Success Is No Accident, Part Three TAXI Road Rally 2017April 2018 View Archives
Interviewed by Michael Laskow
Panelists: Bobby Borg, Gilli Moon, Aventurina King, Sydney Alston, Mark Steiner
Moderator: Michael Laskow
We’ve included the panelists’ bios again for people who might not have read the earlier parts of this interview and aren’t familiar with the folks we’re speaking with. -Ed.
Bobby Borg is a former major label, independent, and DIY recording/touring artist with over 25 years experience working along side the most respected managers, producers, and A&R executives in the music industry. He served as the VP of Special Events for the Los Angeles chapter of the American Marketing Association, and as Chairman of Music Business at Musician’s Institute in Hollywood, California. A recipient of UCLA Extension’s Distinguished Instructor of the Year Award, Borg teaches DIY music marketing, music publishing, and general music business classes both online and on-campus and he speaks regularly at Berklee College of Music and other distinguished schools worldwide. Borg is the author of Music Marketing For The DIY Musician, Business Basics For Musicians, and over 1,000 magazine and blog articles for Billboard.com, Hypebot, SonicBids, Music Connection, Disc Makers, BandZoogle, and more. He is the founder of Bobby Borg Consulting, where he assists rising music professionals, globally. He lives in Los Angeles.
Gilli Moon is a singer, songwriter, artist, and producer. She has worked with highly respected artists such as Simple Minds, Placido Domingo, Eric Idle and will.i.am, and is a songwriting award winner in the Netherlands, U.S., and Australia. Her songs have been featured in independent films and network U.S. television programs, and she has released six albums. She is the President of Songsalive! (a nonprofit songwriters organization), CEO of record label Warrior Girl Music, and a certified professional coach. She has three books out, the most recent of which are, Just Get Out There and The 360 Degree Songwriter.
Aventurina King is a singer/songwriter/producer working in both Los Angeles and China. Before moving to Los Angeles one year ago, she worked in China as an artist and TV personality, during which time she appeared on every single national TV platform and graced the pages of Cosmo Bride and the Chinese New York Times equivalent. Since her move to LA, she has written and sung two entire albums for Warner Brothers Production Music, and her songs have been synched in an upcoming Disney movie, as well as a videogame. She just got a cut with South Korea’s biggest girl’s band of the moment, Red Velvet, for their next album under S&M entertainment. Recently, she’s begun releasing her own songs as an artist, one of which was recently featured on Spotify’s “Fresh Finds” playlist.
Sydney Alston has 20-plus years of experience in all facets of the music business, which has made him an in-demand music resource for artists in Los Angeles and around the country. In 2001, he was hired by Disc Makers, the industry leader in CD and DVD Manufacturing, and quickly rose through the ranks and became the first executive in the Los Angeles branch of Disc Makers, representing all the AVL brands including cdbaby, and Merch.ly. Sydney started his career as a touring musician, and then opened a management company where he represents artists and producers. As a manager, Sydney has set up many Major Label and Publishing showcases with companies like Universal, Warner Brothers, Sony, etc. He has been responsible for getting multiple record label and publishing deals. As a direct result of his efforts, he was responsible for developing 16-year-old Major Myjah, and getting him signed to a lucrative recording contract with Warner Brothers records in 2014. One of the producers he works with, Frederik Thaae, produced a song that won the Eurovision award for “best song” which propelled Frederik and Emily Deforester’s song, Only Tear Drops to Number One in 11 countries.
Mark Steiner is the CEO and co-founder of GigSalad, the most diverse booking platform nationwide. His career in the entertainment industry has spanned more than thirty years, including a decades-long stint booking talent for performing arts centers, festivals, and concerts through the agency he founded.
Aventurina, is there anything that you learned from being successful in China, then coming back to the U.S., and working to become successful here as well?
A: At this moment in my life, I’m more like the average TAXI member. I’m also trying to find things that will work for me in this market.
I think my 10 years in China in the entertainment industry helped me a lot. It helped me learn patience. When Bobby was talking about that this is a marathon, and don’t run out of breath, I can understand that. I’m starting to get syncs, and I’m starting to get cuts, and I’m starting to sign songs to smaller record labels. But getting paid is a long game. Sometimes, it takes years!
