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Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Put me on the Door?

Hi there,

I've said 'Put me on the door?' many times myself and it seems such a small ask, doesn't it? Please just write my name on that precious piece of paper - the one in possession of the door biatch - so that I don't have to pay to get in the club. There was one period of my life and career that I wore as a badge of honour the fact that I never paid to get into any gig I wanted to go to. It was my selfish 20-somethings and I felt that my industry somehow owed me that.

I'd like to think that passing years have made me wiser and less selfish but truthfully, it has been my experience on the 'other' side of the velvet rope that has really made me think differently. When you ask for free entry to a gig, who is really paying the price?

I am now often the promoter of the shows I perform in. The promoter is the person at whose feet the financial responsibility ultimately falls. Depending on the deal, too few tickets sold can directly hit the promoter in the hip pocket. Venues are less willing to take financial risk nowadays, so will often offer 'door deals'. That means a promoter gets paid only by receiving a percentage of the ticket prices and out of that, must pay the band, possibly the sound system and engineer, promotional costs and any other expenses. Obviously in this situation, any tickets given away are tickets that can't be sold to help the promoter make costs. 

When you're an indie artist putting on your own gig, you're a promoter whether you like it or not. If all your friends and family ask to be 'put on the door', what chance have you got to break even let alone actually get paid for your work? For an indie gig I promoted at The Basement a few years ago, I worked out that even with a house almost full of paying punters, if I included all the hours I had spent working towards this event, my hourly rate would make even a Nike factory worker blush! 

I once invited an agent to see a show I was in, and I offered to put him on the door. He said he would be happy to come and see my gig but insisted on paying his way. His belief was that it was our duty to support each other in this industry and always paying to see gigs was one way to stop live music being devalued. That was the first time I had heard this particular point of view, and I eventually adopted it as my own.

So, is all this to say that no smart businessperson would ever give away tickets? Not at all! Recently I was working with an international act in their first time to tour in Australia. One of the venues for this act was only half sold, two days out from the show date. In this case, the act's promoter had negotiated a guaranteed fee, so the financial risk lay with the venue itself this time. As part of the deal, the venue had offered the promoter a small number of 'comps' which they had duly given to various industry folk - but they found they needed more freebies than were offered. Obviously the venue would prefer to sell than give them away so they decided to cross their arms and refuse to give the promoters any additional free tickets. But in this case, that is exactly what the venue should have done. In fact, they should have been giving away tickets with gusto! A full room is in everybody's interest. A full house creates the illusion of success - it's more exciting for the artist and even audience members prefer the atmosphere of a well attended show. Giving away unsold tickets is such common practice (I was lucky enough to see Pink at the Entertainment Centre as a result of this strategy) that it has a name - it's called 'Papering the House', and it is an art. Don't do it too early and risk losing last minute sales - and when you do do it, be discreet so that paying audience, media and reviewers don't suspect!

The bottom line is that giving away tickets directly affects someone's bottom line one way or another. We all know there is no such thing as a free lunch - we need to also realise there is no such thing as a free gig!

All the best for Christmas and a safe and successful 2016,

Sunday, November 8, 2015

Jessica Mauboy and Shoes for Sale

Hi there,
I don't know the real story behind Jessica Mauboy's no-show up at the mic at the Melbourne Cup but the thing that has surprised me is the reaction of many musos. On a lot of the local Facebook groups there has been an awful lot of bile about 'corporate whores' and bitterness in general about business and its involvement in music. 

We all like to stick it to The Man at times but a lot of people seem to believe current music has lost all its integrity because of today's corporate greed. The thing is, we would likely have no Beethoven, Bach or Mozart if it weren't for financial patronage in their times - whether from Monarchs, the Church or the Aristocracy. And weren't they the equivalent of corporations of the day? Many composers like these couldn't afford to eat, let alone write music for a living, without sponsorship. And let's face it, these patrons didn't provide the dosh purely for the love of art. They demanded a requiem for a funeral here, a waltz for an upcoming dance there and a sonata for the wife's birthday celebrations - composers commonly churned out classical works to the tune of the clanging of sponsorship coinage. Have things changed so much?

