Navigating the music business has a lot to do with trial and error. Unlike in certain other industries there is no clear roadmap for a career as an artist or a music entrepreneur and the fact that a big part of the business is dependent on keeping up with the latest technology, means that the learning curve remains steep.
We had a chance to chat with Andrew P. Oliver, a man with many hats and a wealth of experience both as an artist and entrepreneur.
With his band Brother Oliver, which is made up of him and his brother Stephen, he amassed a decent fanbase in his early twenties, playing 150-200 gigs a year and making a living as full time musicians. The brothers founded their own record label Forthright Records which to this day offers a variety of artist services affordable for indie musicians.
But aside from his artistic career, Andrew also made a name for himself as a music gear entrepreneur. His first product Dummiez was launched in 2019. The company offers protective accessories to help keep musical gear neat and shiny.
As a result of the attention he got launching the product he was approached by a gentleman by the name of Ric Hoke who was developing a new music technology project himself. Long story short, Andrew became a founding member and with their company WAVS Custom they are now among the leading suppliers of high end In Ear Monitoring systems in the United States.
We had a great time chatting with Andrew about his biggest learnings along the way, his tips for indie artists and the label services his company Forthright Records offers. Sit back and read through this inspiring interview!
Andrew, thank you so much for making time for us today! You are a very versatile artist/entrepreneur and have built three companies from the ground up. Tell us a bit about what drives you and what makes music your number one passion?
It’s hard to pinpoint sometimes, but I’m ultimately driven by novelty—and a strong urge to pursue it. I love the process of creating things that people enjoy or find useful. Whether it’s music, videos, physical products, digital products—I can’t seem to ever get enough of that process.
For a while, I almost viewed it as a negative because I felt like I didn’t have my “one thing” or “one job” that I did. But then I realized, my “thing” is that I enjoy the process of creating—whether that’s in art or in business.
However, as you mentioned, I’ve always found the most solace in music. Maybe it’s the history I have with it, but the world never feels as calm as when I’m in the studio working on a new song. That’s when everything slows down and the outside noise of life quiets. It feels good to know that it’s always there when I need it, because there’s no limit to what can or can’t be done with the empty canvas of sound.
You just mentioned, that you have taken your love of “creating” things and applied it to other things besides music making and songwriting. Tell us a bit about that approach. Do you believe artists have to be more than “mere performers or songwriters” in today´s music landscape? We all see major label artists holding a stake in various businesses. What is your take on that?
First I’d say, being an artist and being a business are two different things (but they can be combined). Someone who plays shows or writes songs, can do just that, and that’s okay. But if your goal is to make a living off of it, then like any kind of business, you need to make a detailed plan and find a way to meet some kind of demand. And be honest with yourself along the way. Just because you wrote a few songs, doesn’t mean you automatically deserve a full time income from it. If you want to make money, you have to find a way to bring value in a way that others do not.
There’s a lot of people who think they know the “formula” for musicians and are quick to tell you what you need to do. “You have to post on this platform every day”, or “you have to play this many shows in each city”, or “you have to release new music at this interval” etc. The reality is, there isn’t a formula that just automatically works for everyone (or everyone would be doing it). There’s outliers and exceptions everywhere. There’s people who follow the formulas to a T, or tour for decades and never break through the struggle, and there’s people who don’t do anything but post one clip to Tik Tik and they’ve got a 100k followers the next day.
So ultimately, I think artists and songwriters should be what they want to be. Then be accepting of those choices. If you want to be marketing-minded, be in tune with the areas of marketing and promotion that you actually enjoy—and spend your time on those approaches. Otherwise, you’re going to be splintering yourself in a million different directions and feeling let down when the needle isn’t moving as a result.
The second half of your question:
In regards to diversifying into other music related verticals—it’s obviously an approach I’ve taken and it’s worked out well. It also came with a lot of risk, a lot of loss at times, and then also reward as well, thankfully.
If you have the bandwidth and capital to enter some new markets, and you’re able to leverage the music brand you’ve already built in a way that can accelerate your entrance to that market, then it might be worth giving it a shot. But I’ll sound like a broken record here—you’ve got to want to.
What are three things that you consider relevant factors in your own success story?
I’ve been fortunate to always be a highly motivated person—I love to work and get things done. Some days it’s a choice I have to consciously make, but for most of my life, it’s felt like it’s been in my DNA. So I’m grateful for that.
Beyond that, I’ve always had the right people around me. People who are willing to work just as hard and get behind the vision. A lot of times that’s been my brother Stephen. But there’s so many more than I’d dare to try and list. So, the support I’ve had in those ways has been a huge factor.
I believe a strong third factor would be that I wasn’t handed anything early on (or ever). I’ve never been one to take anything for granted, because I’ve always had to work hard for every inch. I used to feel frustrated that we never seemed to “catch our big break” or have something big just fall into our laps. But as time went on, I became grateful for that. It’s more satisfying looking back at all the pain and uncertainty knowing that pushing through is what made it all work.
I also believe my success story is still being written. I’m young and nothing is guaranteed in life. I could wake up tomorrow and everything has changed. So I’m trying to enjoy the process and keep moving towards my goals.
Great attitude! Andrew, you are an experienced artist development manager. Your company Forthright Records offers Spotify playlist services and more. Are there any applicable tips you could give to our audience when pitching to curators?
I would say, and this applies to cold emailing in general, is to find your voice first and foremost. If you can learn to come across as a real, authentic human being over email, it can do wonders. Sometimes it’s not what you say, but how you say it—and that applies to email as well. No one wants to hear from a robot.
Also, email blasts are rarely the right move, so you can scratch that off the list. I’ve yet to receive a mass email pitch that came across with a very personal and inviting tone. Make whoever is on the receiving end of the email feel like their valued and that you value their time—a good way of doing this is by imagining you’re on the other end of the email. Send it to yourself first and read it through their eyes.
For artists that are interested in booking your services, what are some criteria their songs must meet to be picked up by you?
Ultimately, we love to be able to help artists. But the ones that stand out to me aren’t necessarily the ones with the biggest numbers or the most followers—I’m looking for someone who I enjoy on a personal level. I like when people are serious about their craft, but still are genuine in how they go about it.
I also look for people who are already putting in work themselves—not the type of person who just wants to sit back and wait for someone else to make it happen for them.
What do you think about albums? Lots of people believe albums (in times of DSPs) are no longer a thing. Would you agree?
I think albums are still a thing. But the mechanics of how people are delivered music doesn’t support it all that well. If you’re a musician and you have a vision for an album and love that long-form approach, there’s still people who will appreciate it. But just know that’s there’s also a lot of people who are just going to listen to the lead single over and over and never touch the other tracks too.
Your lead single in most cases is going to carry the weight at the end of the day. The album will more than likely only be as successful as the lead single(s).
Before I let you go, here´s a personal one. Who are some of your current favorite artists on your Spotify playlist?
The team and I have actually been building out a playlist for a documentary project we’re producing later this year. I’ve been loving the process of selecting those soundtrack candidates, so I’ve spent most of my time on that list.
A couple of my favorites have been:
“Something Real” – The By Gods
“Ground Coffee” – Scotty K
“Saturday” – Edward Sansom
Last not least, how can people reach you online?
Forthright Records’ website is the main hub for business or music inquiries, personally you can find me on Linked In and Instagram as well (@flippinoliver )
Thank you so much for your time and insights, Andrew! All the best to you!
Follow Andrew P. Oliver online:
Brother Oliver on Spotify: https://open.spotify.com/artist/6Cvq4bAJJL7nhMz6uZELS1?si=OjYm-oHESNy8ky9YNqCeBQ
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