#058: Roundtable – On the Road with Chris Robley

HighwayIn the News: Mainstream radio is still a racket. Also, when is the best time of day to Twitter?
For our main topic of discussion, our own Chris Robley uses Haiku to woo his audiences as well as other experimental promotional techniques on his 2 week tour down the California coast. Listen as he shares what worked and what didn’t. Plus calls and stories from our listening audience.

Check out http://bandago.com where Chris rented his luxury tour van.

  • Tim

    I’m just gonna throw out a vote (even though this isn’t a democracy) for a college radio interview. It may be on the decline, but I think it will be awhile before its dead or migrates to the online realm.

  • I’d be interested in a college radio interview and we don’t even have it over in the UK (probably why, it’s always fascinated me and I’ve bought albums after listening to recordings of some shows).

    Good idea about bundling two copies of the same album together. How about bundling a 3 track sampler CD with your main album if you’re short on stock or income?

    Or even… wait for it… a blank CDR so the new owner can copy the original and give that to a friend? Just make sure the blank CDR has your contact details written on it and hopefully the recipient will visit your website and maybe buy more music from you.

  • Kevin Breuner

    Ok, the people have spoken. I’ll get a college radio promoter on the show.

  • Kevin,

    While it might be interresting hearing things from the radio promoters perspective, considering that the college circuit is pretty much a closed one, I wonder if it will really be much help to most…

    I think it would be far more interresting to hear from an activities director for a college. How to break in to that arena without spending a ton becoming a NACA member and/or paying for a booth at their events…

    By the way, sounds like Chris did a number of things wrong. First and foremost, he forgot to think about the tour as a business venture first.

    Though we all might hate to admit to it, touring is about making money, either on the short term from the gigs themselves or the long by aquiring more paying fans along the way.

    Spending too much before even beginning the tour with the rental of the coach might have been a good idea if it were emblazened with the bands name/logo but just a non-descript van for convenience/comfort sake is never a good idea financially.

    Also, he mentioned using myspace/facebook/twitter to alert people in the area that they were coming but, what about his mailing lists?

    In my experience, social networking sites are just about useless for actually getting warm bodies out to shows. For that, it requires a bit more finesse.

    A quick inline tour schedule sent out to appropriate mailing list members would have been much more productive.

    And while the haiku idea was kind of cool, it’s far to essoteric for the majority of music fans out there. Or does his band play mostly to beat club type audiences? (you know, spoken word performance art clubs)…

    Sorry if I sound like I’m picking on Chris, I’m not meaning to. It just seems he and his band made most of the same mistakes on this tour that the podcast and many of it’s callers have warned about since the beginning. Sorry Chris:)

  • I must add that I’m interested to hear about college radio precisely because we don’t have it here in the UK, so it’s always sounded cool and exotic. Indeed, I discovered a load of great Japanese pop through a college radio show online, something you’d never find being broadcast over here. So if no-one else finds the college radio edition interesting you can blame the Brit! 😀

    Robert, I think the artist always treads a fine line between having fun and running a business. I quit music temporarily about 9 years ago because I was sick of playing covers, it was very much music as a job and no fun at all. My current live band project was put together purely for fun but that doesn’t sit well with me either. The rest of the band are cool with it but I want to at least sell a few CD’s and build up a fanbase!

    Guess what I’m trying to say here is that I’d be happy to make a loss on a tour as long as I gained a few fans and had fun along the way. I’m releasing my first single on CD Baby (digital only) and I’m quite prepared to not make my money back on it. I also listen to the podcast a lot and will probably forget to follow much of the advice I hear. But the main thing is I’m doing it, as you are, and a lot of my fellow musicians aren’t.

    I’m rambling now so I think I’ll leave it there!

  • Hey Robert,

    While it would be very nice to come home in the black from every tour, it is not a prime motivator for WHY I tour. I’d agree with your viewpoint if I were in an “all for one, one for all” kind of band, where all members shared equally in time/money/creative/emotional investments. In those types of scenarios, musicians are willing to commit to the long haul, go further, push harder, and sacrifice more on behalf of the group. In those situations, touring bands are away from home and jobs for longer stretches at a time (and more often) and really need to ensure that the tour is paying for itself because, in the end, there is the very real possibility that the band will return home after an extended tour and their jobs will be gone.

    However, since it is my name on the marquee, I can’t expect my band to share equally in the investment. They are all professionals with families. They tour with me because they love the music and we have a lot of fun travelling together, but they’re not willing to do it under just any circumstances. There is a certain amount of appeasement involved, an unspoken transaction between my band members and I. They uphold their end of the bargain by doing limited touring, gigging, recording, etc. for very little pay. And it is understood that I will always do my best to pay them what I can and accommodate their needs where real life and music fantasyland intersect.

    For example, I’ve routed tours specifically to help out one member who does not like long drives between gigs. I’ve left some nights on the tour itinerary blank so that I could accommodated someone else’s desire to rest every few days, or simply because someone wanted to sight-see. I keep the extras (in-stores, in-studios, interviews, etc.) to a minimum for a couple reasons. The first being that I do my day-job from the road, 40 hours a week on top of driving, playing shows, reserving hotels, making sure everyone wakes up in time to hit the road on schedule, etc. The second reason is to ensure I’m not overtaxing the energy of my bandmates on what is, essentially, a subsidized vacation for them. Basically, the point of this is to say that changing the touring strategy and spending extra money for the comfort and well-being of the members (Sprinter Vans, hotel rooms, etc.) IS essential to the sustainability of this band in its current setup.

