The Business Part Of The Music Business
Welcome back to the Bottom Line. Let's talk this month about your business practices and procedures. If you expect to be paid as a professional, you must be a professional. The part of the "Music Business" that most musicians do well is the "Music" part, forgetting or even ignoring the "Business" part. If you do, you will be doomed to mediocre pay at bad venues or even absolute failure. The clients, club owners, agents, etc. who hire you are in business themselves and have an expectation of professionalism by their clients, vendors, etc., i.e., YOU! Your band may have already gotten some gigs and maybe you have been doing OK without any formal agreement or planning, but rest assured, at some time it will come back to bite you. I could tell you stories...like remember that PA system you helped purchase last year - now that you are leaving the band, are you getting some of your money back (adjusted for depreciation) or is it just a loss?
Let's start at the beginning. Look around - all successful businesses have certain common attributes. They are (among others):
a clear and concise business plan;
a good leader with good management skills of people and resources;
written policies and procedures for management of all business practices;
good sales and customer service;
good accounting and record keeping;
a saleable product;
an identifiable trademark or logo.
I will expand on each of these points in the future, but this month I'll just touch on the first few to get you thinking.
If you want to get anywhere in life you must have a plan. Your business plan doesn't have to be fancy, just a mission statement of your intentions. Set your goals in writing. The mere act of putting your thoughts on paper will show everyone how serious you are about your music business. Then, think about how to achieve these goals. To dream a little is OK as long as you have some kind of plan to achieve the dream. Other players who might want to join your band (business) will also want a clear understanding of where you are going with all of this and what their role might be. For example, if your plan is to play local clubs, how do you intend to accomplish this? Are you booking yourself or working through an agency? Have you researched your "marketplace" and determined how these rooms are booked? How many pieces they can afford? What type of music is expected? Do you need a PA system or will you need to hire a sound company? How much profit will be realized from these gigs? Make clear your goals and how you intend to achieve them.
Every band needs a leader/spokesman with a clear understanding of the plan. Will you be the leader or will you hire a manager? Customers want to deal with one person, not a committee. If you want your band to be a democracy, that's OK; but one person should be responsible for keeping the "book" of gigs, contacting the clients, negotiating the contracts, collecting and dispersing the pay and dealing with the details of every gig. You also need someone who will rein in a band member that is not doing his/her share, missing rehearsals, not learning parts, etc., and will settle disagreements between band members (it happens more than it should!). I have been a band leader and it can be a thankless job. My daddy always said, "You can please all of the people some of the time and some of the people all of the time, but never can you please all of the people all of the time!" Keep that in mind if you are to be the leader. A leader must be strong-willed yet diplomatic, have good communication skills, and be willing to take the heat when things don't go according to plan. If you or a band member do not possess these skills, then it might be wise to hire a manager, but expect to pay him/her 10% or more of your earnings. It is also possible to delegate jobs within the band; e.g., one person handles bookings, etc., while someone else can be "artistic" director in charge of song selection, set lists, etc., and someone else can do marketing, newsletter, e-mail list, etc. Still, one person should be the leader and coordinate all of these activities.
I also suggest you have a written policy on dealing with all of your business associates, and make sure all band members are on board with it. How will you handle the band member who tips a few too many and becomes abusive to a customer? How will you handle gig cancellations? How about purchases of band equipment such as PA speakers? Who foots the bill for marketing the band, and will the leader make a little more for all of his/her work? Don't wait until after the fact to decide on policy; it is only fair to all involved if they know ahead of time what is expected of them. I know I sound like a parent laying down the law with a child, but in case you haven't noticed, many artistic people who are otherwise quite creative and talented have trouble functioning in other areas of life.
I'm sure that when you were jamming in the garage and dreaming of someday being a star, the thought never crossed your mind that you might have to deal with the reality of the business world. I know I never thought that way. And if you ever do make it big, get ready to deal with lawyers, accountants and execs galore! It just seems so natural, making music with your friends and maybe making a buck or two doing it. You will ensure all will remain friends if you follow these suggestions I've laid out for you. Next month we'll explore the rest of the points listed above. Until then, think about your music business and have fun!
