Jim Mathis

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Playing at Homer's

It was nine years ago this week that I opened Homer’s Coffee House. Homer’s was a culmination of a 30 year old dream to open a smoke-free and alcohol-free music venue. The place was designed from the ground up to be a music venue for singer-songwriters and small bands. I wanted to book Christian and family friendly artists. Specialty coffee and food became part of the mix to pay the bills.

At the beginning I thought that if I had 4 or 5 bands that would each play a couple of times a month, we would be in good shape. But I was soon overwhelmed with the number of groups that wanted to play. I quickly had to develop some “filters” to determine who I should talk to and who to ignore.

An obvious one was whether or not they were familiar with Homer’s. If someone brought me a CD and a nice picture while they were there to listen to another band, I usually booked them because I knew they “got” what we were trying to do. If they had never been there, it was easy to turn them down.

I also found that it was easy to ignore emails. If somebody called on the phone, I asked them to send a CD and a photo. This eliminated a bunch. When CDs arrived, which as almost daily, if they had a no jewel case or had a handwritten label, or if they just generally weren’t attractive, I tossed them in the trash. If they looked good, I would listen to about 10 seconds of the first cut. If it sounded good, I skipped to a couple of other cuts. If they all had the same sound, the same tempo, or the same key, I would pop out the CD pop it in the trash. If I could listen to the whole CD without being bored I would call the group and find them a date. This happened maybe 5% of the time.

I would also ask bands for their web address. I would then check the site over several weeks, if it was not updated regularly, I figured they weren’t serious. MySpace and Facebook aren’t web sites for this purpose. If all you have is a MySpace page, I would probably not have booked you.

I soon learned to ask about the band’s mailing list. I doubt if I would have booked a band that didn’t have a couple hundred people they could invite.

It has now been two and a half years since I have been involved with Homer’s but people are still asking me to help them get on the schedule to play. I have decided that when I see another musician at Homer’s, either when I am playing or when I am there to hear another band, that I would introduce them to the manager and put in a good word for them. I have never had to do that.Apparently bands want to play at Homer's but not enough to come hear who is playing.

Sky Blue has played at Homer’s more than any other band, over 65 times. It would seem reasonable that if a band wanted to play at Homer’s, they would come hear Sky Blue to see what is expected. If they would, they would probably be surprised with the variety of music, the humor, and the way Sky Blue interacts with the audience.

So there you have it. I don’t know about the current criteria at Homer’s, but if you have tried to get booked and were unable to do so, you might now have a clue as to why you are having trouble.

I presume others music presenters think roughly the same way.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

"Put on a Good Show" Part 2

I thought I would do a follow up to my last post. Apparently not everybody is familair with the tune "Cherokee Fiddle" about a guy who plays the fiddle in a train station for tips. Apparently the song was written by Michael Martin Murphy, but Johnny Lee had a big hit with it, and it was in the movie "Urban Cowboy."

I have seen Murph several times and he does put on a great show. By that I mean that he connects with the audience, plays with a lot of energy, and never does the same thing twice. In fact he seems to delight in surprising his band with his antics. He is a real genius.

The story of the song is about a Cherokee fiddle player who is able to gather a crowd of miners in the train station and keep them enetertained enough to make a living by passing the hat. Apparently it is true story.

For a number of years I booked bands at a local venue. It was fairly easy to find great musicians who played wonderfully, but those who could connect with the audience and keep people coming back was much harder to find.

That was my point of the previous post. Any comments?

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

If you want to make a living, you’ve got to put on a good show.

The memorable line from Johnny Lee’s song “Cherokee Fiddle” about a busker is: “If you want to make a living, you’ve got to put on a good show.”

This is the most profound and true statement I have ever heard about the music business. In fact, it is quite possible all you need to know.

I recently heard a musician commenting about how many wonderful musicians and bands there are in Kansas City. He added that the problem is that there are not enough places to play. Since I have been on all three sides; as a fan, performer, and presenter, I know that if the existing venues were making any money, there would be a lot more venues. The issue is that not enough people are willing to come out and listen to one song after another.

The number of people who are willing to sit and listen to music for hours is actually very small. There are, however, a lot more people who will gladly pay to see a good show. And there lies the difference.

Playing music is relatively easy, putting on a good show is much more elusive. There is a pretty direct relationship between how good of show you can put on and how much money you make. The relationship between how good of musician you are and how much money you make is not near so clear.

Most bands spend hours working on playing well, but almost no time working on entertaining the audience. In my band, Sky Blue, we put a very high priority on “putting on a show” but we still find the time to actually work on the show elusive.

Performance coach, Tom Jackson, has built a good career of preaching this truth. His point is that people don’t come to hear songs, they come to experience “moments.” In other words, “If you want to make a living, you’ve got to put on a good show.” I wish all business was this easy to define.