Look out honey, ’cause I’m using technology.
In a world where the mainstream popular music industry is slowly sinking like the titanic, up-and-coming artists have been seeking out new and unique avenues to finance, promote, and distribute their music. In the old days, standing and playing your heart out on a corner in L.A. or New York might have worked, or even a regular rotation at one of Nashville or Washington D.C’s many open-mic dive bars may have led to your “discovery.” Hey, it worked for Kris Kristofferson and Emmylou Harris.
But this is now, and while the major labels are increasingly desperate for the next big (temporary) thing to sell millions of copies to the young folks, there is a growing underground movement of Internet-savvy performers who provide musical samples on their flashy websites, recruit and empower “street teams” to put up flyers, board their MySpace or Facebook friends with admonishments to come to shows, and who have bucked the traditional publicity path, with amazing success.
Former Sandy Springs resident Rebecca Loebe has been enchanted by music since she was a child, and broke into live performing on the local club circuit in her teen years. Loebe recalls: “My Dad used to take me to Eddie’s Attic to play the open mic events when I was 15, that’s why Eddie’s feels like home to me. It is my favorite venue to play, and I try to get in there two or three times a year.” Once she had the music bug, Loebe enrolled in the prestigious Berklee School of Music in Boston, and began exploring the wide world of performing, recording, and music theory. But her true love was obvious to others. “One of my teachers pulled me aside after a recording class and suggested I look into studying performance.
The social network
Once she returned home, Loebe continued to pursue her dream, and with the possibilities inherent in the Internet, she developed a number of unique and fruitful strategies to gain information about potential venues that were into her type of music. “I was booking my own shows for a while, and started looking at the website calendars of other artists that I liked. I saw where they were playing, and who else those venues were booking. This gave me a chance to book short tours, and I as often willing to play anywhere, anytime, for any amount of money. I called it ‘kamikaze touring!’ she says, laughing.
Like almost every other artists in the world, Loebe knew that creating her own website was a bit of a challenge, but she tried. “One thing I have learned is to know when to do something myself, and when to hire someone to do it for me. Initially I designed the rebeccaloebe.com website, then I got Mark Ogle to do it. We built it together, and now it is run by Stump’d out of Oregon. I am still really involved with it, and can be annoying.” The site contains the requisite sound clips, lots of art, frequent updates on shows and events, and the usual other stuff.
But Loebe has taken her Internet presence in a new direction, offering reasonable priced downloads of live shows through the subscriber site rebeccaloebe.net. For as low as $5 (with more expensive options available), fans can access a live recording every month. She astutely points out, “There is so much fluctuation in nightly income when I’m on tour, factors such as if there are 15 or 200 people there, if 20 percent or 80 percent buy CDs, the weather, sports events in the same town, other people’s gigs — so I needed to do something that would consistently generate fairly steady money. This is a way for me to increase my monthly income and connect with fans, giving them something extra.”
Not only has Loebe built an online scene for her fans, she made lots of real life friends along the way. “Getting to know other musicians is so important. I did a ton of ‘open mic’ shows on my first two tours, where I got to meet people and get lots of exposure.” Her own form of social networking has proven to be a fruitful endeavor, and Loebe sees two particular events as instrumental in really helping her to get established on a national level.
“When I was booked to play the Kerrvile Folk Festival in Texas, and the Folk Alliance conference in Memphis, my touring schedule went to the next level. I got to meet show presenters who were interested in booking me, and lots of other touring musicians, who you normally don’t ever see since everyone is on the road working!”
No label? No problem.
One of Loebe’s biggest Internet projects was the campaign to raise funds for recording her most recent album, the highly acclaimed Mystery Prize. Funding a record can be quite costly, and sometimes generating the upfront expenses is a major roadblock. Loebe had been steadily building a loyal fan base, and took advance of their enthusiasm, with a bold promise. “A few other people had done this before,” she acknowledges, “pre selling records online. If you get 1,000 buyers at $15 each, that’s $15,000 you have to cut a record.”
While it sounds like a gamble, Loebe’s fans knew she was capable of delivering a record they would enjoy. Her prior albums had been good sellers, and she was already doing her unreleased newer material live. From conniption to production, the project ooh a little over two years, but her faithful fans were waiting. “The people who cared enough to invest were very patient, I felt no pressure. I was writing during the entire time, and some of the original songs that were planned for the album got bumped.”
Not one to rest too long, Loebe is already preparing her next release for early 2011, a collection of B-sides and unreleased cuts. She says, “It won’t be as contiguous as Mystery Prize, but there are some fun songs on it.”
For a woman who admits to working over 80 hours a week to keep her career going, Loebe is always smiling, and always appreciative of her opportunities. “I don’t feel entitled to a successful music career. I have so much fun, I get to play music for a living, and that makes me work hard.”