If you get an opportunity to play a live showcase for a label, you definitely want to make it your best and make sure you are well prepared and take full advantage of the opportunity. At many of these events, there is an A&R rep from a major label that is there solely to watch the performances and take notes on everything they’re seeing and hearing. At our events, the performers are introduced to the rep and the networking commences. What an artist or band does with the feedback is up to them of course, but information is priceless.
Since we’ve been doing these shows since 2004 we figured it was time to put some of that experience on paper.
- Show Up – Obvious, but crucial – in order to perform you have to show up. We can expand on this by saying show up on time, or even early. Showing up early can give you extra time to network with the industry rep and the venue. We have bands come in from all over when we do these shows and when you’re on the road, things can happen. Just try to leave yourself plenty of time so that if (or rather, when) they happen, it doesn’t force you to cancel the gig or become a no-show.
- Practice – Artists who get the most out of these events are the ones that put the most thought into them. They have rehearsed and selected their material carefully and conscientiously. Think about the kind of artists the label represents, think about your best material, what gets the most reaction from your fans? You want a 45-minute set that is packed with “Wow,” not filler.
- Network, but be polite – Take this example for instance. A rep is getting introduced to you after your set, while the next band is setting up. He asks you about your music and what you’re looking to do. Take this opportunity to tell him a bit about your band, give him a hard copy of the set you played, and exchange pleasantries. However, do this all in time for him to settle in for the next band. This is not the time to sit down at his table and continue talking to him through the next band’s set.
- Bring a crowd – If the event is free, it makes this even easier. Think about how much more fun you have when you’re playing to a crowd, than when you’re playing to a smattering. This comes through in your performance, and it’s nice for a rep to see a fan base. That said, if you’re playing to just a few, make the most of it, the rep wants to see you putting on a great performance, even if it’s just for them.
- Be nice to the sound guy – This should be a rule no matter what kind of event you’re playing. It’s true. Always.
- Get more bookings – These shows can take place at great venues – iconic venues even – some of ours have taken place at venues like Kenny’s Castaways (RIP) and The Bitter End in NYC and Antone’s in Austin, TX. Artists who have performed at these showcases have gone on to have residencies at the venue as a result. Another reason to be nice to the sound guy…
- Have a plan – Ok, so your lead singer likes his flannel and your drummer hates his shirt – that’s all fine and good, but one of the things we’ve heard over and over is about the “look” of the band as a group. Not to say you have to dress alike, certainly not, but it’s nice to be in the same state and look somewhat cohesive.
- Acknowledge the other artists playing – Thankfully, this seems like the majority of artists do innately, but it’s always nice to acknowledge your fellow show mates even if you’ve never met them or heard their songs before. Plus, you never know who could be a good gig swap.
- Don’t drink – This may seem blatantly obvious, but you wouldn’t believe how often it’s, shall we say, overlooked. It doesn’t look good, not before your set, not after, etc. etc.
- Have a blast – Make it the funnest show you’ve ever played – let your originality and creative genius come through, relax and play your heart out. ‘Cause, after all, that’s what they’re there to see.
My partner, Irene Namkung, and I, established our agency and management service through showcasing beginning in the mid 1970’s. We represented people that few presenters had heard of, like Elizabeth Cotten, Mike Seeger, Bill Monroe, Memphis Slim, Obo Addy, and Queen Ida. We not only had to sell the artists, we had to sell the idea that roots artists belonged in fine arts venues. If your performance has any roots or ethnic aspect you should approach these presenters through their professional meetings run by the Western Arts Alliance (WAA), the Association of Performing Arts Presenters (APAP), etc. And, of course the college activities market represented by NACA.
Tip 7 above is very important. Often showcases are poorly attended, and this can be demoralizing, so bring a crowd of fans if you can. But keep in mind that the people you are showcasing to are professionals. They can often tell if a group will work for them by seeing only a few seconds of performance. So they might take a peek into your showcase room, make a judgement, and move on to the other groups they need to see. So try to keep your spirits up in the face of this reality. You may be getting more gigs than you think.
In the fine arts and college markets, the showcases are often limited and juried. We pioneered in producing our own showcases, at nearby clubs or by renting ballrooms in the conference hotels. This paid off big for us. We collaborated with other agents to mitigate the costs and create lively events.
Tip 11 might be, “Don’t give up.” We met resistance our first two years from people who felt that our artists were not appropriate for fine arts venues. We also received a lot of encouragement from people who recognized the value of our artists. From being outsiders in 1976, we went to insiders 17 years later when Irene became president of the WAA board.
PS: We are 95% retired, and are no longer taking new clients.