In this podcast you’ll discover:
- How clever use of different images and some Photoshop magic helped get the band it’s first few bookings.
- Why Sera believes marketing your band is almost more important than how good you are.
- How she manages to book 175 shows a year and still find time to manage other cover bands.
- How she uses her fee structure to help build relationships with industry partners.
- Her path to success with Google Adwords and how she’s able to let it run on autopilot and see bookings come in.
- What event the band played at that drew 300,000 punters (this will surprise you).
- How relentlessly following up with prospects helped build the foundation for the bands future success.
Brad: I’m here with Sera Golding who runs a great band called MIB. She’s built, over the last few years, quite an empire of cover bands, if you like. How are you?
Sera: I’m good, thank you. How are you doing?
Brad: Yeah. I’m really well. Thanks for your time. I know you’re really busy. Tell us a little bit about yourself. Tell us where you did get going? Because you’re still pretty young, really, in most people’s game, really.
Sera: I started off quite young doing this stuff, actually, probably from about 17, I guess. I think I sang in one other function band before I started running my own and just sort of learned the ropes from helping out with that stuff, I guess. I started up my own thing from about 18 and have been doing it ever since.
Brad: Right. Okay. Where you … How did you start? What was your first band, if you like? What was the first thing that you did?
Sera: First thing I did was a band called The Party People. It’s such a cheesy name, but it was very much in those days more accessible to get that kind of cheaper, like half backing track/half live kind of gigs and we did loads of holiday parks and then a couple of working men’s clubs and all of that kind of thing. That’s how I started, doing that, then I think soon after that, for whatever reason, stopped doing that band and then had a little break from it and started up MIB not long after that.
Brad: What year did you start MIB?
Sera: I guess that would have been around about 2003, I think.
Brad: Okay, so you’re just over 10-year anniversary then.
Sera: Yeah. Oh, God!!
Brad: Excellent. When you started MIB, what was the first thing that you … For anybody that’s out there that’s just starting out, what was the first thing … What were some of the first few things that you did and what kind of success did you have in your first year with the band?
Sera: The way I started, I never really know whether to advise people to do this or not because I think it was probably a mistake, to be honest, but the way I started is… I had no money. I know that’s probably the situation a lot of people are in when they want to start something like this.
I put everything together myself and we literally did our own photos – we Photoshopped photos together of all the different band members because we couldn’t afford a photographer, and made a demo on whatever we had, on logic or whatever we had at that time and with MIDI. It sounded awful, to be honest. It didn’t sound like a band.
It didn’t really look like a band, but at least we started to get gigs and started to make money. Then, as soon as I could afford to, I put a lot of money into the marketing. I think the thing that I’ve learned is that you may as well do that from the beginning.
If you can get your hands on some money, it’s so worth just putting money into the marketing because it’s the most important thing. It’s more important than the band being any good. Do you know what I mean? Later, once you’ve got some bookings in, then you can start working on the band being really, really good.
Brad: Ah, interesting. Right. Yes.
Sera: You know what I mean? If you know good musicians and you know what songs should be played, that’s the easy bit. Marketing is the most important thing, really.
Brad: Right. It’s interesting that you talk about using Photoshop to bring different images together because if you look at the movie industry, they very rarely get the whole cast in one place to do a photo shoot. What you actually end up seeing is a lot of different, almost like a collage, of different photos. They come together.
I don’t know. We did that with one of our bands, the Milestones. It’s almost one of the most popular websites, but it’s just literally throwing everything together to create this one image. You’ve got five, six band members in one image. I think if you can do it, you can do it that relatively cheaply now, can’t you?
Sera: I was just going to say you can probably do that really well, if you know what you’re doing, but I didn’t!
Sera: It looked awful when I did it, but yeah, I’m sure you can do it well now, actually.
Brad: Yeah. You also touched on a really interesting part which I think is so true. So many people want to build and create this perfect band and then go out and look for gigs. You’re almost advocating almost the other way around.
Sera: Yeah. I mean that’s one thing I learned from the first band I was in, which I wasn’t running. I think we must have rehearsed for about nine or 10 months before we even got any gigs. It just seemed actually really frustrating and really … I guess like a waste of time because it takes a while to build up gigs when you start putting your marketing out there.
