Interview with NYC Musicians Meetup Organizer, Part II

Yesterday we began running our interview with Phil Robinson, organizer of the NY Musicians Group meetup.

Here are more of Phil’s insightful comments on marketing music and participating in the NYC music scene…

How long have you been a musician in NYC?

I’ve been a musician in NYC since I moved here five years ago.  However, I spent the first year and a half practicing and writing, so I’ve only really been publicly active for the past 3.5 years.

What music projects are you personally involved in?

I write and perform my own music, both solo and with my rock band, The Bliss Jockeys.  In addition, I’m also an ongoing guitarist for the Jessica Lee Band.  All of these activities are well-represented on my web-site.

Apart from my own direct projects, I run the indie record label, Roomful of Sky Records, and in that capacity, I produce and/or help promote the recordings and shows of our ten artists.

Has the Meetup had a significant impact, professionally and/or personally, on your singer/songwriter career?

Yes.  The Meetup group has enabled a great and supportive community of musicians to come together and stay strong for the past couple of years.  Personally, I’ve formed many mutually beneficial relationships with other musicians which have given me the opportunity to ‘grow by doing’—eg. when you feel safe enough to try things out in front of other people, so that even if you fail miserably, it’s understood as the kind of healthy experimentation that’s part of progress—by having an environment like that, I’ve been able to both expand my skills as well as increase my confidence, all the while very much enjoying the process and forming quality friendships.

The networking aspect of the group has been tremendously beneficial as well—I’ve found all sorts of collaborators, as well as built relationships with venues, rehearsal spaces and studios which have resulted in me having more power to call my own shots as places are more willing to work with you when you have the strength of numbers behind you.

To what extent has the Meetup improved your skills as a musician and songwriter?

First and foremost, I feel that playing regularly with (and for) others has really desensitized me to most of the nervousness that can often be associated with performing or with presenting my ideas to others.  That in itself has enabled me to feel more comfortable to just GO FOR IT whenever I play/sing/write.

It’s like anything else, you take baby steps and take a little risk and it turns out to be OK, and so next time you take a little bit bigger of a risk and, again, it turns out to be OK, so just by participating in an ongoing process of playing over time, you wind up having the opportunity to keep pushing your own envelope.

Playing regularly with others has also helped me to get my mindset ‘off the page’ or ‘out of the head’ and or whatever you want to call it.  What I mean is, when you sit in your room by yourself, you are playing music and it’s a one-way communication.  When you play with other musicians, however, they are creating music simultaneously so it becomes a two-way street; while playing you are also LISTENING– there’s something going on larger than just you, which is the collective creation of everyone in the room.  So, becoming more sensitive to that and becoming more able to allow the simultaneous listening inform what I myself am playing.  That’s the very essence of musicianship, and you only develop that ability by participating in music making with others, and the Meetup has given me a tremendous opportunity to create and participate in many of those kinds of situations on an ongoing basis.

Have you collaborated with Meetup participants on new songs?
Yes, on a couple different levels.

Informally, when we have our song workshops, many members are open to giving/receiving ideas that come up organically during the process of just running through each person’s song three or four times with the roomful of assembled musicians.  I’ve participated in that process (both on the giving and receiving end) many times.

More officially, I’ve been a part of three different ongoing bands at various points in the last couple years that organically grew from relationships I’ve had with Meetup members.  In those contexts, we’ve explicitly collaborated on songwriting, mostly in the name of developing the repertoire that we would collectively perform and record with each other.

One of us has a CD coming out later this year for which many of the songs have songwriting credits listing two to five members of the Meetup as having had a hand in the song’s creation!

What online resources do you use to help market your music?

Most of the typical resources—myspace, youtube, constant contact, cd baby, blogs, plus building my own web-sites.  One strategy that I’ve seen which works very, very well in hobbling together a web presence out of all of the above is to use a consistent identity across all contexts.  This is simple marketing 101, but to have a consistent brand is important; once you develop your logo/icon/background image, you can stick it on your myspace, your youtube channel, you e-mail newsletter, and then you can create a basic web-site which links to all of the above and it seems like a very unified and connected experience to web-visitors as opposed to different pieces spread out over the internet.

What have been your most successful strategies for selling your recordings?

The #1 successful strategy has been constantly growing my e-mail list.  When I started my e-mail list, I added the e-mail address of every single person I’ve ever known—friend, class-mates, former co-workers, family, etc…  I sent out a big notice to all of them, ‘I’ve included you on my e-mail list; thanks for the support; if you don’t want to be on it, unsubscribe at any time…’

Since then, I literally never miss an opportunity to (politely) add e-mail addresses of people who I make a personal connection with.  Every time I perform, every time I meet someone new, every time I go to an event or host an event, or someone gives me their card, or I leave a job, etc., I ask if I can add them to my list.

What advice do you have for the average independent singer/songwriter looking to get their music heard?

Go and find a unique niche where you’ll find lots of the kind of people who are likely to respond to your music, EVEN IF that niche isn’t music-related.

For example, you can put your independent music up on an independent music web-site, but the reality is that your music is going to be up there along with the music of the 14 million other independent musicians.  You’ll literally be just one drop in the ocean.

However, say you write songs that include references to, for example, Greek mythology or NASCAR racing or the environmental movement.  Then, go find a mythology web-site or a NASCAR forum or an environmental online store, and get your music into THOSE places.  Now, you have the advantage of really sticking out because the people who go to those sites are going to be into the kinds of things your music is about, and plus, you won’t be competing with a million other musicians.

Also, just PERFORM, PERFORM, PERFORM.  Once you’re comfortable doing your first few shows in front of supportive audiences comprised of your friends, then graduate and put effort into playing at places where you’re going to play for strangers who haven’t heard you yet—that way, you’ll win new converts along the way.

Go back to Part I of the Interview with Phil Robinson, NYC Musicians Meetup

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