Archive for the ‘Performing’ category

Starting a Music Series

October 25, 2010

Have you ever wanted to start a music series – a Coffeehouse series up the street from your house, a regular singer-songwriter night residency with your favorite venue, or maybe a ticketed house show that’s known for quality music, good food and company? Fall is a really good time to do this. I recently had a friend email me for suggestions about starting a series and here are some things that came to mind…

It’s a good change of pace
Picking one thing and doing it well is a really great idea. Maybe the idea of booking X number of shows in X number of places exhausts you. If you think about it, doing one show at the same place is much easier and will definitely help you build a solid fanbase. It might limit you to a geographical area, but it wouldn’t be such a bad idea to focus on this approach and take the occasional show elsewhere whenever its offered.

Don’t do it too often
Once a month. If you want to do a show well, give yourself time to promote, host, rest, and then do it all over again. A monthly series will stick in people’s minds. Every 2 months is a bit too infrequent and every week will wear you out. Some things don’t take much preparation (i.e. weekly open mic…etc) but to do a show and really do it well, you need time, strategy, and rest so you don’t burnout. note: also remember that location has alot to do with how heavily you’ll have to promote. Maybe you could get away with a show ever two weeks if you’re at a central location with alot of walk-ins.

First time is a charm
Promote that first show like your life depends on it. Do it up so big and get the biggest turnout you can. If the first one is a success it will do all the work for all shows to follow. A good first show means people will come back. It means people will tell others. It means people will make Facebook comments about how much they enjoyed the first one and can’t wait for the next one.  I’m convinced that the key to the success of a music series is the very first installment and the maintenance of that vibe…which leads us to the next point.

Establish the vibe and stick with it
Pick a good name for the music series.  Make sure the space you’re hosting the show matches the type of vibe you want your event to give off.  Pick the most important aspect of your series and never change it. This is what will keep your core audience coming back.

The wonderful thing about hosting a music series is that you can bring in so many different artists over the life of the series, you can make yourself the resident musician (if you wish), and you can build a fanbase for the series and for yourself. Its like killing two birds with one stone.

A GOOD SHOW MAKES YOU, YOUR AUDIENCE, AND YOUR VENUE HAPPY.

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How Do You Know if a Show Will Be Worth It?

October 11, 2010

So you’ve been asked to do a few shows but you don’t which ones you should take. I think we’ve all run into this. DON’T take every gig because some really aren’t worth it and who has time to waste. Choose wisely. Weigh you options and base your show on how it will further you in your goals. Here are a few questions to ask yourself…

How far is it and will they be paying you?
If you have to drive a distance and you’re not sure if you’ll even be able to cover your gas, you should think twice about playing this show. Sometimes a show isnt worth your time+gas+tolls. Guestimate what those three will be and weigh it with the financial+fan+experiential return of the show.

Is it an easy show?
I really love those occasional “golden” shows where I don’t have to work for an audience because I can count on a built-in crowd. Sometimes you just need an “easy” show so you can take a break from the constant hustle.  Gigs like this are often worth it even if the monetary take home isn’t all that great.

What Kind of Experience Will You Have?
It’s often hard to gauge this. An experience can depend on a number of things – other artists on the bill, the space, and who decides to come. Don’t always equate experience with turnout. Some of my best shows personally have been for groups of 10 or 20.

Does this show have potential?
Potential to put you in front of a brand new fanbase? Potential to expose you to “important” decision makers. Potential to open new opportunities for you? Maybe the show will serve as a resume builder instead of a great paying opportunity. Shows like this are great.

Do You Want to Do it?
It’s a simple question that I sometimes forget to ask myself. Remember, if the emails are landing in your inbox, you have the power to decide if you want to play it or not. Don’t find yourself at a gig you don’t care for.  If you don’t care about it, you shouldn’t play it. That’s no fun for anyone.

An Interview with Yours Truly

October 6, 2010

Yours Truly (L-R Eric Downs, Justin Portis, DJ Huggy)

Grassrootsy has gotten into the habit of interviewing singer/songwriters. Sorry guys! We forgot that there are bands out there reading this blog!  So I’m excited to share Yours Truly with everyone. They’re a fairly young power-pop-rock band based out of Pittsburgh, PA and they sound great!  I’ve got ears to prove it!

I ran into YT’s drummer, Eric Downs, at a show earlier this year and have since engaged in several great promotion-related conversations. I love a good idea!  After his comment on last week’s “Should I Avoid Shows that Require me to sell Advance Tickets?“, I asked Eric if he’d like to answer a few questions.  Read the below carefully because its good!

