Truer words have never been spoken.  That is why I’m using this quote from an interview, I recently watched, as the title of this article.  The quote is from my good friend Nate Compton, front man of ELISIUM, a national touring indie band.  In the interview, which you can watch below, Nate talks about his experience traveling the country playing music and tries to answer a question he is asked a great deal.  How do you know it’s the right time to quit your job and go on tour?  This very question is one that I have wrestled with many times and am wrestling now as I write this post.  

But, who am I?

My name is Greg Barrett.  I play drums for a regional touring act on the verge of going national.  For the past three years my band has been the proverbial weekend road warrior.  I also do session work for a local recording studio from time to time.  I’ve worked my entire life to get to the point where I’m currently at musically, and I honestly believe that I was put on this earth for the purpose of playing music.  It was obvious from the time I was three that I would be following this path and chasing the dream.

And, just like my buddy Nate was a few short years ago, I’m standing on the edge of the cliff trying to decide whether or not to jump?  Should I quit my job, to do what I love, or continue to work full time.  Should you?  Nate did, and believe me it’s a hard but fulfilling road.  But don’t take my word for it, after reading this article, watch his interview.

First off, let’s cut to the chase and determine if you/your band is ready to take to the roads.  Have you established yourself in your home market?  Are you getting good enough guarantees and positive feedback in your home market to warrant branching out into new radius based test markets?  Assuming you already have merchandise, are you moving it well at your live shows?  Is everyone in your crew on the same page?   Is your branding on point?

Branding?   What’s that?  We’re a band, not a business… WRONG!!!

The list could go on and on and on, but all of them are legitimate questions that need to be addressed.  All good topics to revisit in later articles, especially branding.  We’ll cover the first few for now.

Welcome my friends to indie touring!  

Is everyone in your team on the same page?  They had better be if you’re planning to spend days, weeks, or months at a time in a smelly, cramped, van.  You will all be running on minimal sleep and a diet of who knows where the next meal is coming from.  Hotel rooms will be a rarely afforded luxury, so you’ll be mostly sleeping in the van, and showering at truck stops and gyms.  The gym option is a great choice!   Let’s face it, who couldn’t use some exercise?  Just make sure to join a national chain.   Needless to say, the last thing you want is to be out midway through a tour, 900 miles from home and a member decide the road isn’t for him/her.  Everyone in that van should have the same drive, determination, and work ethic.  Everyone should have a designated job to do and be pulling their weight.  You are about to leave the happy-go-lucky and comfortable world of music as a hobby and enter the realm of full time, always on call, real deal music is my JOB.  Is everyone willing and able to completely uproot from normal life, sell off most everything not needed to be as debt free as possible and not get paid often?  You had best be finding out!  Unless of course you are loaded to the gills and able to just finance or bank roll a tour, a bus, or accommodate your crew every night with lodging, food, and pay.  Or, you already have major label backing and enough leverage in your deal that they provide for all of it.  Even most of the signed bands out there are lucky to be provided with a 15 passenger van and trailer.

Lets focus on your home and radius markets.  

Your home market is your first anchor.  Assuming that you’ve established a healthy following already in your hometown, you should be drawing sizable crowds, getting reasonably good venue guarantees, and be moving merch well.  These two latter points will be key to survival in new markets where you will be working to replicate that hometown market all over again.  This never stops.  Each time you win a large following, that market becomes an anchor.  You should be working to establish these anchors roughly 3 to 5 hours apart for weekend strings and as far out as 9 plus hours for tours.  Guarantees in new test markets will, in all likelihood, be minimal at best if any at all.  There will be a lot of times starting out when fuel and food between stops is a luxury only afforded by your merch sales.  That’s where those anchors come into play.  Routing more than a couple test market stops between your “meat and potato” anchor stops WILL break the budget.  So will running out of merch… DON’T DO THAT!

Survival on tour is all about budgeting and being prepared for whatever gets thrown at you.  You can never count 100% on getting paid your full guarantee or being paid at all for every date booked, even with signed contracts.  This is especially true when you’re working new rooms and contacts.  Any tour that ends up breaking even should be considered a success.  If you do turn a profit after all the expenses, then that’s a huge success!  The real objective is to get your name out there in new markets and build that following.

