A blog for musicians and music industry people. It is a free educational resource and it is also the way I advertise my music consulting services. I am an entertainment professional with deep roots in the music industry. Throughout my music career I have been a major label A&R representative, a music supervisor, an artist manager, a reality show producer, a bass player and the head of a digital record label.
The Club Owner’s Perspective
This interview was first published in September, 2009.
I had the opportunity to ask my friend, Howie Schnee, the co-owner of Creative Entertainment Group and of Sullivan Hall and Sullivan Room in New York a few questions about what his job is like and what helps influence his decisions in booking bands into his clubs. I have known Howie since the early ’90s when Sullivan Hall was called the Lion’s Den. In fact, he was the first club owner to take a risk on a band I played with in college many years ago.
Howie has been responsible for building more acts on a local or regional level than anyone I know. The Lion’s Den (now Sullivan Hall) was one of the stepping stone clubs for most bands who wound up on Bonnaroo or the H.O.R.D.E. tour and was where they played before becoming big regional or national acts.
How has the process of band /artist selection changed at the clubs in the last 10-15 years both for established artists and for the audition nights or slow nights when you are trying out new local talent? For example, what is happening online vs offline, is there more or less competition for slots, etc.?
It’s changed significantly. The immediacy of the web is mind-boggling. Almost all bands post samples of their music online. The old way was for bands to make initial contact over the phone and follow up with a press kit. By the time we received that press kit, details of that initial conversation were fuzzy at best. Besides music being immediate, there are many clues online that give a good idea as to whether or not a band has their act together so to speak such as having a robust website. Also, whether or not there’s some buzz and awareness about them like having a lot of Myspace plays, Facebook friends, Twitter followers for example. I’ll occasionally do random searches to see if there’s any interesting press about the act.
How do you prefer to be approached by an unknown artist trying to get a show at the clubs you book? Do you prefer they come in via referral or through cold calling, and how should materials be presented and where?
It’s really best for bands to include links for all of their sites they have EPKs on: MySpace; Sonicbids; ReverbNation, etc. It really depends upon the buyer’s preference of site(s) they like to review bands on. A band should state the basics that talent buyers would like to know: where they’re from; what genre(s) they consider themselves to be in; when and where they’ve played the market before and how it went. If a band has friends, family or any roots to New York City that will insure a decent draw, that’s a good thing to mention. Also, anything noteworthy that may garner attention: album release show; TV or radio appearances; notable press, etc.
For a new band with few or no references that you can call to get a feel for their following, what is the best way to approach you and how often, so as to be heard but not to annoy the hell out of you?
References aren’t necessarily important, but professionalism and a good attitude go a long way. The other day I booked an out-of-town people who drew only 20 people to a show on a Wednesday. Their manager followed up with a great email of thanks, but also noting how he felt strongly if we gave them a chance on a weekend night, he knew they could do 50 people at minimum. Then he followed that up with something to the effect of “I understand if you’d like to keep us to a week night, and we’ll work hard to get to a weekend night eventually.” His non-demanding positive attitude implored me to give him a weekend show despite the smaller draw. It also helped that their music was really good.
Describe the volume of submissions you get on a daily or weekly basis for artists who want to play shows at Sullivan Hall. What percentage of those actually get in the door to play?
There are three of us that book the club, so it’s hard to say exactly. I’d estimate we probably get around 20-25 submissions a day on average. Unless a band’s music or attitude is really terrible, we give most bands a shot. First time in though, it may be on a Monday or Tuesday.
What traits in a band member or manager make you feel like the person is someone who is serious about their business and makes you want to help them build their following (both for you and the club)?
I alluded to it earlier: positive attitude; non-demanding; carrying themselves professionally; strong work ethic. These all go a long way with me. That hard work ethic is essential if a band wants to take it to the next level. Nothing should be beneath them. I love walking out of a show and seeing a musician handing out hand bills or CDs or MP3 cards promoting their band. If I see that, and its 30 degrees and snowing, no matter what they sound like, I’ll book that band.
Describe some of the frustrations you have with they way musicians approach you for a gig and things that people should avoid saying and doing.
One of the most frustrating things is when you book an act, and discover afterwards they have multiple gigs lined up in town, and they’ve never bothered to mention it. I can understand a band wanting to get out there and play a lot (although I don’t feel that’s the right approach), but they should mention it during the booking process. I think acts should be more focused on the quality of shows they do versus quantity. Acts should be thinking in a reciprocal manner – not just “what can I get out of this?”
Let’s say your band can draw 50 people on a week night in New York. Your draw may be predominantly friends and fans at that point, which is fine. Almost all bands start with friends and family. If your band starts booking two or more times per month, you’ll start to have diminishing returns. Now we book you after you’ve played a number of shows in town in a short period of time, and we put you on a good night on a good show, and almost no one comes out. You’ve benefited from the exposure but have offered nothing in return. You’ve spoiled your relationship with us. Bands should be thinking in reciprocal terms — so, not only “what can we get out of this?” but “what can we do for the club, or promoter, or even the other bands on the bill?”
Tags: booking your band, building a fanbase, club owner, creative entertianment group, getting better gigs, H.O.A.R.D.E. Tour, Howie Schnee, live music, Music venue, Playing Live, Sullivan Hall, touring
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