In January 2017, just up the road in Llandudno, a friend of mine opened a second – and larger – branch of his extremely popular independent coffee house, Providero.
The vibe of the place makes me feel like I’m a slightly cooler person for just being there, and the coffee is some of the very best I’ve tasted anywhere. Period.
In just a few short years Jon has gone from selling cups of coffee out of a little van to opening two very popular shops that people just love being a part of.
It’s been a dramatic rise, and it got me wondering if there are lessons we could learn from the Providero phenomenon that we can apply to the success of our music. And, as it happens, yes there are – lots of them.
1. Start with a single
Jon loves coffee like we love music. The trouble was, where he lived there were few options to buy a cup as good as he knew how to make at home. So, he decided to start selling his own.
But would people like his coffee? Would he still like the idea of making and selling it after six months? Opening a shop could be a big risk if nobody liked what he had to sell. How would he know?
The answer was to start small. Test the idea. Get real-world feedback.
So, Jon bought a very funky little van and started selling cups of delicious coffee to people along the North Wales coast.
And they came back.
Apply the lesson
Whatever the aspirations you have with your music – be it a full time touring musician, writing for TV and film, or simply getting the songs out of your head to where others can hear them – start small and test out your music with other people.
Put something out there.
Ways to get honest feedback on your music
B. www.audiokite.com is a wonderful way of learning the brutal truth about your music. You pay a small fee and submit a song to a group of people who are paid to listen to the song and give you feedback.
C. If you play and sing, try out your song at an open mic night and ask for opinions.
Take your music to where people are.
Jon took his coffee out to where the people were. In the same way I encourage you to find ways to actively present your music to people. You will start gaining fans.
Of course, not everyone will come back for more. But if you treat the ones that do very well your audience will grow.
2. Release an EP
I’d often pop down to the Providero coffee van and discover a friend was already there buying a drink from Jon. What made us prefer to stand outside in the often inclement North Wales weather rather than sit in a high street chain?
Providero was standing for something. And a groundswell of people were resonating with it.
A vision. A rebellion against mass produced multinationals. A free spirit that was bringing an alternative choice that people deserved. A quest for quality. A belief in community.
His reputation grew so much that Jon even made a TV appearance, giving Griff Rhys Jones a lift in his van on A Great Welsh Adventure.
A conversation one day with a regular customer revealed they had the perfect small building to host a coffee shop, which was standing empty. But it would need refurbishment (and therefore money).
So, Jon shared the Providero story with the army of regular customers, friends & family, and managed to raise a chunk of money big enough to create a unique community space that now serves scores of people fine teas & coffees every day.
Apply the lesson
If people are liking your music then it is time to think about extending your reach.
Jon built Providero’s reputation one person at a time. It was initally just him, a van and a quality product. If all you’ve got is a guitar and a few songs it’s enough to start.
Treat every person who engages with your music with as much interest and respect as you can. Find ways to help them with what’s important to them, and not just assault them with attempts to sell them your music.
You never know what influence the person you’re talking to wields. They could be holding exactly the right connections you need – just like Jon’s customer with the perfect building did for Providero’s next step.
Look for people you can connect to and work with. You might enlist a PR or marketing person to help raise your public profile. Or, like the coffee shop needed refurbishment, perhaps hiring a producer to give you objectivity and extra input into your project will transform it into more than just ‘having potential’.
Have the guts to put something bigger out into the world, and put down some roots.
A 4-6 song EP makes a statement that you’re serious and have got something to say. So, say something. Stand for something. Keep serving and communicating with the people who are drawn to you and you’ll keep growing.
If the financial aspect of growing and putting out an EP is stumbling block, you can overcome it by enlisting the help of friends, fans and family. If you have been treating them well, and communicating clearly and regularly, you will soon have an army of people who believe in what you’re doing. Many of these will be more than willing to give money to a crowdfunding campaign to help you fund your creative project.
3. Launch a full album
Providero’s reputation and success has continued to grow so much that this cute little coffee house, nestling off the beaten track, has often found itself bursting at the seams.
The move to an EP (extended play) from the van (single) had worked. By growing incrementally Providero had successfully proven that people in the area were definitely interested in alternatives to what the mainstream was offering.
So, what next? Another – bigger – space!
When a suitable space was found in Llanduno, Jon launched another crowdfunding campaign. This time even more money was needed, but the Providero tribe had been growing, and the community heroically pulled together yet again and raised enough money to furbish the store. It’s a wonderful, vibey environment that people are loving to visit and spend time in.
During this whole process Jon and his growing team have made great use of sharing the day-to-day happenings at Providero on Social Media. They did a great job of keeping everyone engaged and interested in the unfolding drama of the then potential new Providero.
Apply the lesson
It is possible to have the success you’re hoping for in music as an independent musician.
It might take longer than if you’re one of the tiny percentage to get label support, but what you have is always yours and you’ll never lose control of it.
Furthermore, you’ll have the satisfaction of having genuine relationship and connection with everybody who buys and supports your music.
Don't fool yourself though – this will involve a lot of consistent work. Showing up, day-in-day-out. Early mornings & late nights will be common. You have to do the work.
So, will you take these three steps?
- 1Get out there with your little van (the single).
- 2Extend into small premises (record an EP).
- 3Grow into a large space (launch a full album).