The whole landscape of the music business is shifting and constantly changing.  A recent topic of debate among many of my peers has been, is touring profitable anymore?  I have many friends on both sides of that fence.  Some who got in the game when venue pay and general attendance were high, which allowed them to generate large enough national followings to still warrant hefty guarantees, are now in the catch 22 of “always on tour”.  They simply can’t afford to not be on tour full time now.  On the other side, with guarantees way lower, it may be more profitable to tap into other revenue streams, than to try to stay out on the road all the time.  The bottom line is, touring is still the most effective means of developing a strong following.  People still love to see a killer live show and actually meet the artists.

Don’t let me discourage you, but be aware of what you are about to do.  Making the jump from hobby to career is no smooth path.  It’s a lot of work.  Touring can actually be fun, rewarding, and give you a whole new perspective on life.  It will broaden your horizons, make you laugh, cry, and open your eyes to that big world outside of your box.  Nothing beats the feeling of knowing you left every ounce of yourself that you had to give on that stage night after night.

Is there ever going to be a “right time”?  Probably not…

But, as my friend Wade Sutton from Rocket to the Stars says, “Sometimes you jump. Sometimes you get pushed.  Either way, you’re going to learn to fly.”

Alright, there’s my two cents, now watch Nate’s interview, and go start planning that maiden tour!

Greg Barrett is the drummer for the indie rock band Seasons of Me, session musician for The Sound Asylum Recording & Mastering Studio, and follower/student of trends and marketing strategies in the new music industry.  You can read his bio on his artist page at the Saluda Cymbals web site and check out his band at their official site using the links below.

Greg Barrett at Saluda Cymbals

In the entertainment business, think of yourself as a spider. Your web is your life. It shelters you. If you have a poorly constructed web, when the rain comes, you will be washed out. It feeds you.

A spider with no web, catches no flies and thus, will starve to death. Spiders weave their webs with purpose to attain certain goals for themselves. They do not build webs for other spiders.

Think of your web as the network you build.

A strong web has strong anchor points. The professional contacts that you make, and relationships you forge with them, are your anchor points. Strong anchor points are developed by conducting yourself and your business as professionally as you can at all times.

The intersecting strands of your web represent your fan base. These strands are equally as important as the anchor points. With a larger fan base comes bigger and better opportunities with greater frequency, which allows you to continue to grow your network.

Spiders never stop maintaining and building their webs. Don’t make the mistake of trying to cheat or shortcut in this area though. By purchasing likes, follows, views, etc. for your social media pages you are only tarnishing your credibility. It’s not difficult for those anchor points, that you are working so hard to gain, to figure out. It only takes a few clicks of the mouse.

A good example is a Facebook page with 10,000 likes and a corresponding YouTube channel with minimal views, or a Twitter account with 25,000 followers and a Spotify profile with minimal plays.

Your REAL credibility lies in your ability to put REAL bodies in REAL venues on a consistent basis. In short, it’s better to have 1000 real fans than 10,000 fakes. After all, you can’t market your music or your merchandise to fake fans.

And, while it may look good to a few venues when you are starting out, word will quickly spread among talent buyers and other industry professionals (Yes they do talk to each other, they call that networking) that you are the artist with the bogus fan base, who can’t draw a stick figure.

Guess who is not getting invited back?

What you need is a fan base comprised of legitimate and highly targeted real people. Furthermore, you can’t just try to sell to these people constantly. You must interact with them and get to know them first. Be easily accessible, open a line of communication, and treat them like friends.

You’ll catch more flies with honey than vinegar.

You should be using your social channels to attract and entertain people, and to direct them to your website. Why?…

Because your website should be geared at getting them to sign up for your email list, which you should also be pitching at your shows, on all of your social channels, and even on your videos. Yes, the age old email list is still one of the most effective marketing tools that you have at your disposal.

Think about it, your email list is your direct link, that only you control, to engage and market to your targeted audience on a personal level.

Also, consider this, if someone is interested enough in you (and or) your music to grant you access to their inbox, the potential for future sales to that person is considerably higher than say the average person scrolling through their news feed. They are essentially giving you permission to directly contact and market to them.

The key lies in building relationships and trust from your subscribers and your ability to consistently deliver the relative content they want to consume. Ask questions in your emails and when people respond, follow up. Make your correspondence as personal as possible. Make them feel like they are included in your journey and not just being sold to. It will go a long way in developing trust and interest in your BRAND, if the people on your list feel like they are a part of your life, your family; As opposed to cattle being funneled into the barn for milking.

