Solo Act

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Are there any jobs that are money makers?

The discussion below is taken from a thread launched by "zuki" on the Synth Zone General Arranger forum. Click here to go to the original thread.

zuki
11-01-2002 08:06 PM

I recently spent a great deal of time putting together a solo act. Had five sets, all backup harmonies on my VS and a great system. Booked a coffee shop and played four hours to one person (my wife!). Discouraged, I sold all my stuff. I didn't give it a chance to determine the solo job availability. Given the notion that I have talent, are there any jobs that are money makers -- devoid of the coffee shop $50 stuff?? Advice appreciated. Looking to gig in MI/OH.
-- zuk

brickboo
11-02-2002 08:50 AM

I put out some flyers I did on the computer at supermarkets and different places around town. I also told the small local newspaper and the larger newspaper in the next town and they put us in for free in the announcements about local entertainment. I played the coffee shop to maybe 40 people. Most stayed and complimented me. I just made $30 in tips. I don't think you will walk in any place, tell them $150, and they will say, "OK, you're hired." You will have to put time in it, get to be known, and you might pick up some high-paying weddings. Uncle Dave, Donny, Scott Don and others didn't start yesterday.

I played in night clubs in the New Orleans area in the 50's with a no-pictured Draft Card that belonged to my Uncle for $10 a night when I was 16.

If you need money quick, this is not going to happen. I just retired and I'm going at it slowly. If it happens great. If not, I'll go fishing more and continue getting up early and going to the coffee shop. At my age, no teeny boppers are going to flock the place and demand my autograph. It will take time, time, and more time.

You'll probably have to play for peanuts for some time. This won't happen over night. But, of course, there is a chance that something great could happen. I just don't expect it and that way I won't be too disappointed.

"Sometimes life is cruel," as my sister-in-law says, "live it." I'm not trying to discourage anyone. I'm just trying to say, stay cool. Maybe it will happen. Hope things work out for you. Keep plugging away. Just try to enjoy entertaining.
-- Boo

trtjazz
11-02-2002 11:08 AM

Zuki, Brick has some great truthful advice in there from my perspective, too. The other thing you may consider is look in your local phone book for entertainment agencies that specialize in parties, weddings, and the like. Bring them a demo tape or video for them to see. Here's another thought about the no- or low-payin' gigs. That is the place to hone your skills as an entertainer so you are ready when the crowds start to get bigger.

100 years ago, when I started on the folk circuit in Chicago, they used to have open mic nights. What it was, was free entertainment for the clubs on their slow nights. Very few ever got hired to do the Friday Saturday gigs at the club from it, but it was a great training ground to get rid of the on-stage jitters and see what worked and what didn't.

I will tell you this though, and no offense intended, if, after one lousy gig, you were so discouraged that you sold your equipment, you'll never make it -- even to good part-time money gigging. There, at this end of the biz, are going to be plenty more lousy ones than great ones on the journey.

The other thing to do as an unknown, if you do get hired in a public place, you need to hit the pavement and promote yourself. Newspapers in the entertainment section will usually print, for free, that you will be appearing somewhere if you just call them and tell them the particulars. Flyers all around like Brick suggested etc. Others will promote you only when you have a money making value to them. In the meantime, you need to promote yourself.
Jam on and hang tough; we need more good performers, not less.
-- Terry

Big Red
11-02-2002 04:56 PM

Hi Zuki,

There's not a lot I can add to what these guys are saying. The simple fact is that in this biz you have to pay your dues. That's the simple cliché, but it's as true now as it ever was. Yes, you have talent, but you have to let everyone see and hear it. They're not going to come to you.

Put yourself together a simple, but professional, looking presentation package. It doesn't have to cost a fortune, just a folder with a letter of introduction, your song list, a bio (keep it short -- they don't want to read a book), a good clear photo of yourself, and do a short tape of two or three songs of varying styles to show your stuff.

Call people and ask if you can give them your package. Then go meet them in person at their convenience. Be on time and be courteous (they're under no obligation to book you). Your own appearance is part of the presentation package. Look the part and they'll take you seriously, not as some fly-by-night character.

Give them a week to go over your package, then call them and don't be afraid to ask for the date. This, as I'm sure the other fellows will agree, is no surefire method, but stick at it and you will get through eventually - it's a slow process. Please, don't give up at the first hurdle. Learn from it and jump over the next one, the next one, and the one after that. Jumping hurdles is like anything else -- the more you do it, the better you get at it. Okay, Zuki, now go get 'em!

