April 26, 2011

Week 31: Playing Festivals

It’s A Festival!

From Backwoods Bash 2008 (I'm on the far left)
This week the line-up for Lollapalooza was announced. I thought it would be the right time to talk about festivals. If you are trying to make it in music, you have to play and play often. One of the best ways to be discovered by fans is by playing festivals.

Where else can you find thousands of people who have abandoned their daily routine in order to dedicate a weekend to listen to music? Each festival is a mini-city built on music. If you’re worth your salt, you will catch some new fans.

Now, I’m not talking, Bonnaroo, Austin City Limits Music Festival, or Coachella. Those are upper tier… like the BMW of music festivals. You’re metaphorically driving a beat up van right now… and the motor runs and you’re happy. I’m talking about fringe festivals. Ones that mean a lot to that area of the world, be it the city, state, or neighborhood. Have you ever heard of Tulsa, Oklahoma’s Backwoods Bash, Silverado, California’s Lightning in a Bottle, Austin, Texas’ Old Settler’s Music Festival, Asheville, North Carolina’s Moogfest? You should.

Just like when you began playing gigs, you have to start small in the festival world. Don’t worry, there’s enough of them that you could actually play one every weekend… and then some. Here’s a site I found with festival listings. This is not an exhaustive list, but they’ve got a lot of them listed - http://www.metrowize.com/2011-music-festivals-guide

My advice here is also something I've experienced. I have helped bands play festivals and I am actually one of the founders of the Backwoods Bash Music and Camping Festival, which is now in it's 4th year. Very proud of where it's gone... and this Memorial Day Weekend, you can find me there. So, I can see it from both sides.

Here’s what to expect when playing one of the smaller festivals:

You’ve got 20-80 bands playing in 3-4 days. You’ve got a crew of dedicated people, who are most likely volunteers, running the band check-in and taking care of back stage. These people are likely NOT used to gig-etiquette and will likely not care too much about making sure you are treated like a star. If they are good, they’ll let you know where to find the beverages for bands and where you’re supposed to set-up.
Get there with plenty of time to check in, figure out where you’re supposed to be, and relax before going on stage. Don’t add to the chaos and don’t be a prima-donna.

No Paycheck
You’re not likely to get paid for your time. It’s OK. This is the way things work. Unless you are the big draw… and you are the one who brings 500 people to the stage, you don’t have the right to ask to get paid. The reason you play a festival is the be discovered, not make money. If you play well, and gain fans, you may make enough money on merch to pay your gas back home. If you really impress fans, you may just end up being able to catch a shower and nap at one of their places before heading back to your home.

You’re playing this festival with a bunch of other bands from other cities who play a similar style of music as you. Get out there and meet and talk with as many as possible. It’s time to set up some gigs in their town in return for getting them on the bill with you at yours. It’s all done with love and admiration for the music. If you dig them, chances are your fans will dig them… and vice versa. You have the potential to expand your fan base with every connection you make. Do it.

BYOC (Build Your Own Crowd)
If you are a band that is playing in a new area, or new to the festival circuit, you’ve got to go out there and let people know when you’re playing.. what stage, and get people to come check you out. It’s like playing a regular gig, except EVERYONE there is looking forward to music. So, what you put in by way of promotion hopefully adds to your crowd. Remember, it’s all about butts in seats (or feet in front of stage as this case may be).

Oh, there’s a party to be had. When you get a bunch of bands together it’s always going to be a great time. Beware, though. You need to make sure you act right. Don’t do anything to not be invited back… people who throw festivals talk to others who throw festivals. You want to be known as the act that slayed onstage and was awesome to hang with backstage.

If you feel you must party like 1970s Led Zeppelin, do it away from the festival. Smaller festivals are relying on good words to build a reputation. Don’t be the stereotypical band that festival naysayers are looking to use as an example.

