I was talking to a young performer the other day about all the things I do to promote myself online and else where, including this blog. I talked about producing my own shows, blogging, marketing and a lot more.
“Wow, that seems like a lot of work…”
Immediately following that statement he went back to waiting tables at the comedy club.
You know what seems a like a lot of work to me? Bussing tables and side work after serving people all day hoping for good tips.
Now don’t get me wrong, I think every great actor needs to know how to carry a tray of drinks. If an actor ever shows up for a TV gig in a restaurant, they should be a natural. But after ten years enough was enough. And I wish I stopped 4 years before because I spent lot of time just trying to pay rent when I should have been focused on my career. It took me two years of not waiting tables to become a full time working actor. I struggled and almost gave up, but I focused 100% of my life on becoming what I moved to New York to become – a working actor.
Now I produce and perform Improv comedy, work in TV, commercials and other theater projects and spend every other waking hour marketing myself, my projects or simply biking along the Hudson. Born in July I live up to my water sign and prefer to be in view of water at all times.
I know we have to pay rent. But I feel their are two types of artists in New York. Those that work in restaurants and those that perform. And very little cross over.
I was amazed at how little I needed to survive after two years of eating food mostly from Jacks 99 cent store and other discount depots. But with in two years we build EIGHT IS NEVER ENOUGH into a troupe that was making money performing 6-8 shows/week. We hustled like no other. And we were good so that hustle for audiences turned into gigs. When the big crash in 2008 came, I did not lose much because I had very little to lose. So for three years I heard whines about jobs, my company was growing. Because when others whined we hustled still.
It took us a few years to adjust to the wonders of online marketing, but by 2010, we quit marketing in the streets of Times Square altogether.
I have never liked the whole showcase for friends and family model. Most of the people I am friends with are other actors busy working. Most of the folks I do shows with are NYC transplants whose family and friend base was left behind to pursue our dreams.
So we started with small shows in Times Square. And by 2005 we were selling out shows just flyering a couple hours every day. We developed a small following but most of our crowd came form tourists.
But in recent years we have developed a steady flow of local regulars and audience via social media. We blog, we tweet, we make vines and youtube videos, and I personally am a marketing whore on Facebook.
I meet so many egomaniacs that get shy about marketing. I don’t get it. They are total attention whores except when it matters most.
And the result?
How many amazing shows happen in this town at Cabaret Theaters with five people in the audience?
FAR TOO MANY!!!
I have seen even many of my own cast members turn a snob’s nose up to my online activities, right before running off to pick up a tray – or worse – RETAIL!
I can proudly say I have not had a true boss in nearly 10 years now. I have had producers and directors that I have had the privilege of collaborating. And the few I could not stand, were gone in a matter of weeks. Never in the past ten years have I been stuck with a demanding know it all with the IQ of a sponge.
So how do I stay off the streets?
2) Developing my talent
3) Making Smart Investments
4) Constantly re-accessing ways I can cash in on my talents, hone my skills and hone new marketing techniques.
The sooner you realize you are not an artist but a brand that needs to be developed and promoted, the sooner you will be a full time working artist. That is today’s reality.
Just look at most LIVE THEATER, TV, FILM and MUSIC today. Most of it is crap. The most successful is usually mediocre at best. And yet every day amazing work gets ignored in art houses, cabaret theaters and indy radio stations.
I don’t care if you are producing a show or just trying to get your self out there, marketing is the number one thing you need to do to get work. Now, perhaps the most important is training and talent, but how many pretty faces get discovered with a single acting class. They know someone, they have a popular youtube channel, they acted like idiots on vine… I hate to say it but trust me, training and talent have not been a key factor in getting discovered in decades. More about that later…
MARKETING ON A BUDGET
Before we go any farther let me say one quick thing about marketing budgets… A great business person always starts with the premise, WE HAVE NO MONEY TO SPEND and then makes smart investments as needed. But the following should all be considered from a philosophy of SPEND NOTHING UP FRONT UNLESS YOU HAVE TO AND THEN SPEND AS LITTLER AS POSSIBLE!!!
The trick to successful marketing is ROI. RETURN ON INVESTMENT.
If you make money, reinvest a percentage to grow your brand, your business.
For starters, anyone in the arts that does not own YOURNAME.com is already behind the 8 ball – so to speak. It is so easy and cheap, there is now excuse. These days Casting Directors search online for new talent all the time. Give them something to search for now!
Go to WORDPRESS,COM NOW!!!
