You Guys Are Like Catsup!

May 31, 2011
Last night I crossed paths with a musical colleague who was playing at one of my favorite venues, The Lion’s Den in Stockbridge, MA. Jeff Martell is an ol’ singin’, guitar-slingin’ road-dog whom I don’t see often, but when our paths cross it’s always an interesting exchange. Last night was no different.

After we got caught up with each others comings and goings, we hit on the topic most of us itinerant solo musicians approach as our primary, yet necessary, annoyance: Booking and Self-promotion. Those of us who’ve been at this game for any length of time know that you just can’t avoid the Business of the music business. If you do, it will be at your peril. But that doesn’t mean we all like it or do it well. Finding and maintaining a balance between marketing yourself professionally and keeping your personal integrity (ie: keeping that Ego in check!) is sometimes a challenge, especially in our current Culture of Fame and Quest for Riches.

As performers, Jeff and I agreed that it is incumbent upon us to do our homework as to which venues are appropriate for what we have to offer. Even with that said and done, dealing with concert promoters and venue owners or their managers can often be an ordeal as many of them, despite your carefully-worded press kits and sample music tracks, are fully programmed with vivid Expectations about who you are and what you will do for them. Some of them have not done their homework about your music and want to book you into an inappropriate venue. Some shortsighted promoters just don’t care who you are or what you play; they are simply interested in selling more tickets or beer. Some hope you are the next Biggest & Hippest Thing and that your mere presence in their room will guarantee to fill it to the rafters with adoring fans – all of whom will be buying copious amounts of food and beverages and leaving Large Tips. Finally, some of them simply have tin ears and shouldn’t be doing the booking in the first place!

Jeff told me about a venue where he frequently plays in southern Vermont whose owner/manager has what I consider to be the best approach and attitude to booking musicians. Apparently while having a discussion on this very topic, this manager summed it up quite succinctly – and wisely - to Jeff: “To me, you performers are like catsup. I can’t serve up burgers and fries without catsup. And I am not going to serve my customers without some good live music.”

This venue manager views his entertainment as an essential, viable component of his operation. He has his Expectations in proper perspective and, most importantly, realizes that having live music is not compensation for providing patrons with mediocre food or service. He takes what I call a Value-Added approach to what he offers his patrons: the entertainment gives them more for their money and (hopefully) they have a really enjoyable experience while they are in his establishment, will readily return, and will tell their friends about his place. With him, it’s not about just selling burgers & beer, it’s about providing his patrons with something a little bit extra. And according to Jeff, this place is always busy and is a great place to play a show.

My hat goes off to this Vermont tavernier and to those like him for having this wider, and I think wiser, Value-Added perspective.

Please, pass the catsup!

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