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Indie Artists: Connecting with New Fans is Key

“I’ll quit my job, we’ll head out west” are lyrics Howard Jennings wrote in his song “Around the World.” These lyrics are actually taken quite literally by Howard, who took the chance of a lifetime and entered the music industry.

I normally don’t feel short at concerts, but standing next to a red-headed giant of a man, Howard sure made me feel four feet tall. I was at IOTA in Arlington, VA – outside of Washington D.C., to see the Damnwells on tour to promote their new album. I was checking out shirts at the merch table in the back, when I noticed Howard who seemed nervous, but anxious and was setting up merchandise for himself and the other artists he was touring with.

I introduced myself, made pleasantries and found myself connecting with this guy and having a great conversation. We talked about musicians we loved and have seen live and the difficulties of independent artists. Before Howard had to run to the stage for his sound-check; without hearing his music , I purchased two of his EPs.

Howard wasn’t your typical average working Joe, he was a consultant for IBM – yeah that IBM. Over this time, he was writing songs and honing his craft until he was offered the opportunity to tour with Vertical Horizon.  Long story, short – Howard’s boss became aware of the double life he was leading and although he was supportive, Howard had to make a choice.  With the support of his family, Howard ventured on the road to support artists like Rusted Root and Eve 6.

Howard presents this humility that is refreshing to hear from musicians. He is quick to complement other singers’ voices on stage and has reservations about his own voice on stage replicating how he sings in the studio. It’s easy to feel self-conscious when you’re supporting bands with rabid followings, while you’re on stage with no backing-band, just a microphone and a guitar.

Howard’s stage presence made it seem like he’s been doing this his whole life. He introduced this audience to his songs and to grab the attention of those who weren’t listening, he would blend in lyrics of other songs like “What’s Love Got To Do With It” at the end of his songs.

After the set, Howard joked how he thought of me when he was on stage.

“I knew you had already bought my CDs without hearing me, so I had to be good tonight,” Howard said while laughing.

More than that, Howard sincerely asked “How was it? Was I good?”  I described how he won me over immediately and was impressed how he was hitting all his notes – particularly in his song “Fell Into You.” Howard smiled and thanked me, excusing himself to greet the fans by the merch table who wanted to meet him and buy his CDs.

Howard is currently on tour with the Damnwells and Harper Blynn.

Author: David Williams is an all-around music fan who has an ear for discovering new artists.

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