I think the other thing that helped me in China is learning to understand when is the right time to approach somebody and when is not. For example, when I first came over here I was very lucky, I met people right away, and one of these people was Chris Brown, Jennifer Lopez’s main writer and producer. I was like, “Great”! We knew each other through a friend, so he was polite. He allowed me to come to his studio and play him some music, and very quickly I realized that I was totally out of my league there. The level of things that he was playing to me and the level of things that I was playing for him was not the same. So I told him, “Listen, I’m not going to take up any more of your time here today, but let’s just keep in touch.” And now, after a year-and-a-half that I’ve sort of known him, I am very shy and kind of avoid him at parties sometimes. And now I’m thinking maybe it’s time to try again. Maybe this time I know I have to do a complete topline to send to him.
So I’m thinking that getting vibes from people and understanding… You know, I had the same thing with record labels. I’m like, “Ahhh,” and they don’t respond to me. OK, I get it. That means that maybe there’s somebody else I can connect with in the Internet.
SoundCloud has been such a great tool for me to do that. I have a pretty small SoundCloud following. But I’ve reached out to producers that have bigger followings, and they’re like, “Yeah, sure, we’ll collab.” And through collaborations with them, I’m starting to get little record deals and things are starting to happen.
So if somebody is not responding to you that just means that maybe there’s somebody else out there that’s the right collaboration for you at the moment. So … hustle. [applause]
Syd, how do you get labels to say yes to coming to a showcase-especially major-label A&R people who have really busy schedules, and they’re only gonna go if you’re known act? How do you break the ice to be that act that gets them to come and see a show?
Sydney: It’s not easy. It’s easier to go to them than it is to get them to come to you. You need an angle, and if you think about it hard enough, there’s always an angle you can find. If you can find the right angle to bring them out, then you can get them to come. Maybe it’s because someone that they’ve been trying to get or to talk to is coming out. “This producer that I’m working with really wants to meet you, Jamie. He’s coming to our show on Friday.” And if it’s a phone call, not “Check out my song,” “See my new video,” “Like my Facebook page”-things that people send out. I actually recommend that you find another way to do that, because I literally hate it when people send me that, you know, “Check out my song, man!” because I get that so much. And if you’re at a record label, you’re getting a lot more of that. That’s all you’re getting. So they are looking for the guy who sends them something much cooler than that, like, “Here’s my record,” and on the front cover is a condom that has your name on it. It’s like, “What? I gotta check this out.” [laughter]
So it really is about finding a way to make it happen that’s completely unique and different that doesn’t have anything to do with, “Listen to my music,” “Check out my video, what do you think?”
I’ve been doing angles for years. Back in the ’80s, we were doing like “Hot Legs” contests and giving away trips to the Bahamas. We’ve been doing different types of things for years. I have a deal with Karma Tequila right now for one of my bands. To get people to come out in L.A. is one of the hardest things in the world, so the band advertises-thanks to Karma-“We’ll buy your first drink.” It’s free for the ladies, because wherever there are ladies, there will always be guys. So this band is building a pretty strong fanbase, because now you’ve seen them, and if you like them you’ll come back and see them again.
So to get the label people out… I’m actually working with this right now to get the people from BMG to come out and see my artist on Friday night. This is an actual real thing about how to get them to come out. Because they work with a producer that I work with, I call them up and I say, “Hey man, really want to get together and hang out with you guys. I really appreciate you allowing the producer to work with me. We’re hangin’ out on Friday.” He says, “Cool man, I’m down. I don’t have anything going on Friday.” So now I know he’s got nothing to do, and I know he’s available. Now he says, “Where you guys gonna hang out?” I still haven’t told him yet what we’re doing, and I’m waiting to find the right thing, and I don’t know what it is yet. But when I figure it out-and I will figure it out before Friday to get him to come out to the show-I think he’ll come.