All of the social media platforms are constantly changing the rules on who sees what you post, when, and how often. You spend countless hours, days, weeks, even years building an audience for your page. Then, in order to reach all of that audience, the platform wants you to pay to advertise to your own following. You may own the page or account, but THEY own the network and THEY make the rules.

This is why it is so important to build your own network. One where YOU make the rules. If you’re a spider, the people on your email list are your flies. Ultimately, the spiders who weave the tightest webs with the strongest anchors catch the most flies.

Nope, that’s not a typo… Branding is a topic I’ll cover in a later article.

A lot of my musician friends are discovering just how viable it is to produce their own material in the spaces available to them regularly. Under the right circumstances, doing so allows for leaner budgeting, and even a much steadier release cycle. (You can work with and release tunes on, say, a monthly basis, rather than wadding everything up into a do-or-die album process that takes years.)

In the DIY-recording realm, a point of confusion tends to be the difference between acoustical treatment and soundproofing. I’ve heard more than one person refer to the placement of acoustical foam on various surfaces as “soundproofing,” and while I understand what’s actually meant, the terminology is still off.

So, what’s the difference?

It’s actually a fairly simple distinction, at least as I’ve come to understand it. Acoustical treatment is modifying the behavior of sound within a space. Soundproofing is preventing the transfer of acoustical events between spaces.

To be fair, acoustical treatment can – technically – aid in some soundproofing. Acoustical absorption means that sound energy is converted to thermal energy. If, through something like acoustical foam, a sonic event is prevented from ever reaching a wall, then you won’t have a problem with that sound causing the wall to vibrate. At the same time, it’s important to note that most building structures are less and less likely to vibrate effectively at higher and higher frequencies anyway, with the losses from acoustic foam quickly becoming essentially irrelevant.

Soundproofing is a much more difficult business, because it requires getting a handle on vibrations that are very strong and difficult to stop. It’s a game of mass and isolation. Very heavy objects are difficult to set into motion. Objects that have less surface-area in contact with other objects transfer vibration poorly. The transfer of vibration from air to solids is highly inefficient; You can easily feel a big thump on your chest from someone’s hand smacking into you, but that same sensation from a subwoofer firing into the air requires a TON of speaker power.

So, with all that, effective soundproofing tends to rely heavily on expensive, permanent (or quasi-permanent) construction. Rooms can be built within other rooms, for instance, with air gaps between the outer and inner walls. “Airlock” systems with multiple, heavy, gasketed doors can be employed. Floors may be floated with absorptive rubber spacers.

A room can be nicely soundproof, but sound terrible inside. Build a concrete bunker inside another concrete bunker, and not much sound will get in or out. The reflectivity of all those hard surfaces will be horrendously bad, though.

Basic treatment, on the other hand, is much easier. Gather up a few thick, fluffy blankets that you can hang, and you’re likely to create a noticeable change in the room’s internal behavior. Reducing the “splatter” of content at or above 1000 Hz isn’t exactly trivial, but the effort required is within reach for almost anybody.

(Please be aware, of course, that really great sounding rooms almost never happen by accident or by way of a few, hasty changes. Full-blown, world-class acoustical spaces require a great deal of thought and preparation. The best ones have effective treatment at low frequencies, which is not a simple thing to do. Big studios with renowned rooms are expensive for reasons that include both soundproofing AND treatment.)

As I said, room treatment and soundproofing aren’t the same thing. In your self-recording adventures you’ll likely encounter some “environmental” problems. Figuring out which of the two concepts applies the most will help you approach the issue in a way that actually has a chance of being effective.


Let’s talk about the “Music Industry” for a moment.
What IS that?

According to one un-subscriber who told to me: “You don’t know S@!T  about the Music Industry”, I’m not qualified to answer that question.

And the truth is, I don’t.

I don’t care to. I don’t need to. And you don’t either.

What I DO KNOW are: Music and Business. I studied them separately and built a BRAND NEW bridge between them. And that bridge is a LOT easier to cross when you don’t have a herd of greedy trolls weighing you down.

I’ve never worked for a major label, or publisher, or any of the other corporate, conglomerate, or otherwise congealed entities that make up the “Music Industry”.