Best regards,
-- Big Red

trtjazz
11-03-2002 05:36 AM

There is a call for instrumentals, too, in the nicer dinner houses as background music. I don't about in other areas, but in California, the Borders bookstores hire in acts and there are several of them, so one could stay busy with a mellow background sort of act if that fits into your genre. The other place to get after that pays well is corporate events -- grand openings, biz parties. So a nice flyer to all the corporations in your area (an endless list I'm sure) may yield some results. Nordstrom's uses piano players every day.

Another thing I did early on was to play anywhere they would let me including street corners with my instrument case open collecting tips. I did pretty good at times in Chicago and San Francisco. However much you may feel this lowers you, I gained a lot of experience and exposure. Again, have flyers and biz cards ready for people to take. A battery-powered amp can work pretty well for this.
-- Terry

The Pro
11-04-2002 07:13 AM

Actually, I love to see people give up on their first attempt at gigging -- leaves the job market open for people who really want to play very badly. If you gave up this easily, you didn't put the hard work in that you should have in the first place. Like any competitive business, you have to be aggressive and hungry to be in pro music. If you have the talent, desire and gonads, then go take some gigs from less-deserving musos. If not, consider the benefits of home entertainment.

trtjazz
11-04-2002 07:19 AM

A couple of other outlets is where I built a huge mailing list. You can take a booth in arts and crafts show to promote yourself. Some of the larger shows, especially at this time of year, also book acts to perform on stage. One could also approach the show promoters and offer to provide free entertainment for the two or three days the show is running in exchange for the space and being able to pass out portfolios with booking info. Some of the larger shows can have 40-50,000 people come through in a weekend.
Jam on,
-- Terry

tony mads usa
11-04-2002 12:25 PM

Zuki, One bad gig and you sold your gear?!?!? Supposedly, Elvis was laughed out of the Grand Ol' Oprey!!! Now what are you going to play on if you could get a good-paying gig? Along with the advice and comments above, depending on the type of music you play, you should also check with local newspapers, catering halls, bridal shops, tuxedo rental stores, full-service wedding coordinators, etc. for schedules of "Bridal/Wedding Showcases," and get a space to "show your stuff," live and perhaps by video. Maybe you could pick up some small gigs, cocktail receptions, whatever. But, if you're not ready for some hard knocks, don't go into the entertainment biz -- part time, full time, NO TIME!!! -- t.

zuki
11-04-2002 06:57 PM

Thanks all for your replies. I think The Pro hit it best, how badly do I want to play? I've played off and on for years, but not for many until the debacle at the vacant coffee house. Deep down, I know it is very difficult work and I find myself torn between writing or playing out. Besides all this, I have a demanding "other" job. So, advice taken and I'll continue the self evaluation.
-- Zuk

MacAllcock
11-05-2002 02:27 AM

In this business, you get good gigs and bad gigs. Nevertheless, good can come of almost any situation. Me and my mate played a restaurant once, for a serious fee (for the area and time). We played to the staff. That's it. No punters. We played staff requests all evening and attempted to play as if the place was packed. I even ad-libbed a duet with the owners wife! However, we picked up two private parties and the local annual dance because the owner was impressed with our music and attitude and broadcast our name.

All you can ever do at a gig is play your best. If no one turns up, that's a publicity or marketing problem (unless you really are terrible!). My sole measure of success is "the rebook factor." If places rebook you on a regular basis, you are getting somewhere.

Remember, in this business there are no instant successes, even if it looks like it. The Britneys of this world paid their dues as kids.

Uncle Dave
11-05-2002 05:04 AM

Britney never paid a due ever. Her people are selling a cute smile and a killer body. Anyone can sell that. Music is not a part of the equation. Kids buy anything new and pretty, much like beer drinkers.

As for selling art, that's a tough order. There is no way to fairly price the value of art because it is not worth the same to everyone. As an artist, you must first be satisfied with the creation of your work. If it sells, then that's a bonus, but the true joy comes from the creation itself. Performing arts are a rare and unique gift that need to be shared, but they are not always a source of financial gain.

In order to market a successful career in music, your own needs and wants are second to the needs and wants of the client. Maybe you were playing for yourself? (Not a bad thing; just maybe not what people in that shop are willing to listen to.)

Don't give up, search your soul to find the center of your desire, and then see if it can fit into the harsh, cruel world of the entertainment industry. Even at the coffee house level, it's still show business, not show "art." It's a beautiful thing when art is appreciated, but it's more important that someone actually create the beauty. What people buy will change so fast your head will spin, but the creation of beauty will last forever. Good luck, my friend. It gets easier with time.

The Pro
11-05-2002 05:46 AM

Uncle Dave: In order to market a successful career in music, your own needs and wants are second to the needs and wants of the client. Maybe you were playing for yourself? (Not a bad thing; just maybe not what people in that shop are willing to listen to.)

