Indie Artists Moonlight Social on Kickstarter, DIY, & The New Music Industry
Up-and-coming Texas band Moonlight Social, has achieved a lot for a group that formed 10 months ago and has only released a single EP. They performed at SXSW selected by 9-time Grammy winner, Ray Benson and won a Grammy-sponsored showcase. The band also won the 2011 Austin Chronicle Sound Wars, beating 100 local bands.
Moonlight Social consists of Jeremy Burchard and Jennica Scott. Their music can be described as a mix of rock and country.
I recently interviewed Jeremy, guitarist and vocalist, of Moonlight Social on the band's Kickstarter campaign, DIY, and things pertaining to the new music industry.
Natalie: Your band, Moonlight Social, recently started a campaign on Kickstarter. How is that campaign going so far and what do you hope to accomplish?
Jeremy: It’s going swimmingly! We set a goal of $15,000, knowing that after paying the Kickstarter and Amazon fees (5% and 3-5% accordingly) we could come out with about $13,500 if we hit our mark and that was almost exactly what the minimum budget would’ve been to make the album we wanted to make. We set a deadline of about 35 days, since longer campaigns reportedly don’t do as well and we actually needed the funding before January 1st. We weren’t positive if it’d work out or not, because that’s a lot of money to ask from people, but we hit the goal within the first 5 days, thanks in large part to larger donations. Now it’s exciting because the more we raise, the more freedom we have to really make this album incredible by hiring great studio musicians, doing custom art direction, getting it mastered at a great studio – stuff like that. Ultimately, we wanted to create excitement for this album by letting our fans know that they are directly contributing to its development and success. We want this to be in as many headphones and car speakers as possible!
Natalie: Why did the band decide to stay independent and what do you think of the music labels currently?
Jeremy: We decided to stay independent for the time being because that was the best decision for us. We sat down with our lawyer, who is really more like a friend at this point, and talked about the options. For where we are right now, it makes just as much sense to build our team and keep pushing things independent of a contract. For this album specifically, it allows us to record what we want to record, where we want to record it, and who we want to record it with. But, that doesn’t mean we don’t want to end up on a label. We certainly do. There are tons of great labels out there that understand the changing dynamic between what they offer bands and what bands offer in return. But at the core of it, there’s nothing magical about a label. It still all comes back to the product and if you offer something people want to hear. We’re building our fan base and building our name, and that’s important regardless of whether or not you’re on a label. We realized that the more we keep surrounding ourselves with inspiring, hard-working people, the more likely we are to be in a position that we don’t need a label. That’s when the labels with a great reputation for understanding the artists come knocking. With the help of our fans, we’re creating opportunities for ourselves so that more opportunities may come down the road.
Natalie: As a DIY band, what challenges have you faced? Any tips to other DIY artists?
Jeremy: Oh my. Well for starters, “do it yourself,” REALLY means you do it yourself! But, there are also varying degrees because nobody does it ALL by themselves. What it really means is deciding what your strengths are as a band, and where you know you could use help. For instance, we made our debut EP on a budget of $150 – all of which went to mastering because I have a background in engineering, have enough equipment, and wanted to take on the project independent of other people. We’re also pretty adept at the social media landscape, and I had a little experience putting together websites from prior internships. Booking shows is just a matter of networking and the right combination of phone calls and emails. We have photography friends who took pictures for us and I was able to secure a few hours of guidance from a PR firm and an entertainment lawyer (now our full-time lawyer) after bidding on the package at a local Recording Academy holiday party. However, we needed help getting our stuff out to blogs and other outlets for press and review and the “DIY” aspect of that comes down to you doing your own research and finding out where your music will fit in best. Really, this whole experience is a product of completely dropping your ego and learning every last thing you can from anybody kind and experienced enough to help. “DIY” doesn’t necessarily mean “free,” but be sure to utilize everything that is free. Reverbnation, Facebook, Twitter, etc. – the currency of the working artist is email addresses. Offer fans something interesting for email addresses, manage them well, and then send out emails when there’s something you really want your fans to know. Besides learning as much as you possibly can, the key to being DIY is not being afraid to ask for favors and offer whatever you can in return. You’ll be surprised how willing your friends are to help sell CD’s and merch at shows, put up fliers, talk to any contacts they have, etc. As a rule of thumb, if somebody wants to help us, I’ll be extremely grateful and say “yes” regardless if I think it’ll come through or not. Hundreds of people have said they’re going to do this or that for us. And I say “thanks, that’s amazing of you!” with a smile to everyone. How many come through? Certainly more than if I would’ve said “no thanks.”
