Tag Archives: Effort

More Is More…And More Of Everything Connected To That More

A Small Venue Survivalist Saturday Suggestion

Please Remember:

The opinions expressed are mine only. These opinions do not necessarily reflect anybody else’s opinions. I do not own, operate, manage, or represent any band, venue, or company that I talk about, unless explicitly noted.

The guy with the most toys…

…has the longest load-in.

And load-out, but one thing at a time, okay?

Posting In Other Places

Thanks, Schwillyfamilymusicians.com!

Please Remember:

The opinions expressed are mine only. These opinions do not necessarily reflect anybody else’s opinions. I do not own, operate, manage, or represent any band, venue, or company that I talk about, unless explicitly noted.

When I miss a post, it’s usually because I have something else to do. In this case, that something else was a guest post. Here’s a pull-quote to whet your appetite:

“Hard work and tenaciousness are the tools necessary to help you be ‘in the right place, at the right time, with the right people, playing the right material, to the right crowd,’ but with anything that involves the tastes and opinions of humans, luck will always be a significant factor.”

Here’s the link for ya.

Thanks for reading, everybody!

Get Out Of The Effing Way!

Do what’s actually helpful, and then stop “do-ing.” The show will be just fine.

Please Remember:

The opinions expressed are mine only. These opinions do not necessarily reflect anybody else’s opinions. I do not own, operate, manage, or represent any band, venue, or company that I talk about, unless explicitly noted.

I’m told that live-audio is a thankless job. This is news to me, because I’m fortunate enough to be thanked – often – for the work I do.

The problem is that when I receive the most effusive praise, I feel like a fraud. When somebody says, “you made it sound SO GOOD,” I’m pretty sure that credit isn’t really going where it’s due. I can’t clearly remember the last time I took something that sounded bad, and through force of will, turned it into an amazing sonic experience. Mostly, I take bands that already sound good, and then help the couple of things that can’t help themselves to be in quite the right place.

The more time I spend working in small rooms, the more it seems to me that at least 50% – 75% of my job is staying out of the way of the band. Functionally, what this means is that a lot of my faders sit at either the actual “negative infinity” point, or at a functional negative infinity (that is, the fader is set at a level where the contribution from the PA is not readily perceptible).

Because of the popular perception of what an audio human is supposed to do, the desirability of having a number of channels “doing nothing” is counter-intuitive. I’m pretty comfortable with it as a concept, and even I will go through periods where I get out of discipline.

But it works beautifully.

If You Don’t Need To Be On Deck, Don’t Be On Deck

That heading up there is one of the phrases that stage crews learn. It’s also pretty easy to grasp at a physical level. At some point, it’s easy to see that chewing up space on stage while contributing nothing to the show is a bad idea. You’re very likely to impede the progress of someone who actually needs to, you know, get stuff done. If you’re impeding the progress of someone with a job to do, you’re very likely to hear the words “Get out of the !@#$ing way!”

The issue for the audio human standing behind the console is that the line between “helpful contribution” and “just taking up space” isn’t clearly marked. Audio is a really subjective sort of business, and a lot of what audio humans do involves end results that aren’t easily measured in an objective way. The overall problem is exacerbated because of the mistaken belief that the most important work in audio engineering for entertainment is done with mixing consoles and rack gear. It isn’t – but that’s probably a whole other article.

With work at show control being the object of worship, the audio human can feel a lot of pressure to “make magic happen” with the tools that are seen as being most important. Especially because live-audio is an additive affair – where the sound of the PA combines with the sound from the stage – this need to appear productive can lead to three, generalized, “bad sound” scenarios:

1) The band’s sound is tossed out in favor of the engineer getting his or her sound, with questionable results.

2) The show is very, very loud, with questionable tolerability.

3) A combination of both.

Trying To Fix Everything

There’s a hilarious Xtranormal video floating around that illustrates scenario #1. In it, a jazz drummer is up against an audio dude. In complete deadpan, dialogue in this overall vein is uttered:

“We need to cut a hole in your kick drum.”

“This is a jazz kit. It uses special, very expensive heads. We are not cutting a hole in anything.”

“But, dude, how will I get my sound if we don’t cut a hole in the front of the kick?”

The third line is the crux of the whole thing. Getting what is perceived to be the most impressive kick sound – from the tech’s perspective – has become such a priority that the audio human is blind to what they’re actually dealing with. The need to be looked upon as a wizard with a console and outboard processing is so great that the tech is ready to turn a jazz act into a rock band, and to do so by wrecking an instrument.

When this need to fix everything generalizes into a whole-band situation, you can very quickly cross into the territory where the band no longer sounds like itself. Instead, you get the tech’s best effort at a huge snare, massive kick, elephantine toms, roaringly thick guitars, thundering bass, and “radio announcer” vocals…all blended into a result that sounds like a completely different band playing another band’s songs. Usually, the overall sound is that of the audio human’s favorite genre, and so the tech gets away with this behavior as long as the band is in that general area of music. When the band is significantly different, though, people walk away saying, “It just didn’t sound right,” without necessarily knowing why. If something about the band prevents the tech from achieving “the right sound,” the audio human is apt to complain that the band was hard to work with.

Luckily, the medicine for this condition is cheap, and easily available: Get out of the effing way! It’s amazing how adopting the attitude of “it’s about getting the band’s sound in the room, and not my own sound” can simplify your life. It’s amazing how much less agonizing you have to do when you don’t need to do microsurgery on every input’s frequency response and dynamic range. It’s amazing how fluid, simple, and enjoyable a show can be when every second of it doesn’t have to be managed.

