“I have heard that Europe would really like my music…” Part I

“I have heard that Europe would really like my music!”  Part I

I wish I had a couple of bucks for evertime I have heard this from artist’s that I talk to.  And you know what, they just might be right.  But first there needs to be a heavy reality check.  Times have changed and so has Europe.

There was a period when Europe had a heavy love affair with American jazz artists as well as Blues artists.  I am not a jazz historian but in summary somewhere after 1945 during the years of Bop (1945-1950), Cool (1950-1955), Hard Bop (1955-1960), Free Jazz/Avant Garde (1960s), and Fusion/Jazz Rock (1970s) jazz was held up as almost a pop music in Europe where it was fertile ground for American jazz recording arists (I use the term recording artists to mean the time when record labels paid for recordings, promoted them and even gave tour support)  to be booked for concerts and clubs, press conferences, etc for good fees with there music being played on radio and eventually TV). Many of the great classic great jazz artists of which the majority were Afro-American (The Afro-American roots of jazz which we take for granted in the U.S. didn’t really exist in Europe) that we now use as role models actually moved to Europe for a part of their lives and some for the rest of their lives as Europe could support their art much better then America. These artist included  Sidney Bechet,  Kenny Clarke, Arthur Taylor, Bud Powell, Dexter Gordon, Johnny Griffin,. Racial tension was less pronounced and European audiences were far more appreciative.  The number of artists living in Paris has become legendary with several movies written about those times.

By the 1980s there were more notable Euopean jazz personalities and styles from many of the European countries. Some had come through be-bop, while the new generation was affected by free jazz and Coltrane as well as fusion. By that decade, jazz education was well on its way throughout Europe. In fact, the 80s represented a virtual explosion of interest in jazz with more combinations of European and American musicians. There had always been a tradition of an American soloist(usually a horn player) playing with a European rhythm section. That trend increased during the 80s when even lesser known musicians were being invited to play with Europeans. At this point I will withdraw myself from the history of Jazz in Europe and give you what I think is a pretty definitive essay on the subject from non other than US Saxophonist Dave Liebman   http://www.daveliebman.com/Feature_Articles/europe.htm

 So where are we now:

Stay tuned for Part II as I will give you some insight into what my experiences have been over the last 5 years in Europe.

 

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The Jazz Artist Promotion Pie

I have been catching up on responding to emails and phone requests about our Blujazz Label and Promotion company’s www.blujazz.com services that include radio and press promotion, physical and digital distribution, booking contacts, and selective management.  Part of my rap as to discussing whether Blujazz would be good for them or they for Blujazz is almost rote though I change it to emphasize different aspects depending upon the artist’s needs and experience. I have been doing this work for a long time with highs and lows but generally we do very well for artists.

Thinking about this I wanted to do a quick blog and show how I visualize this quickly with artists.  I have longer explanations in different posts and I also suggest that one should purchase my new book “The Jazz Artist’s Survival Guide Book”   at this blog www.jazzsurvival.com for just about everything an artist should know about this business and a huge resource/contact section.

So, how I relate it quickly is to describe the needs of a jazz artist as a simple pie chart divided into a few pertinent  sections.  One has to spend time in each section of the pie completing tasks over and over, adding ingredients, making improvements, cooking it slowly and over time this pie recipe starts getting major attention creating a upward path for the artist.  Maybe a little too dramatic but that’s the way I think. Below are the sections of the pie and ingredients that I ask questions about and give my input about:

  • Artist’s Level
    • Education  Level
    • Recording and CD Production Experience
    • Performance Experience
    • Artist’s goals
    • Financial Security Level
  • Recordings
    • Understanding of the recording process
    • How many recordings completed, promoted, and distributed.
  • Radio Promotion
    • Understanding of the radio promotion process
    • How many CDs promoted
  • Press Promotion
    • Understanding of the press promotion process
    • How many CDs promoted
  • Distribution
    • Understanding of the distro process
    • How man CDs distributed
  • Performances
    • Understanding of the “get the gig” process
    • How much is the artist playing and at what level of venue
  • Advertising, Social Sites, Email Lists, Branding
    • Understanding of each of these areas and the costs and time involved

As our conversation progresses with me asking these questions and I start getting an idea of the where the artist is in the jazz world I can then advise the artist as to the best directions for his future. Probably the most important point I try to get across to an artist is this theme, “Being a successful jazz artist is a lifetime process”!

