(From open mic, to invited rounds to features)
I recently had someone ask me a very valid question about the progression of the writer artist in Nashville writer’s nights. He was asking “What is the progression of the pecking order? How does one get into the higher level nights?” Very good question, and while there is not one “true way” there are a few guidelines to think about when it comes to this. First, we need to analyze what the nights are:
OPEN MICS. This is the most basic of the nights. Essentially an open cattle call. Anyone who shows up can play (within the time limits of the club.) with so many people coming to Nashville, there is physically less and less time to allow everyone on. In some venues, there is a system of phone calling or email the day before or day of, and you must get on the list. You should always contact the hosts for information and they are usually on the web sites of the venue. These are usually one song or at most two. Again, depending on time frame.
WRITERS NIGHTS: These are invited, with the participants usually having done several open mics first. They support the hosts and venues, bring people in and buy food, drinks, leave tips for the staff. Make the club look good and you’ll look good.
The “WRITER’S ROUNDS” are most likely, with three or four people playing one song at a time, usually three songs in all. Usually one person is responsible for inviting people into the round. These are people they are involved with, writing, performing with or building personal relationships with.
THE FEATURE SLOT: These are thirty minute slots where one performer showcases their songs and talents. These are usually people with industry interest, hit writers and artists, people with cuts, publishing deals, established writers and artists, or people they might be producing, people with label contacts, or those having drawing power with the public and command enough attention. These are picked by the hosts and usually only one a night exists, in the middle of the night.
WRITERS OR ARTISTS SHOWS: These are where the main clubs in town feature artists, bands, publishing or record companies and open their clubs to those people. Usually a sound and light fee is charged, and either a door cover charge or tickets are sold. If an artist has a band or side people, he or she is responsible for paying those people. The cover might be split with the venue, and no other benefits come from the venue. Get a lot of people to pay, you make money. Don’t and you owe money. We all pay to play, so get used to it. Supply and demand.
How do you advance? That is the big question. First of all YOU NEED TO BE GOOD! There are things to give you an edge, but all artists have to proceed at the level they can. Those that are on top of their game, do great publicity, and are embraced by the public, will do well. Those that don’t, don’t. Don’t expect to make a lot of money but you can build your brand with all of this. And most of the contacts you make, especially in the early stages of a career, are done in this fashion.
#1. Be in TUNE and ON TIME.
Arrive at least 30 minutes before your set. Pay attention to those on before you.
#2. Be PREPARED.
Have your instrument, spare strings, Tuners, picks, extra chords, capos, keyboard set ups, lyric sheets all with you. If you need something special, like a music stand, make sure you bring it with you. Venues are not responsible and you can never take things for granted. They might have some but it is your responsibility to MAKE SURE they do.
#3. KEEP IT SHORT, STUPID.
Some of the biggest mistakes people make are too long introductions, songs that are too long, songs that are boring, belaboring the song with extra solos, sing along parts, and other things that slow the night down.
YOU ARE NOT ALONE HERE, BE AWARE OF OTHER’S TIME.
#4. AVOID A SOAPBOX.
Everyone has an opinion, and a visit to social media, Facebook, Twitter and others will show that. But very few people want to be preached at, politically berated, or have fingers pointed at them. If you have an issue or message song, you are taking your career in your hands. If you feel strongly, go ahead, but understand you will probably alienate half your audience. Music is very subjective, and some things people feel are benign they can come off offensive to others. Subject matter is very important, and nothing has to be all light and airy.But when you have dozens of songs about depression, heartache, negative, angry, bitter things on every subject from love to politics and life, it can get overwhelming.
#5. KEEP YOUR TEMPO MANAGEABLE
Songwriters tend to LOVE ballads and slower meaningful songs. That’s fine, and we should have some of that. But when you get dozens of writers doing HUNDREDS of slower tempo songs, it all becomes a dull roar that tends to be ignored. Might want to check your tempos up against what others are doing.
#6. MAKE THE HOST LOOK GOOD.
Those that do all of this and support the venue, hang around AFTER they play, (at least for a little while) will be remembered in the mind of the hosts and the venue. Those that bring people in to support the venue will get favorable reviews. Those that keep the spirit moving forward will find it easier to get re-booked.
#7. BEING “GRANDFATHERED” IN.
A well worn tradition is an established writer, artist, producer, publisher, will help their students, clients, co-writers, friends, by inviting them into a round or a night. This is the fastest way to advance. As always, you first have to be doing something that allows someone to put faith in you. So try not to suck.
#8. PROMOTE, PROMOTE, PROMOTE,
Use your contact list, building all the time, use social media, and even the old fashioned way, hand outs, flyers, phone calls, all will help you advance. Bring in a lot of people, and you will have a great chance.
#9. USE THEM FOR THEIR INTENDED PURPOSE.
They are not there to DISCOVER you or MAKE YOU A STAR. They are there for you to get known, and to discover others. Use them to network, make friends, cultivate writing relationships, performing partners. Make sure you collect business cards or trade contact info. AND FOLLOW UP. Make sure you visit OTHER PEOPLE'S web sites, Facebook, find out about their music. Remember, if you want to have friends, BE A FRIEND!
#10. BE NICE.
This sounds stupid, but just being nice and polite, listening to others, keeping your table conversations down, being attentive, supportive, will all help people to help you. You are judged 85% OFF THE FIELD, in the audience, how you deal with other people away from your show. It is the oldest “golden” rule,
TREAT OTHERS THE WAY YOU WOULD LIKE TO BE TREATED. DUH!
There are no guarantees, and doing all of these and more don’t always mean someone will advance. But they can’t hurt.
Good luck and stay at it.