Many local bands opt to hibernate during the winter months – understandable considering how challenging it can be to get music fans out in the snow and cold. Add traffic to the equation and the infinite menu of other entertainment options and you might almost want to go into sleep mode indefinitely. But don’t do it.
Incubation > Hibernation
Hibernation, by definition, implies spending time in an inactive or dormant state. Not a very constructive use of your time. At the very least, hibernation to you should imply “doing things indoors” (like playing indoor gigs, recording, rehearsing, re-inventing). The last thing you should be doing is sleeping.
Incubation, as an alternative, implies “maintaining something under favorable conditions” for development, improvement, and the inspiration to hit the pavement when springtime comes again. But don’t sit on a goose or albatross egg – that’ll only bring you down. Instead, sit on your creativity and passion, sit on your talents and skills, maybe dwell on your marketing plan, your personnel, or your next big move.
Here’s what you can do if you incubate:
A long winter…will the Broncos see their shadow?
The old sports-minded, stock show cowtown image of Denver may give you the impression that you should just go dormant in winter. And it’s true that if the Broncos make it to a Superbowl, it could put the kibosh on some of your plans (but probably not anytime in the near future). So make some goals, create a few to-do lists and delegate. Try to identify your biggest weaknesses and maybe turn them into your greatest strengths? For Colorado, spring is always in the air – get ready for the thaw and get busy!
Here’s a solid new year’s resolution for 2019: create a Performance Agreement every single time you play out. A performance agreement (PA) describes the logistics of your deal and the responsibilities of all parties involved. It’s a digital confirmation of your handshake with the venue owner or hiring authority so don’t skip this step, even if it seems like you are playing a “casual gig.”
Here’s what the PA will do:
The key concept here is clarity. When you take the time to spell everything out and make sure that both parties (the band and the venue) have a written agreement about a performance, you remove lots of gray areas – everyone knows what to expect. And meeting expectations is the main reason to create an agreement in the first place.
A written agreement is a contract
Sometimes it scares people to think they are entering a contract when they start putting things in writing. Suddenly, they may be held accountable for details they had never even thought about before. But guess what? Those details don’t “go away” just because you haven’t taken the time to articulate and document them.
Here are some of the most important details to consider:
Again, you might not want to think about this, but every time your band plays out in the public domain stuff can happen. A wobbly PA stand, an uneven drum riser, pyrotechnics gone terribly wrong, an unidentified and slippery substance on the floor, cable tripping hazards, indecent exposure(?), backing in to unload your gear and taking out a street lamp, leaving gear on stage after you’ve departed the venue, falling off a chair while belting out Free Fallin’ – you probably have plenty of your own stories so you get the idea…
Some liability may already be covered by stuff like auto, theft and health insurance. But some would best be addressed by Event or General Liability Insurance. It might be covered by the people who own the premises, but this is why it’s best to clarify the details in an agreement. We’ll talk more about Event Insurance in another article.
Paying all the pipers
It’s nice to know how much you are going to get paid, when and in what format. Sure, Blockchain and Bitcoin will eventually change the game…but for now, don’t you want a little reassurance about these matters? Your bandmates may too.
Another handy thing about a performance agreement is that you can share it easily with all of your players to temper expectations. Do a little math, make a little love and hopefully pay everyone fairly. And hopefully too, you fully understand the concept of Independent Contractors and have those agreements in place as well.
As a side topic, many small, independent bands aren’t offered guaranteed pay for their performance. But there are still calculations to be made and negotiated, and often the gray areas become even more nuanced. Why not put the details in writing so everyone understands?
The bottom line
Have you ever been double-booked or underpaid? That well-worn adage, “Fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me” comes to mind. Sure, you can just wing it with venue owners, bandmates and sidemen/women. Blow off a written agreement.
But when you present your client(s) with a proper, well-communicated performance agreement, you are also presenting a sense of reliability and professionalism. Not only will they know that you are going to show up, they’ll know what time to expect you and what you expect in compensation. You’ll all know what to do in the event of a tornado, rain…or hail. And they will probably even ask you back.
If you’ve read this far and you’d like a couple samples of a standard Performance Agreement, please email Marc at DenverOriginalMusic.com
We’re back for 2019…please stay tuned for more details on the 1Q DOM Recording Contest, but in the meantime we’ll be resuming some of our unsolicited band advice, and at a very appropriate moment in American history…
Whether you realize it or not, you are probably negotiating every single day of your life. Sometimes you are negotiating with family members, co-workers, and bosses and sometimes with bandmates, venue owners or agents…and sometimes with yourself. You’d better be nice!