1. YT is fairly young. What’s the story on how you came together? Yours Truly actually formed as the result of a mutual contact, a contact you and some Pittsburgh readers may know, Gene Stovall.  Gene’s been playing around the city for a long time, and at the time that we met (my junior year at Pitt), he was trying to put together a band to play re-made covers.  This is where I met Huggy, who had been playing with Gene for some time.  We gigged in, and occasionally out of Pittsburgh, for a while.  One night, Gene got us a gig in Erie, PA, and Justin, YT’s leader singer and guitar player, happened to be in town from NYC.  Gene asked Justin to join the gig, and Justin and I carpooled up to Erie together.  During the two hour ride, he and I discussed everything we thought about music: our likes, our dislikes, our hopes, and our nightmares.  By the time we arrived and set foot at the venue, Yours Truly had been formed, with the unknowing DJ Huggy enlisted on bass.

2. You’re the drummer huh? Grassrootsy often talks about how important it is for bands to split up the roles of their bandmates. What are each of your “roles” or do you find that you carry the responsibility to keep things runing? I think the roles in our band are funny.  Justin and Huggy have much more experience in the music business than I do, and their specialties are songwriting and production/engineering respectively.  That basically leaves me with everything else, haha, and it’s funny because these are things I’ve never even considered undertaking before.  Things like managing, booking, finance, graphic design, merchandise, marketing, social networking, and more.  With the exception of personally using Facebook, I had absolutely NO experience doing ANY of these things upon entering the band.  However, what I think drove me to jump in and learn how to do these things was hunger.  I truly believed (and and even moreso strongly believe today) in our product, and so I was willing to put in the time to research what it means to be a band manager, how to professionally book a venue, how to use software like Adobe Photoshop and Illustrator to create merchandise, how to copyright music, how to create and manage an e-mail list, how to develop a working expense system, and the list goes on.  And it’s not like I didn’t fail at most – no – all of these things, but it’s like the Wright Brothers trying to fly a plane – all the failures are what make the success so sweet, but it’s the hunger to succeed that fuels you through the failures.

3. You’ve dropped a few of your novel ideas to me via email and in Grassrootsy comments (they’re always great). What has been your most original idea to date (if you want to share it)? Why has/did it work?  Haha, I will say that I have had a few tasty morsels cook up in my head over time – many I’m quite proud of.  If anyone is interested in these, I’d be happy to chat about it, but the most original idea I’ve had has got to be “What’s Mine Is Yours.”  This is going to be a long answer (so if you don’t want to hear some blowhard ramble on for a few minutes, skip this section):

“What’s Mine Is Yours” was an idea for an event I had had that was centered around one thing and one thing only:  everyone else.  This idea spawned shortly after reading a short e-book written by Derek Sivers; something about “survival guide” in the title or something (you’d think I’d remember the name if it had this much of an impact on me, haha!).  Anyhow, in the e-book, Sivers outlines many useful points, but the one that stood out to me the most is that “to be a successful musician, everyone else comes first,” or something to that effect.  What this means is that, by whatever means necessary, the interests of the fans, the promoter, the venue, the other bands, the door man, the sound man, the merch producer, ANYONE with whom you do business must come first.  Think about it.  Who buys the CDs and t-shirts that pay your bills?  Your fans.  Who makes you sound good (or bad, ha)?  The sound man.  Who pays you a (fair) settlement at the end of the night and considers inviting you back?  The promoter/venue.  And this goes on.  My perception of so many bands out there is that, “I think my music is good, so if I hold a show, I’m sure people will come and they’ll love the music because it’s so good so they’ll buy all my stuff and since I sound so good, the venue will have me back,” and I’m thinking, are you serious??  The sad reality of the music scene in it’s entirety is that it’s hard to find people who care.  Why should people get off of their warm couches to come stand around in a smokey bar for 3 hours, leaving at the end of the night with a stench and a thinner wallet?  The venue probably sees 10-15 bands a week – why should they care about yours?  Again, the questions go on.  What I began to do is try to start answering these questions.

