Kelly Richey has been described as “Stevie Ray Vaughan trapped in a woman’s body with Janis Joplin screaming to get out.” That’s an apt appraisal of the Lexington, Kentucky native who’s now based in Cincinnati for many years. A working musician since her teens, she began her professional career as a member of the Arista Records group Stealin’ Horses; in 1990 she formed The Kelly Richey Band, with whom she has become both a national and international touring artist.
Kelly Richey is also consummate entrepreneur who refuses to quit. Since establishing her own label, Sweet Lucy Records, Richey has released 11 albums and a live DVD. When I first spoke to her in August 2008 she was at the end of a long struggle to try to break through using traditional PR and radio. She had spent a fortune on radio promoters, and traditional publicists, retail positioning and other old school tactics that were just not working for her.
She has been one of the best students I have ever had. She had never even heard of Twitter or podcasts when we first spoke and several months into her campaign she confessed to me that when we first started working with her she felt like an alien that had never been to planet earth who was dropped into a shopping mall with a fistful of money and no clue! I LOVE his analogy – imagine a little lost martian in Mall of America, no idea what money is, or which store to go into, or what they sell….. and Kelly figured it all out. She is now proficient at Social Media and staying in touch with her core fan base with her email newsletter. (Full disclosure Kelly is a client of my PR firm and she talks bout what my company Cybe PR did to help her online sales).
Her fanbase was always there, she just needed a new way to connect with them – and she did it.
Here is her interview:
Ariel Hyatt: Are you currently making a full-time living as a musician from your music?
Kelly Richey: Yes
AH: Can you give us a breakdown percentage wise of the following:
KR: This is over the last 13 years…
A. CD sales? 20%
B. Subscription site? 0%
C. Live shows? 60%
D. Merchandise? 10%
E. Other? Teaching Guitar & Coaching 10%
AH: If possible (I know you may not want to share this information), can you share the amount of money you have grossed in the last 12 months, broken down by months correlating with market, and promotional, and touring efforts?
KR: I’ve played only 75 shows in 2009. I played over 125 shows in 2008. Between 1997 and 2007 I’ve averaged 175 - 225 per year by driving 45,000 miles a year.
I chose to play less this past year for a number of reasons:
1. I was tired from years of travel, now coupled with the escalating cost of gas…etc.
2. Clubs were struggling to keep their doors open
3. Festivals were the main source of significant money to be made by anyone, and festivals were harder to book due to competition and many events were canceled due to loss of funding.
4. Many bands have been unable to find work this past year, but I have been fortunate and actually turned down about 30% of the shows I was offered as the benefits were slim after travel [was budgeted]
Years of hard, hard road work has given me some stability that newer bands do not have. After assessing the market, I decided it was time to do what I’d wanted to do for a number of year and that was to play smarter and travel less.
With my last new release in 2008, I placed my focus on theater shows and festivals with clubs to fill in the holes and to break new territory. I felt this would begin to help me make a shift that would hopefully create demand. So far so good but with playing half as much, sales and income were also half as much.
Cyber PR has been the only marketing / publicity I’ve done outside of my website, email list and send post cards via snail mail. My digital sales are up 20% and steady.
AH: How many die hard fans, (1,000 true fans) that will buy everything and anything from you, would you imagine that you have?
10% buy everything, 30% buy most things, 30% what they can.
BTW, I have almost 2,000 people on my email database and 2,300 on my snail mail list.
AH: How long did it take you to build up to 4,300 fans?
KR: Since 1997 but I’ve lost email addresses along the way as I did not have a database and e-mail service that was very functional.
AH: Do you have a strategy with long-term and short-term goals in place to get to 1,000 true fans or for any future looking aspects of your music career? If so, can you share these goals?
KR: My short term strategy is to pull back, recreate myself, redesign a new show by adding new elements such as an acoustic set, a touch of story telling (when appropriate) and I will be exploring other possibilities to make sure I’m not limiting myself for long term growth. I find it best to take advantage of a down market and to capitalize on it in every way possible. I found this to be true right after 911.
Long term goals are to develop as a coach and public speaker (http://www.poweredbyintention.com - Dream Coach/Purpose Coach/Creative Career Consultant) as well as to develop Music 4 Change (http://www.music4change.org), a non-profit organization that takes music programs into schools. I feel these are ways to both expand my professional life and to be in service in the community in ways that express those things most in alignment with my values.