And that’s the first principle of negotiation: it doesn’t cost anything to be polite. Remember that no matter what you want, there is no acceptable reason to treat others with disrespect, and the fact is, you will get further in your discussions when you know how to leave everyone’s dignity in tact.
“Please” and “thank you,” said authentically, are two of the most powerful words in the universe. The most powerful word is the name of the person you are speaking with, especially if you are asking them what they want.
Principle #2 is: take the focus off of yourself and try to discover what the other person needs. You’ll want to be genuine here as well, and take some notes. The greatest human need is the feeling that we’ve been heard and it’s pretty easy to do if you’re willing to listen.
So as a musician looking to book a room, have you ever tried to speak with the venue owner, in person, about her/his needs? What are their expectations? What don’t they want to see happening on their property? What are their basic rules and regulations? Try to get deep into their needs.
Know what you want (#3)
If you know what you want, it becomes that much easier to ask for it, right? And you will probably also know your minimal acceptable outcome. Maybe you will even have an optimal acceptable outcome to discuss. But if you have a vague idea of what you are trying to get, you may end up with just that.
Does that sound fuzzy? It should. If you don’t know what you want you will probably get something very vague and unsatisfying. For instance, if you don’t know your prevailing wage as a musician you won’t know when it’s time to say “no, I’m sorry but we won’t be playing your establishment.”
Know what they want (#4)
At this point, if you don’t know what they want you probably haven’t done a proper Needs Assessment (see #2 above). Hopefully you asked them appropriate questions and listened to their replies and now understand what they need. Let’s go back to the Venue Owner example. At a minimum, here’s what she/he may need:
In an ideal scenario, where everyone is truly coming from a point of respect and thoughtful concern for the common good, you will be able to appreciate each other’s needs and come to some reasonable conclusions.
Sometimes you will meet a negotiator that thinks they can run you over to get the single-minded thing they want. They may start at the extreme end of the negotiating spectrum (like offering food or “exposure” in lieu of pay). They may take drastic measures to get their way – they may even take hostages. Never negotiate with terrorists. Sometimes the best way to negotiate is to just walk away…
Are you ready? The Denver Original Music Recording Contest is back! Here’s your chance to win some free recording time in a quality, local studio. It’s easy to enter and once you are registered you will be eligible for all contests throughout 2019. But there are a few qualifiers:
Again, you only need to register once to be eligible for contests all next year and you will receive confirmation of your entry within 2-3 days. To register, please send an email to Marc @ DenverOriginalMusic.com with “Recording Contest” in the subject line. To qualify, you will also need to include:
*Please note that contact info is never shared. And if you haven’t already, please go “like” the DOM on Facebook. Thanks for being a part of Denver Original Music!
Perhaps one of the most basic principles in the business world is the notion of being easy to do business with. Is it going to be a painless process, or will barriers surface the minute someone tries to interact with you? Some of this comes down to efficiency and some to psychology – is your band up to the challenge? Your success will certainly depend upon it.
First and foremost, can someone get a hold of you when they are most in need of your product (your music)? Can they easily preview a web site with sample recordings? Can they purchase your songs and download them without a hassle? Can they find out where you are playing next without having to push through 17 web links? Here are some ways to make sure you are accessible:
Rapid Response Time
Then, when they try to reach you, how soon are you able to reply? A venue trying to connect you with a performance date can’t keep the calendar open forever. When a fan wants that T-shirt…they probably want it while your band is still relevant. Response time is also important when you are trying to find new band members – if someone replies to your Craig’s List ad, you owe it to them to keep the dialog going. Flaky behavior usually means you are going to be playing in someone’s basement forever.
Can you adapt your band configuration and sound system to match the room? Many times, scaling back can be an opportunity to increase your pay (follow this link to give yourself a raise).
Occam’s Razor: the simplest solution tends to be the correct one. Are you trying to convolute things? When a talent buyer asks you if you are available for a date, don’t tell him/her that you are waiting on five flaky bandmates to confirm. They won’t want to know if the drummer is on vacation, the guitarist has strep throat or the bassist is trying to make parole. Just tell them “yes” and go out with the best configuration you can muster. Veteran local band leader, Chuck Hughes of the Hillbilly Hellcats used to book shows on tour and then figure out the lineup as he went along (sometimes you just have to fly in a drummer).