If I were the target of this promotion, what would get my lazy butt off my couch to come out to a show?  Again, more often than not, the music is not enough.  What else can I do?  Well, I figured that people generally like free stuff, so I started to brainstorm on what kind of free stuff I could give away.  I started digging around my house and realized I had an old PS2, a TV, and a season of Family Guy I didn’t use anymore, so I gathered them up, continued looking, and instructed the band members from my band and the others on the bill to begin assembling stuff of the like.  Originally, I had wanted to find a business or two to sponsor the event and buy giveaways prizes in return for advertisement, but I couldn’t find one, so I drafted a business proposition and delivered that along with our band’s business card and a flyer to the show to EACH and EVERY business on the South Side (where the event was taking place) bar none.  I let the businesses know that by donating coupons for their goods, they’d be gaining advertisement to a demographic who would be letting out of a show around 10 PM and would be hungry after standing around for a few hours.  Of course, any employees of these business that wanted to attend got free tickets, too.  I got three businesses (Carson St. Deli, Primati Brothers, and Blue Grotto) to donate gift certificates.

When people started to file into the show, they received a small piece of paper, informing them that our goal for the night was to have nearly every person in the audience leave with something in their hand that we gave them for free.  It informed them that there would be four awesome bands playing that night, and that each band would have an e-mail list set up at their merch table.  Each time you sign up on a band’s e-mail list, you get a raffle ticket, so, 4 bands = a total of 4 possible raffle tickets.  We would draw for the raffle at the end of the night (as to prevent “show-up-for-my-friend’s-band-and-then-leave syndrome”).

All of this translates into a winning situation for literally all parties involved.  The audience gets to see an awesome show, but then on top of that, most of them receive a free item (most of the time of notable value) ranging from a TV to a t-shirt to a pre-lit christmas tree to gift certificates to local South Side businesses, etc.  When they take that prize home, even if it just sits on a shelf, every time they see it, they’ll have a visual reminder saying, “oh yeah, I got that Sega Genesis + 6 games from that awesome show I went to!”.  The venue gets a packed house (we aimed for 150, we got 147 in the Smiling Moose!), so both the venue and the bands get a nice chunk of change and the venue is more likely to host the event again.  The bands get a huge influx into their e-mail lists (so valuable), and they get to get rid of a bunch of stuff they don’t want anymore. Plus they have a big audience to which they can sell merch!

Ok, whew!  What a freakin’ mouthful!  Anyhow, again, this all stemmed from thinking of everyone else first.

4. As a young band, what is a hard lesson you’ve had to learn? Pick your gigs well.  If you don’t do your homework (what day?  what time?  in what order will you be playing?  what other major shows are taking place that night that will take attendees from you?  what’s the settlement?  mainly, WHY WILL THIS SHOW BE WORTH IT?), you’ll screw yourself and waste your time.  Sure, when you’re starting out, take what you can get, but as you grow, only play in your primary/home market once every 2-3 months, and make them huge shows…no…huge EVENTS (use a theme or something to make the night something BIGGER than just 4 bands playing) that you can plan for and work on ahead of time, using smaller, out-of-town shows to promote.  Finally, most people don’t care about going to see new local music.  Give them more of a reason to come.  “What’s in it for ME if I come to your show?”

5. Here’s the question Grassrootsy asks all of its interviewees: What do you think is the single most important thing an artist should do to promote themselves better? Haha, again, think about it from everyone else’s perspective.  Why should someone come to your show rather than eating microwaved pierogies in their underwear while watching House reruns?  Why should a venue/promoter book you?  What’s in it for them?  If you were someone to whom a band/artist was beckoning for attendance, what would make you come?  What wouldn’t?

Also, make it easy for them to continue to support you.  A popular promotion Yours Truly does on all of its show is offering 50% off of any one merchandise item if an audience member bring their ticket stub from the last show.  They walk out with your merch, they came to another show (and maybe they brought a friend!), so big deal if you sell your shirt for no profit?  The 5 bucks you lost is worth it for a more devoted fan, which, again, is the most valuable thing you can have.

Yours Truly Online:
Facebook: www.facebook.com/yourstrulyband
Myspace: www.myspace.com/hearyourstruly
Twitterwww.twitter.com/yourstrulyband
YouTubewww.youtube.com/bandyourstruly

Should I Avoid Shows that Require me to sell Advance Tickets?

September 29, 2010

THE ARTIST: Ben Rothermel (Lancaster, PA)
THE QUESTION: I recently played a show where the booking agent asked me to sell X amount of tickets. The amount was high on my fan draw but doable if I got almost every single fan to buy a ticket. I had an entire month to plan and promote for the show and started heavily doing so 2+ weeks out. I hung up posters with my info attached, created a facebook event and shared it daily in my newsfeed, and talked to everyone I knew in a friendly attempt to sell tickets to them. In the end though, I was left walking into the club with barely 1/3 of my quota filled. It was very embarrassing to hand them over to the booking agent and I’m quite sure we won’t be doing business together for some time.

