In this recent Q&A, electronic pop musician Rod Thomas of Bright Light Bright Light answers a series of queries regarding being an independent musician, successfully building an audience, and how he works at connecting with fans.
Guest post by Jim Wallis of Topspin Media
Bright Light Bright Light is the moniker of Wales-born, NYC-based electronic pop musician Rod Thomas, whose third album Choreography was released in July, featuring contributions from Elton John, Alan Cumming and Scissor Sisters. A companion EP of covers of Rod’s favorite songs from cinema, Cinematography, will be released on November 25th. As an independent artist, self-managed and releasing records via his own label Self Raising Records, we were keen to pick Rod’s brain about his career so far.
Your new album reached No. 1 on the Independent Album Breakers chart in the UK and No. 12 on the Billboard Dance / Electronic Album Chart in the US. What do you think are most effective ways in which you’ve built your fanbase over the past few years?
God, I don’t know- there are so many factors when it comes to making something that grows and builds a fanbase. My main goal was to keep my music accessible, fun and engaging, so I listened to fans when they were asking for tour dates, for types of merchandise, for lots of different things. I toured a lot, I worked really hard on fine tuning what I wanted my music to sound like and look like. Basically, making sure that it reflected me and made sense. I think fans love to invest in an artist they believe in, so being true to what your intentions are speaks volumes.
You released the album through your own label, Self Raising Records. How have you found the experience of self-releasing records and what have you learnt from it?
It’s definitely a huge challenge. There are very few dull days! I’ve been doing it since 2006 and have seen all sorts of changes in the way music is consumed, so being able to adapt is the best thing I’ve learned. Planning realistically- do you need everyrelease to be physical? How much merchandise do you need to produce? What kind of things do your fans want? It’s a steep learning curve but is very rewarding overall. You learn business skills very quickly!
How do you balance the creative and business sides of being an independent musician?
Crazily, the admin side is “quite nice” as a flipside to the creative side of things. With creating music, there’s no definite end point or final product, you could keep reworking things forever; but with the business side, things get finished, or you’ve ticked off, for example, booking the hotels for a tour, or getting a CD manufactured. They do work well hand in hand and, even though it gets very busy sometimes, it’s very good to know where the money is going and coming from, and what’s available so you don’t over stretch funds, or don’t under-use resources available. It’s like spinning plates a lot of the time, but it is actually very logical, if you’re looking at a long-term career.
How does direct-to-fan fit in to your overall strategy?
It’s very important. Not everything you want to put out works at traditional retail. Plus, the option of direct-to-fan means that you can create some truly special things. I’ve done tailored things in the past like handmade CDs, box sets, signed merchandise…without direct-to-fan sales that would be impossible and that option has really helped to build a strong relationship with my fanbase. A company like Topspin is invaluable, as I’m not often in the place where stock would be to physically mail stuff to fans, which got infinitely harder over time. Having someone able to mail out the orders means I can go on tour- which I do a lot- and not have to stress that someone would make an order that I couldn’t post for 2 months.
Finally, what advice would you give to an artist or band just starting out in the music industry?
Think about the long game. Immediate results are often short-lived, so while a career can seem like a struggle to build, building momentum takes time. It’s very easy to compare yourself to other artists, but each case is different, so don’t confuse yourself by worrying what other people have achieved. Worry about what you want to achieve and what the most rewarding, realistic and fun ways for you to do that are!