A few years ago my original band was invited to go to Malaysia to help promote Hennessy and Moet. I still wonder if that was all a fabulous dream. The companies hosted us in luxury for a week in Kuala Lumpur and Penang, all expenses paid plus a generous fee. In return we were to perfrom two short shows at events promoting their brands. I could sing my own songs, wear my own clothes and oh, here's the clincher...I was 'requested' to drink a glass of Hennessy on stage and to mention the brand. Then, if I didn't mind, I would be seen drinking a glass of Moet champagne after the set. Are you kidding me? I love corporate sponsorship. Not for a second did I feel like a whore - my integrity felt wholly and securely in tact. But isn't it all about personal integrity? And isn't integrity just that - personal? Hennessy VSOP Cognac is a glass of liquid heaven to me and Moet is in the top 2 of my favourite alcoholic beverages (Veuve Clicquot, I am willing to make myself available for you anytime). I am perfectly happy to endorse products like these, in a responsible way to an appropriate audience. I guess not everyone would feel the same way, after all alcohol definitely has a dark side - but we all need to march to our own drums. If McDonald's or Benson & Hedges came a-knocking, I'd have to decline their offers of private jet trips because I personally believe those companies and their products are evil and I wouldn't be able to sleep at night. I said 'no thank you' to The Voice because it didn't sit well with me, but I'm sitting on the sofa cheering at the top of my lungs when friends appear on the show. One person's sell-out is another's symbiosis, so we can only do what feels right for us.

If you decide to be a professional musician, you are agreeing to exchange your art for financial reward. When money is involved there are always strings attached - it's up to you whether you feel those strings have turned you into a corporate puppet or you're just meeting reasonable terms of your employment. I can't imagine having an issue with sponsored footwear but when it comes to other fashion decrees - perhaps when they involve what not to wear - it could be a different matter...So, the first professional singing I ever did was with a girl group and we got offered a lucrative gig at a nightclub in Asia. Trouble is, we would have had to perform topless. Needless to say, we politely turned down that offer - a bridge way too far for all of us.

OK, back to Jess. One media report says she had a panic attack because her own management and the Race Management were bickering about her sponsorship commitments (ie wearing the shoes) minutes before she was to go on. Perhaps she should have worn them as part of her contract, after all there's a price you pay for getting paid such a high price! But no matter what kind of business transactions are involved, in the end music and performance is an affair of the heart and spirit and 'business' needs to understand that too. That's why these things are called relationships right? Both sides need to try to relate to and empathize with the other.

The only way to escape the association of music and business is to not enter into music as a business, and that's a fair choice. But for me, I think the right relationships - with understanding on both sides about what both sides need - can result in a good back scratching that benefits everyone. So I say bring it on!

Till next time,

Thursday, October 29, 2015

When are you Too Old to Sing?

Hi there,

I had my 25th birthday while living in Japan, where I was singing with cover bands and writing songs. The Japanese always seemed obsessed with age to me. On meeting someone new, the questions would invariably be, in this order: "Where are you from?" and "How old are you?" When I answered '25' to the latter they would breath a sigh of relief and say: "Well that's OK then, still young". After experiencing this over and over I asked a hip Japanese friend what was going on. She explained that many Japanese people believed a woman was like a Christmas cake. Oh. Well I'm glad I asked... Luckily she elaborated, after an embrassed silence. "A Woman is like a Christmas cake because like the cake, after the 25th she is considered to be past her use-by date". Yes I can hear your gasps from here - shocking isn't it! So imagine my surprise when recently I find out that a current JPop (Top 40 Japanese Pop) Star is a girl by the name of Namie Amuro. Astonishing because guess who was a major JPop star when I lived in Japan all those years ago - the same 'girl'. So she is now 37 years old! Now don't forget we are talking Top 40 Pop! In Japan!

