Welcome to the twenty third instalment of Monday #MusicMatters as part of the JAMS Canada PRO Series – “Here’s What I Know”.
We caught up with Susan Walsh for her insights on Festival Auditions & Performances
What are the top elements that musicians should have in place before applying to perform at a Festival or Special Event?
Being hired to play at festivals or special events is not always all about talent and there are two types of performers … those who are happy performing in their own Region and are known widely through “word of mouth” with an existing fan base, and, those who have that sense of adventure and want to experience the high of bringing their music to strangers and being in a fresh environment.
There is also a business side to performing which is equally as important to your talent, in the eyes of Event Planners.
Be professional with the way you promote yourself … if you are happy performing Regionally that is fine. However, you still need to appear to care about your image if you want Event Planners to take you seriously and for them to feel confident they are spending their event sponsors’ dollars wisely.
You should have a website or at the very least a Facebook Page. A photo, bio, sample set list, video clip and/or vocal clip, and, a contract/rider are very important.
Take the time to draw up your own band contract. Don’t rely on the Festivals to provide one. That shows commitment to your craft, and also allows you to be in control of what your wants and needs are when performing at events. That way you are not getting different contracts for each gig and having to waste hours reading through fine print to ensure everything is alright.
If you have the resources or know any visual artists, have them design a logo for your group. Festival planners love to have photos and logos from artists that they can easily plug into social media posts, website entertainment listings, etc. and it makes you look very professional. It’s a one-time expense that can capture the essence of who you are and where your passion lies.
Be careful with testimonials. Choose wisely the ones you post or share with new Event Planners. Don’t use your friends or family, select Festival Coordinators, Event Hosts or Sponsors who have seen you perform … an opinion with clout. If someone is looking to hire you they may just check out some of your testimonials. It’s similar to applying for a job and providing references. Choose those who are genuinely impressed by your talent and can be contacted if need be.
A photo is a way of portraying the theme or mood to your musical genre and you can tell a lot about personalities by looking at a photo. The problem is you need to keep it as current as possible. I have had many experiences where a band shows up and are not any of the members in the photo, nor is the image portrayed in the photo related to what they actually play. For instance, I had an experience with a group of guys hanging onto a farmers’ fence with cowboy hats on, but they actually played 70’s rock?? Don’t misrepresent yourself.
What are some Festival “etiquettes” or do’s & don’ts that musicians should know?
Be flexible … festivals have a myriad of programming at their events and they may want to slot you into :20 increments, :30 or 1:00 timeframes, or, have you play straight :45 sets. THEY know their audience and the parameters they have to work with, so it’s better if you can adapt, or, you just may not get the gig.
Be reasonable with your contract wants & needs … what do you REALLY need to bring value to your performance. Be as professional as possible while still providing some comfort level for your members. Don’t treat this like Santa’s Wish List from a 6-year-old that is so far out of reach, Event Planners will run in the other direction.
For example, if you are applying to the Belleville Waterfront Festival your contract requests should be very different from a submission to “Boots & Hearts” who have a huge corporate sponsor budget. Some festivals can’t give you 2 or 3 nights’ accommodation with all single rooms, and, some don’t have the resources to stock your tour bus with beer for the whole summer!!! Do not expect Event Planners to put your whole family up for the weekend either in a hotel room, so you can have a little vacation?!? … although this may be acceptable if you pay for part of the room fee. Remember that the accommodations you ask for add to the cost of hiring you, so if you get unnecessarily extravagant with your requests you may lose the gig.
Be reasonable and be prepared to look at every gig for what it is. You will receive everything you need, and in some cases, more.
Be careful about food requests … not every event has access to a 3-course hot meal for your group members and don’t include wives, kids and Agents in that number. These amenities are for performing members and crew if any are actually working at the gig, ie. Lighting Director. Sometimes there is no such thing on the festival site as the food you are requesting and Events don’t have the staff or volunteer resources to go to offsite food sources to get your meals. Find out what the festival has available onsite, and then make your ask. If there are any special needs or food allergies ie. vegetarian, vegan, lactose intolerance … make sure you mention these upfront.
Be responsible … do not ask for cash as payment for a performance at a Fair, Festival or Special Event. Festival hosts and non-profit organizations are running a business and need a proper paper trail to verify all income and expenses. Cash is not an option. They are held accountable by Management, or a Board of Directors and need to be mindful of how they spend sponsor dollars.
Don’t hide your earnings. If you perform on a regular basis you should be claiming your performance income on your tax return every year. Don’t risk getting caught. Being audited is not fun!
Be mindful of SOCAN copyright performance fees (Society of Composers, Authors & Music Publishers of Canada). Every performer covering others’ artists music, should be doing this. If you don’t, and get caught the fines are substantial. If you had written songs and someone else was out there performing them and making money from those performances, wouldn’t you want to be compensated?
Be thankful for your gift of talent, and use it wisely. Never lose faith. Believe in yourself as that self-confidence shows outwardly both in the way you behave and perform.
Be patient … if you apply to a Festival and don’t get chosen, don’t lash out at the Event Planners or organization hosting the event. There could be lots of reasons why you are not the best fit for what they are looking for and it could have absolutely nothing to do with your talent, or the quality of your submission. If you have not received that booking call by the date specified by the Event Planner, move on. Don’t call Planners repeatedly between the time of your submission and the notification date. Believe me I know from personal experience with many groups what the waiting game is like and there are some awesome events out there that you would love to be part of. Artists are always in pursuit of those open doors allowing them to spread their wings and do what they love to do. Don’t be afraid to try again the next year. You may be just what they are looking for then, and most planners keep a top 10 or 20 listing so if someone says no, they can move on to the next on the list. Believe in yourself and never lose faith.
If I am a mature or “seasoned” performer, does that mean I’m old?