If I had, I might be just another cog in their machine. Perpetuating the GREAT LIE in music: That YOU need THEM!
They do everything they can to make you believe that in order to achieve success (which I’m sure they would define differently than us Musicpreneurs), you have to spend the the Gross Domestic Product of a small country on building your audience. Or that you need connections ONLY THEY can provide in order to receive opportunities.

Well I’m here today (everyday, in fact), to call B.S. on the music industry’s GREAT LIE.

This LIE causes countless musicians spend crazy amounts of money on all the wrong things, just because they are trying to emulate the antiquated “Label System”.

Well I’ve got news for ya… That system never really worked. DEFINITELY never in a FAIR way.

Musicians gradually lose support from their families and friends as they miss important events and flush unimaginable of sums down the toilet for the slightest chance at “getting discovered” only to find dissapoinment.

Can you blame them? They hate to see you suffer. And so do I.

Now that we have tools like email and social media that help us connect DIRECTLY with our fans and other music professionals, there’s no reason to follow such a treacherous path anymore.

The path to making money is: Growth > Engagement > Monetization. 
You can’t skip any steps. And you MUST do them in THAT order.

Releases (like albums), are for Monetization. If you don’t have anyone to sell it to, it makes NO business sense to spend lot of money recording one REGARDLESS of what the elite, uber-expensive, studios tell you. Their interest is vested in convincing you to spend money.

Releases (like videos and other things that aren’t for sale), are content for Engagement. It makes NO Business sense to spend a lot of money on video production if no one is going to see it REGARDLESS of what the fancy videographer or “music industry insider” tells you. Their interest is vested in convincing you to spend money.

Releases are not very useful for growth.

EVERYDAY I watch in horror as as musicians pour ridiculous amounts of money into trying to force releases to stimulate growth, while COMPLETELY overlooking ACTUAL growth and engagement.

The BEST growth costs time. MUCH more than it costs money.
For example: The exception to the rule about videos that I mentioned above is “Cover Songs”. Since YouTube is a major search engine (2nd only to Google), if you post videos of songs that people are ALREADY LOOKING FOR you’ll get some growth. Well-targeted growth at that!

It doesn’t cost any money to do that. But it does cost more time than many musicians seem to be willing to invest. PROBABLY because the GREAT LIE has convinced them that they must, instead, spend money.

The path I’ve forged to “Success in Music” is simple and MUCH more cost effective than the GREAT LIE would want you to believe. Especially for those of us who have “real life” and “day jobs” to manage along with our musical ambitions.

In early 2017, through my upcoming “Musicpreneur Apprentice” program, I’ll be able to take you by the hand and lead you down the path to “Success in Music” at a cost to you that will make music industry insiders HATE me.

Who am I kidding, they ALREADY hate me 😉

But in the meantime…

If you’d like to receive DAILY tips, advice, and inspiration from me, all you have to do is click here and subscribe.

Now keep in mind that I do email pretty much every day. So if you’re just gonna unsubscribe later and complain about to many emails, don’t even bother.

I’m only interested in musicians that want to think about their careers every day. And that want to turn building their business into a daily habit.

So if that’s YOU, come on in, and I’ll see ya there!

It’s sort of like looking up a very steep hill – there’s a venue you’re hoping to play at, but they have no idea who you are. How do you get their attention?

Having been a venue operator “back in the day,” I’ve received numerous “cold” contacts. Some of them got me to respond positively, and some didn’t. If you condense everything into the most concentrated form, the folks that had a chance of a positive response were the ones who took the time to establish a real, individual relationship. The ones who didn’t make the effort were either politely declined, or ignored completely, depending upon the severity of their conduct.

So…what does all that mean, exactly? Well, speaking for myself:

1) From a marketing standpoint, a cold-contact is you selling me (the booker) a relatively expensive product that I’m not sure I want. The key thing there is “I.” What might sell someone else on your gig is not guaranteed to convince me that it’s a good idea. You need to have some idea of what the individual venue wants. This means that you have to do your homework in some way. If there’s a web resource with booking information, make sure to read through that info, being careful to pay attention to anything that deals with the business side of the show.

2) The initial contact should come from someone who cares intimately about the specific show you’re trying to do. For a lot of independent musicians, this means you, the musician. Lots of emails, social-media messages, and phone calls get ignored. They get ignored even harder when they come from some nameless, faceless person at a booking agency or label. The prime reason for that rejection is because the nameless-faceless doesn’t care enough about your show to do the homework on the venue. They just “shotgun” a whole pile of messages to a whole pile of places after minimal research – and it’s obvious that they’re doing so.

