I have always had a bit of a tricky back and sometimes it goes out on me, which it has over the past two weeks. There seems to be too much pain to deal with on a regular basis, so I’ve been taking ibuprofen before the shows so that I could do them and not be too distracted by the pain. However, I spent Sunday night and all day Monday and Monday night in a codeine induced sleepfest and my back feels a lot better, but I did miss my usual Monday post. These things happen. C’est la guerre.
I got an interesting post from an enterprising artist who wants to put together a songwriter showcase in the fall and I thought rather than post about Friday and Saturday’s concerts I would answer him first. Here is his post and I will answer it as best I can after you’ve read what he sent to me:
James -- I've been reading your blog now for a while -- not sure when I
discovered you, but you're on my RSS. I really like what you have to
say, and really appreciate the way you illustrate your points.
So here's my question -- I'm thinking of putting together a songwriter
showcase event in the fall -- I have access to a new hall, that needs to
get some traction, and I know a few people that can draw. I've been
given a sweetheart deal on the rate, so I'm thinking it might just work.
The place is a new-built frame barn, modeled after an old one that was on the site. It has all modern facilities inside, and is run by the county's parks/rec dept. Seats 275. My thought was to have three artists, split the door after my percent, and heavily promote the merchandise.
So -- I can get the room, I should be able to get three acts that draw around 50-70 each, the room will put me in their advertising, and I'll do postering, local radio, etc. I was thinking of a format that put three artists on stage together, trading songs and stories -- I've seen it before, and it can be a very engaging format.
Some of my bigger questions are advice about staging the show, back drops, creating a look and feel that is warm, and engaging, so that I can build on this (my venue would like to consider doing this quarterly). I have no real experience at this, other than having played in a band for years, and done a lot of the promotional work for us.
Any thoughts, advice?
My first thought is to the artists that you are bringing together. You have to be as certain as you can be that their audiences will cross pollinate—meaning that each artist’s audience will like the other two artists. That’s a primary consideration. I know that you have played music for years in various configurations and have also done some self promotion, but let’s lay it out again, just to be safe.
You say that they can draw about 50 people each (the smaller figure that you mentioned in your post) on their own and you are thinking that they can draw at least 150 together. My experience is that people who like a certain artist are more inclined to see him when they don’t have to endure too many other acts, so I would bet that you are going to get less than they normally draw individually. Say they can be depended upon to bring in 35 people each. You’ll have to bring in the rest.
All of us artists have a mailing list of some sort, be it email or snail mail. My experience with drawing on that list is you can get about one in twenty to attend, so if you are hoping that they draw fifty each, their mailing list would have to be larger than that by a factor of twenty. If you want the artists to be involved in getting people in there, then you can print up tickets for them to sell and have the tickets marked as to which ones were given to which artist, so that if one artist brings in everyone and the other two just coast, you can demonstrate that and also pay them accordingly. Ideally you want everyone to pull their own weight in these situations and split the door evenly. You have to be honest about how many people you can bring in and then be responsible for that many attendees.
I had an offer from a slightly famous songwriter to do a show with me, where they would do a songwriter in the round and then I would do a concert and the four of us split the door between us equally. My counter offer was that since we are essentially two acts; a solo performer and a songwriter in the round, that we split the door in half, and they split their half between the three of them. He balked and so I did the show alone, filled the place and got all the money.
As an aside, these in the round songwriter things are different than promoting a concert. In that situation, you guarantee the artist a specific amount and a percentage. In this situation, you are trying to get the ball rolling on a new room and presumably create a situation that you can repeat as many times a year as you and the audience can sustain it, yes?
So you have to instill in the artists the idea that they are invested in this room becoming a viable venue for them. So they must get their audience in there and introduce them to the space and the place. I would also try to sell the venue on the idea of them becoming involved in the promotion for the same self sustaining and self preserving reasons.
You need to put all your heads together and come up with a media list that includes all print outlets, broadcast outlets; posters and email and if you have the budget, snail mail, as the post card will stay on their refridgerator door a lot longer than an email will stay visible on the screen. And see if you can get the local music stores and music schools and teachers involved. You need to explore every avenue of promotion because we are in a media overload society. And they say it takes at least three times for someone to be exposed to something before they actually notice it.
Now your other questions:
Staging the show, I would recommend that you have three seats in a slightly semi circle row, so that the artists can all see each other and the audience can see all of them. And I would have them all mic’d individually. When you have them step forward to one mic set up it makes it a little too formal and always excludes the other two artists on the stage. I always encourage people to play along with my songs tho I do request that they listen to a verse and a chorus to get the essential map of the song. And I like to play along with other people. I also know that the audience loves this kind of spontaneous interchange.
They like it because it’s not a recording frozen in time, but a living breathing experience and there is a chance for some real musical magic in that situation. Some artists don’t want anyone to play when they are playing. This is never as much fun for the audience and it’s only a small and insecure artist that wouldn’t want to experience that spontaneous interchange. There are some good songwriters like that, but no great artists like that.
Encourage your guys to share the limelight, the stage and the spotlight. Everyone will be the richer for it. Unless you have some genuinely lame musicians, but I am assuming that that is not the case. So encourage that interchange, that makes for a better show and an ambience that.
Also encourage your artists to show respect for each other while the other is performing. Don’t be fidgeting and calling attention to yourself when someone else is playing. Demonstrate to the audience how they should listen. And when you are performing, don’t go into a ten minute introduction to your song. When you do your own shows, then you may take as long as you like to set up whatever you can, but it’s not fair to the other artists if you take too long introducing your tune. Be concise and, if you have the ability, be funny. If not be brief. Explaining what inspired the song is interesting. Telling us what it is about and then singing that is simply boring. If they song is well written, we’ll know what it’s about, even if that’s not what you thought it was about.
I would recommend that you get a couple of lamps and end tables and make it look as much like a living room as you can, tho the players will need straight back chairs with no arms to accommodate their instruments. If there is no curtain, then make certain that it is as dark as it can be behind the artists. Before the show starts have the lights on the stage lit, but very dim. And have the room lights up. When the show is ready to start, you dim the house lights and bring up the stage lights and the audience will focus where the light is. It’s the easiest way to get a room to pay attention. I don’t know why everyone doesn’t do this, but almost no venue does. They have been doing it in the theater for five hundred years.
As to the merchandise, no artist minds sharing a little of the wealth with the venue, but take too much and you have nothing but bad feelings. I played the universal amphitheatre and their cut was (after my mfg costs) larger than my cut unless I jacked the price up by thirty percent. Ten to fifteen percent isn’t bad, after that you have to provide some stellar service to justify a larger cut, i.e. large signs, large display, someone to man the merch table for the entire time the concert hall is open to the public. Stuff that the artist can’t do and so they are likely to sell more because of the extra services. I like it when everyone does their best and everyone makes a fair share.
And one more thing… the light and sound guys, while really important, should never make more than the artists. Think about it, with no artists to light and amplify there would be no audience and no job for them. The job of the lights and sound are really important, but meaningless without the artists. The artists must make the larger share.
I hope that this helps and I’ll lay out the good and bad of the shows last weekend, which were both wonderful, fun and lucrative. Three of my favs.