Listen Through the Show

Sound Guy with Headphones

 

As an entertainment manager, I receive a constant influx of artists looking for work. These emails and requests come from numerous sources including colleagues, agents of our venues, and (of course) the artists themselves. This results in one large “procurement funnel” I work with daily.

I attack the funnel strategically.  First, I weed out acts that do not fit our client’s geographic, budget, and demographic needs. Next, I check out the musician’s live videos. You read that right.  Their “live” videos.  From my experience, I can attest that most entertainment bookers prefer live videos that are un-doctored over flashy promo. Yes, iMovie and Final Cut are cool, but we want to get an idea of how you handle yourself in a live situation…and how you sound when you do it.

If these videos pique my interest, the next step is to go see you live…but, I won’t tell you when I am coming out.  Why? People act differently when they know a booker is in the room, so if you are in a band. Here’s a hint. Always think an agent, label, or other type of gatekeeper is in the room.  Later on in this blog, I will share a story from my days on the road that demonstrates why you should do this.

 

But Jeremy, we don’t have the gear to make quality live videos and the places we play have horrible FOH, so we always sound bad, but we are really good. I swear.

 

This is where “listening through the music” comes into play. I have over twenty years in this business with the majority as a performer in a variety of bands. I have worked with legendary artists, taught music, done cruise ship orchestra shows, fill-in theater gigs, and even studied at Berklee where I was my Production and Engineering roommate’s go-to session drummer. I have been through countless challenging live-sound situations, which have taught me some key attributes “professional” artists possess that prepare them to succeed in, pretty much, any live situation.

These fundamentals vary by instrument, but boil down to musical ability and stage presence.

Musical ability: This covers the gamut of being a professional musician.  How does the intonation of the brass section sound?  Can the rhythm section keep solid time? Is the singer holding her mic properly and projecting from her diaphragm? Is the guitarist using the right gear and producing a quality tone? Does the entire group start, stop, and make the band hits together?

Stage presence: Are all members into the show…especially when there are only three people in the audience?  Are they reading the room correctly? Are they controlling the room properly? Are they smiling? Do they talk to fans during their breaks? How are they dressed? Do they care about the show…no matter how big or small?

Now look at those again…did you notice that I am not worried about the front of house mix? Nor the monitor mix or the lighting?  That is because it is my job to listen through the show and analyze the core of the product on that stage.

But, why?

It all boils down to an old saying: “garbage in… garbage out.” Sure, a bad mix can impact your gig, but you shouldn’t let it define your musical ability.  The greatest band in the world – The Beatles played before over 56,000 fans with nothing more than 100 watt amplifiers.  They couldn’t hear themselves. Ringo relied on watching Paul’s foot to keep the show going and they harmonized blindly.  Zeppelin recorded the best drum sounds I have ever heard with just three microphones (and one in the chimney on occasion). Duke, Bird, and Miles made some of the most iconic music ever and didn’t use in-ears, a separate monitor mix, or line-array speakers.

All of these acts created great music because they relied on their musicality and ability to control the stage night after night. When this can be done, the sound crew is capable of working from a clean slate and can enhance that quality and make it sound great at any time… at any volume.

 

 

A second lesson regarding why you should “listen through the music.”

Ok, here’s the deal with booking rooms. Contrary to what everyone thinks. You are not guaranteed a great night. I have watched numerous outside forces kill an amazing event. Weather, economic downturns, a competing concert that suddenly pops up and steals your marketing momentum can all kill your night.  As a venue booking agent (especially in the minimal cover/free club scene), we must do what we can to mitigate losses on those particular nights. One of those ways is to find entertainment that can “hold a room” no matter how many people are in it.

If you have read my article on Herd Mentality in Entertainment, you know that I believe strongly that an “adoption point” can be acquired if a room-specific attendance percentage is hit. I also believe that maintaining that crucial number and avoiding the “exodus point” is critical to the success of your live venue and this is directly related to the skills discussed before.

Sometimes you catch a potential group and the room is jammed. You immediately start thinking. This band will save my venue and maybe they will, but first. Take an inventory. With the room jammed, the band may have better than average stage presence.  However, is their musical ability up to snuff or has herd mentality simply taken over.

Flip the switch.

Don’t just walk away if the room is dead. How does the band sound? Do they look enthused? Are the people in the room hanging out, drinking, and pulling their eyes away from their phones to watch the group? If the answer is yes, maybe you need to keep your eye on this particular act and return to check them out a few more times.

Data is a funny thing. The good stuff sometimes likes to hide. Checking out an act is not checking out the room. You are looking at the band to see if they meet your needs or could be coached to meet those demands. Taking away the external elements and listening “through the show” will make it easier for you to book quality entertainment for your venue.

