Your Relationship With Your Music Store

I bought my first guitar in 1984. There was a music store in the mall. I saved up about 200 bucks, picked my guitar off the wall. Paid the price and walked out with a Peavy T-90 six-string with an amp built into the case. Very simple. Uneventful, but simple.

 A few years later I was ready for an upgrade. I was getting better as a musician and was in the market for a new guitar. I had my license by this time and had my choice of music stores in the area.

 Music store “A” was the first place I walked into, I chose a guitar close to what I could spend. I picked it up found a cord and plugged it into an amp. No salesman came to help. I had never met the owner. The first thing the owner said to me was “I sure hope you can play because I hate hearing out of tune playing.” He wasn’t joking. I couldn’t play very well and he made me feel like I wasn’t welcome.

 A friend suggested I try music store B. It was also an independent music store and not a chain. I walked in and looked. The owner came up and met me. Asked what I was looking for and could he help. He didn’t care that I wasn’t that good. Infact one of the salesmen actually showed me how to play “Crazy Train” in the right key.

 Music store “B” had the forethought to realize I would get better and with some guidance from him, the salesmen, and other musicians who came and hung around. He was right. The three hundred dollar guitar I bought from him would lead me to buying more expensive guitars and amps later, plus countless picks and strings.

 I had created a relationship with store “B”. They knew me by name when I walked in and suggested things that would push me to be a better musician and the more I bought from them the better deals I got. Sometimes they would toss you a free pack of strings or a package of picks because I was a good customer. He was there when I needed advice, instruction and introduced me to other musicians that frequented the store. He was grooming me as a musician. One, because he was a good guy. Two, he was an excellent businessman and knew his demographic. Three, he wanted me to spread the word.

 Years later I was offered a job working for him. I had gained his respect by becoming a good musician and had formed my own band. This means I went to him for PA equipment, microphones, lights, and all of the rest of the things a working band needed. By not running me off when I was a kid he gained a life long customer. The more successful I got the better customer I would be. Smart business on both of our parts. To this day when someone asks about where to go to get a guitar I always tell them store “B” and tell them that I personally had sent them. More points in my favor.

 After working for him I saw the business side of running a music store that had now grown and grown.

 80% of a music store’s customers are people looking to buy their first guitar. Store “B” knew not to overwhelm them, give them guidance, play a little on the guitar to show that they too could make it sing. He even offered four free lessons. Get the new musicians off to a good start instead of getting frustrated and putting the guitar in the closet. He was still grooming young players that will become loyal to his store.

 Within a month I knew the names of the regulars, met the students, and helped hundreds of customers who bought everything from saxophone reeds and guitar magazines to working musicians with cash in their pockets to buy the top shelf guitars. I was encouraged to know these people and realize we appreciated their business.

 We gave our best customers the best deals, called them if a guitar that might interest them came in. We also called them if we had given them a quote on a guitar to discuss options with them. There is much more to running a music store than sit around playing guitar all day, but making a relationship between the musicians and the store was number one. No matter how busy doing the everyday business, you drop everything to help a customer. If you want the truth, there is NO time to play guitar.

 I have bought items online from super stores, but most of the time I shop at music store “B”.   I get good deals and get to see my friends and mix with other musicians. When I’m looking for new musicians to work with I always call them and they have suggestions, they recommend me and my bands for gigs. We got a lot of calls to the store asking for recommendations for bands to play events. We knew who was playing, who fit the event and who didn’t. We promoted working bands. Carried their CD’s and treated all musicians beginner to advanced with respect and a friendly attitude.

 I’m going to give a short list of dos and don’ts to help you create the relations ship.

 DO;

  • Smile and meet your salesman. He’s going to want to remember you as a good guy not an ego maniac. These salesmen are musicians also and deserve your respect.
  • Ask before pulling a guitar off the top shelf. These are very expensive and dings and scratches on them will reduce the value of the guitar. The salesman will be happy to help you plug it in to an amp, hand you a pick and get you set up.
  • If you are just browsing, tell them. They won’t be offended and they can go back to doing the unglamorous job of ordering items and stocking shelves. If you need help after that, just ask.
  • Treat the instruments with care.
  • Just because you don’t see what you are looking for, ask. Most of the time the store can get it for you.
  • Thank the staff member for letting you try things out and for any service they have given you. You’d be surprised what a little respect and kindness can get you when dealing with a store.
  • Buy straight out if you can. Cash (check, credit card, etc…) will get you the best deals. Ten years later I can still tell you a few customers that have picked up a nice guitar and whipped out the money to pay for it. Makes it easy on the salesman, so he gives you the best deal.