We've had a similar discussion before, and UD's view on this is what the majority of people believe, but I don't. If you can produce something truly unique and beautiful, you just have to find the right venue for it. And that takes going out to nearly every place that has live music in your area and scooping the market out. If you can do your own thing within the context of your market, lucky you. If not, but you believe in what you do, then change markets. But again, this all assumes that you really want to play.

tony mads usa
11-05-2002 06:51 AM

The Pro: If you can do your own thing within the context of your market, lucky you.

I fully agree with that. But, if you are going to make a living in this business, you can't do your own thing unless you are satisfying the client. If "your own thing" is so diverse from what the market is calling for, even working "one shot gigs" will run out in time. And if you are lucky enough to find the right market, aren't you then satisfying the client, which is what most of us believe is the key to making that living, even if we have to sacrifice some artistic desires in doing so. I have done some gigs, which, musically, I thought were crap, but the client loved it, so I consider it a successful gig. Usually after a gig like that I'll spend the next day with headphones on, playing just for myself. I've played in real nice piano lounges, providing music from the "Great American Songbook," middle of the road pop, light jazz, bossas, etc. I've enjoyed high compliments, requests for a CD, good tips, etc. Come St. Pat's night and my joyful pastime becomes work! I sweat out the night, and what do people say for weeks later? "Great music on St. Patty's night, thanks!" ???

And UD, W all know you've been getting by on that cute smile and killer body for years!
-- t.

trtjazz
11-05-2002 07:22 AM

Uncle Dave, I couldn't agree with you more; good post. First of all, the Britney's and, dare I say, the "boy bands" are merely created products for a market. Perhaps there is a bit of talent amongst them, but they are created and marketed goods like a can of Campbell's soup is.

My support of this point -- Menudo, really the 1st boy band that I recall. One guy (Ricky Martin) in all those years of personnel changes as they got too old for a boy band made it.

IMO, talent in many cases has very little to do with "making it" whatever that may be for each of us. In the traditional meaning though, it is more about right place right time, luck and someone who's in the biz to say to themselves, "I think I can make a buck off this act."

I don't know how many of you recall Mark Kastabe. (sp) That's what he was all about in the fine arts, canvas painting. He set out to prove the point of what a sham the art world was built on -- BS as opposed to talented artists. Anyway, he was a master at promoting himself and went from selling no paintings to selling the same work that everyone said was junk to celebrities for up to $100,000.00 or more.

Well, after he made his fortune, then he went on the talk show circuit and basically said what a bunch of idiots everyone was for buying these paintings for so much money as he got to the point where he was not even painting them anymore, but had art students painting them and the buyer was lucky if he even signed them.

Well, people like S. Stallone, hating to be called a dope for spending $30k on one of these sham paintings, demanded his money back, which Kastabe gladly gave him and resold for $50k because Stallone had owned it. So, his point was to appreciate art and the artist for who they are and their work rather then the hype and marketing.

I thought him a very arrogant guy but he brought to light the plight of those of us in the arts for the right reason, IMO, to create art, be it performing or fine, to share with the world.
Jam on,
-- Terry

The Pro
11-05-2002 08:01 AM

Tony: There are some fundamental differences in my performance philosophy and most other musos I know, both in reality and on-line: I honestly believe in satisfying my own artistic values first and I prioritize that within a realm of acceptance. It's my belief that the audience, for the most part, is not the best judge of what represents quality in music. Much of what they request is what has been marketed to them by mass media or is stereotypical of what they expect solo keyboardists to play. If I based my performance solely on that, my best music would never be heard. None the less, I have found that, with care, I can balance my art needs with audience acceptance. The result is that I can deliver an eclectic mix of quality material that is unique, enjoyable, and even familiar but never cliché'. This is what separates and identifies me from my competition, all of whom follow the safest and often the most predictable musical course. My greatest compliment isn't the "good job" or "we really enjoyed your music" (I get those, too,, by the way), it came from the girl in the front row one night who waited until a moment of dead silence to simply say, "You're different...." And, so far, in the past year, I've only had one week off and that was by my own choice.

MacAllcock
11-05-2002 09:10 AM

Maybe Britney was a bad example! The point I was trying to make was that even the "manufactured" bands/acts usually have people in them who've been "out there" before. Micky Dolenz was a child actor before the Monkees were created (it was him, wasn't it?)

tony mads usa
11-05-2002 10:09 AM

Pro, based on your latest post, perhaps we are not that far apart in philosophy, but more so in actual practice. I have never hesitated to play something "for myself" during a gig, perhaps you just do it more often. And isn't it great when you get a comment or compliment that lets you know that someone is really listening? Not too long ago, a young lady was sitting at the piano bar for about an hour and a half. As I finished the night, she asked me if I did "Taking You Home" by Don Henley, because she thought it would fit my voice very well. That was worth more than any tip in the jar and packing up the gear seemed a bit easier that night. -- t.

