If you want to learn how to make a full time living as a performing artist, whether you are a musician, comedian, have a one person show or whatever, you are going to find a lot of great actionable ideas in my chat with Icelandic singer-songwriter Svavar Knútur. Svavar is a good friend of mine who has made a full time living as a touring musician for over a decade, while supporting his family and generally being a happy and wonderful person. He shares some of the things he has learned in this great chat.
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AP2 How To Make a Full Time Living As a Performing Artist
Eyvindur Karlsson 0:00
Today's episode of the Artemist podcast is all about being a professional performing artist. My guest on today's episode is my great friend, Svavar Knútur. He's one of my favorite people in the world. And today he shares some really valuable and actionable tips on how you can make a living as a performing artist. This is of course, mainly geared towards musicians, especially the ones you want to tour with their music and stuff. That's what Svavar Knútur has been doing. But there are steps in there that can be applicable to any performing artists, whether it's a comedian, it could be applicable to theater groups, like small theater groups, or maybe, you know, if you have a one man or one woman show, stuff like that. There's definitely a lot of great tips in there. And also some great things just about mindset for professional artists. So keep listening, and enjoy.
This is the Artemist Podcast, where we turn art into gold.
Here's your host, Eyvindur Karlsson.
Eyvindur Karlsson 1:23
That's right, I am Eyvindur Karlsson, or Eyvi for short. And I am an Icelandic singer-songwriter, and a lot of other things. If you want to check out my music, you can do so at onebadday.rocks. That's one bad day, dot rocks. That is my music site where you can get a couple of songs for free. And if you like artists, like Tom Waits, Nick Cave, Neil Young, that sort of stuff, I'm sure you'll get a kick out of my stuff too. So check that out.
Now before we get started with my talk with Svavar Knútur, want to tell you that today's episode is sponsored by followme.is. It is a travel website that I happen to be involved with. And if you are coming to Iceland, or at all interested in visiting Iceland, definitely check that out. We have a lot of articles, we have a free guide to Iceland and a lot of other cool stuff. And also, if you are traveling at all to anywhere in the world, you can find some of the cheapest airfare and some of the best deals on accommodation on our website. The easiest way is to go to flights.followme.is and there's a search engine there that will get you a lot of great deals. So if you're coming to Iceland, then you can book all the greatest stuff there on followme.is and if you're not, but you are traveling, especially if you're doing it for your art or for your business, you know, you don't want to spend too much right? You want to find the best deals. Go to flights.followme.is Now, here is Svavar Knútur, my great friend and one of the most generous people that I know. Welcome to the show.
Svavar Knútur 3:12
Yes, hello, Eyvindur and welcome to my apartment, where we are recording this.
Eyvindur Karlsson 3:16
Yes, we are recording into your place. Beautiful place. Thank you. The weather is not as beautiful today. It's very wet and cold.
Svavar Knútur 3:23
But even with this horrible weather, the view is amazing from my place.
Eyvindur Karlsson 3:28
Yes. You have a very nice view. That is true. Yes. Very nice.
Svavar Knútur 3:32
You have, however, a wonderful view of your half naked fat neighbor, which is beautiful in its own right.
Eyvindur Karlsson 3:40
Yes. You know, it's, that's why we have very large windows.
And that's why he shouldn't have very large windows.
Svavar Knútur 3:48
And when I say fat, you know, like, I am fat and you are fat. Yeah. So I am basically saying: A normal man. A lot to see.
Eyvindur Karlsson 3:58
Yes. A lot to love.
But here we are. And I want to... Well, I mean, this is the second time you've been on last time we were talking about songwriting. But now I want to talk with you because you are a professional musician. That is your full time job.
And a lot of a lot of times when, when I talk to musicians who make a full time living, making music, they talk a lot about online music sales, or, you know, how to make a lot of money off of Spotify, or how to make a lot of money off of YouTube or something like that. But you make more money offline, right?
Svavar Knútur 4:46
Yes. I think music sales is a very problematic goal. If you're going to focus on that as your basic income, you're going to be struggling in your day job for a long time. Because if you give up your day job and and then think: "Yes, I'm going to rely on music sales and placements and stuff." Well, maybe, maybe that'll happen. And maybe you are really good at making placements for for ads,
or TV shows or something but then that's your thing. You're probably not a performing artist. A performing artist, really, I don't think performing artists have time or resources to be making advertising jingles or or something like that.