So, festivals are great experiences. Smart bands will play a few festivals a year, and plan their actual tour around the fest. This way they can have the money from paying gigs to allow them to play festivals. This helps them find more fans which will translate into more people at the paying gigs. More people at gigs will enable you to sell more merchandise. Eventually it equals more money for the band and more popularity, which may lead to an opening slot at Lollapalooza.

It’s a wonderful musical circle. Are you dancing yet?

Sean Claes is the owner of Austin's INsite Magazine and has been a freelance entertainment writer since 1996. For an introduction to his "52 Weeks of DIY Music Advice" visit this link - http://www.tinyurl.com/Claes52DIY. If you like what you read... please share. To visit Claes' homepage, go here - http://www.seanclaes.com/.

April 14, 2011

Week 30: Standing Out

A person walks into a room. There are five bands standing there. Your band is one of them. The person spends a few minutes looking at each band and walks out of the room.

Is your band going to be remembered? Why or why not?

That is exactly what happens each time you play a gig. You are on the bill with four or five other bands. At the end of the night, people in the audience will either remember your band or not. They will either chalk you up as a band they’ve seen, or look you up as a band they want to know more about. If you’re looking for more fans, you sure need to be one of the ones remembered.

The best way to be remembered is for your music. I mean, you ARE a musician… so, first, you need to work on that. Sometimes if you write and perform amazing music, you don’t need to do anything else to be remembered. BUT those artists are few and far between, and in today’s world, the visual is as important (or more important *ahem Beiber fans ahem*) than the music. Plus, I can probably name more quality singer-songwriters that you’ve never heard of in one minute than you can name bands of which you are a fan.

Deep breath…. Todd Snider/ Southpaw Jones / Matt The Electrician / D.C. Bloom / Patrice Pike / Abi Tapia / Adam Donmoyer / Brandon Rhyder / Bobby Bookout / Schuyler Fisk / Sam Baker / Collin Herring / Dave Madden / Darrell Scott / David Garza / Raul Malo / Terri Hendrix / Citizen Cope / Eliza Gilkyson / John Melloncamp / Shelley King / Drew Smith / Michael Fracasso / Nelly McKay / Will Porter / Edwin McCain / Walt Wilkins / Toni Price… and breathe.

People who know music will recognize most of these names, but the casual music fan will likely only be able to recognize two or three. Now, most of the people I named have an additional gift to give the audience from the stage… they are fantastic storytellers. Which brings me to the first thing…

What do you say between songs? Do you do any more than introduce the next song? Maybe you could tell how the song came about.. maybe you could tell a joke. Do me a favor, though… don’t tell a joke that only the 2 biggest fans of your music (your girlfriend and the drummer’s boyfriend) would get. Make the moment intimate, like what you’re telling them is for their ears only. A special gift you’re giving to the April 14, 2011 crowd.

It’s not all words though. What you wear sometimes makes all the difference. What does your band wear on stage? I know, you’re a t-shirt and shorts type of guy, but c’mon. You’re working. How about wearing something that you’d be proud to be on the cover of a magazine wearing?

Also, When someone takes a photo while you’re playing, do you cheese it up for the camera? It makes for good pictures. Most photographers love it when you spend a few seconds singing right into their lens… maybe making a pose or two while doing it. If the photog is happy and he gets good shots… they may end up somewhere (magazine / Online / wire service). Also, if they ask for a group photo after a show, be there for that.

It doesn’t end when the last chord is played. When you walk off stage, the game is still on. You’re still the representation of your band. If you get off stage, hang around, talk with people, support the bands who play after you.

OK.... that's about it for this week. Remember:
Stand Out. Represent. Act like the band you hope to be someday.

Sean Claes is the owner of Austin's INsite Magazine and has been a freelance entertainment writer since 1996. For an introduction to his "52 Weeks of DIY Music Advice" visit this link - http://www.tinyurl.com/Claes52DIY. If you like what you read... please share. To visit Claes' homepage, go here - http://www.seanclaes.com/.

April 8, 2011

Week 29: Notes From The Cubicle

(This is Week 29 of my Fifty-Two Weeks of Music Do-It-Yourself advice)

Week 29: Notes From The Cubicle:
Career or Passion or Both?

