Friends of the ExpoDavid Nevue
(February 2004 Interview)
Editor's Note: In furthering our efforts to help educate and enlighten songwriters about how to successfully promote their music, we sat down with David Nevue who is one of the most proactive and interesting self-promoters we have ever had the pleasure to include in our EXPOs. This is good stuff!
Jack Hayford: David, first of all it was a great pleasure having you on our Do Your Own Thing Discussion Panel at the 2003 Durango Songwriters Expo. That was your first time at our event. For the benefit of our Members who haven't had the opportunity to participate in the Expo yet, what can you tell them about the experience?
David Nevue: Well first, thank you for having me. It was great to be invited. I very much enjoyed being a part of the panel.
As for the Durango Songwriter's Expo, I absolutely loved it. The atmosphere at Durango felt different than many of the other conferences I've attended. This one felt more serious. More grown up. Maybe the best way to say it is just to express that Durango, as a whole, was more valuable to me. I took a lot more away from Durango than other conferences I've attended. I really, truly, enjoyed myself. I would do it again in a heartbeat.
I would encourage other songwriters to make the trip. Durango isn't just about "how to make it big in the music business." It's about being true to who you already are as a musician and fine-tuning your craft as a songwriter. It's more about community, about learning, about sharing your experiences and ultimately, about taking your best song and making it better.
JH: Glad you enjoyed it! It seems to me that being "true to yourself as a musician" is a concept that you have really latched on to.
DN: True to myself and others, as well. The commercial music industry, as well as the entertainment industry in general, is mostly glitter and not a lot of substance. I think that's part of the reason why the Durango Songwriters Conference appealed to me. It just seemed more real, more down to earth.
I've built my online business and strategy on the approach that less is more. You don't have to hype and manipulate emotion to have a successful business. You just tell people the truth, keep it honest, and keep it simple. I like things simple!
JH: Tell us how you made the transition from a "day job" to now being able to spend all your time building your art into a livelihood (the immediate goal of virtually all musicians and songwriters).
DN: In 1993, I started working for Symantec Corp., providing technical support via usenet, their BBS system, and CompuServe. It was about this time that the Internet first started to enter the public consciousness. I can still remember seeing a web browser for the first time while at work. It was pretty cool, a big step up from our BBS systems! But of course, at that time, no one had any idea how big the Internet would become.
By 1995, I had created my first web site. A simple little thing to sell my CD. At that time, I had just the one CD to sell (I now have seven!). I sold two copies of it my first year online. I wasn't very satisfied with that! So, I tried experimenting with different marketing ideas to promote my music to the online world. I kept at it, and I knew I was on to something when I got to a point where I was selling 4 or 5 CDs a week.
That's when I got the notion to write my book, How to Promote Your Music Successfully on the Internet. I released the first edition of that in November of 1997. I've been updating it every few months ever since.
Anyway, I just kept developing my online business over the years. I explored new strategies for promoting my music, updated my book every three or four months, and started building partnerships selling and marketing other music-related products, too.
By 2000, I reached a point where I was making almost as much from CD sales, book sales, and online partnerships as I was working for Symantec. I realized that if I played my cards right, I would be able to transition to doing my music business full-time. So I made that my goal, and decided I'd keep working at Symantec just until I had enough money saved up to support my family for one full year.
That happened in November of 2001. I quit my day job at Symantec, and I've been doing "online music" full-time ever since. I'm doing what I've always wanted to do for a living: music. My music is heard by tens of thousands of people online every month, and I'm selling CDs via the Internet every single day. I continue to update my book with new information and otherwise develop my business. It all keeps me very, very busy. The Internet is a very fast moving place! I'm really looking forward to the next year. I have some great ideas that I'm hoping I'll be able to find the time to put in place. Even after eight years promoting my music on the Internet, I still feel like I'm just beginning. I have a lot more to do!
JH: Yes, it is an evolutionary process! We'll get back to the topic of web marketing a little later. I noticed on your fine website that you have a very helpful section called "Advice for Pianists" and that, although you are an accomplished pianist yourself, you don't read music well (true of so many aspiring musicians!). How did you develop your style and technique, and who are your influences?
DN: You know, it's a funny thing. It's difficult for me to look back and say, "this is where my 'style' or 'technique' came from." I'm really not sure to be honest. I just play the piano the way that seems most natural to me. Compositionally, though, I definitely know what I like and what I don't. I like music that's melodic and that gets right to the musical point. I don't like over-repetition, and I really don't like stuff that just wanders on aimlessly. In general, I don't dig 'ambient' music that just kind of sits there being pretty. Pretty gets boring quickly. There's got to be a change-up, something that makes your ear stop and take notice.
I think my musical influences reflect these preferences. Rush is one of my favorite bands of all time. Their music is melodic, but constantly changing - it's never boring. Pink Floyd is another influence, if only for the way that their music grabs you emotionally and wraps itself around you. Renaissance, in it's early years, was unique, one of my favorite piano-centered rock bands. Kate Bush, U2, Jethro Tull and Kansas are other influences. All these artists knew how to carry a melody while keeping it, at the same time, interesting. And each of them did it in a different way.
