[Originally written for the Berklee Blog created for their Intern Program way back in January of last year, when Greenberg obviously had a lot of time on his hands, somewhere before going to sleep and those dark hours after midnight.]
When I interview interns for the Ted Kurland Associates program, which I oversee here at TKA, more than a few want to know if they are going to work directly with the agents, or with management, as if the marketing side of it were tangential to their education, not only as an intern at TKA, but as a whole to their career. Of course, working with the artists is more interesting than working with the pictures of the artists; getting into the thick of the business of music is really the key to their understanding of the booking process. I know that, which is why I try and give them face time with the agents.
Hopefully Berklee-ites…As this was first written for Berklee’s intern blog, I needed to address them head on. But you know, for all those who did not get into Berklee, got into, but could not afford Berklee, go somewhere else less fanatically music-oriented, or just answer “uh…Berkeley?” when asked about the Boston Music School, you can insert the name of your own school where-ever you see that moniker; making this as close to a real one-on-one with me — as that is less and less likely to happen the busier I get in this race to the finish — instead of the usual impersonal read you get off a blog like this one.
So, let’s start this again. Hopefully (Insert Your School Name Here & add the “ites” or just add, “all the young dudes and dudettes”) reading this will have a career where they can afford to shave off a nice percentage for a manager; one who understands all this tangential business kind of stuff and can honestly oversee the marketing. For nowadays, you need the right kind of marketing crew who knows how to use all the bleeding-edge tools-of-the-minute in order to shoot your career into the stratosphere, and, even more important, keep it there. Before you do, there is one basic term you need to understand. It’s not too hard to get, though I am perplexed when starving artists don’t even have this tool tucked under their belts. Perhaps that’s why they are starving?
Let’s start with the marketing term for today. It is AUDIENCE. As in those people who want to hear your music. To get gigs, you must have a loyal fan base. Clubs want to fill their rooms with paying customers so those customers can buy drinks, eat food, pay for all the stuff that gets called “overhead.” Don’t even expect to be considered by a promoter at a large club unless you have an audience that can minimally fill his room.
The very basic item you need for your marketing is your AUDIENCE. You need to get info to them, connect with them, keep them in your pocket. For that, you need to build a fan list — in a sortable database is best and you don’t have to go hog-wild — a spreadsheet is the simplest solution. I’m amazed that even the most-experienced and successful artists lack any method for building a fan database. Or if they do, I find they don’t capture fans at every concert. These are your loyal fans; they like you.They want to know more about you. They WANT to buy your music. They pay good money to see you play.
In today’s dollars, any money is good money, and you have to compete with so many other “good” things your fans need to have. Like breakfast. Or a donut. You should let them find you, be able to listen to you, easily buy your music, come to your gigs, move your career along so that you can play those clubs. And to that end, you need to know who they are. Not intimately, but here’s the minimum: First Name, Last Name, Email Address, State, Zipcode. (Zipcode is the best to use to pinpoint audiences within a certain mile radius of a venue — record companies, promoters, and you, will need this in the future, so start collecting it now.)
If you were a real mensch, you might want to have additional columns to keep track of what they buy, how many times they buy tickets, etc. like the successful chain stores do every time you buy an item online or with a charge card.
You know why they do it? They want to know how they can give you the best incentives, keeping you coming back again and again and buy even more stuff to help them make a profit and stay in business to sell you more stuff. Yes, that’s crass and commercial but let’s break it down. In just one year a fan may see you five times, buy a tee-shirt and buy your CD or EP or a Download Card. That’s probably a total bill — with car fare, drinks, perhaps dinners — of over 100 dollars.
Look at it as they are buying your dinner, keeping the lights on, maybe even paying for a few pairs of socks, that donut, that breakfast, and sometimes sparking your creativity. So, why not gather your loyal fan base where you can keep in contact with them? Don’t think of it as crass and commercial. At the very least think of it as survival; at the very most think of it as a public service. These fans WANT your music. Why not give them the easy route to giving them what they want? And to do that you need to know who they are and how to contact them. Simple as that.
Start right now to create your fan list. A pad with some columns would do just fine. And make it worthwhile for everyone to sign up-some incentive for making your fans give it up for your career.
Some ideas: A raffle for a free t-shirt, a live download of your new song, an invite to a sound check and dinner with you the next time you are in town. There are all sorts of email marketing products that will also help you collect your lists with online widgets, and they make it easy to create professional-looking emails. I use Constant Contact for TKA and my freelance work for many reasons, but the biggest one is they do not charge you for the amount of emails you send, only a set price for the size of your list. (If you want to try them out, email me, and I’ll send you a link that could save you dineros if you decide to use them.) There are also some direct-to-fan platforms that handle this as well, Bandcamp, Sonicbids, Topspin and include other robust tools that help “indie” artists manage their careers.
Now getting to the gig part. You understand you need an audience in order to fill a club for a gig. And a loyal one as well. Dayla Santurri, General Manager of Scullers Jazz Club here in Boston has a “Door Gig” policy for musicians just starting out. Starting out artists can “four-wall” the room to showcase their talents. You pay for the room and market your butt off to get an audience. If you are really successful, you might be considered as a potential booking. If not, you still owe Scullers the cost for the room, which is $750.00. That’s a great deal for a room of that size, so great that it doesn’t cover all the costs of keeping Scullers room open on that night.
