In this podcast you’ll discover:
- How Natasha very cleverly developed the bands USP (Unique Selling Proposition).
- How one band ended up being 8 separate offerings and the effect that had on increasing bookings.
- Urban Soul Orchestra’s involvement with an Oasis album launch.
- How Natasha adapted the band to cater for the events around the London 2012 Olympics and the amazing results she achieved.
- The incredibly simple email technique she used that still brings in bookings years later.
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Listen to the Podcast:
Brad: I am here today with Natasha Beckman who manages a very interesting outfit, band, orchestra—she’ll tell us how to describe it best—called Urban Soul Orchestra. How are you, Natasha?
Natasha: I’m very well. How are you, Brad?
Brad: Not bad. I’ve known of you for quite a while, been very intrigued by what you’ve achieved with Urban Soul Orchestra. Maybe you could give us a little bit of a background. First, tell us what is Urban Soul Orchestra. Normally, what we do is talk to musicians in straight up cover bands, but this is something a little bit different with your act. Tell us a little bit. Describe what it is for us.
Natasha: Yeah, we are a little bit different, that’s why people often book us. We’re basically a funky orchestra rather than a straight, classical orchestra. We have two different parts of our portfolio. One is music industry where we’re working with top artists doing strings for recording sessions. Then another part is more of the events side of things. We initially started as strings. That is our USP, but we’ve developed due to different requests that clients have made. Now, we work with percussion, bass, DJ, vocals, and other musicians as well, and dancers, too, actually, just so it’s more of a show.
Brad: If I was to book you for a wedding, for example, or a corporate event, what would be your most popular lineup?
Natasha: I think the thing with us is that it’s quite diverse. We have about eight different ensembles and those cater for different parts of an event. For example, from a classical quartet for a wedding ceremony, onto like a DJ set at night for dancing. I think the thing with us is that … quite a big variation of what we do gets booked rather than one thing being booked all the time, if that makes sense.
Brad: Right. Okay. So how did you get involved with Urban Soul Orchestra then? Are you a musician yourself?
Natasha: No, I’m not. I’m originally a curator. I’m from a visual arts background, but I’ve always worked representing artists and marketing artists. I was a visual arts curator and education programmer for a festival in New Zealand called Auckland Festival. You can probably hear it from my accent I’m not from here. I met someone called Nitin Sawhney who is an amazing musician, also his conductor, Stephen Hussey during my work at the festival. I basically followed them back to the U.K. Stephen and I now run Urban Soul Orchestra together. We still do a lot of work for Nitin actually as well.
Brad: Okay. So you got involved with them, and then, what? Did you suggest to them that there was an opportunity in the corporate and private event market?
Natasha: No. It was the other way around, really. Well, two things. First of all, I came here right in the middle of the recession, so the work I could get in visual arts wasn’t at a high enough level for what I wanted to work at basically. It was a friend of mine who runs Auckland Festival who suggested that I work with Stephen and transfer my skills over. Stephen’s a very talented musician. He started the orchestra about 20 years ago. The first thing he ever did was do the strings for a band called Soul II Soul on a couple of big tracks, Keep on Moving, and Back to Life. He had been running the orchestra for a long time, as I mentioned, mainly focusing on recording sessions. But really, it comes from a musician perspective, not a business perspective. Yeah, it was a friend who suggested that maybe, together, our skills would be complimentary if I looked after more of the business side of things and he looked after the music side of things. Then, in terms of events, they did one event. It’s quite an interesting story, actually, but Oasis asked them to do the music for the album launch of What’s the Story, Morning Glory. But instead of having the band perform it, they wanted a string quartet to perform it. So Stephen did that, and I think there were a few people that were at that event. Mariah Carey was one of them. They said, “Oh, why don’t you come and do an event for me?” It went from there, so really, Urban Soul Orchestra’s roots are in the music industry, and we’ve come out of that. So I think we work a little bit differently to a few other cover bands. Maybe some work similarly. But we still do a lot of work within the music industry, a lot of recording sessions. We’ve just been booked for a big music video. Actually, yesterday, there’s a tune called Calling All Hearts by Jessie J and Robin Thicke. The U.K. single was released and we’re the band in that video. If anyone wants to check it out, it’s quite fun.
