Music Insight Series // Travis Terrell
If you're in search of inspiration, Travis Terrell is a name you need to know.
As music streaming has set out to revolutionize the music industry, Travis has seen a world of opportunity; his heart for creatives, whether they're creating videos or music, is spectacular.
Travis is a thought leader in the music industry, and a jack of many trades which include: fiddle player, tour bus driver and co-CEO & founder of a music licensing platform based in Nashville, TN.
Who are you, Travis?
My name is Travis Terrell. A lot of people say “Turr-ell” - it doesn’t really matter. I’m from Texas originally and my grandfather got me started playing the fiddle and piano. I grew up playing Bluegrass and Classic Country and migrated to Nashville after a year & a half of college, and have been in the music industry for about 10 years.
What was your life like when you first moved to Nashville?
I was broke! I lived on a futon in somebody’s living room for 6 months. I finally got with a band 6 months after I moved to Nashville. I joined a band called Everlife, which was a Disney band on Hollywood Records at the time. We did 2 European tours and toured across the US... it was a really great experience for me. That introduced me to a lot of different Nashville musicians where I started doing sessions. After about a year of sessions, it turned into producing. But even before that, after Everlife was done, I was very, very broke and moved back to Arkansas to continue my education, thinking I was going to become a music teacher. So I actually moved to Nashville, lived there for a year, and then moved back, because I was about to give up on everything. When I was at school, I was so unhappy. So I decided to give it 1 more try and come back to Nashville, but this time I needed a real job. So I got my CDL and decided to become a tour bus driver.
What are your thoughts on name dropping, generally?
Overall, I don’t like to do it. I don’t particularly like it because it’s not really portraying who you are - it’s based on insecurity more than anything. You’re just trying so hard to be noticed and appreciated. I used to be a bad name dropper when I first moved to Nashville, when I thought that was what made you accepted. But that really isn’t it at all. I was just a kid when I moved here… when I stopped doing that, a lot of people just accepted me for who I was. That being said, I think there’s a time when you can actually name drop people you have actually worked for. I have worked for Alan Jackson for four years and there’s no getting around that… it is the fact. When I say “I worked for Alan Jackson,” it’s not me being boastful, it’s me being factual.
Where do you find yourself today, and what is your life?
I spend my time working on the company that I helped start called Soundstripe. I’m the co-CEO and founder and that’s what I’m usually doing, all day, everyday.
What have been some of your recent wins for the company?
We just hired our 10th employee, which is incredible. We moved into a great office in East Nashville this year, and we’re about to pass 5,000 users. And just last week, we had Delta Airlines sign up, so there’s just a lot of good things happening.
What does Soundstripe do?
We provide really high-quality and curated music for filmmakers, marketing agencies and YouTubers worldwide for the cost of a Netflix subscription.
Can you talk more about your process with signing composers to Soundstripe?
Our mission is to “keep creatives creating” and it really starts with hand-selecting really great composers. We now have 85 on our roster. And there are some artists, like The Tide Rose, but we really, really serve composers more than we do artists. That’s what we’re good at. So after we’ve hired the composer we really love, we have to listen to every song they give us. They give us between 3-5 tracks a month. Ultimately, my co-founder, Micah, has to approve every song. I think we’ll always do that. If it’s not up to our standard, it doesn’t make it in.
What would you like to tell Indie Musicians?
I have a strong conviction as of late that cash flow is stronger than vanity. I think a lot of artists, especially indie artists, when they’re starting have this thought about what it means to be an artist. And I think the old way of PR & Marketing is this bigger-than-life mentality. It’s Rolling Stone covers and private jets, and old-school marketing for bands. We’re in the connection economy. We’re out making fans one-to-one. I think, if you’re an indie artist now, your job is to create a business and to create cash flow, which means you’re not concerned about vanity. A lot of artists will ask me, “how do I get exposure?” You know, make your band make money first instead of worrying about number of Instagram followers. If you work on cash flow as a small business, as an indie artist, the fame will be a by-product of being a successful entrepreneur in music. Another thing is to “think differently” - you have to.
How did you guys “think differently?” We saw every single artist was trying to get sync licensing on the big 5 spots, like Grey’s Anatomy, on a Ford commercial, on MTV, all the top shows. You see thousands of artists clamoring for the same spots. And we saw that not being a viable business - it’s like you’re playing the lottery, basically, because you’re wanting 5 spots and hundreds of thousands of people are wanting that same spot. So we decided to go in a different direction and serve a market of independent filmmakers and Youtubers, and Marketing Agencies, and Fitness Instructors and they’re dying for music.
Have you noticed an indie band or artist who has caught your attention?
One that I can think of is a band called OK Go. They make YouTube videos that are so outlandish and so great... isn’t that something? You get to know a band because of a different way they decided to market themselves. That is the future. There are a lot of great, independent artists out there and most of them will go unnoticed because they’re just selling their music. At the end of the day, people don’t care about your music, they care about you and your why. It’s the Simon Sinek thing: they’ll buy “why you do it,” they don’t buy what you do.
What is your why?
To keep creatives creating. And that’s both on the musician and filmmaker fronts. We’re happy when a musician can pay his/her bills or provide for their family because of the work they’re doing on Soundstripe. Everything is centered around that. We provide extreme value on the filmmaker end because you can download songs at affordable costs, and as many as you want. All of a sudden, they can create a film or video for the pure joy of it and not worry about the cost. That keeps them creating. On the musician side, if we can create a space where we take care of the things they don’t like to do like Business Administration, Publishing, Sync Licensing. We can tie that in a neat little bow and say, “Hey, make the music, keep creating, and we’ll do the rest of it.” That really gets me out of bed in the morning: knowing that people are making livings doing what they love.
