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January 2009 archive

2009: off to a giggin’ good start

This year (as I wrote about here) I am all about music and in particular, live gigs.

I have razzled up a few gigs already and have performed twice so far this year, which isn’t bad for January seeing as I only started organising the gigs in January itself.

The first gig (Tuesday 20th January 2009)

was at Ruby’s Lounge in Belgrave, (Victoria, Australia, The World, blah blah) which is just around the corner from where I live. I had a half hour spot from 8 – 8:30 and when I got there there was basically nobody in the band room at all. By the time I started there was about 10 people watching, including the mixers (there were two for some reason – one of whom turned out to be the co-producer of the my latest CD), the other 2 other solo acts for the evening, (weirdly) the man who cut my hair that afternoon, and my one solitary friend who made it along for the night, Steve.

Now this may sound a bit sad but it’s not – it’s totally cool. Firstly, I am a seasoned campaigner and I have no juvenile misconceptions about what to expect, and secondly, despite my many years of experience in live music, I am basically starting all over again, with no real profile to speak of, certainly not in Melbourne.

The fact that I am starting out all over means this:

  1. I can’t expect all of my friends to rock up for all of my gigs – they have their own lives and to expect more than an occasional turn out would be unfair on them.
  2. It is going to take time for me to build up an audience for my music. In fact I am allowing two years of solid gigging before I expect to be able to sell out a modest 150 head room. This would be a great achievement and I know that those first 150 heads are well harder to draw than the next 1000 and the reason why is because a crowd draws a crowd – been there, done that, know that it’s true.

But despite the tiny audience, there were a few more peeps hanging out over by the bar and I made sure to try to project over to them. Singing (and music in general) is a form of energy and I believe something a bit woo-woo which is that if you “send it” out directly to individuals in an audience like an imaginary laser beam, it somehow stands a better chance of moving each individual that you “aim at”.

I actually was quite disappointed with my set, but I made sure to try and keep this disappointment to myself as the last thing you ever want to do is insult your audience by telling them that you are no good, because this negates their own enjoyment of the music you are playing. Just because you know you’re off doesn’t mean an audience member does.

I was off because I was out of practice, because it was insanely hot, and because of silly things like not securing the mic-stand properly (so it was travelling south during my first song, most irritating) but on the other hand, there were some fine moments where things went just fine.

On thing that went well was my between-song banter, which I am determined to make an integral part of the my show this year, including an element of comedy. Humour runs right through all of my tunes (some more than others)  so this is not out of place with my style.

The reason I want to improve my between-song banter is to be more entertaining. As a solo acoustic artist I can’t really dazzle with saxophone solos and wild drum rhythms so I need to work with what I have, and one thing I have is an element of easy humour born (as a coping mechanism) of years of soul-crushing day-jobs and other such drudgery 😉

I was happy to sell a couple of CDs after the gig, and also to swap with some of the other musos. I got some phone numbers of the other musos to organise more gigs together, if it works out, and then I proceeded to hang around and drink too much while chatting to the regulars. I gave away a few CDs which I am happy to do this year as it seems to be an awesome way to get the message out there, although I will from the next gig ask for an email in exchange when I offer to give away a disc.

The second gig (Wednesday 28th January)

Was at the Empress Hotel, Fitzroy North, which is miles from my house but closer to most of my friends. I invited everybody I knew along to this one, but when it became apparent that the temperature was going to be 43 Degrees Celcius (110 Fahrenheit) I didn’t expect as many to turn up as said they would.

I was given the whole night to put together, albeit at late notice after a cancellation the week before.  I organised for my mate Shane Walters and a friend of his, Faye Blais to play a set each as well and made it so that I was on first because I am well older than them, therefore so are my friends, which means they were more likely to come out if I was on earlier. So I went on at 8:15 to 9pm.

A nice little crowd filled the intimate space, which is just a gorgeous room to play solo acoustic in, and after a slightly shaky start I soon warmed up and played one of my best sets in recent memory, spurned along by an encouraging crowd who kept laughing at all my jokes (well most of them) and generally being the kind of audience you would seriously consider paying to be there for you.

Thankfully they weren’t all just my friends either, but about two thirds strangers, which is just what I wanted. My prediction about the heat coming true, there were only about ten mates/family there (which is ok – see above).

It was plainly obvious to me that the amount of practice I put in between the first gig and the second really paid off. I made myself get out into my little one room bungalow (The Office of Imagination and Procedure) out the back and rehearse my set right through without too much ado. I was just so much more in control at the Empress gig as a result. (Duh. Yes, Seamus, practice helps.)

