Posted tagged ‘pittsburgh’

An Interview with Yours Truly

October 6, 2010

Yours Truly (L-R Eric Downs, Justin Portis, DJ Huggy)

Grassrootsy has gotten into the habit of interviewing singer/songwriters. Sorry guys! We forgot that there are bands out there reading this blog!  So I’m excited to share Yours Truly with everyone. They’re a fairly young power-pop-rock band based out of Pittsburgh, PA and they sound great!  I’ve got ears to prove it!

I ran into YT’s drummer, Eric Downs, at a show earlier this year and have since engaged in several great promotion-related conversations. I love a good idea!  After his comment on last week’s “Should I Avoid Shows that Require me to sell Advance Tickets?“, I asked Eric if he’d like to answer a few questions.  Read the below carefully because its good!

1. YT is fairly young. What’s the story on how you came together? Yours Truly actually formed as the result of a mutual contact, a contact you and some Pittsburgh readers may know, Gene Stovall.  Gene’s been playing around the city for a long time, and at the time that we met (my junior year at Pitt), he was trying to put together a band to play re-made covers.  This is where I met Huggy, who had been playing with Gene for some time.  We gigged in, and occasionally out of Pittsburgh, for a while.  One night, Gene got us a gig in Erie, PA, and Justin, YT’s leader singer and guitar player, happened to be in town from NYC.  Gene asked Justin to join the gig, and Justin and I carpooled up to Erie together.  During the two hour ride, he and I discussed everything we thought about music: our likes, our dislikes, our hopes, and our nightmares.  By the time we arrived and set foot at the venue, Yours Truly had been formed, with the unknowing DJ Huggy enlisted on bass.

2. You’re the drummer huh? Grassrootsy often talks about how important it is for bands to split up the roles of their bandmates. What are each of your “roles” or do you find that you carry the responsibility to keep things runing? I think the roles in our band are funny.  Justin and Huggy have much more experience in the music business than I do, and their specialties are songwriting and production/engineering respectively.  That basically leaves me with everything else, haha, and it’s funny because these are things I’ve never even considered undertaking before.  Things like managing, booking, finance, graphic design, merchandise, marketing, social networking, and more.  With the exception of personally using Facebook, I had absolutely NO experience doing ANY of these things upon entering the band.  However, what I think drove me to jump in and learn how to do these things was hunger.  I truly believed (and and even moreso strongly believe today) in our product, and so I was willing to put in the time to research what it means to be a band manager, how to professionally book a venue, how to use software like Adobe Photoshop and Illustrator to create merchandise, how to copyright music, how to create and manage an e-mail list, how to develop a working expense system, and the list goes on.  And it’s not like I didn’t fail at most – no – all of these things, but it’s like the Wright Brothers trying to fly a plane – all the failures are what make the success so sweet, but it’s the hunger to succeed that fuels you through the failures.

3. You’ve dropped a few of your novel ideas to me via email and in Grassrootsy comments (they’re always great). What has been your most original idea to date (if you want to share it)? Why has/did it work?  Haha, I will say that I have had a few tasty morsels cook up in my head over time – many I’m quite proud of.  If anyone is interested in these, I’d be happy to chat about it, but the most original idea I’ve had has got to be “What’s Mine Is Yours.”  This is going to be a long answer (so if you don’t want to hear some blowhard ramble on for a few minutes, skip this section):

