Honestly, I never expected to speak to someone more pragmatic than myself, yet Daniel Graves of Aesthetic Perfection is just that. Underneath his instagram hunts for prius cars and snarky commentary regarding The Matrix trilogy is a man that can look at (and appreciate) both sides of the music industry. “Music is my art, but merchandise is my business. I sell merchandise so I can create art. I’m cool with that.”
When I originally contacted Graves, I intended this piece to go in one direction. His sincere answers surprised me and I can honestly say I have an even deeper respect for him now. “Every industry has [its] challenges. I’m happy to be in the position I’m in. I have an audience that believes in what I do and buys enough merchandise and concert tickets to allow me to continue.” Speaking so candidly about a topic that is near to his heart is refreshing.
Graves considers himself an artist and an entrepreneur. These are two titles not often associated with each other. “I learned quickly that to do that [produce music] I have to think like an artist AND an entrepreneur. I think many artists are unable to wear both hats.” His rational side allows for him to justify the means by which he must go in order to continue to create his art. “Personally, this excites me as I’m in control of every aspect of my ‘brand.’ I hate using that word because it sounds impersonal, but it’s true. My music, my image, my merchandise, it’s all mine.”
Even with this respectable ethos, Graves is aware of the ever-changing music scene. Thanks to technology, physical formats of music are becoming obsolete. Most fans stream music. (I have had an iPod since I was 15. I’m now 34. Imagine how much music I have that ISN’T in a physical format.) With this, Graves business mindset takes the forefront. “I have no interest in pursuing dead formats. Asking people to buy CDs would be like asking them to buy 8-track tapes. I’d much rather invest my time, energy and money into producing merchandise items that are so awesome that people just ‘have’ to have them.” Graves points out that “[you] can stream a song, but you can’t stream a clock or a bathmat or flask.”
With his entrepreneur hat on, Graves discusses the break down of potential earnings from touring. “If you’re smart, you can walk away with about 15% of your total guarantee income. After paying agents, crew, bands members and all logistical costs, there isn’t much left over. From my perspective, if I can make 10-15% of the income plus merchandise sales it’s a win.” Merchandise can be both risky and rewarding. According to Graves, the profit margin on merchandise “[d]epends on the item. T-shirts, if you find the right printer and order enough of them, can make you as much as 75%. Pins and stickers are lower, around 25%… That’s the thing, it’s a constant balancing act. Trying to provide your audience with cool stuff and using the higher profit margin items to balance out the cost of the lower profit margin ones.”
As Graves moves to wearing both hats, he explains that “[i]nstead of having labels and out of touch business folks deciding how that [merchandise] gets used, I define how I want to present myself and my art to the world. We have more power as artists than ever to dictate our lives and success. I’d much rather be doing it like this than how it was don 20 years ago.”
He does leave this concluding thought about promoting art and brand. “It’s all about music videos and touring. There’s no better way to promote your band. Once you have those fans, though, you have to constantly engage with them on social media in order to retain them. That’s the key most people forget.”
If you haven’t checked out Daniel Graves and Aesthetic Perfection, I highly recommend that you do. Very few artists today conduct themselves with as much integrity as Graves. I feel honored to be a fan of such a hardworking person. He inspires me to continue to put forth my best efforts in everything I do.