 

Would you like to discuss your venue needs?  Contact Jeremy today. 

 

PR and a Drum T-Shirt Company called Spirit and Groove

Spirit and Groove Groovy Press Release

As I write this blog post, I am preparing for the first press release to hit the wire for my drummer t-shirt company, Spirit and Groove .

I chose to add a PR marketing channel to my online business to achieve a couple of marketing objectives, but before I hand those out. I wanted to explain why I chose to add this channel to my marketing mix.

First, understand that I always think “big-picture.” If I am going to do something, I am going for it. As for Spirit and Groove, my ultimate idea is a clothing brand, not just a drummer tee shirt company.  This dictates that my planning always be long-term and to properly build a brand. I must tell everyone what the heck groove is all about and why I am placing so much faith in one word.

“The goal of our first Groovy Press Release is let everyone “step into” the mindset of our brand. You shouldn’t be afraid if you are not a drummer, because as you will learn.  The beat is beyond any other instrument. It mimics the heartbeat and as such it was our species first language. We celebrate with it, we have worked in unison to it, and we have followed it into battles. We are all connected by the drum. It doesn’t matter if you play it, move to it, or feel it in your soul. We are all part of the groove.”

Second, we are building a community and that requires a very strong social presence. To achieve this organic build, we need solid backlinks to increase our credibility and reach. In addition, strong backlinks will provide increased “Opportunities to See” at a lower cost through higher Search Rankings. PR can be a cost-effective way to achieve worthwhile backlinks that Google will respect and hopefully bump us up the search ladder.

Finally, I was a newsman and enjoy writing. So why not write about something I am passionate of… the groove.

Click here to read Spirit and Groove Drum Tees first Groovy Press Release. 

My New Groovy Venture

It has been a long time since I last posted in the ol’ blog here, but there is a good reason.

Earlier this year I launched a drummer clothing company called Spirit and Groove. It is an exciting venture that is pulling from all of my professional experience (e.g. running my own company, my work as a graphic designer and photojournalist, my MBA training, and absolute passion for drumming).

I am working Spirit and Groove during my down time as a booking agent, and if you are in the business you know there is very little of that. However, I have accomplished a lot in these first few months.  We currently have forty plus drumming and groove-inspired t-shirts up for sale and a whole bunch in the coffers.  We have also established a number of “Groovy Communities” on various social platforms where we give out Groovy Cookie Comments to people we feel have got groove.

 

Is Your Groove Cookie Worthy – Spirit and Groove Drum Tees Marketing


You can join those networks by clicking on these links:

Spirit and Groove on Facebook

Spirit and Groove on Twitter

Spirit and Groove on Instagram

Spirit and Groove on Google Plus

Spirit and Groove on YouTube

Speaking of YouTube, we have also put together a groovy drumming video blog where we offer insights into best drumming practice techniques, top groovy drummers and albums, and a whole lotta’ fun.  Here is our most recent video for you to check out and you can follow the entire drum video lesson blog here.

 

Well, I’ve got to get back to designing some more drumming shirts, checking our drummer website, optimizing our SEO, working on our paid click campaign, or launching another Facebook ad among other things, but please go check out my groovy new website www.spiritandgroove.com.

You’ll be glad you did!

EXTRA, EXTRA, Social’s All About It!

 

An old time News Stand

Copyright All rights reserved by mwr83 from Flickr Creative Commons

 

I started my career as a photojournalist at the age of 18. The local newspaper had hired me after I investigated a minor scandal at my high school, which got a lot of people in some hot water. This landed me on their radar and eventually on assignment for a Pulitzer-Prize winning editor.

Oh wait.

For all of you that don’t know, a newspaper was a printed version of say…Facebook. The only difference was instead of paying with likes, loves and shares you paid with real cash to see a daily tally of what everyone in your hometown was up to.

The economics of a newspaper are quite simple.  Present enough relevant knowledge to attract advertisers to buy up space surrounding that information. A consistent run of good stories drove-up a key metric in the news business – subscriber rates.

Subscriber rates are important because, in a nutshell, they guarantee to your advertisers how many people will have access to their marketing messages. If the newspaper has more subscribers, they can charge those advertisers more money. To increase those subscriber rates, newspapers offer readers a deal to switch from just picking up the paper at the store, to having it thrown on their front porch by a crazy haired mother whose kid didn’t get up in time to pedal his route before school.