Natalie: With the changes in the music industry, how are you connecting with fans and growing your fanbase?
Jeremy: Social media is huge, no question about it, but it shouldn’t be the only way you connect with people. Connect with them personally at shows. The day of the “mysterious artist” isn’t gone, but when you’re starting out making fans, it does a hell of a lot more to be approachable and relatable. Fans want to be a part of something. Let them know they are. As far as growing fans, every possible way you can get coverage on Internet radio or blogs is helpful. We went through A&R Select for some stuff. It’s been decent, but we’ve outgrown it. Still, it’s a model exemplifying how important it is to spread your music. We’ve offered free music for “likes” and whatnot. With the Kickstarter campaign, we’ve actually seen donations from new fans almost as much as donations from old fans and friends based on the fact that we’re offering something intimate. One thing we love to do is take suggestions on songs to cover at a show. For an upstart DIY band, it’s a realistic way to connect with fans. Down the road it may not be as simple, but the idea that you actively listen to your fans is what you’re really after. I always take a moment to handwrite a note to any place that’s given us coverage or radio play. I’ve also always made a point to thank and talk to every sound engineer or festival organizer on a personal level. Why? Because they’re fans too, just like I’m a fan, and they often deal in rather thankless positions. The industry is so wide open nowadays that artists have such great access to both their fans and big players in the industry. Let them know you appreciate them, and you’ll be a part of the successful minority.
Natalie: What do you think of social media: Facebook, Twitter, etc.?
Jeremy: I think it’s an incredible way to mobilize and connect with fans, but it’s not an end, it’s a means. You can be proactive and get 1,000 likes or followers in a month and still only play a show in front of 15 people. Yes, “likes” and “followers” are another form of currency for DIY bands, but it’s what you do with them that really counts. Be active on your Facebook and Twitter accounts and offer reasons for your fans to pay attention. We haven’t put much emphasis on Twitter, and we really should. Facebook has been a slow process. We’ve played to crowds bigger than our “like” count, but they’ll come. It’s a natural process as long as you offer something to people for visiting, such as updates and news. We’ve always used social media as a way to drive people to the website. That may change down the road and we may use social media as a more immediate means of contacting fans and leave the big stuff to the website. But regardless, we’ve always felt social media should subsidize your outreach efforts — not the other way around.
Natalie: With your involvement in SXSW, what have you learned and what trends do you see for the future of the music business?
Jeremy: My involvement with SXSW had a lot more to do with the technical aspects of things – stage sound, logistics, etc. But, I did organize a SXSW street team for a new music app that taught me a LOT about the music business. First of all, there’s no doubt the music business is supersaturated. And yet, even though it’s packed to the brim with artists, companies, apps, and business models, new ones enter the market every year, and SOMEWHERE there’s a desire for it. The bands and companies that find their audience are the ones that have success. Many times, that’s why they’ll head to SXSW. It does break my heart to see these small bands on an independent label that save up $14,000 to make the trip to Austin thinking they’re going to play a SXSW showcase, be discovered, and take off. Could it happen? Sure. But, you’re much better off spending that money and effort on controlling your region and finding your crowd. For Moonlight Social, we know that having a hold on Central Texas is important. We’re building our name in Central Texas and letting it spread. Luckily, we’re where SXSW is, but at the same time, we’re not saving up thousands of dollars to drive and do a showcase in New York. New York will come. For now, we’re dealing with Texas. Knowing who you want to reach is a huge part of the music business right now. The other thing I learned from working with and around SXSW is that innovation is everywhere — and your band needs to be a part of it. Embrace new concepts and ways to reach fans. Moonlight Social is going to be one of the spotlighted independent bands for the upstart app AudioVroom. We’re going to have our own profile so people can check out music related to us and we’re going to have a great new way to connect with fans. Us little guys are all trying to get somewhere. So why not get there together? Carpooling saves on gas!
