Déjà vu. A glitch in the Matrix. I was in a conference room again with my manager and my manager’s manager. The mood was tense, my job was on the table. It had been 4 years since I’d escaped Corporate America, and here I was again, sitting in an uncomfortable office chair in a tiny room, trying to come up with the right words to explain the choices I’d made. On the surface, this was a repeat of the same situation I’d found myself in at my first job, but this time, everything was different…
The band had slowed down considerably after three years in Seattle. I felt as if I was working extremely hard, but getting nowhere. Depression started to set in and everyone seemed to be just going through the motions. The incredible amount of spending I’d put into the band had provided a small boost in fans, but our first album sales had plateaued and we weren’t gaining new fans. I felt stalled. I was physically, spiritually, and emotionally drained. I decided that it was time for my music to take a back seat. I wanted to reconnect with my faith and so I began helping out the production team at my local church.
Any Given Sunday
It was a typical Sunday morning when I learned that I would be mixing stage sound for Matt Carter, a founding member of the hardcore band Emery. I had met Matt before this point, but working with him that Sunday I was able to have some one-on-one conversations with him and get to know him better. He told me bits and pieces of his own story of moving to Seattle to pursue his dream of music. He let me pick his brain about recording tips and ways to succeed in the industry. It was during these conversations that I learned his band was planning a short tour for the Spring. My own band and Matt’s band could not have been further apart in the realm of success in the music industry. My band had played a handful of local shows, had never been signed to a label, and besides receiving a few posts on relevant music sites, we hadn’t made any waves in the industry. On the other hand, Emery had been touring and releasing records through a well-known music label since 2002. Even in 2012, Emery was still adding to a huge and loyal fan base. Getting a chance to meet Matt and talk with him about this stuff was unbelievable.
Writing One Email Changed My Life
After hanging out with Matt I went home that night and wrote this email. The email I’ve pasted below is not the exact email I sent, but it will give you an idea of what I included.
DISCLAIMER: Please Don’t Email Matt
Seriously, don’t. That’s not why I wrote this story. I had a personal relationship with Matt before I ever contacted him. Having an existing relationship with someone is a really important step if you’re going to try this sort of thing. Even if you manage to find his email address, it probably won’t help you. Matt gets emails like mine ALL THE TIME. The thing about the music industry is, there’s no one way to be successful, and each band or musician’s journey is unique. So by all means emulate my methods, but don’t copy them in every detail. My email reached Matt at the right time, and said the right things.
So here’s what I said…
Dan here. I wanted to reach out to you regarding Emery’s next tour. My band Peace Mercutio is looking to help out on tour with a bigger band this Spring/Summer in exchange for a short set each night and we would love to join you and Emery on tour.
What we would offer for a 15-20 min set at a time slot of your choosing would include the following:
1. We will be your Road Crew – Loading in and setting up all gear for Emery at each stop, sound-checking, tech duties and safely storing and loading out all gear for Emery at the end of the night. All of us have been working with gear for years and our bass player is the operations manager at GC (Guitar Center) and can provide additional knowledge and services if required.
2. Merch Sales – Dedicated merch assistance with at least one Peace Mercutio member selling your merch for you at all times.
3. Promotion – We have some solid contacts online and would provide news posts and media blitz for the tour including features on *********.com, ************.net and several others to promote the tour.
4. On the ground – Fliering and street team promotions the day of at each stop when appropriate and as long as it does not interfere with gear duties
5. Social Media – Facebook advertising up to $10 per day promoting each tour stop and the tour as a whole, including promotion through or social media outlets like Facebook posts and tweets
6. Videography – filmed updates from the road if you guys approve we’d be happy to produce and edit these for your review to help promote the tour as we go.
You can check out our latest release of our new single and music video on Purevolume.com here: http://www.purevolume.com/news/peace-mercutio-thats-how-good-charlotte-got-famous-video
No worries if you are planning on something else or it doesn’t work out, I just wanted to let you know in case you would be interested.
Wait for it…
So we waited for a couple days without hearing anything back. I was beginning to get nervous, but then, two days later I received a phone call. It was Matt Carter. He said he’d read my email. He made it very clear that sending my email was a total long shot, but it would probably work out to have us out on tour with Emery. He went on to say the email had addressed everything they needed to complete the tour and it didn’t make sense to say “No”.
Finally after all my failing, we had a huge opportunity for success.
We Found The Pain
Why did my email work? To quote software entrepreneur Dane Maxwell, we found the pain. We identified some of the biggest pain points of touring and provided a list of the ways we would solve these problems if Matt was nice enough to let us join Emery on the road. We were asking a lot, but also providing a lot of value in return.
Touring is 95% pain. No, not the 5% of the time when you get to play in front of hundreds of screaming fans, it’s everything else. Here’s a typical schedule we experienced on the road:
3:00pm-5:00pm – Arrive at venue, find parking (this takes hours in New York), prepare gear for load-in, meet with promoter and venue owner
5:00pm-7:00pm – Unpack trailer, load in equipment, set up merch display, sound check equipment, change guitar strings, set up green room, organize meet and greet fans, take pictures, sell merchandise at booth
7:00pm-7:30pm – Perform 20 minute set, assist with changeover for next band, pack up instruments, sell merchandise at booth
7:30pm-10:30pm – Film video, manage band changeover, facilitate sound and equipment requests, crowd control, sell merchandise
11:00pm-1:00am – Sell merchandise, take pictures for fans, pack up equipment, load equipment back into trailer, pack up merch, settle up with promoter, eat (maybe), plan out route to next venue, brush teeth/hygiene routine (if you’re lucky!)