“What’s Mine Is Yours” was an idea for an event I had had that was centered around one thing and one thing only:  everyone else.  This idea spawned shortly after reading a short e-book written by Derek Sivers; something about “survival guide” in the title or something (you’d think I’d remember the name if it had this much of an impact on me, haha!).  Anyhow, in the e-book, Sivers outlines many useful points, but the one that stood out to me the most is that “to be a successful musician, everyone else comes first,” or something to that effect.  What this means is that, by whatever means necessary, the interests of the fans, the promoter, the venue, the other bands, the door man, the sound man, the merch producer, ANYONE with whom you do business must come first.  Think about it.  Who buys the CDs and t-shirts that pay your bills?  Your fans.  Who makes you sound good (or bad, ha)?  The sound man.  Who pays you a (fair) settlement at the end of the night and considers inviting you back?  The promoter/venue.  And this goes on.  My perception of so many bands out there is that, “I think my music is good, so if I hold a show, I’m sure people will come and they’ll love the music because it’s so good so they’ll buy all my stuff and since I sound so good, the venue will have me back,” and I’m thinking, are you serious??  The sad reality of the music scene in it’s entirety is that it’s hard to find people who care.  Why should people get off of their warm couches to come stand around in a smokey bar for 3 hours, leaving at the end of the night with a stench and a thinner wallet?  The venue probably sees 10-15 bands a week – why should they care about yours?  Again, the questions go on.  What I began to do is try to start answering these questions.

If I were the target of this promotion, what would get my lazy butt off my couch to come out to a show?  Again, more often than not, the music is not enough.  What else can I do?  Well, I figured that people generally like free stuff, so I started to brainstorm on what kind of free stuff I could give away.  I started digging around my house and realized I had an old PS2, a TV, and a season of Family Guy I didn’t use anymore, so I gathered them up, continued looking, and instructed the band members from my band and the others on the bill to begin assembling stuff of the like.  Originally, I had wanted to find a business or two to sponsor the event and buy giveaways prizes in return for advertisement, but I couldn’t find one, so I drafted a business proposition and delivered that along with our band’s business card and a flyer to the show to EACH and EVERY business on the South Side (where the event was taking place) bar none.  I let the businesses know that by donating coupons for their goods, they’d be gaining advertisement to a demographic who would be letting out of a show around 10 PM and would be hungry after standing around for a few hours.  Of course, any employees of these business that wanted to attend got free tickets, too.  I got three businesses (Carson St. Deli, Primati Brothers, and Blue Grotto) to donate gift certificates.

When people started to file into the show, they received a small piece of paper, informing them that our goal for the night was to have nearly every person in the audience leave with something in their hand that we gave them for free.  It informed them that there would be four awesome bands playing that night, and that each band would have an e-mail list set up at their merch table.  Each time you sign up on a band’s e-mail list, you get a raffle ticket, so, 4 bands = a total of 4 possible raffle tickets.  We would draw for the raffle at the end of the night (as to prevent “show-up-for-my-friend’s-band-and-then-leave syndrome”).

All of this translates into a winning situation for literally all parties involved.  The audience gets to see an awesome show, but then on top of that, most of them receive a free item (most of the time of notable value) ranging from a TV to a t-shirt to a pre-lit christmas tree to gift certificates to local South Side businesses, etc.  When they take that prize home, even if it just sits on a shelf, every time they see it, they’ll have a visual reminder saying, “oh yeah, I got that Sega Genesis + 6 games from that awesome show I went to!”.  The venue gets a packed house (we aimed for 150, we got 147 in the Smiling Moose!), so both the venue and the bands get a nice chunk of change and the venue is more likely to host the event again.  The bands get a huge influx into their e-mail lists (so valuable), and they get to get rid of a bunch of stuff they don’t want anymore. Plus they have a big audience to which they can sell merch!

Ok, whew!  What a freakin’ mouthful!  Anyhow, again, this all stemmed from thinking of everyone else first.

4. As a young band, what is a hard lesson you’ve had to learn? Pick your gigs well.  If you don’t do your homework (what day?  what time?  in what order will you be playing?  what other major shows are taking place that night that will take attendees from you?  what’s the settlement?  mainly, WHY WILL THIS SHOW BE WORTH IT?), you’ll screw yourself and waste your time.  Sure, when you’re starting out, take what you can get, but as you grow, only play in your primary/home market once every 2-3 months, and make them huge shows…no…huge EVENTS (use a theme or something to make the night something BIGGER than just 4 bands playing) that you can plan for and work on ahead of time, using smaller, out-of-town shows to promote.  Finally, most people don’t care about going to see new local music.  Give them more of a reason to come.  “What’s in it for ME if I come to your show?”

