Career Tracks: Chi McClean, Part 3

Photo by Andrew Keller

Chi McClean is an independent singer-songwriter currently touring in support of his 2009 release, Something Out There.
In Part 3 of our conversation Chi discusses music publishing, endorsements, branding, and his next release.
How are you handling your music publishing?
CM: I set up McClean Music Publishing. I received my first BMI check a few months ago and it (the importance of publishing) really hit home for me. The more I know, the less I know (about publishing). It’s a labyrinth. I went to a Music Row Magazine awards festival at BMI in Nashville. I also met with Stage Three Music Publishing. (Songwriting ) is huge business down there.
At a certain point whether it’s managers, booking agents, or publishing, it’s about bandwidth and how much you can realistically tackle in a meaningful way. You’re not doing yourself any good if you’re spread too thin. 
What’s the timeline on your new record?
CM: I hope to have it out by the holidays. I think it’s going to be more focused on the songs. We were talking earlier about what people react to. I think it will be a simple, honest record. I’ve found my voice a bit more. There are some good songs here. 
You have endorsements with Taylor Guitars and Elixir Strings. How did you put that together and how have the endorsements worked for you?
CM: Whether I had an endorsement or not, I love my Taylor. (I’ve been playing them) since 1999. I’ve been playing a lot of alternate tunings. On stage it’s a pain to retune in-between songs.  So, I put together a kit. You have to have a press kit, a calendar, an album out,  and show that you’ve got something going on and you’re serious. (Taylor) has been really helpful, not only with guitars but with career advice. Taylor is very well networked. They’ve got Dave Matthews, Taylor Swift, Jason Mraz, Leo Kotke, and Doyle Dykes Signature models. Through them (Taylor Guitars) I got an introduction to the Elixir Strings artist program.
Do you do clinics for them?
CM: I don’t. I’d be delighted to. They’ve been so supportive to me. I give them a shout out whenever I can. I don’t really have to do anything. At gigs people come up to me, “What kind of guitar are you playing? What are those strings?” “Well, it’s funny you should ask…” (laughs). It just sounds really good.
Whatever you’re doing, it comes back to being in the relationship business. I just think it’s really important to try and stay in touch. Simple things, wish somebody a Happy Birthday… I once saw a quote, something like, “They’re not going to remember your music. They’re not going to remember anything about you except how you made them feel.” 
What are your thoughts on the ‘1,000 true fans’ theory? Can you make a living off a dedicated segment of the Long Tail?
CM: I think you can do it but it’s hard. You have to control your expenses at home and be out on the road. If you build that network of places to stay you can make a go of it. 1,000 people is nothing to shake a stick at. If you have 1,000 people you can really communicate with, who will respond to your emails and come to your shows, that’s powerful. I think it’s manageable. You have to control your expenses carefully. I’ve been looking into crowdsourcing. As an independent musician you have to get really creative. 
How do think about your brand?
CM: It’s tricky. I come from a marketing background but my focus has been on the music and getting out there. Keyboardist/singer Dave Yaden has been telling me I need to dress like a rock star and walk like a rock star to the point where the first thing that goes through someone’s mind when they see you on the street is, “What band is that guy in?” If you’re a lawyer you wear a suit. If you’re a baseball player, you wear a uniform. There’s a certain look. If you’re a musician, that’s your job. That really stuck with me. Figure out who you are and go for it. Like my music, I just want to be honest and who I am, but in this day and age everything is so competitive, you have to develop a brand that goes beyond your music. It’s a whole marketing package.
I was fortunate enough to work with the Art Director from the last company who did all my packaging design and developed a logo for me. It’s important to think about what you’re saying with your CD cover, your posters, your emails.
What’s your long range plan?
CM: To keep this sustainable. Make records, keep playing. The plan is to develop a plan (laughs)…
You can find out more about Chi McClean and his music at: www.chimcclean.com

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