Brad: Right. You’re actually in the video for that as well? … Is the orchestra playing on that track?
Natasha: Earth Wind and Fire are playing, I have to say.
Brad: Excellent. When you started with the band, where did you start? How did you take what Stephen had and then mold that and put that into a corporate and private event market?
Natasha: Yeah. It’s been quite a long process, to be honest, and we’re still working on it, still sort of moving from a solo artist to making it more of a business. I think we still have things to do on the front. We’re just trying to give it some structure. The musicians probably hate me but I probably bring in some quite strict rules around what we do. For example, one of our USPs is that everyone really looks great so we have to be quite strict on what people wear and that kind of thing. So yeah, just I think taking it more a band perspective to a corporate perspective and very much listening to our clients and seeing what they want and what their standards are. But then, at the same time, I often feel like I operate as a sort of bridge between the musicians and the corporates because they always want the most out of musicians for … paying the least whereas you also need to look after musicians and make sure they’re not playing too long and that kind of thing. So I guess it’s similar to how I was working in the museum when I used to bring in a lot of artists and then have to work with the conservators to ensure nothing was damaged, that kind of thing. So yeah, I’m the person in middle, if that makes sense.
Brad: How do you find that balance? Because a lot of the people listening to this podcast will obviously be managing themselves playing in the band themselves. Do you find that there’s a bit of a conflict there? Because I’m obviously similar to you in the sense that I manage cover bands. I’m not a musician. I know from my perspective that it can be a difficult balance to keep the client happy while at the same time making sure that the musicians aren’t taken for a ride in any respect and there’s sufficient value for them or for both parties. Do you find that a difficult mix?
Natasha: Yeah, I do find that difficult. I wonder why we’re doing this, Brad, actually. (Laughter) Yeah, it is really difficult. I think the good thing of not being involved so closely is, for example, I don’t really get involved with the politics, which is really nice, the politics in the orchestra, because I don’t even understand who sits where and which instrument is more important and all that, so we forget about that, which I really like. But yeah, I do think it’s hard. Sometimes, I can give the musicians advice on what I think, maybe about how to market themselves or, for example, if it’s a good thing for them to go on one of the big talent shows on TV or not and how that will benefit their career. But I can’t make the decision ultimately for them. It’s their decision in the end. Yes, sometimes, there are different perspectives at play, I think. I think it’s a bit of a balance. Do you find the same thing?
Brad: Well, I do. Yeah. I think the key to what you said there is it’s so much easier to make a decision when you’re not emotionally involved. I find not being a musician, not being emotionally involved in the politics that come with bands, makes much clearer thinking for me, which I find massively helps the decisions that I make ultimately, because these decisions are made with no baggage. But I’m interested to know … because I’m sure this is something which has come up in the minds of quite a few musicians and bands depending on what areas of expertise and what niches they’re in. But what would you say the rule of thumb is with bands going on talent shows?
Natasha: I didn’t think you were going to ask that question.
Brad: Do you think it’s a good thing? I mean this wasn’t necessarily in my notes to talk about, but I always think it’s quite an interesting one because, on the one side, it’s selling out, but on the other side, it’s massive exposure. It can provide a massive breakthrough for a lot of acts.
Natasha: Yeah. I think you also have to look at different talent shows and how they operate. I probably look at Britain’s Got Talent and X Factor in a little bit of a different place to The Voice. Looking at the first one, I mean if you look at a group like Escala, that female string group, I think that they … What they can charge just went up overnight dramatically from doing that program. They probably had a positive experience. As long as you’re not in a position where you’re going to be mocked at all or that kind of thing, I think if you’re pretty confident that you’re going to be well represented, then I would say that that’s a good thing. I have two artists that have gone on The Voice and done really well last year. Sean Rumsey, he did really well. I think he got to the battle rounds. This year, Leo who used to be on The Streets, one of our vocalists. He got right through to the knockouts actually. I’m pretty sure from talking to him recently that, in terms of the PR value, he felt that it had been a positive step in his career to do The Voice.
