Thursday, 23 February 2012

An open letter to venues from a Jazz musician

Why Music Venues Are Totally Lost: An Open Letter from a Professional Musician
By Chris R. at CD Baby

Jazz musician Dave Goldberg wrote a pointed and darkly humorous open letter to LA club owners that I thought was worth sharing. In it, he argues that it’s actually a counterproductive practice for venues to book bands who are willing to work for free. And when I say “counterproductive,” I mean it’s bad for the venue’s business.

To read the whole letter, click HERE. But below are a few of the highlights:

Just the other day I was told by someone who owned a wine bar that they really liked our music and would love for us to play at their place. She then told me the gig paid $75 for a trio. Now $75 used to be bad money per person, let alone $75 for the whole band. It had to be a joke, right? No, she was serious.But it didn’t end there. She then informed us we had to bring 25 people minimum. Didn’t even offer us extra money if we brought 25 people. I would have laughed other than it’s not the first time I’ve gotten this proposal from club owners. But are there musicians really doing this? Yes. They are so desperate to play, they will do anything.

But lets think about this for a second and turn this around a little bit.What if I told the wine bar owner that I have a great band and we are going to play at my house. I need someone to provide and pour wine while we play. I can’t pay much, just $75 and you must bring at least 25 people who are willing to pay a $10 cover charge at the door. Now wouldn’t they look at you like you are crazy?

“Why would I do that,” they would ask? Well, because it’s great exposure for you and your wine bar. The people there would see how well you pour wine and see how good your wine is. Then they would come out to your wine bar sometime. ”But I brought all the people myself, I already know them,” they would say. Well maybe you could make up some professional looking flyers, pass them out, and get people you don’t know to come on out. ”But you are only paying me $75, How can I afford to make up flyers?”

You see how absurd this sounds, but musicians do this all the time. If they didn’t, then the club owners wouldn’t even think of asking us to do it. So this sounds like a great deal for the club owners, doesn’t it? They get a band and customers for that night, and have to pay very little if anything. But what they don’t realize is that this is NOT in their best interest. Running a restaurant, a club, a bar, is really hard. There is a lot at stake for the owner. You are trying to get loyal customers that will return because you are offering them something special. If you want great food, you hire a great chef. If you want great d├ęcor,you hire a great interior decorator. You expect these professionals to do their best at what you are hiring them to do. It needs to be the same with the band.You hire a great band and should expect great music.That should be the end of your expectations for the musicians. The music is another product for the venue to offer, no different from food or beverages.

When a venue opens it’s doors, it has to market itself. The club owner can’t expect people to just walk in the door. This has to be handled in aprofessional way. Do you really want to leave something so important up to a musician?

This is where the club owner needs to take over. It is their success or their failure on the line, not the musician.The musician can just move on to another venue. I’ve played places where for whatever reason only a few people have walked in the door on a Saturday night. The club owner got mad at me, asking where are the people? I turned it around on him asking the same thing? Where are all the people? It’s Saturday night and your venue is empty. Doesn’t that concern you? What are you going to do about it? Usually their answer is to find another band with a larger following. This means the professional bands get run out of the joint in favor of whoever can bring in the most people.

He then makes the point that professional bands will have a somewhat harder time playing the “friend and family” card because, well… they’re pros! They play every night.

But here’s where the club owner doesn’t get it. The crowd is following the band, not the venue. The next night you will have to start all over again. And the people that were starting to follow your venue are now turned off because you just made them listen to a bad band. The goal should be to build a fan base of the venue. To get people that will trust that you will have good music in there every night. Instead, you’ve soiled your reputation for a quick fix.

If you asked a club owner, ”who is your target demographic?” I doubt they would answer ”the band’s friends and family.” But yet clubs operate likeit is.

… would you expect the chef’s friends and family to eat at your restaurant every night? How about the dishwasher, the waitresses, the hostess? Or how about the club owner’s friends and family? You see,when you start turning this argument around, it becomes silly.