Eyvindur Karlsson 5:43
Right. But you are very much a performing artist, and that is your profession.
Svavar Knútur 5:47
Eyvindur Karlsson 5:48
Can you can you maybe just tell us a little bit about your story where you know how you got started? Because you certainly didn't do that for your whole life.
Svavar Knútur 5:59
Eyvindur Karlsson 6:00
Can you tell me just how you got started, and a little bit about your journey so far?
Svavar Knútur 6:05
I think the best piece of advice I ever got was, if you want to live as an artist, quit your day job. That's it, quit your day job, it will make you hungry and desperate enough to do all the things that need to be done. And it actually adds eight hours to your work day as a musician that you can use to promote your work. And to write and to book and all of that. All of the office work that you need to do. I think 90% of an artist's life is office work.
Eyvindur Karlsson 6:40
Svavar Knútur 6:41
But in my in my experience... I used to be a journalist used to be social capital consultant for the city of Reykjavik. And I gradually was pushed into the art world and performing as a musician and as a storyteller. And sometimes I also do just little talks about stuff. I give little lectures. I teach ukulele and guitar sometimes. Not a lot, but little kind of seminars. But my main income is performance, playing gigs. And I have to tell you, just so just so people listening, don't get their hopes up. It is very hard, it takes a lot out of you performing can make you very tired. It is physically and mentally draining. And long tours away from your family away from your friends away from your country and your life can often be very, very draining. And especially when you have a family. But it's a decision that you make, and you have to stick with it. And you have to stand by it. And you have to learn how to manage your expectations.
Eyvindur Karlsson 8:08
I happen to I think no matter what you're doing, if you're going to be self employed, if you're going to be a kind of an entrepreneur, no matter if it's as an artist, or anything in business or whatever, If it's easy, then it's not going to work. It is probably illegal. Or it's not going to, you know, be sustainable. You know, I don't think there is any such thing is easy money.
Svavar Knútur 8:33
Eyvindur Karlsson 8:35
And if you want to make a living doing what you love, then it is probably going to be more work than doing something that you hate.
Svavar Knútur 8:41
And it's hard work, and I love it. It's my favorite thing to do. I write music, I make albums, and I sell my albums, of course, and I get a little bit of money from Spotify. Little bit of money from there, and there and there. And it all comes together into a little bit every month from music sales. But my main chunk of money comes from performances. I play christenings, I play weddings, I play funerals, birthdays, and functions, you know, for companies. You know, you have to be very... At least in my kind of thing, which is being a guy with a guitar and telling stories. You have to be able to, in Iceland, I guess, do a lot of different things. To jump into a lot of different roles. And, of course, I do concerts, I play concerts, and I'm asked to play a lot of benefit gigs.
But I think a lot of my income actually comes from these side gigs. Playing for this and this and this. Because, to be honest in in society of 350,000 people, the concert going part of your audience might not be so big.
Eyvindur Karlsson 10:06
No. Yeah, exactly.
Svavar Knútur 10:07
But then you have to diversify. At least for me. I can only speak from my experience.
Eyvindur Karlsson 10:16
Of course, this is a very small market.
Svavar Knútur 10:17
Yes. It's a it's a very small market.
Eyvindur Karlsson 10:20
And it's an island, so you can't really drive around that much to play.
Svavar Knútur 10:23
No. And you always have to drive in a circle.
Eyvindur Karlsson 10:27
Yeah. Well, unless you have a floating car.
Svavar Knútur 10:30
Yes. Like flying. Yes. Beautiful. Yeah. But yeah, you diversify, of course. And you can play gigs, maybe for 20, or 30, or 15 people. And sometimes five people, even if you are famous in Iceland. Some people come to a place like Eskifjörður. I like it. It's beautiful. But the people there don't like coming to concerts, unless they are told to by some kind of authority.
But yeah, diversifying gives you... Try to make as many revenue streams as you can through performances. That's, that's a very strong part of surviving.
Eyvindur Karlsson 11:16
I think that's also true for anybody who's self employed, you know. If you if you are working for yourself, and if you are freelancing, or if you are selling your own products or something, diversifying and having multiple revenue streams, I think is always very important, because any one of them could dry up at any time.
Svavar Knútur 11:36
Yes. And so it's good to have, so that if something dries up, it is only 16 to 20% of your income, and then you can try to compliment it somewhere else.