It takes quite a few months for people to give you a chance, I think, in terms of agents and things like that. Yeah, that’s the way I do it now, is I would market it and then start rehearsing. As soon as the gigs start coming in, you know it’s working. It’s unlikely you’re going to get a gig for next week. It’s going to be six months’ time or something so you can then start looking at putting the musicians to work.
Brad: Even if it’s two months’ time, that’s a good deadline now, isn’t it?
Sera: Yeah. Certainly, you’ve got something to work towards.
Brad: You’d better get rehearsing kind of thing.
Brad: Yeah. When you started MIB then, did you have a video at that time or not? Was it just images?
Sera: Yeah, it was just images, but I guess, in those days, it was less common to have a video, so we got away with it. But now, you probably would need to have one, really.
Brad: When do you think that change was? Because I still see a lot of cover bands struggling away without a proper video or at least a pretty shoddy, dodgy mobile phone footage type of video. When did you make the decision? Because I know the visual element of what you do is hugely important. I know you place a huge emphasis on that. When was it that you made that shift?
Sera: I can’t remember what kind of videos we had originally. We had a few kind of thrown-together videos for a while. I started realizing that it was helping a lot. I think it must have been maybe about four or five years ago, I just thought, you know what? It’s working now, but it would work so much better if I just spent some real money on things like a video.
I think the video is important and a really good website with good branding. It’s about then that I just realized… How do you sell yourself if you don’t have a video showing what you do? It’s really, really difficult.
Brad: Well, I think it’s difficult … Yeah, it’s difficult to sell yourself. Also, your competition have got them. You’re so far on the back foot. You’re not even in the shortlist, really, are you, if you don’t have a video now, really. That’s interesting. Yes. In terms of … I mean you’re … you’ve built things up to the point where you’re flying high. I mean last … what was it, last year, 175 shows you got, MIB, is that right?
Brad: What was some of those numbers you’re willing to share?
Sera: Yeah. I mean I haven’t actually counted for ages, but I think we averaged (just for MIB), we probably averaged about 175, something like that, for the last few years.
Brad: Hundred seventy-five shows. You’re very open about the fact that you’re also going out two bands in one night because of your sister.
Sera: Yeah. I’m lucky in that me and my sister both sing and we’re very similar in the terms of the way we sing and even the way we look (although now I dyed my hair, which was a stupid move!) Generally, we’re really, really similar. Yeah, really early on, we started getting double bookings. We just thought this is silly.
As you know, being a gigging musician, you have to have loads of deps, anyway, who know the set. We’ve got all these deps who know the gig just as well as our normal players do. Why don’t we just get them out gigging, too? We started doing that and I just try really, really honest with clients about that.
A lot of bands do it and don’t necessarily tell the client or cover it up in some way. But I think that’s when you get yourselves in trouble, but we make it a selling point because we have a massive database of, say, 150 musicians that know the set and have done the gig a billion times. It means not once have we ever pulled out of a gig because someone’s ill or someone’s car breaks down and can’t get there. We can call someone else and they’ll get there.
We’ve never, ever, touch wood, ever had to pull out of a gig or ever been a man down or anything. We can sell it on that. It just makes us really, really reliable. It means we can cover whatever they throw at us, really. A lot of event planners and agents like that, because when they get let down, they can call us on the day of the gig and go, “Can you get me a band?” And I can throw them together a band that’s used to working together and can go out and do the gigs. It works for us.
Brad: Excellent. Okay. I want to move on to the fact that you’ve grown out of MIB and set up MIB Management. We’ll get to that in a short while. One of the things that I’m interested to see is a lot of musicians listening to this will probably be thinking that working with agents is a good route to go.
In my mind, it is a good route to go. It’s just not the only route to go. You’ve got to spread your … put your eggs in multiple, different baskets, haven’t you? But you’re interesting in the fact that you’ve got two price points, haven’t you?
Brad: You’ve got the price point which we won’t necessarily go into the fees. That’s for other people to work out. But you do offer your agents a lower fee …
Brad: … than you offer the direct. Have you found that really successful for you? How does that work?