5. Here’s the question Grassrootsy asks all of its interviewees: What do you think is the single most important thing an artist should do to promote themselves better? Haha, again, think about it from everyone else’s perspective.  Why should someone come to your show rather than eating microwaved pierogies in their underwear while watching House reruns?  Why should a venue/promoter book you?  What’s in it for them?  If you were someone to whom a band/artist was beckoning for attendance, what would make you come?  What wouldn’t?

Also, make it easy for them to continue to support you.  A popular promotion Yours Truly does on all of its show is offering 50% off of any one merchandise item if an audience member bring their ticket stub from the last show.  They walk out with your merch, they came to another show (and maybe they brought a friend!), so big deal if you sell your shirt for no profit?  The 5 bucks you lost is worth it for a more devoted fan, which, again, is the most valuable thing you can have.

Yours Truly Online:


Stand-out Artists and What We Can Learn from Them #4

February 25, 2010

Leah Smith

To read the first three posts in this series, visit
Stand-out Artists and What We Can Learn from Them #3
Stand-out Artists and What We Can Learn from Them #1
Stand-out Artists and What We Can Learn from Them #2

Artist #1: Leah Smith
It’s a simple little thing, and I’m surprised more artists don’t do it.  If you’re like Leah Smith, you’re probably playing different types of venues for different types of people.  Have you ever visited an artist calendar and wanted to know more information about a specific show? Most artist post the facts – location, date, time…etc. BUT
most artists do not include  background information on a show.  If you want more people to come to your show, tell them what they should expect. Take a few seconds and post a few lines about the show. Include:

  • who you’re playing with (i.e. other bands on the bill)
  • what the event is about (benefit?, themed event?, part of a bigger event?)
  • why people don’t want to miss this show
  • a website linking to where they can find even more information.

When people know what they can expect, they’re more likely to come.
On a side note: Musicians don’t forget to continually visit other artist pages.  Check out their calendars and see where they’re playing. The posted information will help you get gigs.

Artist #2: Yours Truly
I’m not used to being handed business cards by bands.  In fact, i don’t know too many bands who actually have business cards. I was part of a show last month and struck up a conversation with Eric Downs, drummer of Pittsburgh band, Yours Truly.  He told me his band had played earlier that evening. I apologized for missing them and he responded by handing me a card and saying “No worries, you can just listen to us online.”  My response?  Wow, Good one! You’ll definitely end up on Grassrootsy.”

Read up on promoting your music through business cards and other methods: Drawing Traffic to your Website(s)

The Economy of Snow

February 11, 2010

“When life hands you Snow, make Sno-Cones.”

If you’re on the East Coast, you know much of Pennsylvania and surrounding has been hit with a pretty terrible snow storm. Pittsburgh is actually pretty barren. People are staying indoors and spending an incredible amount of time on facebook. hehe

Anyhow, I finally had a chance to dig my car out, and roam around a few neighborhoods while running errands this afternoon. Here’s what i learned from a few local businesses. And here’s how it relates to your career as a musician.

Be at the Epicenter of the Action
There’s are approximately 8 coffeeshops in my neighborhood and only 1 is packed. It’s a coffeeshop called Crazy Mocha. The place was actually standing room only when i drove by this afternoon. It took me a while to realize why.  Everyone is eager to get out of their apartments and socialize; but the roads aren’t safe to drive on.  While most coffeehouses are in the business district , Crazy Mocha is closest to apartment complexes – hence the incredible foot traffic.

Where are you? Are you doing the same thing other musicians are doing (hanging around the business district)? Or are you out with the people – your consumers?

Be Willing to Do What No One Else Will Do
The Pizza Guy is really popular! And so is the couple who own the Chinese restaurant down the street.  These folks are willing to deliver and people are willing to pay just to avoid the snow.  The 15-year-old entrepreneurs who offered to finish digging out my car are also a hot commodity in my neighborhood right now.