At least when you're working in your home market. That's a very strong thing to do.
And other things like holding seminars, or teaching or stuff like that. But teaching does take a lot of energy and time and commitment. So I usually only do it for like a week at a time.
But then, when you living in a small country, like Iceland, you have to also be prepared. Like, my mantra is: Just don't panic. There will be times when I don't have any money. And then I just have to say: Okay, jobs will come. I will just have to put all my nets out and put some bait on the hook. Go fishing. But then it's really good to expand into into other markets like Scandinavia, Germany, Canada, stuff like that. And try to find cheap flights and stuff.
And just start small. You can expect to lose money on your first three or four tours in Europe. But if you stick to it, then on the fourth or fifth tour, you will start to see a turnaround, if you're good.
Eyvindur Karlsson 13:08
How long have you been touring abroad?
Svavar Knútur 13:11
I've been touring in Europe and abroad, more than 10 years now. Since 2008. (Phone falls to the ground)
I started touring... That was my phone.
Eyvindur Karlsson 13:26
It was committed suicide
Svavar Knútur 13:28
Yeah, it committed suicide. Yeah, more than 10 years, but I've made plenty of mistakes in these things, and it's good to to help people learn.
Eyvindur Karlsson 13:38
Yeah. So tell us about some of the mistakes you made.
Svavar Knútur 13:42
Well, just to tell you first, the thing you have to do... It's a do, not a don't. Do have... Manage your expectations in every way. Always be prepared to sleep on the floor. To see five people in a concert and give them everything. Give them all your love. You can't stand in front of an audience of five to ten people and tell them: Well, this town is shit. Then they will never come back. You can just erase this town or city from your future gigs. Because you treated the only people that came to your show badly.
Eyvindur Karlsson 14:27
Exactly. They're the ones who came.
Svavar Knútur 14:28
Yeah, they're the ones who came and you should always treat them like royalty. I've never made that mistake, to shit on an audience. And I've always treated my audiences like they are the best. And I love them.
Eyvindur Karlsson 14:45
And they are.
Svavar Knútur 14:45
Because I do, I love them. But mistakes I've made... For example, I have given up on following up some leads. You always have to write down every one that could be a potential ally.
Eyvindur Karlsson 15:05
Svavar Knútur 15:06
Network, network. I am terrible at networking. I am terrible at calling someone who was interested in my music and just go like: "Yeah, yeah, yeah, you work for me. You do this for me. Let's go. Let's do this." Put all your energy out there into selling yourself. Which is something I'm terrible at, but you have to do it. And it always gives me a bad feeling in my stomach.
Eyvindur Karlsson 15:29
But don't you find it gets easier? As you do it more often?
Svavar Knútur 15:33
Eyvindur Karlsson 15:34
Svavar Knútur 15:34
Eyvindur Karlsson 15:35
Oh, it does for me.
Svavar Knútur 15:37
It's always really hard for me. And every time I get a sick feeling in my stomach.
But also, don't be afraid to move on from people that... Yeah, they like you. And they are really friendly. And they want to try to help you. And then they become your booker or something. And then you realize nothing has changed now for three years. Just let them go. It's fine. It's nothing personal. You just have to take care of growing. And you don't owe people anything in this business. Only loyalty as friends. And of course if people are working with you, and they are driven and helpful, of course, then you owe them loyalty as a business partner. But if it's just like some person that is not good at anything, then you just let them go.
Eyvindur Karlsson 16:50
And, I mean, this is your livelihood. It is a business, even if it's art. It's still business, and you have to protect yourself, too.
Svavar Knútur 16:59
Yeah, and it's about self respect, really.
And oh, a very important thing that I've learned through mistakes as well: Never, never ever let people that are negative into your close working relationship. I call good people peppers. Because they pep you. "Pep you! Hey, let's do this!" And then there's anti-peppers. I played this gig, for example, in in a little town in the north of Iceland, in Strandir, where the the publican, the owner of the place, he was like: "Yeah, no one ever comes to concerts." And that should have been a warning bell. Because people that speak like that, they are usually going to try their very best to make their prediction come true?
Eyvindur Karlsson 18:06
It's a self fulfilling prophecy.
