Joe Altier, known as Just Joe on stage, has been performing as a full-time musician for more than 20 years. He’s seen his share of ups and downs in the industry and had his own hurdles to overcome. “I’m a little broke,” he says. “But I also spent eight years solid living out of a van, had severe debt and the greatest time of my life. I’m OK.”
Altier, who plays around 300 gigs every year, is also a master of social media interaction. Every day his posts garner hundreds of likes and comments and he even has a spot on the KROCK morning show. His persona is about more than his music. It’s about his online footprint.
So, when tragedy and chaos struck, Altier was ready to take the challenge.
“I called all my venues last Tuesday (March 10) and said, ‘Are we cancelled?’ and they all said, ‘No, no, no,’” he recalls. “But I saw it coming.”
He also realized that he wouldn’t be the only one to suffer. The bar owners, wait staff and bartenders at all of his frequent gigs would be in the same boat, or worse. “I thought a lot of us would be in this situation, so I’m going to spend time with my daughter, work on creative things and we’d get to the other side.”
But he also realized he’d need to generate some kind of income in the meantime. With KROCK, Altier had become aware of the Twitch streaming platform. Though it began as an online meeting place for gamers, it has transformed to include much broader subjects and entertainment – including music and radio shows.
“It opens up a whole new world,” he says. “It’ll be better than Facebook.”
Altier now streams twice a day at noon and 7 p.m. and has seen immediate success. “It’s not gig money, but it’s not that far off,” he says. Through Twitch, people are linked directly to their Amazon Prime accounts so credit cards are immediately available. People can throw “bits” into his virtual tip jar or donate to PayPal or Venmo. Once performers become affiliates on Twitch, they can also garner subscribers for various amounts every month. Those subscribers can sign up for a variety of tiers offering additional incentives. “This could be even bigger than gigs,” he says. “I think this will be a new revenue stream for artists. 85,000 people tuned into Dropkick Murphy’s on St. Patrick’s Day. I’m growing a fanbase worldwide without leaving my house. I’m not freaking out anymore. I’m excited about what this could mean.”
Musicians, especially, are the types who need to be ready for sudden swings. Whether it’s a restaurant closing, a change in management or a change in what type of entertainment a venue is looking for, it’s not unusual for musicians to have to adapt on the fly. Altier says all of that past experience prepared him for moments like this.
“Musicians are independent contractors,” he says. “There’s a downside to what we do. No 401K, no benefits, no paid time off. But we’re also in the position to come up with a side hustle. There’s always a way to rustle up extra money. We may be more fucked, but we’re also more prepared. We’re used to the hustle.”
That has helped Altier cope currently with the loss of not only bar gigs, but several weddings he had booked, which usually garner him big paychecks. However, he realizes that he has an opportunity to still work from home. Those couples who need to reschedule their big day have a whole other horrible list of issues to deal with. “I feel so bad for these people,” he says.
As for advice for musicians looking to break into the virtual show market, Altier has a few tips. “Don’t come across as desperate – ever,” he says. “Don’t be overdramatic. We’re suffering, but think of how many others are, too. For the big tours, it’s not just the band that’s out. What about the road crew that blocked off six months to work the tour? What about the union workers? Be genuine about what you’re doing. Other people are desperate, too.”
He also emphasizes simplicity. He likes the Twitch channel for its clarity and ease. Artists who create a profile have a whole page of their work that’s easy for listeners to view. It’s also easy to tip either through “bits” or other links, but he emphasizes not to have too many additional links for donations (keep it to two or three). Altier has also seen advertisers throw money behind channel owners, adding another possibility for revenue.
It’s also important to maintain perspective. First, that every dollar adds up and no donation is too small. If someone only gives $1, that may seem small, but if 100 people follow suit – there’s a possibility for something great. And – people want to give. Let them. “For someone to throw $5 or $20 in your virtual tip jar, it might seem like they shouldn’t be spending right now, but think that on a normal day before – they may have spent four times that,” he says. “Plus, they have some sympathy.”
At the end of it all, Altier admits that he did have a “freak-out” day where he really evaluated the circumstances. But after that, he realized this is an opportunity more than anything.
“Just get creative and do what you’re supposed to be doing,” he says. “There are people who are having a way worse time. Way worse than me. And I realize our time in bars is limited. We will suddenly be out of touch with people in bars one day, so you’ve got to think ahead at different revenue streams.”