1:00am – Drive for as long as possible to next venue (this can be anywhere from 6-18 hours depending on the routing)
Also, not on this list are all of the everyday tasks that most people take for granted and are much more difficult on the road like vehicle repairs, feeding yourself, finding places to pull over and sleep, and securing a place to shower or wash clothes. So as you can see, an email that provides a solution for road crew, a dedicated merch person, videography, and promotion (however small) can be very appealing, especially if your only request is to play a small opening set.
I Had To Quit My Job, Again…
To pay bills for myself and the band, I was still working in Corporate America at the time of our first tour with Emery. I was now a Web Producer working on launching products to our company’s website. You’re probably expecting me to complain about feeling “trapped” or “unfulfilled” at this point, but this time around, my experience was completely different. Instead of failing constantly I was actually succeeding using the lessons I had learned the hard way in my first job. One thing that made a huge difference is that I had amazing co-workers and managers. In fact they were so amazing that it made me question everything I knew about Corporate America up until that point. My managers were super accommodating and allowed me to work from the road for the tour with Emery, I was able to keep my job and pursue my dream of music, at least until I had to request time off for the second and third tours…
Back To The Future
Which brings me back to the uncomfortable scenario at the beginning of my story. It was my second meeting with my managers that month and we all knew that I had to choose– stay on and progress in my job, or leave and take my chances on the road. I took a deep breath and slowly explained that after careful deliberation, I’d decided to leave my job and hit the road for the unforeseeable future. I knew that things would be difficult going forward, but I had to see where my dream of music would take me.
What Happened Next…
So what happened next? Our first tour with Emery went really well. So well in fact that they invited us out for two more as part of a 10-year anniversary tour for their first album. We all grew close and made amazing memories, becoming friends with some musicians that we had looked up to our whole lives. Sure, there were blow-out fights within our band every tour, but that’s actually normal for a lot bands (believe it or not). We had our fair share of misadventures driving around the country playing shows, but the overall experience gave me wonderful memories I will never forget. Things picked up for my band following our tour with Emery. We won a spot to play on the 2013 Van’s Warped Tour, joined Project86 for a NorthWest mini-tour, and even had a song on the premiere episode of MTV’s The Challenge: Rivals II.
And They All Lived Happily Ever After
Well, not quite. You see, the band had an amazing time touring with Emery, but our sound was not updated enough to make it as a “real” band. Sure if we had been on the scene in 2007 we might have had a shot, but in 2013 our sound was dated and not what listeners were looking for. We had multiple rejections from labels we contacted (the ones that replied) and we couldn’t gain enough traction to be financially successful on our own. We would eventually play our last show Dec 5, 2014 to a small Seattle crowd full of friends and colleagues that had supported us over the years. In the end, pursuing my dream of music took me on many amazing tours and I played in venues all over the country. I met some of my best friends in the industry Kevin and Anthony from This Wild Life and I even had the chance to tag along as their tour manager for the 2014 Van’s Warped Tour. I really can’t complain. Even though we didn’t make it, the lessons I learned from my failure have proved invaluable as I’ve begun pursuing new entrepreneurial projects. I know what it feels like to go all out for a big dream and fail, hard. Failing is not always a great experience, but it’s always an educational one.
So What’s Next?
I’ll be posting more about what’s next in the coming weeks. In short, it’s time to focus on some new dreams. I met the love of my life, Katie, and I’m getting married to her this December. She’s changed my life in so many ways for the better and I’m so excited to spend the rest of my life with her. I had my shot at music, I enjoyed what I accomplished, but as with anything in life there’s a time and a season, and the season of “making it” in music has ended for me. The same entrepreneurial spirit that drove me to succeed with the band has now led me to pursue building a business online. This blog is part of that. I want to share what I’ve learned by navigating the pit falls of being an independent musician. It’s so difficult to start any creative endeavor, especially a band or music project. There’s things I wish I knew starting out, and that’s what I’m going to write about. Thanks so much for reading this ridiculously long story about some of my (mis)adventures. I hope you stick around to see what’s next.
Emery – Matt and Toby from Emery have started their own amazing entrepreneurial venture, Bad Christian, which is their platform for a music label, podcast, blog, and publishing company that explores Christianity, music, and culture from an alternative viewpoint. If you want an example of musicians who are killing it as online entrepreneurs, these guys went from 0 to 65,000+ email subscribers in less than 2 years.
This Wild Life – Kevin and Anthony are the hardest working musicians I know. In fact, there’s only two of them in the band, and they do everything. After our tours with Emery together, they signed to Epitaph records and have since been on the 2014 and 2015 Van’s Warped Tours, as well as arena tours with some huge bands. They continue to release amazing albums and they’ve taught me almost everything I know about Twitter and how to build an audience around a band. Check out one of my favorite This Wild Life songs Stay Up Late.
Peace Mercutio – We all still live in Seattle. Andy has started his own solo-acoustic project On The Shoulders Of Giants. Taylor is happily married, and Dave, Taylor, and Andy will be joining me as groomsmen in my own wedding this December.
Are you a musician? Please check out my musician’s mastermind group.