It’s also amazing how, when you stop trying to fix everything, you don’t have to throw so much money at more and different gear.

The Show Sounds Huge, But Everybody Left

The #2 and #3 scenarios often result from trying to fix everything. As I mentioned earlier, this is because sound reinforcement is an additive exercise.

Live-sound engineer and gear retailer Mark Hellinger really nailed it when he stated a particular belief of his: Audio techs don’t feel like they’re really in control of the show until the PA is 10 dB ahead of everything else.

This anecdotally supported belief dovetails nicely with quantitative observations of SPL (Sound Pressure Level) addition. If you add the SPLs of two sound sources, where one source is observed to be 10 dB more intense than the other, the result will be the SPL of the louder source plus about 0.4 dB. The loud source pretty much wipes out the quieter sound.


As the “I have to fix everything!” audio tech goes about getting their sound, they have to overcome the sound of the band in the room. The amount of SPL that a band can produce, even without a PA, can be rather surprising. (If you ever want a quick and unmerciful education in this, work with a band that switches from an acoustic drumkit to an electronic drumkit. You will be shocked at just how hard you have to drive the PA to make the e-kit fit in the same SPL “box” as the acoustic drums. I speak from experience.) A full-tilt band – even a fairly reasonable one – in a small venue can be a pretty loud experience. If the audio human just has to override the band’s sound with his or her own sound, “pretty loud” has probably just had anywhere from 6 – 12 dB of continuous SPL added on.

In a small space, this can mean that the engineer’s mad rush to fix everything creates a mad rush for the exits. A tech’s incorrect prioritization can clear a room just as much as a musician’s myopia can do the same thing.

As with trying to fix everything, getting out of the effing way can keep more people in the venue. When the goal becomes working WITH the sound of the band in the room, instead of against it, you have a much better shot at keeping within an audience’s reasonable SPL range. (No guarantees, of course. This is a subjective business.)

Going against the flow of a band’s sound is difficult, loud, and requires a ton of work. Getting out of the way and swimming with the current is much easier, much quieter, and a lot less tiring. It can be hard to discipline yourself to work this way (I still get things very wrong in certain situations), especially since not getting “your sound” fails to feed your ego (please refer to the previous parenthetical statement).

But I’ll be doggone if getting out of the effing way hasn’t proven itself to be very effective.

Serious Attitude

Be so serious that you don’t have to be serious anymore.

Please Remember:

The opinions expressed are mine only. These opinions do not necessarily reflect anybody else’s opinions. I do not own, operate, manage, or represent any band, venue, or company that I talk about, unless explicitly noted.

We’ve all worked with “one of those.”

You know who I mean.

That person with the Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde persona. Off-stage, they are a pleasant, even congenial sort of chap. You wouldn’t mind going over to their place for barbecue. Or tofu, if you’re into that.

Then, they get on stage, and everything changes. They become an emotionally unstable ego-monster, prone to getting angry. They become “serious,” as in “everything is a serious problem.” In certain situations, you would swear that this person’s very soul was riding on everything being flawless – but everything CAN’T be flawless, and they are annoyed at it. The entire show revolves around them, and if you fail to recognize that for a nanosecond, you’re an idiot at best.

Some folks call this “The Rockstar Attitude.” Some folks even assume that it’s the right thing to do.

After all, you should take your show seriously, right? Hey, I’ve even encouraged people to take their shows seriously, with my contention that taking your show seriously is what actually makes you a rockstar. When I said that, I meant it.

What I didn’t really go into at the time was that taking your show seriously means being so ready, so comfortable, and so absolutely prepared that you’re no longer required to ACT in a serious way anymore.

Let me give you an object example.

The Earliness Is Tremendous! I Believe It Is Prep Related.

Last Saturday, I worked on an especially important show for the band Suspect, and the production was a textbook case of seriousness that brought both technical success AND actual fun to the table.

It all started when Ren, the bassist, walked into the venue at a decidedly early hour. He wanted to talk about some of the details involved in recording the show that night, and he also wanted to get his newly added keyboard rig sussed out. By allowing himself (and me) lots of time to get settled in, Ren was being very serious about the show.

This particular kind of seriousness was also present in the other musicians. They weren’t far behind Ren, which meant that getting the whole gig set up and tested was a low-stress, experimentation enabling, and frankly enjoyable time. I would also mention that I’m sure the band’s “take it seriously” approach to setup and soundcheck had a profoundly positive effect on the show’s sound. Because we could take our time, it was possible to get each instrument exactly where it needed to be – which was especially important for the songs where Ren traded bass parts with Debbie. If we had done a “grab ‘n go” there, the change from one bass sound to another would have been uncomfortably jarring. With all the prep time we had, though, the difference in bass rigs just lent a nice change in flavor for those songs.

…and here’s the upshot.

By taking setup so seriously, by being so willing to take time and look at everything in detail, nobody had to actually “put on the act” of being serious. Everybody involved could enjoy the process, joke around, be thoroughly relaxed, and just – you know – enjoy the unbridled awesomeness involved in being a rock band.

I think we ended up with at least an hour to spare before downbeat, and the band got to fill that hour by hanging out with their friends in the front row, taking pictures, telling jokes, and requesting both rockin’ and funny songs for walk-in.