Wear Different Clothes!
Welcome to the second edition of Bill’s Bottom Line. This time I’d like to talk more about how to make more money doing what we like to do the most: performing. I hear it all the time from our customers and musicians I meet along the way, like at the Acoustic Jam every Thursday at Wynn's Creekside Inn (shameless plug): “There aren’t enough gigs anymore. How can I survive as a musician? I’m going to have to take a day job just to make ends meet.” Last month I talked to you about learning to play different styles of music to fill requests, etc. Let’s take it a step further. I have a suggestion to help you fill up your calendar with good paying gigs - WEAR DIFFERENT CLOTHES!
That's right, just wear different clothes to make more money and play more often. No, this is not a comment on the latest styles - well, let me explain. The gig scene for musicians has changed 180 degrees since I started playing way back in the old days. It used to be most venues would book the band 5, 6 or 7 nights a week for 2 or more weeks at a time. These rooms had an expected “genre” of music; Jazz, Rock, Top 40, etc. So, not only was it nice to set up your equipment only once or twice a month, you only needed to know one night of music (maybe 2 to break the monotony). Even the so called “Weekend” rooms would book you for 2 or more weeks at a time. Wow, how things have changed! In the last 20 years or so, the bookings have now become nothing but “one-nighters”. Not only that, but many club owners are none too happy if you book another club in the same town or area after developing a following at his place and possibly taking his patrons with you to the other place. So, now you either truck many miles to gigs and set up and tear down your equipment each night or just work less.
What’s a musician to do?
Wear different clothes! By that I mean, be a different act each night of the week. That’s right, you can even play the same place and the owner will have a different band each night!! Sound ridiculous? OK, here’s how I did it. On Tuesday nights, I played in a “country line dance” band, Wednesday night was Jazz night, Thursday nights became Blues Jam night, Friday was R&B and funk night, Saturday was classic rock or I played wedding receptions and corporate parties and Sunday, well, I played in church. Most of the musicians in each band were the same players; we just wore different clothes and called the band a different name each night. We never had to travel long distances and we never saturated the area with bookings. Sometimes we could play the same venue or one just around the corner; that’s right, the same players, but under a different band name, with a different following and playing a different style of music. I could still be working 6 or more gigs a week if I desired, (and if I were younger!) never leaving the Bucks-Mont area and YOU can do it too!
"OK, how do I do it?"
Here’s how it works. First, do your homework. Find all the places in your area that support live music and categorize each by style of music, appropriate size for your band, etc. Now that you have a "hit" list of possible venues, develop a saleable product. For example, let’s say “Band A” is a Classic Rock band. Call yourselves an appropriate name, wear the right style of clothing for the promo pictures, don’t forget a web site, business cards and a demo CD, learn a rockin’ song list and market yourselves to clubs and other venues that feature that style of music. If you are lucky, you can book a night or two a week with this format. Now “Band B” might be a Country band. Follow the same steps; get your promo pack together, wear some boots and a western shirt for the picture, think of an appropriate name for the act, learn some country tunes and then market your product to country venues. Yes, it could be the same players, but the BAND is totally different. Now you have two or three nights a week booked. OK, let’s do it again! “Band C” could be an Acoustic thing or a Funk or Hip-hop or… you get the picture. The secret is to maintain “uniqueness” in each performing act. You can do it! Stay true to the “expected” song list of each genre, and most of all, remember what clothes to wear each night!
Your comments are welcome.
Open Your Mind, Diversify, Listen And Learn
(And Make Money!!)
Thanks for checking out the “Bottom Line”. I'd like to use this page to offer suggestions based on my personal experience to increase your "bottom line" in the music business. Often when interviewing a student I will ask "what styles of music interest you?" Often I will get an answer like "I only listen to _____ (fill in style or band), everything else is stupid". I have even worked with a few professional musicians who felt it was beneath them musically to play rock, for instance, instead of classical or jazz. I'd like to share a short true story.
