#Fangagement: Artists Crowdsourcing Opinion – Emily White
By C. Vincent Plummer, co-founder and social strategist for Bedloo.com
Welcome to the first entry in our bi-weekly interview series called #Fangagement: Artists Crowdsourcing Opinion. Throughout #Fangagement, I will interview industry professionals, musicians and even super fans about their stories, tips, and tricks of the trade. The goal is to explore the digital space together and inspire each other to better communicate with the people who keep artists afloat in a world where everyone is too busy to be bothered. I’m talking about nurturing the relationships with fans.
I didn’t want to sacrifice the quality of the conversation in order to keep these interviews ‘short and sweet’ so along with each question is an accompanying Soundcloud file for those of you who’d rather dig in to the audio.
A little about myself: I’m C. Vincent Plummer and I'm the co-founder and social strategist with Bedloo.com. Bedloo is a two-choice voting tool website and mobile app where you can ask the world questions using photos, videos, and music, which gives you real time stats on who and where in your network of fans are voicing their opinions. But I’m also a musician and exploring connectivity with the audience has been a passion of mine for awhile now… so I thank you for coming with me on this journey. Today I have the privilege of interviewing Emily White.
Emily is a super manager and Co-Founder at Whitesmith Entertainment, which is a full-service talent management firm based in Los Angeles and New York, spanning the music, comedy, film, TV, and sports industries. Vincent Plummer: What was it like starting out for you? Did you always know that you wanted to this from the beginning? If not what was the happy accident or moment of clarity that got you where you are today?
Emily White: I absolutely set out to do what I do. I studied music and business in college. I went to a school called Northeastern University in Boston. I know they’re quite a few music business programs out there now. But when I was in school in the early 2000s, there was kind of like 3 to 5 that I really narrowed in on. Doing a lot of internships while I was in school really paved the way for my career. I did about 8 internships as an undergrad all over the industry; in Boston, New York, and London. Probably most significantly I started working with the Dresden Dolls when I was in school because they were an up and coming Boston band that I was a fan of. I started as their intern, and merch girl. Then tour manager and day-to-day manager and eventually became their manager. The day that I was supposed to walk in the commencement ceremony, I was at Coachella starting a 3 continent tour with [Dresden] Dolls and Nine Inch Nails. Around that time I also worked out a deal with Madison House who became the bands management company and I tour managed the band for a couple of years from age 20 to 23. When I wasn’t on tour I worked at Madison House. So Madison House is really where I learned my management skills and I was really lucky to work for Mike Luba and Kevin Morris, who are really wonderful music loving people. Whether they realize it or not, they really built businesses around the artists, and that was always their strategy, kind of not relying on outside partners. Madison House had an in-house label, and publicists and travel agency and merch company and PR firm and all these things. So that was the kind of mindset I came from, and I definitely apply those tactics on just about everything I’ve done since.
Vincent: I knew about these guys growing up, being in the bands that I was in trying to kind of get people’s attention from Madison House. So before you graduated even you were already managing the Dresden Dolls?
Emily: Yeah, pretty much. I mean I was basically their day-to-day manager in college. Luba came on board at some point probably when I was about a senior, and really integrated me right into everything we were doing. I learned so much from him and he always very cool. Like he would introduced me to people at Bonnaroo and be like, “This is the Dresden Dolls real manager.” His point was I did a ton a work. He basically let me run free and do whatever, but then he was always there when I needed things. I just learned a ton from those guys.
Vincent: How have you found that technology and the internet has improved music business for you personally? How about everybody else? Also, what is your favorite digital resource?
