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Putting People in the Seats: A Team Approach

Before we get to the venue part of things, we need to focus on that "team" concept you are always hearing about. Yes, it does take a team to build a career: the artist, the agent, the publicist, the personal manager, the road manager, the merchandiser, the business manager and so on. However, these are essentially roles. If you are Garth Brooks, you have different individuals fulfilling these different roles; maybe even several people in one role. However, when you are in the initial stages of building a career, you may be the whole team. By default, you are going to have to take on all those roles to some degree or another. You know from just looking at the list (or from hard, cold personal experience) that you cannot do them all well. By definition, you have to be the artist and everything else will be secondary both by necessity and, in general, by inclination.

Usually the next step is to get an agent, if only because making cold calls is the first thing artists decide they would like to eliminate from their lives. As you all know, this is a whole lot easier said than done but let's make the quantum leap to your having acquired an agent. Now you have added a second person to the team, which means you can divvy all those roles up between the two of you. This is why I refer to myself as an artist representative. I know that I end up doing management, booking, publicity and a little therapy on the side. (It's okay - I'm licensed in Marylandů) In general, there needs to be some discussion of who does what because every artist/rep pairing is different with different people bringing different strengths to the table. As things progress, hopefully, you can start to bring other people on board and the roles will need to be re-evaluated.

Okay, now we are ready to bring the venue into the equation. Once you get a booking, you and the venue have exactly the same goal: to have a successful evening. But bear in mind that you may define "success" differently. Generally, everybody can agree that having a sold out evening is a success in anybody's book. However, for you, success may also be a standing ovation at the end. Success for the venue may be a certain level of dinner and alcohol sales. Be aware of your allies' concerns; your fortunes are tied. Anything you can do to further his cause furthers yours also.

Like all good partnerships, the key is communication. Find out as much as you can about how things have been going, what acts have been doing well and which have been doing poorly. You may get some clues on how to aim your own show and, in the discussion, you'll learn a bit more about how your new partner views things. Being as non-threatening as possible, ask if the venue does any paid advertising. The next issue is critical: find out if they have a media list. If they don't, you have to consider the possibility that this is a place that does not make any publicity efforts at all. If you are going to take the gig, do so knowing that the only publicity may be what you do.

There is an assumption here that you have the necessary tools for decent publicity: a good 8X10 is basic. Once you have that, start improving your arsenal. More than one pose is nice. A vertical shot is good to have for when you hit the cover of the entertainment section. Color transparencies are mandatory for many "Best Bets" sections these days. Do a fill-in-the-blank press release on yourself and send it with the contract and pictures. Have a Q & A sheet they can send to newspapers so they can quote you without even having to pick up the phone. You want it to be as easy as possible for the venue to publicize your night there; don't force them to read through all your material and create a press release unless they want to do that. Posters are a big plus in my book and you ought to look at getting some as soon as you have a decent picture.

Find out if they send out a calendar to a mailing list and what kind of response rate they feel they can count on on any given night. Obviously, you need to hold up your end also. In the initial stages of getting things going, you may need to spend more money on a mailing than seems to make sense based on your guarantee. Consider it an investment in futures. If it is going to cost you $150 to mail to all your names in the region and that's your whole guarantee, grit your teeth and do it. If you don't, chances are the show rate will not justify your returning to that venue. On the other hand, it may pay off big, a ton of folks show up, you go into percentages and everybody's happy. In an ideal world, you look at these numbers and costs before you make the deal so you don't end up in a position where you feel you can't do a mailing because you can't afford it. In those instances, it may be better not to do the date at all. Some wonderful venues will get labels from you and add them to their mailing but they are hardly the norm.

You may need to do some research to get the information to do the publicity. I have a pretty extensive media database that I've built over the years because I figured I might need it. Initially, I used to go to the library and xeroxed the "Newspaper" section of the Yellow Pages from the nearest big city. I also bought a couple of regional and national media lists. As I needed it, I entered the data into the computer. Obviously, when I get a media list from a venue, I enter that information. I collect newspapers everywhere I go. Some of my artists bring me newspapers from the various places that they tour so we can be better prepared the next time. Some have media lists of their own that we can share. The Internet is also a good source for media information.

Always ask the venue if they need a CD for in-house play. I also ask whether there are radio stations that support the venue where I should send CDs. Generally, I would prefer to get the information on the radio stations so I can enter it into the database but sometimes it's better if the venue hand-delivers it. Hard to beat the personal touch.

Just as no one person can adequately fill all the previously listed roles, two people are going to have trouble covering all the territory also. For myself, I feel there is a natural partnership between myself and the artist for publicity that mirrors the roles we play relative to the gig. I do the groundwork, they enthrall the audience. In publicity, this means that I get the press release out there in a timely fashion. Then I send the artist the information (I also send it to the venue) and we target a few key press and radio people (often in consultation with the venue to help us identify the important players) for the artist to contact. Hopefully, by the time the artist gets in touch, the press/radio contact has gotten the press release and knows who is calling. Obviously, the task here is to be intriguing enough to get an interview, a feature story or, at the very least, good placement of a picture in the Entertainment Section. One way or another, the one thing that you can be sure of is that the artist calling the media can only benefit you; it is never going to work against you.

From my standpoint, this works well for a number of reasons. First, I simply don't have the time to do both the press release and the follow-up and both are important. Two, I think this breakdown in assignments is the best use of our respective skills. Lastly, having the artist call is the most likely way to achieve the goal of getting better publicity. Media people are just like everybody else; in most cases, they want to connect with the artist.

An important point to remember is that neither you or the venue are in control of whether the folks show up. All you are trying to do is get the word out there so, if they don't show, it isn't because they were unaware of the event. However, if it is a bust (and such events occur, I am told), you won't be spending the next week chastising yourself for not having the time to do that mailing. If you keep the venue appraised during the process, they are more likely to remember you fondly because they know you really went the extra mile. They are also less likely to see you as culpable for a low attendance. Even if you don't get that full house you were dreaming of, there are advantages to making a team effort to have a successful evening.

© McShane Glover/Noteworthy Productions

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