Artist Growth: Built by Musicians, for Musicians
By: Patrick Gipson
The music industry has endured a technological renaissance of sorts in the last fifteen years. I choose the word ‘endured’ because it seems like with every astronomical advancement, (i.e. P2P sharing, Pro Tools, Spotify) the industry desperately adjusts, only to see technology overtake it again. While mighty record labels continue to crumble under the free music enterprise, in-home studios and digital marketing have elevated once-stagnant artists. It’s an ongoing struggle for compromise between technology and the arts, or the past and the future. It divides the music industry of old, from the new.
So where is the line that separates recession and prosperity for all? One thing’s for sure: a pair of musicians from the city of Knoxville have definitively mapped their hometown on the side of prosperity and advancement, all in the form of an elegant little invention.
The next chapter of this ‘music renaissance’ has come in the form of “Artist Growth.” When I first heard of Artist Growth, I naturally dismissed it as just another application in our helplessly growing dependency on mobile devices. I’m a little old-fashioned in that I believe we spend so much time with our noses stuck in our phones and tablets that we continually overlook the basic fundamentals of our own development. It wasn’t until I had spoken with Artist Growth’s creators that I realized, in some ways, they felt the same way. They wanted to build an application for independent musicians that utilized the greatest rewards of technology, with a strict adherence to primitive simplicity. It came as no surprise to me that the creators of this industry-changing device were not overpaid corporate think tanks, but simple, blue-collar guys.
Years ago, Jonathan Sexton and Matt Urmy discussed a riveting, new concept over a bottle of wine in Knoxville, Tennessee. Their idea was to embolden musicians with the knowledge of an industry veteran; to mobilize artists with the resources once exclusive to only the biggest artists with the biggest teams. The device compounds the most critical facets of a successful independent musician; scheduling, promotions, marketing, merchandising, finances and more, all suspended in a small, tidy universe that runs on any smartphone. As the idea evolved, it became more apparent that just maybe, this was an idea that was not destined to be overtaken. It was not as brilliant of a device as it was a brilliant concept. It reinforced the most basic ideals of the Internet. To empower the powerless. To guide the lost. No artist gets left behind.
Urmy (CEO) and Sexton (CAO) were kind enough to give us here at BLANK the premier scoop on their trailblazing new product.
For starters, tell us about your history as musicians from Knoxville.
JS: Matt and I have a long history together. We met in Knoxville. As much as this company is based in Nashville, it’s got a lot of roots in Knoxville. Matt and I, we used to live together in Fort Sanders in a house. In our co-op, we were all playing in bands, we were running a studio in our house and we were touring and making music and having a good time. Matt and I, we just hit it off from the day we met when he was just walking down the street with a guitar. We were having a big party and I looked out the door and saw some dude with a guitar and yelled at him and told him to come in and play us a song and he did. We’ve been friends ever since. So, while we were living together in Fort Sanders we both found out we were going to be Dads. He moved back to Nashville, I went back to grad school, we both quit music for a while. I went into teaching Kindergarten full time and he was working in healthcare at Vanderbilt. Somewhere along the way, we didn’t really talk to each other, but we both started playing music again about the same time and we ran into each other at a gig on the road. We immediately started talking again, about how we were going to make music again; we needed a new approach. We had to be serious, it couldn’t just be about fun and partying; we had to try and figure it out. One thing that changed was technology. Back when we were getting started, MySpace was the thing, it had just come out.
When was the moment that you realized that this was not just another idea, just another conversation after a gig and something more?
JS: I remember when he (Urmy) told me about this new innovation, ‘it’s tools for bands it’s cool,’ which clubs are you playing, which kind of flyers are you using…It didn’t take us long to figure out, that the tools out there weren’t fitting our needs. We needed something more comprehensive, to address the needs of an artist. Part of those needs was tools that were easy to use and learning how you’re supposed to do things in the music industry. One day we realized, there was definitely a way that we could make something better, than already existed. So we sat down at my kitchen table in Knoxville, over a glass of wine and were just like, ‘we can do this.’
MU: The concept of Artist Growth was born after months of working through two other ideas for a business in music and discarding them. It was a process of elimination that left us holding what we felt was essential to helping artists, and one day when I was searching available URLs I came upon “artistgrowth,” and it was available, so I called Jonathan and we decided upon that name.
What were the first steps in bringing the idea to life?
JS: First, we went to somebody and said we had this great idea. Our first idea, it changed forms a few times, but originally we thought, what if we made orbits for bands, where if you were going on a trip, you could get everything you need. We talked to a few people in Nashville and in the music industry and somebody told us that if we were going to have this idea we needed a business plan. That was the first step in moving the ball forward. From taking the idea and making it into something real. Which is funny, because part of our thing is all about bands should do a business plan first thing, which could be shocking to somebody on the art side sometimes. We came up with it on a weekend and then we tweaked on it for a year. There was one person, Tatum Hauck and Matt knew Tatum and she worked in the industry. She was the first person who said, ‘guys, you really got something here.’ It was the first big gust of wind in our sails. She said ‘don’t let anybody take this from you and follow it through.’