Svavar Knútur 18:09
Yes. And they want to be right. They want to be right. They're telling you: "Nobody ever comes to concerts here." And then they will not let anyone know you're coming. And they will not tell their friends to come. And they will not have two for one at the bar or something to get the people in. And in the same way, if you have a booker and he's like: "Yeah, no, you shouldn't play Cologne. Nobody likes you in Cologne." Let these people go instantly. I'm not saying you should have a person that's like: "Yeah, you're gonna be world famous!" But like more like: "Yeah, let's do this. Let's try this."
Eyvindur Karlsson 18:44
And that's how you also have to think. You're never going to accomplish anything if you're negative about your own career. And if you have people around you, that are negative about your career, it's not gonna happen. And also, it's going to affect you negatively.
Svavar Knútur 19:00
There's a saying: "Negative people tend to be right." You know. And they're right, much more of the time than positive people. Yeah. Because both people work on their goals. Both people work on fulfilling their...
Eyvindur Karlsson 19:16
It's just a lot easier to fail than to succeed.
Svavar Knútur 19:19
So it's a lot easier for a negative person to get no one to their gigs. They just don't advertise it. And they don't tell anyone that they're coming and then they just stand there and go: "See, I was right." But the positive person is going to go: "Yeah, let's do this. I'm going to do a concert! Hey, everybody, I'm coming!" And then maybe 15 people will show up. And maybe that's not what they were aiming at. But it's a hell of lot more than the negative person got.
Eyvindur Karlsson 19:47
Svavar Knútur 19:48
And then the next time you'll get 30 people and the next time you get 50 people. Just get used to slow growth. I was walking into this house. This office of Sena today. Which is a very, you know, respectable company.
Eyvindur Karlsson 20:06
It's the biggest music corporation in Iceland. They do events.
Svavar Knútur 20:17
They do Iceland Airwaves. And Sena is is very linked to the movie business in Iceland. Importing movies and showing them in the movie theaters. So they have on their wall on the way up, they have this poster, or like a, like a wall painting of all these photographers taking your picture, like glamour glamour. Like you're walking on the red carpet here. And I thought: "Who wants this? Who walks up these stairs and thinks: "Yeah, this is what I want. I want a glamorous red carpet life!" If you want that, then just do porn. I mean, it's a much shorter way to get on some red carpet. Yeah, taking pictures of you. Yeah. But if if you want, if you want to really serve music, it's a question of serving - of being a conduit for beauty. And if you want this kind of glamorous life, then I can't help you, but if you want to create and give and serve and be a riverbed for the river of awesomeness, then you work. And you work gradually. And it's a Sígandi Lukka, as we say in Iceland. It's "slow luck".
Eyvindur Karlsson 22:04
And actually, I think this is true for anything that you're doing. Doesn't matter if we're talking about music, talking about some other kind of art, or if you're talking about, you know, business, if you're talking about, you know, whatever. You're always going to do better in life in general, if your main focus is: "How can I help people?" That's just my belief, I think, you know, and because I listened to like business podcasts and things like that. And one of the sort of ongoing thing that I keep seeing and hearing everybody talk about is: You have to serve people. And if you serve people, good things are going to happen to you. But if your goal is always: How can I get to the red carpet with the paparazzi and all that stuff, I don't think anything's gonna happen. But if your goal is: How can I make the biggest amount of people happy? Then maybe you'll end up there. Maybe you won't, but I think you will be happier, in any case.
Svavar Knútur 22:44
It will only be a side effect.
Eyvindur Karlsson 22:46
Svavar Knútur 22:47
It will only be a side product of your success as a human being, and as a servant of beauty. And I've been thinking about this. I hear people sing songs. And they are not serving the song. They are not there for the benefit of the song. They are there to show everybody that they can ride this mechanical bull. "Yeah, look at this. Oh, yeah. Look how I'm just dominating this song. I'm dominating it." And there is no beauty in that. It's like when people sing a song, and they're basically abusing it. Even if they are hitting all the notes and doing everything correctly and doing all these grace notes and shit. They are not serving the song.
Eyvindur Karlsson 23:42
Exactly. And this comes back to I remember talking to our friend, Sean, on this podcast a few weeks ago. And we were talking about doing covers, and one of the things we talked about was you have to know why you're doing the cover. You know? Why? Where's it coming from? Why are you doing this? What is it about this song that strikes a chord with you? And if the only reason you're doing it is to show off your technique, then I don't think you were making a good decision. It needs to come from the heart. And I think this is true for anything. Again, this is true for any art, or any endeavor you do. I think you need a reason. And of course making money is a reason because we all have to eat. But I think for me, you know, if I only want to make money, I can go work at a bank, or something. That's not a problem. It would kill my soul. But I could do that. Probably. (No one would hire me at a bank.)
