Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Indie Music and Booking

Nobody said it was easy.
No one ever said it would be so hard.
--"The Scientist" by Coldplay
I'm not necessarily the biggest Coldplay fan, but the quote was apropos. And here's the really weird part: as I was typing this, Pandora started playing "The Scientist." It didn't even register at first, because I thought it was in my head for a second, and then it was like, "Oh, that's out loud. What the...?"


It's not exactly CBGB's, but it's a livin' (and I'm making people happy. See? they're clapping and smiling!).
The past couple of days, well, weeks actually, I've been thinking about promotion (and booking) a lot. We just finished driving across the country playing in bars and coffee houses, and it was really interesting seeing how different things worked in different places.

The most frustrating thing was how difficult it was to get gigs in my home towns (namely Indianapolis and Columbus, OH). What the freak? I know: some of you will jump to the obvious joke, "It's 'cause they know you suck!" But that's not it, so bite me.

The one place it wasn't true was Champaign, IL, but then, Champaign has always been a hotbed of musical love and openness. Something about that town... people are more willing to help each other out instead of throwing elbows grasping for the brass ring. It serves the musician community. It serves the venue community. It serves the listener community. Pay attention other towns!

Anyway... back to the issue of cold shoulders in the hometowns. These are towns where I can definitely fill a room. No question. Yet the venue owners and booking agents don't seem to care --or more to the point, return calls and e-mails. It was amazing how much of my time was getting gobbled up writing and calling over and over again just trying to get a response. Ridiculous. A musician works really hard, writing, recording, gigging, etc., so when you have to bang your head against a wall in the roll of booking agent as well, it's that much more frustrating. Not to mention, you feel goofy in the first place, selling yourself (as opposed to a booking agent selling someone else), trying to convince people that you're great and that you can fill a room and deliver a great performance. You really have to put yourself out there, so when that push is met with silence or indifference, it feels like a hole in your chest.

However, in some towns (Salina, KS for instance) while the house wasn't necessarily packed, there were a good number of people there, and they were definitely there to hear the music. It was grand. So how did this come about?

Well, once the show was booked (grrr...), it was a matter of finding people and connecting. Not just blanket spamming a population, but looking for someone who you think might actually like your music, and then striking up conversations. It was surprisingly effective, and we made some great friends! (As a side note: I'll discuss this "targeted promotion" in a future post).

So my point? Though you may think that I just like to whine (which admittedly, I do), it's that I'm trying to help other indie musicians by sharing my experience. If you have the means to hire a booking agent for any sort of tour you might be planning, do it. It is well worth the time and money. And a lot of booking agents will work for a reasonable fee, often a percentage, so convincing one booking agent, opposed to many venue owners, that you are worth their time and effort, is probably a pretty good plan. Once you've got somebody you can trust (important!!!) making those phone calls for you, you can work on what's really important.

What's that you say? Writing music? Haahahahahaahhaha. I was speaking of promotion.

(...on to the next post)

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