Another long day of emails and digital admin comes to a close, so I celebrate with a late dinner of tinned soup and crackers. I gave Benjidog a slightly earlier last walk of the day so I could try and get a decent sleep - I have a work trip to London tomorrow which means getting up around 4.30am - so he's restless, fidgeting on the red chair in my studio as I buzz around setting camera batteries to charge and packing my bag.
I'm not someone who complains about the vast reams of admin I've invited in to my life, doing all the things I do - I actually get excited about the possibilities on offer for one plucky musician and their laptop, sending music and messages out in to the world. Now the Butterflies Audiovisual EP is made and released I am even starting to battle through all the tasks I had to put aside when I was working on the videos, and even ones I put aside when I wasn't actually working on the videos but when I should have been working on the videos and I felt too guilty not working on them to do anything else. And that involves a LOT of time staring at my laptop screen...much like working on the videos...and a LOT of emails.
There are two main sorts of emails I am dealing with:
1) Emails introducing myself and my music to people who might like it and/or be able to help me with it in some way. A lot of this is cold, so I have to put a lot of thought in to how I am going to come across to the recipient. Sometimes I do feel limited - I know some people will react completely differently to a manager / PR writing to them about an artist to the artist themselves getting in touch but I can't let that stop me, having neither and no desire to pretend I do. These emails also include following up on various people - some friends, some other interested parties - who have already offered to help (by help I mean connect me with someone else or work on some sort of collaboration), seeing if it's the right time for us to do something together. I don't like wasting my or other peoples' time on this stuff - if someone isn't responding I will try a couple of times then leave it - a recent example is that a trusted friend told me to email two fairly big shot managers who he'd mentioned me to already, and who'd apparently shown interest in me contacting them. Neither wrote back to my initial email but knowing how busy I get and how sometimes it's good to get a reminder to respond, I sent two cheery followups before giving up entirely. One of the guys never responded, the other said he didn't like the music enough to pursue the conversation. Thankfully, though I'm open to finding people to work with, I'm quite happy plodding on by myself so neither of these "rejections" upset me, it would just be quite nice to have that half an hour back!
2) Emails about future plans and schemes - this is work I bring entirely on myself and which is hard and stressful sometimes but so very worth it! This includes setting up gigs and tour dates months in to the future with associated admin like hiring venues, booking bands, securing door people, setting up ticket links and Facebook events - all these things actually happened today. Today I also had to program a CD to show off the best of She Makes War to European radio stations and other assorted people, design artwork for it, send and pay for the order alongside organising the reprint of the EP (due to the very lovely problem of it having sold out the day before it was actually released!) which included ordering all the bits and bobs to make the handmade sleeves - the cases themselves, photo corners and printed polaroid-esque pictures for the front, clear stickers for the inside and back, plastic covers to protect them...then there's chasing suppliers if something goes wrong, trying not to get annoyed at the printers when they mess up the order for the second time when people have bought stuff and are patiently waiting for me to post it...you can see how the day flies by without a single note of music being played.
Alongside these two main categories there are also press requests from time to time, lovely messages from supporters to write back to and all sorts of other things in between. I could spend all day writing to people, really, because whatever the weirdness of the message or request (I recently got approached by someone who praised my videos then asked if he could edit the next one as he's just starting out....um, no thanks!) I am really uncomfortable deciding never to respond, so I save everything in a folder of doom called "Reply Soon" and try my best to chip away at the pile when I get time, all the while trying to remind myself that my job isn't actually "doing emails" but "making music" and "telling people about said music". Oh - and I do have an actual job too, since gloom-pop doesn't yet keep me and the dog in the manner to which we have become accustomed. Thankfully it's interesting and challenging, but it's another thing to juggle.
The problem I keep coming back to is that none of this is scaleable. I was so excited when the Butterflies CD/DVD packs sold out, and I had so many nice messages from people disappointed they didn't get their hands on one that it was obvious I should make some more, but as they're relatively expensive and quite time consuming (but fun!) to make it wasn't as straightforward as simply clicking a button to reorder. I don't give a hoot about profit, but when an activity costs money and takes a long time I do have to take a moment to decide if it's worth it in a holistic sense, and sadly money has to come in to that. Each little scheme I decide to pursue requires a whole load of tasks to be added to my already extensive To Do list - I'd really worry if I ever got to the end of it because that would mean I wasn't doing anything interesting any more, but it is a horror to look at! If I started receiving even two times the volume of email I am dealing with at the moment I wouldn't be able to cope - I'd have to develop a much harsher filter or get someone to help me, which would cost money, so those incoming emails would have to cover that somehow.
There are also lots of things I wouldn't ever want to pass on to someone else, like spending my whole Saturday making up hand decorated cassettes - stamping out the Dymo labels, writing on gold star stickers and tying it all up with string. I love preparing things like that to send out, hoping the person who orders it gets excited opening their special package. Why would I want someone else to have all the fun?
A while ago I wrote to a few people I know and trust asking if they had any thoughts about how I was running the SMW project. I'm ambitious - I want people to hear my music and I'm willing to explore various ways this can grow. But one of the people who wrote back made the very good point that as things scale up, it's hard to keep hold of the thing that made it important to other people in the first place. For me that's why Amanda Palmer has always been a good example of someone who now has a massive and massively supportive fanbase, yet has prioritised her genuinely close connection with them over the trappings of fame. She's also been really transparent about the way she built a small team to help her deal with things like emails, admin, merch, tour bookings etc. I've seen the queues of people waiting to meet her and Neil after shows, how they spend time with each and every person, and how much that means to everyone concerned. I too love spending time with the people who come to my shows (why would I not want to get to know people who "get" me and make an effort to support what I'm doing?) so it follows that I should hold on tightly to those aspects of how I do things now that I love the best. I can see it is possible to grow and stay real.
Most important to me is the music, of course, which is the thing that usually gets pushed right off the end of the To Do list. I found a note in a discarded file on my computer today which read "have 5 demos finished by the end of August". I took a moment to think fondly of this silly person and her amazingly high hopes for the limited number of hours in the day, laughed loudly and deleted the file, unashamed. I've learned there's no point focusing on what you haven't got done, you have to celebrate the things you have achieved. It's okay that I didn't finish 5 demos this summer - I made 6 videos, played some lovely gigs, put on two shows myself and booked tour dates for the rest of the year instead.
The music will come...I just have to put it top of the list and keep chipping away. Onwards!