#073: Josh Rosenthal – 1,000 fans one city at a time

Josh Rosenthal is a singer-songwriter living in Salt Lake City, Utah. Instead of making those long, costly treks to larger, more established music markets like LA, NYC, and Nashville, Josh spent his time cultivating a dedicated fan base closer to home. He concentrated on the smaller scenes that were within his reach. Armed with a public relations degree, a business plan, drive, and talent, Josh discovered that the most important step to success is building real relationships with his fans. In this podcast, Josh shares a bit of his plan and some of the promotional tools that have helped him win die-hard fans.

You can find out more about Josh Rosenthal here http://joshrosenthal.net

  • http://www.robertleeking.com Robert Lee King

    Hmm, not sure how things are in Colorado, Utah, Idaho and Texas but, in California I can tell you what Josh is doing/hoping to do in his locale is impossible here.

    500 people paying 10 to 15 dollars to see a folk/americana act? Here, it’s a miracle to get 50 people to pay 5 dollars to see 3 popular indie bands on any given night.

    Think about that. 50 people on a good night, spend 5 dollars each or 250.00 to be divided amongst 3 bands each with a minimum of 4 members.

    In most cases, the venue pays the bands nothing beyond the door so, each band member made $20 dollars for that show. Many drove 40+ miles to
    get to the show in 2 or more vehicles. In short, they lose money playing the show.

    I’m not saying Josh’ model can’t be done, clearly he has managed to profit somehow in his area but, I am struck by the seeming trend such artists embody.

    That being, sponsors.

    Sponsors negate the whole idea of being an independant artist. Why? Because the sponsor is simply the replacement for the label.

    The artist is beholden to the sponsor first, then the fan, then finally themselves.

    In my view, this is a very bad path, worse than the 360 deals currently being profered by labels. And like the labels, the artist ultimately makes nothing until the sponsor is paid back with interrest.

    I’d love to believe I’m mistaken in this. That indie artists actually can and do sell enough and more, to profit to the point making the whole effort pencil out as accountants say. But, I find it extremely hard to believe considering even major label artists have a very hard time selling more than a few thousand copies of any given release.

    I’m not saying it’s a useless effort, I simply question this kind of path especially considering how large the number of cdbaby artists for example, is and, the relatively small amount of money earned for that number in cd sales over the years.

    In my own case, my efforts as an indie have earned me less than $300 dollars but cost me more than $10,000 dollars in 5 years time. Granted my music is not mainstream and not particularly good either. Even so, considering the raw numbers, I doubt I am the exception to the rule.

    I see the truth of this daily in my area. Over 100 bands playing for little to no money. Most not even covering travel costs. Many more not even able to afford a half decent PA. I’ve run sound for several of them with my own PA system.

    I may come off as negative or unnecessarily grim but the truth is, I’m a realist. We all grow old, the hair thins, your belly gets fat and sooner than later, it’s time to consider where the money will come from when you can no longer take to the road. When you no longer can afford to produce the CD that never earns out and most don’t.

    Josh’ story is much like Tony Robbins. The few make bank while the rest following their lead, make nothing. Wrong? Perhaps, realistic, definitely.

  • Chris Bolton

    This is a great success story. True it would be next to impossible to do in some markets, but Josh is a smart businessman and knows where to concentrate his efforts. No use in selling oranges to people who all have an orange tree in their backyard, right?

  • http://www.marcgunn.com Marc Gunn

    Very inspiring podcast. Josh is pretty damned smart. It’s so easy to get lost in the excitement of touring, but focus, focus, focus on your target markets and you’ll go a ton further in your musical career. Great job!

  • http://www.scottandrew.com scottandrew

    > 500 people paying 10 to 15 dollars to see a folk/americana act?

    You’ve never been to a concert held in a megachurch? :)

    Don’t underestimate the power of fitting an existing worldview. Look at Josh’s MySpace page, you’ll see his tour is dominated by churches. I’m not saying it’s wrong, I’m saying that for Josh it’s an easy, natural fit.

    It’s interesting to hear that Josh doesn’t spend a ton of time on social networks. That can be a huge distraction, and he’s figured out that face-to-face is where it’s at.

