Editorial: Living In A Postcard

Living in a postcard…

While trying to assemble photos of myself for an editor once, he complained that a lot of them looked like I was on vacation. He was clearly being acidic, trying to say the photos I gave him weren't professional enough. He was probably looking for something more like a Robert Mappelthorpe or Annie Lebovitz style shot of me holding a bulky Monette horn or one of those Dizzy Gillespie raised bell trumpets behind my head artistically while peering off meaningfully with the squinted gaze of a fighter pilot, possibly surrounded by other band members wearing Mexican wrestling masks, showing inexplicably stern expressions glaring into random directions in space.

Maybe he had a point but I'm old enough now I have the right not to be too professional. I'm happy. I get to write and play music frequently but not so much that I feel drowned by my schedule, and the crowds I play for are mostly very appreciative. If this is mediocrity I certainly don't feel crippled by it. I have time to live my life.

I'm very lucky to have gotten to where I am. I'm not a celebrity which means you've probably never heard of me and never will. I made a living parallel to my music career for many years which means I never had to be a starving artist, at least not for long. I've found a few good friends who help stroke my ego when I'm good and know how to smack me down a few notches when I'm bad. I've also found places to live and play that make me feel like I really am on vacation all the time.

Therefore I think of it as a compliment to be accused of trying to get away with using postcard photos I took myself as PR. To that end here's one for you to enjoy at the top of this page I took while riding my bike near the Dillon Amphitheater, one of the venues my band played at last year. It's beautiful, isnt it?


I want to play…Where to play…Where to play…

A young musician recently told me she was having difficulty finding venues in which to perform. She was looking for a specific kind of place and described a specific demographic she hoped would frequent this theoretical place in her mid sized city. I realize what she really was looking for is a feeling of safety and belonging within a social scene and to find friends. However, in my experience that personal challenge is a separate thing from trying to get gigs and perform. The specifics of her story are not important to this point: Venues are not concerned with any of that.

Venues are concerned with making money.

(It's an old, old story, so I'll tell it again…)

Venues are concerned with making money.

This is not as bad a thing as it sounds. Every musician wants a place to play but that means it's important those venues stay in business. They're not a charity. They have to sell tickets. They have to sell booze. They have to sell coffee/food/t-shirts/whatever. You, the performing act, are just a cog in that machine. Get used to it and make it work for you. (It's true - there's greed, corruption, and even criminal enterprises out there but once you learn how to spot the many telltale signs you can avoid those places…unless you happen to be a greedy corrupt criminal musician, then enjoy!)

It's your job to convince venues you're a good investment. This may happen anywhere from impressing the coffee shop's barista with a good open stage performance to your agent or manager selling your show to an arena's talent buyer. Being part of a particular social scene is not the same thing as getting gigs. The talent buyer doesn't care about your style, clothes, eyeliner or goth friends, only that all your goth friends showed up and paid full price for their tickets.

Maybe you fancy yourself a punk/queer/hippie/folk/rockabilly/jazz person and you want to build credibility and a reputation for that, but that's all secondary to whether the music you make is entertaining and interesting to people. You may even discover the music you thought you were making for one scene ended up doing far better with an entirely different crowd. Don't feel obligated to conform to what you think your current friends want you to play, letting those feelings dictate whether you become a successful musician.

If you make good music that people want to hear there will always be venues to book you. Think of the variety of big touring acts passing through all the big arenas and theaters: The only thing that diverse variety of acts has in common is they all sell a lot of tickets and often completely sell out their shows. That should be the scene you aspire to, not your identity politics.


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