I like to equate social media to the economics of the newspaper industry. However, the model is slightly different.  First, we still have businesses looking to tell consumers about their products and regardless of what you have heard about The Long Tail, Niche Marketing, and On-Demand Production. Deep down inside, marketing is a numbers game and admen (and adwomen) know that the more opportunities to see – the better their chances are of making a sale. Things change slightly in the “subscriber” section of our social model, because our customers no longer must pay to subscribe to relevant information. Instead, they are now in control of which channels they will accept through a Like or Follow.

The major change in the social model is the blurring of the line between advertiser and news. Many traditional journalism brands such as CNN, The New York Times, and USA Today still follow the basics of the elder model. They provide the information people want to see and advertisers pay to show up beside those stories. I will assume that this is because they too see the similarities between their past “ink” audiences and today’s “click” consumers. The problem arises with the many organizations who do not understand this similarity between print and digital. They either un-wittingly leave out the information component of their online publications or purposely remove them to utilize the entire space as nothing more than a billboard where they bombard their audiences with sales pitches and marketing messages. Interestingly, these same publication tactics exist in the print medium as well. They come in the forms of penny savers, car flyers, and grocery store circulars that probably spend more time at the bottom of a bird’s cage than in a consumer’s hands.

So, why am I explaining the similarities between the news medium of yesteryear and today’s social advertising strategies?  Aren’t newspapers dying off?

Yes, print news is dying. However, our appetite for information is not. We have become an interconnected species hungry for more information. YouTube has made millions on videos that teach you how to fix your own car, grow your own vegetables, or learn calculus among a host of other subjects. Facebook connects thousands of people everyday to share their life stories, anecdotes, and views on everything under the sun and, according to some sources, over two million blog posts are published each day on a range of topics. We have become a society in demand of more information than those before us. However, unlike our predecessors who wound up with ink on their fingers from thumbing that information we cleanly click and swipe.

With that being said, I would like you to return to the newspaper model I described earlier. Think about its simplicity. Provide enough relevant information to attract a sizeable audience and charge advertisers to surround that information. Now apply that theory to your social pages. Provide your consumers with enough interesting information so they return to your pages over and over again. In the marketing world, these are called opportunities to see. The more you have the statistically greater your chances will be for a positive result such as an interaction, or better yet – a sale. It doesn’t matter if you do not want outside advertising on your site. Instead, you can simply display your own messages. Just remember to empower your social team to focus on the “news” element first and your long-term ROI will be greater.

Sure, newspapers are dying, but their economic model can be a powerful tool in today’s social-focused ad world. All of the basic elements are there. You have a medium for news distribution and you have an audience hungry for that information. Put those elements together and you have an opportunity to create a sales channel for any internal or external brand.

But only if you can put the news first.

A Tidy Shop Saves the Show

This past weekend, I was working at an outdoor concert when the rain came in…and it came in hard.  Luckily, the foresight and preparedness of the production manager and his crew literally “saved the day.”

As fans, we often equate the show with the actual performance. Many do not get to see the hours, days, weeks, and even months that go into preparing for that gig. Diving deeper, many do not see the countless hours spent on non-show days constantly preparing for what the future, and mother nature, could hold.

In this particular situation, the production manager runs a clean and organized shop. When his men in black aren’t running a console, they are cleaning gear, organizing cables, marking road cases, and testing equipment.  To many, this would seem like nothing more than busy work. However, it is anything but. Standing stage right of a colossal set-up of line array speakers, LED walls, lighting hanging from a shiny truss system reaching into the sky and connected by a sea of cables the production manager explains. “We spend all that time in the shop preparing, so we know that once everything is rigged we can just turn it on and go.”

If that wasn’t enough to justify his clean-shop initiative, this weekend’s monsoon rain would easily cement his theory.

About an hour into an opening set on a gloomy Sunday afternoon the rain came in…and it came in hard.  Luckily, our manager and his team were ready.  They had already covered the hundreds of thousands of dollars in gear with tarps, canopies, and tie-downs earlier that morning after not liking what they saw in the AM weather forecast. A sprinkle here and there didn’t bother them, but the outlook on the Doppler did, so they lay in wait, checking their situation on a constant basis. Soon, the sprinkles turned into a downpour that just wouldn’t move on and the outside show was facing a dreaded cancellation.

With lots invested in this performance, leadership asked our stage manager if they could move the show indoors into their showroom… a spot which had hosted a national comedienne the night before. Luckily, our black-clad leader’s preparedness had ensured that the stage was struck, the cables tidy, and the space ready for any situation – even an emergency pool party on a rainy Sunday. With just a team of three, he agreed to the move and instantly went to work. I was so inspired by what I was about to see, that I offered a hand and over the next few hours one phrase continued to pop in my mind.