 Don’t;

  • Come in with an attitude that you are better than the staff. Just because you have a good band or have sold out venues, more than likely the salesman has also done this and more. You never can tell. Being an asshole is the quickest way to make sure the salesman isn’t going to give you the best deal.
  • Don’t waste the salesman’s time. If you have no intention of buying anything, don’t stand there and try to shoot the breeze for an hour talking about the best band in the world while he has to finish up the everyday business of making a music store run. A little chatting is good. Getting information on the local music scene and questions like that are fine.
  • Don’t crank up the amps to ten just to play “Enter Sandman” for an hour. I used to be stuck alone on Sundays working while a guy came in every Sunday and cranked up a half stack and soloed for hours. He drove me crazy. Turn the amp down to a reasonable level and practice at home.
  • If you are wearing a jacket with rivets or metal buttons, take it off. They will scratch the guitars.
  • When checking out, don’t assume they know your name. Hundreds of customers come in a week and even though they can recognize you. That’s a lot of names to remember. It’s embarrassing to have to ask a returning customer his name. Don’t be offended.
  • Don’t assume the salesman is working on commission. We didn’t. He’s not out to screw you. He want’s you coming back. He’ll do the best he can.
  • Don’t be pissed if you can’t work out a deal. If you have a trade in remember they have to get it cheap enough to resell it at it’s value. This means the bass amp you bought for $150 bucks used, is probably only worth $150 bucks. For the store to make a profit and keep the doors open they are going to have to give you a price lower than the value. If not they are just changing dollars.
  • Don’t put up the expensive guitars back on the top shelf. Let the staff do that. Place it in a stand and tell them you are done playing it. Better to let the staff ding it than you.
  • Be an asshole.

 Like any relationship it takes time to cultivate but it pays off in the long run. I’ll pick up a pack of strings or picks from store “A”, but I still remember him running me off as a kid. Store owner “A” has lost thousands of dollars from me due to his short sightedness.

 Thank you store “B”. You know who you are and I’ll see you soon.

 –Sammy

Promotion and Hand Stamps

 Everywhere I’ve played they have stamped or marked who has paid to come in the door. I picked up a little tip quite a few years back. Hand stamps.

 Instead of using the venue’s stamp or marker, we carry a stamp. These can be ordered from any printer from online It has the band’s web address and logo. You have a piece of promotion that will last all night and may appear on your face in the morning. Ha!

 For a twenty five dollar investment, you can now have everyone who comes to see you carry a handout all night knowing who you are and where to reach you. Plus you have taken the time to make a good professional first impression. Pros sometimes need to think out of the box and this has paid off in spades. It’s as simple as asking the doorman to use your stamp instead of Thiers.

 Keep it simple, Make your website address (you do have a website don’t you?) large enough to read even if you have to leave the logo off. A stamp that is too large doesn’t always get all the information you want them to have.

 Simple, clean, easy to do and a cheap investment that actually brings more traffic to your site which brings more people to your shows.

Contracts & Riders

In a perfect world we wouldn’t need contracts or riders. In this world you would always be paid what was agreed upon in advance, the stage and lighting would be set up ready to go. You would sound check with the best soundman ever, retire to your dressing room stocked full of water, beers, soda, and a hot food. You would change into your stage clothes, walk out on stage count off the first song and hear the roar of the crowd as the lights explode and you rock your ass off to a crowd that is on its feet all night. After the show you shower, change clothes, eat something, and then pick up a bundle of cash plus a bonus.

 After 20 years I’ve rarely seen this happen. It can happen though with the right preparation and a little work on your end.

 A simple contract can take care of almost all of these issues. You don’t need a lawyer to make a complex contract. Keep it simple.

 We’ll use an imaginary band. We’ll call it the Brass Knuckles. We’ll make it a five piece band. Drums, bass, lead guitarist, singer/ rhythm guitarist, and keyboardist. They play top 40 rock and classic rock. Heavy on dance music. Everyone in the band either takes a lead vocal during the show or sings harmony. The band will be working its way up the musical ladder.

