A conversation with Ellis Paul: First of a two part series.
After fifteen years with a record label, Ellis Paul made the bold decision to leave. His most recent album was an independent release. Regarded by many as the finest effort of his career, the album was named one of NPR Folk Alley’s best of 2010.
One year following the release of “The Day After Everything Changed”, we asked Ellis to talk about life as an independent musician.
Why did you make the decision to go independent?
I started out indie on the singer/songwriter circuit, and then later continued to build an audience with a record label. The label really isn’t an advantage anymore. The label’s jobs are distribution and promotion. Those jobs are pretty much over after three or four months, but the label owns the masters and continues to collect money forever. Distribution is not as important in the digital age, and I can do better promotion on my own.
If you have to spend more time marketing yourself, does it stifle creativity?
No, I have many great people working with me; we come up with ideas all the time, even while traveling in the car. Everyone has a defined role to perform. It’s the touring schedule that damages creativity.
Editor’s note: Ellis Paul performs more than 150 dates per year across the country. His current tour schedule has dates booked through April 2012; he’ll be a featured artist on next month’s Cayamo music cruise.
It’s harder to get the music heard, to get radio stations to play the songs. Radio stations that were previously supportive continue to play my songs, but not as much. We hired an indie radio promoter to make calls to AAA and secondary country stations, but it’s tough.
Going independent limits the number of radio stations willing to play the music. It’s hard to get onto commercial radio unless there’s buzz, either because the song’s in a television commercial, in a movie, or there are a million hits on YouTube.
It’s also harder to earn the respect and support of national publications. Media know that the labels purchase ads; those ads put food on the table.
You’ve had songs in the movies; how did that happen?
I’ve been fortunate. The Farrelly brothers heard my music through a manager relationship and are regionally supportive of New England artists. The directors used my song over the end credits of the the Jim Carrey movie “Me, Myself & Irene”. It’s massive exposure, a break many indie musicians dream of getting. The end credit song has the highest loyalty rate and garners the most attention of any music in a movie. Years later “The World Ain’t Slowin’ Down” is still my most requested and downloaded song.
Do you take advantage of social media to market your music?
I do; guerrilla marketing on the internet is important. I’m on Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube. My YouTube presence is still underdeveloped, and that will be the “go to” area for the next year. I used YouTube to advertise my new record. That video clip now has nearly 19,000 views.
Has your decision to go independent affected your relationship with your fans?
I have a broader appreciation of the fans’ commitment to me and my music now. Thanks to the support from the fans, I was able to work on the new record until it was right. I’m very pleased with the outcome.
What would you like people to know about life as an independent musician?
The job is about 60-70% business and only 30-40% art. You have to be a businessman, an accountant, a boss, and a tour agent. But the art is the most important thing; you have to make sure that the art is great.
Photo credit: Photo of Ellis Paul by MacPolski
Ellis Paul official site: http://www.ellispaul.com/
Purchase “The Day After Everything Changed”: http://amzn.to/eFP03w