Sera: Yeah, definitely, because … I mean we have a really good working relationship with loads and loads of agents and event planners and venues as well. (Then, there’s also some horrible ones which are awful, which I never want to work with again!) There are some really lovely people out there that we love working with and they get us loads of work.
It’s just the way of repaying them for the work that they give us. We give them that discount. We give them 20% off of what we charge a direct client. It means that they’ve got room to add their commission on … Then, if the client does shop around, which they often do, they’re getting, hopefully, the same price wherever they go.
I know lots of the agents we work with have appreciated that because they struggle so much with clients, getting them to deal with work for them, and then they go direct to a band and then get it cheaper. They lose out on all this work. It definitely helps you stay friendly with people, I think.
Brad: Yeah. I think if you’ve got the opportunity to be able to drop your fees, I think that’s where the trick is, really. You manage to get your fees to the point where they’re high enough so you can actually drop them and you’re still making good money on every single show.
Sera: I think of it the other way around. Our agent price is the price that we have to get to make ends meet and pay everyone and make enough money. Then the direct client gets the 20% on top which is fair enough because it’s what they would pay to an agent… they have to pay the same across the board then.
Brad: Right. You’ve swapped the whole thing around, which is a great mindset to have. Yeah.
Sera: Yeah. Hope that makes sense.
Brad: Fantastic. Yeah. Absolutely it makes sense. Rather than sell yourself short for volume …
Sera: Yeah, exactly.
Brad: … you’re keeping your fees where you want them to be and getting the volume.
Brad: In terms of when you started out … because I’m a huge fan of Google Adwords, and I know that’s something that you worked quite hard on in the early days and you’re still doing now. Tell us a little bit about your experience with using Adwords then. When did you start?
Sera: It’s really hard to remember. I think we started that about maybe six years ago, something like that. We started out … I just learned how to do it myself. It’s just brilliant. Aside from referrals and double bookings and stuff, that’s pretty much solely where all of our gigs come from these days when they aren’t through an agent or an event planner.
Yeah. It’s just a great way of targeting who you want to target and spending what you want to spend, and combatting that horrible world of Google, because is so difficult & competitive to get up to the top of the Google listings, whereas … I think the Google adwords thing is a really fair way of doing it because different people come at top at different times.
It’s been really, really good. In the last few years, I’ve had another company. who run it for me and they obviously know what they’re doing more than me because they manage to cut my budget down quite a lot and now I am paying less but getting more success from it. I just sort of let them do it now.
Brad: So just so some people that aren’t using Adwords at the moment can understand how powerful it is, who can you target? Who have you gone out … You said you sat down and right you said to your company or to the company that is managing the campaigns for you where you sat down yourself with you and your sister. You’ve said, “Right, we’re going to target X, Y, and Z.” How narrow have you been able to get that?
Sera: Yeah. It’s amazing. You can pretty much target whatever you want. We’ve experimented with various different markets along the way. A few years ago, we started doing a lot of Jewish weddings so we targeted that with our Adwords campaign.
That worked really, really well. You’ve got to think of the keywords. I’ve been trying to think of keywords that actually people use and not from a musician’s point of view. It’s a difficult thing to do and you have to really get in the mindset of the client rather than yourself. That’s the most important thing, coming up with the right keywords.
Brad: Yes. When you were going through the process, did you find certain keywords were bringing more inquiries and bookings than others, and then you count the number of keywords that aren’t working for you when you move forward, yeah?
Sera: Yeah. It’s quite often the ones that you didn’t think would be popular… As a musician, I thought the keyword “function band” would be the biggest one, but that actually didn’t seem to bring us in that many hits.
It’s funny I think that’s what probably musicians call it, and not what clients call it. You have to think, what would client call us? Would they know the phrase “function band”? Maybe not. Maybe they’d go “wedding band” or “a band for my wedding.” Do you know what I mean?
Brad: Yeah. Well, they say I think it’s something like 65% or 70% of keywords searched daily on Google have never been used to search for something before.
Sera: Oh, really?
Brad: Yes. It’s quite mind-blowing, isn’t it?
Brad: Yeah. You can never second-guess. The only way of really knowing, from my experience at least, is just to go out there and continue to test it. But it is something … I think a lot of musicians … I’m sure you probably heard stories when you talked to other people, other musicians running cover bands that they kind of dabbled in it for two or three weeks. It’s kind of rinsed and dried their purse or their wallet and they never want to go back there again. Have you found that with …?