Emily: Technology and the music business has extremely benefited me both personally as I fan and absolutely professionally because it really allowed artists to be able to make world class recordings from their bedroom, and also eliminated the gatekeepers of distribution. So for 40 or 50 bucks an artist can distribute their music worldwide on TuneCore, and be on every iTunes, Amazon, and Spotify, and Rdio, and Rhapsody store and platform in the world. What it did is it leveled the playing field for artists, which is awesome, because they didn’t have to sit around and wait for someone to pay for a recording studio and then manufacture plastic CDs, and get their music out to everyone. So for me it’s been very exciting. I’ve always really understood the internet and technology. I love Rdio, Spotify and all the streaming platforms because this is what I wanted to happen when Napster existed. I remember being a teenager in the 90s and in my head I was like ‘I’d pay $15, $20, $25’ [for a streaming music service]. I thought I’d pay $50 a month for the service. So it only took the music industry 15 years to get it together, and offer a legal, viable alternative to Napster, but I think that’s really cool. However, there are obviously plenty of people that made a lot of money back in the day, and they’re not all necessarily evil… that are griping that their income has gone down. That’s something that really hit home for me at MIDEM one year. Because where I see nothing but opportunity in the new music business, and my young bands who are making money, and any sort of income are really excited because they are making a living playing music, they don’t have anything to compare it to. If you are the heirs of famous songwriters, and have multiple homes to keep up. Suddenly those revenue streams do go down. I know that sounds ridiculous, but if you are a person, that’s your experience. That’s your perspective. I know for a lot of people their incomes have changed, but ultimately I think technology has just been great for the music business. Like I said it is made in a level playing field for artists, which means hopefully the best art really wins. I think it’s also weeded out industry people that weren’t in it for the right reasons.
Vincent: Do you happen to have a favorite digital resource that you use all the time?
Emily: I mean I listen to Rdio everyday. So I’d say that’s it.
Vincent: Do you have any resources (platforms, tools, marketing tools, etc.) that you think independent musicians should use from the beginning vs. once you’re driving major traffic and you are having to deal with ticketing and distribution on a larger scale?
Emily: I think it’s pretty simple. Whether I’m working with a brand new artist or someone in between like Brendan Benson who’s been around for a while. Or Yoko Ono controlling the John Lennon’s estate. Not that I work on that. But what I mean is all these tactics are kind of what’s best for the fan, and what makes the most sense. So as far as marketing and getting the word out, obviously at this point you still want to be collecting email addresses, and driving traffic to your site, ideally, but that’s mostly going to be hardcore fans. So right now it’s Facebook and Twitter. That’s going to evolve and change just like it went from Friendster, to MySpace, to Facebook. So I think people need to not over think it. They need to have a really great direct-to-fan strategy through their website. So they’re collecting as much data as possible, and also retaining as much revenue as possible. With regard to data, that just collect any email addresses so that you can communicate in the future, and also knowing where that fan is coming from to help drive booking strategy. Just being really engaging on social media because it is mostly kind of baby boomers hanging out on Facebook right now, but that’s because they’ve lost touch with their high school, and college friends, and girlfriends and things like that. Twitter is just really fun, and that’s a great way to engage with younger people, and other entities, and other artists and things like that. So those are kind of the big three. You know literally your own domain of your website, and your direct-to-fan tactics. I am on the board of Cash Music. So I’m all about open source direct-to-fan technology, but there is obviously plenty of great tools out there on really building out your email list and things like that, or using your website as a hub. I really love FanBridge for email list platforms. Other than that… really maintaining your Facebook and Twitter and trying to get back to every fan, if not as many fans as possible and answering questions and just being really smart and engaging, and informative on social networks.
Vincent: When artists are just starting out, do you happen to have a best strategy for getting content, be-it songs, videos, or memes to blogs and social mavens? So in other words what are your methods for forming relationships with these people to break the “stone wall” of silence and to get them to actually react to you?