No … it simply means you are talented, are passionate about what you do, are confident with the product (show) you are offering, and, are able to work with Event Planners in an efficient manner that results in a positive experience for both of you. You both need to be satisfied with all the arrangements being made, and of course, the end result.
When you are told that the stage and backstage zones are “no smoking” areas, wander far enough away if you must smoke … that shows maturity. Typically, there would be signs somewhere at the venue to inform you of the local by-law restrictions relative to cigarette or cannabis use.
If these areas are not licensed under the AGCO do not bring alcohol onsite. There is no quicker way to lose respect than disobeying the rules which have been established by these festivals. It shows a lack of maturity and respect. If you try to be sneaky and get caught it will be a reflection on the whole group, and, not good for the festival’s reputation either and let’s just say … word gets around!
Know the target market for festivals. If you are submitting a promo package for a family-friendly event (which is typically apparent by the event name, logo, catch phrases describing the event or some references on their websites or Facebook Pages) and you need to curse in every sentence, don’t apply! This is not mature behaviour and can only lead to embarrassment for you and the Event Planner.
Everyone who performs has an ego … that is how you muster up the self-confidence that allows you to perform in front of people and do what you do best. However, when attending events and festivals, check your ego at the front gate … don’t bring it in. Nobody likes a no-it-all. You can be confident and professional, without being immature.
Do you have a calendar of musical events throughout the year so that musicians know when to apply? Or do you maintain a roster of musicians and reach out to them?
At the Belleville Chamber of Commerce, we accept talent submissions in December & January for each calendar year coming up. We manage the Special Events Contract for the City of Belleville and host 6 family friendly festivals each year. Submissions (via email or Canada Post) are reviewed by a Committee throughout the month of February with groups being notified by March 1st of whether they have made any of the event programming lists. As a rule, performers are not booked into the large events 2 years in a row, unless there has been a substantial positive public reaction to their show(s), or they are an amazing Tribute Band who cover more than one artist.
From working 13 years on Belleville events we do have a roster of great artists from throughout the Region and beyond, however, we do accept new submissions each year in December & January. Mainstage music themes, sponsor requests, audience feedback year to year and the strength of new submissions all play a part in determining who makes the cut.
If you perform on a regular basis locally, don’t be upset if you do not get chosen as a headline act. Typically, we seek out new acts that have not been experienced by our festival audiences to fill these Mainstage slots. You may possess awesome talent and we may still want you to be part of the festival programming, but not likely a headliner.
How has COVID-19 impacted your job as a Special Events Coordinator?
Twenty twenty has been an extremely challenging year for everyone no matter what your age is, your educational level, your career, or family makeup. No one has been exempted from the feelings of sadness and frustration.
Event Planners and Special Event Coordinators have a passion for what they do and love to bring joy to their patrons. Not being able to do that for a whole year has been devastating. Trying to be creative, keeping the passion, and adhering to Health Regulations has been exhausting to say the least. Also, once the bad news hit in March, sponsors were just not available to commit to supporting events as everyone’s future was unclear. They had to hang on to every penny they had. Some of us have also experienced having fully planned events cancelled within days of their opening because Provincial health regulations have changed. Sad indeed.
Most of us have learned that we need to use this time to keep our creative imaginations intact and find the balance of how to mount events in the future as Covid-19 could play a significant role in our lives for a while to come. People need special events to look forward to so they can hang on to something positive so we Planners must never lose sight of our goals and keep striving to succeed. We are all hoping for a “new normal” soon, as we know there will still be a lot of adjusting to do.
Covid-19 has taken a toll on the entertainment industry as a whole … musical artists, actors (stage, television & movies), theatres (movie & live), Midway operators, Agents, food concessionaires and other festival vendors and of course the audiences. I pray there is resolve sooner than later as these people need their livelihood back and audiences need the stress relief provided by going to events, concerts and the theatre. Let’s all do our part to stay safe.
With everyone on board and exercising caution, this ship will be headed to sunny shores! Take care everyone.
Born in Montreal, Susan moved to Belleville in 1974 and hit the stage playing lead roles in productions of South Pacific, Oklahoma, Bye Bye Birdie, Pajama Game, 42nd Street & Fiddler On The Roof to name a few.
Susan sang for 6 years with the vocal group Harmonie and spent 10 years as the Road Manager and one of the vocalists in The Cadillacs Showband which included traveling around Ontario to many of the Province’s largest festivals such as the Gananoque Festival of the Islands and the Collingwood Elvis Festival. She also booked the group for theatre shows which included venues like Showplace Theatre (Peterborough) and The Grand Theatre (Kingston), with the highlight being two sold out shows at The Empire Theatre in Belleville.
Susan loves Broadway music, rock n’ roll from the 50’s & 60’s and big band standards which she performed with The Frank Howard Orchestra and The Commodores Orchestra. Susan wrote, directed and produced a series of variety fundraisers entitled “For The Love of a Song” with four productions in the 1990’s. She brought this talented cast back in 2007 with the final show in 2019 after another thirteen successful years.
She received an Arts Recognition Award in 2015 from the Quinte Arts Council and was a nominee for Belleville’s Remarkable Women In Quinte in 2018. For the past 26 years Susan has been coordinating events and festivals for the Quinte Region on behalf of the Downtown BIA, the Belleville Chamber of Commerce and the City of Belleville with a very successful track record. Her experiences with performing, directing, and being on the road herself have all contributed to her success as a Special Events Coordinator. When it comes to working with talent, she has “been in their shoes”, so to speak. She is also well-known and respected
Find out more about Quinte area Music Events at https://bellevillechamber.ca/, on Facebook @BellevilleChamberOfCommerce & on Twitter @BCC1864. Also visit her Facebook page: @fortheloveofasong
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