As a booker, I got lots of emails from the nameless-faceless crowd that were clearly all from the same “Los Angeles Pop-Punk-Metal-Crossover Band Generator” template, and that blatantly ignored booking information that was publicly available. For a while, I answered those emails, only to get into crushingly tiresome conversations where the nameless-faceless tried to negotiate on various aspects of the (again) publicly available information. I eventually realized what a waste of time it was, and just deleted the emails.

3) Related to the above, be sure that however you make the initial contact, make clear that the venue’s business needs, as they’ve outlined, are understood by you. Failing to make this clear can cause you to be de-prioritized, especially if the venue does have booking information available You want to avoid creating a request that requires the information to be spoon-fed to you. The entire point of putting those whys and wherefores in a public place was so that it wouldn’t have to be endlessly discussed in a million emails and phone calls.

(Now, of course, if the venue doesn’t have that information available, you’ll probably have to ask them about it during the initial contact. There’s nothing wrong with that – just make sure that you ask BEFORE pitching anything.)

4) When making your pitch, focus intently upon what is truly actionable in terms of creating a profitable event for the venue. This is something of a ruthless process, because a lot of standard sales-pitch elements simply don’t apply. For example:

Who you’ve shared the stage with doesn’t matter. Plenty of bands who had no business being on stage with anyone else have talked their way onto shows with decent acts. I’ve been witness to it. Besides, the general public doesn’t care that you’ve been on deck with [someone they may or may not care about]. They (and the venue) do care about whether they like you, and are willing to come out and see YOU.

Where you’ve played doesn’t matter. It matters even less than who you’ve played with. It’s not a measure of meaningful exposure at all. You might have played a 1000 seat auditorium, but only 50 people were in attendance. And again, the show-going public doesn’t give a hoot. The biggest, hottest promoter in town could run giant ads through all the local media outlets, proclaiming that [Your Band] has played [Somewhere Else], and the reaction from the public will be “Who?” and “So?”

The number of Insta-Face-Twitter-Verbnation followers you have is almost completely irrelevant. How many of those people are local? How many will buy a ticket to your show, on the night in question, at that venue? How many are actually engaged?

An example of what IS actionable is evidence of people clamoring for you to do a show in their town. If you can show a venue some sort of real proof that you have an engaged, dedicated audience in their area that can at least half-fill the room, that’s a powerful tool.

Another example of what’s actionable is you being friends with some local bands that have a track-record of doing well at that venue, or at places similar to it. That leads into the “Zen” approach…

…which is “cold contacting” a venue without cold contacting them at all. Rather, you make friends with a band that has a good relationship with the room. They are the ones who are known as being a money-maker for the place, and as cool people. They get booked, they get you on the bill by leveraging their reputation, and then (very crucially), you come in, treat everybody beautifully, and help increase the size of the crowd. Everybody wins, and the venue gets to know you.

The point is that you have to create a relationship with someone, somehow. It involves time and effort, but the potential payoff can certainly be worth it.

By my calculations, the music business should have completely ended at least 10 years ago.

Or, at least, it should have if all the predictions were right about the sky falling.

Every since the first MP3 files were traded by college boys on their .edu networks, the hysterics have been flying. Artistry was going to be completely destroyed. Recordings would stop being made entirely. Nobody would ever make any money at music, ever again. The Earth would fall into the Sun.

I was part of the hysterical crowd, by the way. I couldn’t see the opportunities for what they were. I was used to a world (actually, a fictional one) where the whole point of everything was to get picked. Some record exec would hear a great demo tape, sign you, and your troubles would be over. If the record companies went away, HOW WOULD THAT HAPPEN?

Well, first of all, it didn’t really happen anyway. Any really sizable record company is afflicted by “big corporation” disease, which makes them highly allergic to anything other than a reasonably sure bet. They either grab ahold of someone who already seems to be building something great without their help, or they manufacture something that fits the style of the month.

But the thing is this: The artistry of music. The beauty. The sublime charge of emotion and movement and mathematical relationships…

…it has basically nothing to do with capturing a signal representing sonic events, and then selling that capture to people.

Really.

The Blip

“Phonorecords,” as we’re used to in a conceptual sense, have existed since about 1890 or so. Humans have been making musical noises, on the other hand, for millennia. MILLENNIA, FOLKS.