After I had taken a few lessons on guitar and was feeling pretty good about my abilities, I took the next natural step which was to get together with some friends and form a BAND! After about two rehearsals, we were ready (so we thought) for our first gig, a back-yard party at a neighbor's house. They even offered to pay us $5.00 each, a huge sum to a 12-year old in 1964 ($2.00 of regular nearly filled your gas tank!). Well, to make a long story short, we sucked! Performing in public, even for people you know, is exponentially more difficult than playing in the garage. Oh, we played our tunes well enough, considering our short time together as a band, and we even drew some applause from a few generous partyers But then it started to get ugly, as the ten or fifteen songs we had learned soon ran out and we were fumbling for another song we might be able to pull off, as the crowd became more and more restless. They were yelling song titles to us and asking for music we never thought to learn because in our opinion, it was "old" or "square". We gave up and explained that we were all new to this (performing) and we pretty much had played everything we knew. Then they even offered more money if we could play some requests.
Mmm, MORE money??
I learned that night - the moment you are "hired" to play, you are no longer playing to please yourself. Playing an instrument well is only a small part of being a performer. I realized that I could have fun playing music with my friends and make money too, and if I could only fill some simple requests, I could make even more money! Another word for "performer" might be "entertainer". People who are "entertained" are willing to pay for that experience. All of us start out playing the style of music WE like; we try to cover material from composers, bands and artists WE like because that fuels our passion to play. Then when it comes time to do a paying gig, we find out that not everyone in the audience likes the music WE like and may start requesting tunes WE hate.
Even top-notch touring performers you know fill requests. At every concert they will always play their hits; these are their most requested songs because they are the tunes that define that band or artist. If you went to a concert and the band didn't play their monster hit, you would be disappointed and might tell your friends the concert was bad. Pleasing your audience is most important if you want to make more money making music.
At some point in your musical development YOU will feel confident enough to want to show off your talents by performing (even if it’s just for your cat!). Some day you will be in that situation when your audience will be yelling for ( that is, requesting) “their” favorite song. “What do you mean you don’t know ____? It’s the greatest song ever written!” Anyone who has ever performed has had to endure a listener’s disappointment (even rage) over the fact you couldn’t fill their request. No one (except perhaps my buddy Joe Triglia) knows every song ever written and you can't please everyone, but you may be able to please your listener by offering to play another song by the same artist or at least in the same genre. Open your mind and ears and plan ahead - that is, listen to and learn to play many songs in many styles of music. Then you can fill almost any request. You will be rewarded, not just financially, but also in spirit. You can make someone's day by playing their favorite song. Songs, for some people, are attached to special memories and a certain song can be a powerful thing for them. Making someone happy is always good Karma.
Keep a list of requests you were not able to fill and are likely to come up again. Write a chart or at least a sketch of the song and keep it in a book. Oh yeah, bring that book to every gig! When the request comes up the next time, you'll be a little more prepared. Don't worry if you are not 100% together on the tune. People have a much lower expectation when you are doing a song "off the cuff" as opposed to something in your regular show. Sometimes, they'll be more than happy to help you by singing along (out of tune) with you. But, you will have gained a fan and that's good Karma for you.
You may say, “I’ll never perform in public, why should I listen to or learn any of that crap anyway? Or maybe, “I play my own songs in my own style!” Or "I'm only playing to please myself". I suggest you should also listen to and learn music outside of your experience because all styles of music that have an audience are legitimate and therefore have something to offer. Any NEW style of music is a spin-off of another style or maybe a “fusion” of styles. You might be developing the next NEW thing, but “your style” is still based on your past influences. You are what you have heard, so to speak. So, even if a certain song's style is not your “thing”, study the chord structure, the lyrics, the melody, the arrangement, the production, the performance and ask yourself, “why is this tune a hit?” and “what can I take from it to incorporate in my own playing or writing?” I must admit, sometimes the answer may be nothing. But you’ll never know unless you try, and more times than not you will gain some useful knowledge; a new chord progression, strumming pattern, cool bass line or melodic idea. All popular music has creatively recycled elements from past hits.
"The Bottom Line" is here to help all musicians increase their bottom line, both musically and financially. If you have a suggestion for a future article or have comments on this one, please contact me at bill.sharrow@FretzMusicCenter.com.