The trick here, I think, and that's why I've always admired your career, because I've been watching that for over a decade now. Your professional music career. I watched your music career before it was 100% professional. And I've always admired it, because you took what you were passionate about to begin with. And you turned that into your career, rather than going into a career and trying to find the passion in that career that you chose. Because it made so much sense for money's sake.
Svavar Knútur 25:15
Yeah, yeah. Thank you. I think, for me, you just do what you love and get really good at doing what you love. And a lot of the time, that is enough for people to actually start wanting to partake in that. To Oh, wow, man. He's really doing that thing really well and I will pay to see that. Because, like, a lot of the time, a lot of other people will enjoy the performance of a thing that you like performing. Yeah, if you do it really well. I read this advice A long time ago: Just get really good at something. Have something that makes you stand out. Be it a whistle, be it a special burpy kind of voice, I don't know. For me, I think what I have gotten really good at is finger picking and vocalizing you know, making the voice harmonize with the exact melodies I'm playing on the guitar. This CounterPoint.
Eyvindur Karlsson 26:32
Yeah. There's this quote that I heard years ago, and I reference this on my last episode as well. And I don't know who said this. And I wish somebody would tell me. Because I've googled the hell out of this, and I can't find it. But the quote was something like... Oh, actually, I think it was exactly: "Find out who you are, and be the shit out of that."
Svavar Knútur 26:52
Yeah that's pretty good.
Eyvindur Karlsson 26:53
That's, that's just... Find out who you are, and be the shit out of that. And tI think that is just the best advice I I've ever gotten in my life. Because as you know, I've gone through periods of being really insecure about my art and all of my stuff. But then I just realized: You know what, there are people who like what I do. And I don't care about the other ones. Because they're not the ones that I'm focusing on. I have these people who love what I'm doing. And this is, I think, the best advice I could have gotten at that time, because it was: Yes, I just have to be myself and be that a lot.
Svavar Knútur 27:27
Because just like high school, there is nothing you can do to make people that don't like you like you.
Eyvindur Karlsson 27:34
Svavar Knútur 27:34
But you have to remember that there's not so many people actually that don't like you. Most people don't give a shit about you.
Eyvindur Karlsson 27:42
Svavar Knútur 27:44
And then you just shine. You shine with what you have to shine for. And then a lot of people that have no opinion of you will notice you. And they go: "Oh, I didn't know he was doing that. That is pretty cool." It's like, you should never try to walk the path of trying to impress people that aren't into you.
Eyvindur Karlsson 28:06
Exactly. And that's how I've gotten more comfortable with marketing and trying to sell myself. Because when I first started to do it I was sort of trying to come up with marketing speech to make myself look good. But then I just realized: Oh, no, see, if I use my own voice, the real me, to tell people who I am, then it doesn't matter anymore. Because then if they don't like it, I don't care. But you know, I can just let people know about me without trying to pretend I'm something I'm not.
Svavar Knútur 28:41
Eyvindur Karlsson 28:41
And it sounds very simple, but it's very hard to overlook that.
Oh, I was just thinking down to some practical matters.
Svavar Knútur 28:55
When you're touring, you know, it can get lonely.
Eyvindur Karlsson 28:58
Svavar Knútur 29:00
This is practical advice. Some of it I've gotten from amazing people I've met along the way. Some I just learned.
Be on time to the venues. Be polite, be courteous and be be generous to the staff.
Eyvindur Karlsson 29:17
Yeah, actually, about the time thing. One of the things that I've learned because I have worked a lot in theater. If you're on time, you're late. That was one of the best advice I got from one of my teachers was: If you're if you show up on time, you're late. Always be there early.
Svavar Knútur 29:33
I wish I'd learned that earlier when I was working in the theater in Germany. But yeah, learn to enjoy the little things on tour. Just to sit, have a cup of coffee. Just learn to enjoy your own company. Now, I'm basically speaking to you guys out there that are alone, working alone. Get used to being alone. Get us to aloneness.
Eyvindur Karlsson 29:34
Being a touring performer is a lot harder if there's a band.
Svavar Knútur 29:34
Eyvindur Karlsson 29:34
If you're by yourself, everything is a lot simpler and a lot cheaper.