That is to say, if you reference good ol’ Wikipedia, you’ll find that humans apparently were making flutes 40,000 years ago. So, do the math. The business of recorded music, with all of its arcane wizardry, chicanery of accounting and contracts, dashed hopes and dreams realized beyond all anticipation, is about 0.3% of the history of music.

From the statistical shorthand that “it’s got to be 5% before it’s relevant,” recorded music is completely insignificant when compared to the human experience of music on the whole. I’m not saying that it’s a passing fad; I don’t believe that recording will pass away into the aether – but I am saying that, as a matter of comparison, phonorecords and the selling of them is yet a tiny spark of nothing in the great sea of sounds.

So What?

So, why do I point this out?

I point this out because the “sturm and drang” related to people supposedly not buying/ not valuing/ stealing/ recorded music is, in my mind, a distraction. We fail to see the whole picture of the musical experience, and we pin everything on demanding money for captured sonic events. Before anyone could even begin to think of selling something as antiquated as a physical record, there were centuries upon centuries of successful and unsuccessful musicians.

Piracy is not killing music. Streaming is not killing music. The music business is not killing music. Music is very much alive and well, because the emotional experience of it is what people can not help but crave. Artists who have made the most powerful of those emotional experiences are selling out venues of all sizes, all over the world. If music was actually dying – if the public no longer cared about it – that would most certainly not be the case.

Recorded music is no longer scarce. Our computers have seen to that. That lack of scarcity means that the demandable value of phonorecords is dropping. But that’s okay! Recordings can still be sold for something, and they’re still a valuable tool for you to get your art across to an audience. It’s just that they’re not the only thing, and maybe not the biggest thing.

That’s really fine, because, in my mind, no one has ever, EVER purchased music. What they have always purchased is an emotional experience that was packaged up in some way. For a few years, the king of those packages was the artificially-scarce phonorecord. Just because it WAS king does not mean it will always be, nor should it always be.

And let’s be honest – when you look at the numbers, that king was just a Johnny Come Lately anyway. Let’s all take a few deep breaths.

Ask The Captain: Episode II – Monetizing Your Email List

Posted by Carlos Castillo on Thursday, March 10, 2016

A while back, one of our Schwilly Family members, Adam Price, wrote me an e-mail to tell me how he is making a living playing music in nursing homes. I thought it would be a great idea to share with you all, so I interviewed Adam to find out how he got started and where it has led him. I know you’ll get some great information out of his answers!

Captain:

Thank you very much, Adam, for sharing this idea with us and taking the time out to answer my questions.  Let’s start at the beginning. Why did you start playing in nursing homes?

Adam:

Actually, life threw me a curve ball. I was a marketing consultant working 18 to 20 hours a day and it nearly killed me. I had no time for music or for anything else except the business. After a time, I fell ill and was sent to the hospital. While I was there in the hospital, I realized that at least I would be able to get out, but many of the people there had only one way out and that was in a box. These are people who have built our local cities, business people, doctors, white and blue color workers, and many of them were lonely and didn’t have anyone.

While I was in the hospital, I LOVED seeing a new face. Being in isolation is extremely hard and lonely . . . and that is my WHY. The joy I give to the people in the nursing home is the joy I get out of playing my music to them.

Captain:

What did you do to get started?

Adam:

When I first started, I got in touch with the homes and quickly found out I needed to ask for their “Activities Director.” Many homes have more than one, but I speak to one and go from there. I needed to be ready to answer questions such as:

  1. Where are you from?
  2. Do you have insurance and tax forms for payment?
  3. How much do you charge?
  4. Do you have a criminal background check?
  5. What type of music do you play?

Very early on when I first started, there was no payment for such gigs, only a $10 or $20 gift certificate or perhaps some money for gas. This is where some artists might think, “Oh, there is no money in nursing home gigs,” but over time I built a reputable name for myself as a professional entertainer who specializes in aged care and senior concerts.

After about 2 years of building up my name, I told them I couldn’t keep going without payment. When I set up a price range of $80 to $100 for an hour show, they were happy to oblige since their residents were already relying on my shows.

I also approached local businesses and got sponsorship from those who wanted nursing homes as their clients. Music was the perfect gift for the business to give to the residents and their business cards were left with the homes: A win-win situation for both (and for me).

