Monday, July 22, 2013

Beware of Free Gigs

When we started Red Sky a little more than a year ago we were thinking that after practicing and a lot of legwork and schmoozing we might get a paying gig or two around town.

Within a couple of months we played at some open mics at the Black Diamond and then played a free gig at the Orange Inn. That free gig led to a lot more paying gigs because we were considered "legit" at that point. 

The next hurdle was getting repeat gigs at venues. That would show that we are at least entertaining, and at most drawing a crowd. We have learned that some places expect bands to bring them customers to justify being there. Others bring in bands to get customers to show up. We find that the second premise works best for us at our infancy stage, since we are very good, but still developing a following.

We decided at that point to stop doing free gigs except the occasional benefit. One exception to that was to play at a women's soccer game this summer. Little did we know...

I will never forget Sunday July 22 2013 when our soundman, Steve, said "Guys - I never expected to be doing this in my life!" referring to setting up for our first stadium show in Rochester NY. Not to mention getting taped for possible TV broadcast and seeing ourselves on Fox Sports the next day.
How did this happen? Well, it didn't just happen. Red Sky has been practicing and playing out consistently for a year now. We have built up the skills, equipment and confidence on top of the talent already there. We know that if we reach out for a grab at an opportunity we can make the most of it. In this case it was being aware that there was an opportunity to be had - this was not an advertised gig. It came from inboxing a sports team on Facebook and having an online package together to represent us.

We also got to give away game tickets to fans and supports and enjoy most of the game with our families. We got mentions on all advertisements and placements - radio, TV, news heard "Red Sky" all day when the game came up.

And we unknowingly auditioned for potential gigs for other teams that play at the stadium, and at least two booking agents that contacted us in person after the game.

So we are careful how we define "free"

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Youth Hockey and War Pigs Highlights of Recent Gig

Red Sky has been booking a lot of gigs at new places. We had been hoping for a long time to play at Mickey Finn's because it is close by and a super nice restaurant first, bar and music venue second. They only book good bands that can play without relying on loudness or a narrow style range.

When Tim returned my email we discussed the kind of music hist patrons would prefer, and we changed up our set list. We added some Allman Bros, CSNY and a Miranda Lambert. Took out the Bush and Stone Temple Pilots. And we really had a good time trying to hit one out of the park when we played there last night (Sat March 2, 2013).

A couple of moments stood out as memorable: a bantam league hockey team joined in on Purple Rain - slow arm wave, 'oooh-oooh' chorus. Grade-school kids- how do they know this stuff?
And our final song- War Pigs. Our bass player was really lost in the music - eyes closed, head moving like Geezer, transported by the conveyor belt that is "the Wall" segment of the song. He opened his eyes to see quite a few people had left their seats, left the bar, left what they were doing and had re-formed an audience. Scotti played an epic lead- molten sheets of fire put Satan on the wing as the war pigs burned.

Probably not what Mickey Finn's envisioned when they booked us, but somehow the journey we were all on that night took us there.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Open Mic'd

Got a message from our singer, Patti, that she would be at the Cottage Hotel in Mendon with Steve Sunday night to check out the open mic scene there. Scott and Hot Pockets had wanted to drop in there to scope out the stage for the upcoming gig. Most of the band do not go out much, and had not been there before.

Its always a good idea to personally check out a venue before the first time you play there. Despite the size connotation of a hotel, the place is pretty small - maybe 7 tables for dinner and a 12' bar. There's another with game tables next to the diningroom that seems like wasted space - I was told bands used to play from there in the old days when Marshall Tucker Band played there, for instance.

There was a young lady playing Taylor Swift songs while chairs and beers tracked down. Then the MC, Ricky, played a song with one of his students from Jovi's music where he teaches and sells instruments. A few pre-teen girls at the adjacent table were giggling and scribbling and I saw one write some names on the sign-up sheet after ours.

Ricky smoothly let them go ahead while H.P. went out to get the guitars. They were done before he came back! Time to quickly set up, tune and find out the guitar had some electrical problem (its the pots!) and Scotty switched to Ricky's Martin (ha!). Off we went into Rockin' in the Free World, Blue on Black, Almost Cut my Hair and finally Been Awhile. By then H.P. had to bend every string to keep in tune since the bass had warmed up.

Another tuneup and Ricky wants to play too, so Scotty convinces H.P. to do Little Wing. H.P. is not feeling really confident about that song, but reluctantly agrees. Emphasizes the parts he is sure of and tries to fade back on the rest or dance around.

Then Ricky wants to do another to close out the night - do we know "One Way Out"? H.P. doesn't even know what song that is- oh "Might be your man I don't know" Allman Bros. Ricky says don't worry you guys can do this! A dry run through the chorus and the all-important stop in there and we're off again, this time Ricky signing, playing the rhythm, and telling H.P. what note to change to on the bass- hilarious and impressive! "A!",  "D!", "E!" "stop!"

