The most-asked question I get is “How do you pick the musicians who play here?” The second most (more unfortunately) is “I have a friend who would love to play here. How does he get in touch with you?” And, the million-dollar question, “Do you think they’ll make it to the big time?”
The answer to the second is pretty easy, and if I were being truthful, it would probably be, “Have him or her email me and I’ll delete it.” But, the polite response is, “Have him or her email me an electronic press kit, a link to at least 20 recorded tunes (physical cd’s aren’t necessary anymore), and a list of all the places you’ve played. If you’re relatively new, where did you study and who have you played with so I can talk to them.” Plus, I need some video. I need to see how you perform. Gotta have some street cred, and lacking that, it’s tough.
The answer to the second is a blend of:
1: Artist Referrals, especially from long-time friends who travel the globe. That’s where some real treasures come from.
2: Agent recommendations
3: General buzz in talking with other presenters or musicians. It’s sort of a “who comes up in conversation a lot” sort of thing.
4: Youtube trolling. Usually I do this after I’ve heard someone mentioned or recommended. Blind trolling can be a huge waste of time.
What are the qualities that I need to see or hear?
1: You have to be able to really play. The bar is set really high. I’ll bend on skills if there’s something really distinctive culturally about what an artist does. The time capsule, or culture capsule sort of thing.
2: Performance quality is key. Standing there and simply playing might work for some forms of music, or in some venues, but for this sort of music or audience. Personality is key, conversational skills are vital, and visually, you need to be interesting to watch. Show some soul, some joy at what you’re doing.
3: Are you a nice person? When we’re all volunteers, and you’re the only one getting paid, why would we want to waste time on a prima donna? That’s as much a statement as a question. No dumb hospitality riders, no attitude during soundcheck, no nothing but smiles and good times. Interestingly enough, the audience picks up on who the good guys are, and it matters.
So, everything is in place: great artists, great audience, great publicity. The artists have great cd’s, a great history and track record, everyone is easy to deal with, all systems are go.
With that in mind, what keeps some great artists from making it “big”? Why do some pretty lame musicians make it big? The answer is pretty simple, and unfortunate. Luck. Dumb, stupid luck. My dream is to have every musician who plays here grow to the point where we can’t afford them, or fit them in.
We’ve been lucky enough to be able to recommend some artists to much larger venues, and have had a few media people come through and scout some of our shows. Some went on (through nothing we did, to be sure) to some pretty prestigious tours or shows or appearances. And then… the plateau. It’s to be somewhat expected, as we’re not putting on pop shows. Even then, I can think of a number of artists who absolutely would sound great in some movie soundtracks, maybe some shows. Instead, producers pick the same old sound. In trying to be hip, they’re playing it safe, and everything sounds the same, even if it is new.
So, to all the movie or television guys out there (who will never read this, anyway) pick some of our guys, they’re unique, fresh, original, and freaking brilliant musicians. You’ll look like the free-thinking, creative genius you are.
I know, it’s niche music, but that’s how we survive. It can be weird stuff, sometimes. It can be highly regional. But it’s always really well played, and really entertaining. And affordable. We don’t use Pollstar numbers, or Youtube hits, or any common measurement. We just aim for brilliance, I guess, and hope for the best.