Brad: A lot of people see it as almost a one-dimensional thing. If you’re on the show, that’s the thing that’s going to help you, but you can ride off the value of it for years to come.
Brad: You can package that up and use that as part of your marketing material. People may never have seen you, but the fact that you were on The Voice three-and-a-half, four years ago can be a massive value add in terms of being able to charge a premium or at least you win the booking over three other people on that prospect shortlist.
Natasha: Yeah. That’s what I would have thought. Yes.
Brad: Just looking at your website, going back to the Urban Soul Orchestra then. What you’ve done really well, I think, is you’ve taken the orchestra and you’ve created kind of almost sub-brands or little packages. On the website, you’ve got Chill-Out, Acoustic Ensemble, DJ Set, Little Big Band, the Swing Band, and the Best of British. Has that all been a slow process bringing all that together? Or did that all happen at one time?
Natasha: When I first started, we just had the Acoustic Ensemble. What the Acoustic Ensemble was, was a string quartet with percussion and bass, which is quite a unique thing that Urban Soul Orchestra do. But yeah, really, it was responding to demand and our clients saying, “I want this” or “I want to bring in a singer” or “Can you do swing?” Each time that happened, we would develop a new set. We are at the point now where, in order not to dissipate our brand too much, I think, my next step for me is going to be representing individual musicians within the orchestra who have their own groups rather than keeping on going back to Stephen every single time I have a new idea or a client wants something and saying, “I need a whole new repertoire,” and band put together, because there’s so much we can do while still being within Urban Soul Orchestra, if that makes sense.
Brad: Right. Okay. See, you’re looking at the talent and the relationships that you build within working with your orchestra.
Brad: Then, looking to develop those into separate brands, if you like.
Natasha: Yeah. For the past couple of years, I have been turning down work with a few different things that we just can’t deliver and … or giving work onto our musicians, which is great, too. But it’s probably a good idea if I put that into more of a business structure.
Brad: Okay. On one of the … your Best of British. The Best of British is basically a show which you had effectively put together which, what, showcases obviously British music, is that right? How did that come about? Because there’s an interesting story behind that.
Natasha: Basically, we’re feeling a bit desperate because we had no inquiries for London 2012. It was my idea, really, but I thought I’d make a product that was reasonably obvious for the market and that, hopefully, different people could use for their Olympic events. Yeah, we put together … It’s really iconic British pieces arranged for strings. Then we thought about costumes, so all the girls wear Geri Halliwell dresses and the guys wear bowler hats and umbrellas and braces and that kind of British look. Then did a video and did a photo shoot and sent them out just in time for the Olympics. But actually, it was so successful that we were booked every night. We were booked 17 nights of the Olympics. We had a 10-day residency at the Royal Opera House for BP who was sponsoring the Olympic Journey, which is an exhibition they had there. We did events for Cisco for the opening and closing ceremonies in the Olympic Park. Then, we also did some things for the Paralympics as well. It was very successful. I think we just looked at an event coming up probably, a bit like what people are doing with the World Cup and then looked at what we could offer and how we could package that in a way that was pretty literal for event agents to understand how that would benefit their event.
Brad: Right. So you’ve pretty much taken what is core to the orchestra and really just put a veneer over the top of it.
Natasha: Not really. Unfortunately, I did ask Stephen to write an entire new set of music so …
Brad: Right. Because you had him available to do that though, but ultimately, you could’ve done that relatively quickly without as much work as he might have put in. Would I be right in saying that?
Natasha: Yeah. I guess, from my perspective, it was giving it a name, thinking about costumes, thinking about how to get a video shoot done, how to get a photo shoot done, thinking about choreography, that kind of thing. For him, that’s how we work I do the marketing and business side of things. He’s the one who writes the music.
