Volume…what makes a good entertainer GREAT!

Watch Your Volume - Jeremy Larochelle-MBA

 

 

As someone who books bands for a living, I can’t believe I am going to say this. “Acts that don’t actively monitor their volume drive me nuts.”

 

There I said it.

 

Now, I am specifically speaking to the artists who perform in “background music scenarios.” Performance spaces in hotel lobbies, small bars, and restaurants that typically don’t focus on the entertainment (e.g. they don’t have a stage and dancing isn’t encouraged). In these situations, it is crucial that the artist pay careful attention to their volume as they are not the center of attention. Unfortunately, many newer performers have trouble grasping this concept and I believe that inexperience is to blame.

 

If you were to observe a veteran performer against a greenhorn in a similar environment, you will likely see what I mean.

 

Thanks to years of trial and error, veterans have been psychologically conditioned to accept the fact that they are not the focus of the room, which places them in the proper headspace to handle the gig. This comes through in everything from their song choice to their banter with customers and even how they read the room. As such, a true club pro will read a “background music” gig differently. If they see patrons leaning in too close to talk or notice the overall volume has increased. They will intuitively pull back the dynamics to restore order. The true masters will even alter their song selection choosing keys with darker…less bright characteristics such as D over E Major.  Notes that don’t conflict with the timbre of the average speaking voice and thus raise the overall decibel level in the venue.

 

As mentioned, seasoned pros typically fair better in these situations. However, other psychological factors come into play.  Artists still seeking the coveted “record deal” will have more trouble adjusting to these situations as their professional focus is to break through the noise and get noticed. As such, many have (rightfully so) adopted a mentality where they seek to command the stage and everyone’s attention. Chances are if an entertainer has more original tunes in their catalog than covers. They may be inside that headspace and the booker should enact more due diligence and proceed with caution.

 

A final word of warning is this. When vetting an act propositioning you for a gig. Many will say anything to earn the job and that includes telling you that they can meet any volume requirements.  It is always best to look beyond their puffery, especially if you notice that they are less-experience or more focused on the original music track of their career.

 

As for you artists out there. Don’t be discouraged by these gigs. For one, they can supplement your career and put food on the table.  They are also an excellent way for you to better your room-reading skills and ability to perform at softer volumes, thus increasing your overall dynamic control. These skills will come into play in other avenues of your career.

The Dangers of Egotistic Booking

The Dangers of Altruistic Booking

 

 

As a booking agent, it is imperative that you keep check on your emotional attachment to the product. You see. We all have our favorite bands… a song that has touched our heart… or an album that helped us through a dark time. This emotional attachment is a unique characteristic of the product of music and can be a dangerous way to go about procuring entertainment for your establishment if left unchecked.

 

As for the performance space. Owners also have an idea of what they hope their venue will look like. They envision a certain type of customer that will sit at their bars, the employees that serve them their libations, and the entertainment that drives them through the doors. These concepts we visualize are rooted in narrative psychology. Basically, we all envision a way we perceive ourselves, our environment, and our meaning for existence. As children, we dream of becoming astronauts, police officers, and even thieves.  Interestingly, we do not stop our internal play as we get older. We are constantly assessing how the world does, will, and should perceive us. This carries over when we think about the performance space and, left unchecked, can lead to erroneous qualitative assessments regarding what that space should be.

 

There is nothing wrong with having a “vision” for your venue, bar, or club. However, one should never let that vision go unchecked without quantifying their assumptions first. For instance, if you see your club as a country bar with fiddle-fronted bands, two-step contests, and lots of Budweiser. It would behoove you to undergo market research before you invest in that concept.  How many radio stations spin country music in your market?  Where is the venue located? Is it in Manhattan adjacent to Skyscrapers filled with investment bankers or on the outskirts of Houston with oil fields in the distance? Walk or ride your bike around the area at various times of the day to get an idea of whom is in your backyard. Are they wearing cowboy hats, jeans, and big belt buckles or white on white Nikes and flat-brimmed caps?

 

Tip: (Budget research costs into Your investment.) Allocate a percentage of your intended purchase towards a research budget. Even one percent of the cost of a $300,000 investment would cough up $3,000 for zoning maps, competitor analysis, and market trends. It will help you make better decisions moving forward and could easily save you that amount (plus some) in misinformed decisions.

