When contacting club bookers today, they all respond with the same question: “How many people can you bring?” They want to instantly quantify your value. It’s not about the music anymore. You can be a sorry band with sorry songs, but if you have a bunch of loyal friends/fans who will pay to see your sorry ass, you’re in! 🙂
A couple of years ago in L.A., I emailed the booker at the Mint and he replied, “Do you have a large following in Los Angeles?” I answered, “My L.A. following is about 10 people.” He wrote back and said, “Thank you for your honesty. Call me when it gets to 20.” Really?! So, with 20 people I am worthy of an opportunity to play for a percentage of the door, but with only 10 people, no? *sigh* At least he responded to my email.
The talent buyer at Blues Alley once said to me, “I don’t care how good you are, if you don’t bring at least 150 people, they won’t have you back.” It’s all about the benjamins, baby.
Working Vocalist vs. Artist
Last year, I decided to stop doing cover gigs and only book shows where I can do my own music. This is a no-brainer to some, but for someone who’s straddled the line between working vocalist and artist for many years, it’s a big step. It required me to change my thought process and focus on who Dee Stone, the artist, really is. It has forced me to learn how to market myself (I’m still learning). It has also limited my performance opportunities.
A working vocalist/musician typically performs popular songs at venues that have a built-in crowd. In the DC area, and many other cities, the venues dictate what kind of music you can play: “We want dance music” or “We want smooth Jazz and R&B.” These gigs will pay you whether there are 10 people or 200 people in the room. To be successful, you fill your set list with “crowd-pleasing songs.” You can make a very good living playing other people’s music but, as a guitarist friend of mine said so succinctly, “You’re a substitute.”
On the other side of the coin is the artist. As an artist, you perform your own music in venues that don’t have built-in crowds. You are expected to have fans who will buy tickets to your show and spend money on food and drinks. These venues want you to guarantee that x-amount of people will come through the door. They don’t care what songs you play or whether you play them well. If the room is full, they’re happy.
As an artist, you dream of performing for a room full of fans. But, without a marketing machine behind you, it can take years to accumulate a substantial number of folks who will consistently support you. These true fans will sustain your career; they will love you even if you don’t have songs on the radio or viral YouTube videos.
Like I said, I’ve straddled the line, meaning I wasn’t 100% on either side, and we all know that you have to put 100% into something to be successful. The thing is, my dream was not be a successful working vocalist; I was doing it until I could “make it” as an artist. All the while, I felt like a fraud; a dumbed-down, lame version of myself. Why did I settle? I could say it was for the money and I had three kids to raise. But truth be told, I didn’t believe in me, the artist.
I Let Myself Down
I’ve recorded several CD’s and never toured to promote any of them.
Just typing that sentence makes my heart ache.
But, those days are gone. This time, I’m getting it right. Is it too late? I don’t think so. Can I do it? Yes, I believe I can. In a couple of months, I’ll be releasing a new solo album, and I’m working on a new video for the first single from the album. (Update: watch the new video here. ) I am focusing 100% of my energy on my music career – building my audience and booking shows.
But, when a talent buyer asks me, “How many people can you bring?” I don’t know what to say. I have a mailing list of folks who open my emails and seem to care what I’m up to. But, can I guarantee that even 10% of them will show up at a particular venue on the night of my show?
I Suck at Social Media
Everyone says use social media to build and engage your fan base; specifically, Facebook. I created a public page and try to post interesting things, but I’ve gone months, even a year, without posting anything. Honestly, Facebook gives me the creeps and I’d rather not be there at all.
I’ve used Twitter, Instagram, and Tumblr with no success…if success is defined by how many followers you have. To me, all of the social media sites are cold, noisy spaces full of people craving attention.
A few hundred folks “Like” my website, but I don’t know who/where they are. I have no way to communicate with them. I also don’t know who is buying the occasional song on iTunes. They could be local; they could be in Indonesia.
I know there are people out there who want to support me. I know folks have come to my gigs in the past, wanting to see the artist perform the songs they heard on my website, only to find the working vocalist standing there crooning Jazz and Pop standards. I am sorry I disappointed them.
There are folks who’ve seen me in countless nightclubs, restaurants, and bars over the years and said, “Why are you here? You should be doing a concert somewhere.” I know they would love to come to my as-yet-unbooked shows.
The only thing standing between me and those shows is the grumpy talent buyers questioning my unverifiable following. How do I convince them that I’m worth taking a chance on? How do I make an agent understand that I’m working hard to promote myself and deliver the numbers? He has to know that, ultimately, we have the same goal: a sold-out show.
I’ll find a way…I’m a resourceful woman! I’m stepping out on faith and putting my whole self behind Dee Stone, the artist. I am a talented and unique performer and I bring immense value to the table. This is what I believe.
If you believe this also — whether you’re a fan or just happened to find me online — please support me in any way you can. Come to my shows, sign up for my newsletter, or just send me a note to let me know you’re there. 🙂