Kevin Foster is an independent musician based in Toronto. After doing well in a local songwriting competition years ago, Foster took the positive response as an indicator that he should continue writing songs and performing live.
With years of experience and a debut album under his belt, I recently got the chance to talk to Foster about what it takes to be a performing musician and what it means to him to succeed. Foster hasn’t been afraid to put in the self-described “grunt work” necessary to start booking shows and making money and I wanted to get his perspective on what other up and coming musicians can do to start taking themselves more seriously and make money doing what they love.
First, would you mind introducing yourself and what you do for a living (or part-time living)?
I’m a sales rep for a few different companies. I actually work for myself and have contracts with various companies to sell their products and promote their services. There is no salary, so I use music to fill some of the gaps that exist in the financial space of life. So, I’m essentially a part-time everything right now.
On your website you mention your father was a musician. At what age did you start playing music and how long was it before you started performing?
I didn’t really pick up the guitar seriously until I was about 18-19. It was when I hung up my skates, as I recognized my career as an NHL star had been crushed from injuries and missed opportunities. My first performance was a songwriting competition at my college. I entered with about 10 others and played an original song that landed me in 2nd place. From there I thought, “Maybe I could do this. People seemed to like my song and my performance.”
You seem to be a proponent of playing cover-gigs to help pay the bills. Your blog mentions 4 or 5 “alternative venues” to perform covers at to generate more income than just a Wednesday-night bar jam. Would you mind talking about how you’ve come to perform so often and some tips for musicians looking to book more cover shows?
Yeah, I don’t think people give a shit about your song – to be blunt. They don’t care about your song until they care about you. After 300+ shows over the last couple years, I have found that if you play someone’s favourite band at a show, they now connect with you. Once that magical moment happens, they request or want to hear your original songs. They buy your original CD or just give you a handshake.
Tips? There are no tips other than just hard grunt work.
1. Hours on the phone and google maps and twitter finding and friending different venues is a good start.
2. Try to stay close to home. No need to conquer the world when you haven’t made a sound in your own town.
3. You MUST create a great show, bottom line. There is a range of beef available. Are you a cheap burger or a fine steak?
4. Make a decision to be an entrepreneur. Sell yourself and make it happen.
Do you ever find people stigmatize “cover gigs” as not being as worthwhile as traditional rock shows where a band is promoting their album?
The artist in anyone is not happy about the cover gigs, but the collection agencies keep banging as you try to become the next superstar. I prefer to play music rather than dig holes or sit in a cubicle doing whatever mundane thing it is you do. If I have to play everyone else’s songs to keep a shovel out of my hands, I’m going to do that. If you are opposed to cover gigs, then do a re-assessment and get back to me.
I noticed that you recently scored a sponsorship with a foot-drum company called “Farmer Foot Drums.” As an independent musician, that must feel great. Would you mind talking about how the sponsorship came about and if you have any advice to other artists looking to partner with a brand?
Thanks. Yes, it was a big feat for me. I had reached out to a few string companies, been in talks with a few guitar companies, then I found the glorious Farmer Foot Drums and reached out. My resume seemed to be good, I had media appearances, podcast appearances, a new release, and most of all, my WEBPAGE had a schedule of hundreds of shows. This is not a huge endorsement, but every little bit helps, and partnering with a company helps the resume moving forward.
Step one, get a webpage and make it an online resume. Facebook is dead, and nothing looks more professional than a real webpage. I did the whole, ‘run your music from Facebook and twitter’ for a long time. As soon as I got a real webpage, things started to happen for me.
Step two would be hitting the clubs and playing hundreds of shows a year. Not 10. Not 35. You need to be hitting the bars and clubs and getting out there. The company is only going to endorse you if you have a following and are touring around spreading their name! I make a point of it to shout out the company every chance I get.
When did you start taking your career more seriously? In your new EPK you mention that you believe anything is possible as an indie musician, so long as you just get out there and go for it. Has this always been your mindset or was there a specific time when you decided to take charge?
I have realized that if you go for your dreams and fall short, your are going to be happier than if you didn’t go for them and succeed. I think that as I was forced to do the cover gigs and play more and more to keep my bills paid, I slowly started to see the light. I could see people coming back to the shows, and people dropping large tips when they enjoyed the performance. I had many great reviews from the bar owners who are willing to out bid other bars for my services. All of this support has got me sprinting to stay ahead of the cheers, if that makes sense?
Do you have any advice you’d be willing to share on how to start generating revenue as an artist? Say, within the next month or so? Often, musicians are eager, but they just need someone to kick them in some sort of direction.
Its nearly impossible to get paid a decent wage for performing originals, and we all know music sales are out the window. You need to get yourself 50-60 cover songs that are all well known and call 50-60 bars asking them how to book a gig with them. Unfortunately, thats going to take more than a month. But start doing it now and before the summer you will be gigging and making money.
You just started your own podcast called “Say Uncle, Frank.” Would you mind explaining the idea behind the podcast and why you started it?
Yep, this podcast is phase two of “Do What You Love” in theory. A great friend of mine and myself have joined forces and passions to put together a podcast as you mentioned. We cover MMA, Music. and Lifestyle stories. My role on the show is to gather and promote independent music that we play between segments. Anyone who would like some free exposure is able to head to our website and submit music.
We mainly talk about MMA and Combat Sports, but there are stories about indie music and our general interests in there too. So, please invite your readers to submit some music through our webpage.
Anything else you’d like to add about your music career or where you’re going next?
Not really. I do want the thank you for inviting me to do this interview. Maybe I have one more thing to say…
Never be satisfied. I think I have done a lot in the last decade. I sometimes take a brief moment to acknowledge small things I have done, but generally I keep moving forward and working for more. The sky is the limit, but you have to be smart about it.