  • http://www.robertleeking.com Robert Lee King

    scottandrew,

    No, I’ve never been to a secular concert within the walls of a church. To do so, in my opinion is to forget what the church represents and it’s purpose for being.

  • http://www.panchoballard.com Darren Riley

    I haven’t listened to this podcast yet, I’ve been off work and only listen when I’m sitting at my desk. I will do last week.

    However, I’ve already checked out Josh’s site and the church connection hit me straight away. This has come up before on a previous podcast’s comments section (I think it was the one with David Nevue). As Scott said, it’s not wrong but it does make things slightly easier for the artist.

    The church community is very strong (particularly in the US) and everyone supports each other. I see nothing wrong with this and wish it was the same in the secular community but it does go a long way towards explaining Josh’s (and David’s) success, aside from their musical talent.

    I suppose I should listen before I comment any more but they were my initial thoughts.

  • http://jerryfeemusic.com Jerry Fee

    Thanks guys!! Really enjoyed this, and will be contacting him since I live in and play around Boise!

  • http://www.octoberrising.com JP

    Great podcast. I agree that Josh’s approach might not work for everyone, but then that’s the point of being independent isn’t it?

    Just be the best ‘you’ that you can musically and work out what works for you in terms of being a ‘business’ from there. You don’t have to fit into any particular approach, just listen to what others are doing to make money & take the bits you like and come up with ideas of your own as well.

    I also think Josh has it spot-on with regards to social networks. Surely most people are bored with the endless ‘me, me, me’ approach of alot of people (artists included) on the internet and would appreciate some proper interaction from someone who’s bothered to take the time.

  • http://www.andrewgoldring.com Steve Goldring

    Josh Rosenthal is EXTREMELY focused on his goals and taking the intermediate steps to get from where he is now to where he ultimately wants to be. Listening to the interview, I was reminded of a recent blog by CyberPR guru Ariel Hiatt (who has also been a guest on the podcast). Here’s the link:

    http://bit.ly/QzncT

    In the blog (which is pretty long) Ariel mentions Billboard Magazine’s “Maximum Exposure List” – things artists can, conceivably, do to maximize their exposure and get noticed. These would include
    1. Synch placement in a TV ad for Apple
    2. Performance on “The Oprah Winfrey Show”
    12. Cover story in “Rolling Stone” magazine
    42. Performance on CBS’ “The Late Show” with David Letterman

    The point of Ariel’s blog is: Duh! Who wouldn’t want these types of opportunities? But are those realistic exposure opportunities that every indie artist can strive to reach? Probably NOT. These are more like winning the lottery. The likelihood that any one indie artist will get one of these opportunities is maybe a million to one.

    Ariel and her guest bloggers go on to make another list of much more attainable opportunities they call the “Indie Maximum Exposure List” which is divided into 7 sections and 100 opportunities of things an indie artist can realistically be or do that will help them get where they want to go. I won’t repeat all the information here, but in looking over the list, I see a number of things that Josh is already doing that are helping him to have the level of success he is currently having. Instead of buying musical “lottery tickets” and hoping to win the Powerball of getting featured on iTunes or landing an opening slot at Coachella, Josh is focusing on attainable goals.

    Here are a few examples of what Josh is already doing:
    Category 1: Mindset/Who You Are
    1. Pick a niche and dominate it
    7. Have professionalism
    9. Set goals and have a plan
    14. Treat fellow artists as colleagues rather than competition
    16. Have humility

    Category 2: Fostering relationships
    18. Get personal
    21. Consistently give out new material

    Category 3: Recording & releasing Material
    35. Create solidly crafted, well-produced, mastered broadcast-quality songs
    37. Think about fan financed recordings

    Category 4: Performance
    39. Play shows locally and frequently first
    40. Get fan generated bookings

    He’s doing almost everything on the list (at least all the things that apply to him) and that’s exactly why he’s been so successful. Josh’s specific plan is the plan that works for his music in his market but each indie artist has to decide what his or her music and market and personality call for. The plan you follow should incorporate some of those elements, but it would certainly be foolish to carbon copy anyone else’s plan as a formula for their own success.

    Best of luck to all of you. It’s great to be in a community – albeit a virtual one -and to be able to learn from each other’s failures AND successes.