The Pro
11-05-2002 11:12 AM

Tony: Hey, did you do "Taking You Home"? Fabulous song, I do it as an instrumental. It's a very challenging song to sequence and really get right, especially the drums. I had a girl singer perform it with me at one point, also. Wish I had a voice that fit that song, lucky you!

True story: a few years back my wife and I were cruising in Clearwater Florida, which has a strip of clubs just off the Gulf. We passed a bar with the doors open and heard a guy singing, "Brown Eyed Girl" (BEG).We went about four blocks and coming from another bar was another guy doing BEG. Four more block later and, sure enough, we heard another singer belting out BEG. Three different clubs with three different acts and the song remains the same. My wife named it "The WalMart Syndrome."

tony mads usa
11-05-2002 11:35 AM

Pro, No, I've not yet done the song, and I'm not sure I totally agree with the young lady. While I'm 61 years of age, I've been told I have a "young" voice. I've not been able to find the music for it, nor have I been able to find a midi ... someday.

I hear what you're saying about BEG, but in some venues, if you don't play it, people question you. When I play it, I will often play the 1st verse a la Van, but then "take it down to the islands" and do the rest of it in a Samba Rock rhythm using the steel drum voice instead of guitar to change it up. My son (age 36) has that at the top of his "don't play/listen" list. Anytime we are at a club or a party and the band or DJ plays BEG, Ol Time RnR, etc., we just look at each other and "smile knowingly." But, as I said, if you don't do those tunes???

When you talk about playing "your" music, what are you talking about? Originals, or more standard tunes in a different style? -- t.

Scottyee
11-05-2002 12:31 PM

Hi guys, I agree with Tony's approach re: BEG. The general public (clubs, public venues, weddings, parties, etc.) expect to hear recognizable tunes. I frequently will begin a tune in the familiar associated (cover) style, but then transition into a fresh new groove later on in the song. I might also do a medley of familiar tunes, but throw in a more obscure song (or even an original) in the middle of a medley or in a show set. Now my audiences are asking for my renditions, not the so-called cover versions.

If you can satisfy the audience with what they expect first, you'll then have them in the palm of your hands, and then they'll be more than receptive to hearing originals and more obscure material as well. Performance success requires both musicianship and showmanship. The problem seems to be that many so-called musicians have one but not the other. Worse yet, Some have neither.

The Pro
11-05-2002 02:19 PM

When I say "my music," I am referring to off-the-beaten-path popular songs done my way, and no vocals. I guess the best examples would be things like the Dave Brubeck standard Take Five but I do the modern version by Dancing Fantasy that is in 4/4. I have my own version of Summer Breeze by Seals & Croft that is very fast and modern. I do Bob James' Angela, aka the theme from "Taxi." Movie themes including The Love Theme from St. Elmo's Fire, David Bowie's This Is Not America, My Heart Will Go On from Titanic, Have You Ever Really Loved A Woman, Kiss From a Rose, an upbeat jazz rendition of Pure Imagination from Willie Wonka and my own version of the Theme from Forrest Gump. I do a hip-hop dance version of Fly Like An Eagle, a rich piano version of Jimi Hendrix' Little Wing, I Want It That Way by The Backstreet Boys, Just The Two of Us by Grover Washington, Caught Up In The Rapture Of Love by Anita Baker, Broken Wings by Mister Mister, a funky Get Up Stand Up by Bob Marley, Rise by Herb Albert, Pick Up The Pieces by AWB, my own versions of Killing Me Softly and The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face, and lots of Sting. Plenty of oldies, too, with my own twists. I doubt I would go more than two songs without you recognizing something.

Scottyee
11-05-2002 03:51 PM

Pro: Excellent song list! I definitely understand what you are saying. All your listed tunes are, indeed, recognizably popular standards but, thankfully, not the worn-out overplayed songs, ones that have reached the overexposure level as BEG. I include some of the same songs in your list in my repertoire too. The key is to find good quality songs that are still recognizable (but not necessarily the biggest hits), yet interesting enough (melodically, harmonically and/or rhythmically) to give us the opportunity to present something of ourselves creatively to the song.

If I do an Elvis or Sinatra tune, I avoid songs like Love Me Tender and My Way, which have attained karaoke parody fame, but instead (like you) look for those more "off the beaten path" songs that are still recognizable and more easily allow you to present your own rendition. In contrast, I've found that audiences expect you to do My Way and Love Me Tender just the way Sinatra and Elvis did it. I'll leave these songs to the Elvis impersonators. -- Scott


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