Millennials get a bad rap.
They are often accused of having a sense of entitlement and a poor work ethic. Jake Laughlin makes that stereotype seem preposterous. The affable 29-year-old with all-American good looks has been a go-getter since his days at the University of North Texas, when he first recognized an unmet need to more effectively connect local musicians with a wider audience.
“I wasn’t super aware that there was even music here,” admits Laughlin, who grew up in Ponder, 10 miles west of UNT’s campus. Although he had spent his teen years hanging out in Denton and later moved to the city to pursue a degree in communication studies, he didn’t know much about the local music scene until his senior year.
A station is born
“I started booking a couple of acts and was just blown away by the talent,” Laughlin says. After continuing to connect artists with venues around town, he soon realized the issue was not a lack of musicians; it was a lack of ways for people to hear about them.
A natural-born entrepreneur, Laughlin came up with the idea of launching an online radio station that would play local music, supported by advertising from area bars and restaurants. With the help of his friends Pat York and local music legend Bone Doggie, Laughlin kicked off a crowdfunding campaign, and in 2011, DentonRadio.com was born.
The online station quickly gained a following and caught the attention of the Denton Convention and Visitors Bureau, which soon became a partner. The CVB later acquired the station, keeping Laughlin on as its manager and building a glass-enclosed studio at the Visitor Information Center in the heart of the city Square.
The station serves as a testament to the city’s support of the music community, letting passers-by see Laughlin and other on-air hosts in action as they showcase Denton’s musical talent and upcoming events.
Today, DentonRadio.com reaches 30,000 to 50,000 listeners and has broadened its programming to include everything from on-air poetry readings to Free Beer Friday, when local craft brewers offer free samples to visitors at the Discover Denton Welcome Center.
Beyond the website
Laughlin’s passion for supporting area artists means that he is continuously looking for ways to reach a wider audience. “We’re pushing local music in every possible avenue we can think of, to get it in front of people as much as we can,” he says.
In recent years, Denton Radio has become a mixed-media platform, creating video content on YouTube and putting out regular podcasts on Spotify, iTunes, GooglePlay, iHeartRadio and TuneIn, in addition to its online streaming broadcast.
Then there is social media, which Laughlin inadvertently discovered presents a broad new opportunity to promote North Texas music. “We had the opportunity, a couple years ago, to interview Charlie Daniels,” who was coming to play the North Texas Fair & Rodeo, he says. The famed country and Southern rock artist had agreed to do a phone interview, so Laughlin decided to place a phone in the corner of the studio and broadcast the call on Facebook Live, which was brand new at the time.
“There’s nothing to see — just a guy on the phone talking to Charlie Daniels,” he recounts, laughing. But the experiment paid off. “We had 18 people listen on the radio, and we had 8,000 people watch on Facebook Live,” he says.
Since then, the station has added Twitter, Instagram and Pinterest to its arsenal of promotional tools, continually putting out content to reach music fans who might not otherwise catch wind of what’s happening in Denton. “We end up having much more success trying to meet people where they are, rather than trying to get them to adopt a new platform,” says Laughlin.
Getting the gig
Throughout the years, Laughlin also has continued to book shows for local artists, in an ongoing effort to help the Denton music scene grow and thrive. Although talent is hardly in short supply, he often found that the artists themselves were the sticking point to booking gigs.
“I realized that I was trying to create opportunities for artists, but not necessarily helping them understand how to take advantage of that opportunity,” he says, explaining that musicians often focus on their craft rather than the business side of their career. “They don’t think to work on their web presence or to meet somebody at a venue.”
The talent buyer believed that he could provide useful guidance and began organizing his thoughts around best practices for aspiring artists. Last spring, he released the book Get the Gig: A Musician’s Guide to Booking More Live Shows, and he has since launched a podcast by the same name.
“Little tweaks here and there can make a massive difference in a lot of artists’ lives,” says Laughlin, who gains tremendous satisfaction from helping musicians further their careers. The goal is not just for them to earn a living through their craft, he says, but to believe in themselves and their talents.
Too often, a lack of knowledge about how to market themselves effectively results in really good musicians losing hope when they don’t get booked for shows, he says. “What breaks my heart,” he adds, “is when a really talented artist is giving it their all and thinking, ‘I must just not be good.’”
The most common mistake Laughlin sees artists make is that they try to connect through email, rather than building relationships with decision-makers. Instead of sending an email, Laughlin recommends that musicians visit local venues to meet the person who handles bookings and invite them to a show.
“Personally, when I book an artist, I like to see them play live. I want to know how they interact with the audience,” Laughlin says. To this end, he also advises up-and-comers to create a well-produced video of a live music performance that they can send to talent buyers and others in the industry. “If you sent me a short email with a video of your performance and it’s a really quality video, I just might book you off of that,” he says.
Once they do get booked, artists should focus on nurturing the relationship they have with the management and staff at the venue, which can pay big dividends in a smaller city like Denton. “If you can develop a personal relationship and a great reputation with one venue, the venues all talk to each other,” says Laughlin, so “eventually that reputation spreads and it becomes easier to open those doors, because they already know who you are.”
Another common gaffe artists make is ignoring their online presence. “Facebook is essential,” he says, and performers should have a separate Facebook page for their music in addition to their personal profile.
“Even if the likes are low, that doesn’t matter, but if you get 1,000 likes, now you’ve really got my attention,” he notes. Those who prefer other social media platforms, like Instagram or Twitter, should use post-forwarding to still get their content onto Facebook, which is the primary platform that music venues use for promotions, he says.
Uplifting each other
Laughlin remains as passionate about promoting the Denton music scene as he was during his days at UNT, and he believes the city provides a great launch pad for an artist’s career. Although he works tirelessly to help musicians get a foothold in the industry and earn a living doing what they love, he believes the community deserves the most credit for supporting Denton’s wealth of artistic talent.
“I want to give back,” Laughlin says, “because it’s an amazing culture and amazing family.”
What makes Denton cool is not just all the interesting things to see and do, Laughlin says.
“It’s the community that embraces and uplifts each other.”