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Interview with Steve Palfreyman on the launch of the Music Launch Summit

The 2016 Music Launch Summit (hosted by the Music Launch Hub) is a free virtual conference that, upon its commencement, will be the largest on a global scale. The hub’s founder, Steve Palfreyman, is an Australian musician and entrepreneur whose expertise was put to the test prior to the summit’s inception.

Palfreyman’s relocating to Melbourne allowed him to competently utilize his creative finesse. He vastly contributed to the local music scene, building his own festival from the ground up, and running a successful campaign for the renowned Pause Fest. From 2013 onwards, his personal brand earned him upwards of $30,000 across three crowdfunded projects, and he has assisted solo entrepreneurs both in starting and expanding their businesses. Now, come September 13, budding musicians everywhere can take advantage of all that the Music Launch Summit has to offer.

I had the pleasure of speaking with Steve about his ambitions, thoughts on the summit, as well as its potential impact on not only musicians, but the industry as a whole. Ultimately, both groups will benefit from its system comprising three essential factors: information, inspiration, and collaboration.

ME: Tell me about your background as a musician, and how you eventually became involved in the industry. Did those two interests go hand-in-hand?

Steve: Yeah, totally! The industry part of it was [actually] an accident. When I was younger, in my early band, we were doing a lot to try and figure out how to get ourselves to the next level. I realized pretty early on that waiting for the right label or manager was not a very good option. I was never one to live in hope, and hope that things will just work out, so I started to educate myself on the industry. I studied, and started working on, different things like prepping festivals, [managing] bands and campaigns…

I got to this point where I’m like, “Alright! I’m actually better at doing this stuff for other people than I am for my own band (laughs)!” So I started working with those people and launching their campaigns as well

ME: From those accumulated experiences, had you always been looking to branch out from what you already knew?

Steve: Absolutely. The thing that I found makes sense for most bands is just going with your gut feeling. You find things you’re naturally good at, while at the same time develop some underneath stuff that you’re not great at. That’s what I try to push to my artists.

Why I’m doing this summit is because, I’d say, it’s really easy to do stuff you like. But it’s also important to mold yourself in what you’re not great at—even if you don’t love it at the moment—because you might love it later (laughs)!

ME: Would you consider the Music Launch Summit a culmination of those efforts?

Steve: It’s the beginning of the next thing for me. It feels like I’m starting all over again, which is exciting. It’s a culmination of me going for it a little bit more. I feel really excited because there’re so many amazing people that come together. The thing it showed me is that we’re never that far away from things working out the way we might want them to. It just takes that little bit of extra effort—that push.

The industry’s a lot closer together than we think at first. It’s easy to feel like “industry’s ‘out there,’ and we’re ‘down here’ as artists. When really, we’re actually getting closer quite a bit, you know? We’re a step or two—or three max—from anybody we’d need to connect with to build a career. Any artist can reach out to the person who’s going to going to make their career. I think just feeling that the industry is very close and connected is the most exciting.

ME: At what point did your goals and intentions for the Music Launch Summit really start to solidify?

Steve: The vision’s been there for a while. Without this pathway, it’s been there for about 18 months. I was pretty sure I knew what was happening around 12 months ago, but it only really clicked in the last two to three months.

I say that because I kind of had to take a big leap of faith. Things were taking too long, and that was partly my own fault in that I was going into new territory. It was pretty scary, to be honest. With the amount of stuff I had to put together to pull this off—pretty daunting. I didn’t want to go into next year and be like “Far out! Why hasn’t this happened yet?” and know that it’s only down to me. That’s one of my biggest fears. It’s getting to a point and going, “I could have literally changed that,” you know? I would hate to look back on another year and go, “That should have happened,” because honestly this could’ve happened last year!

It just took a lot of exploration. For me, it was pushing myself and just going, “You know what? This is going to be scary and uncomfortable and difficult, but it’s going to be amazing and fun and exciting at the same time. They go hand-in-hand, so let’s just do it and see what happens,” (laughs)!

ME: Some of the topics the guests will be covering involve getting indie radio play and building press. How have those procedures evolved, especially as their internet presence is becoming more and more exclusive?

Steve: That’s a really interesting one. The thing I’d say that’s changed is that anybody could pitch anywhere now. The gatekeepers on every level of the industry, there’s no such thing! Not like it used to be anyway. I don’t necessarily need a publicist to start pitching my music. But here’s the problem. The playing field is evened out, but that means it’s harder to make you stand out.

What’s important, from my angle, is bands realizing that the value is not them—that they need to provide value to the outlet. In the same way, they need to provide value to the venues. I think press—whether it’s a blog, physical publication, or radio—needs to realize that they play a part in helping artists to present themselves better. They go, “Hey guys, you’re not ready. Here are other things I think you should do. Come back in six months after you’ve done this.” I think there’s more work to get together on that angle.

It’s an ideal I’m talking about here. Anybody can do it. At the end of the day, it’s up to anybody to make that situation better and not wait for someone else.

ME: It also benefits artists who aren’t in a music scene of a major city.

Steve: Totally, which is fantastic. I’m from a smaller town and I’ve moved to a bigger town. Interestingly, we could’ve done the same thing there as here—possibly more, because it’s cheaper to live there. The opportunity there is for anybody to build their career at the moment. I’m not saying everybody will, and I’m not saying everybody can, but the opportunity is there. That’s the exciting bit.

You couple talent with a bit of work, pushing, knowledge, desire and passion, and a bit of strategy, and you’ve got a good shot.

ME: What I notice as a musician, and you have too, is a lot of budding artists and marketers at fault. Either the artist is using crowdfunding sources that benefit only themselves, with not enough perks, or the marketer has too much of an upsell approach. Do you think it’s not a matter of scamming people outright, but just incompetently utilizing these practices?