So are things changing? If an ageist society accepts a 37 year old as a Popstar then surely anyone can! A friend asked me recently, 'How long do you think you can keep singing?' It's not as if I haven't asked myself this question many times before. 

Putting aside all the Strolling Bones jokes, have you actually seen The Stones perform in recent times? That famous Jagger strut is still in fine shape and the whole band sounds rocking. There seems to have been a resurgence of late, of 'legendary' artists on tour and most of them are still getting rave reviews. There have also, of course, been past stars wheeled out again that have crashed and burned. I'm pretty sure I know why some heritage acts still have it and some don't. I'm no pedagog but I know that if I don't do any singing training or actual performing for more than a week, I can feel the muscles weaken. The Stones have never stopped doing what they do. Stars of the '80s who became stockbrokers or drug dealers when their starlight faded, only to jump on the Retro bandwagon more than 20 years later, can't expect to have the same skills they did in their heyday. Because they didn't keep it up. They didn't keep the muscles working.

Well that's me covered then. I have no intention of taking off more than a week here and there - I miss it way too much. So in decades to come when someone points out the 'little old lady with the (insert bright colour here) hair, wearing the sequins', you can say: "Oh that's Amanda, she's getting ready for a gig."

Till next time,

Monday, September 7, 2015

Smoke is a Joke!

Hi there,

Now if you read my blog but don't know me personally, I worry you think I may be Diva-like with tech crew at gigs. I admit I do vent in this blog about sound issues at times...but I do really believe that the person twiddling the knobs behind a sound desk can absolutely make or break a gig for a singer. I do an average of 4 gigs a week and I promise it really is a very small minority of engineers I butt heads with (soundos reading this that actually like me, feel free to step in any time :)). Anyway, you'll be pleased to know I'm sharing the love today and bitching instead about lighting.

I had a daytime cabaret spot at a lovely club in Sydney a couple of weeks ago. As soon as I went to open my mouth for the opening lines of my opening song, I choked, literally. The hazer (modern smoke machine) had just disgorged its vapour uncomfortably near my face. I regained my composure and kept singing but as soon as I had a space between lines of the song I looked towards the sound and lighting booth and said, 'No hazer for me please, it makes me cough' and smiled apologetically. The haze continued, so at the end of the song I had to say it again - I hated having to make a big point of it so publicly but there was no way I could continue through the next 45 minutes with that malodorous miasma puffing in my face and down my throat. Interestingly, the audience were nodding their heads and saying things like, 'yeah get rid of it, we hate it too!'. 

I do get the hazer thing. It makes the lighting come to life. Some lighting effects simply don't have the impact without the smoke. But, come on, at what cost? Usually during soundcheck I make a point of asking - as politely as possible - that no hazers are used when I'm singing on stage. I always apologise to the lighting person in advance and concede I am making their job harder, but that the hazer makes me cough and means I can't do my job properly.

Most of the time the lighting person will say 'OK', even so with a bit of a snarl. But a conversation not long ago with one lighting person at a kids' show I produce, went something like this:

Lighting Dude: Why have you written 'no hazers please' on your lighting guide?
Me: Yeah sorry, we singers find they dry out our throats and make us cough.
Lighting Dude: But they make the lights look good.
Me: I know, I'm really sorry, but you know that smoke is really not a good thing to breathe in anyway and I have had health issues...
Lighting Dude: It's made from a chemical that is in chewing gum.
Me: Yeah, I would never eat chewing gum let alone breathe it in...
Lighting Dude: Do you drive? How about the stuff that comes out of the exhaust, that's really evil too.
Me: Yes, I really avoid opening my mouth right next to exhausts and breathing that smoke in...
Lighting Dude: We use the same hazers as the Opera House use. And they make the lights look good.
Me: (Diva alert!!) Well at least on my deathbed I can say that the lights in my shows looked great huh?

