“Bonus Track” to Brenda K’s blog series documenting her odyssey through “Music Success in Nine Weeks” by Ariel Hyatt.  

I suppose now is as appropriate a moment as any to discuss my feelings about having to do PR for my band, as the great blog-off sponsored by Ariel Hyatt’s firm Cyber PR for participants in the DIY PR programme outlined in her book “Music Success in Nine Weeks” is as good as over.  Well…let’s start with the obvious:  I simply hate having to do it, period.  I mean, I’m a musician, for Pete’s sake!  For that matter, being by nature a classic introvert, I’m also especially uncomfortable with having to be my own P.T. Barnum and tout my own accomplishments.  (Is anyone really not, regardless of their respective intro-or extrovertship?)  Can’t I just be a musician and let someone else deal with this?  After all, it’s more effective when someone else tells people how great you are, isn’t it?  The only problem with that plan is that we don’t have the money to hire a PR firm to do that for us, so guess who got stuck with having to do it?  Moi….I still hope to win that PR campaign, but got blown somewhat off course during the past few weeks with all the other stuff we’ve had going on with The Panache Orchestra.

Second: I particularly hate the way it reframes my relationship to other people, especially friends and family.  I intensely dislike the feeling that I should be viewing family, friends and colleagues as potential customers, and that I should be trying to sell myself to them (sounds rather hooker-ish, doesn’t it?).  I keep reminding myself that everyone likes music, and people naturally like buying from and doing business with people they like and trust, and of course it can be done with subtlety and finesse, but that doesn’t seem to lessen my aversion to it any.  On the other hand, the increased incentive to do more networking and keeping-in-touch has been a net positive by widening my circle of friends and acquaintances and strengthening my relationship with them, which is something I miss out on when tunneled into whatever project I am consumed with at any given time.

Thirdly, I’ve been feeling pretty ridiculous lately knocking myself out doing work for free that I historically have gotten paid, in some cases, rather well, to do under the logic that in order for lots of people to know we exist and have heard of us, we have to play a lot, so I’ve been working my keister off booking shows at places where we will be seen/heard by hundreds of people at a time.  Examples of thoughts that regularly go through my head as I’m working like a dog playing my ass off, in many cases after working a day job all week, plus dealing with an endless amount of other tiresome bullshit, and on top of that more often than not schlepping and setting up our PA too, all for a big, fat “0” (unless we get lucky and get lots of tips and sell some CDs): “Is this ever going to turn into anything worthwhile?”, “I think I’m getting a little too old for this!”; “Why am I doing this?!”; ” This is just fatiguing and disruptive, and frankly, I’d just as soon spend my Saturday afternoon puttering around in my garden and playing with my cats as work my ass off for free!”

For that last thought, it should be noted that in certain cases, we work ourselves into the ground and get not a single tip or CD sale, and virtually no feedback until after the fact when the event coordinator calls us for another engagement, telling us effusively how much the audience enjoyed our music and all the positive feedback s/he received.  I am in the process of devising a mechanism to transform those enthusiastic kudos into names on our mailing list.  Implementing it is one more thing that needs to climb further up my nauseating to-do list.

To give still more clarification on this subject, I guess another issue that should be looked at here is one fundamental difference between the core members of TPO, i.e., Chi and me.  Chi is a “musician’s musician” who lives to perform.  The composing and recording is secondary even to that.  I on the other hand, need to see some return on my efforts, and if I don’t, then I’d just as soon go in my kitchen and cook.  It’s not that playing or rehearsing is a chore to me – it isn’t!  It’s just that I’m bogged down under so much other shit I have to do just to survive my life that I don’t feel all that inclined to turn myself inside-out and go miles out of my way to do something that I’m not tangibly benefiting from, and in fact is making it much more difficult for me to have the time and energy available to do the stuff that has serious consequences if I don’t get it done (like our taxes; or will somebody please sift that litter box, or do I have to do it AGAIN?).  Chi on the other hand is quite happy to play under practically any circumstances (except with egotistical and/or less-than-good players!) because that’s what he loves most, and quite frankly, he just doesn’t have anything else to do.  My key motivator with the music is getting it recorded and licensed for the back-end income from that, with live performance being secondary.

