As I watched the 2018 Rock and Roll Hall of fame Induction Ceremony on HBO, I couldn’t help but admire how tight many of the bands inducted were despite their long absences from the stage. Most notably were The Cars. Whom had not performed together since 2011. The group burned through some of their most iconic hits including Moving In Stereo, Just What I Needed, and My Best Friend’s Girl nailing the tiny progressions, hooks, harmonies, and changes in each that are forever etched in our minds.
And it got me thinking.
Thinking about how our foray into the modern “home studio” has killed a very important derivative benefit that blest many bands such as The Cars, Lauryn Hill, The Moody Blues, and Bon Jovi during their upbringing in the “offline” world of music consumption. The benefit of being forced to craft a song into a hit by playing through its pieces over and over again.
We all know the primary responsibility of the recording studio – to record. However, pre-Pro Tools. The studio was a place where you and your bandmates went to develop your songs with the help of a producer. Unlike today, where you can kind of get the right notes down and then let the engineers copy, paste, and autotune them into perfection. The studio of yesterday required you to play your parts over and over again until you got the perfect take. Sure, there were crutches, but they were costly and generally took more time than the musician just working his or her instrument until they got it right.
This process surely helped make great hits – just ask The Cars. However, it also forced the musicians to commit these hooks, riffs, rhythms, and notes to their subconscious must like Danielson did under Mr. Miyagi’s tutelage with his “wax-on/ wax-off technique.” Then, when the recording was done. These bands hit the road for 200 plus dates a year playing those same riffs over and over, further committing them to a part of the brain that few people will ever tap into.
The end result is seventy plus year-old rockers who can still hit the stage after nearly a decade of not playing together and give me Just What I Needed – a collection of iconic tunes that sound just like I first heard them in a Pontiac Trans Am.
Musicians and entertainers are a unique breed of individuals… an enigma if you will? Many times, that outgoing personality we see on-stage is not the same person behind it. In fact, from my experience, I find that most entertainers are more introverted than extroverted. They are reserved and highly emotional individuals partly because the product they present is based on emotional attachment.
This is why it is imperative that managers, stagehands, venue representatives, marketing personnel, etc. respect the pre-performance time of the artist. I am speaking about the hour directly before they hit the stage. During this time, that introvert is preparing to “come out of their shell,” and for your venue to succeed. You want them to complete that transition. Over the years, I have seen personnel mismanage acts large and small at this point because they do not understand this aspect of the entertainer psyche. I have watched security give them hard times as they approached the stage about their credentials (even with me leading them). Managers argue with musicians about bar tabs before they hit the lights and tech’s fight with DJs about their set-up minutes before showtime. In all of these situations, the show suffered. Why? Because, in each instance, these events did not allow the artist to get out of their introverted state – a state you do NOT want them to be in when they are entertaining your audience.
I understand that any event is made up of numerous personnel with various personalities, job demands, and views of their position within the concert eco-system. Regardless, in the end. The show is ALL about appeasing the audience and the person they are most connected to at that point is the entertainer. They are the direct link between your success and the audience and for the next forty, sixty, or ninety plus minutes the most important person on the property. Here are some pieces of advice to help you set them (and your venue) up for success.
Give them their space. Make sure the act has a spot where they can “get away” if they need to. It doesn’t need to be a green room. A small corner of the lounge or section of the patio will work. Many times, you will see artists “hide-out” behind the stage. This is usually a sign to leave them alone.
Hold off on your reprimands. Was the artist late? Did they not dress properly? Did they load-in through the wrong door? Did their last show bomb? NOW is NOT the time to address this with them. You will have plenty of time to discuss these items later on. If you want a great show, you can’t send them on stage worried or thinking about how they already failed. Give them feedback after the show, or better yet. The next day.
Make them feel tech-secured. Make sure your technicians touch base with the artist and ask them if they have any questions, comments, or concerns about a 1/2 hour before showtime. Then, actively listen to their demands. NOW is NOT the time to fight with them about mic placement or to start a rift regarding in-ear monitors. Rather, NOW is the time to make them feel like you have their back for the next 45-plus minutes.
Treat them like rock stars. Even if you hate their music or dislike the entertainer as a person because he stole your girlfriend. Smile and tell them to have a great show as they head towards the stage. If you have a history of their performance. Tell them about something they did at the last show that you thoroughly enjoyed. Just don’t tell them your mom or grandma likes their music and don’t oversell your enthusiasm.
Remember the Berklee Recording Rule. While studying briefly at Berklee College of Music, I spent many hours in recording sessions with my roommate who was in the final year of the program. I heard variations of the following phrase.
“It is your job to support the artist and stay out of their way.”
I learned that this meant that you supported the artist’s physical and mental space above all else. You rolled with every punch. You didn’t force the drummer to move his snare for better mic placement. You worked around it. If the pianist runs all of his keys through the same amp, you find a way to work within his set-up and don’t force him to change it. If the singer feels comfortable in the dark with candles – you shut the lights off, even if you can’t see a damn thing.