I also like the quote, “failure plus failure plus failure plus failure = SUCCESS!”  Keep doing it over and over and love it.

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NEW Book plus data for purchase and consulting services!

The Jazz Artist’s Survival Guide and Resource Book is now published and for sale as a EBook, PDF, or Bound copy.  www.jazzsurvival.com  This book has two sections with the first information on each of the categories of our Blog.  Each category addresses an aspect of the areas a Jazz Artist needs to understand in order to create a life in jazz.  The second section is 25 some pages of contacts, websites, blogs, etc with lots of information about each of the categories.  Where to study jazz, what to study, venue databases, distributors, etc.  Please go to the cart section on our blog to see pricing and how to  purchase.

Also! In the spirit of the DIY (do it yourself) movement in jazz we are selling current databases of  contacts for radio, press, clubs, presenters, and festivals.  These are in CVS or Excel format and are reasonably priced.

Last but not least! Consulting Services   I decided to try out a consulting service as I get so many questions about the different areas that a jazz artist must understand.  It is such a “black hole” out there for spending (or wasting) money trying things on it makes a person feel lost and lonely.  While I do not have all of the answers I have a strong set of experiences in almost every area of the professional jazz world.  I have probably made every mistake that there is and hopefully have learned from it enough to be able to council you on what not to do and hopefully what to do.  I have different increments of time and ways to communicate and again the pricing is very reasonable.  Check it out!

 

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Are “Major Record Labels” Relevant

Recently NPR’s A Blog Supreme Blog had a blog on “Do Major Jazz Record Labels Matter”.  I think it is a interesting question for the global jazz artist community.  I believe in many ways we are way past this question. Besides the headliners on the “major jazz festivals” around the world who could name more then 5 jazz artists, particularly new artists, who are on a major label?  The “Big Four” are EMI, Sony BMG, Universal Music Group and Warner Music Group and when you see the word group we realize that what we have is a financially based investment corporation that puts together a group of smaller labels that have proven to have some financial success.  Its a lot like a financial mutual fund.  So if the record company in the fund is not making money it is dropped from the group or torn apart and remade.  So for we global jazz artists that have learned to survive with out this phenomena it has been irrelevant for a long time.  We have had to learn to find the funds to record, market, and book ourselves for so long it has be come our “norm”.

But before we write them off, lets take a look at the Pros and Cons of the “Major Record Label”:

Pros -

1. They have deep pockets and can do a lot of advertising and promotion along with booking and tour support.  My experience is that unless you are already a money maker like Herbie Hancock, this ain’t going to happen.  The artist has to prove that they can make the label money.

2. They have connections that they have built up over years.  If you are a Blue Note artist under Universal you might be able to hook up with the booking agency Ted Kurland who has handled a lot of Blue Note artists.  But again, unless the artist has a proven track record Ted Kurland will have to convince venues that this artist can put “butts in the seats” and that Blue Note will help promote the artist.

3. Size – because of the money they can spend if they choose to, then you may get a quicker review in a trade that they are putting full page adv. in on a regular basis.  Never bring this up with a trade as they will always tell you that editorial is kept separate from adv dollars……..hee hee hee.

Cons:

1. Big Pond, Small Fish – you are competing on your own label with a lot of artists who may have proven track records.

2. Continuity – Maybe you have a big fan at the label who has been shepherding  you through the maze.  Major labels are very famous for shaking up staff and if that person gets on the “the bad side” or leaves the label you are possibly on the shelf particularly if you are still in the building stages.

3. Unfriendly deals – please know that these labels are like banks and any monies that are spent you, you now owe against any profits that you make. And your royalty rate is going to be pretty low if you are new to the world.  And there is that heavy chance you will be releasing a lot of creative control, in art work, music, etc.

Another note is that jazz CD sales have fallen as most retail has the ability of a Major Label to distribute the CD’s music has been equaled by the digital universe.  Digital sales have overtaken physical sales and most artists can get aggregators to distribute at the same level.

So this is why many many jazz artists have actually chosen smaller independent labels where there is more care and passion about the artist, better financial deals, and less tying up of intellectual property and careers.   Next we will take a look at the wide range of independent record labels and what they offer and how this can open up a artists career.

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House Concerts??