In designing the interface, did you take inspiration from any other applications, or rather other musicians?
MU: The original inspiration for Artist Growth was because we needed a tool like this as touring musicians. So we asked ourselves everyday, “Does this make my life easier?” if the answer was yes, then we kept it in the design.
What artists participated in the beta testing?
MU: All of the AG team participated in the BETA, as well as some local Nashville/Knoxville based songwriters.
What kinds of goals were set for the product?
JS: Our goal, what we’re going for, is full adoption, from the entire industry from the top down and the bottom up. We want this to be a game-changer in the way that Pro Tools was. [Before] everyone had analog studios and tapes forever and getting professional recording was so expensive and only a few artists had the opportunity. Pro Tools came along and all of the sudden, everybody had a studio. We want Artist Growth to have the same effect. We want it to be so streamlining and smooth and easy that the industry is like, ‘where has this been? This is going to save us so much money.’ But at the same time, artists can get it and say ‘oh man, this isn’t that hard, I can do this.’ That’s the impact we want to have, from the highest executive, to the guy who just got his first guitar.
Do you feel with technology such as this and the multitudes of tools online, the opportunities for grassroots artists are greater than ever, or more competitive and therefore harder than ever?
JS: I think there’s never been more opportunity. Now, it’s almost all they have to overcome is themselves. So the responsibility comes within the artists. I won’t say that it’s easier; there’s a lot of competition and there’s a lot of work and you really have to sacrifice. But, it’s possible. Anybody could get out there and go at it and that is what Artist Growth is about. It puts it back in your hands; it puts your career in your hands and lets you manage the part of your career that you maybe didn’t want to before or didn’t know how. It’s all on you now; it’s real empowering.
MU: Absolutely. Artists of all disciplines have the opportunity to participate in their own personal development and growth like never before. The internet gave everyone access to so many different sources of information and now it is a matter of harnessing the power of current technology to create laser focused and contextually relevant toolboxes that grant a user the opportunity for more autonomy. To do this you have to create the toolbox and teach people all the different ways to use it…and that’s what we’ve done with Artist Growth.
Not every musician is a 22-year-old smartphone owner. Do you think this product could be confusing for the less tech-savvy independent musicians?
JS: A very similar question that we get a lot is where do you stand on labels. Is this only for independent artists, are the labels going to go away, are managers going to go away? The answer is no. There’s room for everybody. And this tool is designed to make a manager’s life easier and an artist’s life easier. It’s not about replacing anything; it’s more about connecting everything.
If you were a publicist, or a manager of artists, on a small or large scale, would you be worried that a technology such as this can eliminate your place in the industry?
MU: Absolutely not. I would see it as an opportunity to expand my business because I can work more efficiently, manage larger teams and take on more projects.
JS: Well, for the publicists and the Shore Fires [Media] of the world, for one, clients and artists are learning. It’s going to teach them industry protocol and the right way to do things. And so, whenever an artist gets to a level where they are ready for a Shore Fire or they’re ready for a label, the artist is already going to be trained essentially in all of the ways the industry actually works. But another thing it’s going to enable them [artists] to do…labels and publicists and radio promoters and all these things, can look at Artist Growth as a way to scout and track talent and who’s working hard. It helps an artist quantify their work. So if I’m a record label and I’m looking at a band I want to sign…I listen to their music and see how it makes me feel, then I might see how many tickets they’ve sold, then I see how many ‘likes’ they have and Twitter followers…but what does that really mean? I mean the answer is more is better…okay they’ve got a lot, so that might be good, but you don’t really know. With Artist Growth, you have actual, quantifiable data that a label can look at. How many gigs is this band playing? How much money have they made? How much merch have they sold? How many downloads did they have? And by giving that data, it gives the music industry a much more clear picture of whether they are interested in an artist. It creates a situation where finally, for the first time ever, the artists and the industry are speaking the same language…numbers.
Is there going to be any sort of version built for publicists and managers?
MU: This initial version is definitely already built for managers. Artist Growth will give artists who work alone an unprecedented power to get their careers together, but for artists who already have management teams, it will streamline their workflows like never before.
What would you say to those artists who might be unsure about their adaptability to use this new application?
JS: The cool thing about Artist Growth, is that one thing we tried to do all along was make it video game easy. If you can’t accomplish what you’re trying to accomplish in three or four clicks, then we tried to change it. Another principle we tried to apply was that the phone would do the work. There’s a basic tool set, the finances module, scheduler for gigs, the industry search database for finding any radio, print or club contact in the country and it’s already in the app. What we also included in the tool boxes are features to teach you how to do it. We have video mentoring, we call it AGTV…in AGTV we have interviews, questions and clips of A-list people in the music industry talking about legal advice, financial planning, studio advice, pre-production, engineering, how to tune a guitar string, everything… That’s what I love about Artist Growth is that integration of mentoring and education and the tools necessary to do it.
MU: There has never been anything like this before, but it is so easy to use. Try the Free Trial. I don’t believe you will be disappointed.
Artist Growth will be available for download starting January 17th for just $4.99/month. Free trials will be available granting partial access to the application’s features.