Music 4.5 speaker Dave Giles: “YouTube has been a huge – but frustrating – tool for me”
We at 2Pears and the 4.5 Blog are thrilled to announce that musician Dave Giles will be speaking at Music 4.5: The YouTube Paradox this Tuesday, 26 January 2016. Dave is an independent artist known for personally connecting with his fans, sometimes even in the queue to his concerts. A vocal champion of social media and Spotify (that’s right, Spotify), Dave has a unique sound and a refreshing approach. We caught up with him last week to find out about crowdsourcing via social media, the power of online videos, what we can expect from his talk at Music 4.5, and making cups of tea for his fans.
-Thanks so much for taking the time to talk to us today. Can you start by telling us a bit about yourself and your career – where you first started playing, writing, performing, recording, and who your influences are/were?
Music has always been in my life. I started playing keyboards aged seven, guitar aged eight, and performed in public for the first time aged 9. It was just a hobby then though – I actually wanted to be an astronaut. It was only when I was told – at age 17 – that I couldn’t become a test pilot because of my poor vision that I realised music may well be the better option for me as a career. I wrote my first song aged 13 (it was awful), and went to the Guitar Institute for 4 years after leaving school at 18. I’ve been in bands, a session player, a solo artist, worked in theatre pits and taught guitar. It’s been an eventful career so far! I have many influences, my favourites probably being The Beatles, CSNY, U2 and Billy Bragg.
-As a solo artist for the past six years, you openly embrace social media as a way for independent artists to connect with fans. What has been your experience with fans on social media? Do you have a “strategy” per se (for example, how many posts per week, etc)?
Firstly, I have no strategy. There have been times I’ve posted lots and times when I haven’t. I try and post only when I have something to say. A good example would be when I wanted to fund my debut album in 2012. I didn’t want to use one of the crowd source sites, as I resented the idea of them taking a percentage of the earnings just for providing a platform. So I did it myself. I used all the social networks to get the message out and managed to get people to be really creative with promoting my album by getting them to create their own versions of the artwork. I then made a big collage of these and put it as a fold out in the sleeve of the album.
On the whole I’ve loved social media. I’ve had some wonderful little campaigns to help market my songs and get people involved in what I’m doing, and I’ve built some strong connections with people who have become huge supporters. Although I do find that the biggest supporters tend to be those that I’ve met in person first and then grown the relationship online after, this probably indicates that I’m not as good as communicator on the net as in real life. Or, it just shows that people are bombarded with so many people selling them stuff online that they don’t ever really connect with something new until they’ve seen it in the flesh. Who knows? That is the biggest problem with social media though: getting heard through the noise!
-You’re known for engaging with audience at gigs as well as online. What’s a typical gig like for you, in terms of how much time is spent with your fans? What are some of the most essential lessons you’ve learned from your time with them?
“A typical gig” – that’s a term I try and avoid. I try and make every show as unique as I can. In the past I’ve taken a big hot water urn and made everyone a cup of tea just for turning up. What I’ve learnt is that you need to give people a reason to want to come back again and again. It’s got to be more than just a guy standing there singing his songs (although done correctly, this can be extremely engaging). But a few gimmicks don’t hurt. I like to leave time at the end of the night to be able to talk to as many people as possible. If I’m short of time, as a bare minimum I’ll make sure I get to the doors so I can thank everyone as they leave. I’ll also meet people before doors or between the acts. Basically, I want to build relationships with those who come to my shows. This is why I do so many house shows, too. It’s nice to be able to ask people about their extended family, who you’ve actually met, and be interested in the responses! It’s no different from the green grocer on the corner who knows what you want when you walk in. Obviously there comes a time when this gets really difficult to do, but you can still try, as long as it’s not to the detriment of the show. On one of my bigger tours I lost my voice for a couple of days due to talking too much!
-On your website you have a large banner that says: “Don’t forget to listen on Spotify.” Many musicians see Spotify and streaming services as an industry evil, but you are openly embracing and promoting them. Why? Do you think they provide a clear benefit?
Why? Because it’s awesome. I’m a music consumer, and I love Spotify. I’ve listened to more new music since I had the premium service than I did before. I’d stopped buying CD’s as I ran out of space, and I resented having to spend a few pounds on iTunes to try something new, which – if I didn’t like – I couldn’t do anything about.
As an artist, I love it even more. I’m earning more money per month from Spotify than I am from iTunes or YouTube or CD sales (on non-touring months). I love how democratic it is. If your song is any good then people will listen lots and you’ll earn.
I can’t help but feel that most artists complain because their labels are telling them that it’s bad, but if you’re an independent artist and you’re not giving away any percentages to anyone, there’s lots of money to be earned, even with very modest play counts.
I get very frustrated when I see artists moaning about it. They’re living in the past. Most people who are paying for streaming services are now spending more money on music per year than they when they were just buying CD’s or iTunes downloads, and they’re able to explore so much more as a result. Ultimately, we need the big artists to get behind it so that more people will start using it, which will generate more money to distribute to the artists. Artists need to stop moaning about the platform and instead moan about their crappy contracts with their labels.
-You release your music on your own record label. What are the advantages and disadvantages of doing this? Is it more than merely a numbers game?
The advantages are that people take you a little bit more seriously. You look more professional if you have a registered company and have set up all the correct business contacts as a result. I initially set up the label with my old band (once the band disbanded, I bought the others shares in the label and kept it for myself)and we found that venues took us more seriously and that helped us massively. I also felt it was easier to keep my original music revenues separate from other revenues I had as a musician. The main disadvantage is the admin, and the set-up costs. We never did it for the numbers; we did it just so that when we contacted people about our band, it looked like it was coming from a label rather than the band.
Well, we’d be back to the days where you could only find music by listening to the radio or watching the TV, so you’re at the mercy of whoever the execs like. It wouldn’t be so bad if there was a healthy live music scene, but there’s not. There a very few people who go out to live gigs to discover new music. This may change if social media disappeared, though.
-You’ve toured across the UK and beyond. Is the UK a good place to be an independent musician, compared with – say – the States or Australia?
Logistically, the UK is a great place to tour. You can do a lot more because of the concentration of the population. The downside is that a lot more people are touring here. When I toured Australia, the people at the shows were thrilled that someone was touring in their country. As a result the merch sales were incredible!
-What’s been your experience with YouTube, both in terms of a marketing tool, and a revenue-generating one? Do you find it to be transparent and fair?
It’s probably one of the more frustrating platforms, especially at the moment, but it has been a huge tool for me. I’ve never really generated more than pocket money from the ad revenue, but I’ve earned a lot from using it to promote my tours and merchandise. In that way, it’s a great platform if you can get people to watch you. Although, ever since Facebook stopped YouTube links showing up on people’s newsfeeds, it’s been a lot harder. Now, you have to upload those kinds of videos direct to Facebook as well. But, video marketing is great. Is YouTube the best way of doing this at the moment? Perhaps not.
-We’re looking forward to hearing you speak at Music 4.5: The YouTube Paradox. What can we expect from your talk?
A few years ago I was running tours for YouTuber’s who also did music. As a result I have a unique view into the world of YouTube “fandoms” (I hate that word!) and the way the numbers actually play out in real life. It may be quite eye opening for those who are chasing big numbers for their artists.
Dave Giles will be speaking at Music 4.5: The YouTube Paradox on 26 January 2016. Last-minute tickets are still available. Find out more about his music, artistry, and tour dates. Check out his YouTube channel here, and find him on Spotify and iTunes.