The show was taken so seriously that nobody was compelled to be serious anymore.

Serious About Tone

On another front, let me tell you about Dave, and how seriously he takes his guitar sound. He takes his tone so seriously that – in keeping with the whole theme – he doesn’t have to be “serious about HIS tone.”

That is to say, the complete character of the sound he gets is built on working with the rest of the band, while having the correct volume and tonal qualities for the rest of the room. Dave is so professional about getting good tone that, when I commented on how the high-mids might have been a little too hot, he reached back to the amp-head and pulled them back.

No fuss. No worries. No stress. No ego trip. No “it doesn’t sound like TUBES DUDE!” No inward worrying that losing that little bit of presence might somehow wreck someone’s night. Just a nice, satisfying rock ‘n roll crunch that blended nicely and didn’t kill anyone.

In the same way, Ren dialed back his bass rig when things started out a little too hot. Glenn, the drummer, gets very satisfying drum sounds without having to pummel the kit like a maniac.

The takeaway?

The group is so concerned with sounding good as an ensemble, and being enjoyable in the room, that there’s simply no need for anybody to sweat bullets over every tiny aspect of their individual sounds. Sure, the individual instruments are in good shape and tuned properly, but it’s not done with the kind of narcissistic, snarling obsession that marks some “serious” players. Again, this creates a scenario with vastly lower stress – both for the band, and for the tech.

Also, it creates lower volume – which is great, because it means that getting monitor world put together is stupidly easy. As I recall, the downstage mics needed no gain adjustments at all. The band just stepped up to ’em and sang. No “everything louder than everything else” fights from mix to mix, no mysterious feedback monsters, nothing. It all just seemed to work. (There was a little squeak from one of the mics at first, but a little work with the EQ killed the problem.)

As an added bonus, the levelheadedness regarding overall volume let us actually use the PA for fun things (like fattening up the toms, adding some nice bottom to the bass guitars, and just filling in a touch of midrange on the guitar). We got to do this because weren’t already running so hot that adding something would be overwhelmingly loud.

Comfort Is Happiness

The point of all this is to point out that truly taking things seriously makes shows fun. True seriousness means that panic and stress aren’t required, because everybody involved in the production is just flat-out comfortable with making the magic happen. Indeed, the whole process can start to look like magic to an outsider, because of how easy it seems to be. When you’ve covered all your bases, sorted out your priorities, and simply aren’t required to be under stress…you get to just go up and have fun.

Think about it. Do the people that get bent into all kinds of strange shapes over tiny aspects of the show seem like they’re having fun? Do the folks who have to bark orders at everyone else seem like they’re having fun? No?

There’s a good chance that those folks are only just being serious enough to LOOK serious.

The REALLY serious people, though? They get to smile and have a blast.

Book Like A Sniper

When looking for shows, be choosy.

Please Remember:

The opinions expressed are mine only. These opinions do not necessarily reflect anybody else’s opinions. I do not own, operate, manage, or represent any band, venue, or company that I talk about, unless explicitly noted.

(Fair warning – this post might start out with a particularly cranky tone, but that’s just to lay the groundwork for friendly advice and encouragement a bit farther down. All I ask is that you hear me out.)

I’m not currently the booking manager of any club, bar, or theater.

But when I was, I had a bad relationship with a particular kind of booking agent. I called them “Shotgunners.”

A Shotgunner was a booking agent or band member who had a “form e-mail” written up, and was sending out that e-mail to every venue in the path of their tour. The goal was to get “a show” (any show) when they were in Salt Lake, and so they half-blindly shot a bunch of messages into the general area. If they got multiple responses, that was great – they could choose a gig from the bunch. If they got one response, that was still okay, because they would have something to do that night.

For a good while, I responded personally to each Shotgunner. I saw it as doing the right thing, but as time went on the shotgun-booked shows turned out to be both poorly attended, not-fun-for-anyone affairs.

I started ignoring the Shotgunners entirely. Shotgunner emails were, on the whole, very easy to pick out from the worthwhile booking requests:

  • They were almost always sent from a major music market, like LA, Chicago, Nashville, New York, or Austin. (There’s nothing wrong with that, it was just part of the pattern.)
  • They disproportionately represented the metal-screamo-pop-punk pool of bands. You know, the genre where there’s always at least one musician who’s way too loud for the small-venue context, and where all the band names have a catchy cadence like “Deny Us The Planet,” or “Tear The Stars From Heaven?” (By the way, if there are bands with those names, I’m not ragging on you. I just made those names up on the spot.) Again, there’s nothing wrong with any of this. It was just “the profile.”
  • The e-mail writer almost always said something like “we’re routing through your area.” This was apparently code for “we’re going to travel through your city on the way to an important gig, and we figured we might as well play.” If I was particularly lucky, they would take the time to actually mention Salt Lake by name.
  • The Shotgunner would usually try to impress me by mentioning that their catchily-named band had shared the stage at [venue in their music market that was probably big there, but that I had no clue about] with [another catchily-named band that was probably big where they were, but I had no clue about]. The Shotgunners did get bonus points – for a while – if the band had been a part of Warped Tour or SXSW. After I realized that a band having been a part of either event was no indication whatsoever of whether anyone in Salt Lake would even know about that band, I stopped granting the points.
  • The absolute, positive, dead-giveaway that I was being Shotgunned was when the e-mail would inevitably reveal that nobody had bothered to read the venue’s booking info. The booking info clearly stated that we were a DIY sort of affair, where locals put together their own bills, there were no guarantees, and everybody (the venue included) was just getting a cut of the door. The Shotgunners would constantly talk about guaranteed payouts, and how it would be okay if local support acts were included. (A big factor in me no longer answering Shotgunners was becoming tired of having to constantly restate our booking info.)