I also really pulled my finger out and didn’t just rely on off the cuff banter but also dropped in two pre-prepared jokes, one of which bombed dismally and one of which floored ’em, so that was an experience.

I have over the last two gigs noticed that some songs might be great in my studio and on record, but they are a little too subtle for an audience that doesn’t know my material, and most of these are the songs on my current CD, so I think I am going to have fairly quickly put out a sister disc to “Dogs May Bark” which features more of the “party” songs, which are the tunes that tend to get a better response from audiences who don’t know my tunes already.

After my set as Shane and then Faye did their respective thangs, I was again stoked to sell a couple of CDs and be plied with free beer – the latter which was just so refreshingly cold on such a disgusting hot night that I was silly and got way too pissed. I can hold my alcohol (usually), so I am sure I didn’t make an arse of myself, but the next day I felt as shit as a shit thing. I am really going to have to self-moderate the after gig beers if I am going to be gigging regularly (which I am). Easier said than done though, as my adrenalin is usually pumping hard after a gig, so I will report back on what I believe will be a major challenge for me this year.

Why?

Well, the truth is, I drink a little too much (like a lot of Aussies). I’d like to tone it down a bit, as I am not getting any younger and I am getting a belly and the hangovers are a bitch, but then again, I am an artiste, and maybe I will always have my foibles? See how we go…

If you read this far, you deserve a dollar for perseverance. I could never read this much about some obscure musician’s rather un-incredible musings myself…

Seamus and Peter (ex-Reckoning) doing “Naked”

Ok – Seamus is me (blue shirt), Peter Owen is the handsome guy on the drum. We used to be in a band called Reckoning and this is us on December 4th 2008 doing one of our old Reckoning songs “Naked” at the Grace Emily Hotel, in Adelaide.

There was a small but appreciative crowd that night, maybe 50 or more in that small back room … so it was cozy. The laughing at the beginning is because I was cracking jokes about the lyrics (most of the people there would have known the lyrics back in the ’90s). The joke was that (as the song says) if ‘we’ were to “sneak out at 2am” these days then we’d need to get a babysitter… well, I guess you had to be there …

Anyway, me and Pete will be recording and gigging some new music this year plus wheeling out golden oldies like this so stay tuned…

Why booking gigs by email is better than the phone (and how to do it well)

I have noticed that a lot of venue bookers are more than happy to organize gigs by email these days.

And this is great…

Because it saves calling, getting an answering machine, getting no call back, calling again a few times until you catch the booker but he or she has had a bad day and you’re nervous and they smell blood and it all goes really badly and because you’re the artist you feel personally rejected when it doesn’t go so great and then you want to give up and slit your wrists…

I’m sure you know the drill.

BUT

If you have bad email skills it can still go pear-shaped so here is:

A Simple Crash Course in Emailing Venue-Bookers about Gigs

1) Be Polite – “hope this finds you well”, “thanks for your time” etc.

2) Be brief – get in and get out.

3) Get a name, spell it correctly and use it like this “Hi Fred,” not “Dear Fred” (it’s not a letter to your grandma).

4) If you can’t find a name or aren’t sure just start with “Hi,” (Not “to whom it may concern”).

5) DON’T USE CAPS (it’s shouting), and proofread over your spelling, grammar etc before you press send. They aren’t going to grade your use of the Queen’s English but you don’t want to come across like some semi-literate moron do you? It amazes me how many perfectly intelligent people don’t realise how bad excessive spelling mistakes and other typos make them look.

6) Keep all details to a minimum, don’t bother talking about money or anything too presumptive just yet.

7) Briefly point out your experience level, but don’t tell your life story.

8 ) If you think it’s appropriate (it usually is unless your applying to get on some kind of pre-existing bill), come prepared with a ready made line-up (i.e. other musicians to play the night with you).

9) Point out that you will do your best to promote the gig, i.e. find an angle like “it’s a CD launch” or “I have a lot of friends in the area who I will invite”, etc.

10) Link to your music on Myspace, Facebook, or even better, BandCamp.com. Alternatively you could link to a youtube clip but only if you have one that doesn’t suck. (Ok so you should probably have a fancy electronic media kit right? Well, sure, but most gig bookers won’t read them so don’t worry if you haven’t gotten that organised yet.)

11) Give a phone number in case they prefer to follow up by phone. And once they email you back with some kind of positive interest, take a chance: wait a day or two, then call them on the phone. Seriously, once you’ve made a positive connection, phone is more efficient and will usually get you better results. Why? Because it is easy to ignore or forget about an email, and easy to go with the pro-active guy who follows up by phone (and is polite about it). See what Derek Sivers says about being persistent and following up.

Anything to add to the list? Drop it in the comment box below.