The internet: It has changed the way we interact with one another, consume media and watch cute cat videos. For musicians, this unrestrained access can be both a blessing and a curse. While it’s easier than ever to create and share music without leaving your home (more specifically, a noticeably stained futon), creators may be daunted by the prospect of promoting themselves through digital media.
Enter Steve Palfreyman. Steve brings a lifetime of experience as a musician, manager and marketer to his latest endeavor, the Music Launch Summit. The Music Launch Summit is a completely virtual global music conference running from September 13 to October 4, with more than 40 presentations geared at providing musicians of all experience levels tools to market themselves and their brands. Industry experts will cover topics such as songwriting skills, relationship building, fan engagement and digital marketing.
Staff Writer Tanya Dracolakis had the opportunity to learn more about Steve’s background, his hopes for the upcoming Summit, and the direction in which the music industry is headed.
You’ve been a musician, manager and marketer for years now, but how did you first get into music?
A desire to not be forced to take horse-riding lessons! Ha! But seriously, my mother gave me an ultimatum around the age of 9. It was a ploy to get me out of the house (I was a pretty shy little kid). I chose guitar and off I went. It was one of the first things that I really glued myself to. When I got asked to join a band at 14 I thought I’d made it and never looked back.
Steve, you’re coming to us from Melbourne right now, how would you describe the local music scene?
Melbourne is a beautiful city! We’re very lucky here to have a pretty supportive environment, although like any place it certainly needs more nurturing. The current government is doing more for the local music scene than I’ve seen anyone do in the past 7 years I’ve lived here. We can thank local organizations Music Victoria and also the SLAM (Save Live Australian Music) Rallies for bringing our music scene into the focus of politicians. There’s a lot of great bands here, supportive venues and people who want to watch music. I’d like to see more collaboration between the larger labels like Mushroom & other smaller independent labels and managers’ work together more at a smaller level. It is happening, but they can always use a nudge to do more for bands earlier on in their careers.
You went from being a musician, into the business side of music to transitioning to what could be described as an online marketing expert. Do you recommend all artists be a mix of all these things, or is there still value in specialization?
There’s huge value in specialization but it comes with the territory of also having to know a lot of different things to survive. I think everyone should always know the one thing they’re trying to master at anyone time, while being aware of the other skills they need to have say 20% under control to tie everything together. Great music is great music and songwriters should specialize 100% on that craft.
“…embrace what you don’t know and what the industry doesn’t know.”
But what’s the next most useful thing for them to master? It comes down to the artist, but they can pick one skill to hone, maybe it’s nailing one social media platform or getting great at copywriting. This coupled with some underlying knowledge of how the industry works will put them in good standing for the future. There is peril in not advancing yourself as there is trying to be a little of everything. It’s all about balance.
Your upcoming Music Launch Summit is applicable to more seasoned artists, as well as those just starting off. How is the summit set up to make it so customizable?
The tricky thing at first is navigating the 50+ hours of content. This thing has become a modern encyclopedia compiled by the industry’s best. I don’t recommend people try and watch it all in one go. But on opening day I’ll be there to help people figure out which sessions they should attend. The VIP area will also include suggested session orders for people trying to achieve a particular goal. I’d say to anyone reading this, hop inside the Facebook group and feel free to ask me what he or she should watch; I’m here to help curate the whole thing for anybody that wants me to!
In a past interview you’ve called yourself an “empath”. I see this part of your personality coming through in the message of the Music Launch Summit, which emphasizes support and relating to one another. What has been the reaction to creating a collaborative spirit in what is otherwise often described as a competitive industry?
Damn I’m impressed you noticed this! The reason I found a love for marketing is exactly because of this; I realized that marketing isn’t what we think it is at surface level. When you dive deeper all it’s about is finding a way to make great stuff and give it to great people. That’s it! Our ability to write songs can be strengthened from the exact same idea. And too, working together.
I’ve been overwhelmingly surprised to see how many people are so open to supporting one another. It was my hope it’d happen but I was also terrified it wouldn’t. That definitely stopped me from starting up the Facebook group sooner. Just like many areas of our lives, the messages of fear, competition, and distress in the world are all too frequent. It’s so easy to forget sometimes that our peers are like us, we all want to just get along and have a fun time playing music don’t we? It’s been really great to see people come together like this even at such early stages.
By making this event virtual, you are giving access to this information to those who might otherwise not be able to make a specific conference or physical event. What are some of the dialogues this has opened up, and how has this changed the conversation?
I’m really curious to see how this unfolds while the event runs; I think it’ll be a very special three weeks inside the group! I do think it’s been great having people from different countries contribute. I’d like to see more people from more places give their 2 cents. There are speakers from 7 different countries and I think that in itself makes for some very interesting conversation points. I’m really looking forward to seeing how we can keep bringing in more people from different walks of life in the future!
Something I find interesting is the “4 Week Implementation Program” after the event for those with for VIP access to the summit. Have you attended such workshops before, and how are you structuring it for your VIPs?
I’ve attended things like these and run them myself. It’s basically a distilled version of what I’ve been taking my 1:1 clients through over the last few years, so it’s tried and tested. It’s not for everyone but I do really think it’s the missing piece of the puzzle for a lot of artists and industry. When you get home after a physical conference there’s always that “what now” kind of feeling that sets in about a week later. When the inspiration starts to fade, it’s easy to forget where to start.
Each week we’ll have a group call which will be a chance to workshop people’s launch plans, answer questions and I’ll also look putting together some strategies for people based on what they need right then and there. The idea will be that they take what they’ve learned and start executing their ideas while they’ve got me there to support them. I also want to try and pull together some breakout groups where they can work together more as well. It’s going to be a really special thing to be a part of!
What are your top 3 bands?
Nine Inch Nails has been one of my most consistent favourites of all time. Aside from that I go through phases. I’m really big on The Neighbourhood and IAMDYNAMITE at the moment!
What’s your #1 piece of advice to a musician who’s still starting off at home and hasn’t booked their first gig?
Come to the Summit. Seriously. I’ve put this together because it’s something I wish I had access to when I was starting out. In fact some of the speakers were very inspirational to me even being here right now so I know you’ll get stacks from it. More importantly though is just getting started on something. Try something new, book that show, just get going.Find solace in the un-comfortability of not knowing what’s around the corner. And remember that the earlier on you are, the more creative you get to be. There’s a beautiful innocence at the start that isn’t always there. Enjoy every moment even if it feels weird or you don’t know what to do. Oh and ask for help, there are so many people who want you to succeed.
What are the main differences in launching an artist between 2016 and a decade ago?
I think more than ever there’s no one path. There’s no “do this then do that” approach to rule them all. We need to see everything we do as a mini launch – a stepping-stone if you will. But embrace what you don’t know and what the industry doesn’t know. You can always find a way to make things work for you that might not for another artist. The only thing you can’t do is assume you’ll be ok just throwing music up on online and hoping for the best. It’ll work for a small handful of artists, but more and more we’ll see bands succeed because they made it happen and not just on a little bit of luck.
Which artist’s online presence is currently inspiring you?
This is really fascinating to me, with the work that I do I’ve all but stopped discovering music like I used to. I spend so much of my time looking over the social media strategies of bands I work with that I spend much less time actively following bands on social media. I always really enjoy seeing bands throw their personalities out there in creative ways. Two Aussie bands that do this really well are Dune Rats & Dead Letter Circus. Totally different styles, but they nail fan engagement! They put so much care into what their fans get but they’re also clearly having a lot of fun just being themselves in the process.
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