Focus – It’s Good For You!

Everything I wrote about above was about how Shotgun booking affected me, but what I really want to focus on is you.

The musician who’s trying to build a fan base. The musician who wants to tour. The musician who wants to be heard. If you take nothing else away from this post, please take this:

Your music is worth so much more than a hasty e-mail that’s fired off and forgotten.

Read that again, if it hasn’t sunk in yet.

When you let a booking agent shotgun your info, or you shotgun booking requests yourself, you are doing yourself a disservice. You’re selling yourself short. You’re gathering up a big portfolio of shows that – for whatever reason – probably aren’t worth your time.

The fix for this issue is extraordinarily simple. All that has to be done is to trade the “shotgun” for an instrument of precision. In other words…

Book shows like a sniper.

Snipers are the folks who get called in to handle “high value” targets. Snipers become familiar with their quarries, figuring out what makes them tick. Snipers carefully maneuver into place, looking for the opportunity for the perfect shot. They are going to fire one bullet, and that bullet has to count.

(By the way, I’m not advocating for an adversarial relationship between musicians/ booking agents and venue bookers. This is all just a metaphor for focus and commitment.)

Booking like a sniper means taking your time on each individual show, taking the trouble to build a relationship with the venue, and taking care to have the long-term in view.

Better Shows Through Care and Planning

Shotgunning is a very tempting approach. It’s fast, and it seems easy – but remember how I talked about The Law of Conservation of Effort? Shotgunning saves a bit of time on one end, but all that time will have to be paid back later. It may even be paid back with “penalties.”

What I mean is that there’s a big payoff to spending the time necessary to really pin down a great show, in a room you definitely want to play, with clear understandings between the venue management and you.

  • For one, going into the booking process with a clear demonstration that you understand what the venue is about sends a HUGE signal. It indicates that you care about the show – and let me tell you, your caring about your own show makes everyone else much more likely to care about your show.
  • Another big point is that taking your time to find the shows and rooms that really work for you leads to a much more fun and profitable career. Sure, a Shotgunner may get more shows, but a lot of those shows will probably be mediocre. Even junk. Snipers, on the other hand, spend their time getting and playing high-quality, fun gigs. Especially if you’re just starting out, high-quality dates might not be as numerous as you prefer, but be assured that they are worth several “junk nights” apiece.
  • The final point is that a show you’ve taken your time on is one where both you and the venue know what to expect. A hasty booking may be fraught with confusion about who promised what to whom. On the other hand, a careful booking makes you much more likely to be compensated fairly – and also much more able to argue your case if anybody tries to pull a fast one.

“But it takes so much time!” you might be tempted to shout.

Believe me, I hear ya. Again, though, I have to hammer on The Law of Conservation of Effort. Let’s say you shotgun-book a whole ton of gigs. The law of averages will take care of some of them being good, no doubt. However, unless you’re really lucky, a lot of those shows won’t be worth much fun OR money. Even if they aren’t worth much, you still have to get everybody organized, practice, get everyone to the gig on time, load and unload your gear, play like you mean it, and then get “reset” for practice. Because the booking was done in haste, you might have had to renegotiate some things on the fly. You may get shuffled around in the lineup without any say-so. You might just get stiffed out of your share.

The gigs might be utter crap, and yet you still have to do a lot of work to make them happen.

At some point, doesn’t it just make sense to spend, say, a couple more hours on getting a few shows you really want, where all that effort is much more likely to be worth it?

Money Is Important, But Not All Important

Before I wrap up, I want to make one more point.

In my experience, what makes any particular show “high quality” or “worth it” can take a lot of forms. At some times, it will be all about how much money can be made. That’s not all there is, though.

I want to be absolutely clear that I think “fun factor” is a huge component of what makes a gig worthwhile. If you’re going to have a serious career, you will probably have to balance “fun” with “profit,” but it can be very easy to throw “fun” out unnecessarily. Every so often, you’ll run into a situation where the show is a genuine blast, but is financially weak.

Taking that date anyway is totally legitimate, so don’t let anybody tell you otherwise.

Every so often, it’s perfectly okay to say, “The show will hardly pay anything, but that place has the most amazing [food, drink, hot waitress, view out the window, whatever]. Come on, we’ll get the gas money back, be out of the house, and just play the songs we like.” As long as you don’t run your career into the ground by doing this every show, you’re fine.

…and notice that the hypothetical gig has been well considered, with everybody knowing what to expect.

Book like a sniper.

Marketing And Promotion Isn’t Magic

The idea that more people show up because more money is spent on “broadcast” show promotion is false.

Please Remember:

The opinions expressed are mine only. These opinions do not necessarily reflect anybody else’s opinions. I do not own, operate, manage, or represent any band, venue, or company that I talk about, unless explicitly noted.

I don’t know if anybody plays “Magic: The Gathering” any more, but that was the best metaphor I could think of.


There is a persistent myth in the music industry that more promotion = more concertgoers. This myth is untrue. (There are true myths, at least in my experience, but that’s a philosophical discussion for another time.)

