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Is your band entertaining?

May 21, 2017

A nod to the Goat [aka Chris K] for this one…

It just doesn’t matter if you play originals, covers, rock, country, jazz or polka.  It doesn’t matter if you’re a soloist, a quartet, or have so many members that you spill off stage.  And it doesn’t matter if you play out once a month or quarter, or 300 times a year.  What matters, if you’re going to play out live, is that you are entertaining on some very definitive level.

Are you a Performer?

Notice, the question is not “are you a musician?”  There are tons of musicians scattered all over town, with various degrees of competency.  And even though the ratio of bands to venues is something like 1000 : 1, most bands can get booked somehow, somewhere in our great state – which is why it’s so important to know how to perform.

A performer knows how to do one or more of the following:

  • Make a connection with the audience
  • Conjure energy and transfer that energy to bandmates
  • Develop choreography (we’re not talking jazz hands here, unless that works for you…)
  • Understands the audio/visual connection
  • Values wardrobe, props, scenery, lighting, and the occasional pyro-techniques
  • Creates meaningful social media efforts
  • Works on constant and never-ending improvements to the “show”

The Connection

Shown here, Billie Joe Armstrong of Green Day having a fan play along to one of his songs.

Perhaps most important in the entire arsenal – can you make a connection with your audience?  Do you convey passion, raw energy, charisma, sex appeal…or at least a good sense of humor?  Can you make an audience feel something?  Music alone can stir up emotions, but can you as the conduit take it to the next level?

If this sounds daunting, remember that you have your own unique capabilities, quirks, and image.  It doesn’t need to be a carbon copy of someone else and it will be far more effective when it is genuine for who you are as a person.  But when you enter the stage, you are sharing yourself with the audience, so make the connection as strong as possible.

                                          Conveying the emotion – Conchord-style…

Energies Matter

You probably perform most often as a group.  The great thing about this is that you now have multiple characters on stage (if they play their roles) to make things even more interesting for the audience.  Yes, the front-person has a lot of responsibilities.  But every other person that agreed to play live should also be agreeing to perform.  Stir that pot!

                                       Ty Dolla Sign and Duo Rae Sremmurd riling up the crowd.

Energy is infectious and it starts on stage.  A crowd will respond if the energy is real, and that’s when you have a chance to create a genuine upward spiral.  But a band needs to bring that all-on effort, regardless of whether the room is packed or lean.  That’s why empty rooms can be a good thing – a chance to rehearse energy-building.

Your Life is a Dance

Choreography is actually a pretty broad subject.  Every movement you create on stage can contribute to the ultimate performance.  Guitar necks in a chorus line or in sync with the kick drum, drummers twirling the sticks and pointing at the audience, clapping, snapping, exaggerated sweeps on the keyboards, or maybe you are the near-motionless bass player, with one leg up on the wall.  That could work.

It might take a little work, but well-worth the effort…

The fact is, you are a choreographer with every human encounter and those efforts just need to be amplified on stage.  The farther away your audience, the more important this becomes.  Play to the back of the room.  A common secret to cover the whole room is to find someone at the very back, looking over all of the other heads, and show them your stuff.  Try it…people up front will still think you are looking at them.

 

 

We Live in a Multi-Media World

Blame it on the ADD.  But humans are wired to incorporate audio and visual senses constantly.  Music is a form of art and supports other forms of art exceptionally well.  While the first half of your “show” is sound, don’t forget that the second half is moving pictures.  And people actually hear with their eyes.

We’ll talk more about this and the rest of the “show” in the next installment.

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The Arts Track for Loveland Startup Week…

March 31, 2017

If you’re willing to make the drive, Loveland Startup Week has now added an Art Track with several free sessions related to performing artists.  On April 7th, the Rialto Theater will be hosting a session called “Inside the Mind of a Venue Manager.”  Yes, this sounds like scary stuff, but it’s necessary insight for any performing artist.  It also doubles as a great music networking event.