Brad: Excellent. Okay. Now, I think that’s a great use of how can you get more from you’ve got to satisfy a need in the marketplace now. I think that seems to exemplify it brilliantly. From what you’ve done really, really well from what I can gather and off the conversations we’ve had prior to this is you’ve got some amazingly fantastic deep relationships with the events industry and event planners in particular. How have you done that? How have you gone about that? How long has it taken you to build those relationships?
Natasha: It’s taken a really long time. I do know that client relationships are something that I have some strength in. When I was in New Zealand, I had very good relationships right across the arts industry. The real problem for me moving to England was that I didn’t have one contact and also I was switching careers so no one knew of me. I had to build from the ground up because Stephen has excellent contacts and reputation within the music industry, but they hadn’t done much corporate event work. We were on the books of a couple of agents, but that was only with the Acoustic Ensemble, and we were just known as strings for background music. Lots of different ways, really. I sort of believe in a marketing mix and in experimenting. One way we did things was just literally to send out emails to people. Another way we did things was we went along to RSVP the first time just as punters, going to have a look, then the second time, having a stand. I think we made quite a few contacts through that.
Brad: For anybody who doesn’t know, I should say RSVP is like an industry trade show exhibition which is what that is. This marketing thing can be overcomplicated sometimes. What you did with your email campaign was really simple. What was that?
Natasha: Campaign is quite a fancy word for it, but I was just sitting in England in October. I wouldn’t really have called it a job by then, but trying to get this thing together and just would send out emails to people. A funny story that relates to where I was last week, but sent out an email … I was freezing cold, still trying to adjust to the climate here and sent out an email to an event agency in Marrakech, because I thought it looked really nice. Then, we never heard from them. Then, about two years later, we actually got a call from Norway, a little bit different. We started working with a Norwegian agent who turned out to be one of our best clients and who’s actually given us a lot of really excellent feedback and molded what we do. About three or four gigs into it, I said, “How did you hear of us?” She said, “That was my friend in Marrakech.” It was just that one email when I was feeling sorry for myself. Then, just recently, we’ve actually started working in Marrakech, so we did an event there last year, a big four-day wedding. Then we’ve just come back from another wedding and we’ve got another pencilled for October and another for next June.
Brad: Wow. That’s amazing. It just shows you, I think, the lesson to be learned there as well is, so often, we can go in and go right, we need to get some gigs in. You go and do some stuff that you think is going to get a result, and nothing happens. But three months, four months later, you start to potentially see a return on the investment of the time and the activity that you put in to try and get those gigs. It took two years for that email to give you a return on the time you spent.
Natasha: Yeah, exactly.
Brad: You don’t get instant results in this game, I think, particularly when you go to event planners. Sorry, what were you going to say?
Natasha: It’s a slow plod, I believe in many, many hours and a lot of hard work. I think maybe unless you are an absolute musical genius and business genius. Unfortunately, not all of us are. I just think it’s, yeah, a lot of hours. I do think it’s a numbers game, too. I guess, if I’m giving advice to people starting out, it’s about not being disheartened when you don’t hear back from people and just keep on going if you believe in your product.
Brad: When you say keep on going, what do you mean by that? What are you doing that is reminding your event planners, your database, that you’re out there? What are you doing to make that happen?
Natasha: When I was saying “keeping on going,” I guess I was just saying be persistent and be resilient especially in a market like it is currently, in the UK, with events, it’s quite hard, so not to take things personally if you don’t get every gig that you’re put forward for, and that kind of thing. But in terms of keeping our clients up to date, what we do, we invest quite a lot in building a database. Within that large database, we try to send out regular e-news. We just keep people up to date with what we’re doing, maybe with the music industry it’s our latest video release. Maybe with events clients, it might be a show that we’re doing, a showcase. With weddings, it might be some recent overseas weddings that were quite interesting that they might want to have a look at.
