Tuesday, February 15, 2011

A Way to Boost Your Odds of Making a Living as a Performer

So many people would love to make a living as a performer: musician, comedian, actor, magician, etc. But we are living in an era in which most people expect to get their entertainment for free, whether legally, for example, by watching TV or YouTube videos, or illegally by stealing. Oops, the politically correct term is "file sharing."

It seems that the only people who are making a good living from performing are the 0.00001% who are superstars, for example, the Grammy winners. Is there hope for the less august among us? Let me tell you what I would do if I were trying to make a living as a performer.

People are still willing to pay for live experiences, so every Friday and Saturday night, I'd give a piano concert in my home. Here's the one I've given. If I were living in a too-small apartment, I'd use a free or very-low-cost apartment complex community center, room in a church, school, etc.

I'd play things that would be maximally audience-pleasing while also pleasing myself. My program would mainly consist of improvisations based on a two-to-three-minute interview of audience members. In between, I'd play Broadway show medleys, Tom Lehrer songs, ragtime, old standards, sing-along, and some self-deprecating anecdotes. (I wonder why self-deprecation is so much better received than self-promotion? That's a a rather counter-commonsensical norm that is deeply embedded in our culture. But I digress.)

At the end of the concert, I'd sell my CD, writing a very personalized inscription for each buyer . (I'd ask each buyer a couple of questions about him/herself before writing the inscription.)

I'd market my concerts by:
  • creating a demo video, which I'd post on my site, on YouTube, low-fee online ticket seller Brown Paper Tickets, and on Goldstar, which will--free to the performer--email that demo and an announcement of an event to an enormous mailing list, offering half-price tickets. (Of course, I get paid only half for those buyers.)
  • Try to get on local TV and radio shows to demonstrate my interview-based improvisation. (I'd interview the host for a minute or two and then play an improvisation based on her.)
  • To capture attendees' email addresses so I can email them announcements of future concerts, at intermission, I'd raffle off a free CD--they'd have to put their email address in the jar to have a chance to win.
Of course, this model could be adapted to different sorts of creative work. For example, an actor could do a one-person show. Or, I know two magicians here in the San Francisco Bay Area who've each successfully done a variant of my approach: Peter Morrison and Gerry Griffin. (They each bought a low-cost venue for them to perform their show. Peter does his solo. Gerry brings in the best low-cost magicians to accompany him.)

For performers of sufficiently broad appeal, this approach would seem to offer a better-than-usual prospect for enabling them to live their dream of being paid to perform.


Anonymous said...

Speaking of in-home piano concerts ... when are you going to post the video of yours from last month? I was there, so I know there is a video somewhere.

Marty Nemko said...

I'm working on it. A day or four.

Seraphim said...

It'd be fun to hear you play on your radio show every now and then... New bumper music?

Marty Nemko said...

Dear Seraphim,

I had done it on my KGO show to much approval from the audience but the boss, for no reason, insisted I stop. I will, however, at the right time, do it on my KALW show. Thanks for suggesting it.


San Francisco Magician said...

Most magicians (and all entertainers for that matter) don't look hard enough at the business side of things. I personally know both Gerry and Peter, and they have done a great job of putting business first, then the entertainment second. You have to run your business as a business first regardless of what your product or service may be.


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