Now, what IS true is that “the word” regarding an upcoming show does need to get out. Makes sense, right? If nobody knows about your upcoming gig, they probably aren’t going to show up. The problem is making the assumption that, just because someone knows about your gig, they WILL show up without fail. Of course, at an intuitive level, we know that’s not true. Even your best friends – people who love your music, or the venue, or whatever, don’t always turn up when given the opportunity.

For some reason, though, when it comes to marketing and promotion, we shut off this particular piece of knowledge and start acting like dollars and effort will force things to happen. As a result, money and effort is expended out of proportion to the returns it might bring. This leads to frustration, anger, and also less money for other things. Things like gear. And also food.

Fortunately, I think there’s a fix. The fix doesn’t solve the problem of people showing up, but it does solve our internal problem of believing a lie. The fix, like all troubleshooting, starts with understanding what’s broken.

“Broadcast” Advertising Is A Risky Investment

A quote attributed to John Wanamaker goes like this: “Half the money I spend on advertising is wasted; the trouble is I don’t know which half.”

Whether or not he actually said it, the quote illustrates the problem with advertising your show, album release, or anything else via traditional means. It’s hard to know if mass marketing is effective or not.

Traditional media is broadcast in nature. That is to say, it gets fired off into the public with no (or minimal) targeting. Sure, a publication, radio station, or TV production may have its own target audience, but the actual delivery medium effectively “radiates” to a general area. With the exception of their streaming services, TV and radio transmissions fly out with minimal directivity. Folks either tune in or don’t, but the signal still arrives at their location if they’re in range. That transmission power is lost if folks aren’t listening. The same analogy applies to print. Sure, The Salt Lake Tribune, SLUG, and The City Weekly target where they put their distribution stands. Even so, once the papers get to those stands, there’s no targeting at all. The “signal” is just out there, and you don’t immediately (sometimes ever) know if it reached any particular person or didn’t.

This is why traditional media advertises their advertising services the way they do. (So meta! It’s like a reflection of a reflection.) They say things like, “We reach thousands of people across the Wasatch Front. A percentage of these people buy from radio/ TV/ newspaper ads. Advertising with us works!”

Think about that last paragraph. Promotion via traditional media is a form of gambling. It’s really nothing more than a bet based on percentages – like Roulette, or Poker. If your product has a general appeal, then the percentage is in your favor. If your product is niche, then you’re making a risky bet.

Live music is a niche market. It’s not that there aren’t a lot of people who like to attend shows. The issue is that there usually aren’t a lot of people who want to attend YOUR show. So, just telling them that your show is out there isn’t going to turn them into a customer.

If you want to boil it down, you can say this:

Marketing and promotion is the process of gaining attention from the people who are already interested in buying what you’re selling. Marketing and promotion are NOT the process of magically turning people disinterested in your product into people interested in your product.

Let me lay a couple of examples of well-intentioned but ultimately ineffective marketing on you.

  • I once did an all-ages show for a band that wanted to make a splash in Salt Lake. The whole night was theirs. They spent money on radio spots, flyers, the whole thing. As I recall, about 10 people showed up to a 200 capacity room. To the best of my knowledge, all of them were existing fans.
  • I once did a show where the venue invested in a “far more extravagant than normal” newspaper ad for the show. It was a good chunk of the page, and in full color. The act came from a good, “name” pedigree. The show night was probably in the top 10 of the slowest nights in that venue.

Of course, I recognize that two examples isn’t a huge sample size. At the same time, I feel that it’s representative of what’s going on.

So…watcha gonna do? Take heart! The news isn’t all bad. Actually, the news is pretty good.

Do What’s Effective, Then Stop. Immediately.

The pretty-dang-good news is that you – yes YOU, you eating the sandwich over there – are your own media outlet now. (Remember my article about that?) On top of that, you’re not just a media outlet. You’re a laser-targeted media outlet.


If the marketing available to bands, artists, and venues were a guided munition, it would be able to home in on a target the size of a cell phone (not one of the big ones, either) in the dark, during a violent hurricane.

…and this isn’t because of studies. It’s not because of polling. It’s not because of statistical genius.

It’s because of social media.

There are a million lectures to be had about the power of social media, so there’s no need for me to repeat very much. What I will say is this:

As a musician, band, or anyone else involved in music, you have the unprecedented power of focusing your marketing efforts on people who have – effectively – declared directly that they are interested in what you’re selling. For this reason, you can get maximum results with a minimum of cost and effort. You just have to give yourself permission.

You don’t have to throw money at traditional media, hoping that someone might listen. You have Facebook likes. You have Twitter followers. You have people who look at your pictures on Instagram. You have people who have decided to listen to you, and you know who they are. Right now.

Yes, I know that capturing the attention of those folks is an issue. That piece of the discussion is beyond the scope of this article, although you might want to check into the resources that Carlos Castillo posts.

The upshot? Spend your precious money and energy on reaching the people that you know are already interested in some demonstrable way. Actually, because social media is effectively subsidized, you only have to directly spend energy. Ask the people who have already taken the trouble to “declare for you” to pass the word. Only some of them will, but the end result is still more effective than throwing a message into the howling, black vortex of broadcast media…and then hoping for the best.

Then, once you’ve reached out to the people who have already said that they want to listen, stop.


I mean it.

Give yourself permission to quit promoting after you’ve done all that will actually be effective.

It’s really hard, surprisingly, so make sure to practice.