  • http://www.benmartin.at Ben Martin

    Hey guys,

    what an inspiring podcast! Over the past few months I tried to think of how I could continue my solo work and find my own unique niche. As I went along I listened to a lot of your podcast episodes which really helped me a lot to get a better picture of what and who I wanted to be on stage, especially this one! Thanks a lot and keep up the great work!

    All the best,
    Ben

  • http://www.jtspangler.com JT Spangler

    Robert,

    Not that I don’t agree that LA is a difficult market, but it’s not so grim as you make it sound. I’ve lived here less than two years, and, while I’ve had my share of poorly attended shows, I’ve also learned that it’s possible and very do-able to play shows where 50 people show just to see me (a solo artist)! They all pay ten bucks, and I usually get about 7 of that. Merch sales are way worse — people in LA don’t buy CDs, but every other month I can pay my rent from playing a show. That’s pretty damned nice.

    LA is probably my 2nd or 3rd strongest market, apart from where I grew up and a few other cities where I do really well.

    I don’t necessarily disagree with your larger point, but I wanted to give a counter-example for the LA market.

  • http://www.elonzo.com Jeremy Davis

    I agree, it is incredibly hard to make money as an independant band/artist. I do think it is much easier to gain a profit from the support of a community like a church community. If your music is the right sound/genre and says some things that are vaguely spritual, it can work on many levels. It gives the parents of the kids at the church an event to drop there kids off at that can be trusted and by nature also, christians in particular are expected to support the church and things that go on in the church. Its a no brainer, but I do think its kind of a cheap/sellout/shorcut way to make it. Unless your music IS christian music, why go and play in a place like that. Christianese makes me sick.

  • http://Www.myspace.com/bobsima Bob sima

    Josh is hitting a new model…it’s called Playing in non traditional venues where it is not about selling food
    or beer, it’s about the music and the message and the connection…it’s a whole new world and people are starving for hope and love and peace and that is why they are buzzing after hearing his great
    music! Kudos Josh, thanks for the inSpiration! Peace, bob sima

  • http://www.marlonoreilly.com Marlon O’Reilly

    Robert Lee: you are smoking crack if you are justifying NOT playing at a church because of what a Church stands for. Hello? The Church is making money and that’s what the Church or Church Hall is for. Josh is directly supporting the Church while in turn making a living. Feeding himself and providing shelter. I would say God would like to help anyway he can right? Josh isn’t raping Churches, he’s feeding them. That my friend is what you call WIN/WIN.

    And if you actually listened to his lyrics you’d know that he has a sense of religion whatever that may be to him.

    M.

  • Randy Handley

    Josh, Dude,you’re land locked.If you’re a straight solo, thats not such a problem. But if you want to work a band, take it from me, you need to consider at least one secondary site to tour from, in a target rich environment.
    I learned this the hard way , spending ten years getting my band , The Randy Handley Band, positioned as the most popular blues rock outfit in Denver.There was no question about it.We won all the polls and we packed all the clubs. But, guess what? You’re five hundred miles from the next large population center, where you’re local juice is only marginally useful any where else.Granted this was pre internet, at least in the all pervasive sense we see now.
    But still, there’s gas, lodging, band pay, merch and product and you’re not a success until you can pay your overhead and your taxes out of the same years money.
    So thats why you see so many non-country actscome out of Nashville.There are thousands of venues less than a days drive.

  • http://www.robertleeking.com Robert Lee King

    Marion,

    Because I see using a religious institution for profit as wrong I must be smoking crack? Really?

    Stop and think for a second. It’s a church. It’s role is to promote the faith it purports to ascribe to. That is the one and only reason churches are afforded non-profit status.

  • http://www.nancykellymusic.com Nancy Kelly

    Jeremy Davis said
    “christians in particular are expected to support the church and things that go on in the church. Its a no brainer, but I do think its kind of a cheap/sellout/shorcut way to make it. Unless your music IS christian music, why go and play in a place like that. Christianese makes me sick.”

    Ha! I share your distain for the Christianese thing! You and I know that those who speak it are, more often than not, locked into a the Christian subsculture and live by all it’s limitations. A person can partake of the Christian faith, yet communicate creatively and intelligently without defaulting to a lame and goofy lingo.

