Being “DIY”: A Response to NPR’s Tom Cole

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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.

6 Comments

  1. Matthew Chamberlin says:

    As someone who works in social media and traditional media AND as a lifelong jazz fan and Dave Holland acolyte, I could not have written a more eloquent and cogent post. I would merely offer up an example from my life to highlight what Dave says.

    Living in Miami, we don’t get a lot of jazz down here. Growing up in NYC in Greenwich Village, just steps from the Blue Note, the Village Vanguard, Sweet Basil, etc., I have never gotten accustomed to the lack of accessibility of decent live music.

    Back in April 2010, I was in Massachusetts for business. At the end of a boring dinner, I checked in to twitter and noticed that Dave had posted he was going on stage at 10pm at a Regatta Bar in Cambridge, MA. I saw the tweet at 9:15, jumped in the car, got to the gig and sat down just as they were taking the stage. In the interim, I had received a tweet from Dave telling me to make sure I came up to the bandstand to say hi. Additionally, my wife, who knows what a huge fan I am, had also tweeted that I was headed down to the show. (I think the last time I had seen Dave live was around 1994 at Catalina Jazz Club in LA.)

    Needless to say, the show was excellent but maybe the best part was when I approached Dave on the bandstand after the gig and told him that I had just rushed in to see the show and he said, “Oh, yeah! I saw your tweet.” I damn near fell over. He was gracious and attentive and kind, and the few minutes we spent chatting brought the online/offline experience full circle.

    It’s not that I needed convincing to be a fan, but this kind of thoughtful, sincere and considered interaction is an object lesson to ANY artist. I don’t care if you paint, play music, act or juggle. It takes a lot of time and work, but the payoff is lasting and durable.

    The rise of social media means that all of us ARE the media. As Dave points out, you can’t hang around and hope that NPR or the Times covers you. You need to connect directly with your fans, win over new fans, and keep making the music. Of course it’s a lot to juggle, but it’s better to control your own product and destiny (to the extent that that is possible), than to leave it up to others who can never be as invested in your future as you are.

    Keep up the great DIY work, Dave. You and your team do a great job. Oh, and the music ain’t bad either. ;-)

    Reply
  2. King Dahl says:

    Dave,

    I, for one, am very appreciative that you’ve taken such an active, personal role in the marketing of your music. As a Dave Holland fan for almost 3 decades, you’ve made acquiring your music more accessible than ever. And I find the fact that you and your team take brief moments to interact, via social media, with those that dig your music-a real plus. I know you’ve inspired others to follow this approach, and I hope the trend continues.

    Now, off to get my credit card and order “Hands”.

    Reply
  3. Brendan Higgins says:

    From the consumer’s point of view, I believe that all of the “DIY” methods that you are employing are fantastic. As a musician, I appreciate that you established your own label and understand the hard work that accompanies that endeavor. I also feel that you are successful in creating a connection with your fans, especially through the website. As a bass player, I value the bass transcriptions and appreciate that you are imparting that material to those of us who aspire to your mastery. The website and email newsletters undoubtedly maintain my interest in your work and help me follow what musical directions you are taking. In all, I truly feel a personal connection between artist and musician; one of the best the I have encountered. (Frankly, when I get an email newsletter or receipt, I get excited because I initially think its actually from you).

    Please sustain the good work that you, your family and everyone else involved are doing.

    Reply
  4. Rick Finlay says:

    Thanks for sharing these thoughts. The cottage industry which jazz has always been is a real community effort and it is reassuring to find artists of whatever stature have this common experience of balancing business and art.
    It interests me that it used to be very uncool for jazz musicians (esp. in uk) to confess to looking after the business side of things, or even having any knowledge of it. I always felt this was a deceitful mystification of what musicians do, and I have always made a point of talking frankly to my students about the need to look after and take an interest in the business of music as well as the art. And the more I talk to or read interviews with my heroes the more I find they are without exception enthusiastic and diligent about the business around their music.
    One of the great inspirations in this is Metheny, who has never been coy about the holistic nature of his art and it’s promotion.
    With all good wishes
    Rick Finlay (London uk)

    Reply
  5. Andy Scherer says:

    Dave, as one of those who managed to say a quick ‘thanks for the music’ to you during set breaks over many decades, I also get a real sense of connectedness when something from you pops up in the social stream, so that works both ways.

    Tom’s question is great, and it points to the facts of how the state of business for the creative artist necessarily consumes time that might be otherwise engaged in more direct acts of practice or creation, but given that the arts are insufficiently funded and promoted it’s almost a necessity that artists take matters under their own control. It certainly seems an improvement over past horror stories of artists who had their creative and intellectual property rights and even livelihoods swept out from under them by unscrupulous business partners.

    Ultimately, it’s good that you’re able to manage the tools and structures in order to put your music out in live and recorded forms, and I for one cheer and welcome your online presence.

    Reply

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