“Chance favors the prepared mind.”

After a quick delegation of what to grab from the tarp covered stage, the leader and his side-kick headed to their shop to pick-out what they required to set-up their second show in less than six hours. Thanks to their preparedness, the quickly surmised, located, and loaded the needed gear before wheeling it from one end of the property, up and elevator, and backstage into the new venue. Preparedness made sure that when they needed a 25-foot XLR cable, they knew where it was. Preparedness ensured that when one CDJ 2000 was out of commission due to the rain, they simply grabbed the back-up sitting next to it. Preparedness made sure that the act could go on with his rider requirements in place. Preparedness made sure that the show could go on.

Preparedness saved the day.

We live in an “instant” world and sometimes turn our noses at the work that goes on behind the scenes. The cook prepping at 10:00 am for the dinner shift, the flight mechanic who spends hours in pre-check before a plane takes off, the server who wraps dozens of sets of silverware before her shift. We turn our noses, because we sometimes do not see the direct impact these events have on the final outcome. In rock and roll, we often only see the show…the band under the lights. We do not see the sweaty, hungry, tired guys running like mad behind the scenes to make it all come together. And sometimes, we certainly do not see the countless hours they put in while the speakers are quiet to make sure the show will always go on.

This post, if anything, is to formally thank those “men and women in black” and their preparedness. Without them…rock and roll would cease to exist.

Buddy, Berklee, and Big Swing Face… a Lesson in Fundamentals for Musicians.

 

Buddy Rich Big Swing Face

I have listed to a lot of music over the years…I mean a lot. One of my favorite albums is Big Swing Face, a live album recorded over two nights by The Buddy Rich Big Band in 1967. There are a number of reasons that I enjoy this record. For one, it stars the indisputable king of drumming, Buddy Rich. Second, it is a big band album and as a drummer who has driven thirteen to eighteen piece swing bands, I can attest there is perhaps no greater challenge to the craft of the instrument. Each section of a big-band pulls/pushes time differently. Trombones, due to the difficult nature of their instrument, will pull. Trumpets, with their top of the spectrum tones and quick staccato, will push. As such, the drummer must control those fluctuations, all while reading and matching hits with each section.

Buddy Rich was a master of this.

He was also one of the hardest bandleaders ever to walk this earth. He berated, threw tantrums, and regularly fired band members for the simplest of infractions. If you want to hear just how rough Buddy was on his band mates, and if a whole lot of swearing doesn’t offend you, take a listen to The Buddy Rich Bus Tapes and be mortified by his leadership style.

However, before you cast judgment on Buddy, do two things. First, remember that Buddy always gave at least 110% on the stage night after night right up until the end. Don’t believe me, watch this video from 1982 when the drummer reportedly had a heart attack during his solo on the last song and still finished the set. Second, take another listen to Big Swing Face. This album is virtually flawless in every regard from time, to phrasing, and intonation. These musicians nailed their takes live without the aid of computer software to fix their mistakes or enhance their sound in post-production. The latter is a very important lesson when it comes to making music.

Garbage in…garbage out.

I was first introduced to this phrase during a late night recording session at Berklee College of Music in the mid 90’s. At that time, we recorded to tape and ProTools was still in the early adopter phase and not available to anyone with a computer. The option to fix takes later wasn’t as simple as it is now. Luckily, all Berklee students (including those in the production and engineering program) must undergo intense fundamental courses in ear-training, harmony, and private instrument studies so they know how to make musicians sound better BEFORE they are patched into the board. They understand that the fundamentals of the craft will always trump technology.

So why am I sharing this story?

Now that I work behind the stage booking entertainers I hear a lot of excuses, especially from those of the younger generation, as to why they aren’t sounding their best. The monitors weren’t right. The room was dead. The engineer doesn’t know what he is doing. We would sound better with our equipment…with our engineer. Truth is, the excuses are sometime so relentless that it gets me thinking that it could be the outside environment and not my musicians. Then I cue up Big Swing Face and I am reminded that nearly fifty years ago sixteen musicians could perform some of the most complex music live. Record it and wind up with an almost flawless album all without today’s modern technology as a crutch. Swing Face teaches me to constantly listen beyond the front of house and focus on the musicianship happening on stage. To seek out entertainers who are good at the fundamentals of their craft. The singer who knows exactly how far her mic should be from her mouth. The DJ who can match keys and tempos as well as beats, and the drummer who can swing a group of multi-time musicians into shape. I know that if their fundamentals are on point, the rest of the show is simply enhancing those skills, which is much easier for all involved and the key ingredient to a stellar performance.