Later H.P. realizes he has never heard a recording of Almost Cut My Hair and hadn't heard One Way Out since he sold his old Vinyl records and tossed his tapes 20+ years ago. Great way to close out 2012!

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

You are your own gig finder is a site loaded with musicians, bands and songwriters. Someone posted the question "Where are the gigs at?" and it got some responses. Along the lines of "yeah we gotta tell them club owners where we at!"
There are many problems with this specific site's concept that will not be solved by getting the word out to club owners and booking as the posters suggested. Craigs List works better without consciously trying. Worse, Gigfinder is ugly to look at (All red text on black background actually hurts the eyes) and does not organize itself according to location. That's enough to kill it right there.
Booking talent of any kind requires an audition. Before that happens some kind of personal connection is probably required to filter out the untalented, talented unreliable, etc etc. It is no fun to find nice ways to tell random people that they suck without them badmouthing your place to everyone who will listen. Or letting the air out of your tires. Or telling the police there are drug deals going down at your place at 2am.
Start out at open mics, jams, poetry slams - something. Get to know people - musicians, bands, wedding planners, owners - and work your way in your local scene - there is no shortcut.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

The Power of One Audience Member

We live for the magical moments when we connect with someone in the audience. When someone hears and appreciates the music we are playing it puts us into total overdrive. Most folks in an audience have no idea how much power they wield over the entire show!

Try this experiment if you are at a small show in a neighborhood club and feeling bold: Maybe the band isn't quite doing it for you or the audience is kinda blase, OK? Get up there and start nodding your head, start moving to the beat. Get a friend to join in. Even if it's a bit of work, do it anyway. Dance, headbang, Dio salute, whatever. Make eye contact with someone in the band and nod knowingly. Something.

Then watch and feel what happens - this will often create a snowball effect where the band perks up, the audience wakes up, and the next song starts and everything seems awesome.

If you do this at our show I will definitely buy you and your friend a round - just introduce yourselves to the band : )

One person can ruin it for everyone too, but a pro will turn it around. For example... (Strong language alert)

Friday, December 7, 2012

The Cost of Cheap Equipment

The music equipment business trades on emotion as much or more than any other aspect of the music industry. But we have found there are real differences between instruments that cost less than $300 and those that run up to $1000. Still plenty of room for emotion to play a part too.

For instance, you might feel underdressed to play a big venue with a low-end instrument, even if nobody notices or cares. Pretty much an emotion thing there. But what if the battery dies in the middle of a set? Then you realize you have to use a screwdriver to replace it because they only put the quick-change doors on the more expensive model. You do keep a screwdriver in your case, right? Where is the case? They put it somewhere? Let's say emotion plays a part here too: panic. embarrassment. 

There are many manufacturing shortcuts that lower the purchase price but make an instrument impossible to set up properly or maintain. These are usually hardly noticeable. For instance our bass player had an instrument that had the audio jack fully embedded in the wood of the body. When it shorted out soon after purchase the only way to service it was to find a repair shop with a special removal tool, or send it back for a replacement.  From the outside it looked just like the jack on the more expensive models. It's cheaper/quicker to yank the jack into the hole with glue than to hold it in with a nut that is screwed on from the inside on a longer, more expensive part.

The most obvious sign of cheapness is usually the fret ends - if they aren't filed right they can be sharp enough to rub the skin off your hand. Another is the roll-off of the volume knob - does the volume smoothly descend to silence, or does it cut off 1/8 of a turn before you get to the stop?

More subtle are issues with making adjustments and replacements. The jack is a good example. Pickup height adjustment screws made of very soft metal with loctite on the ends. Look out for instruments that seem to be tuned several steps lower than normal. A new thing is acoustic guitars with what seem to be high-end wood veneer tops that are really more like decals of wood. Maybe OK for a Christmas gift to a Taylor wannabe?

That said our bass player is off to the music store to check out another bass with more strings this time - wish him luck : )

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

On Performing to a Dull Audience

Watching a video from 1969 of Led Zeppelin playing before a non-appreciative, stone-faced French audience reveals much about the band's stagecraft.

Footage begins behind the curtain as the band is told to start, seemingly nonchalant about the whole thing.  They seem very experienced by this time: going out before an audience of about 200 people and a television crew is not a big deal. Noticed the John Paul Jones is late coming out, maybe familiarity is starting to become contempt?

Then they just start playing as polite applause can be heard. And one thing really stands out - no matter what the audience, Robert Plant has to work himself into a frenzy to be able to sing the way he does. Jimmy Page can't just stand still and play the rhythm and lead. John Bonham must twirl the sticks over his head. John Paul Jones is the only one who can stand off in the corner and do his thing regardless.

So, maybe this is a lesson about an essential aspect of what defines Rock and Roll music: it must be performed with an uncompromising approach to be done at all. In Led Zeppelin's case it is the frenzy of Plant and Page combined with loudness. In another context it is the detached cool of Lou Reed. In any case it is a real challenge for a cover band. Especially when playing to a polite audience in the age of Youtube.