OK, here are the basics. Agents please read these as well.
Contact: Charlie Shafer, email@example.com
First, I’m slow to return emails. This is an all-volunteer gig, and we all have to work long hours at day jobs to pay the bills at home, and also to pay for this series. Just because you send me an email doesn’t mean I can get to it that day. You can send a follow-up email, but don’t overdo it.
Second: This is a fiddle-based program. It’s not just a concert series. Read the mission/workshop page to get an idea. If you’re a singer/songwriter, or a hot funk band, or some sort of bar band, don’t bother. You also need to be really good. Look at the list of who has played here under “Past Shows.” Are you that good? We’re happy to take a chance on young and relatively unknown bands. But are you really, really good? Usually the “unknowns” we book are simply unknown here. They’re usually well-known in different parts of the country or the world. If you’re really inexperienced, at least as far as rooms like ours, look below under the “newbie” section.
Third: If you play locally a lot, I’m afraid we’re not interested. You may be really good, but if people have seen you all over the state, it won’t work for us. This program is a ton of work, and each event (there are only 6-8 in a year) needs to showcase something special and unique.
Fourth: Experience. If all you’ve played are coffeehouses and such for 5-10 bucks, we’re a really big leap. If all you have is one cd/EP, and it’s not great, it’s hard for me to consider you a headliner, unless something really special is happening. It does, rarely, but rarely. For young artists, I’ll elaborate below after the basic rules are laid out.
Fifth, and final, (at least for experienced artists): I consider music a community-building art form. There’s a magic triangle, where fairies flit and unicorns prance, and it’s the relationship between the artist, a venue, and the audience. All three are equally important, and those that think they’re more important than the others, go pound sand. You need to show an ability to communicate (youtube videos are the best way, as flawed as they are. Many artists are only so-so on the little screen, but blow us away at a real show. But I get an idea of how you relate to an audience between tunes, and your general personality.
Venue rules (well, sort of… just stuff to get out of the way):
1: Hospitality. Yes, we’ll feed you, but restaurant pickings are slim. Good food, but slim choices. If you have special diet stuff, like vegan, there’s a way that can work, but it’s not easy. There are vegetarian options. Oh, and we’re not a snack bar. If you need nuts or some other little specialty item at the venue waiting for you, you’ll need to find somewhere else to go. Full dinner, local place, that’s it.
2: Hotels: We usually don’t do them, unless it’s very special, and then that comes out of the expense budget, which means a lower split for you. We have very generous splits as our expenses are low. Home stays are available, usually.
3: Sound: I have been making this room sound just fine for close to 20 years, so listen to me. Learn to not need monitors. I will tell you right now nothing kills sound quality like monitors. Our most experienced artists, Grammy-winning folks, are universal in their lack of need for monitors at all, or just a couple, turned very low. All they’re looking for is a little detail. Practice without them if necessary. If I think the monitor volume is compromising sound, I will turn them down. The best players in the country are the easiest to work with. Their response to every or any question is universally “whatever sounds good, no worries.” If you need monitors cranked loudly to rock out with, don’t bother coming.
Now, tips for newbies when contacting any venue. I wrote these after a series of especially annoying emails from young bands that hadn’t made a name for themselves yet, so they may seem harsh. But life is like that.
1: Don’t oversell yourself. One recent band’s website referred to themselves as “virtuosos.” Really? You can’t hold a candle to who has been here in the past, so be careful. The audience is really smart, they’ll see who is great and who is just adequate. The talent bar is set really, really high. It’s not the speed or skill level, it’s how you communicate and bond with an audience. It’s all about the vibe, be it the skills, the stories, or the atmosphere. All three is best.
2: Respect the venue and the volunteers: Do not ever email any venue, anywhere, with the opening “Yo dude”, or “Hey There.” You are not cool yet. You may not ever be cool enough to find out, if you can’t act professionally. Make sure you you have a well thought-out email introduction explaining yourself, what you do musically, and why you think you’d be a great fit. I get a number of emails from singer-songwriters looking for solo gigs saying they’d be a great fit, and all I can thin to say to them is “Why?” Do research, make sure the venue fits. The easiest way is to look at established bands that you sort-of emulate in terms of style, and see where they’re playing. That’s a good place to start, but then look at that venue’s upcoming or past dates and see if they take younger artists from time to time.
