An Interview with David Huffman
I recently caught up with David Huffman who is a good friend of mine in the digital world. I wanted to introduce him to you world dominating musicians and pick his brains about marketing music at gigs as this guy really has been there, done it, and bought and sold the t-shirts!
Before hanging it up to spend time with his family, Dave Huffman made a full-time living with the regionally popular U.S. based group Jakob Freely. Along with making a modest living playing music, JF released four albums, several lines of merchandise, launched a successful festival, scored a couple indie film spots, and “made it” on their own terms.
Now Dave works to help his friends achieve their goals of pursuing music full time through his blog The Indie Launch Pad.
Marcus: How important would you say it is to capture fans email addresses at live gigs? What’s your best tip for doing this?
David: It’s THE MOST important thing you can do. Trends change fast online, but as of just 3 months ago, email was still the medium people used most to share content.
My best tip would be to have solid street team members or friends with clipboards scouring the venue, politely asking for emails. If you’re solo and you do not have anyone to help, put multiple clipboards out on tables.
In one instance, I literally went from playing to no one to selling a small venue out in 6 months by playing once a month, collecting emails, then nurturing that list with content.
In another, we pre-sold 300 copies of a new release through one email blast. We also kept fairly healthy sales of our t-shirts and merchandise through our mailing list as well.
Marcus: Do you think giving away free CD’s or merchandise at gigs is a good idea or is it better to push for the sale while they’re buzzing from your performance?
David: Some will disagree with me, but I don’t think there is an upfront answer for this. I think you just have to experiment and see what works for you, what you’re comfortable with, and what you can afford.
When I first started playing out I had a manager that literally almost forced me into selling my cd’s at $15 a pop. I wasn’t comfortable doing this, so I made a sampler of 4 songs to give out at gigs for the people who couldn’t afford that $15 disc.
That free sampler literally built my following. Probably wouldn’t have happened if I had pushed the sale.
You know, I DO think that it is still crucial to give free content while your band is buzzing. I think it encourages those people to share with others, building the buzz and helping it last longer rather than fade out quickly like so many do these days.
That said, you really do have to keep a price balance in there somewhere. I’m all about free, but you still need to sell stuff from time to time.
Marcus: What is the most creative music marketing stunt you’ve ever pulled off at a gig?
When we thought we wanted to brand ourselves as a “party band” we had a couple thousand condoms made with our logo on them and gave them out at festivals and such.
Not saying that’s the most creative thing ever ;) BUT – I will tell you. For years after, I would hear stories or see things posted online like “I was about to get some last night, realized I didn’t have a condom, the remembered I got one from Jakob Freely last night!! My night was saved!” Or something like that.
Or one that wasn’t necessarily a stunt, but a gig that helped brand our band was building a festival around our band name. We called it Freelyfest. It started small, but after 3 years it grew to between 700-1,000 people. Nothing huge – but it created one hell of a community around our product that not only connected us with people, but it connected our fans with other fans.
Marcus: What would you say is the best way to brand your artist name to fans when on stage? Through the microphone or with back wall banners and kick drums skins, or both?
David: Oooh. Good question. You should definitely get a well designed banner. They can be expensive, but you can get sponsors to float the bill. In one case we had Budweiser make us a 5 ft. x 24 ft. banner that lined the back wall of a theatre. It was huge. They also ended up making some 8ft. tall stand up banners to flag each side of the venue entrance.
That stuff is huge. And I’ve always thought kick drum skins look slick.
You can get real super strategic with this, Marcus. But it all comes down to your live show. You have to work your balls off man. Seriously. If your show doesn’t blow people’s faces off – no one will remember your name no matter how many times you shout it.
It sounds obvious and kind of a buzzkill. But there are no real magic answers out there. It all comes from self-confidence and hard work.
Marcus: What would be your number one piece of advice to musicians who want to get on the touring scene? Do you need a booking agent first?
David: Get ready for the long haul. If you’re just starting out you’ve got a good 5 years to see solid growth and a good 10 years ahead of you before you really start making some serious traction.
Some weeks it’ll seem like you’re blowing up. Some weeks it’ll seem like no one knows who the hell you are.
I say start off booking gigs yourself. You will learn a lot. And should you ever decide to get a booking agent, you will understand their value. I’m a completely indie guy DIY (to a fault), but a great, honest, fair, hardworking booking agent really is worth their weight in gold because they’ll feed you good dates while freeing up some time for you to work on your song and show.
That said, give yourself a couple years before diving into hiring someone. I came straight out of the gates with a manager and booking agent and we clashed all the time because I didn’t understand the business.
Ended up spoiling a couple of friendships on that one.
Thanks for reading and a big thank you to David Huffman for the interview! You can follow Dave on Twitter @davemhuffman. See you soon.