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The Fifth Course

Creating a "scene," what's worked for you?

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This is an excellent primer and very good advice if you want to play lot to a wide variety of audiences.

Thanks Allen!

Quote Originally Posted by allenhopkins View Post
Some thoughts on what's worked for me. And let me state up front, that while I make a "good second income" from music -- over $15K annually -- I couldn't live on what I make; that's where civil service retirement comes in...

1. Playing for seniors: I compiled a list of nursing homes, senior centers, assisted living facilities in my area, sent out a "mass mailing" to the recreation/activities directors, and started getting jobs almost immediately. Now I do 75-80 such jobs per year, playing familiar songs, sing-alongs, "pop" and folk from the 1930's-1950's. I charge $55-75 for an hour program, amplify myself with a little battery Fender Amp Can and a couple mikes, and play guitar, banjo, ukulele and harmonica (mostly).

2. Working with libraries: this is less reliable, especially in the current economic climate, but still works. There are websites to which libraries turn for program suggestions; I list myself and a number of programs that may appeal to such venues, such as Civil War songs, songs of the railroad, etc. I get probably a dozen responses and inquiries per year. They often involve regional travel. A similar strategy works with historical societies and museums, although there direct mail is needed to make initial contacts.

3. Get a website, or at minimum a Facebook page. Compile an e-mail list of potential venues (as well as of "fans" once you get some, with a sign-up sheet at your gigs), and send out periodic e-mail schedules etc. (I do one weekly). Get a "snail mail" list on your computer, and send out calendar postcards -- print 'em three to a 8.5X11 sheet of cardstock at your local copy center, cut 'em up on a paper cutter, print labels and mail 'em every couple months or so. I have a mailing list of 300, mostly places that have booked me before and might again.

4. Make arrangements to host an open mic (I know, I know, the "Playing for Tips" thread dumps on these, but the host person is the one who generally gets paid by the club). You'll need a PA, some expertise in running it, some contacts to generate performers and audience, and the willingness to give up your Wednesday nights for the next two years or more. Plus side: it gets your name out there -- "Club Exploit-O presents an open mic hosted by Matt DeBlass every Wednesday" -- and it's a steady gig, probably not paying a lot.

5. Work in schools: your area may have a Young Audiences or similar group that brings music programs to schools. Not easy to get affiliated, but if you can scarf a copy of the current local-state "arts curriculum" or "social studies curriculum" requirements, you can build a program that fits one of the niches. Do they need to learn about "pioneer/homespun days"? Can you put together a program of "pioneer" music, emphasis on local styles/performers/composers, and market it? I've been doing a railroad songs program for 5th graders at a local school for the past dozen years; the kids I played for originally probably have their own kids now.

These are some of the things that have worked for me in building what I immodestly call a "music career." Luckily, I've never had to pay my mortgage or buy my food with "music money"; it goes for my psychotic collection of instruments, and the related strings/picks/repairs. But it's not much different than any small business: study the market, identify the needs, determine which of those needs you can meet, market yourself in a targeted way, make contacts, develop "product loyalty," promote yourself. Oh, and treat it like a business: keep records, pay taxes, write off expenses, have decent tax/legal/accounting advice as needed.

Good luck. I'll once again repeat my tired aphorism: "Music is a great mistress, but a lousy wife." Be prepared for a lot of ups and downs and disappointments, but remember, it's doing something you love to do -- and that's more than a lot of "jobs" can provide.

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