This particular session takes place at the Devereaux Room at the Rialto (Friday, April 7th; 10am till noon) and will be a panel format, moderated by Rialto Theater Manager Bryan Zellmer.  It will feature four, influential panelists:

  • Hannah Ackerman, Associate Concert Director with Swallow Hill in Denver
  • Mari Hein Beegle, Programming Coordinator with Union Colony Civic Center in Greeley
  • Dani Grant, General Manager with Mishawaka Amphitheatre in Bellvue
  • Jack Rogers, Executive Director with the Lincoln Center in Fort Collins

It’s a great opportunity to meet these venue managers and get a sense of their needs, and how they think about your needs when it comes to scheduling and marketing your shows.  They will most likely talk about the Do’s and Don’ts of booking efforts and how to present yourself to the powers that be.  Plus, it’s an intimate enough format so that you can meet these decision-makers in person, find out their likes and dislikes, maybe get a private cell#, etc. – networking and education are always great things for any musician…make the drive!

 

                                                            The Rialto Theater in Loveland

Local songwriter, Katey Laurel with an all-or-nothing Daydream…

February 28, 2017
Katey, shown here at the Hard Rock Cafe.

Katey, shown here at the Hard Rock Cafe.

Few local artists have had as much success with KickStarter as Colorado’s singer/songwriter Katey Laurel.  She’s not afraid to take the bull by the horns (KickStarter is an all-or-nothing fundraiser proposition) and put all of her energy into it, and it has paid off for her before.  This time, Katey’s project is a folk acoustic CD and video exploring the theme of relationships.  The countdown ends on March 13th and she has put together a pretty impressive list of rewards for her supporters.

The 6 song CD is being recorded in Spitfire Studio in Los Angeles, to be completed in the spring and most likely released in September, 2017.  With any good KickStarter campaign, Katey is very transparent about why she is raising these funds, which mostly cover her personal transportation, artwork, mastering, pressing and paying session musicians –  some local folks featured on her tracks include Dave Preston (Dearling, Freddie Jones Band) and Mike Morter (Churchill).   Production is being covered through funding outside of this pre-order campaign.

This campaign is also a way for Katey to demonstrate a new turn as an artist.  The songs allude to some of her relationships and how they have changed over time…even relationships within the the music industry.  In her words:

It’s more acoustic folk than anything I’ve put out since my very first home recordings over a decade ago.  It’s raw and honest.  I have a feeling it’s only the beginning of a very new artistic season in my life.

For rewards, Katey is of course offering CDs, social shout-outs and other embellishments.  But a new offer for the higher-end patrons is a custom hollow-body (“Stella”) designer guitar; more sentimental than play-able, as it took its toll in a low humidity climate.  But sentimentality is the thing when it comes to supporting artists.  It’ll make a fine wall decoration for some lucky and generous soul…

laurel-guitar

 

Learn more about Katey’s new KickStart project here.

The New Year’s Phenomenon

January 22, 2017

At the end of year, you may have noticed that Craig’s List turns into a hotbed of musician postings: old people looking for new projects, young people looking for “working” bands, neophytes demonstrating first attempts at networking with poorly worded ads.  Plus lots of ego, enthusiasm, ADD, and cynicism clearly worn out on the sleeve.  But the common denominator is that everyone is searching for something new.

Definition of a treadmill: a device having an endless belt on which an individual walks or runs in place.

Definition of a treadmill: a device having an endless belt on which an individual walks or runs in place.

In some ways, this is similar to the craze every weight loss and fitness center experiences; lots of people coming out of their caves, mid-winter, to try to shed some pounds.  In January, they sign contracts in droves, packing the treadmills, and then dissipate by the end of February.  So too with many musicians…and here are some of the main reasons behind the spike in activity:

Our Winter of Discontent

In Colorado, the dark, snowy months mean retreat to warm houses.  Social activity is generally limited to the “social networking sites” and people forget they are living in bubbles.  The term for this in the mental health world is “Isolating,” and it’s not at all healthy.  This is the time when people start talking to themselves more and more, listening to others less and less, creating self-delusion and convincing themselves that the grass is greener somewhere else.

If a person feels powerless with their role in the band, they might amplify that victim mentality without a proper sounding board.  If a person thinks they know better than anyone else, they might stay up all night replaying arguments, creating victory in a parallel universe, or at the very least, getting sleep deprivation that will surely cloud future judgement.