 Here is an example of a simple contract that they use:

  • Artist : The Brass Knuckles
  • Contact : Joe Knuckles 1-234-567-5555/cell phone
  • Venue: Fred’s Bar and Grill, 123 Main St, Anytown, IL 1-234-123-5555
  • Date and Time: Sept 1, 2012, 9pm-1am, 3 one hour sets. Load in 6pm, sound check 7pm. Doors open at 8pm
  • Price: $600 due upon end of the show.
  • Sound and Lighting: Venue provided.
  • Other: See attached rider and stage plot.
  • Buyer Signature: Fred Jones Fred’s Bar and Grill Representative’s signature.
  • Band Signature:  Band Representative’s signature.
  • BAND WILL BE PAID RAIN OR SHINE

 That’s all there is to it. Everyone knows what is expected on both the club owner’s end and on the band’s end. It’s so simple there will be no confusion.

 Do we use a contract for every event? No. Clubs are usually very cool about paying but there are clubs that have been known to dock the pay because of various reasons. Not much of a crowd shows up. Possibly you have a great crowd but the last five bands didn’t and they feel they have to make up for it by taking it from you. The club may be putting on an outside event and it is rained out. I’ve had each and every one of these experiences happen. If I would have used a contract none of these would have happened. Word of mouth between bands usually let you know which club owners are shady and then make sure you have a contract. If they refuse to sign a contract you may want to think twice about playing the venue. You might explain that it is being used to protect both the band and the venue from any misunderstandings. The Brass Knuckles are professionals after all. Contracts are used by pros and the buyer will know that you are pros and will treat you accordingly. Using contracts can be played by ear. For events such as weddings, festivals, touring, or any special event ALWAYS use a contract. Don’t let the fact that you’ve played the event many years in a row stop you from getting the details in writing. My old band found this out the hard way.

 The band Poprocks, that I worked in, had played a street festival for a small town for three years straight. After the second year they hired us by email. “Same contract as last year?” they would say and we’d reply “Yes”, possibly asking for a raise but pretty much the same. The fourth year a storm came through and the show was cancelled before any of the equipment was unloaded. We showed up. The buyer for the festival claimed we didn’t have a contract so the town wouldn’t be paying us. The guy in the band who booked the show couldn’t find the email so we were left with nothing. We could have been playing a paying show that night but instead we were out our time, money, and the chance to play a different venue and actually be paid. We could take them to court but that would have been a crap shoot on our part. We were screwed out of thousands that night simply because we hadn’t taken time to send a new contract. We trusted them but when it comes to money you have to be very careful.

 Riders are attached to a contract. They spell out what you need to perform the best show you can possibly do. If the items aren’t followed it will affect the performance.

 Here is an example of a simple rider:

  • 16×20 raised stage with steps must be provided (a single flatbed trailer is not acceptable.)
  • 4 quad electrical boxes must be run to the stage prior to set up. 20 amp preferably
  • Dressing room with a lock. Tables and chairs for 10 people.
  • A cooler with assorted sodas, bottled water, and beer if it being served at the event. Provided 2 hours before show time.
  • Deli Tray available two hours before show time, or a hot meal.

 The Brass Knuckles aren’t Van Halen so asking for no brown m&ms or flowers in your dressing room is pointless.

 Be flexible on your rider. Ask for it all and be happy with what you get. Really all you need to do a show is a stage area, power, and water. This is where forwarding a call to the buyer comes in. They may tell you that they have no stage but you’ll be playing on the ground. The band can do this, no problem. Possibly they don’t want to provide food. You can either live with it or take a buy out. A buy out is when the buyer pays you X amount of dollars over your guarantee and you buy your own food.  Work with the buyer on the rider. After all it’s not life or death that you have ten chairs.

 Keep a copy of the signed contract and rider for yourself and a copy for the buyer. A week before the show call ahead and go over any last-minute details so both of you will know what to expect when you get there. You may need extra help from the venue to unload gear if the load in is a mile away from the stage, parking passes, ask about the stage and if the electrician has provided the power. Tell them what time you’ll be showing up. Most of all just call to put the buyer’s mind at ease.

 Send a copy of your stage plot with the contract with your inputs. This would be the stage plot for the Brass Knuckles stage plot:

  1. Lead Vox
  2. Keyboard Vox
  3. Guitarist Vox
  4. Bass Vox
  5. Drummer Vox
  6. Drum Kick
  7. Drum Snare
  8. Drum Tom 1
  9. Drum Tom 2
  10. Drum Tom 3
  11. Keys (DI box)
  12. Bass (DI box)
  13. Guitar 1 (Mic)
  14. Guitar 2 (Mic)

Then provide a picture of how you set up onstage on the same page.

Many bands have a place on their website that is specifically for soundmen to download the stage plot. It’s a great idea and easy enough to do. I strongly suggest it.