Scullers suggests a ticket price of no less than $20.00. Which means you need to sell 38 tickets just to break even. Even at that number, Dayla has seen the inevitable. “Some kids walk out of here with no money (or owing us money) because they did not heed the warnings to market their shows well.” Scullers does market the shows, gets the info into all the right places, and they are in a high-class hotel which could pull in a few impulse buyers, but Scullers has no built-in audience. No venue can build your audience- you have to.
And one rule of thumb that we email marketers heed is a successful email campaign is getting 10-15% of our list to actually follow through on an action. That’s not buying per-se, that’s just having them open up the email for an impression. The bottom-line? To get even a glimmer of a success at selling 38 tickets, and if you only used email marketing, AND your family didn’t buy up a scad of tickets? You will need a list with over 300 Bostonians alone. Dayla has seen a few successful groups who “actually did an amazing job getting friends and family out and some have cleared $2500. That is much more than any venue would ever pay them as a guarantee at this stage in their career.”
Get cracking on that list. By the way, Scullers has now instituted a new policy of advance ticket sales, as Dayla told me:
“Musicians were coming in night of show with no reservations at all for that night’s show and they’d not be bothered one bit, telling us that all their friends promised they would come. And then they don’t. No one shows up. That’s tremendously embarrassing for us all. So Scullers has now instituted a minimum for us to hold the show. If they don’t have 30 tickets sold by two weeks out the show is cancelled. This is unfortunate, but for us, it’s also a complete waste of time and money. The staff and I have an incredible amount of set-up work for a show and, importantly, it is also a waste of a date that should have gone to another deserving act.”
Now, if you were passed the level of four-walling it and are going on tour expecting play venues like Emo’s in Austin, you would have to be able to pack in a sizable audience just for them to consider you. Kevin Hoskins, the In-House Talent Buyer at Emos, gave me his basic numbers for the Inside room (300 capacity) at the club:
$350 Staff (incl. security)
$150 Sound & Lights
That’s $800 just to open the club and keep the lights on without one cent going to pay you. At eight to ten dollars a ticket, you will need to draw in a whole lot more than the minimum of 80 fans into the club if you want to be guaranteed any kind of fee by Mr. Hoskins. And, again, you will need a potential fan database with way over 800 emails who live within a 50 mile radius of Emo’s 78701 zip code.
[Editor’s Note: As is this music industry is incredibly fluid, both of these fine people, Ms. Santurri and Mr. Hoskins, are no longer employed at Scullers and Emo’s, respectively. So, please don’t bother calling up those fine establishments trying to get a gig with either of those two. They won’t be calling you back anytime soon.]
Your audience is your lifeline. Your fan list is gold. Which gets my head shaking when bands don’t have some way to collect their fan info at gigs, online, wherever. And don’t even tell me that you have a Facebook fan page and a Twitter account. I have so many Facebook Events shooting at me from England and/or the Far East and/or even right here in Boston that I will never, ever, get to. Social media is great, but it is not efficient enough to be your only way to contact your fans.
Start a list. Use it well. Build your audience one fan at a time and capture their information anywhere and everywhere they are: at gigs, visiting your website, in your CDs, EPs, and on and on. When you have a good fan base who will pack a club and make them money, promoters will take notice. Get a massive audience and I bet those A&R dudes and dudettes will be calling you to get on the guest list with their “plus ones” the next time you play En-Why or El-Ay.
[This is another in the continuing series of Berklee Blogs reposted here. This one first appeared in January of 2011.]
For more in the ever-intriguing, suspense-driven, series of blogs written for Berklee College of Music, go to Greenberg’s own blog at tapedave.wordpress.com to review these fine specimens :  You Don’t Know Anything and Your Ideas Are Worthless (No, Seriously, Get Used To It…) and  Listen To Your Parents And Then…. And, this one,  On Innovation, Flying Deloreans & Explosions In The Desert was ‘sposed to be on their blog, but since it did not deal with the music bidness exclusively it was denied it’s day there, but wound up on this fine Music Think Tank site.
Bio for this bloggette David Greenberg is Director of Marketing and hosts Berklee Interns for Ted Kurland Associates, a boutique booking and management agency located in the Allston environs of Boston, MA. His background in this industry of entertainment has been a wild and bumpy ride, (some say with his own tacks littering the highway) best read on his Facebook or LinkedIn pages. A few tidbits: he was responsible for unleashing the first four Bill Hicks releases to the public for Rykodisc, proudly produced and sequenced the FZ Cheap Thrills compilation on which his credit was cheapened to “intramural sports” by the powers-that-had-been due to some brouhahahahahaha legalismo, and was a corpse, more than a few times, for his productions of Murder To Go live action mysteries, scripted and created by another Ithaca College alum, David Landau. Biz Links Website: tedkurland.com / Twitter: @tedkurland / Facebook / Personal Twitter @tapedave