What epiphanies have you had about music industry?
One thing I’ve been realizing lately is businesses now, maybe this goes for artist careers too... there’s not really a point when you explode anymore. It’s really just a long, hard slog all the way. Last year, when we started, in the first month we had maybe a hundred people sign up, which we thought was awesome. Then it was 110, then then 120. And maybe 150, the next month. But there’s never been a time where it jumped 200%. There’s never been a time it just went from 100 to 5,000. I think a lot of times, artists are waiting for that moment they just explode. It happens very rarely, and of course we notice those people. I’m friends with Trent Harmon, and of course that can happen. I think someone said, “It takes 10 years to become an overnight success.” I think there’s a misconception that “I’m just gonna work until everyone knows me and then I’m on the Grammy’s.” Even though it happens, I don’t think it’s a healthy way to live, thinking, hoping it will happen. We get up every day and push the ball one foot further. If we can make Soundstripe 5% better than it was at the end of the week, at the end of the month, hey that’s great. And then you look back in a year, we’ve come so far.
What are some things indie bands could do right now to help them in their careers?
I would actually recommend you all go out and read the book “Tribes” by Seth Godin. It’s about building a community and leading a group of people. I think most indie bands will make music in their studio, and they’ll pay people to release it, take pictures, do a video, and they’ll say, “hey world, buy my music,” and no one pays attention. And they wonder what’s going wrong. I think the reason is they’re missing some elements of building a tribe that they really need to understand. There’s a band I toured with a couple years ago called “Phish,” and most people have no idea who they are. But they’re one of the most successful bands in history. They can sell out Madison Square Garden 5 nights in a row. Crazy. And they have never had a radio single, or ever had any mainstream success, yet they make more money than most bands combined. The biggest reason is they have an insane following. They love their fans, and their fans love them. They have a special community they have built, and that’s what it’s about. And all they do is build that community, and work on that. And I think, it’s not even about the music - they’re selling an experience, and I think indie bands really could use that lesson. Find your group of people that love what you do and really become a part of that group… instead of by yourself on a computer somewhere hoping somebody will just, all of a sudden, love you. It’s all about relationships and people.
Where should indie bands to find inspiration, online?
For music business in particular, you have to read Bob Lefsetz’s letters. It’s via email. He’s the most-respected music-industry writer there is. Often, he goes on rants, and they’re often negative but some are great… he often predicts the future in the music industry before anybody else. I also read Seth Godin’s blog every morning. And also, I have a resource at travisterrell.live and there’s a page called Brain Food that has all the resources I like.
Where do YOU find inspiration?
People. The relationships I’ve made in the music industry are my family, they’re my closest friends. That really inspires and drives me to work really hard for them, and be a better person. My family and my friends… they’re my inspiration. When I was actually creating music, I would’ve had a different answer. As I get older, it’s really just about the people and the memories you make while you’re on this earth. That’s it for me.
What’s something you think indie bands should think about?
Value in the music business. A lot of people are very mad at Spotify and streaming services. And a lot of artists have decided that their art is worth more than on streaming, right? My argument is that “the market is the market.” A song is only worth what somebody will pay for it. So it is our job to create value where there is none. The problem is, back in the old music industry times, value was assigned. If you went to Wal-mart, you paid $16 for a CD, and $10 at a gig. And right now, that’s all gone out of the window. Taylor Swift may be able to get $10 a record on iTunes, but you might not. It’s not assumed that everybody’s art is worth the same thing - that is the big difference.
One great example that I love - I bought my house 3 years ago. If I wanted to sell my house right now and said this house is worth $300K, but what if nobody buys it? What if somebody gives you $250K for it instead? Is the house worth $300K now? No, it’s only worth $250K because somebody paid $250K for it. So the market decides how much the value of a song is. The market has decided songs aren’t worth what they used to be, and that is the cold, hard truth of it. And we can whine about it, and we can say “pooey” on Spotify, but at the end of the day, the people have decided they do not want to pay $10 for a record anymore, online. And so we, as artists, have to then create value. And we have to do that in other ways, like making a very-great concert experience. Or sync licensing. Or publishing. Or writing books. Or writing a blog. Anything you can do that creates value.
I think we’re in a very interesting time in the music business, and I’m super hopeful about it, honestly. I’m excited about it. It has really leveled the playing field. You used to need a label and all the things that go with it, but now you don’t. You don’t need a million dollar studio. You don’t need a big producer or a hundred-thousand-dollar photo shoot. You don’t need fancy marketing either. You just need a smart person who can help you get where you’re going.
If you don’t have a community, you better find one. There’s a community for everything. If you like Eastern Indian Classical music, I’ll bet you there’s a facebook group, so get in there.
Ideas are easy. Execution is hard. It’s very easy to sit here and come up with ideas, and dream, and have the vision that you’re on a big stage. But my prayer for everyone is to get to work, and put in the work, because literally, that’s the only differentiator now: talent and work ethic. It’s very easy to say, “I’m gonna go to the gym,” and it’s even easy to go a couple times, or even a month. But it’s hard to go consistently 3X a week for a couple of years. That’s what is going to separate what bands make it, and what bands don’t.
It’s about persistence and patience. It’s not going to happen tomorrow, or next year. It’s hard work. And it’s all going to look different from what you think. If you’d told me I’d be doing this when I moved here 10 years ago, I would’ve laughed in your face… and I would have laughed at you for thinking it would have taken this long to happen. But I just kept putting in a little work every single day, built up a little traction, and all of a sudden we have something much bigger than ourselves. Have patience, have persistence, keep getting better, and don’t think it’s gonna happen tomorrow. Play the long game.