This is also a time of year when people switch jobs, have stressful obligations (also known as “Forced Family Fun”), and get seduced by the boob tube.  Add to that a lack of vitamin B and an extra contentious election year and you’ve got a recipe for disaster.

Magnetic Poles and the Strong and Weak Forces of Nature

A band is a clump of matter.  And all matter is basically maintained by gravity, electro-magnetic fields, and the strong and weak nuclear forces.  There could be other energies at work as well, but at this time that’s about as much as scientists can wrap their head’s around.  We are all subject to gravity, but take a look at the other influences…

Betchya remember this from grade school: like poles repel and opposites attract.  When you encounter a band mate that you’d love to run away from, or punch in the face, remember that you are probably looking in the mirror.  Every weakness you see in another human being is most likely a flaw you know exists in yourself.  Take that to the negotiating table when it’s time to talk turkey.

The strong and weak forces are harder to discern – even our best scientists can’t get a good handle on them.  But in band life, it’s good to remember that every member is a force of nature, with aspirations, dreams, goals, likes, dislikes, triggers, and personal agendas (we’ll talk about this more in a moment).  All of these forces are interacting and developing subtle bonds.  This is how new matter is created.

Now let’s go back to gravity – we know for certain that it takes a lot of energy to attain orbit.  The term for this is Escape Velocity, and every human being on the planet is trying to escape gravity’s pull, to reach their dreams (effortless effort out in space).  But another word to think of for gravity is reality.  Gravity pulls matter together and ultimately destroys it, creating black holes.  A band will need to work extra hard to beat this force.

Black Hole: 1) a region of space having a gravitational field so intense that no matter or radiation can escape; 2) a place where people or things, especially money, disappear without a trace.

Black Hole: 1) a region of space having a gravitational field so intense that no matter or radiation can escape; 2) a place where people or things, especially money, disappear without a trace.

Interdependency = Maturity

In Stephen Covey’s famous book The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, he describes the first three habits as efforts to bring a person from a state of childlike, victim mentality (dependence) to a more grownup mentality (independence).  But then the next three habits stress the amount of maturity needed to move from Independence to Inter-dependence.

If a band is nothing else, it is a product of Inter-dependence.  The whole is without question greater than the sum of its parts.  But people forget.

And that’s when they get on Craig’s List.  They might think it’s easier to find new projects than maturely talk it out with old band mates.  They might convince themselves that they won’t repeat the same old habits with these brand new strangers.  Yes, people forget.

 

DHAs, not to be confused with the DTs (delirium tremens), although some symptoms may appear similar…

DHAs, not to be confused with the DTs (delirium tremens), although some symptoms may appear similar…

DHAs

One last reason for discontentment comes in the form of Deadly Hidden Agendas (or DHAs).  Make no mistake – everybody’s got ‘em.  The truth is, every musician is a perfectionist in one way or another and everybody has a dream.  And so ultimately, everyone has an agenda.  This can be very, very bad for a band.  Or not.

Once recognized or acknowledged, a DHA is no longer hidden and can be talked about.  More often than not, you may find that your agenda could actually help the band better achieve orbit.  Or perhaps you’ll find that your agenda does not match the band as a whole and you’ll realize that you were not honest enough with yourself (and others) when you signed up for the project.  That’s on you.

 

So the take-aways are: 1) evaluate your discontentment, 2) don’t make decisions in a vacuum, 3) history does indeed repeat itself, 4) band mates are mirrors, 5) seek first to understand then to be understood,  6) be kind – because everyone is dealing with demons (or perfectionism) in one form or another, and 7) own up to your DHAs.  Good luck out there!

The Lessons of session musicians

December 31, 2016

In the cover band world, a group starts to transcend hobby status when sidemen enter the picture.  Sidemen, aka freelancers, aka “guns for hire” or session musicians are contracted on a temporary basis for their chops, and their ability to fill a hole quickly.  Of course, an original band can obtain the same benefits when this flexible mindset is embraced.  And all you need is money…

jazzsidemen

Jazz is known for some of the greatest (and famous) sidemen.