As a musician, think about going that extra step. What can you do that wouldn’t normally be expected of you. Stand out and you will win your audience. Some for the moment. Some indefinitely.

If You’re Closed, You Don’t Make any Money
A local news station did a story on the several businesses who, unlike the pizza delivery guy, are sorely losing out on money this week. The local manicure shop, the local boutiques, and car dealerships, for example,  are all losing out on business because no one is shopping. And then there are other businesses who haven’t even tried to open their doors.

Are you open are you closed? Do people know you’re available? Do you allow outside circumstances to get in the way of achieving your music goals? Or do you take things into your own hands, climb a hill, and start a small business by offering to shovel you neighbor’s snow. Basically, do you create opportunities out of obstacles? Check out this blog for tips on Reminding People You Still Exist

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Social Networking, Haiti, & The Musician

January 18, 2010

Phat Man Dee

If you’re following Grassrootsy on Facebook, you’ll remember a few days ago, I suggested that artists consider putting together a benefit concert in their city to help raise money for the crisis in Haiti. Well…i wanted to talk about the power of social networking as it relates to this specific idea…and even more specifically to a benefit that Pittsburgh wonder Phat Man Dee has quickly, in less than 5 days, turned into the talk of the town.

First, I want urge everyone reading this to DONATE in some shape or form to one of the many organizations helping the people of Haiti.  A list is below. If you are doing anything personally, please post a comment and let Grassrootsy readers know.

The Idea
On Wednesday, after the Earthquake in Haiti, Pittsburgh Jazz vocalist Phat Man Dee decided to put together an Event at the Shadow Lounge to raise money for the Yele Haiti Earthquake Fund.  At that time, there were roughly 3 artists on the bill and a few hundred people invited. Over the next 3 days, various local artist (myself included) caught wind of the event on Facebook, contacted various event administrators to see if they were still looking for performers, and began to spread the word.  Currently, there are 16 performers on the bill, several thousand people invited, over 200 people confirmed, and over 430 “maybe” attendees.

Why It Works
I’ve never thought too highly about the idea of jumping on the bandwagon, but I’m certain that none of the artist who are part of this event signed on for any reason other than the fact that they want to help. BUT here is why this event is a win-win situation for everyone involved…

  • When an idea is hot, it is hot. And social networking only helps to make it hotter. The continuing conversation on Facebook is creating quite a buzz and I see it pop up in conversation a few times every day.
  • In extreme crisis, people want to help. Create a way for them to do this while using your talents. You’ll be doing a good thing and you’ll also be giving your art some much-needed exposure.
  • Exposure. At an event like this, it’s exciting to think of the possibilities for fan sharing. Each artist has done their part to get the word out and I believe we will all reap the benefits of working together when we leave the event each having made a boatload of new fans. We’ll also be seeing some traffic on our individual websites leading up to the event.

If you’ve got something Haiti-related going on that you’d like readers to know about, post it in the comments and let us know on the Facebook Page.

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An Interview with JD Eicher & The Goodnights

November 11, 2009
JD Eicher & The Goodnights
You can usually tell when an artist or a band takes themselves seriously…because it shows, not only in how they perform, but also in how they represent themselves.  JD Eicher & The Goodnights fit the profile.  They’re a pop/rock group with members based out of Youngstown, Ohio and and Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. I’ve had a chance to split a few shows with them in the last few months and had a good feeling this post would show up sooner than later.

Frontman JD Eicher took the time to answer a few questions about about what it takes to be an independent, the pros and cons of joining NACA,  day-to-day responsibilities, and social networking.

1.) How long have JD Eicher & The Goodnights been together?
We’re into our third year of playing together.  I started out as a solo act two years prior to our forming.

2.) Several months back, Grassrootsy  did a write-up on what it takes to start a band. What do you feel is the biggest challenge when it comes to maintaining a band? And do you guys split up responsibilities?
Probably the biggest challenge is making stuff work with everyone’s schedule.  For example, we’ve never been able to lock in a definite rehearsal time.  We pretty much go week by week.

