All these hats make my neck stiff.

Matt prepares to do a sound check at the Kimmel Center

Matt preparing for his Kimmel Center  sound check.

It may be that I end up wearing them simultaneously and have a heck of a time balancing them without twisting various muscles…. Now that I’ve stretched that analogy to the limit (but not beyond) let me get to the subject at hand.

One of my students recently asked for advice on booking his group. He’s in his first year of college and has been rehearsing this band for several months. He asked how to ‘break into’ a market. Admittedly, this is an issue for us older (there, I said it), more experienced players who remember when clubs hired you because the booker thought you sounded good — you didn’t have the requirement of bringing a certain number of fans to the gig or having a good bar sales total by night’s end. You also didn’t shoulder the entire responsibility of promotion as the venue would advertise in print, on the air, on billboards. You even got a guarantee (as in pay!) and received a per-person cut on the draw.

That scenario is, of course, a thing of the past. As bad as things were then for up-and-coming groups, we did what we should have been doing — concentrating on the music and being the best we could be. Ultimately, the music is what’s being marketed and with the bulk of the responsibility for promotion and publicity resting on the artists’ shoulders it’s very difficult to progress as a dedicated musician.

I know the ‘digital revolution’ forever changed the face of music & the arts and has given far more control to musicians — but it’s in a very narrow market. The most benefit falls to the ‘indie’ bands and the singer-songwriters that find most of their appeal in an ‘under-30 market’ that will buy more than one drink at a bar and has the time/lifestyle that permits going out on weeknights to the performances. The listeners that I or someone like me draw comes from a broader range of people — the under-30s are certainly there but do not account for the bulk of my fanbase. The individuals who are over 30 generally have less flexibility in their lives with careers, family and related responsibilities. While an occasional weeknight show can find its way into their schedules, it’s difficult to make a regular habit of it and still function at a serious daytime job. I’ve seen this with the turnouts for artists such as Pierre Bensusan and Scott Henderson where a 1/3 or 1/2-filled venue on a Wednesday night is a disappointment to both the artists and the venue (and a reason for the venue not to book them back). While I can argue that my national/international reputation is not that grand, both of them certainly have established themselves and it’s not a failure in the quality of their performances or music when the draw is light. Of course, on the other side of the fence the promoter has to pay bills and rent just like we do — but I think the process has shifted too far into the artists’ laps and now we’re the ones who make it or break it if gigs (numbers) don’t go well.

I am beginning to sound off and point fingers (index, of course) which I don’t want to do. But I, admittedly, am a bit exhausted (mentally) and frustrated with the way things work. Just the other day I practiced for about three hours and suddenly thought “I should be following up on those California gigs”. Balancing the development of one’s art with the development of one’s fanbase tends to require more active hours than a day permits.

I better wrap this up — I’ve got calls to Canada to make before I Photoshop that new flyer together and write out that duet arrangement for Katherine before I give my son a hand with his Psychology project.

Wait… my car is due for an oil change.

See you soon.


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