And with that, he added one more piece of advice. “My dad taught me one lesson – ‘Don’t be a dick.’ It’s simple. After that it doesn’t matter. Do that and everything else will fall into place.”
10 TIPS FOR MUSICIANS AND ARTISTS:
1. Set a schedule: If you set a performance schedule, people can get into the rhythm of expecting you without scrambling to find out when, what platform, how long, etc. If you decide on a time and stick to it – whether it’s every day or every week – it’ll be easier to build a following simply because they know when and where to go.
2. Set a personal schedule: It’s hard to maintain normalcy if everything that defined you previously is gone. If you had a day-job, but don’t now. If you went to the gym every day at 9 a.m., but can’t now. Those changes can throw everything out of whack. So, get it back. Decide that every day you’ll work out at home or go for a walk at a certain time. Then you’ll prep for your daily show. Then you’ll practice. Settling into a schedule is a simple human comfort – AND you’ll probably become more productive if you decide to set the time aside rather than squeezing it in here or there.
3. Focus on the ask: Many people are suffering right now. Read that again. MANY people are suffering right now. That means you’re not the only one. Remember that when you compose your pitch. Desperation never works, but sincerity almost always does. Be sincere in talking to people about your situation, but don’t blow it out of proportion or make them feel obligated to give monetarily – when they may be suffering even more than you are. Instead…get creative…
4. Think of other ways people can help: The greatest marketing tool musicians have is simply the ability for OTHER PEOPLE to share what they do. Word-of-mouth has become an unbelievable tool in the digital age. Today, one person sharing your material to their page, group or following can generate a fanbase that you wouldn’t have even known about otherwise. Celebrate that and tap into it. Encourage people without money to spare to share your stuff. Ask them to spin you on Spotify or watch you on YouTube. The reward on that multiplies so quickly: 1. They save money. 2. You get free marketing. 3. You don’t have to come across as a jerk begging for money. You come across as an artist trying to spread your creations. Think about how much more positive that is.
5. Be creative in your shows: If every day you get on and play 10 songs that you usually play in your sets that your fans have all seen – that’s not particularly engaging. But if you think of ways to make each set unique, fun and special – now it’s better for everyone. Celebrate a songwriter or band you love, tell stories, play one of your albums in full, do a kid-based show where you sing Disney songs – whatever! The options are limitless and best of all – if you ask your fans, they’ll probably tell you exactly what they want, so you don’t even need to think that hard.
6. Get more creative: Ok, so you don’t want to put on 14 shows a week. How about you offer lessons for people who have been staring at that guitar in their closet for three years. How about you think of a way to entertain kids with music while their parents are freaking out trying to handle them all day. Get out of the box and think about your unique skill set. Whatever you are best at – decide how you can make that work virtually. Chances are there is a way and maybe it could even lead to lasting revenues in the future.
7. Get a graphic: Give people a simple, clear image that they can share easily. Everything today is about simplicity and ease. The less buttons, clicks and searching – the better. Consolidate and do it simply. Give a striking image or logo people will remember and keep using it. Get them familiar with your new virtual brand.
8. Use groups: Not every group is welcome to self-promotion, but many are. Use the groups you’re part of on Facebook to boost your reach. People are hungry for music right now, but they need to know that it’s happening to find it. Reach out!
9. Look on the bright side: This all sucks. When you’re a professional musician or artist – you depend on gatherings and human interaction. It’s awful to be isolated from your means of making a living. However, we are the lucky ones with alternatives. You can’t bartend for an empty bar. You can’t run a music venue without music and audiences. Be mindful of the people around you and be grateful for the tools you DO have. Then, it almost becomes a fun challenge to figure out how you can harness those tools and, in the process, help yourself while spreading some light in a very dark time.
10. DON’T BE AN ASSHOLE: At times like this – maybe more than ever – don’t be a jerk. If you’re asking everyone to watch your live shows – maybe you should watch theirs. If you’re trying to break into a group and want people to love you – maybe show them some love first. If you’re begging people for money – maybe you should help someone else out by sharing their music or art or hey! – just asking how they are. In times like this, we need to stop fighting and start helping. Unclench your fist and make it a helping hand. If you want people to support you – support them, too.