Svavar Knútur 30:11
Very manageable to be alone. You just get an Inter-rail ticket.
Eyvindur Karlsson 30:15
If you're in Europe.
Svavar Knútur 30:16
If you're in Europe. In America...
Eyvindur Karlsson 30:19
Drive, I guess,
Svavar Knútur 30:21
Drive... I hate it. I can't stand it.
But yeah, you get an Inter-Rail ticket and you just go anywhere. And you just take care of yourself. You only think about your own needs. Just take care of your needs. Eat healthy, sleep healthy, get get a good sleep. And exercise. Exercise is super important when you're on tour because it's not only about getting fat or not fat. It's just about being healthy on tour. And staying healthy while traveling and working means that the first time show will be as good as your last show. That is your ultimate goal of touring. Is that your last show is not like a low energy, post binge, kind of hung over like: "Yeah, hello, Dusseldorf..."
Eyvindur Karlsson 31:16
That's actually all of my shows. But that's different,
Svavar Knútur 31:19
Because you don't... Like, these people, they're there to see you for the one time during the trip. You play 25 shows on the tour. But they're there for only one. You have to make sure that they get just as good a show as the people that got the first show.
Eyvindur Karlsson 31:40
And I mean, I also have to say that exercise... And I don't do enough exercise, but I just if I don't go out and at least go for a walk or for a little jog or something, three or four times a week, I just get depressed. And I think you can't underestimate the power of that. Just just getting out there. getting fresh air and just moving around a little bit.
Svavar Knútur 32:04
Eyvindur Karlsson 32:05
Just for your mental health. It's so important.
Svavar Knútur 32:08
Yeah. And and exercise... I think people always have this kind of stereotype of musicians being like: Oh, yeah... Because they're so anti-sporty, they just hang around and drink beer all the time.
Eyvindur Karlsson 32:20
We do do that, but...
Svavar Knútur 32:21
But don't be that stereotype. That's it's an unhealthy stereotype. And I don't think it works out long term. It only creates a damaged burnt out mess for the long term.
Eyvindur Karlsson 32:33
Yeah, if you if you want to do this for any amount of time, that's not gonna work out.
Svavar Knútur 32:38
Yeah, and I mean, I've been doing it now for 10 years touring a month, two, three out of the year. That's not a lot. But it's still a hefty chunk of the year on tour.
And I'm still as happy touring as I was for the first year. And when you have a family, it makes it even more difficult because you're leaving them behind. Leaving your children behind, you're leaving your spouse, and you just have to kind of trust life. And just be safe in the knowledge they'll be okay. There's people back home taking care of them. You're out there, you're going to bring money back. And just be practical, pragmatic.
Eyvindur Karlsson 33:25
Don't drink away all your proceeds.
Svavar Knútur 33:28
Yeah. And free beer is, is good. But it's just if you do it every night, have a tour, you're going to come back with a beer belly and pasty skin.
Eyvindur Karlsson 33:43
And also, if you're a singer, your voice is not going to be able... If you do that every night for a month, you won't be able to sing by the end of it. I guarantee it.
Svavar Knútur 33:51
It's not good.
Eyvindur Karlsson 33:51
No, it's not. But do you have any more practical advice? I'm very curious. Where do you start? I mean, let's say I'm... Well, let's just be selfish here. I've never done a tour. I've gone outside of Iceland to play, but I've never done a tour. And it's something that I would really love to do, so... I mean, obviously, let's assume that I don't know you. So you can actually give me any contacts or anything. But let's assume we don't know each other. What would be the first advice you would give me? Where do I start?
Svavar Knútur 34:22
Where do we start? I'm actually terrible at the cold calling, and stuff like that. However, I use my friend connection. My network. Which I am terrible at. But I do use it. For example, our friend Sean, in Canada is now helping me with booking gigs in Canada. I started my European touring with contacts from the Melodica festival, that I had played alongside these guys. And I said: "Can I come over to Germany to play with you guys? Maybe three, four gigs?" "Yeah, of course!" So that's how I started. And then when you go out there, you meet other people. And you're like: "Okay, okay. Would you like to tour with me a little bit?" And they put you in touch with some guy who can help you book more." And slowly you just grow that little network of people that help you out. And there's a lot of interesting websites that can put you into contact with a lot of people. Like house concert hub and stuff like that. And the house concert circuit? I haven't quite cracked it, because it takes a little bit of homework. But that's very interesting to me. house concerts are wonderful way to meet new audiences, crack cities.
