We really don’t need you here. There’s thousands of you coming in here every day, and when you leave, no one’s going to miss you.
Spend any time in the entertainment industry, and you’ll know that sentiment is true. And that sentiment is exactly why I will never understand, and always have an incredible respect for, all artists with a dream.
Sage Keffer is one of those artists, and the above line was told to him.
Incredible belief in yourself is the only thing that can keep you going in moments like that one and the countless similar moments that comprise the life of an artist trying to “make it.” Exactly what “making it” is is a whole other topic unto itself, and one I plan to delve into soon. But for our purposes here, we’ll just assume it means being signed to a major record label, having high-powered management, receiving regular radio airplay, playing big shows all around the country – and having a team of people around you that help pull all of this off.
Going it solo is a different ballgame. Going it solo is typically harder because you’re likely receiving far fewer ego boosts that fuel you when times get tough. (I realize some artists are far happier remaining “solo,” and for that I can’t blame them one bit. But you get the point).
I personally know a number of people who continue to absolutely pound the pavement with few true signs of encouragement along the way. If you spend 5 minutes with Sage Keffer, you will be overwhelmed by his absolute positivity, and it’s no wonder the dude stays at it despite the utter b.s. he encounters from fake people, with fake promises in a generally fake town.
Recently I had the opportunity to chat with Sage about his time in Nashville, his dreams and what keeps him moving forward.
Clore: Did you have a moment in time where you knew music is what you would pursue at all costs?
Sage: When I was a little kid, I wanted to be all kinds of different things. All kinds of great wonderful things that we all dream of as little kids. I’ve wanted to do music ever since I was about 5 or 6, especially after my dad took me to see Neil Diamond. I was amazed at the presence that was on stage; I was really blown away, and thought I’d really like to do something like that. I grew up singing, acting and doing a lot of live theater. Live performance is where I really get my thrill. It’s where I’ve always drawn my inspiration to do this kind of thing.
Clore: How has your upbringing, combined with your time in Nashville and your time on the road, shaped you in to who you are today?
Sage: Quite a few things helped shape me. My dad was real tough on me. In terms of any kind of rejection one may face in a place like Nashville, let’s just say they haven’t faced my dad. But, along with the encouragement I received from my mom growing up, it helped me have a tough skin while not becoming too doubtful; I’ve always been able to see the hope. I was able to still be inspired and still dream, and recognize there are people that may not believe in you, but that doesn’t mean you can’t do unbelievable things. Not that I have, but I know that if it wasn’t for the encouragement from my mom, I would’ve gotten nowhere.
When I first moved to Nashville, I was awestruck by the size and lights of the city. Before I made the move, a former girlfriend helped connect me with someone she knew in Nashville who gave me a place to stay for a few nights, plus some work with their construction company.
I had taken a couple of music business classes in college, which didn’t inform me about the music business all that much, but that was the knowledge I had. Within my first couple of weeks in town, I was very fortunate to meet with some good people.
Through some connections, I got a meeting with someone at SESAC in Nashville. During the meeting, the guy proceeded to tell me, “Well Sage, we really don’t need you here. There’s thousands of you coming in here every day, and when you leave, no one’s going to miss you.”
Like anybody, it took me a couple of days to get past that one, but I got right back at it.
I’ve realized you need to have both doubters and encouragers in your life so that you can realistically take a look at what you’re doing, and try to accomplish all that you can.
Clore: What is your biggest challenge as an artist in 2010; and if you could change one thing about how the music industry currently functions, what would it be?
Sage: The biggest challenge as an artist is that it takes a lot of money to be invested before you get a return on that money. Personally, I’m about to finish up my sophomore album, and trying to figure out what comes next is definitely a challenge.
The biggest challenge as an industry is how to make money off music in the digital age. As an industry, we have to figure out how to create a new business model. I’m guessing that the model will be something like on-demand streaming, used as a loss leader to sell other things. Either way, we have got to get our hands around this and make some decisions quickly on what this industry’s going to do, so that it doesn’t fall apart.
Clore: What do you consider your greatest accomplishment(s) of your music career? How have these accomplishments propelled you forward, or perhaps changed the course you were on at the time?
Sage: There are quite a few things I feel very fortunate to have been a part of. First thing that comes to mind is being a part of Tin Pan South, which I consider to be the most incredible festival that Nashville has. This year marks my eighth consecutive year to be a part of it.
The second thing is having made it to the finals of “Nashville Star,” seasons 1, 2 and 4. I never made it to the TV portion, but to experience the finals – those three seasons gave me an iron stomach. I’m not as concerned when I play in front of people anymore. And through that experience I learned that no matter how you do, you’re going to still wake up the next day and be fine. “Nashville Star” changed my course as much as anything. I learned a lot about how the business works through that show, especially because the show is only concerned with ratings. They don’t really care about your career, so it teaches you to not take anything personally.
One of my biggest achievements is being a part of CMA Music Festival. June 2010 will mark my sixth year to be a part of it as an independent artist. I’ve always had one of the busiest booths at the festival. The last two or three years I haven’t even had lunch because my line has been non-stop, and for that I’m so thankful. I feel a lot of artists don’t recognize just how thankful they should be for their fans. I make it a real point to let my fans know just how wonderful they are.
My latest highlight was being a part of a reality show with Ted Nugent called “Runnin’ Wild…From Ted Nugent.” More details on that soon.
Clore: How do you stay in touch with your fans, and what types of things do you do to keep them engaged?
Sage: I need to do more of this. I stay in touch through e-mail, Facebook, Twitter, etc. But there’s only so much I can do in the course of the day when I’m handling everything for myself: booking, marketing, songwriting, performing, practicing. I have a few people helping me out, but boy do I need more, specifically people that know more about it than I do.
Clore: To the new artists out there, what’s your biggest piece of advice?
Sage: A fan of mine recently called saying she wanted to become an artist. I told her about the guy from SESAC and what he said. I told her I have not faced rejection in Nashville, but that I’ve faced people who said they were going to do one thing, and then never got around to it. I told her that she’s beautiful just like everyone else, and that no ones going to miss her. I told her you’ve got to plan on being here at least ten years, and if you’re not willing to sacrifice at least that, don’t even bother.
You’ve also got to believe in yourself more than anyone else does. Don’t be unrealistic. Don’t be dependent on others for approval.
Clore: If you had it to do all over again, would you change a thing?
Sage: I would liken that answer to seeing an overwhelmingly good looking woman that you want to ask to dance, to any 20/20 hindsight I have in the music business. I would have been more courageous. I would have acted a little faster. All to often we all let fear tell us we don’t have a snowball’s chance in hell. Yet, sometimes a girl will say yes, ha ha. But you’ll never know if you don’t ask. Like the music industry, I wish I’d asked a few more girls on that ol’ dance floor.
Other than that, I feel pretty good about what I’ve done.