    I also think there’s a limitation to what the Christian subculture seems to accept when it comes to music. You definitely have to fit into a certain mold in how you sound and what you say or don’t say – although I’m sure there are exceptions to that. I’m a Christian and have been making music for my entire adult life and for some reason the community barely notices or responds to my music. I guess I’m just not blatently rattling off my love for Jesus in every song and that’s what they want. But dang, there’s so much MORE to write about than my faith! It seems rather self absorbed to go on and on about my feelings for Jesus. An occasional worship song is ok but give me a break! Life is more than MY spirituality and if I only sing about that, I limited myself to reaching only the niche of those who only want that.

    That’s not to say there aren’t individuals within the xtian community who buy and follow my music, but the ones who do are like me: they keep their feelings of faith closer to the vest unless inspired to share something on a more public level and that’s only if it’s appropriate. It’s been an interesting path, finding out that I fit better outside the confinements of the Christian subculture than in it. But who knows, if I had been embraced like Josh obviously is, then my story would probably be different.

    Which brings me to what Steve Goldring so wisely said: “Josh’s specific plan is the plan that works for his music in his market but each indie artist has to decide what his or her music and market and personality call for. The plan you follow should incorporate some of those elements, but it would certainly be foolish to carbon copy anyone else’s plan as a formula for their own success.”

  • Bono

    Robert,

    You said “Granted my music is not mainstream and not particularly good either.”

    If you, yourself, do not find your own music good, then how do you expect other people, who would develop into paying fans, to like your music and come to your shows? You either have to change your music or just keep plowing away (like the rest of us) until you get something you truly love. (It only takes one great song to gain many fans for life.) Sure we all write and record something that we look back on and say “man that really sucks, how could I have written that junk?” …but we also say..man I still love the groove in this 10 year old tune and think the song is really cool. That immediately will translate into other people also loving it…and those people become your potential bread and butter. When you become excited and happy with your own music…it will automatically become infectious to people around you and in turn, draw others.

    I am a mate who loves everything from Jazz to Heavy Metal to Power Pop to R&B to Hip Hop to alternative etc. As far as certain music not being in a church…I kind of agree with you there because of the whole point of what a church is really supposed to be about, HOWEVER, I was recently at an orchestra performance of Mozart in a church once. The performance was actually interupted by a very religious and quite vocal, seemingly homeless, type of guy who did not agree with music like this in a house of God. Well, there is no other place in the world that I would rather hear Mozart or Beethoven…but in a church, and this is not exactly church music. Some of it can actually be considered Heavy Metal, even though guitars and drums are not used…the musical patterns are often similar. In addition, the very notes of these masters can also be considered “the voice of God” himself….ie if “God” were to speak, this is the beauty we might hear. So in certain instances, I don’t mind music performed in a church. Another example is a black gospel church. Go into a black church on a Sunday. They would not mind that you may be the only white dude there and would welcome you with open arms. You will change your mind REAL quick about great music being played in churches…sure it’s religious music…but if you changed the words a bit, it would be just another great jammin R&B song.

    Keep writing and recording dude- if you build it, they will come. Just build a few things you love and are excited about. The excitement will be infectious.

  • http://drumfishmusic.com James

    Have you guys taken the time to listen to his music. I just check him out in itunes and his stuff is great. maybe that is why he is able to get 500 people to go to a church and pay 10-15 to see him. Hell the onlu thing that gets me into a church these days is a wedding or a funeral.

  • http://www.robertleeking.com Robert Lee King

    Bono,

    In truth, many do like my music but, I am old school. I see nothing I create as good or even great and leave the final judgment up to those who might experience it. Put another way, I am not so full of myself as to expect others to see what I create as something of value. I put it out there and leave it to them to determine it’s value or lack there-of.

    I do the best I can, with what I have or can pull together and rely on the market to decide. I could play every weekend if I truly wanted to, I did in the past. But, I’ve moved past the “have to be on-stage” every week or weekend metallity. As I see it, if it sells, it has worth. If it doesn’t, it hasn’t.

  • http://www.mattstevensguitar.com Matt Stevens

    “As I see it, if it sells, it has worth. If it doesn’t, it hasn’t.” Not sure i agree with that! Many great albums sold F’all!