Brad: Right. Okay, so you’re keeping up to date. How often do you send that newsletter out?
Natasha: I’d like to do it quarterly for all the different sectors, but it’s probably a little bit more sporadic than that. We have found out recently that it works quite well just to send out a quick news shot rather than wait to have 15 things to say. When we sent out an e-news about the Jessie J video that I just mentioned, we got really positive feedback from events clients saying, “I was just listening to that song on the way to work. Now, I can tell people that this band I’m putting forward for an event, oh, actually, they’re the band in that video.” We think it was worth doing that at that time and making it shorter than waiting until a really strict quarterly newsletter deadline came out and then putting in five things, if that makes sense.
Brad: Yeah, so you just upped the frequency rather than waiting for five things to say in one email. You sent five separate emails.
Natasha: Yes. If it’s something important or news-worthy, as long as you’re not bombarding people because I think they’d unsubscribe.
Brad: Right. Okay. That’s good. On the wedding market then, because you do … What would you say your split between corporate events and private events are? Do you have an idea of that or …
Natasha: I want to know the answer to that. It’s something that I need to do, is get a better understanding of the exact breakdown of all of our business and where it comes from. I think it’s probably about half and half, that kind of thing.
Brad: Right. How are you bringing in the wedding clients? Where are they coming from?
Natasha: It’s really interesting because, like I said, we don’t invest hugely on marketing, but we tend to try a lot of little things. But no matter what we try, I would say at least 80%. It’s your fault I’m saying 80% because I just read that 80/20 marketing book that you recommended. So eighty percent would come from word of mouth. I believe that the best PR is how well you do on an event. Really, it’s how well we do really brings us the future work. I think, just going back to what you’re saying before about how do I keep those relationships with events clients, too. We really got out of our way to do a good job so that, hopefully, they’ll book us again in the future.
Brad: So your whole customer service approach is key then?
Natasha: It’s very important to me, personally, always has been. But I think it’s also important for corporates and the very high-end clients that we work with that are used to a very high level of customer service. If you look at the hotels they were to stay at or even book their event at, you can imagine that they want that kind of thing from a band as well. We do tend to go the extra mile.
Brad: Right. So then you can almost justify a high fee as well to a certain extent.
Natasha: Well, I think so. We offer a lot of extra services and we’ll go to have chats with them and do site visits and all those kinds of things that take up a lot more time and that reassures them about the quality of work that we’re offering them.
Brad: Did you make a decision to go into that higher end of the market when you first got cracking with this? Or is this just naturally somewhere you found yourself?
Natasha: No, I made a very strong decision. I just decided that it would be best to be doing a few gigs a month and to be working in the interim on marketing and product innovation and that kind of thing rather than be out every night, making a hundred quid or something and not really getting ahead with the business at all. It was a very definite decision, but we’re always having to work on what we do to perfect it for that end of the market because it’s very demanding.
Brad: Yeah. So you have to have that time aside to be able to work on adding that value then?
Natasha: I think, personally, yeah. Just to keep standards up, I think you need to have time. But then that’s what we chose to do, it may not be right for other bands and for example, with my new agency, it might be slightly different as well. It’s just a model that Urban Soul Orchestra chose. But also, I think it does suit us as a brand, because I think you have the elegance of the strings, but then we bring in really amazing artists like Leo who, as I was just saying, has just been on The Voice and that kind of thing. You’ve still got a nice celebrity value but also a really nice sophisticated elegance. I do think that appeals to the upper end of the market. It’s something a little bit different which they are looking for because they’ve seen every band everywhere at the best parties and that kind of thing.
Brad: Yeah. So they are almost kind of looking for something a bit different. They’re almost worn down by the next cover band that comes along. In a way, I suppose it washes over them in terms of impact, doesn’t it?
Natasha: Yeah. I think so.
Brad: Those types of guests, I should say that are frequenting those higher end functions.
Natasha: Yeah. I agree with you.
