Ace Your Showcase – Brief Article
If you play original music, chances are good that at some point you’ll perform at a showcase gig for a music-industry executive. These performances can have a significant impact on your chances of getting signed to a record deal. Whether you’re showcasing for label types, managers, agents, or lawyers, the objective is the same. You have 30 to 45 minutes to make what may well be the most important impression of your career.
UNDERSTANDING THE GOAL
In these days of downsizing and minimized risk in the recording industry, labels sign polished, professional-quality acts almost exclusively. These are bands who have their act together and need little development, who can reproduce their recorded music with a great live show and convince audiences to buy CDs and related merchandise. An A&R job is a fragile thing; an executive’s success is judged quarterly. Fearing failure, A&R execs often find a quick hit far more attractive than a longer-term investment.
The two most important aspects of a showcase are the songs and the performance. If both are great, fans will likely want to buy your recordings and merchandise. It’s becoming more and more important to intelligently market your products from the stage, however. Marketing savvy is particularly attractive to smaller independent labels, which naturally have fewer avenues for distribution. Talented artists who are great performers and have marketing chops are simply more attractive. A showcase is your chance to do it all and do it well.
There are different types of showcase opportunities. I’ll focus on three primary types: club showcases, industry conferences and conventions, and private showcases.
IN A CLUB
Many clubs in cities with thriving scenes offer showcase slots. Unless you have a good connection or a booking agent, you’ll need a solid press kit, a good demo, a convincing promotional campaign, and persistence to get booked.
Once you’ve secured a showcase slot, your next challenge is to get industry reps to the venue. Doing so will be a lot easier if you’ve booked your showcase at a club that has reputation for breaking great acts (for example, the Bitter End in New York).
Scheduling is critical. Try to put yourself in the shoes of a busy record company exec and figure out just when he or she would most likely go see a band. Mealtimes are bad, but immediately before or after a meal is ideal. Weekends are usually less desirable because many people leave town. I like Thursday nights; club goers often seem more willing to stay out late on Thursday than on other weeknights.
You can enhance the benefits of a showcase if you schedule it back-to-back with an act that has generated a big buzz. Get the calendars from the top clubs and pick out bands that are musically similar to you, draw large audiences, and will likely pique the interests of music industry representatives. If you already know of a band that fits the criteria, go to their Web site, check their schedule for showcase gigs, then call a venue and try to schedule yourself adjacent to them. The evening will probably be running behind (that’s inevitable when you have multiple bands showcasing in succession), so if you’re slotted right before them, their contacts will likely arrive in the middle of your set. On the other hand, if you follow them, you’ll have the chance to attract their contacts while they’re networking.
If you can’t book yourself back-to-back with a hot band, schedule a date within a week after their show at the venue they’re playing, and go to their showcase. When you arrive, ask the venue if you can post a flyer announcing your upcoming appearance. That way you can catch the attention of the other band’s contacts and fans.
Scout out the venue. Check the stage and visualize how you’ll set up for your showcase. Observe the performance and the audience reaction; pick out what works and what doesn’t. Introduce yourself to the band after their set. Notice who they’re talking to and whether they appear to be courting anyone. Ask the musicians if any industry reps are present; you can then personally invite their contacts to your show.
If you have your own contacts, check their availability first and, if possible, book your showcase accordingly. Once you have a date, confirm with them immediately and remind them again a day or two beforehand. Put your contacts on the guest list and try to reserve them a table in a prime location.
Conferences and conventions offer the advantage of drawing many industry representatives to one place. Even if your showcase application is rejected, you can still arrange one on your own at a nearby venue. Either way, try to book your performance close to the midpoint of the event. For instance, if the conference runs Thursday to Sunday, Friday or Saturday night is your best bet; you can make contacts ahead of time and follow up on them afterward.
Take advantage of the networking opportunities a conference presents. Attend panels and meet the panelists. Introduce yourself and invite them to your showcase. Hand them a flyer giving your performance details, contact information and Web site, a biography highlight, a flattering press quote, and a promotional picture. Leave plenty of flyers and any other publicity items that you may have around the promotion tables (most conferences have them). If it’s not too expensive, pay the showcase organizers to include your flyers in the goodie bag given to all attendees. You’re competing with many other acts for the industry’s attention, so the more name recognition you have and the more buzz you create the better.
Private showcases are the hardest to pull off, and they usually best serve bands that are already in demand or very well connected. While you should of course invite all your contacts, schedule the showcase at a time that is convenient for the most important ones. Rent out a small club or rehearsal space, provide some light catering (wine, beer, cheese and crackers, and the like) and create an environment that sets an appropriate mood for your music.
Do your sound check and run through your set before guests arrive. You or your manager should emcee the event, welcoming those who attend and inviting them to stay for refreshments.
THE MORE THE MERRIER
Regardless of the setting, nothing helps a live show like a good crowd. The band plays better (usually) and the industry representatives will see that you have a following. Tell all your friends (except for those you know will drink too much and harass you on stage) and let them know that you’re counting on their support.
If you’re playing for the door, waive the cover charge and let your friends and fans know that it is a free show. (Put your industry contacts on the guest list anyway – they don’t need to know your secret!)
SET IT RIGHT
Most showcases last 30 to 45 minutes – plenty of time to present your best work, but not enough to waste. Rehearse your material to perfection, cutting out the weak spots. Leave solos to the strongest players. The goal is to make the best overall presentation. Don’t give a deal maker any reason to pass you over.