4: Indeed, act professional to everyone, especially the audience. Assume everyone is smarter than you, and has seen shows for years by all sorts of great people. Assume they’ve seen artists like you, but with more experience and better abilities. In the case of our venue’s audience, there are a lot of really good musicians and local Yale profs with phd’s in all sorts of fields. University professors. One regular has a Nobel Prize. Other venues, even those in the middle of nowhere are probably similar, with local doctors, accountants, business people. They all support the local venues and series, no matter where in the country they are. The venues can’t live without audiences and loyal supporters. Respect that fact. The great and experienced artists do, and that’s why they’re experienced and have had long careers and get invited back. We’ve even had a few high-profile artists hang out afterwards and help clean up, put chairs away, etc. Again, you’re building a community. The venue already has a community attached to it, so fit in.
5: You’re nothing. Well, that’s harsh, but right now, it’s pretty true. Mom loves you, and you have potential, but listen to everyone like they know more than you, because they probably do. I’m sure I’m speaking for just about every venue that’s successful in that my contact list on my little iPhone is filled with amazing artists with great careers underway. They’re a loyal group, and get the community thing. If I need an emergency show for some reason, they answer the call and help. If I need workshop leaders in far-off cities for the local youth symphony’s trip, they help. Consequently, use each gig as a learning experience, no matter how great or badly it went. Be super-polite, no matter what went right or wrong. Learn which type of gigs aren’t for you, and which are. If it’s a success, take what went well with you, and learn to recognize why it went well. Same thing if it didn’t go well. Disasters are the best teachers, so embrace the fact that a disaster offered an education that you would never get from just sitting in class at a conservatory.
6: Promotion is everyone’s problem. And I mean problem. No one knows what works anymore. Venues, record companies, big halls, small halls, artists, we’re all guessing. It changes everyday. There’s too much noise. For example, we used to get great local coverage for free. That’s changed. I get it, the paper needs to be profitable, and they need to sell that space, not give it a way. That’s why I don’t comp friends in to the venue. Friends don’t ask friends to work for free. There are also more venues out there than ever before, so the audience size is fractured, meaning smaller paydays for everyone. As a new artist, you have no real name to trade on yet. You may have a few loyal friends and family, but I bet if I just stuck your name on the website, all I’d get are my regulars. That’s ok, as long as you understand that and are willing to work on building an image. You need to build a a community, and show that you’re more committed to this than just looking for gigs. You need a story. Even top artists offer on-line lessons, for example. Are they getting rich off that? Of course not, it’s a way to engage with people around the world, so that when they do tour, there’s a loyal contingent out there. Some artists deal with causes, some with conceptual art. It doesn’t matter what, but you need to build a story, and stick it on Facebook and Instagram and Twitter and everything. Everything. it’ll build in time, but you have to help. You need to give the promoter/presenter something to work with. “We’re really cool and pretty good” doesn’t cut it. It’s just not enough.
7: Presentation is everything, online, when in front of an audience or me: Some of this is covered above, but have great promo photos, youtube links from shows. Have a sharp website. A website that consists of just a Facebook page or Soundcloud link isn’t good enough. Make sure your cd is good. A cd needs to reflect this, as well as videos. Audiences will check on all this before deciding to attend a show, so you need to show you’ve got it all. Make the videos three uninterrupted tunes, with patter in between, so the viewer can see how you relate to an audience. Sometimes it’s best to have a couple of five-tune EP’s, which you can sell for ten bucks a pice, rather than one long one which just doesn’t have enough variety.
In our case, I need to see that you can fill an hour and a half. Many first cd’s I get have a couple of really good ideas, but then get repetitive. Just because it’s fun to play for you doesn’t mean it’s fun for an audience. Even some great players don’t get return gigs because they just don’t offer enough variety, and get lost in self-indulgent jams during shows that start to get, well, dull. They say the greatest thing about Miles Davis was that he had a built-in “crap detector.” The audience is smart and experienced. Have different “voices” and “colors”. Change speeds, feature different instruments, octaves, paces, duos within the group, and singers really help. Even if someone isn’t a great singer, now all of a sudden there’s a third dimension, a story to tell.