Brad: Okay. Good. Just finally then, what … because, ultimately, marketing a music product like this is almost the same no matter what area you’re in. The tactics are almost different, but the strategies are very similar. If you had a cover band, for example, just bringing it back to the core listener here, what would you be doing? I mean think about your agency at the moment. What, are you going to be looking after any cover bands there, or …?
Natasha: Yeah. I’d say so, I mean, our cover band product is the Little Big Band and the Big Band, so that is one of the things that we do. Yes I would say that I will be looking after some cover bands with my agency.
Brad: What would you do? What was the first thing that you would do when you’re looking to market them? Have you got any advice for anybody out there as the first one or two steps?
Natasha: I do. I just got off the phone to one of our musicians who I’m hoping to represent who has a jazz trio. The first thing I need is I need … If not a website, that’s fine because I will have my own website, but I need really good photos, a good blurb, and if possible … We didn’t start with video. We have to invest before we got video, but if possible, video. I need something that’s good that helps me quickly sell them to event agents who don’t have much time to scroll through a whole lot of stuff and just want it as literal as possible so they can go on with their busy lives.
Brad: Right. So you’ve got the core elements of media effectively, which are then going to present to … You’re already one step ahead in the sense that you’ve got your potential client base, which is the database for Urban Soul Orchestra effectively, for the agency. Is that right?
Natasha: I guess so. Yeah.
Brad: Right. You just lay out, “This is what we’ve got,” effectively at least and have that media all nicely presented effectively. That’s the key thing. What’s the next step past that? Are you looking to generate leads for other areas for any of these? Are you looking to do … You’ve done Adwords, have you not?
Natasha: Yeah. I’m not an Adwords expert like yourself, Brad. It’s just something I’ve had a little go at, somewhere where I need to upskill really, to be completely honest.
Brad: Right. Is that on the radar at all or …?
Natasha: Yes, it is. I’m finding it a little bit difficult with time and also I do find it a little bit mathematical which is not my first strength, let’s say. But it is something I definitely need to work on. But I have made some progress. I don’t know if I should tell this story. Someone in our company had set up an Adwords account several years ago with even less knowledge of Adwords than myself. It turned out that the most popular hit we were getting was for “G strings.” I can confidently say that I have turned it around to the point where it’s maybe okay, but we’ve got a lot more work to do on that.
Brad: Yeah. Well, at least you know when you found that out, you can only get better with Adwords at that point.
Natasha: Yeah. I feel like we’ve made some definite progress.
Brad: Yes. That’s good. I actually noticed I was …
Natasha: I was looking for “G strings.” Is that how you came across us, Brad?
Brad: I came across G strings years ago. I’ve been on Adwords for a long time. I noticed, actually the other day, I was having a look around Adwords and I noticed you can now do Adwords on YouTube, but actually do the video ads. I know most people only see the bigger brands doing video ads, but you can now very easily do video ads on YouTube. Anybody out there that’s got a promo video, you literally … that’s just another … I mean it’s the second largest search engine in the world after Google, is YouTube. There’s massive opportunity there for people. Anyway, don’t get me on Adwords. I’ll be here all day. Thank you very much. We’re at the end of time. That’s been really useful. I hope everybody’s picked up a bunch of stuff there. Where can people check you out if they want to go and see what Urban Soul Orchestra is all about?
Natasha: Sure. Our website is www.urbansoulorchestra.co.uk. We’re doing a major redevelopment of our website. It’s pretty much a new website that should be launching in the next couple of months, hopefully. Then, you can also check us out on YouTube. We’ve got a channel for our music industry work and a channel for our events work as well.
Brad: Fantastic. Well, anyone can go and check that out and see what Urban Soul Orchestra and Natasha are up to. Natasha, thank you so much for your time. Hopefully, we’ll catch up in a few months and see how the re-launch and the agency’s going as well. I’ll be interested to know that.
Natasha: Thanks, Brad. Bye.
Brad: Alright.. Talk to you soon.