Even in the music business, which is supposedly a very free-love, touchy-feely sort of place, there’s this incredible undercurrent of having to do an “acceptable” amount of work on a show. The undercurrent is so strong that people will actually spend time and money that they shouldn’t, doing things that don’t actually work, all to satisfy that sense that there’s a certain amount of “tired and used up” that must be achieved before something becomes legitimate. It’s all part of the competition based on work that I’ve come to deeply dislike.

I urge you not to do things that are ineffective simply to say that you’ve done them.

Do what matters, and then move on. Give yourself permission. Even better – give others you’re working with, like bands on the same bill, and the venue you’re playing at, permission to stop after they’ve done what works.

…and keep track of what works. Flyering (which is a form of broadcast media, I assure you) isn’t something that I see as working very much. However, if you can positively determine that it’s effective for you, with real numbers to back up your conclusions, then go for it! If nobody that follows you on Twitter is actually interested in your shows, then don’t sink a lot of time into marketing your shows on Twitter. If Facebook does everything you need, post to Facebook and then let things ride. Do what works for you, and avoid being lazy, but also recognize that all you have to do to avoid being lazy is to do what’s actually enough. Adding on a bunch of useless activity is just getting tired for the purpose of internal bonus points.

Marketing and promotion for shows isn’t magic. It doesn’t conjure an audience out of thin air. If you’ve done what you can, you’ve done what you can.

The Law of Conservation of Effort

Transferring your effort to show preparation means less effort during real-time show execution, and vice-versa.

Please Remember:

The opinions expressed are mine only. These opinions do not necessarily reflect anybody else’s opinions. I do not own, operate, manage, or represent any band, venue, or company that I talk about, unless explicitly noted.

If you’ve been through high-school level integrated science, or physics, you’ve probably heard of the “Laws of Conservation.” These laws hold that neither matter nor energy can be created or destroyed – they can only be transferred from one form to another. When you ignite a light bulb, for instance, the total energy in the universe remains the same. All that’s happening is the conversion of electrical energy into IR (thermal) energy, visible light, and maybe some ultraviolet light.

As I’ve done more shows and established patterns as an audio tech, I’ve come to believe that there is a conservation law that applies to show production. It reads like this:

For any part of any show for any individual, the effort required to put on the show cannot be created or destroyed. The effort can only be transferred from one part of the production process to another.

As a preliminary, concrete example, I offer you the story of a friend of mine. This friend of mine is a viola player. She learned to be a great sight-reader (a musician who can play music accurately by interpreting the score on the fly) because she didn’t want to spend a lot of time practicing individual pieces.

See what she did?

She transferred her effort away from practicing individual pieces, and put it into becoming great at playing “cold” from the music. (There are lots of people who make the opposite transfer, by the way.) The total effort required stayed the same. She just moved it around.

In my experience the “effort transfer” has implications for techs, musicians, promoters, and everybody else involved with making a show happen.

The Exchange

The graphic at the top of this post is a rudimentary diagram of what I’ve found to be the critical “energy exchange” involved in show production. The part of the exchange that I personally use most consciously is the time/ effort component. The way I’ve put it is: “I’d rather get here early, get set, and then be bored for an hour, instead of running around in a panic for 15 minutes.”

The point is that you can trade time for effort (or, perhaps more accurately, effort expenditure rate). If I arrive early, I can carefully – even leisurely – prepare for a show over the course of hours. I can take my time, stop to converse, and have plenty of “buffer” to deal with equipment problems. If I’m later than I want to be, I’m forced to expend the necessary effort in a much shorter space. On the extreme end of things, it’s possible that I won’t be able to apply effort fast enough to have the show ready on time.

The other “effort exchange” in the diagram is with activity. This is really just a corollary of the effort/ time transfer. If I’m active in working on a show, that means that I’m putting effort into getting things done. If I’m slacking off, or engaged in something other than making the show happen, then I will soon reach the point where I have to engage in a LOT of activity in a big hurry. I will have to apply a lot of effort in a very small amount of time.

Fair enough?

So, what does this mean for you?

The Implications

No matter who you are – tech, musician, promoter, whoever – I think there’s one major take-away:

Great shows come from great prep.

Take the example of this article about monitor world for Bruce Springsteen. (Monitor world is found on bigger shows, and it refers to a situation where audio is split to separate consoles for FOH/ audience sound and the on-stage mixes. Bruce Springsteen’s show is so big that monitor world itself is split. Pretty sweet, yeah?) Troy Milner says something very revealing near the end of the first page:

“We have snapshots for all of the songs, and I’m up to 205. There are some songs that I know Bruce won’t do, but every one is programmed for me on the snapshots.”

Let that sink in for a bit.

Mixing monitors for The E Street Band is so intense that Troy Milner and Monty Carlo have hundreds of console presets so that they can keep up. Sure, these guys do realtime work during the show, but think about how much prep time that entailed.

There is no way that they could just “walk up” to the show and do the same job, with no prep.

It’s the same at all scales. If you’re lazy about your prep, pulling off the show at high quality means that you have to be really good at pulling off flawless work.

Flawless work, done on the fly, with no safety net.

If you make a mistake, or aren’t ready, or something just decides not to go your way, there’s no time for a fix. You either have to spend even more effort, even faster, to recover…or crash, burn, and then have to recover from the trainwreck.