Now that all the contracts, riders, and stage plot is taken care of, be a pro. Show up on time to load in and sound check. Meet your soundman and treat him with respect and understanding. Make sure you learn his name and use it. The one guy you DON’T want to piss off is your soundman. Treat the staff with respect and a smile. TIP even if drinks are free! Leave all egos for the show. Show up with a “MAKE IT HAPPEN” attitude. Follow these tips and you’ll be asked back and recommended to other venues and buyers.

Don’t marry your set list

We all love certain songs in our set more than others. After all we think the song is great, we’ve either written it or listened to it a million times. Everyone will go crazy when you play those opening chords. Girls will scream, and guys will come to the front of the stage and yell “Hell YEAH!” You are a god in their eyes and ears for the next four minutes.

What happens when you play the opening chords and get no reaction? What happens if it clears the dance floor? The song ends and you hear crickets chirping. Kick into the next song and hope for the best, right?

We’ve all been there. What do we do about it? We need to take a long hard look at our set list.

To me a set list needs to flow. Like in vaudeville, you start with a strong opening and end with a strong ending and put the rest in between. Well kind of. To me a great set flows like river. There are rapids and calm waters and all points in between.

If you are getting no reaction to a song there are a few ways to handle it.

 

  • Move the song to a different spot in the set. Sometimes a song that doesn’t work at the beginning of a show may work once people get a few more drinks in them or simply the crowd will loosen up. Try it in the middle of the night. Try it at the end of the night. My old band had a great dance cover that we knew we sounded good on but only got mediocre response where we used to play it. We tried it all over the set. Finally we ended the night with it and worked it into a stronger number right before it. Problem solved. The song went over like we knew it would. Great!
  • Put it between two stronger songs. The energy the crowd emotes may hold over to the next song and then you hit them with another strong tune afterwards, they may just keep going due to the rollercoaster momentum that you’ve just thrown at them.
  • Try it a few times in different venues. Sometimes your fans just aren’t used to your new baby in your set. It may take some getting used to. It may also work better in some venues than others.
  • Crowds can smell fear and they know when you are unsure about your performance of a song. Don’t make a big deal out of this being a new one. It may take the band a few times of playing it live to get the feel or catch the groove of the new song
  • Drop the song and replace it with one that you think will go over better. Yeah you worked hard on it, spent time in rehearsal learning it as a band. You may have even had to fight to get it in the set. If a song never works replace it.

I have been playing covers and originals for decades. Songs that work in some bands don’t always work in another band. There is very little rhyme or reason to it.

A few times a year you should look at your set list as a band. Rate your songs on a 1-5 scale on how well they go over with an audience. 1 being a total dog and 5 being a sure fire always works no matter what in any situation. Whittle your set list down to 4’s and 5’s. Keep trying new ideas, songs, crowd interaction, shtick (yep) and soon you’ll have a killer set that will not only entertain an audience but will give you that instant high that we all want that can only come from someone enjoying what you do.

Remember there a millions of great songs out there and in you. Cover bands and original bands a-like. We always went by the Mony-Mony rule. Find a song that goes over as well as Mony-Mony without having to play Mony-Mony. Play Mony-Mony if it fits your band and you don’t mind it. “Different strokes for different folks” ~ Sly Stone

Keep on Truckin’

–Sammy

Band Promo Pictures

One of the most over looked and misused pieces of your promo pack is the band photo.

Let’s face it. People DO judge a book by its cover. Club owners, festival and corporate buyers, and anyone else who receives a promo pack will. They will judge the professionalism of the band, the music they play, the band’s attitude, and if they are right for the venue or event they are hiring for. This is the first piece of promo they will look at.

 

 “Take a photo shoot seriously for what it is: a tool for  representing and promoting material for the band.” – James Gilmore

 When I see a band without a professional photo in their pack, I think “Here is a band that didn’t have $40 for a sitting fee.”

 I’ve taken more photo shoots than I care to remember. Some were good and just as many bad. Have it taken by someone who understands a band shoot. Know somewhat what to look for. For example: An old band I worked with had shoots taken regularly. We never picked the smiling shots or the stiff posed shots. By the time we talked to the photographer we could tell them what we normally didn’t like when picking our photo.

Don’t stifle the photographer’s creativity too much. They may have ideas you never thought of that turn out great. Different locations, choices of colors, effects, etc…

 Look through the photographer’s portfolio. Not so much at the subject but more the style of the photographer. Do they have a good eye for capturing that perfect shot? The ideas for making your shots unique? Understanding the people you hire to do work for your band is important. After all you will be using these as promo pieces and they will represent your band.