So what does Dave suggest? Start fighting back, with calm, reasoned arguments. He explains:

I’ve started arguing with club owners about this. It happened after I played a great night of music in LA. We were playing for a % of the bar. There were about 50 people there in this small venue, so it was a good turnout. At the end of the night, I go to get paid, and hope to book another gig. The club owner was angry.

“Where are your people?” he asked. ”All these people, I brought in. We had a speed dating event and they are all left over from that.”

I pointed out they all stayed and listened to the music for 2 hours after their event ended. That was 2 more hours of bar sales, because without us, you have an empty room with nothing going on. He just couldn’t get over the fact that we didn’t walk in with our own entourage of fans. Wasn’t happy that we kept a full room spending money. Right when we were talking, a group of people interrupted us and said ”you guys sound great, when is the next time you’re playing here again?” The club owner, said ”they aren’t, they didn’t bring anyone.”

I went home that night bummed out and sent him an email. Telling him most of what you are reading here and how his business model and thinking is flawed. After a lot of swearing back and forth, because I’m guessing that musicians never talk to him as a business equal, he eventually admitted that what I was saying made sense. BUT, that’s not how LA clubs and restaurants work. And he has bands answering his craigslist ads willing to do whatever it takes to get the gig. It’s been a couple of years now since that conversation. I called his bar, and the number is disconnected.

So what do you think? Can this battle be won by reasoning with one venue at a time? Or have the economics of the live music world shifted forever beyond our influence? We’d love to hear about your experiences as a live musician. Please feel free to comment in the section below.

Chris R. at CD Baby

[editor's note: Most talent-buyers, venue owners, show promoters, and club bookers do not resemble the sleazy pay-to-play club booker pictured above. Most of the time it's best to view them as partners or allies in your event's success. Treat these industry professionals with courtesy and respect. If they give you cause for argument-- stay calm, state your points, and be ready to walk away! You can choose to never use a certain bridge again. It doesn't have to burned down entirely.]

Wednesday, 7 December 2011

This year and what I've been up to

Greetings my lovely little earthlings, So you've stumbled upon my blog. How clever of you....

So you want to know what I've been up to this year? we'll still tweaking my solo album set for release in 2012 and in between that I ended up co-writing another album with Italian guitarist Andrea Terrano @ Iguana Studios in Brixton Stay tuned for more ;)

At the beginning of the year the crazily talented Eska asked me to be involved in the recording of the soundtrack for "A Life in a day" which is a must see, really beautiful

Im also delighted to be involved in Eska and The GVE Choir's performances this December, fantastic music and for a good cause. Visit here for more.

Played some shows in my hometown of Cork at the Jazz Festival which went down a storm. Hung out with some old friends and made some nice new ones.

Some more exciting projects in the pipeline which are under wraps for now but stay tuned.



Are jealousy and sour grapes killing your career?

Sometimes we can get wrapped up in feelings of career envy. looking at our musical peers, witnessing their success and feeling jealousy and wondering why we aren't experiencing the same fruits of our labour. We miss the point when we do this. We also risk losing that pure sense of joy from simply being in the moment and making music. The buzz from getting the emotions from inside of us, out and into a tangible form.

Like a portal into the soul, music has the unique ability to draw out feelings like loneliness, despair, ecstasy and love and allow us to transform them into something beautiful, something that we can share with a stranger in an instant.

Healthy competition is good. If there were no competition there would also be no inspiration. We'd get lazy, all our ideas would seem genius and so there would be no incentive to hone our skills and develop as artist's.

But we need to put it all into perspective and realise that art should not be a competition and although the world is full of critic's no one truly has the right to say what is or what is not art.

So keep making art with a pure heart and check out this article from cd baby.

Interesting article from cd baby....

Are Jealousy & Sour Grapes Killing Your Music Career?
By Chris R. at CD Baby
The German word “Schadenfreude”: pleasure derived from the misfortunes of others.