Sera: It’s not something I particularly discussed with anyone else before actually, but I can see how …
Brad: Just me and my gig now!?
Sera: (Laughs) I can see how that can happen, definitely.
Brad: Yeah. I mean it happens all over the place. I see it. I can see it. People come into the marketplace. You can evidently see that they’re bidding on the wrong keywords or it’s too broad. Then they’re gone again, never to come back. It’s such a shame because, as you say, it’s such a powerful tool to be able to target keywords, but location as well.
Everybody listening to this, a lot of them have … a lot of musicians will have a certain boundary that they don’t want to play outside. It’s just too far for them. If they’re not working professionally, you don’t want to be traveling 300 miles or whatever it is. It’s a really powerful thing. Now, you’ve got this company managing it for you. Are you pretty much entrusting them with it and that’s that?
Brad: Or do they send you reports weekly, monthly?
Sera: Yeah, they send me reports. To be honest, I do keep thinking I should give it more attention, but it’s working and they take care of it at the moment. You have to just be able to filter and delegate, if you know what I mean. It’s one of those things I’ve just delegated to them and don’t think about too much anymore, but I probably should.
I’ll probably learn more from it and be able to get more from it and tweak it more and all that stuff first. I think I had to get to a point where I had to start delegating stuff off to other people.
Brad: And do other stuff.
Sera: Yeah. Otherwise, my brain would explode. (Laughing)
Brad: Okay. Cool. Now, one of the big things that I hadn’t mentioned so far is something big happened in 2011 for you, which … so tell us a little bit about that.
Sera: Yeah. This was just … God, just amazing. Basically, when William and Kate got married for the royal wedding, we were booked to play in Hyde Park. Basically, 300,000 people gathered to watch the wedding in Hyde Park on big screens. They got us to play as the ‘wedding band’ to everybody there after the ceremony, which was amazing.
It was the best vibe in the whole world, 300,000 going absolutely crazy. Amazing. Yeah. Since then, it’s been obviously a great memory for all of us and great for marketing and …I think people just see that and go, “Wow, they must be good.” This has made our life a lot easier.
Brad: Yeah. It’s almost the best testimonial in the world that ever existed.
Sera: It was the craziest thing, like I remember being really almost worried before because I just thought, I don’t think I’m ever going to do anything better than this, and I’m still here, going, “What am I going to do that’s better than that?” because it was just the most amazing, amazing gig to do and amazing achievement.
Brad: You rightly make a big thing of that on the website. You’ve got the video and you’d probably see it. You can talk about that for years to come, right? It’s already, what? We’re three years down the line. We’re coming up to what? It was April, wasn’t it? Yeah, April 2011?
Brad: Yeah. We’re three years down the line now, and you can still be shouting about it, which is amazing.
Brad: It still feels relevant to do that, doesn’t it?
Sera: Well, yeah. It’s a day that everyone remembers. Yeah, I think it’s something that people are still interested in and people like to watch the video. Actually, on YouTube, you can watch literally the whole gig, which I think is quite rare for a function band …
Brad: Which you do every week, it what it sounds like. I think everybody wants to know, how did you get that gig?
Sera: We got it through one of our favorite agencies who are amazing and give us loads and loads of work. We’ve worked with them for years and years. They got it through an event planner who are one of the biggest event planners in the country and do loads and loads of the big, big … of the Olympic type of events and stuff.
I chatted to the event planner or one of the people who work for them. She said the reason we got it is they looked at loads and loads of bands, but they really liked that we’ve got quite a relaxed vibe onstage. We’re not one of those bands that’s got big fake smiles and dance routines and spangly outfits. You know what I mean?
We’re very real and very much like … It’s, I guess, more of a music thing, in terms of how we play the songs, we’ve probably never played them the same twice. You know what I mean? We’re always sticking in bits here and breakdowns and feeling where it wants to go on the night.
We’ve got a really good chemistry and she really liked… we’re sort of a little bit more raw I guess than a lot of function bands. It’s like a raw chemistry and a raw energy that she really liked about us.
