articles and tips from Fran Snyder and concertsinyourhome.com
In case you don’t know, Jack Williams is probably the busiest “house concert” act of all time. Though he certainly plays main stages and festivals, he’s turned so many fans into presenters that he can play house concerts virtually every weekend.
Aside from his obvious talent and good natured personality, a substantial part of his success comes from the relationships he’s developed at Folk Alliance gatherings. He graciously imparts some great advice for any artists who plan to attend a conference.
February ‘09 in Memphis will be my 14th national Folk Alliance Conference. Many times I’ve considered not attending for financial reasons. Each time, though, I decided to attend and I’ve always been rewarded. Three elements define my approach to the conference: Preparation, Follow-through, and “Being There”. I’ve heard and read many other methods of approaching the conference. I’m sure they’re all valid. I do it this way:
New artists should start seeking showcase information (now) several months ahead of time. If you’re an unknown quantity, schedule as many showcases as you can stand to play. The name artists will get the bulk of the people at their showcases, so you need to provide many opportunities to let people hear you - even one or two at a time.
Assemble materials, geared toward your specific goals: If you want to meet presenters, create a one-sheet flyer with a single good photo, A BRIEF bio, a BRIEF statement of your purpose for attending and for writing them, your conference showcase schedule, and a space for a hand-written note to the presenter. Have CDs to GIVE AWAY. In recent years, presenters have preferred to receive CDs later, in the mail, and not have to carry a heavy bag of them home on the plane. A simple, professionally prepared demo is always welcomed. Video is becoming helpful.
Get the attendee roster as soon as it’s available. (It used to be available much earlier, allowing for prep-time. Something has changed in the FA, unfortunately, and one has to be vigilant to get this info immediately upon release.) Decide whom to meet - and for what purpose - and highlight the names and contact info - including postal addresses. I keep 100 or so copies of the flyer with me in Memphis, and I mail one to each presenter in a hand-addressed envelope. I also send a BRIEF e-mail to each of them - personal is better. At my first conference, I sent out 200 of these flyers; at the second, I sent 400. It’s crazy and a lot of work. So’s my career.
Get an exhibition hall table or booth. A simple table works best for a first-time artist. It is the one place - other than your showcase slots - where you can tell people YOU WILL BE at a given time.
Make it attractive; make it simple; have a CD-player and headphones with samples ready; use your time to spot and meet everyone on your list who passes by. (This is tough for people like me with vision difficulties!)
Your best bet is to have someone attend with you, or have a friend stay with your table to meet people when you have to run to another table or booth, or to chase someone down in the hall.
Chase people often.
I’ve had people brush me off at the conference when I ask to meet and talk with them in the exhibit hall. Don’t let it bother you. Just walk away, forget about them, and move on. They obviously don’t understand what this is all about.
(A personal note: At a conference, I once approached two people who book a major folk festival. I introduced myself and asked, very politely and professionally, what they’d like for me to do to be considered for a booking. I was treated as if I weren’t standing there. They were extremely rude and condescending people with whom I hope never to have another conversation.)
I’ve learned that such attitudes ALWAYS have something of a “trickle-down” effect upon these people’s organizations - to the venues, the volunteers, the artists, and the audiences - and I’ve chosen to avoid them and their venues entirely. Fortunately, I’m no longer a young artist trying to be heard everywhere. I’m too old to ever want or need to deal with dysfunctional presenters or bookers who’ve just plain done it for too long.
Of equal importance with one’s own version of the above points is “Being There”. You can hang with your friends or you can seek out familiar faces, but you’ll be better rewarded by seeking out the people on your list, getting to know them on a personal - not just business - level, attending seminars where presenters and colleagues are present, and making one thing very clear: you are there to be heard, seen, and taken seriously.
This latter cannot be accomplished at a single conference - unfortunately - but at many, in succession. This is expensive (too expensive, really, for most true, modern folk musicians), but, unless you have an active known agency, label, and management behind you singing your praises and pasting your likeness everywhere, and IF you have REAL musical and performance talent, and if you prepare and follow through, there is no reason why you wouldn’t become a familiar, welcome face in the halls, the elevators and the community and be seen as someone more than another “flash in the pan”. Presenters don’t want to deal with artists who’re “dabbling”, they want someone who is clearly in it for the long haul and who has the goods to sustain that journey.
Lastly, be seriously mindful of the talent around you at the conference, of the many artists who are also seeking the gigs (or agents, or DJs, or magazines, or managers, or labels) you want. Open your mind and accept the fact that MEDIOCRITY ABOUNDS at the conference but that the cream will rise to the top.
If you become aware that what you’re doing isn’t exciting anyone, seriously consider either doing something else OR going back to the drawing board with a load of new insight. Ask yourself honestly how good you are. Carefully notice where you stand in this swamp of striving artists. Carefully notice WHY. Notice how quickly well-promoted artists rise and draw audiences.
If you’re like me and don’t have this promotional team, you must be patient and persistent, and damned good at what you do. Make sure that what you do - musically and in performance - is something no serious listener could ignore. When you play a showcase, it’s possible there could be only one or two people present. Make your presentation appropriate to the size of the room and audience. Knock them out with your music, performance, and presence. If people repeatedly seem ho-hum about what they hear from you - consider the implications.
Follow up: Conference Tips from James Lee Stanley.
Music conferences are a great way to network with musicians and other industry people. In particular, Folk Alliance puts on several conferences each year which draw a lot of our house concert community, including presenters/hosts.
Unfortunately, most musicians go to these conferences with little preparation, and often return home without having made much impact, and very little enthusiasm to follow through on the opportunities that presented themselves. (For example, giving out 50 CDs and never making a follow-up call. Total waste.)
In the spirit of these upcoming events, here are some helpful articles to help you prepare. James Lee Stanley is a fiercely talented singer/songwriter who has learned how to maximize his effectiveness each time he attends a conference. Here are 3 links to his helpful blog…
For a long time, it’s been easy to get the impression that house concert hosts won’t book an artist unless they’ve seen them live.
According to our poll of 164 house concert hosts, that’s simply not true anymore. More than half of our hosts say they regularly book acts they’ve never seen.
I believe CIYH has a lot to do with that, as our artists continue to attract new hosts who have little experience with music festivals and conferences. If an artist has a strong online presence with some great, easy to find and play audio, that can often be enough to convince a host to give them a try.
Timing also helps. So keep pitching, until the time is right. Here’s a new tool to do that.