Natalie: How do you discover new music?
Jeremy: Live shows is a great way! (Especially when we’re booked on a bill with somebody.) I love finding a cool new band because we’re playing a show with them. I also do use AudioVroom like I mentioned before. I’ll always check out other bands that get coverage in the same blogs and stuff we do. Radio is still very viable, especially in Austin. And of course, friend referrals. I can always count on Jennica (the other half of Moonlight Social) to stay up-to-date with new Texas music. Also, people love finding out other people love what they love. So if you love a young band (like us!), do them a favor and tell your friends! Music is both very personal and very communal. How cool is that!?
Natalie: What do you think of streaming services like Spotify?
Jeremy: Well, first of all I think Spotify is miles above the content stealing that was more prevalent in the mid-2000s, but I have differing opinions. I’ve used most of the various streaming services and found I generally respect the ones that help people discover music more. Yes, Spotify is convenient if you’re looking for that one particular song, but the business model still doesn’t pay artists nearly enough (we get .1 cents per stream – that’s 6,000 streams to make up the cost of a fan buying one EP). I could see Spotify compensating for that loss by making it incredibly easy for fans to also buy the album, merch, tickets to shows, and other ways that actually benefit the artist. But, people aren’t interacting with artists via Spotify and they’re not really discovering new artists so it doesn’t do much for the little guys. I think there’s definitely a place for them and that they’re an integral part of the new model, but it’s a little overblown. They aren’t revolutionizing the industry as much as some people hype – iTunes and the singles market revolutionized the industry. But, if a streaming service helps artists and fans interact and presents another avenue for fans to discover new music, well that would be quite beneficial.
Natalie: Do you think that artists should be giving away their music for free?
Jeremy: It should be up to them. But, in general, I don’t think you should undervalue the effort that goes into the music. It’s not just the artist, either. It’s everybody behind the artist, including engineers, producers, designers, etc. These people make their livelihoods by working on these projects. If it’s free, they have to start charging more upfront costs because they don’t get any back-end points. Yeah, the majority of income for an artist comes from merchandise and live shows, but it’s about more than just the artist. Of course, I presume this is talking just about electronic versions as well. Giving away the electronic version leads to a decline in physical sales, which is kind of a shame because it takes away from one of the most wholesome experiences of life — unwrapping that new CD and popping it in your CD player. People still buy and prefer CD’s, regardless of the ease of digital music. I’m afraid the idea of artists giving away digital versions of their music may be too tempting and really lead to a decline in the physical product. Some of the exciting things to see have been the “pay what you want” model showcased by a few bands and other cool ideas, but those are mostly done by bands with huge fan bases and a great history of physical sales (Nine Inch Nails, Radiohead, etc.). But like I said, as long as it’s the artist’s decision to give away their music and not a peer-to-peer service, well, this is America! Giving away a song or two as a part of a promotional deal is great and has worked for us, but the idea that media like music and movies should be free is really disappointing to me. Maybe you shouldn’t expect to pay for dine-in refills and parking on Sunday, but you should expect to pay for your music and movies. It sounds and looks better when you do. Try it!
Natalie: What are your long-term goals for the band?
Jeremy: We’d love to be nominated for a GRAMMY and be able to play our music all over the world, but those are just kind of by-products of the real goal, which is connecting with as many people as possible. Everybody has their own parameters for “success.” I’ve always personally believed that if you make enough money to play music as a living and call it your day job, then you’re pretty successful. But, for us it’s about having people hear the music. We make music we like, and we love the fact that other people like it as well. When we’re in the position to be able to play all around the world, that will be a pretty awesome thing. The most incredible thing to hear is when a fan comes up to you and says a song has helped them get through a tough time, or it “speaks” to them. It feeds you and inspires you even more. The accolades and peer recognition that follow are just icing on the cake.
To learn more about Moonlight Social, visit their website.