Now, I did everything that I’ve learned works and still came out losing in this game of selling tickets. Do you have any insight into my situation? Should I avoid shows that require me to sell a minimum amount of tickets so as to avoid possible letdown? What has your experience with ticketed shows taught you?

THE ANSWER: Hey Ben, I think many people reading this can identify with your scenario and have probably found themselves in the same situation (myself included).   I’ve had a number of experiences with this and they’ve all been negative.  Here are my thoughts.

1. Don’t do it!
Just an opinione but  it seems like venues use musicians to make money off ticket sales…and the musician leaves with nothing. In most cases the number of tickets you sell isn’t fair for the amount of stage time you’ll be given. Personally i have a really really hard time selling tickets and if a venue asks me to sell them, I pass on the show. It’s never worth my time and all the hustling. In most cases, if a venue asks you to sell tickets, you only get to keep a small percentage of the sale. So lets say tix are $10 and you get $2 from every sale. Even if you sell 20 (and that’s alot), you’ve only made $40. That’s SHADY!

2. But if you do…
Realize that its a twisted trade-off. Musicians need venues just as much as they need musicians. And venues need to make their money too. It’s a business. Just read An Interview with Joe Squared – Things Every Venue Wishes You Knew. If you want to play at a venue but need to sell tickets, make sure the show is something you would regret missing out on. In other words, if you’ll hate yourself for passing up on the show, then do what you need to do to make it happen. Maybe you have a chance to open for a nationally touring artist you’ve always admired. That’s an good example of a show worth hustling for.

3. Ask Yourself these questions… (because they will affect ticket sales)

  • How close is this venue to the majority of my fanbase?
  • What day of the week does this event fall on?
  • Is this the type of venue/event my fans would come to?
  • How long is my set? Am I asking people to spend $10 on a ticket if I’m only playing for 15 minutes?

4. Also remember…

  • Venues are sometimes hesitant to give new artists a chance. If they don’t know your draw potential and you promise them 20 people, selling advance tickets is the best way for them to hold you to your word. If you honestly can’t bring out 20 people or 10 or 5 (or whatever their standard is), then be honest with them and wait till you can.
  • Give yourself enough time to sell tickets and hype the show. Sometimes people need to let an idea sink in before they buy into it. Ben, it sounds like you did this.
  • Try not to do ticketed shows too regularly.  The constant promoting will wear you down…and everybody else for that matter. Space out major shows by a few months

I’m interested in knowing what other Grassrootsy readers have to say about this topic. Leave your comments below.

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Learning Your Listeners

September 20, 2010

The saying goes like this: If at first you don’t succeed, try, try, again. Occasionally, when I’m at a show, or shortly after a show, I notice how various audience members respond to my merchandise table.  Here’s what I’ve observed…

Type A Listener
This individual likes what they hear. They buy the album immediately, sign the email list and pick up a card so they can go out of their way and check out your website when they get home. Type A is excited and fully committed to supporting you from the start. They’re the person who will tweet about you from their phone the instant they hear your music. They’ll share you with their friends, and come regularly to your shows. They’ll buy your album for friends and attend a few shows each year.

Type B Listener
This person likes what they hear and will likely stick around for your whole show. But Type B isn’t sold out on your music…at least not yet. It’s important to realize that you will almost have more Type Bs than Type As in your audience. Type B will sign your newsletter and will probably do so without you asking because they want to keep tabs on what you’re up to. They’ll go to your show, not because they need a fix of your music, but because it’s conveniently in their neighborhood. Make sure you get Type B’s email b/c even if they don’t buy your album, they will show interest in your music on special occasions (CD Release/major show) , and consider buying your album when you have a sale (maybe a Christmas discount).

Type C Listener
This person isn’t particularly interested in your tunes, but might just pick up your business card off the table at the very most.  In other words, because they don’t have your music, and haven’t given you their contact information (for your newsletter), it’s completely in their hands to stay abreast on your career.  They don’t hae any regular reminders, so your engagement with them will be slim-to-none.

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Making the Most of Your Coffeeshop Gig

June 23, 2010

Chloe's Coffee in Gaithersburg, MD

Here’s a follow-up to last week’s post: Making the Most of Your Club Gig.
So, coffeeshops are great, but you probably won’t make a whole lotta mula.  Well, it all really depends. Even if you don’t, playing coffeeshops has huge perks that you won’t get from a club.  Here are some thoughts on the matter.

