Since the early 2000s, the word “indie” has gained considerable traction. Many of us think “new music” when we hear the word, but “indie” can refer to all kinds of art—music, film, literature, design, etc—that’s created outside of the mainstream. The appeal of creative independence has inspired many niche entertainers to take the DIY approach.
But like we’ve seen with freelancers in other industries, it can be difficult to manage the administration and marketing of a small operation. When it comes to promotion, some performers are so brilliant that they could give workshops to other industries. But other performers struggle to find a balance between promoting old material and creating new material.
We spoke with GigSalad musician, Rob Vischer, who has performed for almost 10 years and released 3 albums. He let us in on a few secrets that helped him get gigs, market his talent, and start his journey to getting out of debt.
GS: Where were you professionally when you decided you needed to get more paid gigs?
“I was looking for extra ways to make money, and I had always been a no-debt kind of guy even though I wasn’t very wise financially. Me and my wife, when we got married, we had about $37,000 in student loan debt. So what I was doing during my off-time from touring and recording was going to salons and saying, ‘I’m Rob Vischer, and I’m here to entertain you.’ Some of them let me play and I ended up selling around 30 CDs a day for $10/pop.
Right around that time, Bill Ballenger, a friend of mine came to me and said, ‘You’ve got to get on GigSalad if you want to make more money with your music. You’ve got to try it. I’ll even pay for the first two months.’ I told him that I had heard of GigSalad, but I always wondered if those sites were kind of a scam. But after he told me that he made $3,000 from one gig, I was like, ‘Alright, I’ll definitely try it out!’
What I signed up to do were concerts with original music and singing telegrams. And they were very high-paying singing telegrams. I think each one was right around $300 for the starting cost. I created a high-level experience where I’d arrive with flowers, a gift, a bottle of wine, or some huge crazy balloons. I’d make a loud declaration of this person’s birthday or whatever the occasion was and get everyone cheering. Then I’d start in on a song or parody of a song I created based on their story, personality, or a style of music they liked. I remember making a lot more money than I expected on that. Probably a few thousand just doing the singing telegrams over about a 6-8-month period.
I did that and also got some bigger concert bookings that were really successful. I booked one concert in Indiana for a nonprofit for $1500, helped with the publicity, and got people in the area to come to the show. It was a really successful show that made a couple thousand dollars for the homeless shelter.
All of the experiences and memories that I have from gigging pretty hard, I wouldn’t trade any of those stories because they were the thing that kickstarted my debt snowball. It was really about building my brand. It was a lot of work definitely, but I loved it. I was having a great time.”
GS: Can you offer any tips to other indie artists and performers looking to build their career?
1. Figure out what tools you have and what tools you need.
“I had a passion to play music, and I think if you want to do something, first of all, you’ve got to figure out what’s in your toolbox that you already have, what tools you need to put in your toolbox, and how committed you are to doing this.
You have to be great at the music part, but if you’re not getting any kind of business or any kind of recognition, that’s not the fault of your audience or people being too busy. It’s because you haven’t figured out your product yet. And with a lot of musicians, me included, I would think, ‘How come nobody’s showing up to this? I’m putting all this work in, but nothing’s happening on this front.’ As soon as I got in there and started using the tools available, I started getting gigs.”
2. Invest in the right things.
“From a business angle, if you want to make money in music, you’ve got to do the marketing and use tools to connect you with the right people. Because if you don’t want to pay anything, you’re going to be spending all of your time doing the booking yourself and trying to figure out how to get people in the door. You won’t have the time you need to play or practice. So using GigSalad and tools like that helped me out immensely. For one person, the U.S. is infinite. You’re never going to reach everyone in the U.S. by calling them. You might reach them online a lot quicker and easier.”
3. Create high-level experiences.
“Here’s another thing. I didn’t have to bring flowers. I didn’t have to include a gift. That came out of the $300 I charged. That came out of my own pocket… Sometimes I would do more, but I always got a 5-star review. If you’re doing the bare minimum because you’re charging too little, you’re going to end up with little money and zero good reviews. Now, if you up the price and the quality of the product, people will be blown away when you’re able to give them an amazing experience.
I’ll use that concert I booked in Indiana as an example. $1500 is a decent amount of money, but honestly with that, I decided to hire a whole band to accompany me. I also got an 8-foot balloon and confetti canons; it was a party! I wasn’t looking for how much profit margin I was getting at that event or that booking. I was looking at the profit margin that would be reflected in my reviews and the next event I was hired for. So I’m always looking to invest in the next thing rather than just charging $800, playing a lame acoustic set, and keeping all the profits for myself.”
4. Spend your money wisely.
“This is with music or anything creative. As far as dollars go, those are a hard thing to let go of when you’re in the creative space. When you’re just starting out, it can feel like every dollar you invest is a dollar you don’t have. But what you have to remember is that if you hold everything with a fist, then you’re probably not going to receive anything either. So you need to open your hand and be willing to spend money. Be willing to give money away wisely to help people out. Otherwise, a lot of the opportunities that come your way, you’re going to miss because you had a clenched fist instead of an open hand. Nobody likes to be around a performer who’s a miser. Everybody likes to be around a performer who’s a walking party.”
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