Emily: I love starting from scratch, because when that’s the case I’m not cleaning up messes and you can just be really organized from day one. So we start with the fans. A lot of times you can ask artists to add email addresses of their friends and family members. I looked after a 6-piece band once. When they all did that, there were 700 people on their email list from the get-go. So that’s pretty powerful. I’m kind of a spaz who likes to know everything that’s going on. I’m really aware of pretty much every email address that is added. What we do is start building out, just a Google spreadsheet called Fancy Friends, and in that we put tastemakers and industry people and things like that. You can also grab those email addresses and see those people based on who is tweeting at, or about the artist through their Google alerts, because if they are blogger. When we get our first piece of press, even if it’s just a local piece of press, it’s so easy to look at that article and grab that journalist’s email address. So the artists/me can contact them directly in the future. If you’re not able to, or don’t want to hire a publicist. You kind of build out your own roller deck and make it really targeted. Which can also be the case if, maybe you did just come up with a video or something, I mean a video is kind of a big deal, but you just have something simple that you want to spread the word on. It might not be like an album, or a big campaign or whatever, that way you have a list of 3, 4, and 500. Hopefully 1,000 tastemaker type of people that you’ve built up over years. So those are the kinds of tools we do from day one, whether it’s a new artist or someone established we’ve taken on.
Vincent: What are the best advantages to being on a small label? What do you think that they are able to do better when the majors are struggling?
Emily: Historically and stereotypically the advantages of being on smaller independent label is usually to have creative freedom. I hear really great things about certain labels that literally will tell the artists like you can do whatever. That is mostly how I am as a manager. I love it when artists come to me with music, and content that they’re excited about. Then I can put a plan and strategy together. You know going with a major label, the advantages is still muscle and airplay, a team and things like that. The scary thing is you’re ultimately signing your rights away. And should there be staff changes or team changes of the label, you might be stuck in limbo. So I think that’s a question that every artist has to ask themselves, if they’re lucky enough to be in that position. It also depends on what kind of an artist it is. Like if you’re trying to be a popstar, you should be on a major. If you are trying to be an indie rock star, even at the highest levels an independent label is probably going to make more sense.
Vincent: So with labels having less money for early stage development and music being virtually free because of the streaming services and piracy… do you think the brand integration and sponsorships were the best way to make money for creatives these days? If so what are the rules to avoid the pitfalls of being over commercialized?
Emily: I don’t even think it’s the best way. It’s just ‘a’ way and a way that has been more accepted by artists over the past decade or so. That really goes for everything, every revenue stream around artists. It really depends on the artists. I tend to be drawn… I love great songwriters whether they realize it, or not. All of my artists tend to have really good publishing situations. Because they own their master rights, when a syncs are landed they generally keep that revenue. Particularly my solo artists do very well in the publishing space. My bands tend to do a little bit more on tour. Little better than the solo artist on tour, because they’re not having to pay band members. When a sponsorship situation comes together, that’s awesome. It’s kind of gravy, but not only it’s the something I wouldn’t necessarily rely on, I don't even rely on it for the athletes that I work with. I mean when we do sponsorship deals that’s great, but I think that’s such… It’s so interesting because in music, sponsorship is like this whole new thing for people, but in sports it’s like that’s the cliché stereotype way to go. So because of it… it’s extremely crowded and competitive space in sports. When you’re making those decisions in music it just has to be authentic, and that’s really the case with everything. The artist genuinely has to be in the brand; otherwise it’s not going to come across very well to the audience.
Vincent: When you’re talking about bands/songwriters relying on the getting the publishing, do you have recommendations for songwriters who are just getting going, trying to get their songs… or that might already have great songs recorded, but want to get them to the music supervisors, so that they actually hear the music when their ears are bleeding?