  • This is why audio humans should go in early, test things, tune the wedges, and make sure FOH sounds like music – all with plenty of time to spare.
  • This is why lighting people should go in early, test things, write their cues in advance, and know which cues accent which songs at which time.
  • This is why musicians should plan their set lists before the show is actually happening.
  • This is why bands should really know their songs.
  • This is why guitar players should have their pedal interconnections sorted out in advance.
  • This is why keys players should be able to setup their MIDI and audio rigs in their sleep.
  • This is why drummers should keep their kit maintained.

The benefits are huge. On the audio side, putting my effort into prep (especially for the monitors) means that I have far fewer issues that will have to be fixed in a huge hurry. On the musician side, taking the time to prep well means that you have much more “real-time” effort to spend on listening to each other and being spontaneous during the actual show. Also, if you do great prep, and are running at “low effort” during the real-time part of the show, you have a much larger effort reserve available if something does go screwy.

You also have a much larger effort reserve on hand to make amazing things happen.

If you want to be dazzling “off-the-cuff,” then you have to do your homework beforehand.

What If Work Wasn’t A Competition?

Constantly comparing effort leads to bitterness, acrimony, and squabbling tribal bullcrap. The happier alternative is to stop comparing.

Please Remember:

The opinions expressed are mine only. These opinions do not necessarily reflect anybody else’s opinions. I do not own, operate, manage, or represent any band, venue, or company that I talk about, unless explicitly noted.

If you live in the United States, you may have noticed an emergent cultural phenomenon over the last decade or so. I don’t doubt that it’s always been present to some degree, but the present drama of “argumentative schoolchildren masquerading as political parties” seems to have amplified this particular signal out of the noisefloor. The concept in question is work or effort as the prime comparator between the worthiness of people/ things/ ideas/ economic systems/ whatever.

Seriously, think about it.

How many times, over the last few years, have you heard someone justify something in terms of work? How many times have you heard people try to legitimize their point of view, or get a perceived argumentative advantage over someone else, by invoking how much work they do?

“If they just worked harder, they’d be the leaders of these companies.”

“I went to school full time, and had two jobs. I didn’t need any help from anybody.”

“They should get jobs instead of protesting.”

“In my day, any job was a golden opportunity.”

“I should have [something], because I was in the Marines.”

“I should have [something], because I went to college.”

“Over here, we know the meaning of work. Not like those folks over there.”

If you were paying attention to the last election at all, you heard this theme over and over and over and over and over and over (I got one more!) and over again.

This whole thing has been a part of the music business for a long time, too. It’s just that, lately, it seems to be resonating with the overall social signal. It’s more noticeable, as a result. I know you’ve seen the memes:

“Rock: Playing three chords to 10,000 people. Jazz: Playing 10,000 chords to three people.”

“10,000 hours of practice. $10,000 of gear. 2 hour drive to the gig. And you think that [some number of dollars] is too much to pay for musicians?”

“This simplistic pop-princess song had sixteen writers and ten producers. It’s not nearly as good as this symphonic classic-rock song that had one writer and one producer.”

All these notions are rooted in some kind of truth. They wouldn’t be funny/ tragic/ annoying/ etc. if they weren’t. Here’s the thing, though.

The “I work harder than you” comparison is a pox on the music business. (I was going to say that “it’s wrecking the music business,” but that struck me as overstatement.) This schoolyard pissing match of who is putting in more hours, knowing more, studying more, practicing more, moving more gear, and just generally getting more tired? It’s creating bitter people, cracking bands apart, and creating tribal conflict amongst larger groups who need to be friends to thrive.

Fair warning: In this article, I’m going to start by discouraging the hell out of you – but then I’m going to try to find the silver lining. All I ask is that you hear me out. (Or you can just scroll down to the end. Ignore all the work I put into this article. It’s cool. IRONY!)

No Warranty Available

Effort has value. This is intuitive, right? If a musician has to learn how to play a G Mixolydian scale, they are going to have to expend some non-zero amount of effort to make that happen. If a tech has to get a couple of subwoofers into a venue, they’re going to have to do some work to get the boxes in the room.

Makes sense.

Effort and work correlate with getting results you desire. If you do nothing, the likelihood of a favorable outcome drops like a rock. If you put effort into something, the likelihood of a favorable outcome goes up. Steeply, even.

…but there’s a strange, uncanny, maybe even nasty little phenomenon that our “work is the measure of all things” society doesn’t like to talk about:

The drop towards zero likelihood of success and the climb to 100% certainty are asymptotic. In other words, even with zero effort, the “certainty of outcome” doesn’t actually hit zero. On the flipside, a massive amount of work and toil can’t actually guarantee that things will go your way. It’s an “S” curve.

There is no warranty offered on your music business experience. There are folks who can play the wackiest scales, at high speed, after going through them twice. There are other players who, if they spent the rest of their lives practicing, just wouldn’t be able to get their fingers around it. There are people who can pinpoint feedback frequencies intuitively, within a third of an octave or less. There are people who just don’t seem to be able to, even after years of experience.

Life is like that.

There’s also no warranty offered that states that “What you spend all your time working on will be what people are willing to pay for in your market.” You may have learned a million, billion chords. You might have spent decades doing it. You might be THE top, prog-jazz-alt-country-screamo-mathrock-crossover player in the whole universe…but if nobody around wants to pay to hear that, then your effort is lost on the local market.

Effort isn’t currency that buys desired outcomes. If it was, everybody who got past a certain, quantifiable amount of work would get the outcome they wanted. Again – hard work influences the possibility of success, but it doesn’t guarantee it.

