One of my guitar students and his father came to see me at a restaurant gig a couple weeks ago. He’s a successful businessman and I asked him casually, “ how often does your business model change?” He answered, “weekly!” After confiding that mine has changed several times since moving to Texas, we discussed trends in business. A recent Wall Street Journal article shouts “These Days, Rock Cover Bands Can’t Seem to Get It On.” The Journal’s byline continues, “Desperate for Gigs, Performers Don Spandex, Sing at Strip Malls; Glut of Aging Musicians.” Lest you think this blog is filled with despair, think again!
My business model has changed often since 1996, when my wife, our four children and I pulled the plug on North Carolina and moved to Dallas, TX. I was fortunate to land a weekend restaurant gig at a steakhouse in our new town within two weeks of our arrival, which I kept for three years. By 1998, I missed playing with a group so I started some duo and then trio gigs with a drummer and keyboards player, all the while teaching and doing solo gigs anywhere I could work. By 2010, the trio gigs started diminishing so we booked more duo stuff. In 2012, as the economy’s noose tightened, the focus became solo gigs, more and more with online booking agents and less with in town folks. In 2014, almost 90% of my work comes from Gigmasters and Gig Salad and the remaining 10% booking myself or with an occasional local agent. Local agents aren’t too interested in solo acts in Texas since the margins are smaller than with a bigger group. That means guerilla marketing approaches are best. I advertise on craigslist and often book shows there, as well as my website.
So how’s your business model doing? Has it changed in the past 5-10 years? Have you changed with the times? If not, have you started losing gigs? Perhaps it’s time you begin implementing some new approaches to help get you back in the fast lane. Let’s get down to specifics. First, keep reading this column. I share ideas I don’t think will work- I know they do because I’m using them myself! If you’re already in a duo or performing solo, then you are ahead of the curve. Are you trying these approaches I share each month, or are you waiting for someone to call you? If you wait, you’re already late.
Pat Hicks, my longtime friend, mentor and the creator of GIT and Musicians Institute gave me the secret to success back in 1982. Frustrated with my current direction, I sent Pat a tape of my playing. He listened to it in its entirety and told me, “you’re a fine player with real ability. However, that’s not enough to succeed in the music business. Diversify your skills, learn to read, write, arrange, etc and don’t depend on someone else for your success.” The following year, I moved to Los Angeles , enrolled at GIT and began taking my career and my future seriously. School was a part of that success, but it wasn’t the only factor. I read marketing and sales books, listened to motivational recordings and even took a couple non-music jobs in order to feed my family. I began teaching private lessons in 1986, writing for music magazines in 1987 and began doing voiceovers in the mid-90’s. I’ve bought and sold equipment and made a little profit while doing so. I wrote and published my own guitar method in 2005, available on Amazon.com as well as my website, www.guitarmadesimpler.com.
If you haven’t begun diversifying, I strongly encourage you to do so. Being successful in the music business is tough since you work for yourself as well as your clients. Talent isn’t enough- I repeat, talent isn’t enough! Learn some new tunes, take voice lessons, change instruments, get a smaller or larger amp, switch from electric to acoustic guitar, steel string to nylon string, stop singing or maybe start singing. The list is endless if you simply do what Earl Nightingale said years ago in his recordings, “Lead The Field”- ask yourself, “How can the customer be given a better break or value for his or her money?”
My business model changes because I am a good sponge. I watch people at my gigs and try to give them more than their monies’ worth. I try to spot trends and stay ahead of the curve where possible. I just played a trendy new hotel last week and made sure to perform all my most current material early in the night. This way, I was able to engage patrons that might not have planned on spending any time in the restaurant listening to music. Last year, I traveled all over the Lone Star state with my large Bose system, which we did a video review of last year here on L2P. I was playing electric guitar and doing all the solos “live.” This year, except for a concert date in Wichita, KS in mid July, most of my shows have been with the acoustic guitar, Fishman Artist amp and the solos already recorded on my backing tracks. Budgets are down a bit and I can still provide the exact same tunes and effect, but for a smaller audience and budget. The acoustic show is very lightweight and load in/set up /load out takes less than 15 minutes! I can do two shows a day with this set up and it works great.
Take a long hard look at your act and see where you can either expand or trim the fat. Maybe both. If you concentrate on giving your audience your best, you’ll be amazed how successful you’ll become.