As you know we are exploring all of the possibilities of jazz performances and how a jazz artist can create opportunities to get these gigs. As we continue to see, “it ain’t easy”.  As far as I can analyse in my experience we have 5 performance venues (each as a range of levels):

  • Clubs – dining, just jazz, small localized, national recognized artist
  • Festivals – regional, regional cities large city oriented, national
  • Performing Arts Centers – arts councils, cities, universities, private

As we have discussed and continue to discuss each of these have their processes and challenges for artists of all levels to book.  But this post is to discuss a NEW type of gig that has been gaining popularity through out the world and opens the door to tremendous poossibilities for the jazz artist. The House Concert. 

What is a House Concert?
It’s an invitation-only concert in someone’s home, presented by a host who does not
profit from the event.

Most house concerts are:

• held indoors and on weekends
• attended by 20-50 people
• paid for by a $10-20 donation per guest (to the performer)
• known to include light snacks, beverages or a pot-luck dinner
• attended by the host’s friends, neighbors, co-workers, and maybe a few fans of the
artist
• attended by a 25-60 age group
• performed by solo acts, duos and small groups
• performed with a very small sound system or no amplification
• very intimate — the audiences sit close and are attentive
• performed in two, 40-minute sets with a 20-minute break
•stronger for artist’s merchandise sales than traditional venues
• known to house and feed the artist for the night

House concerts hold a place of esteem in jazz history and are making a comeback today. In 1920s Harlem they were “rent parties,” where the likes of Fats Waller played in the apartments of people hosting music and dance parties literally to raise money for the rent.  In the 1970s, musicians pushing the frontiers of jazz weren’t making it on the shrinking club scene. Musicians like Anthony Braxton and Oliver Lake found private loft concerts a more viable way to present their music.

House concerts have become popular across the country once again, so much so that Down Beat magazine, Minnesota Public Radio, and The New York Times have reported on the trend in cities from New York and Washington to Atlanta, Minneapolis, Los Angeles and San Francisco.

Check out our new resource guide for a comprehensive guide to how to run a house concert and where they exist.

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The Flea Markets

So I am getting back into the “flea markets of gigs”,  the US national booking conferences sponsored by presenter organizations. We are going to the National in NYC Jan 10-14th called APAP  The Association of Performing Arts Presenters.  Whew, what a “black hole $$s).  More on that later.  There are 3 major regional conferences in the early fall and then the national in Jan in NYC. What happens there if you can  skinny up da money?

The conference is held at the Hilton Hotel in Manhattan, what was that song “money money money”  Approximately 400 plus presenters from around the US attend that include majors like The Lincoln Center to smaller arts organizations from all over. Also, European and Asian arts organizations attend to either sell their artists or look for performers. The conference is for all areas of performing arts not just jazz.  Jazz is a solid component though of what is sold. In fact Lee Mergner, the publisher of Jazz Times, helps produce a pre conference program called Jazz Connect that is geared towards helping the jazz industry look at the future of jazz and artists to understand the DIY (Do It Yourself) concept.

The senariao basically is that the APAP organizes networking oportunities for presenters with workshops, speakers, etc . A large exhibit hall is setup and we sellers, managers, booking agents, artists, etc. buy booths and present our stuff at dedicated hours. Within that the latter can create showcases either in the hotel or through out NYC (1,600) last year. The showcases are an added expense.   We also get a great database of presenters that we can continue to develop relationships with past the conference. This is a very short summary of what goes on so go to the site to find out more.

Why do we want to spend $2,500 to join APAP, register for the conference, and buy a booth, decorate the booth, put together promotional materials and more?  Simply this, presenters are one of the few places that artists can get paid a decent fee and be treated as an artist. What do we have…. presenters and festivals.  Clubs do not pay unless you have a established name/following and if you do then you are probably already being represented at these conferences by a established company. And if you can get two hits (usually $1000 to $10,000) you can get your money back, network with a whole lot of people that want to know (maybe some you do not) and continue to build your career.

Since Blujazz Label and Promotions have added the booking arm we are getting into this game.  We will rep our whole roster with two emphases since we are a cooporative company. Those who helped us set up financially will be accented and those who are financially setting up showcases will get the obvious extra attention.  This year at APAP we have Chicago guitarist Paul Kogut, LA Guitarist Doug MacDonald, Chicago vocalist Sam Fazio, Chicago Saxophonist Kevin Kizer, Boston percussionist Zeke Martin, NYC bassist Francois Moutin, and Chicago violinist Diane Delin plus the rest of our roster.

There is so much more and I would be lying if I told you I was not excited about the possibilities!

 

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BACK for Good!