My long and short term goals both expose me to a wide variety of markets all f which to build my database.
AH: Has your connection to the podcasting, Internet radio and online world helped you to earn more money?
KR: I think it has helped to strengthen our digital sales. I’ve done quite a few radio shows and the interviews on long format Internet radio shows (30 - 60 mins.) This helps people to get to know you better. Although the listening audience is small compared to typical radio, it can be added as a link for fans to listen to later.
AH: What are your next steps to continue to help yourself move forward in your own career?
KR: I’m pulling off the road for 6 months by 50% plus, to work to strengthen myself as a performer, coach and public speaker. I’m very excited!
AH: If you could give a band or artist any type of advice on how to start in social media, what would you advise them to do?
KR: Post often but do not overwhelm people or they will drop off. Be real, make posts that allow them to know more about you as a person as well as an artist. Post interesting links that spark conversation between your fan base. I place my focus on posting to twitter at least once per day and 1 - 3 times per day if there is a relevant topic to discus. I have my Twitter posts linked to appear on my Facebook and Myspace pages.
I’ve built my Facebook up to over 2,600 friends. I did not do a “fan” page but rather chose to do a normal friend based page to reconnect to those people I actually know AND to allow others in to my “real” world.
I think there’s a lot that I can do with social networking that I have not done yet as it takes time and I can not begin to stress how strongly I feel about indie artists being both real and available to their audience.
AH: On a scale of 1 to 10, would you say you share a lot (a 10) or are you guarded in what you exposure on social media sites about yourself and your personal life?
KR: I share quite a bit and feel comfortable with that. I do not share personal details of my relationship but daily events, thoughts, and perspectives and with great caution, from time to time I will make a political or spiritual comment.
AH: If you had $500 to spend on marketing and promotion, how would you spend that money?
KR: There are so many stages to the process, it depends where each artist currently is. Here are some low cost ideas that I think go a long way!
1. I think it would be good money spent to hire an assistant to expose my work to important bloggers and podcasters who’s focus is related to my musical, coaching and public / inspirational speaking interest.
2. Give your website a new face lift with new photos and new video clips.
3. Build a street team to help you promote on the ground but also on the internet. Send your members materials to put out around town as well as links to send out.
4. Print up business cards that have your info plus a free MP3
giveaway. It there is a free gift, people will keep your card.
5. If your recording quality is weak, if your recorded music representation is not true to who you are, spend this money to get 1 - 3 songs recorded well and or a great logo to make yourself stand out!
AH: How do you use analytics to your advantage? What are your measurable online results, and how do your measures help you with your music career?
KR: It’s important for each of us to have a reality check and to make sure what we want to do is within the scope of who we are and what is possible. I remember the day I realized that I had been paying money I didn’t have to try and promote a record on radio stations I didn’t even listen to and did not even like.
For so many years, I recorded CDs, released CDs, hired what support I could afford i.e. publicists, radio promoters etc. to do the “traditional” style of promotion because I thought that was how things were supposed to be done.
It’s so easy to do what we “think” needs to be done instead of being willing to make the much needed changes along the way that bring growth into an ever changing market.
AH: Did you resonate with what Matthew Ebel had to say? If so what felt familiar? and what is parallel to your own connection with fans / approach / story?
KR: I totally agree with what Matthew had to say and was reminded of the importance to explore a virtual assistant when there is not enough of you to go around. I also enjoyed the part about his approach in releasing 2 songs at a time and how that gives people something to be talking about year round. I want to consider a subscription based site in the future as I begin to travel less, write more and record music that can be shared throughout the year.
AH: Is there anything else you would like to say about 1,000 true fans?
KR: If you cater to those who love you, they will be excited to spread the word. Music that supports you as your income requires WORK.
There is no way around that. You will ether work a job for money and play part time or you will work music full time for money. Where there is a will, there is a way. If you’re married with 3 kids and in debt over your head and just starting out, your previous choices will limit your ability to make a transition.
There are NO magic bullets and very few short cuts. The best we can hope for is great information to work with, a fair amount of talent and the drive to get our music heard!
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