Learn the Community.
Coffeeshops are known for their presence in the community. Take advantage of this. Make the most of the location by reaching out to be people who live around the corner instead of your whole fanbase. It’s a little less work and you’ll probably get more of a response from the locals. And hopefully the coffeeshop will buy into your approach since they exists for their locals.

Have Fun!
Community is almost synonymous with coffeeeshops these days.  The great things about these types of shows is that pressure is usually low. People are there to spend time with each other and exist in a place when others are…even if they’re not talking to anyone. All this to say, don’t take yourself too seriously. Talk with your audience and have fun. Keep it laid back. If you can, make it feel like your living room.

The More the Merrier
Considering that most coffeehouse gigs don’t pay, go ahead and put more people on the bill. Invite 7 songwriters out and do an in-the-round event. You’ll get a great turnout if everyone tells a few people and you don’t have the stress of splitting $10 between 7 people. hehe.

Don’t forget to have a Tip Jar
Be nice and remind people that you are a working artist and that you would appreciate their support. You can pass the hat as well. You’d be surprised at how some people make a decent killing off tips (sometimes that depends on the neighborhood).

Just Because You’re A Band…
Doesn’t mean you can’t play in coffeeshops. Some of them are fine with full bands.  You can do an unplugged set, a setup with 1/2 of your band, or just tone things down a bit.

The Ugly Side of Coffeeshops
A few things that make coffeeshops hard…

  • That grinder. There’s nothing worse than trying to compete with that blendy thing. Make sure the stage you’re playing on in’t right beside the front counter. I just had this experience and it was miserable.
  • All ages venues can sometimes mean young kids with nothing better to do and nowhere else to be. Ask them questions to make them part of your show. This will keep them engaged.
  • Everyone isn’t there for music. Some people are there to study…so don’t always expect everyone to close the laptop or stop your conversations and give you their full attention. Its the nature of the beast.

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What if a Band Member Can’t Make it to a Show?

June 16, 2010


THE BAND:
The Beggar Folk. Lancaster, PA.
THE QUESTION: So we have a gig in a few weeks and we promised them we’d bring out our whole band, but it turns out our string player can’t make it. Should we just show up with a smaller version of the band, or should we contact the booker ahead of time and risk having to forfeit the gig…especially if they’re expecting strings.

THE ANSWER: If you’re in a band, or if you sometimes play with a band, this has probably happened to you at one time or another. Here are a few things to consider.

1. Are you being paid. If you’re being paid for a gig, you’re basically being contracted for a project. It’s a way for a booker to use you on their terms. If they hire you as a band, then you need to arrive at the show with a full band. If they hire you as a solo artist, then come as a solo artist.  If they hire you as a band but you come with just two people, that might not go over too well.

If you’re not being paid, then you might have more flexibility…because if you think of it, you’re basically volunteering your time. Feel it out and get an idea of how serious the gig is and how serious your contact might take the change in band size. Just make sure that whatever you do doesn’t negatively affect your relationship with the booker/venue/event for the future.

2. Try a replacement. Sometimes this is annoying – having to teach a new person your tunes just for one gig. But it might not be a bad idea to have a backup plan and to bring this substitute musician into the mix anytime you have a missing member. Substitutes will always come in handy.  It would suck to have to miss a big opportunity simply because one member can’t make it.  It would also suck for your set to sound significantly different because a particular instrument is missing.

3. Just talk to the booker. Be upfront and let the booker know that one of your bandmates has had a conflict in his schedule and can’t make it.  It actually might not be a big deal. I’ve personally had a few instances where this happened to me. Here are a few different ways to handle it.

  • “Hi Ryan, One of our bandmates has had a conflict in his schedule and can’t be part of our gig next week.  I just want to make sure you know this since you are expecting the full band to show up. Please let me know if this will affect your interest in having us perform at the Arts Festival. I apologize for the changeup.”
  • “Hi Ryan, It turns out that my drummer and bassist are both tied up the evening of the event.  Would you mind if I did this show as an acoustic set?   If that will affect pay, I will understand. Please let me know your thoughts.  Sorry for the changeup.

4. What does Your Default Picture Look Like? When people see pictures on your website, myspace and facebook, do they see a picture of your band or of you as a singer/songwriter? You’ll probably get more requests for whatever “face” you show people. And if you show yourself as a singer/songwriter you’ll have much more flexibility and be able to present yourself in solo, duo, trio, and band form.  Just keep that in mind.

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