Captain:

Sure sounds like it. So, let’s get down to specifics. How often do you play? How long is a normal set? What is your audience like? How much do you get paid now?

Adam:

I play 10 shows a week at nursing homes, mostly on weekdays. This is now a full-time income for me and makes up the bread and butter for my music career in between gigging on the weekends.

Typically a show goes for 1 hour and fits in with the nursing home schedule which is usually from 10:30 to 11:30 in the morning or 1:30 to 2:30 in the afternoon.

In a nursing home, typically you’ll have anywhere from 20 to 50 residents attend, but if you’re new, don’t expect too many to come. But over time, as they grow to like you and your music, they don’t want to miss your shows.

But it really varies. I’ve sung for a room with three elderly citizens in it (two of them dozing off to sleep but waking up to clap at the end of each song—hilarious!), and I’ve also sung for a room of 200+ seniors in local clubs where morning tea shows are held and attended by all the nursing homes in the areas.

At the moment, my rates are as follows:

Weekday shows – 10 am to 4 pm – $80 / hour

Saturday shows – 10 am to 4 pm – $100 / hour

Sunday shows – 10 am to 4 pm – $150 / hours

The important thing is to have a rate card ready, but DON’T talk turkey until after they’ve at least heard you play or you will shoot yourself in the foot and possibly close the doors before they even open.

I did shows for free to a very little ($30) for the first year or so to get booked solid, then I told them I needed to up the ante to $50 / show for the following six months. After that I increased prices slow to get to where I am now.

Captain:

Great! Now, tell us what kinds of adjustments you need to make in your show when you play in a nursing home.

Adam:

You really need to think about repertoire and how you can get the residents (especially the high-dementia patients) out of themselves and reacting to the music you’re playing.

It is important to remember that it’s not about you or you music in the homes. It’s all about how skilled you are at holding their attention, interacting with them and making them come alive. If you do this, you’ll gain a place in the hearts of the nursing home activities directors and the managers as someone who is therapeutic to their residents, and you’ll NEVER be without paid work.

As far as volume goes, always ask the activities director if the volume is OK. I crank the volume up at some places but others need it at a whisper. But you will find that residents with hearing aids will cover their ears, not necessarily because you are a bad singer but because the loudness hurts their ears.

As for pace, do a mix of slow older songs (Frank Sinatra, Andy Williams, Englebert Humperdinck) and then mix it up with some faster rock ‘n roll and country rock—anything with a good beat they’ll like once you connect with them.

For interaction, do singalong songs such as “Let Me Call You Sweetheart”. Look up singalong songs on Google and you’ll find tons of them. The key is to ask the residents what their favorite songs are. You’ll get golden nuggets of songs you’ve never heard of before, but when you learn the song and sing it for them the next time, their families and staff will be amazed at how they “wake up” to their favorite songs.

Captain:

That must be an amazing feeling to see that. Another question: have you been able to book other shows as a result of playing in a nursing home?

Adam:

YES . . . Weddings, 60th to 100th birthdays (mind you, 100th birthdays play BIG TIME, like $1,000s for a couple of hours), engagement parties, special event days, etc . . . All of these facilities have staff and the residents have family members who have seen you play.

You can also take CDs/DVDs to sell at these places and they will buy them by the bucket load at some of them. At others not so many, but it all adds up.

Captain:

Great ideas! I know that the Senior Center here in town has music for their lunch hour and many different holiday celebrations. I imagine that is similar to the morning tea shows you mentioned before.

Adam:

Yes, any place or activity where seniors are specifically invited can be a potential gig. I would like to add, though, that it takes a special personality to get along best in this type of venue. You must be someone who GENUINELY cares about senior citizens and their well-being and who likes the crooning songs, old time favorites, and singalongs that they enjoy.

I once got some feedback about a band that said to the audience, “Don’t sing. We are the singers and you should be listening to us.” If you’re one of this type of entertainer and don’t want to hear the residents singing or yelling out of tune back at you, then DON’T DO nursing home shows!

One of the funniest times of a show is when the nursing home staff get involved and dance and try to sing along with me. The residents absolutely LOVE it when the staff they know get involved in a show, and so do I!

Captain:

Thank you so much, Adam, for the great information. Do you have a website or e-mail address where other musicians might get in touch with you if they have any questions?

Adam:

You’re welcome. Yes, they can get in touch with me at: AdamPriceCountryMusic.Com