It’s been a long but productive year of healing and growth. After the closing of Club Blujazz I started this blog to help me with the former but what I underestimated was the time I needed to put into the Blujazz Label and Promotions side of things, extricating us from the business issues of the club, taking care of my wife and child, playing my guitar and singing (can never give that up), building the booking arm of Blujazz, and all of the minutia that goes along with it. But we are stable now with the help of our new staff person drummer Ben Scholz on the booking side and a lot of great releases with the most recent being the wonderful sax man Blue Lou Marini – “Starmaker” (original Blues Brothers, original Blood Sweat and Tears, original Sat Night Live Band, and touring member of James Taylor’s band) and hot shot guitarist Paul Kogut - “Turn of Phrase” with legendary sidemen bassist George Mraz and drummer Lewis Nash.

So now I would like to start weekly putting some thoughts into your minds on whats going on in the jazz world and us independents can work our way through the maze. I still believe with all of my heart and experience that there is a way for any jazz artist with the hunger in their stomach to find ways to survive performing, recording, and making a living.

Also, I plan on finishing the book soon that I will hope will be a great resource guide for artists from all levels of experience.

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Musical Chairs or “I hate even looking at that phone”

I recently attended a lunch time trio gig lead by a great pianist.  This gig was at a major university and was held in the cafeteria.  The group played while the audience ate.  The audience were mostly students and the listening section was sparsely filled.  Does this type of gig sound familiar to you.  The bottom dollar for them was that they got paid and they got to play “their jazz”.  It got me thinking, as we have the Blujazz Mgt/Booking company and I talk to a lot of artists about what type’s of gigs they play, want to play, and what their strategic plan is………..strategic plan….what’s that……

Anyway, many jazz artists take a lot of gigs to pay the rent so this is not a criticisim of the gigs.   One would not believe the wide span of gigs that I have played to survive.  But it is a area I believe that deserves discussion.

In most cities there are a garden variety of non concert gigs available for the jazz artist.  There is probably one main theme through all of them and that is the music is background and people are expected to be able to talk over the music.  Many jazz artists literally make a living playing these gigs (lots of bossas).  A general description is:

  • Dinner Clubs – This can be everything from expensive restaurants to small cafes. The group is generally a value added product for the club and most of these places do intend for the music to be background to the food though a few artists have followings and can bring in a few people to listen and who are expected to buy drinks or EAT.
  • Commercial Gigs – These include corporate parties, special events, private parties, etc.  Most artists get these gigs from agents.
  • Misc. – There are some borderline concert gigs like the lunch time gigs I described above that are series that also book other music besides jazz and are put on by city cultural organizations, local street fairs, art fairs, etc.

I am sure there are many more but the point I want to get at is what artists go through to get these gigs and how frustrating it is.  Obviously there are more of us than them so a lot of competition.  We go into our offices and get out our databases of who books these gigs and we start making the phone calls.  We get a lot of message machines, we get a lot of “oh I’m busy can you call tomorrow” (they are not there tomorrow usually),  we get a lot of “ah, I just booked up the month, wish you had called earlier this week”, and a small percentage actually book you.  Now that gig is, say, in the middle of the next month.  You now start your promotion campaign and hit your email lists and hope that the people that did not hit your gig at another dinner club last week will come to this gig.   The gig comes and all goes very well, you have some friends and fans show up, the staff swears that you are one of the best and they are going to tell the booker, it was fun and you made enough money for some groceries that week.  What now, you go back to the phone the next week and start the process all over again as most of these places do not rotate and if they do you need to be one of the lucky ones that gets on the rotation otherwise your chances of a gig are at a very low percentage.

Many artists have been doing this for years and are real pros at the process.  I bow down to them for the fortitude that it takes and the patience they have.  But for many artists it is a wearing experience with out a lot of future in it.  It can help your overall branding but the artist has to becareful that it does not brand them.  I get so many calls asking what do I do to take things to another step.

Next post in this category – OPTIONS!

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Promotion Expectations for the Jazz Artist PT-3

Recently I started the Blujazz Mgt/Booking Company.  Something I said I would never do.  It has not hit the Club Blujazz status but whew what a experience.  We have met many of our goals and booked some great gigs but much to the consternation of the artists that I’m working with, I have changed the format 3 times.   It is truly a slow process. In this day and age one has to make changes quickly when one sees that the lay of the land keeps changing.  I will talk about this in a separate blog  but I mention it because it has brought quite a few artists who have joined up with the Blujazz label, Blujazz Services or hired my promotion services. While I can kind of categorize the career level of  most artists, the conversations I have about their expectations is tremendously diverse.  I’m going to give you a couple of examples and you can see if you have some of the same feelings.