As a business, you are constantly developing your credibility. Are you going to show up for the gig? Are you going to pay off your bar tab at the end of the night? If you are playing a showcase, do you respectfully watch your time, pack your gear off stage and stick around to support the next act? Or are you the band that pulls out a 20 minute Jazz Odyssey when the soundman is indicating “one last song?” Reliability is more valuable than any other quality.
If your band is easy to do business with, your band is going to be asked back again and again. And each time you will have an opportunity for greater impact, better shows…and a chance to negotiate a better offer. Are you prepared to negotiate? Stay tuned…
One of the best ways to separate yourself from the competition, in any business, is to focus on a culture of quality. When your music is well-written, when the performance is jaw-droppingly good, when your audience feels like they can’t take their eyes off your live performance…those are all clear ways to stand out. Quality comes down to a handful of principles that should be pursued every day.
Content is King, or Queen
There is no substitute for quality music. When your sound is infectious enough that others may want to cover you or copy you, you’ll know you have arrived. And you may notice that there is already a lot of copycat behavior on the radio – one band so often sounds like another.
A song becomes that much stronger when the words and melodies compliment each other (also known as prosody). And when your music fans start memorizing the chorus and then take the time to memorize the rest of the words, or start quoting lyrics on social media, yes, you will have arrived.
If the music or words (or both) then start to trigger emotional responses, your content is capable of reaching people in a powerful new way. You’ve possibly heard the phrase “affecting change on a molecular level?” That’s what you are approaching when you can create an emotional reaction from a song.
Trust your instincts
There is more than one way to write a song just as there is more than one way to find meaning in life. Every songwriter has the ability to channel their own unique style, combined with their own unique experiences, and their own unique expression. Do what you do best and it will probably be a quality effort.
If you’re not true to yourself, like the copycats mentioned above, it will probably become apparent to the listener immediately. Your real fans can be your best critics. So don’t censor yourself or force yourself to be like some other “success” out there. Trust that you have everything you need to succeed, and then let it out.
Being selective means not settling. Part of selectivity is making some clear choices, and being willing to forgo an easy option for a more quality effort. And as with so much in life, choosing Quality over Quantity usually creates the most impact. As a musician, these choices might be reflected in:
The upward spiral
On-going education and constant improvement are reflected in the model of an upward spiral. If we are making progress, we will keep expanding our knowledge and skills and return to the same concepts on higher and higher levels. And the view will start to become spectacular.
Coming back to the same concepts on a higher plane may mean it’s time for a song re-write. It may mean stepping back and critiquing how you are engaging with your fans. Or maybe you start to realize that you aren’t pushing yourself as much as when you first picked up an instrument, and it’s time to take skills to the next level. Keep thinking constant and never-ending improvement – there’s always something that can be done better.
A word of caution: if you remember the game Chutes and Ladders, the objective is to avoid those pesky slides. The path of least resistance presents itself when you find yourself static, not writing new material, not practicing your instrument, and basically just giving up to the force of gravity. It may seem like a fun, carefree ride down, but eventually you will find yourself heading into a downward spiral. Remember to keep climbing and don’t ever be complacent about quality.
The purpose of a business plan is to set some goals, primarily like figuring out how (and if) you should go to market and how to make it financially do-able. If it’s done well, a good business plan can also help motivate and improve the whole band.
Who Are You?
The first step in your plan is to define the structure of your business, A sole proprietorship is the simplest business structure for most musicians starting out. You can always upgrade to partners, LLCs, corporations, etc. but simple is better when bands have such short shelf lives. As an individual, you really don’t even have to declare yourself as a formal business entity. You can just use your social security number when a venue passes you a W9.
But a better step is to create a dba (“doing business as” aka tradename) and create a business name for yourself. The state of Colorado will be happy you did that, venues will be happier, as well as most bandleaders because it will indicate that you do have a business intent (and don’t plan on being some other band’s employee). Smart band leaders will make sure this is clear up front by having you sign an Independent Contractor agreement along with that W9. It currently costs $20 to reserve a tradename and $5 per year thereafter to renew it.
