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What’s Working in Indie Music Today: Lessons in Success from New Artist Model Member Eric John Kaiser

Eric John Kaiser
New Artist Model member Eric John Kaiser

New Artist Model member Eric John Kaiser

By Dave Kusek and Lindsay McGrath
Sponsored by the New Artist Model
Turn your passion for music into a career

Eric John Kaiser is the “French Troubadour.”  A native of Paris who lives in Portland, Oregon, this independent artist sings in French and plays guitar music steeped in  American jazz and blues.  He calls his style Parisian Americana.

“I am a songwriter and storyteller. That is what I like to do – to connect with people,” Eric says, adding that he supports himself entirely with his music. “I admire the storytelling tradition of American music, the way it combines with everything from the Delta blues to jazz. Being here in the U.S., I get the chance to live it every day rather than see it at a distance.”

Eric moved to the States in 2006.  He has released four albums and played at the Smithsonian Institute in Washington DC, the de Young Fine Arts Museum in San Francisco, the Blue Nile in New Orleans, the Solidays Festival in Paris and shared the stage with the Welsh super stars the “Stereophonics.”  

Eric has also toured with French star Tété, “The Lost Bayou Ramblers” in Lafayette, Louisiana, and the French band “Revolver.”

Exploring North America on multiple lengthy tours, Eric has gigged his way up through Canada and down through the South, as far as New Orleans and Washington D.C.

“If you want to go the indie route, learning about marketing is really important.  What I like about the New Artist Model (http://newartistmodel.com) is that it teaches you clearly how to get different sources of income from gigging, recording and publishing,” Eric says.  “There is no excuse not to educate yourself and the New Artist Model is the way to go.”

Before emigrating to the U.S., Eric played out part-time in Paris and did other work in the music industry. He was a programmer for the Fun Radio Network, did public relations at Source Records (a division of Virgin) and co-hosted the live music show “Melting Pop” on French television network Direct 8.

“By the time I moved to Portland, I felt like I had enough knowledge to starting playing out full-time,” Eric says, adding that local gigging at French restaurants and coffee shops helped get his career off the ground and build his confidence.

Eric still plays out a lot in Portland but says dates are getting harder to find.

“The local gigging scene is changing. Portland is saturated with musicians and it is getting harder and harder to find gigs to make a living,” Eric says, adding that many small venues are closing as more condominium and office developments spring up.

As the city has evolved, so has Eric’s business strategy.  While the bulk of his income still comes from gigging, Eric also receives money from fan funding to pay for video and recording costs.  Album pre-orders are also a good source of funds. Eric offers French cultural presentations in area schools and workshops on French songwriting.  He also performs at weddings and plays the occasional house concert.

New Artist Model has shown me the value of getting a bunch of different income streams happening.”

Crowdfunding helped Eric complete two 2014 albums.  A Kickstarter campaign for “Idaho” raised just over $7000 while a RocketHub drive for “Outside It’s America” brought in $5000.  “Idaho” enjoyed pre-sales of 400 and its Portland CD release party sold out.

Eric is about to start a new Kickstarter campaign for an album he will complete in Quebec this June. He does one crowdfunding drive every two years.

“One of the most important things to do when crowdfunding is to keep expectations realistic”, Eric says.  “After all, it is a process based on trust, and trust takes time.”

“It only works if people already know you. Success with this didn’t happen in two weeks.  It is trust that was built over the years.” says Eric. “Build a fanbase first. You can’t just post a crowdfunding project and expect people to support you.”

Understanding the kind of crowdfunding your fans will support is important too, Eric adds.  His Patreon page encourages people to donate monthly or for each new creation. So far, it hasn’t brought in much money.

“My audience is a bit older,” he says.  “It scares many people to do it month by month.  They associate it with paying bills.”

Social media is Eric’s primary tool for staying in touch with fans — and he uses it in a way that embraces his unique musical niche.  Copy on his site http://www.ericjohnkaiser.com  appears in both English and French.  

People who give Eric their full name and email address get three free songs when they sign up.  “It is a worthwhile investment”, he says.

“Lots of people don’t believe in email lists but I do,” he says.  “Don’t just depend on Facebook, don’t let it control your contacts.”

Email is the most important channel Eric uses to keep in touch with fans — with Facebook, Twitter and Instagram close behind.  He reaches out to his fans once a day using his social media channels and sends our an email to his list once a month.  There are more than 4000 people on his email list and roughly the same number of friends on his Facebook page. He does not put much work into creating new fans online, opting instead to let it happen organically in person. “The connection with people at my shows is much stronger,” he says.

While Eric uses social media, he also spreads the word about his work in ways that are decidedly low-tech. He uses flyers and posters to announce his shows and asks French bakeries, restaurants and cultural organizations to help him spread the word. He also contacts local media outlets for coverage. “I’ve learned to make things easy for people who want to talk about you,” Eric says, adding that providing well written bios and promotional materials increase your chances of getting covered. “Be concise, precise and provide links that work.”

Eric spends each day on a combination of creativity and commerce. He rises early, checks his email and then reads marketing articles from the New Artist Model and other sources. He works on songwriting for a couple of hours. In the afternoon he works on booking gigs. Evenings are often spent playing out.

Some of his current projects include beefing up his YouTube channel with more cover songs and booking more house tours — both efforts inspired by the New Artist Model.

“People don’t realize how much work it is.  A labor of love that is almost 7 days a week.  If I don’t work, there is nothing that is going to be handed to me”, he says.  “Art and business have to cohabitate together. Like a brother you kind of get along with but not really — hey it’s your brother!”

Eric finds time to give back to the community in spite of his heavy workload. In the wake of the November 2015 Paris terrorist attacks, Eric organized a benefit concert in Portland to raise funds to aid victims.  Eric and his musician friends raised more than $1800 for the French nonprofit organization IMAD which battles racism.

Eric says he will continue his musical journey through America this year with more dates in Vancouver, San Francisco, Portland, Idaho, Utah and Montana.

Learn more about Eric here: http://www.ericjohnkaiser.com/

New Artist Model is an online music business school developed by Dave Kusek, founder of Berklee Online. The online school is a platform for learning practical strategies and techniques for making a living in music. Learn how to carve a unique path for your own career with strategies that are working for indie artists around the world. Learn to think like an entrepreneur, create your own plan and live the life in music you want to live. New Artist Model provides practical college-level music business training at a mere fraction of the cost of a college degree. Programs start at just $29/mo. For more information visit http://newartistmodel.com

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