What Berklee’s recording and engineering lesson teaches us is that ultimately, your goal is to send an artist on stage feeling confident, respected, and in-demand. This will help pull them out of their introverted headspace, let their artistry shine, and focus on connecting with their fans. The end result is a better show with a greater opportunity for success.
I celebrate my five-year anniversary with Mike Moloney Entertainment on March 1st, 2018 and what a crazy, chaotic, and fun ride it has been. So, I wanted to share with you five take-a-ways from my time as a booking agent and entertainment manager. Enjoy!
First and foremost. This is just my opinion on where the Electronic Dance Music (EDM) genre is headed. However, I will apply some scientific theory to my analysis. If anything more, than to just make me sound MUCH smarter than I am.
With that being said, I want to start off by presenting you with the basic Adoption Cycle. It looks something like this. Some may notice it is a bell curve with a normal distribution and standard deviation.
The adoption cycle concept runs through nearly every conceivable business offering and music consumption is no different. Credit of the current model can be traced back to Everett Rogers who organized consumers into various groups based on their personality traits. According to Rogers, these traits influence their adoption of a new offering in the marketplace. The fashion industry is a great example of how the adoption cycle works. In this example, Gucci will unveil a new line at Milan Fashion Week. Right out of the gate, Innovators will spar and pay top dollar to be the first to don the coveted threads as they are typically of a higher social class and thus inelastic to price. Shortly thereafter, the Early Adopters will seek out the new styles. Many of these individuals are of the opinion class, industry gatekeepers, who influence the longer running growth of the Early Majority, which follows to the apex of the Bell Curve.
At this point, another economic principle takes hold. With Innovators, Early Adopters, and the Early Majority showcasing their new wears, more potential consumers are influenced and demand increases. However, those left are more price sensitive, so they seek out alternatives, which are satisfied through bargain stores such as Macy’s and Target that appeal to that Late Majority. At this point, Gucci has lost their competitive advantage and the company will move onto the next great design, leaving the market to these lesser profitable sales channels. With that exit, price continues to drop allowing the Laggards to pick up knockoff items for bargain prices at lower-cost outlets. Then, the cycle starts again with the newest fashion.
One might think that the adoption cycle is entirely the brainchild of the master brand to get you to purchase new items every year. And in many ways. It is. In the technology market, this is called product obsolescence. However, the cycle is also a reflection on how different consumer personalities correlate to a particular product at various price points on the supply/demand curve and when analyzed from this perspective. One can more-easily predict when a product, fad, or trend is about to change or even disappear from the mainstream market altogether.
This analysis can be applied to the product of music as well. How many times has a friend told you about a new group that you have never even heard of? In this situation. That friend is an Innovator. Or have you ever listened to the radio or a curated playlist, heard a great new band, and then went and streamed their album. (That channel who lead you to the band is made up of Early Adopters). A year down the road, you go to their sold-out 600 seat show to join the Early Majority who have been influenced by those Innovators and Adopters. A year after that, your new favorite band is in-town playing before 1,500 Late Majority fans who have finally caught on. As the years follow, the band continues to pick up fans, but at a less rapid pace. They play to 1,850 the next year and 2,000 Laggards the year after that while a newer act fills the venue across the street on their second route through town.
This is also the case with entire genres of music. Remember Grunge? How about the Ska movement?
Which brings me to my contention regarding EDM.
Specifically in the U.S., we currently seem to be sitting at (or even slightly over) the apex of the bell-curve regarding the EDM adoption cycle. Evidence of this lies in where the genre has permeated society. It used to be that EDM was underground, held at house parties and hidden raves where Innovators caught artists such as Armin Van Burren, Daft Punk, and Afrojack on their rise. Music consumers looking for alternatives to typical live-music caught on, helping push these artists into larger clubs and thus acquiring a steady stream of Early Adopters. Eventually, DJ AM among others brought the genre to thousands with residencies in Vegas. Quickly pushing the genre up the Early Majority side of the curve. Today, EDM has found homes in most casinos, numerous festivals that dwarf anything live-music can match, and even terrestrial radio bringing the entire genre to the apex of the bell curve. Now, it is not uncommon to catch quality DJ’s in Nordstroms, restaurants, and even Whole Foods, which suggests the genre has not only peaked but actually may be moving into the Late Majority.
This does not mean that EDM is over. The bell curve representing this genre’s adoption is quite large compared to other musical choices such as, say, Texas Swing or even punk, which only lasted in the mainstream from about 74-84′. EDM’s start can be traced back to Jamaican dub in the 60’s with electronic music entering the mainstream in the 1980’s. This means that if we are in fact cresting today, in 2017, the genre has taken nearly 40 years to cover half of its adoption cycle. Even if its fall is half that time, we still have a lot of booty shaking electronic bass to go.
However, as always in entertainment, the question remains.
What is next?
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.