But the turning point, in terms of my becoming a solo pianist, was hearing the music of George Winston. My college roommate listened to his music all the time. I was like, "Mike, who is this?" I had never heard anything like it. This was back the early 80's. Back then, you just didn't hear piano music like that. Until that point, I would have equated "solo piano" with classical music.
Winston's music caught my imagination and me off in a different musical direction. Within five years, I had all lost interest in playing keyboard in bands anymore. I was writing exclusively for the piano.
JH: Wasn't George Winston one of the first (and formative) "New Age" pianists that helped to establish Windham Hill?
DN: Yes. William Ackerman started Windham Hill in 1976, and he was its first artist. George Winston was among the first group of "signings" for the label, and it was his album "Autumn" that really put Windham Hill on the map.
JH: Did you ever consider approaching record labels like Windham Hill, and go that route, or did you know from the outset of recording your music that you would have to find a way to sell your CDs yourself?
DN: In the beginning, getting signed with Windham Hill was one of my objectives. I wanted to be "discovered," just as most every artist does. After I released my second album, I put a lot of effort into getting my music to the label. I even hired a music attorney "insider" to shop my CD for me. Windham Hill turned it down, as did every other label we approached.
A few years later, after my fourth CD, I tried again with a different agency. One label was very interested, but in the end, didn't sign me. But by this time, I didn't really care if I was signed or not. I just put it out there to see what would happen, more out of curiosity than anything else.
As it is now, I don't have any desire to sign with anyone. I came to realize a few years ago that I didn't need to be signed with a record label to be successful, especially with the Internet at my disposal. In fact, once I educated myself about the music business and began to understand how it really worked, I realized that being signed might have been the worst thing that could've happened to me. I now consider it a blessing that I didn't sign a contract with anyone.
JH: So, you began to put your Internet experience to use in marketing your CDs and you’ve even written a book (How to Promote Your Music Successfully on the Internet), which teaches the techniques, used in that process. You’ve said you sold two copies of your CD in your first year online. How does that compare to what you are selling now?
DN: When someone asks me that question, I typically put the question back on them. "First, tell me how many CDs YOU are selling online." I do this for two reasons. First, it tells me up front whether or not I can help this person improve their online sales. In most cases, I can. Secondly, it brings any unrealistic expectations back down to earth. Many people are impressed only by BIG numbers, and my answer may not meet their hyped-up expectations. So when I turn the focus of the conversation back to their lack of sales, rather than my total sales, most artists admit they'd be happy to sell even 100 CDs a month online. That's a realistic number, and one my book can help an artist achieve. My most successful client (that I know of) told me he sold 3000 CDs from his web site in nine months. That averages out to just over 300 CD sales a month. That's very atypical, but shows you the power of the Internet.
So, let's look at reality. The average artist, who does nothing more than put their music on the Internet, will be lucky to sell a few CDs a year from their web site. An artist who actively publicizes their web site might sell a few CDs a month online. And an artist who pulls out all the stops to drive traffic to their web site may sell a few CDs a week.
Now, to directly answer your question. It's not uncommon for me to sell 150-200 CDs a month online. In December, just prior to Christmas, I sold almost 300 CDs. By this time next year, my goal is to be doing twice what I'm doing now. I think it's doable if I can find the time to implement some of the marketing plans I have sitting on the back burner.
JH: Great answer. I think you’ve really put the question “what can the Internet do for me?” in proper perspective. Finally, David, what advice can you give our readers (other than buying your book, of course!) to inspire and motivate them as self-promoters?
DN: I would remind readers that in regard to the Internet, promoting your music is about more than just selling CDs. It's about creating opportunities for your music BEYOND the Internet and into the real world. My promotion efforts online have directly led to dozens of performance opportunities, international distribution for my CDs, inclusion of my music in film, DVD and software projects, and Internet radio exposure to tens of thousands of listeners every single month. My Internet radio broadcast alone generates 45,000 listener hours each month. That translates to about 35,000 people a month hearing my music. At this very moment I'm working on a distribution deal projected to send over 20,000 CDs and DVDs containing my music out to fundraising organizations - a deal that came about as a result of someone discovering my music online. Next month I'm playing an Internet radio showcase in Seattle with six other composers, including David Lanz, one of the most well known names in the New Age music market. All of this came as a result of my using the Internet to promote my music.
When you take these accomplishments, and then consider all the industry contacts I've made in the last eight years, it begins to blow your mind a bit how much you can do once your music is "out there" where people can find it. The Internet is a very powerful tool in the hands of a musician who knows how to use it. For me it's been the difference between never going anywhere and literally seeing the world.
Yes, you CAN use the Internet alone to promote and sell your music, but when you combine it with radio promotion, live performances, publicity and distribution, that's when you create a synergy that will take your music career to some new and very interesting places.
JH: Thanks David, we look forward to seeing you at our next event!
David's CD, Postcards from Germany charted at #5 on
New Age Reporter's (NAR) Top 100 chart for all of
2003! NAR is essentially the Billboard of the New
Age/World/Ambient radio market. David's music is
currently being heard on over 220 radio programs
worldwide. And he is making a terrific living selling his music! You can benefit from his many successful marketing strategies! Click on the book image to learn more.
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