Notes to Self... (from a DIY singer / songwriter)

Archive for the ‘Lessons Learned’ Category

Why you should bring your own MICROPHONE to every gig

In At the Show, Gear/Technology, Lessons Learned on September 21, 2011 at 3:40 am

Beta 87 A Live Condenser Mic

I’ve had some training in music technology, but by default I am “technologically impaired,” which is why I didn’t think of these things myself. Until recently, I pretty much only played in venues that had their own sound system/PA, and used all of the gear provided. I’ve had some sound mishaps, and sometimes wondered why another performer’s sound at the same venue on the same night could sound different (i.e better) than mine. While on the road, a friend in Indiana who knows a LOT about sound and gear and stuff gently nudged *ahem…forced* me to reconsider my approach, and kindly escorted me to Guitar Center to pick out my own sound setup. I will be eternally grateful for his nudging!

#1 Priority:

Bring your own MICROPHONE (a good one!)

1) I suppose the most obvious reason is for sanitary reasons. Do you really want to have your mouth that close to someone else’s spittle? Especially if you’re starting to do a lot of gigs, you can’t afford to blatantly welcome germs! 2) I did not think of this, but now it seems so obvious: unless you’re playing at a high-end venue KNOWN for their sound, chances are they WON’T be wasting their high-end equipment on you. If you don’t bring your nice mic, you’ll probably be singing through a crappy one, or a decent one at best. Think about it… no sound guy/venue owner/open mic host is going to let an unknown, inexperienced, inconsiderate, and sloppy musician slobber all over their GOOD mic. Even if you are none of those things, the sound guy doesn’t know that. If I were a sound guy, I wouldn’t let someone else use my good mic either! I would think this is especially true for an open mic, since ANYONE can stagger up to the microphone so the sound guy has to be prepared for anything. But for a serious musician, an open mic can count as a great gig and chance for exposure! Don’t waste it on a crappy sounding mic!

Personally, I had no idea how much of a difference a great mic can make in your sound AND volume output!

I recommend the Beta87A by Shure. Its a condenser mic (needs phantom power, which shouldn’t be a problem since all boards should have it), so if you’re not getting any sound just let the sound guy know you need phantom power (or maybe mention it beforehand if possible). Shure mics seem to consistently sound great and clear. Right before seeing my Indiana friend–who convinced me to try the Beta 87A–I bought a Shure SM58 for a hundred bucks, just to have a decent mic of my own (I had an Audix already, and it wasn’t cutting it for me–kind of a dark and muddy tone). I knew I wanted to get a Shure because their tone is generally more clear and precise, but I didn’t really think there would be a lot of difference in the models. The Beta87A is about $250, but WOW… when you try it compared to less expensive models you can really tell the difference! It puts out a clear studio quality sound, and can handle a lot of volume without distorting, and put out a lot of volume without getting that crunched, compressed tone. I’ll just say that sadly, my poor SM58 has never left the house. Don’t get me wrong, its a great mic, especially if you are looking for a good starter mic for open mics and smaller venues. But if you know you’re serious about getting a great live sound, just skip over the “starter mic.”

If money is an issue, the Shure Beta58A is a decent middle ground. For about $160, it’s not as clear and powerful as the Bet87A but it still sounds great and can handle more volume than the SM58 (supposedly this is the only fundamental difference between the SM58 and the Beta58). The Beta58A is pretty standard for nice venues, and the extra volume is worth it because better output means the sound guy doesn’t have to turn you up as high so you don’t have to worry as much about feedback, especially in larger venues that need more volume to carry the sound (hence why I said the SM58 is ok for smaller venues).

#1 Music Biz Snip: GENEROSITY

In DIY Musician, Getting Gigs, Lessons Learned, Marketing/Publicity, Social Networking on January 26, 2011 at 2:30 pm

The biggest theme resonating in my life and career the past few months has been generosity. I always considered myself to be rather kind and compassionate, but lately I’ve been realizing how much I’ve let this important virtue get buried under piles of stress and self-absorption. For a while now I’ve felt I didn’t have time anymore to devote towards helping others selflessly, I was just trying to survive! Or, I was just trying to get my music recorded and heard! Or I was just etc. etc.

The value of taking time to sometimes put others first has been rekindling in multiple areas of my life, but since we’re talking “Music Biz,” I’ll use that as my example here. All I can say is at some point a few months ago, I decided to put a portion of my energy that was going towards STRESS (“How can I get this album done, how can I get more people to hear about my music, how can I get other people to want to tell their friends about my music, MY career, MY dreams, me me me me ME…”) towards helping others. Things like taking some time to meet with a fellow musician and share some advice, or selflessly affirming/promoting another musician or musician’s resource I like. Obviously, you can’t (and shouldn’t) spend ALL of your time doing for others and NOTHING for yourself, but I just had this theory that if I starting blessing others as I could, with little things…good things might start falling into place for me as well. And it was definitely true!

This isn’t a new idea, I know. We’ve all heard the golden rule, “Do unto others as you’d have them do unto you,” and its sprinkled *generously* (haha) in books and blogs–music biz books and blogs being no exception.