 

Once you have your data. Combine your qualitative assumptions with those quantitative facts. Then, make your decision. Don’t get fooled by the stories of great leaders who went with their gut. I bet they gathered their own empirical evidence. Sam Walton was a private pilot who picked out store locations by flying over prospective towns for Walmart. He then made deals on lot prices based on his literal “bird’s eye view” of the situation.

 

If instead, you choose to just “go with your gut.” You enter into the danger of what I call Egotistic Booking. Or booking based solely on non-scientific evidence regarding the venue or it’s programming. There is nothing wrong with this type of booking…if you get it right! For years, the best agents were egotistic and successful.

 

But the game has changed.

 

The great bookers and promoters of the past never had to compete with the substitutes your customers have right now…in the palm of their hand. Your customers can choose to binge on Netflix, catch-up on their favorite Kardashian happenings on Instagram, check the daily news on Snapchat, and scroll through all of their friends’ lives on Facebook. They have Spotify with their favorite playlists loaded and ready to go and if they want to see a live band. They probably can with a live stream on YouTube, Facebook or one of many apps that now make that experience a reality.

 

That is a whole lot of competition that didn’t exist twenty…even ten years ago and chances are. You probably can’t compete with it.

 

But don’t worry. Neither can the local venues you contend with. This opens up a potential competitive advantage that you can grab. One borrowed from the online competitors you are now facing. They are using algorithms based on science and math to quantify and execute their decisions. Maybe it’s time you include a little math in your brick and mortar bookings. It will shield you from some of the dangers of egotistic booking.

 

 

 

 

The Risk Entertainment Buyers Face

Live concert - Jeremy Larochelle, MBA

 

My business card says agent, but truth-be-told, I am actually a buyer.  A buyer is slightly different than a booking agent in that we purchase entertainment for a particular venue. Booking agents generally have a list of acts they represent and spend their days pitching them to various venues and guys like me.

Buyers are hired for their entertainment expertise, connections, and ability to negotiate better deals for their clients. Those deals boil down to less money spent versus more money earned (relatively speaking of course). To get to that point, the buyer plays arbiter for all parties in the negotiation until the deal is struck. Unfortunately, sitting in the middle of said deal means that the buyer assumes the post of whipping boy should anything negatively impact the transaction before, during, and after.

In most negotiations, the risk is generally carried 50/50. If I have a contract to buy widgets from Johnny, LLC and I fail to pay. It is my phone that rings off the hook. Flip the script and Johnny forgets to ship my widgets in time. It’s his ringtone that gets overplayed. In a buyer-backed deal, they would sit in-between Johnny, LLC and the customer and get to deal with ALL of those calls.

Entertainers often overlook the risks buyers face and nowhere is it more evident than in their sales pitch. “Book our band…we have 1,900 followers on Instagram.” “Hire us for your corporate event…we really like Propecia. Come on!…what do YOU have to lose?” These statements tell us that somewhere musicians and bands are landing gigs on pitches like this. Most of the time, this happens with smaller venues whose entertainment is handled by an overworked bar or restaurant manager. Unfortunately, this has done a disservice to entertainers who want to move up the food chain and eventually deal with buyers like me.

I immediately ask potential acts to fill out our entertainer application.  It is a great litmus test to see if the artist is professional enough to follow directions.  It also forces them to write down the correct name, URLs, and contact information, which results in fewer errors. *Hint…this is one of the reasons YOU fill out your forms at medical practices.

Then, I check out their videos, social presence, other venues they have played, and even Google the band to see what comes up. If everything looks good. The next step is to go see the act live.  I have discussed this before in another post called Using A&R in Venue Management, so I won’t bore you with the details. (But check it out…it’s REALLY good… my mom says so.)

If all the stars align, I book them for one of our venues, but on a trial basis of limited shows. I can’t tell you how many times I have watched a great band in one venue completely falter in another. This is because numerous variables come into play including everything from the gear we use to the side of town we are on compared to that of the band’s home turf. I also talk about this in my post Listen Through the Show. Check it. My mom digs that one too.

Experience has taught me that these extra steps greatly mitigate the chances of a bad show in our venue.  And as a buyer, mitigating those chances is the name of the game, so if you are an artist looking for a gig. Be prepared.

