As I mentioned in the last post, I’m playing in a new acoustic duo called KoriSoron with an incredibly talented guitarist and artist form Iran named Farzad Golpeyagani. If you happen to be in the Capital District of New York, we’re having a soft launch of the project tomorrow evening with 2 sets in Schenectady, NY on Saturday, August 23rd.
We’ll have a fully realized site on KoriSoron.com and https://www.facebook.com/korisoron in the weeks ahead. For now – here’s an event page with some information. https://www.facebook.com/events/1538544056367629/
As an interesting aside, someone posted a rather pointed question on the Albany Musicians Craigslist page about a venue owned by the same owner of the one that we’re doing the soft launch at.
“ArthursMarket; worth booking (Stockade Schenectady)
Have an offer to perform at Arthurs Market, the owner also runs Moon &River Cafe up the street.
Anybody ever played at either? If so, how were tips? The owner does not pay so tips are the only compensation.
Both places sort of worry me. Seem dingy, cluttered, unkept. Sort of like some hippy den instead of a real concert place. No phone, dim lights, no credit cards. Real dumps. But tips might be good anyway. Have you played there? Any advise?”
This was followed by a tirade of people weighing in on the necessity of musicians getting paid whenever they play a venue as a definition of professional. Most of the following “re:” posts seemed to think it was a bar of some type (they’re both cafes with an emphasis on vegetarian food) and talked about how bars shouldn’t have bands if they don’t pay them directly.
I’ll come back to the professional aspect that was brought up but let me first answer this question with a question.
Have you paid your dues?
Do you have a local or regional audience?
Will you bring people to a club because they are there to see you?
And the answer to this question is no.
I can say that, because if you have a local audience then you know how many people will show up at a gig in general and there should be little to no mystery in what you’d make in tips. If you’re asking that question, it’s because you’re depending on the club to provide the audience or the other acts on the bill to provide an audience.
Most bands play for years without making a living wage. That’s because building an audience takes nurturing and time. It doesn’t happen overnight.
“But what about the unknown bands that play for thousands of people on bills with big bands?”
Did you know that many large bands that play outdoor sheds (i.e. large outdoor arenas) actually charge opening bands to play for them? It’s because they don’t need an opening act. The fans are coming there to see them and the opening act is just poaching their audience.
Do I agree with the ethics of charging an opening band and having them rely on whatever merch or tour support they have to keep them on the road? No I don’t agree with it. I think it’s disgusting. But it’s also a power dynamic. If you haven’t paid your dues by being on the circuit and having a draw then you need to pay your membership dues to the people who are allowing you to enter their club house and try to capitalize on their work.
My Local / Regional Plan
When Farzad and I first talked about this. I laid out my plan for this project with him and it’s a plan that might work for you if you’re looking to make a go of it in a regional market. We plan on following through with everything, so as an experiment in accountability even you might find this interesting. I’ll also tell you the secret about why this plan won’t work most people.
1. Play Open Mics (and/or play in front of people).
When you start a new venture (particularly when you’ve relocated) you can’t just pick up where you left off unless you’re a name recognized act on a major label (even then it’s still a step back. For all of Audioslave’s hype – they never got to the level of success of either Soundgarden’s or Rage Against The Machine’s success and they still had to do all of the promotion that is associated with any new act on a major label.). You have to build a local audience and start all over again. That’s the bad news.
The good news is that once you’ve already put the work in, it takes much less time to build a following and get your platform built. The fact that I’ve released eight books and that Farzad has six full lengths under his name and that we both have video game credits opens doors for us. On a professional level, when people see our bios, they’re more likely to check out what we’re doing or take a meeting with us.
All that does on a fan level though is potentially get people through the door. At the end of the day both the music and the performance need to be strong enough to get people to stay and, ideally, to come back again.
So why play open mics?
- Because testing your material in front of a live audience is worth more than months in a rehearsal space. It’s just a completely different thing and you find out IMMEDIATELY what works and what doesn’t and how well you really know something.
- Because the stakes are low at an open mic. It’s a good place to experiment and try things and if they blow up it’s not a big deal. This is a much better place to potentially fail at something than in front of a large crowd of people who paid to see you.
- Because a lot of times – you end up with fans. Particularly for the music I play, a lot of times other musicians are the first to pick up on some of the challenges with performing that material. Some of them will come to the gigs that I play and possibly bring people.
“But open mics don’t pay! Professionals get paid for what they do!”
Did you know that Robin Williams would frequently show up at comedy clubs well after midnight unannounced and get on the stage to test out new material? Did he get paid for that? Is he a hobbyist for doing so?
Professionals do things pretty regularly without getting paid but they do it for a pay off down the road. Think of the contractor that comes to your house to give you a free estimate on work that’s going to be done. That estimate is only free as there’s a payoff on the back end if it goes through. The band that plays the local TV station morning show at 7am? They might be paid later on if they own the copyright on the song they’re performing – but they don’t get paid for the show. They do it because it exposes them to a larger audience. There’s a payoff on the back end.
