Behind every small business is a great story. That’s why we launched The Hatch Small Business Spotlight, where entrepreneurs share how they got started, strategies for overcoming challenges, and what their plans are next. This week, we’ll be featuring independent musician, Anna Ash.
Anna Ash is a Michigan born, currently Los Angeles based, musician. Her music has been featured on the Showtime series’ Billions and Masters of Sex, as well as Freeform’s The Fosters. Her 2016 self-released album, Floodlights, received attention from the Huffington Post and Elmore magazine, and placements on Spotify’s Fresh Finds, Torch and Twang, Noir, and Fresh Folk playlists.
Recently, the Hatch Team hosted Anna and her band for an online concert. After the show, we caught up with Anna to learn more about her journey as an entrepreneur and independent artist. We discussed her inspirations around dedicating her life to music, learned more about the different projects she’s been working on, and discussed the challenges that have resulted from the COVID-19 pandemic.
According to Anna, for creative artists, jumping headlong into music as a career doesn’t always feel like an obvious choice. She recalled moments in college where she was starting to figure out her career path and began playing shows. At her shows, she observed how people reacted to her music. Eventually, she began to feel more responsibility as she realized how much her songs were connecting with people in a meaningful. It was less about making money and more about being a better musician and improving her skills. Along the way, she discovered new ways to reach more people, make records, and play more shows.
Making the Jump
For musicians who are just starting out, having a side hustle to make ends meet is generally standard. Looking back, Anna did wish that she had taken more gigs in her early career, much like her peers did (such as playing at weddings, cover gigs, etc). Aside from the benefit of having more income streams, she realized these types of gigs could be fun and contribute to her creative process.
But, instead of taking on more gigs, Anna made the decision to side hustle into food and wine, which worked well for her musical career with flexible scheduling, and a team that supported her artistic projects. However, this work began to feel like “a security blanket” at certain times. But that blanket shifted dramatically when the COVID-19 pandemic hit.
Committing to Music in Uncertain Times
Much like other small business owners, the COVID-19 pandemic has affected Anna’s life and projects, but not without a silver lining. While working in hospitality provided flexibility, Anna realized that working in a dine-in setting might not be the same during, or after, COVID19.
Instead, during government mandated shelter-in-place, Anna has doubled down on her music, and continued to develop new income streams. As an independent artist, she’s found a great deal of value (and steady income) through Spotify. And with streaming being digital only, that income stream remained stable during the pandemic. Even while the in-person economy halted, Anna found that people and brands were still buying music for tv shows and films. Sometimes, very specific requests for Coronavirus-related songs will come in.
Growing as an Indie Artist
To give us insight into the life of an independent artist, Anna described some different projects and income streams that she has been working on. As is traditional with most musicians, she works with a sync agent who has represented three of her albums. Sync agents will work with different music supervisors to pitch songs and albums depending on the project music needs of the supervisor(s). In addition, she has built up her own personal network of connections who are music supervisors themselves, who will often reach out to her for cover songs for a project (a common practice since original tracks can be expensive to license).
In addition, Spotify has been a mainstay for Anna to grow her fan base. While the world’s largest music streaming platform has not been without its fair share of criticisms due to its questions on low artist revenues, Anna has attributed much of her consistent fan base to Spotify. One quick glance of her social channels equals about ~3,000 followers, whereas her Spotify is nearing ~60,000. Better yet, her fan base growth has been linear and consistent, with very few extreme peaks and valleys. Anna attributes much of this success to Spotify’s editorial playlists.
In light of the ubiquity of streaming services like Spotify, the traditional way of gaining exposure in the music industry begins to look dated. Traditionally, musicians like Anna would spend upwards of ~$5,000 for PR agencies to pitch their music to publications such as Fader, Rolling Stone, etc. And while this can build exposure, it doesn’t necessarily garner new fans (think of the last time you found a new indie artist you really love from reading through Rolling Stone).
The Business Beyond the Art
Like any entrepreneur, Anna wears many hats to balance the business of being a musician. To her, the most frustrating part can be working in a fragmented industry where she needs to navigate “different pieces of the puzzle, and accomplish X, in order to get to Y, and Z.” For example, one of her goals this upcoming year is to work with a U.S booking agent to help her build a larger calendar of live shows. While she’s already been working with a U.K based agent, COVID-19 has caused many of her booked fall shows to get rescheduled.
When asked about what she’s found most surprising or challenging about all this, Anna answered “keeping perspective.” She explained that it can be detrimental for artists to compare themselves to their contemporaries and other artists. As an artist, so much of your identity becomes commoditized that it can be all too easy to start doing comparisons with others. Anna cautions other aspiring artists to not lose perspective on who they and their fans are, and to reflect from time to time to make sure they’re staying true to their course.
For Anna, the biggest question marks are around live shows and online streaming. While she was able to play an amazing show for the Hatch Team, she also recognizes that there is a high learning curve in figuring out how to stream reliably (i.e. equipment, technology, working it into her business without disrupting her current projects, etc.).
Despite the barrier to entry, Anna recognizes the long-term potential that live streaming can provide, especially knowing how much she gets paid for playing live shows at live venues. For artists like Anna, there are huge gaps between gross ticket sales and what you as the artist take home; when everyone gets a cut: the venue, management, staff, PR, etc., there’s not always a lot left for the artist to pay rent, groceries, and all the costs associated with running an online presenceThat’s why Anna is looking to figure this out and shorten the “distance” between her and her fans.
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