For independent musician Jackie Venson, business is booming.
She sold out two nights in a row at Antone’s in June, sang the Black National Anthem at Austin FC’s home opener at Q2 Stadium, performed at Blues on the Green at the end of July, and has already played nine shows since then. She also graced the cover of Austin Monthly in March for their issue on live music’s comeback.
She described selling out at Antone’s for the venue’s 46th anniversary as “really, really cool.”
“I’ve always wanted to do that,” she said. “There’s only a few towns in America where I can pull that off.”
Getting Her Start
This is all new for Venson.
A few years ago, she sent cold emails to venues in order to book shows. That method worked about 35 percent of the time, enough to keep her going.
Mostly, she negotiated door deals, which earned her 80 percent of the tickets sold if she hit a certain threshold. This put pressure on her to market herself in each city for every show.
“Sometimes there were flukes, and they went okay,” Venson said. “Most of the time, I had no idea how much money I was going to make. I just showed up in hopes that the ticket sales were okay…Sometimes I’d walk out of that club with literally $75.”
She did that for seven years.
“It was grueling,” she said. “It was terrible. And the entire time I did it, I was looking for an agent.”
The Benefits Of Hiring A Music Agent
Few major music industry professionals contacted Venson until 2019, she said, so she had to launch as an independent artist.
“Do nothing and maybe hope for somebody else to find you, or you can just start doing stuff yourself,” she said. “But now I have an agent—and protocol, and contracts, and a team—and he works with promoters, and the promoters help us.”
Venson hired Louie Carr as her agent in July 2019, and he helped her book gigs throughout the pandemic. He also gets her guarantees, so now regardless of how many people show up, she knows how much money she will earn. Having a projected income has made a big difference.
“I can actually plan and strategize,” she said.
Live-Streaming Music During The Pandemic
For the longest time, Venson said, live shows accounted for 90 percent of her income. The remaining portion came from merch sales and miscellaneous sources.
Now, she estimates that live shows account for 60 percent of her earnings. Online merch sales rose exponentially because her fan base grew during the pandemic. She credits frequent live streams for expanding her audience.
Venson did several streaming series in 2019 before COVID-19, so she was prepared.
“I had just been doing it because it grows my page,” Venson said. “The content is worth so much, and all it takes is me pressing ‘Go Live’ and playing in my room. I’m like, ‘Man, would (I) rather pay $500 for an ad or just play for an hour?’”
Venson said connecting with fans comes naturally to her.
“When I was streaming all the time and people weren’t going out, a lot of people got used to supporting artists online,” she said. “Now, there’s like this new-found culture for people buying online merch because of how we found each other last year.”
You got to just always be moving and shaking.
How To Diversify Your Revenue Streams As A Musician
Another way that Venson earns money is from fans paying her to do live streams on their Facebook pages. She cross-posts the streams to her page as well.
“Instead of Facebook ads, they would rather pay for like a piece of entertainment and content that constantly grows their page,” Venson said.
Venson also launched a profile on Patreon to generate recurring revenue from fans. According to her page, she currently has 58 patrons and earns $453 per month.
She said Bandcamp has been “kicking ass” for her and a lot of artists, too.
“It’s a really great platform for selling merch online, and they do a lot of really cool stuff,” Venson said. “You can even do ticketed live streams through Bandcamp, and it’s awesome.”
She also doesn’t mind Spotify, where she has 48,354 monthly listeners. It’s a way to reach new fans, and even though Spotify doesn’t pay well, she says that radio plays didn’t pay well, either.
Jackie Venson’s Advice For Other Artists
In the music industry, it’s possible to carve out a successful career without winning Grammy’s or being a household name.
Venson likes to observe other independent artists’ careers and learn from them.
“Some of them haven’t won Grammys, but their careers are incredible,” she said. “They’re extremely successful, so that always fascinates me…It’s nice to observe and learn from people who have found another way.”
Venson advises new artists against hiring an agent right away.
“Learn how to do it yourself, and in the process of learning how to do it yourself, you’re going to build,” she said. “And once you’ve built something, then a person who has connections and relationships will reach out to you.
“Find out which two (social media) platforms you vibe with the most. Do your best keeping up with that. Live stream a lot. And keep releasing stuff on streaming platforms.”
Venson said the biggest con of being independent is that you have to hire and fire everyone yourself and have a hand in everything.
“It’s like an all day, everyday thing,” she said. “I just find ways to make it fun. I like the people I work with.”
Venson has a new album coming out in September.
“I don’t ever really stop releasing stuff,” she said. “That’s the way of the new Internet music. You got to just always be moving and shaking.”