Interview with Emma Driver, Singer-Songwriter

Emma Driver is a Sydney-based singer, songwriter and guitarist who performs mainly solo on the Sydney acoustic circuit. She started performing as a busker before joining a covers band and, later, an original duo. She has been performing solo for about five years and in 2003 released a six-track EP of her original songs called Original Condition.

Emma: The idea behind the EP was to recreate the ‘feel’ of the songs as they are performed live — without fiddling around with them too much. My producer friend and I recorded the tracks in his studio, and pretty much followed the structure of the songs as they are performed live.

Ben: What did it cost you to make the CD, and how many copies did you press?

E: It cost around $2500, including mixing, artwork and CD duplication. I pressed only 250 copies because it was a first release and I wasn’t going to have it professionally distributed. I had some good advice, which was that 500 CDs is actually a lot of CDs, and when you’re doing your own distribution it’s difficult to sell that many. I didn’t want piles of leftover CDs lying around in boxes — that would depress me!

B: How did you get the artwork for the CD made?

E: Because my day job is in book publishing, I know quite a few graphic designers. I talked to a designer who I knew had worked at a record company doing CD artwork. We talked a bit about the kind of ‘look’ I was interested in, then she took some photos and started putting together design concepts. It’s worth having a good design done, I think — people often comment on the professional look of the CD.

B: So what have you done to market your CD and how do you generate most of your sales?
E: [laughs] It’s all done at gigs, and I mainly sell them to friends, and friends of friends… basically a network of people who hear my songs and come to shows. Sometimes a stranger will buy a CD at the gig — I think the fact that it’s an EP and not very expensive might help with that.

B: What techniques do you use to interest those people who don’t know you already but are seeing you at a gig for the first time?

E: I always mention that I have CDs for sale, or pass around a mailing list that people can add their email address to. Sometimes I mention that I have a website, too, and that works — I’ve sold a few CDs to people who have been at a gig, then gone home and done an internet search to find my site.

B: How much is your CD, and why did you charge that price?

E: It’s $12. I figured that six songs is about half the length of a regular album, so it’s roughly half the price.

B: How did you create the website? Do you get many hits?

E: I created the website myself because I like doing that sort of thing! I don’t have a hit counter on it, so I don’t know how many people access it, but it definitely picked up once it started to appear on search engines. I’ve had pretty good feedback.

B: Do you promote the website directly, other than mentioning it at gigs?

E: When I send out email flyers for gigs, I always put the web address on the flyer and on the emails, too. B: Do the flyers just go out as emails or do you send out hard copies as well?

E: Yeah, if I’ve got a few shows coming up, I might do a hard copy flyer and put it on the tables at a gig. It’s a good reminder, I guess.

B: How many people are on your email list?

E: About 50. I know a lot of those people forward the flyers on to other people, who then show up at gigs. The net has started to spread a bit wider now.

B: How many people would you get to an average gig?

E: It depends —10 to 20 of my own crowd, plus other people in the room, on a good night. But if one stranger hangs around and listens to my set, and says they liked it, I think that’s a successful gig.

B: And how many of those would have the CD already?

E: Probably most of them. All up, I’ve sold or sent out about 100 CDs.

B: Do you have any ambition to play in bigger and better venues, or are you
happy playing where you are?

E: I’d like to play in Melbourne and Brisbane sometime. Some of the venues I play in are really great … some are not so good, and I’m starting to avoid those ones. Some pubs have music incidentally — they look like they’ve had their arms twisted. It’s like somebody’s told them, ‘Put some music on here — it might make you some money’, but the venue is not really set up for music. There’ll be video screens on all the time, or the room won’t be properly set up, or the PA will be dodgy. So I’m trying not to play at those venues in preference to ones which
have an actual stage and sound system — even a sound person. These places
have music because they actually think it’s a good idea, rather than using it as a way of just making a bit of extra cash. Music is not my main money-making activity, so I can afford to choose the venues I play.

B: Do you have any marketing ideas or ambitions that you haven’t put into practice yet?

E: Oh yeah, lots! I think I could do a lot more promotion for my CDs and for my
shows. I’d also like to have my own web domain name so that people can easily find ‘’ or something like that. I’d like to set up a run of really good gigs and maybe take out an advert in the street press. It’s just a case of how much time I’ve got, and how badly I want it. There’s no point advertising yourself as the fourth name on the bill on a Sunday afternoon. I’d need to look at doing ‘showcase’ gigs and things like that.

B: What are the key factors stopping you from doing those showcase gigs?

E: Time, confidence … I’m just not sure how successful they would be. I’m not really experienced in setting up my own gigs. The way I look at it is that there are small-time musicians who are bitter about not being famous, and small-time musicians who are just not that ambitious — and I think that’s me. I’m just in it to write and play songs, really. I’d rather not become bitter and complain about the lack of opportunities, or venues, or people to come and adore me at gigs. If I did more promotion and really got out there and pushed, I might have different results, but I tend not to do that because I’m not very good at self-promotion on that scale. It’s all about confidence, I think.