In The Mix #12 – It’s not for want of trying… Jane Risdon

I hope you have been enjoying my little musical memories and observations to date. Since I was very young I’ve been involved with music and entertainment. Even before I met and married my musician husband I was caught and fascinated by all things to do with music, the stage, and most forms of entertainment – I even include writing as entertainment. Meeting and marrying a musician has been the icing on the cake.
Had I different parents I’m sure I’d have ended up on the stage one way or another, or even behind the scenes. As it was, when I as growing up, one had to have a sensible career, a steady job, or career and the entertainment business was something other people did. Writing books was most certainly something other people did.
Imagine their horror when I met a musician, fell in love, and we eventually married. The horror has always remained with them I might add. Imagine their horror when we went into business together – the music business! I can imagine their horror now that I am writing full time. Other people do that. I am their nightmare!
Working with young musicians, singers, songwriters, and record producers always involved keeping their parents happy and informed. Most parents and friends of the artists I came across, never had a clue about how the business side works – why should they – and it was hard going I can tell you, trying to explain why a band wasn’t driving a Rolls Royce as soon as they got a record contract or how publishing royalties were paid.
Now that I am a published author I am being asked those very same questions. Where is the posh car and trappings of success? After-all you have books for sale and you must be selling loads! Oh! If only.
As with anything creative it all takes time – unless of course you are an overnight success which we all know hardly ever happens. Of course things have changed so much in the music business over the last decade or two. The whole process of finding talent, nurturing it and then finding a home at a record company where the talent is exploited and hopefully records are sold, has been turned on its head – today everyone is a songwriter, a producer, and their own record company thanks to the ‘digital online revolution.’
Record companies became cautious and accountants started running the business. The creative side became corporate and sales went down and new talent wasn’t fully supported – you released on Monday and two weeks later if you weren’t in the charts you were not pushed as hard. Artists began to find a way around the problem, setting up on their own, creating their own content and marketing and selling it themselves. Later if/when the artist became successful – due to their own efforts mostly – the big record companies wanted a bite of the cherry and went after these already successful songwriters and artists. The hard work having been done, the money guaranteed, the financial investment avoided, initially, until there was evidence that money was being made and would indeed continue to be made.
I notice the same with the publishing industry – as far as my own experience is concerned – and to me it seems to be going through the same stages of the ‘indie label revolution’ of the late 1980 – early 1990s, which the music business experienced. A lot of mud gets thrown at the wall and what sticks gets the attention – no nurturing anymore; no risks taken, no time given to allow a writer to develop. It is all about the money and it is a hard lesson to learn when you are a creative being.
Marketing. Marketing. Marketing. It is all about the package and the sales pitch initially. Content is important but we all know that a great cover, a fabulous back-story and clever marketing can sell coals to Newcastle, fridge’s to the Inuit. Which is all very well the first time you introduce the product – the book, the author – but what if the content isn’t that great, what then? A reputation is ruined and there are seldom second chances. So, you may well sell vast numbers of books initially but when you write your follow-up, what then?
It is the same as putting a second album out. It is crucial to better the first one but to ensure that the public will get more of what they want – with that something extra. Their vision of who you are, what you are about, is set in their mind from your first outing. Going ‘off piste,’ upsets the fans when it is not what they expected. I think it is the same with an author who is establishing themselves in a particular genre. More of the same, only better is required. Establishing a fab-base, creating an image as a musician/artist and author then nurturing this is vital. The big companies are not there to do it and the smaller companies are not equipped with the staff and finances to do this in the way a larger outfit might once have one done.
That leaves you, the musician, the songwriter, the author. You have to take on the mantle of your chosen business in all respects. You need to establish a brand, a fan-base, and be all things. You need to market, market, and market. This makes finding time to write difficult.
Most of us just write and want to write, nothing more. Little thought has been given to marketing and brand. I think about it because I was involved with creating an image for my recording acts, songwriters and producers. From day one the look (image) and the backstory were important to get the record companies, the press and marketing departments interested and excited. The music had to deliver and the image and music had to convey the same message. A life-style created, a whole persona was created for the artist and had to be maintained.
I think that is what we authors need to do as well. It is hard if you are working with a company with limited resources and inexperienced staff. You have to use your imagination to create ways in which you book, your story, your product, is marketed and your persona is created – and then you have to sustain it.
Your writing has to fit your – now established – image and the image your readers have created of you in their imagination, and you have to deliver the goods. You are not only selling to your fans, you need to constantly evolve within your ‘persona’ so you attract new fans and not only word of mouth spreads your message, your product, and your lifestyle; your books or music has to sell to your online persona – attracting new readers/listeners.
Your readers/listeners buy you first and your books/music next – especially in the world of today when everything is visual and instant and the choices are so massive. Why buy your book? Why buy your record? Ask yourselves that and think why you buy a certain author’s books or a musician’s music and then apply that to yourself. It all takes time and effort sadly, and having left the music business behind I had hoped to have put all this behind me. But, nope, here I am on the other side of the stage or the page so to speak, having to think about all this stuff in relation to myself (for a change) and my books and how I can sell them.
The world is a store and we are the creator, product, and the sales-person and we need to feed the consumer and their expectations. A tall order. If we get it right, well, we have seen the rewards some authors and musicians can reap. How wonderful to be able to reap even a fraction of what they do. All it takes is effort, imagination and, yes, good luck. We need to create a brand and a ‘must have’ product which our readers will buy into and sign-up for. We need to create a need, a fan-base, and a continuous supply and quality of product which meets – and exceeds – their expectations, which they want to share with their friends which hopefully helps spread the word.
It is that simple. So when someone asks where your trappings of success are and why you are not on the Best Sellers lists yet, or high in the charts when you have been trying your hardest, you’ll know what to say. It isn’t for want of trying.
Part 13 of In The Mix will be with you next time.
Jane Risdon is the co-author of Only One Woman with Christina Jones (Accent Press) and Undercover: Crime Shorts as well as being included in 15 anthologies and numerous online magazines and newsletters. Before turning her hand to writing she was in the International Music Business working with singer/songwriters, musicians, record producers and placed music soundtracks on movies and television series internationally.
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