When people talk about bars paying bands – they’re talking about a decades old performance model that has no basis in the current economy – unless you already have an audience that is specifically there to see you (i.e. you have a real draw).
So let’s take the same person who asked the question an apply it to the rock band bar model.
Your band wants to play bar X. You send materials to the booking agent and start a lengthy dance for a night to play. Eventually you get on a bill with 3 other local bands (HA! I played a CBGB’s gig once where there were 12 other bands on the bill!). You each bring 10 people paying a $5 cover. You get a dollar a head for each person who comes in. So assuming they don’t make you pay for the sound or light guy, someone in the band waits until 2am when the venue closes to collect the $10.
Divided by, let’s say it’s a duo for simple math. That’s $5 a person. Let’s hope you didn’t buy a beer or you lost money! Good thing you waited 5 extra hours for that pay out!
Now let’s say you play a small venue where there’s no cover and it’s pass the hat (or you play a house concert – where it can be an expensive ticket for the same thing). Let’s say there’s 10 people there to see you but it’s pass the hat and you make $40. No pay out. No waiting. You collect the money and go.
The exception to the rule.
If you’re playing a dinner club gig where you’re the entertainment for the evening and playing human jukebox for the night you should be making more money. You’re also playing longer and you’re doing a gig that I wouldn’t be comfortable doing, “I know you’re a jazz group but would you play ‘Piano Man’? I love that song….” As a side note, with alarming regularity I see people taking those gigs where they’re playing for 2-3 hours for no money and possibly getting a meal during a break. That is insane. And that gig – or a gig where you’re a cover band in a bar and playing for 4 hours….that’s a completely valid criticism. I’m talking about groups that play original music and do so in 30 – 45 minute sets.
2. Play traditional and non-traditional venues.
One of the gigs were playing is a library. I’ve done entire regional tours at libraries where I sold merch and added names to my e-mail list. You capitalize on existing opportunities and create new ones where possible.
3. Develop marketing materials.
Promo shots. Websites. Social Media. Performance videos. Audio recordings.
Two words here: GET VISIBLE! People can only support what they know about.
I’ve written a lot about this. You need to develop legitimate friendships and relationships with other artists, musicians, movers and shakers in whatever community you’re in. You do this by going to shows, and playing out locally. You can do this online by reaching out to FB groups, forums, meet-up groups, etc., but without a local support network anything you do on a larger scale will fall apart. This is what happens when you play some shows in Europe (to large audiences) and then come back and play to 2 people in a bar in Brooklyn that are there to see another band.
5. Record material.
With all that rehearsing and playing out playing out you should have some tunes very much under your belt. Personally I’ve been saying the LP was dead since we did the Visible Inc. Ep’s back in 2000 or so – so the goal here is multiple short releases over the year so that you have something to promote.
5. Build everything bigger and better.
So the basic steps here are:
- Build an audience
- develop your product
- develop your support network
- build off of the foundation you built and make everything better than it was. Constant improvement. Better performances. Better songs. Better venues. Better connection to fans. Possibly adding more player to the project to increase the sound produced.
This goes back to the pay issue.
Yes – I’ll do a soft launch for no pay.
Yes – I’m a professional guitarist.
Yes – this is a good idea because I’m executing a plan that ultimately benefits me.
Here’s the secret I’ve learned
It’s a big one. It’s why outlining something like this won’t matter for most people.
Most people aren’t willing to do the work.
They’re not willing to put the time in and invest in themselves for the pay off later.
They’re too caught up in their own egos and thinking about what’s owed to them rather than what they work for.
What’s due to them rather than what they do.
So they sit at home not playing because they model that worked for them 20 years ago is not making them any money and they can’t get out of their comfort zone to start over, and complain about how the scene sucks, and people suck, and the venues suck….
An open mic is beneath some of these people. They want the money now. They want the audience now but they don’t want to put the work in to build one. That takes a long time and a lot of playing.
You gotta put in the work.
I had to re-teach myself to play three separate times. From scratch. It sucked. The last time almost killed me.
It built character. It taught me how to keep my eye on the prize over the long haul.
So when I sit there and say, “All we have to do is play to the best of our ability over and over again, build an audience and expand our visibility.” That’s an easy plan to conceptualize and a hard plan to actualize because it requires endurance.
Endurance and Vision are symbiotic for long term execution. Without both of them you don’t have anything.
So why do a soft launch at that venue?
Because people listen there.
The thing that really struck me about the open mics there is that people seemed to really listen to what musicians were saying with their music.
I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve played bars and the bartender balked at the idea of turning the sound off on the TV so we could play. I get it. The people sitting at that bar are the ones tipping him. They certainly didn’t come to see any of the bands I play in.
If people are listening, it’s the first step to making a fan. If they’re not listening (or if they stop listening), it’s really hard to get their attention again.
So the possibility of getting people who come to that show to come to another show is high, Perhaps those people will bring other people with them.
Years ago – I got some great advice from someone who basically said, “Don’t bet on the lottery. Bet on yourself instead.”
The work you do today sows the seeds for tomorrow. Pay your dues through what you do, not what you’ve done.
I hope this helps and, as always, thanks for reading.