Eyvindur Karlsson 35:51
And actually, if any of you listening are doing email marketing, which I think is super important. I think any musician, any artists should have a mailing list, because it's just so important to be able to get in touch with your fans. You know, that's one thing you could potentially do. If you have email subscribers that have maybe found you through the internet and have signed up, and you've never played in their part of the world. That's one thing that you could do. Maybe somebody will put you up, maybe you can book a couple of house concerts in those areas. Maybe it'll be paid, maybe it'll be free. There are strategies to having sort of a free just donation based house concerts. And a lot of people make a living doing that.
Svavar Knútur 36:34
And just start that spreadsheet. Start that spreadsheet, with venues, with contacts with bookers, with labels. And don't be scared to go on Spotify and comparing yourself with artists that are on the roster of a booking agent. And if they have a lower Spotify count than you, you know, a lower listener count or similar listening count, you know that this booker, it is not exclusively working with successful artists, but trying to grow artists. Invite that broker to your show, if you feel confident that they will like it. You can invite. It's often a lot better to just invite people to your show. Say like: "Hey, I got tickets for you, if you want to come, I'm really good." And don't try to oversell yourself. Just be honest.
Eyvindur Karlsson 37:28
And would you stick to trying to network your way through this, and just meet people in person or in online groups or something like that, and try to do it that way? Or would you say there's a benefit to also trying to reach out, to do the cold calling? Finding somebody through the Indie Artist's Bible or something like that?
Svavar Knútur 37:51
Just do what you're good at. If you could add growing through networking, like I am, minus the whole making the network, then do that. If you're really good at selling yourself through cold calls and emails, and if you're really organized and good at emailing lots of people, you can get the Indie Bible or something like that. And just get on there and just put down the tour. Start small. It's always good to start small. Just find a couple of small cities to do like the Wednesday, Tuesday gigs on. And then Thursday, Friday, Saturday, do bigger cities or something. But for example, Berlin, you can play any night, really. New York, Toronto, you can play any night. Doesn't matter if it's Saturday or Wednesday, because people are always out. But maybe sometimes the smaller cities are actually more busy. It depends.
Eyvindur Karlsson 38:58
So basically, you are going to probably lose money on the first couple of times. So approach it as as a holiday?
Svavar Knútur 39:11
Yeah. As an investment.
Eyvindur Karlsson 39:13
Yeah. As an investment. Yeah.
Svavar Knútur 39:14
And then don't don't be shy to follow up like half a year later. Another tour. Half a year later, another tour. And always, if you're touring in Europe, you need nine months advance, at least, to book a tour. Those guys won't touch you with less than nine months. The venues that are booking with less than nine months to go, a lot of them a dodgy. But like, give it a give it a shot. I mean, for your first tour, just whatever works. House concerts are usually... You can do it three months in advance or something like that. But less than that, you can start having trouble.
But just prepare with good advance. You know, and manage your expectations. Don't get depressed when things don't go your way. And things don't go perfectly. I've played two or three times to an audience of one
Eyvindur Karlsson 40:19
Svavar Knútur 40:20
And those two guys are my top fans in the world now. Those guys would jump rivers for me they would wade through fire. Because I gave them an hour of music alone. We shared a bottle of wine. Just like: "Yeah, now we're just going to be very private. Just you and me. We're just going to enjoy the hell out of this moment."
Eyvindur Karlsson 40:46
Well, you're there anyway. I mean, why wouldn't you do that?
Svavar Knútur 40:51
Why would you leave? You were going to be playing music anyway. So invest that time in that person. Invest your music in that one person that showed you all that respect and friendship and love. Give it give it right back.
More practical points: Get good at Excel. Spreadsheets. That's a very important part. Learn to take care of your money. Don't be shy to sell your merch. On stage, tell them, if you're traveling alone: "I am the merch guy. I'll be down at the merch table. I can sign your shit. I can sell it. Don't be shy to come talk to me."
Eyvindur Karlsson 41:42
Make it a part of your routine as well.
Svavar Knútur 41:43
There's nothing lamer, then musicians that stand on the stage and they're kind of... "(Mumble, mumble, mumble) a T shirt and CD."
"What?" Just tell them. !I have T shirts. I have CDs. I have vinyl. Yeah!!