I’ve spent the last 28 weeks giving you advice on how to make a move in the indie music business. I hope I’ve given you some good advice, and for those who have tried something I’ve suggested, I hope it’s worked out. Would love to hear a story or two.

Now, here’s my footnote. This advice isn’t for everyone.

Sometimes it’s just about the music. Sometimes you just have to dance to the beat of your own drummer for nobody else but yourself. Sometimes it’s not about the fans. Sometimes it’s not about the radio play, the fame, the fortune, or the gigs. It’s not about the status, the dream, the future, or the past. Sometimes you are just playing for you.

That’s O.K.

If your only goal with music is to play it and make a sound that pleases you, chances are you don’t need a bigger/better gig. You don’t need to promote the CD you just recorded. You don’t need to put your music in front of a radio DJ or a blogger who reviews. Just play.

This column is for those who are set on sharing their dream. Making the world a better place, one note at a time.

A long time ago, I began this blog. I called it “Notes From The Cubicle” after a tongue-in-cheek article I wrote in 2004 called “I Work In A Cubicle.” I wasn’t writing in order to make a million dollars. I wasn’t concerned with getting to the next level. I started this blog with the intention of making people laugh and for an outlet for my writing and promotional work I’d been doing. Over the years it has evolved into what you see today. I stopped working in a cubicle. I started concentrating more on my writing and freelance gigs. I used this blog less and less for humor and more and more for sharpening my writing skills.

I’ve been working in the field of journalism, communications, copywriting, and graphic design professionally for 12 years. I have been writing freelance for 15.

Why am I telling you this? Well, just to let you know that it’s OK for your passion to become your career. And it’s OK for your career to turn into a passion. I don’t know where you are sitting with your musical career right now, but I can tell you that I have met more people who have full-time jobs and make beautiful music on the weekend than I have met people who are full-time working musicians.

What’s the impetus of this column? The contract job I’ve had just ended. I’m sitting at a crossroads right now. I’m 38 years old and I’m unemployed (but I call is a “freelance writer”). I’ve got 2 children and a wonderful wife who have been right there with me for this ride called “Advertising Copywriter / Communications Specialist / Music Journalist.” I am skilled. I’m a better writer than 75% of the people out there doing advertising copywriting. I have helped people sell things like plumbing, engagement rings, a dog race, music, a neighborhood, prescription pills, stereo equipment, lawn services, and furniture with my words.

I am passionate about writing. A good job is just as tough to get as a good musical career. Some people luck into it, some people work really hard to achieve it, and some people bust their humps for decades and don’t seem to get anywhere.

A lot of people just have jobs. Something that makes enough money to survive and that enables them to do what they want to do after 5:00p.m. I have never been that person. I don’t understand that person. My mind doesn’t work that way.

That is why I write this blog. It’s for the people who don’t give up, who CAN’T give up. It’s for the musicians out there that strive to make a living doing what they love. It’s for the lovers of song.

Maybe in 2004 I didn’t realize this blog would take this turn, but the name suddenly has two meanings. Notes From The Cubicle. Your music is your job. You may have a hobby that pays the rent, but your “cubicle” is the stage/recording studio and your “notes” represent the music your write/play/sing.

So, I’ve got 23 more of these to go. Are you with me?

Incidentally, I AM in search of a new full-time writing gig. I’d love to be a lifer at an advertising agency or creative department somewhere in Austin. Writing ads that turn heads is my passion. So, if you have any leads, or want to offer me that job, check out my online book. This page has my resume and contact information. http://www.seanclaes.com/book.html


Sean Claes is the owner of Austin's INsite Magazine and has been a freelance entertainment writer since 1996. For an introduction to his "52 Weeks of DIY Music Advice" visit this link - http://www.tinyurl.com/Claes52DIY. If you like what you read... please share. To visit Claes' homepage, go here - http://www.seanclaes.com/.