I’m an Artist, not a Grey Flannel Suit!

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air guitar grey flannel suit

Hi there,

I see lots of posts on Facebook saying: ‘hey come and play at our venue!’ ‘And please bring the sound system! Oh, and the audience too!’ We’re not talking only newbie bands here either – there is a certain expectation, particularly in the original music scene, that a venue simply provides a space and everything else is up to you as the performer. 

Somebody I just met, when finding out that I was a singer, asked, ‘so what do you during the day?’ Working musos are well aware that the time we spend on stage is a fraction of the time we need to put in, in order to get up on that stage. It means ongoing practice and rehearsal, as well as the admin all small businesses deal with. But alongside being experts in our fields, apparently we must create the audience if we actually want to be paid for our expertise. Isn’t that tantamount to a chef in a restaurant having to bring their own oven and pots and pans, and the diners as well? A chef is hired for their expertise after years of training and experience.  Just like us. As original artists we have the same workload as the gigging cover muso with the added task of actually creating the material we are performing as well! So all of this and then you can add the hours of promotion it requires to get the bums on seats in order to display the art and that expertise? Isn’t this all really unfair? 

Well, yes! It is also a reality of the career we have chosen and I think it’s important to understand our responsibilities. We can choose not to work with the venues who give artists absolutely no support or even better, try to work with them to educate them on how we can make it work better together. But even then, we have to think of marketing as a joint responsibility, whether we like it or not. 

I’ve co-produced and performed in a couple of shows at the Sydney Opera House and their internal marketing is excellent. They do email, online and printed marketing campaigns to an extensive database. They do onsite video, poster and flier promotion – all of which you have access to as long as you are not afraid of being just a little bit pushy. By the way, even though all this is offered, you still have to provide them with the actual promotional materials. But still, surely all that is enough to sell out a show? Unfortunately no. Even a show at the premier cultural venue in the country relies on the show itself to do their own extensive marketing. In most cases there is no budget for a promoter, so this means the artists must do it. 

And of course not every venue is the Opera House. And I’m certainly not saying that artists should put up with shitty deals and work their butts off at venues that don’t pull their own weight. We should be choosy and support those who support us! But we also have to educate ourselves in the realities of doing shows. A Facebook post promoting your show here and there helps but that on its own will simply not cut it. Contacting local print, online media and community radio should be the bare minimum. Gig listings and constant and engaging social media work really helps. Phone calls, flyers and old fashioned mail still works. Email is very effective, particularly if it’s personalised. There’s plenty of marketing advice to be found via Google and personally I’m over that enduring attitude of: ‘I’m an artist, I don’t do business’. Business and marketing can be very creative. Let’s harness those powers to fill up our venues again! Instead of just bitching about the state of the scene, let’s get proactive and help it grow!

All the best,
Amanda

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