Funnily enough, that’s been something that sort of fed into the Jewish weddings market as well, because I think they’re very used to these kind of big show bands that do all these routines. They’re very slick. We’re slick, but in a really different way.. like we’re slick because we’re tight, because we play together all the time. It’s very … as an act …
Brad: Less show-offy.
Sera: Yeah. Less show-offy and …
Brad: I know what you mean. A lot of the bands in the Jewish market there, show bands with white suits, costume changes, a lot of ah.. It’s almost like who did Chic in Le Freak. What’s his name? He’s just being around. Who was it?
Sera: Nile Rodgers.
Brad: Yes its Nile Rodgers .They’re always in white suits. That’s almost I think the inspiration for a lot of those show bands. It’s very stylized, but I think you’re right. People don’t always … They don’t want that. They want something a little bit more laid back and …
Sera: Yeah, and something just real. I think people know that we really enjoy what we’re doing. Bands like that would do all these amazing medleys and musical arrangements and stuff, whereas if we’re going to medley a song, we literally will make up on the night and we’ll just feel where it’s going to go. Do you know what I mean? You never know where it’s going to go. I think a lot of our clients really like that and that’s what the royal wedding clients really like that kind of … I don’t know what to call it, really. It’s chemistry I guess.
Brad: Yeah. No, no. It sounds great. You’re doing this totally full time, aren’t you?
Brad: Has that always been the way, or …?
Sera: Yeah, it has. I mean I used to teach singing for a while, but it quite quickly sort took over. I just do it. I do it full time.
Brad: Did it take over because you were spending time working on the band, getting your marketing right and it was starting to grow? Is that …?
Sera: Yeah, I think … I’ve always … I think I’ve come to have quite a workaholic attitude. Being self-employed is quite easy for me, and I know lots more people who struggle with it. I would literally wake up every single day and start working at half eight, nine in the morning and work all day and just literally make work for myself, if you know what I mean.
I just sort of make things happen, make contacts, make gigs come in somehow, find this contact here, get in touch with this agent here. I did that for probably, I don’t know, a couple of months and then stuff started coming in. I was able to give up teaching and it needed my full attention, really.
Brad: That leads me onto the next thing. When we had a chat pre-podcast, I got the impression that you’re a relentless follower-upper, which is amazing. You’ve done some interesting stuff with some direct mail, haven’t you? Which you then didn’t just leave out one piece of direct mail and that’s that. You followed up. Tell us a little bit about that. What does that involved?
Sera: This is something, when I set up the first band I did, for the Party People, with the guy that set it up with. We did this and I don’t know whether this is a good or a bad thing, so I wouldn’t necessarily say try it, because I think a lot of people got annoyed with me. It did work in some ways.
Basically, what we did is we were going to launch the bands to the agents, say in a month’s time. We started sending little flyers. It started off I think maybe once every week for a little while. It didn’t necessarily say what the band was, but it hinted at it. They just get a flyer in the post maybe just with a bit of a logo on it or ‘coming soon’ and a date….
It all had the same sort of branding so they knew it was the same person anonymously sending them stuff. Then, on say the week of the launch, we’d send them one every day. Eventually, every single flyer gave off a little bit more information, and then, eventually, it gave them the website address and more information.
Then, we followed it up with the emails and calls and stuff. Some of the agents got really annoyed with me and I think have not worked me ever since because they just were so annoyed that I hassled them that much. But some of them loved it and I still work with them now, like 13 years on or something. Yeah, it’s an interesting technique. (Laughs)
Brad: Right. No, it’s fantastic. I mean it’s a multi-step follow-up. Do you do anything like that now or have you almost built the base of contacts which you’re happy with at the moment.
Sera: Yeah. No, I don’t do anything like that now. I should really.
Sera: But not like that kind of … imaginative or anything. We’ve got a good base of agents. We have lots getting in touch with us. We have quite a lot of contact with people on Twitter and things which works really, really well now. Yeah. I don’t think we need to that sort of thing much anymore.
But I guess if I was launching a new act or something, I might consider something like that to just really drum up the excitement and anticipation as to what it is. I think, now the direct mail thing probably would work even better because people don’t really get any more, do they?