As far as responsibilities go, being an independent band can get surprisingly overwhelming very quickly.  There are a lot of responsibilities that seem to pass under the radar until you’re actually doing this full-time.  Our full band is a five-piece, so we do try to spread out some of the work, but it’s hard to always keep everything going.  For example, I’m kind of the stand-in “manager” for the time being, and I handle most correspondence, planning, and large-scale booking.   Dan is our graphic designer and does a lot of booking as well. And Ryan manages the mailing list, which can get pretty time-consuming.  Obviously it’s more involved than that, but you get the idea

3.) Your website is extremely well done, not to mention your merch setup at shows.  Grassrootsy talks alot about Image. Do you feel that people (fans and bookers) take you more seriously because you take yourself seriously?
Definitely.  It’s unfortunate that image plays such a big role, but it does.  We certainly invested some time and money into our merch selection and set-up, and a professional-looking website is really important.  Branding is imperative for original artists, and these elements certainly play a role.

This is a good time to plug our keyboardist, Dan Prokop, who designed our website!  In addition to playing in the band, he is also a freelance designer, and he’s always looking for clients:; 412-874-6979.  This business is all about networking, right?

4.) What do you think is the single most important thing an artist should do to promote themselves better?
Tough one. Not sure that there is just one thing, so I’m gonna cheat on this answer and say that the single most important thing an artist can do for promotion is to embrace all the tools available.  Have a Myspace, Facebook, Twitter, mailing list, profile, etc.  Push your stuff to local media, hang up flyers where you’re playing, etc.  Gone are the days when a popular Myspace was all you needed.  You never know where you’re next fan is coming from, so you really can’t afford to put all your eggs in one basket.
Have multiple baskets.

5.) I know that you’ve tried NACA before. Indie artists often have reservations about joining NACA because its a huge financial investment. Give us your honest thoughts on joining NACA and attending a conference.
I do think it’s a valuable resource for artists, but it is a huge, up-front investment…and by the time you’re done, it costs way more than you originally thought it would.  That being said, there are musicians that make their entire living from NACA bookings, and that is possible – it seems like it takes a few years to really get rolling, though.  Colleges also seem to favor solo-acoustic pop artists.  Solo acts are less-expensive, and pop acts are more universal by definition.  It’s also important to be a showcasing artist in order to lock in a large number of gigs.  The artists who perform at NACA always do better because the students get to see/hear them.  It’s not impossible to book if you don’t showcase, though.

All this being said, I think NACA is a useful tool.  A lot of artists complain about the money and politics behind it all, and that may all be true, but it’s one of the few opportunities where you can get face time with hundreds of talent buyers at one time. I just finished my last conference, and it looks like I will be able to make back the money I spent and maybe net a small profit, but I won’t know for sure until I’ve locked up my pending gigs.  Keeping my fingers crossed!

6.) JD, you’re a full-time musician. Tell us what your day-to-day is like.
Incredible.  I’m usually wind-surfing, buying guitars, or hanging out with the Red Hot Chili Peppers.

Not. It’s actually incredibly mundane   I spend most of my time in front of a spreadsheet managing contacts and calling venues.  I feel like I’m more of an accountant than a musician sometimes, but it’s worth it.  I do it all because I love to write and play music.  It’s just really important to stay on top of things, so whether I’m booking like a maniac or answering interview questions for an awesome blog, I’m always investing a full workday.  My hope is that, eventually, something will give.  For those few hours on stage each week, it all makes sense.

JD Eicher & The Goodnights Online:


Incredible Resources You’ve Never Heard About #6

November 2, 2009

wedding_singer copy

It’s another installment of a very necessary series.  Check out past write-ups on new and hardly heard of resources for musicians. Read below for a new ones. 

Here are the Other Posts in this Series
Incredible Resources You’ve Never Heard About #5
Incredible Resources You’ve Never Heard About #4
Incredible Resources You’ve Never Heard About #3
Incredible Resources You’ve Never Heard About #2
Incredible Resources You’ve Never Heard About #

Gig Masters
Sometimes you need to put money in to get it back out.  For this reason, give Gig Masters a try. I’ve personally tried it out…and it works (and they should pay me for this free advertising)! Whether you’re a DJ, singer-songwriter, live band, or other entertainer, Gig Masters has solid connections with corporations, individuals, and special events looking to book entertainment.