Eyvindur Karlsson 42:11
Exactly. And the more you do... One of the best things that I have ever... One of the things that has sold the most T-shirts for me was having somebody in the audience - and I try to do this every time I play - have somebody in the audience wearing the T shirt. So you can go: "Look, it's beautiful. Look at that." And they will turn around and walk around the room. "Yeah, here we go." You know, you have to be proud of your merch. You have to be proud of the shit you're selling. Otherwise, nobody's gonna be interested. If you don't like it stuff you're selling, how are they gonna like it?
Svavar Knútur 42:40
Yeah, and like, one thing about performances. A lot of people, especially in the singer-songwriter genre... I'm not talking about pop, or rock. I'm talking about us chubby, bearded guys. And girls with braids.
Eyvindur Karlsson 42:59
And beards. Yeah.
Svavar Knútur 43:00
And beards. Fat and skinny, red haired and brunettes, gay and trans, and bi and straight. All of us, all the colors of the rainbow singer-songwriters. One combining factor that audiences really like, is our ability to tell a story. To stand on the stage, make them laugh just a little bit, make fun of yourself. If you can't make fun of anything else, just make fun of yourself. There's gotta be a thing about you that everyone will laugh at. And when you open up about that, you're making yourself a little vulnerable, but still having a sense of humor about it. And that opens it up for everyone to connect with you. It's not a forced connection. It's an invitation to your life and to your being. And part of serving your your audience is not to be close to them, but to open your heart to them
Eyvindur Karlsson 44:07
Exactly, and actually, this is something that I learned when I was doing stand up comedy as well. And of course, you don't have to be funny to be a performer. Even if you don't like trying to tell jokes or anything like that, it doesn't matter. But if there's something very obvious about you, like the fact that you're fat, or you're very short, or you're very hairy, or whatever the case may be, if it's something that might bother people, you have to address it. And I don't mean bother in that they will not like you or that they will be prejudiced against you or something like that. It's just if it's something that people are going to be thinking about the whole time when they're watching you, it's going to ruin the show for them. Do you know what I mean?
Svavar Knútur 44:51
Yeah, yeah, address it.
Eyvindur Karlsson 44:54
You know, if a little person walked in, somebody who's very, you know, little person.
Svavar Knútur 45:02
Like Bonnie "Prince" Billy, for example.
Eyvindur Karlsson 45:04
No, he's not a little person. He's not tall, but he's not a little person. He's oddly shaped.
Svavar Knútur 45:13
He has a tiny guitar as well. So it's actually when he's on stage, it looks like he's very far away.
Eyvindur Karlsson 45:19
Yeah. But if somebody walks in, and he starts talking to you on stage, and he's, like, a meter tall, and he doesn't address it, that's going to bother you the whole time. You're going to be thinking about nothing else. But if he just says: "Hey, yeah, you know, I am not The Tallest Man on Earth," or something. Anything, doesn't matter. Break the ice, and it puts everybody at ease.
Svavar Knútur 45:49
Works for me. I'm chubby. I can make endless amounts of fun of that. And I think, if you have a sense of humor about whatever makes you weird... Now, when I when I say weird, I mean whatever. And don't be part of the movement of re-asserting all these taboos. You know, like: "Oh, you can't say fat, you can say little people. You can't remark on that. You can't be part of that." No, man. Just talk.
Eyvindur Karlsson 46:26
Again, just find out who you are, and be the shit out of that.
Svavar Knútur 46:29
Yeah. I love that motto.
Eyvindur Karlsson 46:31
I love it, too. Well, this has been great. Thank you so much for coming back. And having this wonderful conversation. There's a lot of gold in there, I think, for anybody out there who wants to be a performing artist, whether it's in music or any other art. I think there are a lot of great tips in there. So thank you so much.
Svavar Knútur 46:56
Yeah. Thank you, Eyvi. To all of you out there, from 105 Hlíðar, this is Svavar Knútur and Eyvi signing out.
Eyvindur Karlsson 47:06
That's right. Thank you again so much to Svavar Knútur. I really enjoyed that conversation. And I hope you did, too. I think there's a lot of actionable stuff in there. And a lot of things you can start doing even today. So I hope you enjoyed that. And if you did, subscribe, you know, leave a review and a comment and all that good stuff. And I will see you on the next episode. Don't forget to check out my music at onebadday.rocks. And if you're going to be traveling, go to followme.is. See you next time. Folk on.
Transcribed by https://otter.ai
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