Emily: Sure. I’m about to write an article on this because I’m very methodical about it. I think when you’re first starting out, don’t be afraid to work with kind of like a re-titling company like Music Dealers or Jingle Punks. I’ve had a lot of success with those companies in early days. Sometimes industry people just gasp at how big a cut those companies take on top of the fact that they are re-titling. But it can be a really good foot in the door. What you need to remember is that even though they’re taking a 50% commission, I can see it in backend in royalties and hundreds of thousands of dollars through the artist’s PRO. You know when a proper sync is landed. I’ve also had every publisher in the industry calling me after that happens. So I don’t think an artist should really be above that, even though it’s not the best deal out of the gate. The real key there is finding humans at those companies. So not just being their system, not being annoying obviously, but really having a relationship with your rep. If you are lucky enough to live in one of the cities where they have offices, maybe playing parties at their offices and showcases. And even writing and recording when they have specific briefs come in. So that’s a great way to start to establish an initial relationship for yourself. At the same time I would definitely send your music, if you really think it’s ready to go and it’s the best it will ever be, send it to a Terror Bird music and Zync and Lip-Sync. Those companies are really great, because they are so selective. They totally know what they’re doing. They also don’t take any ownership. So that’s really nice. So if they’ll take your music on, that’s awesome.
Vincent: I was hoping that you could tell me one of your favorite examples of how you see an artist creatively market and connect with people.
Emily: That’s a good question. I mean we handle so much of this for artists. I would say Greta from Gold Motel, and then the Hush Sounds is really fantastic at it. She is great at writing songs for her fans and even creating… She was literally making amps for her fans at one point. So pretty much everything we did in Gold Motel, which was her project after the Hush Sounds was all Greta. For someone that signed when she was 15, 16, when she started the second band, connecting to her fans came naturally to her, because she had kind of grown up with them on social networks. So I think when you have that mindset that you have such a great relationship with your fans, that’s really where some cool things can happen.
Vincent: How important do you think it is to engage with your fans in the decision making process? What are some of the most successful ways that you’ve seen this done?
Emily: I’m a little torn on this because I love asking fans opinions. When I get stuck that’s constantly what I do with my artists. Well we can talk about this in a second, but I just launched a crowdfunding company called Dreamfuel. That’s crowdfunding for athletes. When we’re coming up with different tiers, I asked my team if we should have an open tier that the fans can decide, because that’s the kind of the point of crowdfunding. We might find things and think of things that our group of 5, or 10 people isn’t going to think of, because obviously opening up much wider. That being said, Steve Jobs is my hero. He loved creating things that people hadn’t even thought of yet. So I don’t think we can always rely on the audience. I think we still need to brainstorm to come up with cool things to offer people.
Vincent: As a manager, what are some of the most common mistakes that you see creatives make when it comes into marketing and fan engagement? Like… the stuff that really makes you want to scream.
Emily: Yeah, totally, not doing it. Especially when you are working in the indie music space and bands are really a little too cool or above doing certain things, I think you can always find a way to communicate with your audience. I know it’s a little weird and it can feel like hocking your art. But I think just finding that genuine way to communicate with your audience is really, really important.
Vincent: Cool, that’s it from me. I guess the last question I would ask you is about the stuff that you have on the horizon for Whitesmith, and anything in particular coming up for the artists in your roster. Anything that you’d like to share with everybody?
Emily: Yeah. Brendan Benson has a new record out. We did a big show to celebrate at the Ryman in Nashville with a bunch of his friends on the bill like Jack White and Eric Burdon and Butch Walker that we’re excited about. I mentioned Dreamfuel which is a sister company that we’re starting. I’m writing a book about interning. So… no shortage of things going on around here.
Vincent: The intern thing is of particular interest to me because I feel like it’s something that I wish that I would have done when I first moved to LA a little bit more. I dragged my feet and thought that I was too old to intern. I wish I could have got in it a little bit more. I’d love to know.
Emily: You should read, I don’t know if you know Corie Kellman at Cyber PR, she wrote an article here on Hypebot called “The 27-year-old Intern” when she interning at our label last year, and she just posted an update because she now works for Ariel Hyatt at Cyber PR called “The 27-year-old Intern is now called 28 and employed”.
Vincent: Thanks so much for your time Emily!! Hope you all enjoyed. I would love to hear everyone’s feedback. Please feel free to contact us using the #fangagement. You can reach us both on twitter. I’m @cvpmusic from @bedloo. Emily is @emwizzle from @WhitesmithEnt.