From; BOB STANE @The Coffee Gallery Backstage
DON'T TAKE THIS PERSONALLY, BUT DO TAKE IT SERIOUSLY.
This letter is called "Boilerplate." In case you are not familiar with the phrase it means it is general communication. It may, or may not, apply to you, personally. Actually it apples to almost no one personally, but merely clarifies what I need on the stage at The Coffee Gallery Backstage. It has everything to do with what I need from you as an act. Separate your act from "you." What you do on stage is to use a tool. I accept or reject the tool as it applies to what I need on my stage to entertain my paying customers. I neither accept or reject you as a worthy person. Actually, I accept everyone as a person. I have yet to meet or talk to any entertainer/person I did not like. I like you as a person and I want you as a person, and as an act (your tool), to succeed. Unfortunately I am, largely, not getting the right "stuff" in the mail to interpret how you use your tool.
This is just a message designed to help you develop a better, more effective tool. DON'T KILL THE MESSENGER.
One thing I noticed, after returning to "the biz," was that everyone had matured well and sang and played with great talent and skill. Unfortunately, they were under-employed and it was difficult to audition their material and see who could perform where.
O.K., now let's examine what is going wrong.
As you may or may not know, this is not my first venture into the club business. I owned and ran The Ice House in Pasadena where we discovered and made dozens of people rich and famous. We specialized in funny folk singers and I auditioned dozens of acts per week, "live" or in person. In 25 years I auditioned 20,000 acts. I never missed hiring one that made it on any level. I hired lots of bad ones but never missed an act that became a "working" act...big or small. A faultless record. I still feel good about that. Many who became stars had been rejected by other club owners who did not see their talent or did not understand their intellectual and comedic gifts.
When I came back in the business running The Coffee Gallery Backstage I almost immediately became inundated with "stuff" mailed from acts. I got so much of it I could not sort it out and listen to it. Unfortunately, a lot of it was CDs full of "angst" and unhappiness. S-o-o-o sensitive. I was getting little clever, up-beat material. I was also getting lots of guitar thumping and repetitive lyrics. Few had clever, memorable instrumental "hooks" anymore. Less had clever memorable lyrical "hooks" to start songs. They just thumped and bumped into the song, through the song and out of the song. Few even knew how to end a song. And so depressing!!! I was afraid to hire these people as I feared my paying customers would commit suicide in the parking lot after the show. Severe depression. Most people sang "their own songs" even if it meant an unbalanced show. Little "cover" stuff of great stage excitement and identification was done anymore. Lots of self-indulgence. Repeat: Self-indulgence.
Finally, after 3 years, I discovered what I had known before but had not flashed on because there had been a technical change. I was being sent CDs. CDs were all done in studio. I ran a club. I did not hire phonograph records. I hired entertainers. I hired wit, humor and sparkling personality. I want clever patter and interaction with audiences. I believe in the "show" in Show Business and the "entertainment" in The Entertainment Business. I did not want acts that sang to their horribly depressed belly buttons. I wanted a stage act. An act that does not depress an audience but sends them home feeling good about spending money in a club and convinced they should come back for another dose of good talent presented in a fun package.
Asking for, or accepting, a CD was WRONG. A CD only reflected the "sensitive" material an act did in a studio...well massaged with no rough, witty or "human" elements one might experience from a stage performer.
What I wanted, and want now, is a
"live" audio cassette done in a club with a real audience. Not edited.
Let it run. I want to hear every interplay with the audience. Every laugh. Every
stumble and all the applause. No, it is not expensive. Just bring a cassette
recorder in and plug it into the sound system or set it on the stage and let
it roll. If you get a really good one, copy it and send it to club owners. Why
have other club owners not objected to CDs and asked for "live" cassettes?
Because they haven't realized what the problem is yet. Also they are not used
to amusing musical performers. They will not remain ignorant long. The acts
who move on this first will get the most work. Amusing acts work all the time.
Those who are a "drag" wonder why their talents are not recognized
and appreciated. In The Ice House days I often auditioned boring, awful "performers"
who would do a dreadful 20 minutes and then come back, after no applause, and
ask for a gig. I would say, "you have no show." (Repeat: no show).
Oft they would say in an adenoidal twang, "hey, man, my songs are my show."
That told me everything about them. They had no sense of humor, nor had any
chance of putting together anything entertaining. They were about as funny as
a rock musician. Or a rock. If they don't want to entertain, they shouldn't
get on the stage. I cannot imagine why anyone would want to get on a stage and
not fully entertain. Why not involve an audience completely in the stage personality?
Why be a depressing phonograph record? But, then, that is just me and I like
an evening of well-designed musical fun. Why should an audience only hear what
is sung instead of appreciating a well rounded personality? Throw off your musical
shackles!!! Open up.
Club owners are swamped with audition material. We need short cuts. Cassettes are short cuts. They are portable. They can be listened to in a car while doing errands. We club owners need every time saver. We pay attention in our cars. We want to be amused while driving.
Another great point. When I get my CDs from the acts I also get reprints of newspaper reviews. Reviews of what? The act's stage show? Never, never, never do I get reviews of the stage show. Just reviews of the CD. Why? I have the CD in my hand. Think about it!!!! Why should I care what a newspaper writer says about the CD? I can review it myself. I have more experience than the writer. What I can't hear is the show. I need show reviews. I can send show reviews to the newspapers in my town to encourage big publicity coverage. Good stage reviews are gold.
And last is the publicity picture.
