Ron Pope: Finding Success in Independence

TuneCore Artist Ron Pope has seen incredible success since grabbing the steering wheel and leaving his major label in favor of independence.  He’s had over 1.5 million digital downloads of his TuneCore-distributed songs, and tickets to his live shows are going quickly (case in point: his upcoming show at New York City’s Irving Plaza sold out well in advance). We were lucky enough to speak with Pope about where he started, where he sees himself now in the music industry, and how TuneCore is a part of his team…

Let’s start out with a general question – How did you get started in music?

I’ve always made music; I was that obnoxious kid at the front of the school choir when I seven. I didn’t really consider the idea that I might be able to be a professional musician until I got to college. While at NYU, I joined a songwriting circle, and the other writers in that group really encouraged me to go for it.

You were signed to a major label and are now an independent artist.  Can you tell us a little about your experiences with each?

My experience with a major label was almost universally negative, so I don’t have much to say about it. I think that major labels absolutely can do incredible things for people, but when I was signed, I didn’t get any assistance from the label. You sign with a big label to get access to major media; I didn’t get that, so I asked to be released. The benefit of being an independent artist is that there’s no buffer between me and my fans. If it seems like the fans are ready for another album or another tour, then that’s what I go out and do. I don’t have to ask anyone for money or permission because there are no executives taking all the money I bring in and dictating my next move. That’s a really nice situation to be in.

How did your new single “Lick My Wounds” come about?

I was in Mexico and part of the hook popped into my head. I couldn’t figure out what to do next, so I came back to New York and sat down with Kyle McCammon (who is the Musical Director in my touring band and one of my new album’s co-producers) and we hashed the rest of it out. For about a month, it was just this hook that I couldn’t get out of my head. I figured that was a good sign.

Is this a preview of what’s to come on your next album?

My new record is a concept album, and the concept is incredibly straight forward. It follows two people through a relationship, from the first moment they see each other all the way through the last moment. ‘Lick My Wounds’ captures their very first meeting; it’s the first track on the album.

What kind of team do you think an artist needs to be successful? Has your team evolved over the years?

I think it depends on the artist. In the modern music industry, it’s important to create something substantial on your own before you go looking for help, so that’s always my advice to people starting out. You need to make some noise on your own before seeking out a manager, trying to get a deal, hiring a publicist, etc. My team has evolved substantially over the years to accommodate the changes in my business.

Where do you see independent artists in the current music industry model?

I imagine myself at the moment as a part of the emerging middle class in the music industry. Twenty years ago, there were the ‘haves’ and the ‘have nots.’ You either had a major label deal, with money to record in a big studio, access to producers, worldwide distribution, a substantial budget to promote your album and tour, access to major media, etc, or you were struggling on your own, trying to get your music to a place where you could get a deal so that you could have access to those things. The spot where I exist within the music industry feels very new; I’d imagine that as time goes on, there will be more artists like me, who make waves on their own without any intervention from the conventional music industry machine.

Where do think the music industry is headed?

If I was smart enough to figure that out, I wouldn’t be working in the music industry. Seriously though, I’d say this; all I know for sure is that the music industry is changing. We’re in a state of constant flux; so the future of the music industry is change. Artists and companies who are prepared to evolve will survive, and others will disappear.

You’ve been a TuneCore Artist since 2008. Thanks for being part of the community!  Can you talk about how TuneCore is part of your team?

Without TuneCore, my project wouldn’t exist in the way it does now. TuneCore allowed me to distribute my music all over the world while I was still developing a fan base. As small pockets of fans developed in different areas of the world, those fans were able to access my music, purchase it, and support my project. Also, by connecting me with platforms like Spotify, where people have shared and streamed my music tens of millions of times, TuneCore has helped with my growth in a variety of countries.

How actively do you manage your TuneCore account?  For example, do you use the daily iTunes trend reports to gauge the results of marketing efforts or help plan your tours?

I check TuneCore a great deal and my team utilizes the information provided for all sorts of things.

Switching gears to touring…how do you book gigs in other cities/countries?

I have a U.S. booking agent and an agent who books me outside of the U.S.

How have you grown your audiences? (Especially interested in how you’ve grown them abroad)

I’ve released a great deal of music since 2004; hundreds of songs plus many albums and EPs. I think part of what has helped with the growth of my audience is that I have a lot of content and it is of a consistent quality. If a new fan found me today and he was super engaged with the music, he could listen to new recordings for something like fifteen hours. Beyond that, I’ve been touring pretty aggressively for a number of years. Each time we visit a city, we put on the best show we can, and when we return, the audience has grown, as a rule. With the live show, I’d say it’s important to distinguish yourself from everyone else. There are a lot of people who are doing something like what you do, so how are you going to convince people that it’s better to watch you than that other guy?

Do you connect with other musicians on the road? If so, what have you learned from them?

It’s tough to connect with other musicians while you’re touring, because there’s constant motion involved in the process. At festivals, it’s always fun to be around a bunch of friends (new and old) to catch up and get to see each other’s sets. In Germany, backstage at a festival, I bumped into an old friend who I hadn’t seen in ages; that was a blast. I try to pick up little things from every good show I see. At festivals, I think everyone is a little more on point than usual, because they know other musicians are there watching them. The biggest thing I’ve learned on the road is to try not to sweat the small stuff. High strung people go crazy on tour; you never meet a touring musician who’s in his sixties and is high strung. You need to go with the flow out there, because stuff is going to go wrong every day.

You’ve seen incredible (and well deserved) success as an independent artist.  What are the top 3 tips you’d give an independent artist looking to grow his/her career?

1. Do something good. Start by creating the best music you can or the rest of your efforts are wasted.

2. Be willing to accept constructive criticism. Find people you trust who are willing to tell you when you suck or when you’ve done something good, and then listen to them.

3. Work hard, every day. If you’ve made this your job, treat it like a job. If it isn’t your job yet but you’d like it to be, treat it like a job and hopefully it’ll happen for you. There’s always going to be someone who’s younger, better looking, a better singer, a better writer, a better player, etc etc etc, but there’s no one who has the intrinsic ability to work harder than you. Make up for whatever you lack with extra hustle.

To wrap things up… We’re excited to be part of your Irving Plaza show on August 10th!  What can fans expect?

This show is very different from my usual sets. I’ll play some songs all by myself (which I hardly ever do), then, I’m playing with The District (the other band I’m in) for a while to premier some new tunes we wrote together. We haven’t played together in over three years, so that will be very special. Next, I’ll be playing with my touring band, and finally, we’ll all play together with some special guests. It’s going to be a big night and I’m incredibly excited.


More @ RonPopeMusic.com 

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