Brad: Oh, yes. I’m a huge fan of mail. I think it’s amazing. Yeah. There’s so many amazing things you can do now in terms of personalization as well. You can actually kind off, jam postcards with people’s names on them, on one post card, and send it to that person. You don’t ever have to put a stamp on it. It can go out from the direct mail house. I mean in terms of your … the whole social media thing, because … We originally met through … It was only a few weeks ago now, through social media, but it wasn’t you.
Brad: Ah, who was it?
Sera: Well, I have a few people that work in the office with me. Sam, a lovely guy called Sam Bosanquet, does all our social media stuff and helps out with other things like bookings and things like that, but he primarily focuses on social media.
Again, it’s just that delegation thing and I think social media is so important. I think you need to be on it all day, every day. I don’t necessarily have the time to do it at the moment, but I think it’s really important to have somebody doing that stuff. He’s great at it … He’s been bringing in new work and making new connections.
Brad: Do you have a strategy that he follows there or a particular type of prospect that you’re looking for … How do you brief him to do it, so to speak?
Sera: Not really. I mean, to be honest with you, I think social media is all just about making friends with people and getting more friendly and getting to know the people that you’re working with better, in terms of work anyway. Yeah, I guess most of the stuff that he does is sort of just interacting when … If agents post something, a blog that he finds interesting, he’ll comment on it and repost it. Then, if you do that a few times, I guess they start to think of you when the work comes in. Then they get in touch. It’s more friendly, really, than anything.
Brad: Sales-y. Yeah.
Sera: I hate all that … I don’t think it really works. I don’t think that really works, that kind of sales-y tweeting and … I think that ruins someone’s Twitter feed – they want to have a break from what they’re doing in their day. They don’t want to be sold stuff. I think it’s just about getting to know people.
Brad: That’s great. You’re outsourcing that basically then, which is …
Brad: That’s fantastic. Yeah. Okay. Cool. What’s next for the band? Was there any kind of … You’re just ticking along nicely at the moment or have you got any kind of plans for where you want the band and the management company to go or …?
Sera: I don’t know. It ticks along nicely. We’ve got a nice amount of acts that we run and … I mean I’d like to get them as busy as MIB because it’s always led by MIB at the moment. I think just because we’ve been around longer and the royal wedding thing was just so valuable to us, so I would love to get the other bands gigging as much.
That’s starting to happen now. We’ve got a Motown tribute called Motown Supreme, which are doing really well and almost caught up with MIB now, which is great. It’s just, yeah, maybe getting the other acts as busy as MIB and just keeping up really.
Brad: Great. I was also looking at your website as well. You do a lot of optional extra type stuff as well. Does that work for you? People take you up on that?
Sera: Yeah, absolutely, definitely. I think people want to be able to go to one person and deal with their whole day. I think that’s really, really valuable. Optional extras like DJs and stuff at the ceremony or the drinks reception… all those things. I’d say probably 70% of our direct bookings have booked something else, one of our little extras. It’s quite rare that they’ll just have the band. They’ll usually have either the DJ or they’ll have us doing a jazz set or something like that. It’s quite popular.
Brad: Right. You can almost … You’re making more out of that transaction, if you like.
Brad: Yeah, which is fantastic. Okay. Well, look, we’ve come to the end. Thank you, Sera, for being so generous. It’s fascinating to hear the success and the growth, I have to say.
Sera: Thank you.
Brad: It’s good to know that … I mean things like Adwords … I’m sure a lot of people need to … we all need to do more of everything, really, don’t we? It’s just almost overwhelming to hear how you’ve tackled something. I’ve got the impression that you’ve tackled something like Adwords.
You’ve gone, “Okay. I now need to farm this out and move on to maybe the next thing. Or how am I going to grow? I need to free up the time and move on to the next thing.” You’ve outsourced that, which is fantastic. You become an informed client, really, don’t you?
Sera: Yeah. You need to know what you’re talking about, but you can’t do everything yourself, I think. I think just me, personally, I get a bit bored if I am not moving forward … Once I’ve learned something, I’m like, right, I will learn the next thing. That’s very much how I work. Definitely.
Brad: Fantastic. Well, listen. Thank you so much. Good luck in the future.
Sera: Thank you.