Play your strongest material. Choose your three best songs and open your show with two of them, saving the most hook-oriented of the three for your closer; you need to catch the audience’s attention right from the beginning and leave them with your last song implanted in their minds. Don’t be afraid to include a cover tune midway through as long as it is a unique arrangement (record labels are often interested in breaking a new artist with a great rendition of a classic).
The set order should allow you to move smoothly from one song to the next, keeping dead space to an absolute minimum. Don’t change instruments on every tune; switching from electric to acoustic guitar every other song can take valuable time and disrupt the flow of the set. If you need to switch, group several tunes together that use the same instrument. That said, don’t compromise variety by doing all your acoustic material together.
Avoid playing successive songs with the same groove or in the same key unless you’re segueing or creating a medley – which can be cool as long as it happens only once or twice during the set. If your music is predominantly upbeat, don’t play more than one ballad at a time; I like to play one slow song for every three or four rockers.
Finally, keep your arrangements tight. Unless your group considers itself part of the jam-band scene, this isn’t the time to stretch songs or experiment. Deliver your material in a short and sweet manner, making every note count.
STAGING A COUP
Your stage configuration should be as comfortable and familiar as possible. Take the time to set your amplifiers and monitors correctly; you don’t want to be working out kinks when you should be putting 100 percent into the short performance. Even if the stage is temptingly big, don’t spread your setup out more than you’re used to. You won’t hear each other as well and your performance could be adversely affected.
Decide on a band image that complements the music and be consistent with it. Dress accordingly. Fans are coming to see as well as hear you, and you are showcasing more than just your sound for the industry representatives. Also, to exhibit your marketing chops, hang a banner up behind you stating your name and Web site. Set up a table with your music-related products in a highly visible location and have a friend sell your merchandise. (In general, selling merchandise is appropriate only in a club setting.)
Keep a sign-up sheet for your mailing or e-mail list available for new fans. If you have a manager, he or she should be seeking out the industry representatives and tending to them throughout the evening. The person working the door can tell you if someone from your guest list has entered in case you don’t recognize your contacts.
LIGHTS, CAMERA, ACTION
Do a line check (strum a quick chord, for example) when you first hit the stage, but have a mute pedal active when tuning or making any other adjustments. Coax a charismatic friend into giving you an enthusiastic introduction and start without delay. Designate one person to address the crowd (the front person is the logical choice) and decide ahead of time when to speak and what to say. In general, it’s best to talk to your audience no more than two or three times during a short set – once after the first song and once before the last is a good bet. If stories and song introductions are an important part of your show, keep them short and to the point, with as little dead space as possible leading into the song. Keep extraneous noise between songs to an absolute minimum. Don’t forget to introduce the band and thank your loyal fans for coming.
Invite new fans to sign the mailing or e-mail list and to visit your Web site. If you’re selling things, let your audience know where to find the merchandise table. A potential deal maker will be impressed by the fact that you’re taking care of business. Remember, industry representatives are different from other audience members; they are there to observe you and your crowd. Everyone, including your fans, should be performing to the highest standards.
Be sincere and believable in your presentation; a record label wants to be sure that you’re the real deal. Know who you are and wear it on your sleeve. Exploit what makes you stand out from the rest; that helps potential partners identify a marketing strategy for your act.
THAT’S A WRAP
In most showcase situations, the band must quickly clear the stage after the performance. However, one band member should be circulating through the crowd with a box of your CDs for sale while the rest break down the gear (again, this is usually only appropriate in a club setting). A predetermined “artist representative” such as a manager, lawyer, or the artist or band leader should immediately greet the industry representatives if he or she hasn’t already. Ideally, this should be the same person who will follow up in the near future. Have press kits and promotional copies of CDs, demos, and videos on hand, and exchange these items for business cards. Find out when the contact would like you to follow up, and proceed accordingly.
Tightening your act will get you closer to signed, sealed, and delivered. Don’t rush things; only showcase when you’re ready. In most cases, your first impression will also be your last.
Ravi is formerly the guitarist with Hanson. He’s released two CDs of his own and had his autobiography published by Simon & Schuster. He currently tours the United States as a performer, lecturer, and consultant.
Ten Tips for Turning Heads
Showcase only when your act is totally together. Your songs and performance are the two most important factors; they have to be first rate.
Don’t ignore marketing; show the industry reps that you can sell yourself.
If you’re showcasing in a club, find one with a reputation for breaking good bands. Consider piggy-backing your showcase with one for another good, well-connected band. That way you can exploit their contacts as well as yours.
As best you can, schedule your showcase around the availability of your prime contacts.
Set a compelling visual image for the band and stick to it: people also listen with their eyes.
If you’re showcasing at a conference, take advantage of the setting. Network, schmooze, and spread the word about your gig to anyone who’ll listen.
Make sure the crowd is on your side. Get as many of your best fans to come out as possible, and let them know how important the gig is. Industry folk want to see an enthusiastic following.
Play your best material. Open and close with your best songs.
Make your performance tight; cut down on dead air between songs, keep chatter to a minimum. Time is limited, so use it wisely.
Play your heart out!
www.bandradio.com/dir/Music_Conferences BandRadio.com’s links to music conferences and showcase events. www.bitterend.com The Bitter End, NYC’s oldest rock club and a prime showcase venue. www.evor.com EvO:R (Elite Veterans of Rock) is a nice resource for performing musicians, with tips and tricks designed to help you get your act in gear.
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