Yes that last comment of  mine was a bit extreme but the dude did shut up and he didn't use the hazer. As producer this was my choice anyway, not his. I also had a particular problem in this case because it was a kids' show and I didn't want to pump children's eyes and lungs full of something potentially harmful. Funnily enough, I produced a show at the Opera House recently (and they did indeed have the same type of hazers) and when I gave the Production Manager the lighting guide he read it and said, 'No hazers? OK.' No arguments, not even a snarl and still a great looking show.

I have done a bit of research on the chemicals used in hazers and it is actually difficult to get a definitive answer on their safety but there is plenty of research to show that actors and singers find them very drying on their throats, which negatively affects their performances. I spoke to a few doctors who agree that they are 'bad for you' with one Oncologist telling me that anytime you turn an organic material into smoke, it is potentially carcinogenic. 

We have only recently managed to clear our venues of second hand cigarette smoke - I for one don't want to replace it with another foul fume. 

Anyway, I may be creating a stink with this post, but all I want to do is clear the air!

(The Accidental Diva)

Thursday, August 6, 2015

What the Opera House Taught Me

Hi there,

I recently co-produced and performed in a show 'Ladies Sing the Blues: a Tribute to 100 Years of Billie Holiday' at The Sydney Opera House, and, well, it was a sold out event! Forgive me for being boastful - but it's a big deal to me. And I really want to remember the important things I learnt from being part of this experience, so I'm writing it down:

1. Get the Best out of being in a Theatre: A theatre is a very different beast to your standard rock venue. About 50% of ticket sales are made through a theatre's own channels so their marketing is vital. However, access to their marketing channels isn't automatic. You need to be on their e-marketing mailouts, 'what's on' brochures as well as have printed and digital posters in their foyers and car parks. Asking for these opportunities once will probably not be enough. Keep asking, politely. Don't forget you catch more flies with honey than vinegar.

2. It's a Theatre so be Theatrical: Consider multimedia. We used rare audio bites of interviews with Billie Holiday between each live set, creating atmosphere and visibly moving our audience. 

Co-Producers Amanda Easton & Lady Cool
3. Maximise the Space: Most rock venues (in Australia anyway) offer you a fairly set template for your show eg, two x one hour sets starting at 8:30pm, with a 20 minute interval. As producers in a hired theatrical space, you can make up these guidelines yourself, within reason. Next time I would consider adding a Matinee alongside a night time show to get value out of the venue and crew costs.

4. Understand the Box Office: One of a producer's first jobs is 'building the Box Office'. Know what you can charge for tickets ie how many seats do you need to sell to break even and what kind of ticket prices will the market sustain/expect? Consider all your direct ticketing expenses including taxes, ticket printing charges, 'Inside Charges' (the theatre's cut) credit card costs and third party agency (eg Ticketek) fees. Consider how student and pensioner discounts, media and promotional comps will affect your bottom line. Insist on daily Sales Reports so you can see what marketing is working. We were almost at capacity a week before out event so we knew, for example, that a newspaper ad then would be a waste of money.

5. Have a great professional business team: Ours included co-producers, a patron/executive producer, commercial printer, a photographer and a publicist with great contacts in Metropolitan Media. TV and Radio give vital exposure as well as add legitimacy and prestige to an event. Social media marketing is important but not enough. You need good Marketing Collaterals, including a promo video, cast photo, press release, media backgrounder and eye-catching graphic art and strap lines.

6. Don't forget you're an Artist too: It is very easy to get caught up in the all-consuming business of putting on a show and forgetting that you are part of the show as a performer too. Having a Stage Manager helps separate your responsibilities as producer and performer on the night.

7. Don't be Scared to be Scared: The feeling (akin to dread or perhaps indigestion) I get in the pit of my stomach when I feel like I'm taking on more than I can chew - that's a good sign. They don't call them 'growing pains' for nothing.


Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Facebook is not for (Music) Business

Hi there,

Of course I'm being contentious in my title so that you read on :). Facebook is fabulous for spreading the word about gigs and new releases, inviting people to events and much more. What I don't think it is good for, is business communication. 

I've heard two musicians I respect say in this last little while that they wouldn't take seriously any approaches for gigs that they received through Facebook. I personally have a policy of 'say yes until you have to pay money or sign something' when it comes to just about any offer because some of my best experiences have come out of the most unlikely places, BUT I do tend to agree that professional business approaches should be made the old-skool way, either on the telephone or via email. 

Even the humble txt message seems somehow more solid than Facebook. Maybe it's because these 'unsolicited' Facebook messages end up sitting alongside the ones from widowed men from the American Armed Forces who 'wish to has a nice and loveliness relationship with a woman who has a good sweetness and understanding' or strangers with names like Richardo Gustavo offering to build muscles in areas you didn't know existed.

Good old fashioned email is searchable, fileable, a lot more flexible when it comes to attaching large files and is less likely to be blocked by someone's workplace than Facebook. And if I'm knee deep in my work I won't even be logged in to FB - those funny cat videos are way too distracting. I also feel that Facebook is a bit like a rock tour: what happens on Facebook stays on Facebook. That seems to mean that what people say doesn't have to have the same element of truth that it does in other mediums. Yes yes they'll go to all those events you're inviting them too - but they don't actually mean it!

So, if you want to meet me at The Red Sea so we can swim with the dugongs on a trip that will ensure we 'get to know each other better', go ahead and ping me on my FB instant messaging, but Gmail for gigs please.

See you next time,

Friday, May 15, 2015

Jazz ain't jazz!

Hi there,

I can't count how many times my brief at a gig has been 'jazz' but I've ended up doing everything but. Even wikipedia admits 'Jazz' is a slippery beast to define. I'm talking Ella, Louis and Duke when I say Jazz. My mum says Jazz and means 'lively'. I've heard many a muso make a booboo and call that 'jazz'. I think a lot of venue managers like the 'cool' that the word jazz conjures but don't actually want the blue notes. After all 'Jazz on the Deck' sounds much better than 'a bit of pop music outside there past the pokies'. 

So when I've been booked for a 'jazz' gig and ended up doing anything but, it's not because I'm being a rebel - after all I know where my bread is buttered and I always aim to please the client. But sometimes, well, we entertainers actually know what we're doing! We are being booked because we are professional and know our craft, right?

I remember being booked for a wedding where the bride gave us a list of all her favourite (non-Jazz!) songs us to play at the reception. They included songs from Garbage, Portishead, Blondie, Morcheeba and the like - a woman after my own heart when it comes to taste in music. But not for a wedding. As soon as we cracked out her requested rocker: 'I'm Only Happy When it Rains' you could see the tumbleweed rolling across the barren dancefloor. 

So we played 'Moondance' and 'Love is in the Air', like we always do at a wedding and suddenly all was right in the world. The bride was happy because everyone else was - and cavorting bodies on the dancefloor is the best yardstick for a wedding band's success. 

So I soon learnt that when dealing with less-than-experienced clients, my job was to nod my head, smile and say 'sure' and then turn around and play what actually works rather than what was asked for. What is the point of hiring a professional and then telling them their job? When you hire a chef you may choose the dishes and of course it will be to suit your tastes, but you don't tell them exactly what ingredients to use and how to combine them. Jazz, rock, polka - whatever works is what is best. In the end, as Mr Ellington himself says, 'it's all music'.

See you next time,

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Sinead I love ya, but...

Hi there,

I saw Sinead O'Connor at The Opera House this week and her voice was in fine form, her band was firing and she was adorable in her shyness. I've been a long term Sinead fan and her breakthrough album 'The Lion and the Cobra' remains in my personal top 10 Albums of All Time. I know from overheard pre-show conversations that some of the audience this night were there purely because of her worldwide smash hit 'Nothing Compares 2U'. Rolling Stone rated that tune in one of their lists of the 500 Best Songs of All Time. 