Usually I get head shots. Blurry ones.
A BIG NEWS FLASH: A head shot is not a publicity picture. It is a family photo suitable for your family album. A publicity picture is usually done against a plain, uncluttered background and is depicting the act as a high personality, maybe funny, entity. Creative, sparkling, etc. There is only one reason for a publicity picture (ONLY ONE) and that is to get the picture printed in the newspapers to promote the show at the venue. Your face staring blankly into the lens with a forest in the background is a waste of money and time. It is junk. And if it is not razor sharp it is blurry junk. If you give a venue owner anything but the correct and complete tools to get publicized in the newspapers you have cheated him. You have saved yourself money and time by costing the venue owner much more money and lots more time. A great publicity picture furthers your career and fills seats at the venue. A good picture sells CDs for you and increases your value at the admissions window of the venue. Get a good publicity picture. Now.
Don't be lazy and selfish. Get a wonderful publicity picture or two or three. Give them, generously, to the venue owner when you are hired. By the way, a correct publicity photo is, usually, vertical as it fits well in one or two columns of a newspaper and is more likely to be used than a horizontal shot.
There you have it. Send me a "live" cassette. A CD does not reveal who you are on stage. Get off of dead center and get your career in gear. If you don't care, I do. I want my customers to be pleased. I want my chairs filled. I want to be able to hire you quickly. I want little, or no, angst and I do want a well designed show. I want your photo in my newspapers. I want you to sell so many CDs and cassettes when you play The Coffee Gallery Backstage that you are ecstatic with joy, tell everyone about the place and can hardly wait to come back. And I want you to be happy and prosperous. Can we do all of that? When I say "you" I am saying the "royal" you. It is a generality and, certainly, not an attack. I have spent my life trying to get musician folks up the ladder "just one more rung." It's time for you to climb and I am still pushing. The "I" that I speak of is for all venue owners, not just Bob of The Coffee Gallery Backstage. How about a little help here????
Your comments and insights are welcomed. However, arguing with me (rationalizing) will do little good. I have learned the hard and expensive way what goes over on my stage. Stamping your pretty little foot and saying over and over, "he's wrong, I will do depressing songs, I will, I will I will!" does neither of us any good. I'm not buying drek. Live with it. I can hear your skill, even in the CDs. You can play, you can sing. With great skill. Now we want to complete the package..
How to develop an amusing act? Really
easy. Keep a small note book on your purse or shirt pocket. Any time you hear,
or say, anything amusing...WRITE IT DOWN. When you are having dinner or coffee
with friends...WRITE DOWN THE WITTY STUFF. Then try to work it into your act.
Don't think you will remember the good stuff. You won't. You must write it down.
Even one good line is gold. No you should not tell jokes unless you can get
away with it.
About a dozen good insights and you have a wonderful verbal show. Yes, you.
No, we don't expect you to be a comedian. Just a good stage personality.
Don't try to invent the wheel. Listen. Transcribe. Work it up. Ask your friends to help, especially if you have witty friends.
This is all good for you. Succeed. Have fun. Depressing songs are easy to write. Clever songs not so easy. Stretch. If you can't write clever songs then do some research. There are lots and lots of them out there for you to use and they are just laying fallow. I do, however, want to hear my audiences laugh. When they laugh I know they will return for my other acts and will come back to see you. People go out to have fun and a few laughs. They don't come out to be depressed.
O. K., now you know this is not an attack on you or anyone else. It is boilerplate. If you have been very, very professional, you work gigs constantly, then it does not apply to you. Feel free to copy it and share with your musical friends. It is for everyone. Breathe slowly and carefully. This is just education. If you don't have constant gigs, or as many as you want, it might be good to read this several times and then act upon it. DON'T TAKE THIS PERSONALLY, BUT DO TAKE IT SERIOUSLY.
DON'T TAKE THIS PERSONALLY, BUT DO TAKE IT SERIOUSLY.
The purpose of this manifesto is to get you to do three things:
1. Do a well balanced show. Yes, you can do a "down" song now and again but don't make depressing material the main part of your show. Entertain. This is show business and not a Soap Opera. Soap Operas are all about troubles and misery. Going out at night is all about having a good time.
2. Have good, active, amusing, exciting, sharp photos taken and have an amusing and interesting bio and background sheet written and printed to submit to media and venue owners.
3. Record a "live" cassette (or CD) at a venue, with a real audience so those who might hire you can hear your show and how you talk with, and entertain, an audience. Yes, a "live" video recording will do nicely.
Don't rationalize. If you dismiss all of this you are probably either already very funny and amusing or you are lazy and in denial. Pretty blunt, but probably right on the money. It is called "the truth."
I am waiting for your "live" cassette.
Plan out that wonderful, snappy publicity picture. Then have it taken.
Bob Stane, The Coffee Gallery Backstage
2029 N. Lake
Altadena, California 91001
P. S. Most of the songs on the CDs
I get all sound alike. No variety. Mostly it is hard to hear the lyrics because
the instrumentals cover the words. Accident? Doubtful. Here is the "acid
test" of your stage show:
after a set in a club go out into the lobby and ask individual customers if they can
1. Remember the title of any of your songs.
2. Remember any lyric line.
3. Can hum or whistle just one song. Just a snippet.
4. Can remember what any of the songs were about.
Got the courage? If the customer's memory fails, you have big trouble. Few readers of this letter will have the courage to do "the acid test." Do you? Yes? Then take the test.