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Filling the Daytimer

While the first eight posts here were about gigging in Second Life, I'm talking now about the first life. Working in the real world. We live in an amazing time where people can make money playing from their homes, and in an information age where anything you want to know about just about anything is available at our fingertips.

It wasn't always so easy......

Twenty-plus years ago I was fiercely running up my phone bill, before there was such a thing as one-price long distance plans, sitting on my couch dialing for dollars until my calendar found me ready to bring in the bacon to pay my bills. I could only find out about clubs outside of my home town one of three ways back then. One of word of mouth. The other was picking up regional free music magazines (which I lived for), and the last was the yellow pages. I recall getting a pocket full of dimes and going to the local public library in Panama City, Florida where I had discovered they stocked the phone books for all kinds of cities within a reasonable drive from there. I photo copied listings for clubs, cocktail lounges and entertainment categories. We're talking old-school investigating here. 

A lot of musicians have a misconception of how booking agencies and especially managers work. They think the only thing keeping them from touring is their lack of a booking agency or a manager. I'm here to tell you, it ain't so. The booking agency/manager idea is a myth that lazy musicians use to have something to blame when they find themselves at home on New Year's Ever instead of booking their best paying gig of the year. 

There I was, late teens, playing well enough that people would pay me $50, 80, $100 or more dollars a night to come sing in their little pubs, plus give me free drinks and usually some food. I didn't have a record deal. I didn't have many original songs, but I had a knack for knowing a lot of songs, even if I was faking them to a large degree, the drunks, er, uh, patrons at these fine establishments didn't know the difference or seem to care very much. I leveraged one gig into another gig until I had enough local gigs to be able to call up a club in another town and start talking smack to get myself on their calendar. Rarely did I take no for an answer. Booked up for six months? No worries, what's open in month seven?! Tenacity got me gigs, when these club owners had never heard me play a lick. 

Cold calling. My life as a single man was playing gigs until 3AM, packing my gear, driving to the 24-hour Whataburger or Waffle House, getting some chow, going to sleep (usually alone) when the sun came up, waking up at 2PM and then spending the next three hours solid cold calling clubs until I found out what kind of place they had, if they hired solo acts, got the name of the person who booked the room and found out when that person would usually be around. Booking agent? What booking agent? 

I had a friendly relationship with an agent in Mobile, AL, Tip Top Attractions. The owner, Kirke Weinacker, seemed to admire my tenacity and got me two or three shows, but pretty much as a favor. He's still in business, because his bread and butter is show-bands, large groups that play high-dollar corporate gigs. For him to spend any time booking me for my paltry $125-150 a night (sometimes less), just wasn't worth it to him. Still it looked a little better on my feeble press kit to say that Tip Top Attractions was booking me and he put me on his roster, though graciously Kirke just passed the info on to me nearly every time. There is a reason he is still in business. He knew his core business and focused on it. And, so did I. 

I got a little ahead of myself there. Before meeting Kirke, my first real agent working with me, I had moved to Pensacola, Fl to play for five months, four nights a week with a bluegrass band (that's a whole other story!). I started aggressively going after solo work as that bluegrass gig was wearing out its welcome with me. Pensacola is a Navy town, so there were several choices for playing gigs. Nothing but fond memories for that town.

We had one regional music rag, called NO Cover (which mean New Orleans), but they distributed across the college chittlin' circuit. That magazine was golden to me. Cheap little newsprint publication published out of the townhouse of the owners in Metarie, LA, it was a treasure trove of info for me about clubs in the southeast, who was playing there and more. From that one zine I was able to find out all kinds of information about who, what, where and when clubs were booking solo acoustic acts.

My Day-Timer runneth over. It was the Google of its day for me. Now I was armed with a publication with all kinds of information in it that would tip my off to where I could work. I ordered an 800 number to help entice clubs to call me back. It worked. My calendar stayed slammed full. In 1989, barely 21 years old, I grossed about $35k playing bars in an all-cash world of live concerts. That ain't bad, huh?

There was no secret to my booking gigs. I wasn't afraid of doing the work. I wasn't afraid to call myself a musician and declare my calendar available to be filled. I picked up the phone, made the calls, gave them the pitch and booked the shows. Then I'd show up on time after always "fronting" the show the week before to make sure nothing changed about my gig. Most of the time things went great, and I'd end up with another date before I left. 

I'll continue the story tomorrow, and before I'm done I think you'll begin to see a pattern you can easily follow to get yourself as much work as you can stand, provided you've got some talent. I can give you advice and the benefit of my experience, but I can't give you talent. :)

Posted: 12/11/2008 4:15:56 PM with Comments | Add Comment | Email Link | Permalink
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