The session musician can sit in for a recording, stand in for a gig, and even join a tour.  Imagine what that could do for your original tunes.  Your needs and (again) your billfold are all that stand between you and quality musicians.

 

Making the best use of session musicians

You may have noticed that when you take the time to record your songs, it becomes faster for a new band member to learn his/her part.  That’s because they are now learning to “cover” a song.  A session musician will expedite that process ten-fold, because this is their bailiwick.   Record early and often (and copyright, of course).

Ask your session musician to dress the part when being compensated to perform on stage.  This goes with the territory of solid, live performers and you should receive little argument from a pro.

Back to recording – hiring a session musician for your initial recordings will not only add quality to these tracks but also set a high bar for future session musicians.

Check their references.  Any session musician worth their weight should have a reasonable list of projects to cite.  Verify those projects with a few quick calls or emails.  Particular to Denver, there once were many bassists roaming the front range, claiming to be the first string for Katrina and the Waves (of “Walking on Sunshine” fame), back when her band was called Mama’s Cookin’, back when they served in the military, before the internet, when it was a little harder to vet the BS.

Many session musicians are also multi-instrumentalists.  This will give you more flavors and may inspire you to add that violinist or xylophonist permanently.

Multi-instrumentalist: Richard Tyler Epperson

Multi-instrumentalist: Richard Tyler Epperson

 

Where to find the pros

Recording studios are a great place to start your search – the more professional the studio, the better.  If a studio owner can’t give you a good lead, they can probably at least connect you with pro bands that have a stable of decent performers.

Other networking includes: The Denver Musicians Association (local musicians’ union), Denver Performing Arts, and any professional music venue in town.  Anywhere that teaches music will also fit the bill: think Swallow Hill for your acoustic players.  Set your sights high.  And if you go on Craig’s List, you’d better remember that you’re rolling the dice…

 

Vet your sidemen carefully - ultimately, there's no one to blame but yourself. [Shown here, V. Putin on sax]

Vet your sidemen carefully – ultimately, there’s no one to blame but yourself. [Shown here, V. Putin on sax]

Some last words…

Your session musician should come with no baggage or drama of any form.  If you notice any sharp edges, blunt (or defective) instruments, lollygagging, dictator-esque language, chaffing, punctuality issues, or non-work-related behaviors, box them back up and send them on their way.  Zero time should be spent drawn into their likes, dislikes, political or religious leanings.

If hired properly, session musicians should provide quality, flexibility and reliability.  They’ll help you grow as a musician and maybe even lead to a few songs sold.  And isn’t that worth it?  It’s what the pros do…

A simple question for music venues…

November 2, 2016
Open the doors...where are the people?

Open the doors…where are the people?

 

“What’s your following?”  That’s right – what’s the following of your music venue?  Isn’t that a fair question?  Bands get hit with that one occasionally, and sometimes often.  But seriously, you opened this business, with the intention of providing music to the community.  So again, what’s your following?

 

 

“We count on the bands to bring their following”

That’s completely foolish.  Musicians aren’t marketing pros.  The average musician doesn’t possess an MBA – many good ones have no college degree whatsoever.  And ideally, any waking hours a musician has should be spent honing their craft, trying to create a jaw-dropping display of talent and/or entertainment value, not walking around with a sandwich board.

Do you realize how many hats the average band has to wear just to get off the ground?  Someone has to write the songs.  Someone has to learn the songs.  Someone has to learn the songs better and replace the people that weren’t playing them so well.  Someone has to record and copyright the music.  Someone has to handle social media, and graphic art, and alcoholism, mental illness, and marriage disputes.  Someone has to book the shows and someone has to follow up to make sure the show isn’t double or triple-booked.  Someone has to coordinate (or be) the “street team” and…that’s your venue’s marketing strategy?!?

thankbobby

Lastly (and many thanks to L.A. musician Dave Goldberg for this insight), if you are counting on bands to supply clientele, you will never have a consistent cash flow.  You will be dependent upon the bands to bring the customers every single night.  In the business world (and you are in the business world), that’s the equivalent of having to rebuild sales from scratch…every single day.  Good luck with that.

 

Is there possibly something wrong with your joint?

