There is a new movement with musicians where they’re starting to eschew agents and represent themselves. This can be a good thing, as many agencies are either too large to effectively promote a young artist, and some are too lazy to really get on the phone and call. Few do the slightest bit of research to see where their artists can play that they haven’t played before and some are limited as to the type of venue or style of music. That leaves a precious few that will really work for you. It’s that simple, unfortunately. While there’s tons of information out there on how to promote yourself, there’s next to none that comes from the viewpoint of the presenter/venue. This fills that void. It won’t be pretty, but it’s necessary.
Why you need this: While you may think you have it all figured out, the music business from the eyes of the people handing you pay is a different beast. Playing well isn’t enough. Lots of people play well. I can get people within few minute’s drive that play well. It’s all your built-up promotional work, your professionalism before and after the gig, the way you introduce tunes, the way you build a rapport with the audience. It’s all about you as an professional entertainer, not you as a musician.
Keep in mind that while you, as musicians, trade stories and talk amongst yourselves, so do the venues, the agents, the managers, the P.R. people. Word gets out quickly, not so much that you’re necessarily a problem, but that maybe you’re a pain to work with during sound check, or maybe you’re just kind of dull. You never know.
Music is a pretty unforgiving business. My favorite true story is when Elvis died. At one very large agency, an assistant ran into the boss’s office, breathlessly saying, “Did you hear Elvis just died?” The agent looked up, totally straight-faced, and said, “Good career move.” Heartless, maybe, but quite accurate. On one forum I was reading a few musicians comparing notes about how they hate playing places where the people talk and don’t pay attention to the music. There are two simple answers, none involving complaining: one is to find other places to play. The other is to be more interesting. You’re the entertainer, command attention and entertain. The sad truth is that these guys simply aren;t good enough. They can neither command attention, or can’t get into the better places.
You need to remember “The Golden Triangle of Music” or more simply, the food chain. Here’s how it works when you line them up by monetary importance: First comes the audience, second comes the venue, third comes the musicians. It all starts with the audience, they have the money, and they chose where to spend it. Without them, everyone stays home and becomes a barista or mechanic. Second, assuming the audience wants to go somewhere, they need a place to go. The venue has spend considerable time and money (and risking both) to provide a place that people want to come to. Without the venue, there’s no place for musicians to play, save the street corner. The comes you, the musician. Again, from a strictly business standpoint, there are a lot of you. Really good ones, too.
In an ideal world, all three are equal, and it’s a rare venue when that’s the case. The audience is into music, the venue is relaxed but comfortable, the regulars are ready to be inspired, and great musicians come in and do just that. They hang out after, meet the public; there’s a real sense of community there. I wish it could be like that all the time, everywhere, but it just isn;t the case. Some are pretty, but cold, some are dirty, some pay poorly (relative to your car payment rent, that is). Climbing the ladder takes time, and every step is critical.
Make yourself special and professional. When you contact me, and there’s no “snap” to your presentation, no media to back it up, a lame website, or amateurish postings on your Facebook page, I’m hitting the delete key. I don;t have time to offer nice replies to 20 lame emails a day. If it’s a good start, I’ll check out your music, so be ready to send a downloadable file with enough tunes on it so I know you can go an hour and a half without boring everyone. If that’s good, then I’ll put you in the “possible” file, along with, unfortunately, a whole batch of others who can get it done. Then it’s just luck in terms of scheduling, what I’m looking for at a certain time, etc.
So onto the next post, wherein the discussion turns to the types of venues out there, what’s important to them, and basic behavior which enables you to get return gigs and recommendations