Steve: I definitely know what you’re saying. I think with the amount of access that people have out there in the world, it’s really easy to start feeling like “I deserve that” with the amount of work you put in. It’s like, “I put in this much work, so I deserve something in return.”

When things don’t work, you start getting lazy and switch to tactics that had been working for other people. You think, “Well, screw it! I’m gonna post my stuff all over Twitter, ‘cause other people are doing it, so that must be what works.” And what’s easy to forget is your own thing is what matters—every single time.

I like that you’d brought up crowdfunding. It crushes me when artists are just going around going, “I think I’ll crowdfund this thing,” and not thinking about how perks need to provide value. They need to have an audience first—people to ask “Do you want this stuff?” And then [the artist] needs to give [the audience] something they want; not what they want. It’s inherently selfish to be just going, “I wanna give you ‘this,’” which is an easy thing to do.

With the marketing thing too, I definitely see that. It’s why I want to have a free experience with the summit, but also a VIP experience. One, so I can keep doing this, but two, so I can give artists the extra bit that I know they need, which is the implementation and some other bits and pieces too. That’s so I can give artists a nudge. Being an artist myself, I’m like “Hey, get in early and I’m going to give you a hundred million times more value, if you want the VIP experience.” And I totally agree. I would be bogged on the other side if there was like, “Hey, here’s ‘this,’ and then here’s ‘this,’ and then here’s ‘this’.” I think it happens a lot because there are marketers out there who know they can trick people. But artists aren’t dumb. That’s the cool thing about the music industry. We’re bloody smart! We pick up on it very quickly like, “Hang on, are you pulling the wool over my eyes?”

That’s why I’m pretty upfront in saying “Hey, it’s free, and if you want to consume it free, come and do the work!”

ME: The goal of the Music Launch Summit is to not only educate, but inspire. Sometimes we receive the education, but not enough inspiration, why do you think that is?

Steve: I actually don’t there’s lack of inspiration by any means. Somebody could come in and watch three sessions, one session, or just 10 minutes of a session, and walk away inspired. I think it’s two things. One, we don’t know what we’re looking for, and that could make it hard, so it’s like “What’s going to give me the inspiration?” If you don’t know what you’re looking for, then you really just have to dive into some things and see what happens.

Then there’s the thing of, maybe, a lack of openness, and not willing to go, “You know what? I don’t know yet, so I’m going to consume,” or talk to people and say, “Hey, I just learned about this. I don’t know if it’s interesting to me or not.” Sometimes you don’t know if inspiration is going to strike you until you dive in a little further. It’s like learning an instrument, you know? You don’t necessarily know you’re going to love playing piano until you get to, say, level three, and you’re like, “I can do this; this is what it’s about!”

So I think the willingness to explore, and find something either you love or hate, is really important. That’s why the Facebook group’s here too, so people can be going, “Here are my challenges and some things in the summit that inspired me.” Just hearing from others and sharing is hugely important. It gets missed online, because it happens at physical conferences, but it doesn’t happen 24/7 and that’s what I want.

ME: Ultimately with the summit, like you were saying, this is simply one step in spreading the word that both artists and the industry can collaborate closely as a unit, rather than separate entities?

Steve: Absolutely. I hope the community it builds will protect itself from outside as well. I’ve got plenty of friends who have been burnt by the industry, and part of the industry has been burnt by artists. It goes both ways. I think one, it makes you feel like I’m in my own battle, and if somebody else gets an opportunity, then that’s my opportunity lost, but that’s just not the case.

We can get far more leverage by pooling resources than we can by spending the money we don’t have. Trying to build an audience when you don’t have any money doesn’t make any sense. You can pool resources, and use that to build an audience and do all kind of other things to get that. I think we’ll protect ourselves as well, because as soon as someone goes “Hey, this person’s a shark,” everyone’s going to know about it, so it kind of brings a bit of accountability as well.

Artists don’t mean to screw up, but sometimes we say “I’m gonna disappear for a while.” There’s accountability that has to come in once you start collaborating. I think there’ll be a little bit of a self-correction mechanism happening, just with people being more open in saying, “Look, we’ve got each other’s backs.”

ME: Lastly, any advice for first-time attendees to the summit?

Steve: Pick one thing you like and action it—just one thing. For some clarity here, we’ve got some awesome people reviewing the content at the moment. Some of the VIPs are getting early access, taking notes and telling me things like “This is amazing!” The reason why they’re getting so much is they have to take the notes, so I’m rewarding them (laughs)! And they’re getting more out of it because they’re putting in the work. Don’t try and consume everything in one go; you’ll walk away going “Woah!” There are a million different things. I found it overwhelming, but I knew a lot of what they’re talking about.

Come and find the things you like, write some notes, go and action it, and then tell us about it in the group. Tell us what’s working and what’s not. Information’s great, inspiration’s awesome, but the only way is to get a little uncomfortable, try something out and then keep correcting it. That’s where the real lessons are. There are some people in the group doing that at the moment, and I’m giving them extra help.

For anybody, I’ll just say this. Even if it’s just 10 minutes, pick one thing and action that. You’re going to do so much more than someone trying everything.

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About Jake Kussmaul

I come from a family who is passionate about all things music. I learned to sing at an early age, and by 13, had my very own Fender Strat guitar. I tried my hardest at learning all that I could. Because I was born with cerebral palsy, I had to teach myself an adaptive playing style. I learned to write and record my own music, despite these difficulties. In college, I started making great use of my writing abilities by reviewing music, as well as copy editing. I guess it's best to stick with what you know, while welcoming a fair challenge at the same time.

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