 Look at promo shots of other bands, album covers, posters. Get an idea of what you’re looking for as far as image, music, and professionalism.

 Don’t lose out on a perfect gig for your band just because of your promo photo. Get one now and change them at least once a year. Give out the old ones as freebees to your fans. They’ll love it and you won’t have boxes of old promo photos laying around.

 Look for the best deals when it comes to having them duplicated. They are much cheaper than you’d think. A black and white 8×10 is still the universal size for the photo.

 Upload a high rez version to your website. News papers, concert promoters, E-zines, will be able to pull it directly from your website.

 Never and I mean NEVER! Put your contact info on the promo folder. Booking agents and event organizers will want to put their own sticker for contact on them. This is called being Agency Friendly. Get some labels and print out your own contact info on the back of the ones you use personally. If you don’t you’ll be forced to either not use a photo, or a second set of photos without the contact info.

 Now grumble all you want, we all do, but get the band into the photographer. This is one of the easiest ways to bring up the band’s value. This equals more money for you. It will more than pay for itself in no time.

BEING A PRO or FAKING IT TILL YOU MAKE IT

I still remember my first pro gig. It was in a small town about an hour and a half north of where the band was from.

We were a ten piece classic R&B band. We had recently been contacted by a manager who reinforced all the ideas we always talked about and knew we should be doing. But a killer band and kick ass music was enough right?

The week before we were working nasty clubs, I played in a T-shirt and jeans. The bass player and I both had hair down our back. The horn players wore ties and white shirts and jeans. We looked like a bar band, we acted like a bar band and we were a bar band. A good one, but still a B-rate bar band.

“Look like a classic R&B band.” They told us, “Get suits boys. Pull the hair out of your face and clean up. No cussing, no smoking, and if you have a beer put it in a cup.” That was it.

The next week we played our first festival in suits. We didn’t change the music a bit just the image. The image tripled our money immediately. The buyer for the festival came up and said “We are so glad to have a pro band. The band last night drank and cussed and was an embarrassment to the town’s festival.” We laughed because the week before that we were doing the same thing. They treated us better, dressing rooms, food, drinks, and were helpful in everyway.

We were so worried that we’d look like fools in these suits. We worried that the other musicians would make fun of us. The crowd might laugh. We’d have to hang our head in shame. Six months later I was sitting with my feet up at a resort in Puerto Rico. We came home from each show with a wad of bills in our pocket and the phone ringing off the wall. All for a seventy dollar J.C. Penny suit.

Management told us “don’t be a $500 band playing a club. Be a $2500 band playing for $500. And NEVER tell anyone what you are making. If a buyer does find out you played cheap tell them that you were filling in an empty date and if a big gig came your way you would have to cancel this one. You get what you pay for.

Have management or one person in the group negotiate money. It’s far too easy for a buyer to call a couple of different guys in the band to get a price. Send them to the negotiator or better yet get their number and have the band’s representative call them.

Know you’re worth. Then ask for it. Once you get it a pro sends out a contract, and is paid in full RAIN OR SHINE. Always, and I mean always have this in your contract. If you weren’t playing here you would be somewhere else. They aren’t just paying for your talent but for the date and you holding it for them. Asking for half the money with a returned contract is industry standard. So don’t be scared to ask. You are a pro. This is your business and you must look out for your partners. I have been burned by not doing this before and it stings. Believe me.

Forward the date. Call the venue at least a week ahead of time and talk to the event manager and make sure you have proper power ran to the stage. Tell them about what time you’ll be showing up for load in. What time you need to eat and any other concerns you may have. Your list of questions and requests will increase in time. You’ll learn the hard way sometimes, but learn from the lesson.

A pro then shows up on time, has made sure of the load in time. A wedding for example doesn’t want to hear your sound check. Make sure it’s clear what time doors open. Once done ask the event manager to show you where your dressing room is and if you can be fed. These will be in your rider that comes with the contract.

The last and most important part of any event is to get paid. I got a tip from one of the “Four Freshmen” of all people. He told me “Get paid first. BEFORE the show. Meet your buyer. Thank them for having you. Tell them things get crazy after the show with load out and people coming and going and it’s sometimes hard to find the buyer after the show, so if we could, let’s settle up now.”

If the buyer gets drunk and leaves, you are covered. If the festival has a rain out before the show and doesn’t make the money they wanted, you are covered. It’ll also save you from having a big scary biker come up to you and say, “Boy we didn’t make enough to cover expenses so were not gonna pay you.” I wouldn’t say it if it hasn’t happened.

Music + Right Image + Professionalism = more $$$