Make it Or Break It

MAKE IT OR BREAK IT

By Pete Berwick
Old-school yourself to the head of the line

When Little Class Records President, Jody Hendrix asked me to author a monthly article about “navigating the new music industry”! my first thought was, How does a guy who helped build the pyramids and spent most of his career nailing flyers to telephone poles qualify for this topic? Give this to a younger artist and writer who has this shit in the bag and allow me to rant about the old-school ways that have helped get me to a place in time where a label like Little Class Records is excited enough about my history to bring me onto their roster while at the same time trusting my expertise at writing for them. So anyways, perhaps in a future article we can go there, but for now, allow me to introduce you to something you may have forgotten about:

Exhibit A: THE TELEPHONE.

Yes, you would be surprised how impressed and taken aback people in the music business can be when you actually pick that thing up and call them. Love him or hate him, and politics aside, current presidential hopeful Donald Trump has been quoted as saying, “Email is for wimps,” and he is correct. You can email and email and email the same person again and again, and that same person will blow you off again and again, or even yet, never actually see your email because it becomes lost in a sea of the 300 emails they receive each and every day, or end up in their spam box. I have been amazed at how easy it can be to get someone on the phone these days, and you know why? Because everyone and their mom is emailing, and no one has the balls or initiative to pick up a phone anymore, or else they thing they are not supposed to. I mean, “My god!” you exclaim, “am I really allowed to call and ask for the music supervisor who is supplying the songs for that new summer blockbuster movie?” Yes, in fact you are, for as much as I have scouted the rules and regulations of the land, and even the United States Constitution, there is nothing that says you cannot do just that. I have gotten on the phone with everyone from Elton John’s producer to Gordon Lightfoot’s booking agent, and had great and even lengthy conversations which each one. Nothing tangible came of them, except for one of my songs being put on hold by Elton’s producer, but chances are very good they remembered me more at the end of the day and even to this day than any of their 500 emails that sat waiting in queue.

Exhibit B: THE FACE TO FACE

I have booked more gigs by having a drink at the bar than I could ever count, and this is an old-school way that has more appeal than ever before. In a day when bars and clubs are getting spammed from all ends with requests for bookings, including websites that will charge bands and artists a fee for pitching to the gig, it is easier than ever to get yourself booked by actually walking into the joint, having a beer or something to eat, chatting up the bartender and owner-manager if they are there, and working your way into the proposal. There is one bar I have performed at countless times through the years, and the owner has told me how slammed he gets with emails and calls from bands asking to play there. So how did I get in? I had a beer with him at his bar one day, slipped him my card, told him about myself, cracked him up with some dumb jokes and my charming personality, and next thing I knew I was in regular rotation on his schedule. One roadside bar I walked into resulted in a weekly Wednesday night booking for me for about a year, until the bar was forced to close. These are just two examples, I could go on and on, but you get the point. Of course, this is not realistic when booking tours, but there is no excuse for simply relying on email for a local bar that is in your town or the next few towns over. Get your ass in there and have a beer and book that baby. Just the fact that you took the wherewithal to make the short trip and patronize the place and drop a little cash puts you way ahead in the line of all the “Hey, check out our band on Spotify!” bullshit these bar owners and managers have to see every damn day.

The thing is, technology does make it possible to contact more and more people in the industry these days with a few clicks of the mouse, but while you are doing that so is everyone else. You can really set yourself apart by taking that extra initiative and making yourself appear human to the entity you are attempting to sell yourself to. Want to really blow someone’s mind? Mail them a letter. A few years ago I mailed Garth Brooks’ former manager a letter along with a book I knew she would be interested in, and she mailed me back a “thank you” card and to this day she takes my calls and even stops what she is doing to meet with me when I pass through Nashville now and then when on the road. We haven’t worked together in a heavy capacity because she deals more on the commercial end of things, but she has given me strong referrals and recommendations, and respects me greatly.

Well, that’s all for now, I’ll keep this one short. Maybe next month I’ll get with the times, and what I was actually asked to write about. You know, all the important modern-day music business “realities” such as “you’re only as good as your Twitter and Facebook numbers,” and all that crap. But until then, I have a few calls to make, and then it’s over to the new sports bar up the street to see if they are hiring live music acts. And even if I don’t get the gig, I sure as hell could use a beer or three right around now.

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