This is where bitterness and tribalism come in.

We Work Harder, So We’re Better

Humans – at least in my experience – have a natural tendency to form tribes. Tribes can form around almost anything: Musical taste, fashion sense, geographic area, occupation, one TV show or another, Fords vs. Chevys, Shure vs. Sennheiser vs. Audix vs. EV…whatever. Take your pick. People have an emotional need to belong to a community (whether of large or small scale), and we also tend to have a better chance of thriving when we can provide each other with mutual support and defense. There’s nothing inherently wrong with tribes.

Humans also, however, have a tendency to fear “the other,” and when things don’t go our way, it’s very convenient to blame “the other” for our troubles. We also like to view “the other” as lesser than we are. This is where tribalism comes in. We start to say “my people above all other people, especially those dirty, criminally-minded jerks from [wherever]” as opposed to “these are my people, and those are different people over there, and those people wear clothing with a different pattern which is good for them but not really my taste. Also, some of their food is really good, although I don’t like potatoes as much as they do.”

There’s a big difference in these attitudes.

Because we’ve gotten into this habit of using work or effort as a means of measuring the worth of a person, what we’ve also gotten ahold of is a very convenient “weapon” for determining if other people are beneath us or not. If we perceive that someone else isn’t working as hard as we are, and yet has more of what we want, we get this nice, easy out – we just call them lazy, pat ourselves on the back as good-guys, and feel better. Sort of.

Actually, the tendency is to become bitter.

Because we culturally assume that our work is a guaranteed currency that buys success, we get really pissed off when somebody else’s currency seems to buy a lot more than ours. The ironic thing about this is that our being pissed off doesn’t hurt “the other” much at all, but it messes US up in a big way.

We get angry.

We think we’re being cheated all the time, because we’re “not being paid for how hard we’ve worked.”

We don’t think that “those people” should get any help, because “they haven’t earned it like we have.”

We make our own greedy and grasping little micro and macro tribes of “the worthy who have worked hard enough,” where “enough” is an essentially arbitrary standard that we’ve created. Those other folks are talentless fools with deep pockets. Or lazy and lucky. They don’t DESERVE it, in other words.

Sound familiar? It probably does, because the music industry has this sort of thing written all over it. The music biz is especially vulnerable to these issues, because the product of any entertainment production venture is subject to demand that is taste driven. Something can be hot for a year, and then fizzle.

…and in a market that’s heavily influenced by taste, effort doesn’t always yield proportional returns. I’d wager a guess that, in entertainment, to a degree greater than almost any other business, effort is an expenditure with uncertain results. There are lots of people who tried as hard they could, and still didn’t manage to get where they wanted to go. This creates a lot of internal bitterness. It also creates a lot of rifts between people, and these rifts actually make the situation worse. People who should be forming mutually supportive tribes end up glaring at each other with their arms crossed.

Here’s where the good news comes in.

Letting Go Of Our (Supposed) Superiority

I don’t believe that the music business needs “saving.” That is to say, the music business will always be around, because people will always make music. Humans can’t seem to help themselves. We sing, dance, create rhythms, and just generally amuse ourselves to no end by making organized noises.

I do believe, though, that we can make the music industry that we’ve got right now into a better place to inhabit. I also believe that a big piece of making it a better place is to spend less time figuring out who deserves what outcome more than anyone else.

I’d say that what we are is lucky to varying degrees.

Luck, of course, means different things to different people. Some folks view luck as an impersonal and random force. I view luck as a synonym for Providence, which is a personal and not random at all ordering of events. Nevertheless, what we are is lucky to one degree or another.

This isn’t to say that luck is the only force in effect. We participate in our luck by expending effort in one direction or another. However, if work is as I think it is – not a guaranteed currency – then it doesn’t have the final say. If the amount of effort expended on something doesn’t have the final say, then there’s no point in having a pissing match about it. If we can be honest about when we’re lucky, especially in the sublime case of having good luck that we did no work for at all (the best kind of luck), then the whole “I’m better than you because I work harder” thing loses steam.

When the “Us Vs. Them” superiority crap goes away, then the real opportunities start to come in full force. What ends up being built is an upward spiral:

  • The work becomes part of the reward. When effort stops being seen as just a less-abstract way of buying success, you can start to see it as a necessary and enjoyable part of the actual journey.
  • When the work becomes part of the reward, we can all stop being so “grasping” about getting every billable hour out of everything we do. We can start being much more okay with the fact that we can’t always charge somebody else for all our effort, especially if everybody (and I do mean everybody) is in the same boat.
  • If we’re all in the same boat, then tribalism can take a hike. A given music scene stops looking like a bunch of warring city-states, and starts to look like a real, mutually supportive community. This happens naturally, by the way, without a ton of organization and management.
  • With a mutually beneficial community, the people that have “made it” can now turn around and support the people that are still developing. When the attitude towards effort changes from “We earned this by ourselves” to “We took this road and we happened to end up here,” then giving other people a hand up doesn’t cost anything. In fact, it’s advantageous. As individual members of a mutually beneficial community become better situated, the entire community becomes more visible, more resilient, and the quality of its craft goes up.

To paraphrase the theme from an episode of “Mad About You,” if what we spend all our time on is figuring out who’s put in more hours, and who’s suffered more, and who “deserves it,” then what we have is a scoreboard instead of a community. It’s tough to let go of our pride. I certainly don’t do it naturally.

But maybe it’s worth a shot?