Ever felt that? Go on, admit it! Some unworthy media darlings who’ve been monopolizing the buzz finally get a bad review. (—Maniacal laugh!—). The big local band who told you NO every time you asked to open for them is back playing Tuesday night gigs at the ACME Dive. (—Maniacal laugh!—) There can be pleasure in other folks’ failures. But guard against it!

Jealousy can kill a career and (worse still) your creative spirit
Competitiveness is good– if it is fueled by a sense of inspiration. Like, that whole Pet Sounds/Revolver/Smile/Sgt. Pepper thing that the Beatles and the Beach Boys had going on in the 60′s: “Wow! Mind-blowing album! I can top that!”

But competitiveness can quickly turn to jealousy if you don’t feel like your music is receiving the attention and accolades it deserves. Jealousy is bad for the soul; it’s wasted energy that you could’ve used to create something new in this world.

Yes, of course we’re all geniuses, but here are a few things to keep in perspective:

1. Recognition is not an official certificate of quality
There’s no universally recognized endorsement, no stamp-of-approval from the heavens waiting to smash down upon your lucky forehead.

I used to court the favor of a certain regional band who seemed to have cornered the market on positive local press. I wanted to be in “the in crowd.” I seemed to have been accepted into various outer-circles of said tribe, but never allowed into the inner sanctum where surely mystical rites and rituals must have been held to guarantee their local standing.

This drove me nuts. I lost confidence. I got bitter. And then some wise sage very close to me said “Why do you want their approval? You don’t even like their music.” OMG, I thought to myself. She’s totally right! I’d gotten so caught up in envy that I’d forgotten about the basics.

If you don’t respect the tastes of a certain critic, band, or booker, don’t lose any sleep over the feeling being mutual.

2. There’s no such thing as cool
I’m not sure if this tale is true or not (in the literal sense), but there’s a popular story where a journalist asks Barry Manilow if he ever feels sad about being seen as uncool. Manilow responds, “I’m crying all the way to the bank.”

It’s easy to get wrapped up in hype and hipster tangles. The “coolest” band in your town might not have much broader appeal. They might be “cool” because they’re friends with the right people. They might be truly unique and awesome, but have little long-term career potential because their sound is challenging. I mean, plenty of people disagree with me about one of my favorite songwriters who I think is brilliant. Not so, for them.

Tastes are tastes are tastes. Cool is all a matter of perspective, so don’t aim to be cool; aim to be yourself at your best (however you define that).

3. Fame can be fleeting
This is somewhat related to my first point, but just think of literature for a moment: plenty of best-selling authors have been utterly forgotten, whereas some of the most famous authors of all time never received a shred of recognition during their own lifetime.

How and how much you’re paid for your creative work while you’re alive is NOT a reflection of quality. The world is too fluid and complex to ascribe or discover value in such a way. So don’t fret about what other bands have achieved; achievement is not a finite resource. No one can monopolize or hoard magical success tokens. Give yourself more credit than that! If you think said band is less deserving, please review point #2 above.

Must you make music?
Rilke once advised a young poet to ask himself the question in the dark of the night: Must I write? Would I die without writing? If the answer was anything but YES, the young poet must stop immediately and try his hand at some other trade.

I won’t put it to you with such dire consequences, but what about this question: Would you be significantly less happy without making music? If you can be happy without it, sure… maybe apply your energies to something you’re more passionate about.

But if so, if you need music, then keep playing, keep writing, keep practicing, keep recording. As cheesy and cliche as it may sound (cliches, I’ve found, are widespread because they’re TRUE!), art is an act of self-discovery, a little way to tap into the source. If music brings you vitality, then it is its own reward.

The sex, drugs, and rock ‘n roll may or may not follow.

I’d love to hear your stories about dealing with musical competitiveness, envy, or jealousy. Feel free to comment below.

-Chris R. at CD Baby

P.S. If sex, drugs, and rock ‘n roll are your fantasy rewards, there’s a time machine in the CD Baby warehouse waiting to take you back to the 1980′s. It leaves on the hour.