Now I love hearing an artist's new material and of course a concert is always going to promote a current album, but I'm sorry, it is not your work post-1991 that allowed you to sell out this concert hall. And yes you are an artist and must do what inspires you in the now, but don't you think you have an obligation to play at least some of the songs that brought you here and now? I loved your gentle monk's chant and the never-heard-before acapella performances you gave us. I understand why you are sick of singing the Prince cover that made you really famous, but where was 'Jerusalem', 'Mandinka' or 'Jackie' - nothing from that magical first album?! We did get 'The Emperor's New Clothes' but with a concert clocked at just over an hour, and devoid of almost any of the truly famous, popular songs, the show was actually a case of emperor's new clothes with so much promised but little delivered. 

I saw Neneh Cherry on the same stage a week before (she played for two hours). Her album 'Man' sits right next to Sinead's on that list of mine. Neneh started this show playing a lot of tunes from her new album. She then reached down, picked up a piece of fabric, tied it around her head like she used to do in her early career and said something like 'I want to live in the now but let's go old skool for a while'. She proceeded to pepper hits like 'Woman', 'Man Child' and of course the big one, 'Buffalo Stance' throughout the remainder of the set, taking the turban on and off as she went back and forth in time. Now that's more like it! The versions she did of these hits weren't exactly the same as when they were released - she managed to stay in 'the now' while incorporating her history and pleasing her fans at the same time. And when I say 'pleasing', the crowd leaving the Opera House at the end of Neneh's show rode a cloud of exhiliration and inspiration whereas that leaving Sinead's was definitely underwhelmed. Can you imagine an Eagles show without 'Hotel California'? Led Zeppelin without 'Stairway to Heaven'? Fleetwood Mac without 'Go Your Own Way'? Is crowd pleasing so bad? I think it's part of your job... our job as performers and artists.
Till next time,

And since she didn't play it, I will: Jackie

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Should you Produce yourself?

Hi there,

I am the person who, in between hairdresser visits, hacks at and colours their own hair. I got down on my hands and knees and sanded and stained the damaged floorboards in the kitchen rather than call a professional and I decided I could produce, direct and edit my latest music video all by myself. So I'm no stranger to do-it-yourself.

One area I don't go near, however, is my own music production. I have lots of ideas and I put all those ideas in a multi track demo that I give to a producer. He sees through my suspect sounds and mootable mixing, sprinkles some fairy dust and suddenly what I hear in my own head comes to life. I've heard a lot of self-produced artists recently and each time I've come away thinking: great singer, great songs, but there is something missing. I'm not suggesting that there are no great artists who are also great producers - Michael Carpenter at Love Hz Studios is one of those and Floyd Vincent did a great job on his recent live album. But I think that a lot of artists aren't equally good producers and, while hair does grow back, no-one really looks at the kitchen floor and I might get away with a DIY film clip for one of my songs, I know my home baked production would be half baked. Just like I think singers need singing lessons, I think artists need producers. If nothing else, it's a second brain and pair of ears to prod you out of your comfort zone... or perhaps reign in the wilder reaches of creativity and lend some consistency to a group of tunes that will end up as an album or EP. 

Songwriter's songs are like their babies and we don't take kindly to criticism of our offspring - but let's face it, often it is required. And you might think the little tacker would look terrible in a stripey onesie but it could just be that the pattern brings out the absolute best in their complexion. It takes a lot of years to become a good singer. It takes just as long to become a good producer. So if you have been spending most of your time working on your singing and songwriting, why not leave the knob twiddling and audio magic to the guys and girls that have been spending so many of their waking hours on that craft?

By the way, you can judge for yourself, my DIY filmclip (this is the remix version).

'Till next time,