Recently one artist contacted me about mgt/booking. A wonderful player who was part of a very successful group on a major independent label several years ago.  This group was pretty progressive, got great radio and press, and toured in Europe quite a bit. This artist left the successful group and  lives in a major jazz city and plays regularly with many of the top jazz players.  He recorded his first CD live and the music came out quite nice but he only had a nice sleeve made with the CD and a small amount printed.  His promotional material was a 8 1/2 glossy pic and some material in a folder that was a little disjointed.  He did have a few online type promo packs. He has never been promoted nationally in radio and press and generally gigs in the city..  He is in his 40s.  Now most artists that I work with come to me with several CDs or more, liner notes written by known jazz writers, reviews, quote sheets, many jpg performance pics, etc.

So, I put a lot of thought into it and really knew that I could not take him on for national mgt/booking for many obvious reasons.  The competition of for gigs is “hair raising”.   Though this artist felt he needed to get help to book gigs and believed that if he only had someone working for him it would just happen.

So, I did get a light bulb moment and had a heart to heart with this artist. What we came up with was for him to take this CD, dress it up, and promote it nationally to create a national profile for him so that he that he could compete in the struggle for meaningful jazz gigs. Though there is a cost to do this, we felt that this would help elevate him to a peer level that his music an playing deserved and that allow me to start working on meaningful gigs.  Since he had a quality recorded CD, it cut the costs.  The list of what we do and need to promote is listed in another blog, but you can guess….quality artwork, manufacturing, one-sheets, etc.  It is truly very inexpensive to have a CD manufactured in a quality way these days.

My next two blogs will address two other artists who contacted me who both were further along in the career process and who both had different expectations.

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The Shrinking CD Market – a Paradox?

A very interesting trend is happening for my Blujazz Records company.  As we all know, the purchase of CDs, particularly for jazz related CDs in the retail “brick and mortar” outlets is drying up or has completely dried up.  The  retail outlets that still sell jazz CDS are considered specialty stores and the survivors in this market area are generally long time creative music outlets like the Jazz Record Mart in Chicago, J&R Music in NYC, The Electric Fetus in Minneapolis, or Waterloo Records in Austin.  A few chain stores are still stocking jazz like Barnes and Noble but the stock is small and is generally purchased through major distributors who make them take the stock because they are also selling the major pop artists.  Very few independents. And very few independent distributors are out there working with small labels.

So one would think that a small boutique label like Blujazz would have a hard time with a distributor ordering CDs and getting paid.  Well for us, a interesting trend has happened.  We are getting more orders for our artists CDs  and we get paid.  WHY!

Well I attribute a good part of it to our national sales rep, Chicagoan Steve Palmer.  Steve has owned a record store in the 70′s heydays, worked for major distro companies, and now reps two of the few independent distributors who distribute nationally in the US.  He is amazing in that his belief is the CD as a product will probably survive for a few more years and he knows how to work that market so well.  As we all know and he believes, building personal networks is one of the biggest answers to how to succeed.  Most independent distributors sell to three major CD wholesalers left in the US and this included major independent distributors.  They are Alliance out of Florida, Baker and Taylor in California, and Super D in California.  Each of the wholesalers have different strengths in the market place and all crossover.  What Steve has learned is that their databases are handled by humans and human nature makes mistakes in those databases natural.  Plus getting a labels data input on a timely basis is a challenge.  Steve works this area hard and it really helps us in getting orders.  Sometimes, just getting one CD ordered so the database can show that it is in stock for retailers can spawn orders. Yeah to Steve!

The other factor in our getting more orders is that wholesalers are now servicing most of the thousands of Internet sites that sell CDs.  So a CD Internet site can buy into a wholesalers database and if a person goes to their site and orders a CD the site orders directly from the wholesaler. This makes access global and increases sales for us.  This includes sites like Amazon, Borders On-Line who will probably continue to exist, Tower Records On-Line, and Barnes and Nobel On-line.  It also includes every small Internet site in the world who sell CDs on-line.

Yes Blujazz has made the move to sell down loads and we have a aggregator…..know that word…more on it later.  What a changing world.

Posted in Jazz Music Distribution - HA | 2 Comments