Speaking of angles, as you were saying this, I remember something we did at TAXI in probably ’95, ’96, somewhere around that era. Sushi on Sunset had a private room upstairs-a fairly large private room. And we used to do sushi nights probably four times a year, and we would invite a bunch of A&R people for all-you-can-eat sushi, first-come, first-served. So they would make sure to show up on time, and they would drink so much sake and beer that Sushi on Sunset was happy to give us the private room upstairs, for free. So while it cost TAXI $500 for the sushi, we would put on TAXI-member music and just let it play. We wouldn’t even tell the A&R people it was TAXI-member music until the end of the night. Of course, by then they were grateful that they’ve eaten free sushi, they’re a little buzzed on the alcohol, and they would all take home a copy compilation. That led to some songs getting cut, some acts getting to showcase for labels, and some signings. So there’s always a way. [applause]
Mark, based on your incredibly extensive background on booking acts, even before Gig Salad, what would you say are the keys to getting good gigs?
Mark: First off, it’s establishing the audience, establishing the venues. It’s going after those folks. I mean, there are creative ways of getting in the door, getting them to answer the phone. In this day and age, it’s so much about marketing-digital marketing in particular-and how do you stand out? That’s the question.
First off, make sure you have the goods. You can’t underestimate that. Just work hard. I know all of you are talented, but make sure the stuff you send out-whether it’s your original music, or that you’re out there ready to just gig and do covers. Make sure that your set list is polished and really great.
Getting into the venues, my sweet spot was more your theater crowd. The clubs and the bars and the places where I know a lot of people have to start and put together tours and those sorts of things, is a different thing altogether. So … I don’t know that I’ve answered that question at all. Was that helpful? Just hustle and work hard!
I think people that hustle would make a lot of mistakes while they are hustling. Bobby and I talk about this sort of stuff endlessly – things like choosing the right font and making sure your headline is succinct and large enough. Don’t try to be all things for all people. Dear God, please don’t use one of those wacky fruit-loopy fonts that people have to struggle to read because it looks “artistic.
Mark: Be lucky. Just go be lucky, because it’s the right place/right time so often. You just have to find the opportunities, create the opportunities, but so much of it is luck.
It’s a very unique thing we have; it’s a very niche thing. There’s one other company that does what we do how we do it at Gig Salad. When I started to think about this and was conceptualizing it, I wasn’t aware of those other guys. And that had already started in ’97, we launched in ’07. So it was a unique idea to me, it wasn’t brand new, but we took something and we believe we made it better. So there’s that aspect to it, it’s being unique, but so much of our success has been based on luck, having a good idea, and our willingness to hustle!
A lottery win is luck; starting a company is rarely lucky. You may have lucked into a great idea. I hear people say that all the time: “It was just luck,” or “So and so got signed; they were just lucky.” No, they probably did what Gilli did, you know, working all those… An overnight success, you know?
Gilli: Yeah, right. I’ve played every venue you could possibly imagine … and then some. I think about performing live, there was the marketing aspect of it. And that has changed too, because there weren’t those social networks back then. But you’ve got to be really talented. While you might be talented, you may not be talented for that particular venue or that particular town. So a lot of it is about being really talented and being able to showcase that-whether on your YouTube channel with great live stuff on the panel, or whether you are on YouTube now playing for the camera and it’s really great. And if you’re going to be playing with a band and that band is really good, and if you’re are sending out music and that that music is gonna be exactly what they want to hear, then, when you do those shows, you’re fantastic, and you can put on a show and really perform and do it over and over again. And then there’s the word-of-mouth, “Oh, I want to book her…”
You’ve gotta look at it from the angle of the venue. Their objective is to sell food and booze. You are the talent that brings the buyers of their food and booze through the front door.
Sydney: You know, you have to find interesting ways to do that too. I was just telling these guys earlier that I have a band, we’ve got that Karma thing where we offer to give away a free drink to the first people to come in. That helped to build that band’s following. And if anybody plays in Hollywood, you know how hard it is to build a following in Hollywood. And so “pay to play” for this band is not a big deal. They are making money at those venues that they are playing, and now those promoters are not charging them. They asking them, “Will you play this gig?” They not saying you gotta sell 20 tickets, they know that we’re gonna sell 20 tickets.
Absolutely. Well, with that I’ve got to wrap this up, because we’ve got the last panel of the entire Road Rally coming up next. Thank you, guys, so much. Great information from some really experienced people who have been in the trenches. Bobby Borg, Gilli Moon, Aventurina King, Sydney Alston, and Mark Steiner, ladies and gentlemen! [applause]