If you want to take it a step further, you could get an EIN (Employer Identification Number). This comes from the federal government and does not cost anything if you apply with form SS-4 online. The benefit of an EIN is that you won’t have your social security number floating around with various entities. You use the EIN on the W9 instead of your SSN.
Back to the dba. If you’re ready, you might try “doing business as” a band name. But if you think about it, band names often change. And you might want to be a sideman for somebody else someday. Think about creating a general company name that could be an umbrella for lots of different activities. For instance, apart from being a musician, you might also generate income providing sound for other musicians or teaching music lessons or even selling music gear. Why not keep your options open?
How will you go to market?
This concept is pretty critical. It’s an evaluation of your viability and how you will weather the competition. Is there a demand for your type of music? Have you reached the skill level to charge a fair market wage? And will you know how to ask for that fair market wage? What other barriers will you face?
If you’re planning on being a paid performer, how often are you going to play out? Where is this going to occur? Why will people come? How will you market yourself? When will you know that you have obtained your goals? If you take the time, this series of question marks will help you flesh out your place in the universe and your ultimate direction. But there’s more…
Are you unique?
In marketing, there’s a core concept know as your Unique Selling Proposition (or USP). This is what separates you from all of the other run of the mill, “me too,” unexciting musicians in the world. After all, practically everyone is in a band these days. What’s so special about you? Take the time to figure out what separates you from the competition, then amplify it and you’ll be onto a real plan. Follow this link for some more thoughts on a USP. And here are a few examples:
There are plenty of other ways to separate yourself from the competition. One of the most important is when you focus on a culture of quality. We’ll talk a little more about that next…
It’s always tempting to call music “just another hobby.” You’re doing something you love, you’re probably doing it mostly on the weekends, you may have a day job that shares no resemblance to your musical activities, money seems scare and people are often trying to serve you food and drinks in lieu of pay – you get the picture. Why not call it a hobby and just call it good, right?
Original Music – Covers of the Future
But you are an innovator if you are actually writing new songs. You’re bringing something new into the world. Don’t stop! You are actually much, much closer to long-term success as a musician than any cover band that’s walked the planet.
Don’t forget that you may be writing the covers of the future. And this has a real value.
Then, when you start recording and perfecting your craft, you are rising several notches above the fray. And there will come a time when you will start to play out live and attempt to build an audience and gain some traction…or not. There will be management decisions to make, legal nuances with the songwriting rights and recording rights and digital distribution rights, there will be lots and lots of branding options, as well as tour management, possibly merchandising opportunities, and, oh yeah, trying to keep the band together.
You Better Mean Business
That’s a huge list of duties. In fact, it’s a lot of work! There are going to be deadlines and lots of selling yourself, figuring out a budget, possibly securing some financing, and hopefully you’ll get to a point when you need to meet payroll. Like it or not, those are all business terms. You might want to start thinking like a business owner – even if you wish you were just a “hobby band.”
Of course, there are all kinds of business structures: sole proprietors, partnerships, limited liability companies, corporations (S Corps and C Corps) and even nonprofits. So there are lots of ways to approach that business. Are you onboard? Do you intend to be open for business? Congratulations! The first step is developing a plan, and that’s what we’ll cover next…
Well, what do you know? The Denver Original Music Initiative returns to your internet mailbox, just in time for the holidays. Did you miss it? Just like the songwriting process itself, sometimes a period of incubation is necessary to recharge and churn the cream to the top. But here’s a reminder of the mission and what’s to come…
The Denver Original Music Initiative is a platform for supporting local artists. To be successful, most musicians need to be able to: write, record, manage a band, figure out their brand, draw a following, manage tours, conduct group therapy sessions, engage their fans, promote shows, and many more logistical nightmares. That’s a very tall order. Far too many hats to be worn…and too many choices.
The bottom line is, nearly all bands desperately need organizational and promotional support but hardly any can afford it.
The DOM’s purpose is to help bands: understand entrepreneurship, learn from other bands, help navigate the world of changing music distribution, and provide some free opportunities for musicians along the way. Free is always good.
If you are a local musician wanting to contribute to this mission, send us a line (marc@DenverOriginalMusic.com) and give your two cents. We welcome unsolicited band and venue advice from every corner of the Denver Metro area. But also, please put some of these ideas into motion and give us feedback on what’s working…and what’s not. Denver needs your original music!
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:
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.
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!
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.
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.
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:
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!
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…
Learn more about Katey’s new KickStart project here.