    So, that might illuminate a little bit about the KIND of tours we embark on. As for money, without getting into too much detail, (and I don’t mean to sound flippant about this… because, obviously, I’d love to come home with extra cash on hand each time) it is not a primary concern. I have a job-type-job (CD Baby) that covers my living expenses, rent, food, etc. Then I have some well paying gigs (session work, production, and hired-gun guitarist and keyboardist type stuff) that cover the expenses of making MY music (recording, duplication, publicist, tour support, etc.) So, in a nutshell, I work my ass off in the real world so that I don’t have to stress about earning a large income from my own musical pursuits. The goal is, of course, to end up making my income that way. But for now, my primary concern is promotion, getting the name out there, spreading the music, NOT recouping “losses” that I finance in other ways. So I do look at touring as an aspect of a business venture, but I guess I look at it as part of the promotional aspect of the business at this point.

    To your social networking point, I most definitely sent out emails to my mailing list, as well as facebook, myspace, twitter, etc. I guess I forgot to mention that because it seemed like a given. The haiku experiment may’ve been a bit too esoteric for some audiences, but many of the people at the venues seemed to have gotten a kick out it, and those that didn’t want to participate just simply sat it out.

    Anyways, thanks for the comments, Robert. Just wanted to clarify some of the details of our band’s touring life.

  • Chris’ reply above got me thinking about how much the world has changed.

    A little over a decade ago, certain aspects of being a pro musician were reserved only for those willing to either 1) suffer, or 2) throw around lots of money. Releasing a CD, going on tour, etc.

    We’re now at a point where not only can anyone record and release an album, but a damn GOOD album. A band book their own tour, can hook up with other bands to share bills and get help from fans via any number of channels. They can spread the word faster than ever (remember when “mailing list” meant you actually *mailed* postcards and newsletters to your fans?).

    But what’s most intriguing IMO is that musicians can do all this and not even worry about making a profit. In fact, profiting becomes increasingly optional in a world where the barriers are not only lower but cheaper. An unsigned, independent band can release a record and go on the road for awhile — *just because.* That was a heck of lot harder to do a decade ago.

  • Chris,

    I’m not meaning to pick on you, seriously I’m not. It just so happens you were the focus of this episode so, it seemed to me important to note that your situation as you’ve said, is very different from that of most musicians out touring today.

    While I appreciate your standpoint, not being overly concerned with the financial side of things in this case. I am also struck with a “what the?” kind of feeling, considering the point of this podcast and CDBaby is to help artists forward their careers.

    Your story, though entertaining, is much like that of Anvil.

    They too took on extended tours and made nothing. And look where they are today. Still largely laboring in obscurity and in their 50’s.

    13 albums in and struggling just as much as they did from day one.

    My point? Simply that the reason so many continue to labor in obscurity is they approach it wrongly from the start. And that is why all of us listen to this podcast, to avoid the mistakes we and others have already made.

    As Lips, lead singer/guitarist of Anvil put it, “time doesn’t move backward only forward. Your face sags, your belly gets bigger and your hair falls out. You have to do it NOW because you run out of time”

    By the way, if you haven’t seen “The Story Of Anvil” I recommend it to everyone even thinking about music as a career. Just be sure to watch it more than once or you’ll be really bumbed out, as I was the first time I saw it. I’m 50 myself…

  • Darren Riley,

    Hate to break it to you but, as a career, music is often not much fun.

    You play a killer set at some club and the owner stiffs you. Or you find yourself sick as a dog and still have to get up and play like you’re having the best day of your life.

    Hobbiests cancel shows when they’re sick, professionals only do so when they simply cannot perform.

    If it’s never fun, that’s a different story. But fun, like happiness in general, is what you make of it.

    Personally, I have more fun practicing than I do playing live. I enjoy both, but it’s more important for me, to play well when playing live.

    I can just cut loose at practice. I’m pretty sure most musicians share this feeling on some level even those who hate practicing.

    By the way, I hate playing covers too.

    Please note, I didn’t say I didn’t think the college radio idea wouldn’t be interresting. I merely question it’s value considering the landscape envolved. Also, with the current state of the economy, many of those stations are going the way of the dinosaur.

  • Hey Robert,

    No offense taken. I realize my situation (being able to work from the road) is a bit different from most of the people who listen to this podcast. I’m definitely not suggesting that my approach is or should be universal. Just seems to be right for me and my band at the places we’re at in life.

    Also, I saw the preview for that Anvil movie and it looks somehow both depressing and inspiring. Can’t wait to watch it!

  • Hi,
    We’re looking forward to listening to this episode! We’ve received great insights from this podcast.

    Although college radio would be interesting, we would really appreciate a college booker’s prospective as well. As a Christian duo, it is very hard to get into the college market, and as was previously mentioned not all artists have the funds for NACA.

    Funny enough, we love playing live over practicing. And, we just recently did an event while sick. This was one that we could not cancel, and in the long-run it worked out really well!
    Thanks again, and have a great weekend!

    In Christ,
    Andy and Miranda – In Him

  • Russell Furey

    I know this comment is way late, but I was just passing the time listening to older posts to the podcast and the situation that the caller Paula had got me thinking about some situations I had been in. Now, to get anywhere in this world I usually print out directions to get to places, and sometimes, just like Paula, i forget them. And sometimes I don’t have a phone number to contact someone who knows the directions. So when that happens though, I use a service that google provides, and that is being able to get directions over text. And it’s free. It’s a really handy service when your in a pinch. All you need to know is the name of the venue and the city it’s in, and you can get directions. So if you get lost, send a text to 466453 (GOOGLE) with the name of the venue and the city, and they’ll send you the address. Then you can get the directions by sending them another message starting with “directions”, followed by an address close to you, then “to” then the address of the venue. I know it takes a while, and it usually takes 4 or more messages for all of the directions, but like I said, it works in a pinch. All that said, you need a phone for this to work, and unfortunately for Paula, she didn’t have hers with her.