Have you reviewed your business in a while?  Maybe there are a couple very good reasons why you are not known as a music venue with a following…

  • Poor customer service tends to top the list in any business. Is the wait staff making your customers wait?  Does the owner bother to walk around to gauge quality control?  Or is the door guy basically in charge?
  • Is the quality of music in your venue inconsistent and/or just plain terrible? Maybe your brother-in-law shouldn’t have first crack as the “house band.”  It’s pretty simple: people have lots of choices these days and amateur music drives people away.  Who’s in charge of quality control there?
  • Does the sound system need an upgrade? Not having quality PA gear at a music venue is like not having a quality freezer in an ice cream shop.  And if you don’t even have a PA, and you promote yourself as a live music venue…are you serious?  Are you sure you are not just a bar?
  • Is the sound too loud for the room? If you really don’t know the answer to this question, you probably won’t own this “music venue” for very long…
  • Are the bands being treated badly?  Double booking?  Poor pay?  No pay?!?  Another little note from the business world: people don’t usually tell you when they’ve had a bad experience at your place…but they will tell LOTS of other people.  Don’t underestimate the power of word of mouth.
  • Are you killing your customers?  Read here to learn more, but bottom line – when your customers are dead…they don’t usually come back.
  • Are you a “Me too!” kind of venue? Is the owner so unimaginative that you haven’t tried to create something unique in the marketplace?  So, you sell drinks and have live music – maybe you could draw more people selling drinks and playing Bingo?
  • No advertising? This is one of the easiest things a venue can do.  Are you waiting around for bands to bring you their precious marketing flyers?  And how many shows have you gone to, based on seeing a flyer?  Real advertising is a little more complicated than that.

You may notice that the one common denominator here is Quality, or lack thereof.  A band needs to focus on the quality of their product if they expect to develop a following.  Likewise, a music venue will never develop a following if they are ignorant of quality.  We’ll take a closer look at music customer buying habits next…

samsungvrgig

Audiences have a lot of options these days… [Shown here, a Samsung virtual reality music concert]

COMBO songwriting contest winners announced…

October 12, 2016

combo-walnutroomThis is the 4th year that the Colorado Music Business Organization (COMBO) has held a songwriter’s competition.  Winners were recently announced and featured on a compilation CD that was distributed at the Durango Songwriter’s Expo, Omni Interlocken Hotel & Resort in Broomfield.  COMBO is also going to showcase many of these songwriters on October 29th (7PM) at the Walnut Room in Denver.

All songs are judged primarily on lyrics and melody – less emphasis on production and performance as they are seeking to recognize well-written tunes.  The songs are also submitted anonymously to a panel of judges to prevent bias.   The highest score belonged to Rod Tanaka and the late Johnny Brown for “I Lose My Breath.”

Other winners included:

● “Back Page” – by David Henning

● “Mine All The Way” – by George Whitesell

● “Carry On” – by Kenzie Culver

● “Serendipity” – by Donnie Schexnayder

● “Colorado” – by Rebecca Folsom

● “Whale Mountain” – by Gordon Lewis and Grace Easley

● “Welcome to the USA” – by Donnie Schexnayder

● “Going to Louziana” – by Ghostman: Joel Ashmore, Felix Abram, Guido Valeri, Steve Fitzgerald, Doug Moe 

Left-handed guitarist, Doug Moe of Ghostman.

Left-handed guitarist, Doug Moe of Ghostman, featured here with your Denver Original Music author.

kenzieculver

                   Kenzie Culver

● “One Day” – by Seina Soufiani & Dave Groover

●    “Love Again” – by Kenzie Culver

● “Simple Girl” – by Traci Lynn

● “Catch Me” – by Adrienne Osborn

● “Come Find Me” – by Travis Smith and Ross MacDonald

● “Had Enough” – Peter Majekodunmi (a.k.a Zidane Majek)

● “Killin’ You With Time” – by Chrystal DeCoster

● “The Man In The Movies” – by Rob Roper

 

Rob Roper

                         Rob Roper

 

Kudo’s to COMBO as the Durango Songwriter’s Expo is an excellent opportunity for local writers to grab some national attention.  Time to start working on next year’s submissions…