At the beginning of this year, I set myself the challenge of reading 12 books in 12 months. It may not sound like much to you, but I’m not much of a reader. We’re currently in the 9th month of the year and I’ve just finished my 3rd book, the challenge is slipping away from me.
However, the latest book that I’ve read is incredible. A year or so ago, my friend Ryan recommended a book to me called ‘The Art Of Asking’ by Amanda Palmer. I bought it almost instantly but it had been sitting on my book shelf (/microphone shelf/whiskey shelf/random instrument shelf) ever since. On my trip to Edinburgh last week, I thought I’d take it to pass the time. I was instantly drawn into it. Palmer writes about how she found it difficult to ask people for help/money/advice and in one case, a tampon. Then over the course of the book, you realise how important asking and trusting people actually is. If you don’t know much, if anything, about Amanda Palmer, she was the first musician to raise over 1 million dollars on a Kickstarter Campaign or any other Crowdfunding site for that matter. I can’t recommend the book enough, not just to musicians, it’s a great book for restoring faith in humanity (and we need that right now).
Reading this book got me thinking about a few things as well which I’m going to write about now. Let’s start with my relationship with the people who follow my music (I hate the word ‘Fans’). I’ve been fortunate to be raised in this music world by peers who actively spend time with their followers. There is no barrier between the musician and the audience (however in some cases there is an actual physical barrier). First and foremost is Dave Giles. When I first met Dave, he had a very strong online presence with a lot of followers and he still does. He was around my house in Leeds once and he was tweeting people and I was asking who these people were, and he knew every single thing about that person…their cats name, what their favourite subject was at school, even their parents names. It doesn’t sound like a lot, but when it’s around 4000 people, it’s impressive. He had done this by spending time with his followers. REAL time, not just a photo and a high 5. I really liked this way of approaching things and adapted that when I started touring. I’m glad I did, it’s makes the whole touring process a lot less lonely when the people who turn up to your gigs are your friends. This is also why I'm kind of against 'VIP Meet and Greets' at shows. If I've got time, I'll speak to every person who came to the show and thank them for turning up.
Dave and I, Leeds Cockpit 2011. On Dave's 'Touring For Tea' tour. My first proper venture into the touring world.
When I really started to appreciate my relationship with my followers (is ‘followers’ less arrogant than ‘fans’…I can’t make my mind up, give me a word), was when I would ask for things. Not in the sense of ‘BRING ME A 40 INCH PLASMA TELE’, just little things. I successfully won a competition in 2012 to support James Bourne (of Busted/McBusted) of his solo UK Tour. This was through a voting system. I hate voting systems with an absolute passion but the people around me made me believe that I could actually win it, and I did. People would share the voting page with their friends and make marketing campaigns for me, it was incredible. The same happened in 2015 when I won another voting system competition to support People on Vacation. The reason I don’t like voting system competitions is because I like to earn something on merit. But with the way the industry is at the moment, it’s almost impossible to get noticed so you have to partake in them. I’m glad I did because I met some pretty awesome people through it. If you helped in either of those competitions, thank you so much, you won’t believe how much good it has done for me.
James Bourne, Myself and Portia Conn on Jame's Solo tour in Glasgow 2012
Sometimes I ask my followers for things that don’t benefit me and they’ll still help me out. My friend Carla was having a bad day once, so me and my friend Natalee decided to christen the day ‘Happy Sass Day’. We knew this would cheer Carla up. Natalee and I went round to Carla’s with balloons and alcohol which was a good start. I also sent out a Facebook status asking people to tweet Carla saying Happy Sass Day. She received over 200 tweets, and we still talk about that day now. That was pretty awesome.
Asking people I’ve met and connected with for favours is a lot easier than asking strangers for money. Weird way to start a paragraph right? I’ve recently taken on a residency in a place called ‘Proud’ in Camden. It’s a lovely venue with a lovely terrace bar where you’ll find me 6-8 hours a week. The majority of our pay is dependant upon the kindness of the audience. It’s like a busking set up, but with a bar and a PA. I remember when I first did the gig, I played for 2 hours desperately trying to impress. I left a tip jar out with a couple of coins in. I don’t know what I was expecting, maybe people would think
‘SHIT, THIS GUY IS GOOD!!!’ and put a £50 note in my jar.