  • Have live un-doctored videos on YouTube or Vimeo ready to share.
  • Have a social presence and use it to show that you connect with fans through lots of likes, follows, post interactions, and updates from your crew.
  • Have a list of your upcoming gigs readily available online. Sometimes, dudes like me have a few free nights and are looking to see a band we are interested in.
  • Be patient.
  • Put yourself in our shoes. If I didn’t know you. Would you book my act?  Now support that answer with a big fat WHY?

Keep in mind. Booking agents, buyers, managers, and the venues we work with absolutely want you to succeed. Simply put, we all make more money when you do. The best thoroughly vet their potential acts to make sure we can prepare you for that success. Work with them and your gigs will only get better.

 

Using A&R in Venue Management

Live Concert Venue

Artist and Repertoire is a cool job. The A&R men, as they are known, were record label executives who found and nurtured talent toward stardom. The position was integral during the record industry boom, as they were the ones responsible for keeping a record label’s pool of talent both fresh and full.

It takes a very specific skill set to be exceptional in this department. For one, You have to have a good ear for music and be able to hear how much potential an act has by doing what I call “listening through the show.” You have to be a powerful influencer. Not just with potential artists, but with those who hold the purse strings at the record label. I once worked with a legendary A&R name on a very limited basis. He taught me that the Artist and Repertoire agent never has the “final say” if a band will get a record deal. Instead, he had to work with potential acts to prep them for the pitch to those with the means to launch their careers.

Once an A&R person lands the act they have been hunting, the job truly begins. Now, they must work between artist and label to align the talent in a way that meets the business needs of the financier. They may work on the entertainer’s image, adjust their marketing and promotion, or train them to become better performers live among a host of other tweaks.

Unfortunately, the A&R gig has been downsized along with the mammoth record labels that existed pre-Napster. Something I was saddened to be reminded of during my undergraduate studies in music business.

Six years and an MBA later and I am on my way to a second venue in one night to catch a band. This will be one of four venues visited that day and about ten in two weeks. This act is one of nearly twenty on my evolving “need to see list” that stems from research online, word of mouth, and solicitations from those looking for work. It is not uncommon for me to check a country band, Ozzy Tribute, Tejano lounge act, DJ, and guitar soloist in one week.

I am directly responsible for filling nine lounges with weekly varied entertainment. On top of that, the company I work for is always on the look out for talent to place in lounges in Vegas, Texas, Arizona, Seattle, Oregon, and on every major cruise line. We need everything from DJ’s, to duos, trios, rock bands, Latin bands, tributes, bingo callers, and soloists. On top of that, our clients demand professionals who can read the room and meet very stringent brand aesthetics.

So, I am out scouting to fill our talent funnel working like an A&R man. Never letting the bands know I am coming. You can’t see how they will “really” act if they know a suitor is there. When on site, I am working. I am observing the band. How do they look? How do they sound? Is the crowd into it? Are they holding the crowd? Are they drinking? Is the crowd drinking? Would their song choices, style, and delivery meet my client’s needs?

Now, if you think I find acts that meet all of these criteria. You are sorely mistaken.  As I analyze, I look at what they do well and the investment we would need to make them into a good match for any of our buyers. Are they simple fixes, like updating their dress or more complex situation such as adjusting their music selection or learning to read and control a room. If I think we may have a match, I reach out. If not, I may come back again to see how they are progressing.

I’ve got a list for that as well.

Much like an A&R man of 1987. After we have landed a group for our client’s. My real job begins. We work on getting them ready for our stages, our protocols, and our needs. I catch their gigs, take notes, and if needed call them the next day to suggest changes. And just like the A&R men of the past, I am working with the record label (or in my case my venue client), probably assuring them that the new act will result in positive ROI, or that we will adjust their dress, drinking problem, or break times to help push those metrics.

I find great talent and nurture it into a successful product for my client’s needs. It is just that instead of my client selling records, they are looking to sell drinks, cruise getaways, or more time in the casino. By looking at my procurement funnel from the view of an A&R man, I can help them achieve those goals by crafting a pipeline of talent that will keep their venues fresh and full.

I guess I got to be an A&R guy after all.

 

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. 

 

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.