Friday, July 2, 2010

The Unsigned Experience - Westwood & Willow

If you've been checking in at Paduta's Facebook in the last week you might have seen that I've been working on presentation proposals to send to the SxSW 2011 Interactive/Film/Music forum selection committee. The hope is that we get selected to speak and present Paduta in a big way to the music industry.

Well, one of the proposals I've been working on is about the experience of the unsigned musician (how they book gigs, how they record/release/promote music) and to research the subject, I sent some questions to a few local bands in the Sacramento and Bay Area. The result: a lot of insightful feedback about not only how unsigned musicians/bands make it work without a label (major or indie) but how they feel about the state of the industry today.

So to begin this four part series of interviews, I present to you San Francisco indie folk duo Westwood and Willow (a.k.a. Kevin and Sean E. Sullivan) who are releasing their first full length album at Bottom of the Hill - Saturday July 3rd.

<a href="">The Sweetest Fruit by Westwood &amp; Willow</a>

How long after the band formed were you able to start booking shows? How did you get booked for shows?

Kevin started writing music under the name Westwood & Willow in 2006 but didn’t start playing shows until 2008.  It was just him and the guitar at first and he could have probably began playing shows earlier but it wasn’t a priority.  Learning how to play the guitar and craft songs takes time so the initial drive behind W&W wasn’t to play shows and get famous, but be expressive and work through things going on in life. 

Today Kevin writes songs about everything and hopes to make a career out of his greatest passion.

Where was your first professional gig?

San Jose Skate - one of the prominent all ages venues in the south bay area.  Been closed since late 2008.

What web tools do you use to promote the band?

Myspace, Facebook, Twitter, E-mail list through Mail Chimp.

What kind of media do use to promote the band? Audio, visual, etc.?

Lot’s of videos via youtube and the usual stuff like flyers, pictures of shows, etc.

Do you use any websites specifically aimed at unsigned musicians to help promote the band? Do you use Last FM? iLike? Something else?

We’re starting to get involved with Last FM a bit.  Mostly we try and go after college radio and open mics...things that help unsigned musicians outside of the computer and then use the computer to promote.  But we are certainly open to any kind of website that can help!

On average, how many hours do you think you spend per week updating all over your various social networking and/or marketing sites?

Per week...maybe 14?  Roughly two hours a day between computer and cell phone when on the go, and perhaps more.  This is mostly Sean’s job but Kevin is involved in talking with the fans as well.

What kind of fan-base do you have? About how many fans, followers, etc do you have on the social networks you use?

We have around 4,000 friends on myspace, almost 700 on Facebook, and 245 followers on Twitter.  Myspace we have had for a long time but it is clearly phasing out as a place where fans listen to music.  Facebook and Twitter we just got seriously involved with in the last couple of months so it’s taking time to build a following but certainly happening :)

Are you actively looking to be signed by a label?

It seems that every band would like to be on a label - it’s a bit of a musical fantasy; to be taken care of by a record label.  It would definitely be awesome to have distribution, solid tours and access to great studios.  In the 21st century the music industry has drastically changed and record labels aren’t always needed to be successful.  If a label had any interest in working with us we would love to meet with them and talk about it, but of course it would have to be a mutually beneficial relationship that we both feel like was needed.

In your own words, describe your local music scene and your involvement in it. Do you support other bands? Where are your favorite places to perform?

Supporting local bands is an extremely important part of being a musician.  If you can build close bonds with the people you will be performing and promoting with then there is no end to the potential success of all parties involved.  San Francisco has a really rich and complex local music scene with some of the best venues in the bay area (and arguabley, beyond).  There isn’t a whole lot of music like ours trying to take on the bigger venues, which are predominatly dominated by indie pop and alternative rock.  We love some bands in those genres but think that it’s important to take lyric-oriented folk music outside of coffee shops and into respected venues.

As far as places to play - pretty much anywhere there are attentive, excited people.  The crowd makes way more of the show than any stage and lights ever can.  People in the audience singing, clapping, dancing, and overall having a good time create the best places to play.  As far as actual venues in the area that we have performed at Bottom of the Hill is definitely the best.

Do you think unsigned musicians have or can have any influence over the music industry without being signed to a label? Why or why not? And if so, how?

Definitely.  Unsigned musicians just have to know how to use the social networking tools that are at their disposal and promote, promote, hustle and promote.  Home recording has gotten extremely advanced and it is not difficult to record an album for relatively cheap (when compared to the big studios).  Get it pressed by a local business and play as many shows in as many places as possible (within reason).  Give the people a reason to listen to the music, offer them something new.  Labels can help with a lot of things but the passion and will to spread the music starts from within the musician.

What are some of your favorite bands? 

Kevin - Nick Drake, Bob Dylan, Jens Lekman, Fionn Regan, The Tallest Man on Earth, Copeland, Daphne Loves Derby, Sigur Ros, Imogen Heap, The Cure, New Edition, Tupac, D-Lo, Alexisonfire, The Weepies.

Sean - Pink Floyd, Mew, Porcupine Tree, Opeth, Circa Survive, Every Time I Die, Cocteau Twins, Mac Dre, The Cure, Head Automatica, Camel, Dredg, Imogen Heap, Minus the Bear, Metric.

If you're in San Francisco tomorrow (or already live there) make sure to head over to Bottom of the Hill for Westwood and Williow's Record Release Show @ 8:30PM. For only $10 you can help support great unsigned musicians and hear some sweet tunes!

Here are some other chances to see them:

Coffee Garden - Sacramento - July 9th @ 7:30PM

Has Beens Coffee - Chico - July 10th @ 7PM
Sue's Java Cafe - Redding - July 11th @ 5PM
Tease - Ashland, OR - July 13th @ 7PM
Artichoke Music - Portland, OR - July 16th @ 7PM
C and P Coffee - Seattle - July 17th @2PM

Find Out More Info about Westwood and Willow @

Next time...Part Two with 12 year old
punk band SIMPL3JACK - no they haven't been
performing 12 years old, the band members
are only 12 years old!

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