ability to interact with them directly. For younger musicians, technology affords them ways to grow an audience I could have never dreamed of when I started my first band.
Inevitably time spent on business matters is time that can’t be spent on the music. However, I feel that it’s time well spent as it opens up new opportunities and helps me achieve the creative goals of the music.