How does it work?  GM servers two clients – 1.) You the artists, and 2.) Event planners looking for entertainment.  You upload your songs, photos, a bio (and additional information), and bookers look through GM’s extensive list for the artist that fits the bill for their event.

From personal experience, GM exists to serve the clueless secretary in search of the perfect blues band for her companies corporate party, or the wedding planner who needs a 90s rock band for her bride’s wedding. GM is a savior to nursing home managers who don’t know where to find an oldies band for the bingo bash or Salsa clubs that need a live Latin band.  In other words, if you’re a singer-songwriter or band looking to get booked in your local venue, GM is probably not the way to go.  But it is a solid source for paid gigs in the way of private parties, special events, and corporate get-togethers.

As an artist subscribing to this service, you are given the option of signing on at various payment levels, depending on how far you’d like to travel for a gig, how many genres you would like to submit yourself to, and how much space you are given to upload information.  Obviously artists who pay less, can upload fewer songs, and only accept gigs within a certain mile radius. But you set the price (i.e. how much you are interested in being paid for a gig and how far you are willing to drive for a gig (within your subscription level limitations). Here’s what an artist page looks like.

Now, if you put yourself in the shoes of a wedding coordinator who needs a harpist to play background music at a wedding in Portland, here are your options.  And if she needs a funk/soul/blues band to play at the reception, here are her options.  My suggestion is to have an excellent press photo because that’s the first thing people will see.

Thanks to Jason Kendall for passing on this resource.

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Putting Things in Context

September 23, 2009


Have you ever walked down the street and accidentally evesdropped on someone’s conversation.  You’ve caught 1 sentence in a discussion and what they’ve said makes no sense whatesoever!  But you know, if you could have kept listening or jumped in earlier on the conversation, you’d be on the same page.  This is the same idea behind music marketing.  You’re trying to sell an idea to someone that just hasn’t caught onto it yet.

Because people like patterns, routines, and categories, they want things to fit into their frame of reference. We naturally compartmentalize thoughts and put certain ideas into certain categories as a way for us to make sense of the world. Even though you might not have it all together (cause nobody does), here are some tips on how to put your music into context so you can better sell yourself.

Promoting Shows
A good businessman knows what his competitors are doing so he can be on his best game at all times.  In the same way, a good musician needs to know other events occuring during the time of his/her show and if that will affect the turnout.  It’s also great to know about other events to see how you can use them to your advantage.  During the fall, in certain cities like Pittsburgh, it’s a terrible idea to have a gig on a Sunday afternoon/evening because that’s designated to football 🙂   On the flipside, it an excellent idea to book a show in any venue on Penn Ave on the first Friday of the month…b/c that’s the monthly Unblurred gallery crawl.

And don’t forget simple things like mentioning that the venue has a full kitchen and serves food/drinks.  Food always brings more people out. 

Who You Are
Don’t tell people you’re completely different and sound like nothing they’ve ever heard before. That’s probably a lie. Everyone sounds like someone to a certain extent. There’s nothing new under the sun. And if you don’t give people something tangeable, they’re not likely to do the extra digging to learn more about you down the line. If you have a sultry voice, campare yourself to Norah Jones.  If you’ve got biting lyrics and  catchy tunes, compare yourself to Connor Oberst. You get the point. Read this post for more thoughts on the matter: The Things You’ll Hate To Do…But Should Do Anyways #2

Think of it this way: If you’re having a conversation with someone who wants to know what you do, you need to have a real answer.  This won’t fly

I’m actually a musician. I play the guitar and a few other instruments and my sound is very original. I’m currently working on my website so I don’t have any tunes up just yet, but if you check back in 2 weeks I will.  I’m also working on booking some gigs.

I’ve overheard statements like this so many times.

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