Carrying this further, now that TPO has reached the point it has with our ensemble and repertoire development, I get to regularly experience feeling how it’s supposed to feel when playing our own creations with a player and composer of Chi’s brilliance, and as much as I hate the trite and jaded phrase “it’s better than sex”, well…it is.  Especially when contrasted with having spent so many evenings over past several years trying to muster the energy to rehearse when mowed flat after slogging through some shit day job, and him being an unbearable little prick excoriating me for not being able to get some part of some piece quite perfectly right, and me thinking, “Man, I hate this asshole so much I’m not sure I can even play musically with him anymore, so what’s the point?!”  (TMI, anyone?)

What is crucially important to note is the swing factor that accounts for whether you get paid or not: If you play covers and “popular favorites” with a reasonable degree of competence, chances are pretty good that you will be able to at least make something for your work, although even that has recently experienced so much downward pressure that it’s hardly worth doing anymore.  On the other hand, if you’re doing exclusively originals, you will pretty much be doing it for free, at least until you can get a lot of people to reliably turn up at your shows and pay the cover charge, etc., etc.  That’s where the PR effort cannot be avoided – even for cover bands, because somebody still has to let “the market” know that THIS cover band is better than the million other ones working around town and should get the paid gig.  One more ironic thing is that the type of “free” work I personally find the most demeaning is busking-type gigs, but that is historically where we have earned more tips and made more CD sales and added more names to our mailing list than the pro bono stuff we do that adds cachet to our resume (the readers of the resume don’t necessarily have to know that we played the gig for free!)  It’s all a learning process, isn’t it?

Just in case people are thinking, “what about just doing what you love for the sheer enjoyment of it?”  My answer is, “see above”, and at any rate, playing for pay vs. no pay is the subject of a separate rant oops, blog.

Well, as long as I’m going to kvetch about something, I should at least try to find something positive to say about it too…..I’ve got it!  I have made a bunch of new friends, and learned a motherload of new skills, or stupid pet tricks!

So…………….18 months into slaving away to promote my original project, some general points that are starting to take shape in my beleaguered brain are the following:

  1. It looks like Chi (the other half of The Panache Orchestra – its Music Director and creative engine, to put no finer point on it) is FINALLY AT LONG LAST starting to get the picture about how much work and time it takes to get a paid gig, and to sell our music (CDs or downloads).  Yeah!  Nevertheless, that still doesn’t really make me whole after the endless shit I’ve endured as he has gone on his merry way in blissful ignorance criticizing and belittling my efforts, browbeating, bullying and generally chucking manure in my face every step of the way…(And in case anyone might be wondering why I put up with that, it should be emphasized that his role in TPO is not fungible in any way.  If I were to get rid of him, then I would have to start up an entirely new project from scratch, and although the PR infrastructure and contact base I have built is transferable, I am not at all sure I have the energy or the will to go through this again.)
  2. Some things are worth doing, and others, well, not so much. (I have more motivation and material now to finish and post a separate blog on this subject.)
  3. It takes a concerted effort on several fronts all at once to move anything forward, which compromises all the efforts across all fronts, but it’s still better to be moving forward than not moving at all.
  4. Having any plan at all in hand, however primitive and unfinished, is still better than not working from any plan at all; and it is considerably less depressing feeling like all you’re doing in your whole life is working yourself into the ground and dealing with endless shit with no tangible reward coming your way on any predictable basis when alternatively you can be focusing your efforts and working according to specific principles and techniques that research indicates virtually guarantee success, unless of course you’re doing it so incredibly crappily as to sabotage the success you would otherwise have.
  5. There’s got to be a fifth takeaway here.  It just hasn’t come to me quite yet.