My most recent reminder/confirmation was a quote by Bob Baker in the book Guerrilla Music Marketing: Encore Edition:

Guerrilla Music Marketing, Encore Edition: 201 More Self-promotion Ideas, Tips and Tactics for Do-it-yourself Artists“Make generosity your standard operating procedure. Get in the habit of giving, whether you want something out of the transaction or not.”

 

 

MicControl’s 100 New Years Resolutions for the Proactive Musician blog suggests several selfless activities, such as promoting one other artist in your genre each week, and following the Quarter Rule: for every self-promotional tweet or blog post, post 3 non-promotional ones.

Ariel Hyatt’s (of Ariel Publicity) “Food Pyramid” for Social Networking suggests only ONE out of TEN self-promoting posts! She even goes so far as to spell out suggestions for what to do for the other 9 posts…(yippee!)

I’m not gonna lie, this can seem overwhelming, just for time’s sake! I don’t think I’m there yet, but I’ve been making simple changes such as mentioning other artists and resources I like, and just being generally helpful, thankful, encouraging to EVERYONE as much as possible. By everyone, I mean not just the people that you think can help you. The thing I’ve been realizing is that most of the time the people that I help aren’t the ones that really end up helping me, but somehow because I have an attitude that is not so self-serving, other people want to help me too. Imagine that? 😉 There is SOOO much I could say on this subject, but perhaps I will have to come back to it with some more detailed experiences.

QUESTION: Is there anything you do to make generosity a “standard operating procedure,” in your life, or anything you SHOULD do? Any specific stories of how generosity came back around to you? Even better if it can relate to your DIY musician ventures and the music biz:) Please share!

Opening Acts, Stay ’til the Bitter End!

In At the Show, Lessons Learned, Mailing List, Making $, Selling Merch & CDs on January 21, 2011 at 6:08 am

I’ve learned in the short span of time that I’ve had physical CDs available for sale and have learned the importance of PUSHING MY MAILING LIST, how important it is to stay until the END of any show you’re playing, if you want to do any significant selling / email collecting.

It is just courteous to stay and listen to all acts in a showcase (also in the case of an event where music is not the main attraction) whenever possible. And it is probably to your benefit to meet and develop a rapport with your fellow musicians after a show, perhaps discuss show-swapping if they are from another area?

But if these reasons are not enough to convince you to stick around for an extra 2-4 hours after your half-hour set, let me give you another!

A few weeks ago I was asked to play a few songs at a Cultural Change event (goconversation.org), to open up the evening. It sounded like a cool event to be a part of, but I couldn’t be sure that many people would even be interested in my music, seeing as they would most likely be attending for the main event, not to hear the unknown singer/songwriter chick play a few songs in the beginning. Nevertheless, I accepted the (unpaid) opening slot at the cool event.

I set up my EPs and mailing list signup cards in the lobby in case anyone might want to buy something or join the list. There was a 15-min intermission, where 1 or 2 people wandered out and bought EPs (AND joined the list, because I asked if they’d like to…).

At this point, I could have EASILY gone home. Its not that I wasn’t interested in the event, but selling only 2 EPs at an unpaid event was a little disheartening, not to mention the snowstorm happening outside, more ferociously threatening the ride home with each passing minute.

BUT, I decided to wait until the bitter end, and with the end of the event came 12 more album sales AND list signups, INCLUDING a Maryland State Senator. At least now I could cover gas for the 10 mi/hr ride home 😉

*By the way, I cannot stress enough the importance of ASKING every single person that buys a CD (AND those that don’t, if they express any interest in your music) if they’d like to join your mailing list. Since I started simply asking, it’s been RARE that anyone has said no! It was a rather amazing revelation, really…*

Anyway, here’s one more example: A few months ago I was asked to open for another band at a benefit concert at a bar. I played 6 songs, just me and my guitar. The band played for about 2 hours. We both had tables setup in the back, and mailing list signups. But the entire time the band was playing, I was manning my table, in case anyone should wander back. Again, a few people trickled back during the other band’s show to buy my EPs, and I asked each of them if they’d like to join the mailing list. They all did. The band didn’t have any CDs for sale, but I did notice their mailing list signup sheet, and that no one seemed to be pushing it, tsk tsk (I also DIDn’t notice anyone signing it…and I for one don’t think its because nobody liked the band. Perhaps some of them were already on the list? …).

Again, it wasn’t until the VERY end of the show that a “flood” of people came to the back to buy CDs and join the list, even though, in this setting, anyone could have easily and casually come over whenever they liked. In reality, I think I sold about half DURING the show and half AFTER the show, all at once. I sold 15 EPs total at this gig, and I believe ALL of them joined my list, because I asked. Not bad I say, for a singer/songwriter at a bar. Boy was a glad I stayed past my bedtime! And I’m not sure whether the band got paid or not, but boy, did I feel like I actually got the BETTER show slot…

Check Short-Run Discs for Blanks!

In Lessons Learned on January 13, 2011 at 2:37 am

Hmm…just realized 6/100 of my short-run discs (from a VERY well-known duplication company) were BLANK…thank goodness I happened to try one of the blank ones in my player before I sold any!

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