They didn’t, those couple of coins were left in there alone. I emailed the promoter and told him that it wasn’t worth losing my voice over for the money that you get paid from the bar. His reply was somewhere along the lines of
‘The other performers go around with their hat asking for change’.
To which I replied ‘Isn’t that a bit like begging?’
….it turns out it’s not and I realise that now.
I persisted with the gig anyway because I like getting outdoors and playing music. I was still stuck in the mind set of ‘I’m not a beggar, but I am broke’. Slowly but surely I started getting more tips without going around asking. After my set one day, I got chatting to the guy who was on after me (I believe it was a guy called Luke) and he said:
‘I was like that, but I needed to pay my rent so I just did it. You’ve provided them with entertainment, some want to show gratitude’.
I am probably paraphrasing there but the sentiment is there. So I started going around with my tip jar but saying ‘I’m trying to raise money to record an album’ and people would tip. I ended up making almost as much 3 times as what I was making. Not only that, I was meeting new people. Asking them for donations gave me a reason to talk to them. I’ve been drinking with people from all over the world because I’ve asked them for ‘donations towards the live music’. Some people buy me drinks, I’ve been left a few cigarettes in my jar before now, and even a packet of fruit pastilles. The way I see it is that I’ve sang them a few songs, whatever they put in my jar is a thank you for those songs. It’s not begging, it’s a two way street. Some people don’t tip, and I’m fine with that. They bought a drink at the bar, and supported a bar that hosts me. That’s how I discovered the difference between ‘begging’ and ‘asking’. Check out the bottom of my ‘Shows’ page to see when I’m playing at Proud.
An Instagram post of me playing at Proud
Lastly, I’d like to mention my album. At the beginning of the year, I decided it was time to finally record an album. A few of my friends have recorded albums before and I knew how much they cost. There was no way I could afford it with my wage alone. An obvious choice was to use a site like Pledgemusic or Kickstarter. On these sites, you can ask people to donate money towards your album in return for merchandise/music/hugs etc. As much as I love the idea of this, I have a few problems and insecurities with it. I never quite know what to offer. Musicians offer Handwritten lyric sheets, but my handwriting is awful so I wouldn’t feel comfortable doing it. Some people offer guitar lessons, I’m not that comfortable with that as my guitar skills aren’t up to much. What I’ve decided to do instead is sell new Merchandise with all profits going towards the album. The response to this has been overwhelming. If you're reading this, and you can think of something you'd want that would help me fund my album, leave a comment.
A few months ago, I decided to make a CD called ‘Seasides and Necessities’. I had over 100 recordings which I’d never realised properly but thought they were good enough for human consumption. All CD’s would have a different track listing, all handwritten track listings and all CD’s were hand made. I planned to make 100, and thought I was going to sell 30 or 40 to begin with which gave me time to make them as I go along. Within 4 hours, all 100 had sold and I had raised nearly £400 for my album fund. This was when I started to believe that people wanted to help me. I’m not sure whether people bought them for the music or just to help me. Either way, it was incredible.
'Seasides And Necessities' post by Ellie Inman
A month or so after that, I decided to make USB’s with my complete discography on. I came across a design which was perfect but wasn’t confident that they’d sell. The design was that perfect, I simply HAD TO get them. I ordered 100, a few weeks later they were pretty much sold out and I was up to around £1600 in the album fund. People’s kindness and generosity never ceases to amaze me. I now realise that the people who are following my musical career are incredible, more incredible than I first thought. I’ve worked so hard over the past few years and I don’t think I would have if people weren’t believing in me. I don’t know if I’ve worded this properly, but I’m massively grateful for the people who support me. This is on any level from, people tweeting about my music, listening to my music, buying my merchandise, voting for me in a competition, coming to a show, hosting a house show, the list goes on. If you ask people for something, the worse they can do is say no. The other outcome is always surprising to me.
‘You make your own path and you make you own luck
Then you keep your head down and you never give up
Keep all your friends and your family close
They’ll have your back when you need it most
You’ve got to keep faith in the path you chose’
Lyrics from a new song called ‘Don’t Expect To Be Surprised’