Create an account with your email.
Sign up for a free website. YOURNAME.WORDPRESS.COM
“Do your want to upgrade to premium for $99/year?” NO
You will eventually be prompted an $18/year option. This is a little limiting but offers you YOURNAME.COM and enough storage to a few photos, resume and more. This site is a $18/year site I started less than a month ago.
If you do not have $18 to spend, set up a free account on WordPress or other blog site. Go to GODADDY. Buy YOURNAME.COM for $10 and forward to your free blog site. This si what i told you artists to do up until about a month ago when i discovered the new inexpensive wordpress option.
Designing your site clean and easy. Make is simple for casting directors to find your resume and headshot. List upcoming showcases and other performances.
You can design your email account to have a permanent “EMAIL SIGNATURE”
This will save you a lot of tedious time. But you want people to go to your website. When people email you, you need a place to send them. And many people lose business cards, postcards, headshots etc But most can find an old email from you in archives.
Blogging is a great way to get people to find you. Too many artist sites have fancy flash, photo, video and audio but TEXT is searchable.
PAGES v POSTS
Pages are permanent fixtures while posts come and go. But posts usually get more attention in searches.
I started years ago to use my blog like my old actors journals. I called that blog “Walter’s rants and Raves” Turns out there are those that love to know what goes on in my head. Many turn up their noses but far more say, “I follow your blog. Sounds like your having some fun…”
On my site I have a PAGE dedicated to CASTING DIRECTORS for easy access to PDFs of headshots and resume and top press/news items.
Than I keep all else on posts that help make my site searchable but would clutter up the ultimate message of HIRE ME on the main page.
Put a “FOLLOW THIS BLOG” or similar button top of the side bar. Most blog sites have a built in widget you can add in seconds. Ultimately a FOLLOWING on your blog will be more powerful than any social media. People that take the time to follow your blog really care about what you are saying. Social media becomes a great place to find friends and develop followers, but it is the ones that FOLLOW your site that truly read what you post.
I am always surprised to see the number of shares for my blog posts. But tying your blogging to social media is where the real power happens.
Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIN, Pinterest, Google+ and so many more have become the number one way to reach people these days on a budget. Who of us can afford TV spots? But we reach a huge audience online. When we get our stuff posted by many on social media, we actually trigger GOOGLE and other search engines to take our stuff seriously. Don’t ask me exactly how the algorithms work, but social chatter certainly helps.
I have been booked on a few shows because of my social media and blog activities.I keep in touch with 100s of actor and director and producer friends from past projects. They will call and offer a stipend to do a reading or even major paid work. And the beauty of SOCIAL MEDIA you never know where and when the benefits will come…
I recently flew to Norway to shoot an episode of “Lilyhammer” on Netflix. I was paid well, had an amazing 4 days on their dime and added a nice resume credit with a speaking role on an international hit.
That job came from reconnecting on Facebook with a child hood friend that grew up on the same street. Their mother was born in Norway, and their cousin was a casting director on the show. Not sure how my name came up in the conversation, but at some point the casting director cousin reached out to me.
Last May I worked with Steven Van Zandt all day on set, had lunch with the writers and did some serious site seeing of Oslo. Since then I was invited to the New York Netflix premier party and now talking with that casting director about other upcoming projects.
SOCIAL MEDIA can be like the lottery. Most of the time it may seem like a waste, but you have to be in it to win. And we sell a lot of tickets to the Improv show via social media outreach. Those public show guests become fans that watch our online videos and respond to discount offers we kick out via social media.
We have totally replaced flyering and hustling audiences off the street with social media. I used to spend 2-5 hours in Times Square to fill an audience at $5/person. NOW, I get $10-50/guest from a few tweets and facebook posts every week.
When we flyered in Times Square we mostly filled audiences with tourists.
But locals from social media marketing come back far more often. They also hire us for parties and corporate events. They take our classes. So not only do we get more for the same ticket that sale becomes other forms of income.
So going back to the waiter that complained about hard work, my hard work leads to income and career building opportunities. His hard work leads to bitterness and sore feet. To me, the answer is easy.
Headshots / Resume
But how many of us spend a small fortune on headshot photography and reprints. I know some pretty untalented hacks with really expensive headshots that never work – some talented ones too. The headshots look amazing, but they look nothing like the artist.
These days there are some amazing headshot photographers using HD Digital Cameras that will do everything you need for <$150. Many <$100. More most, you get someone to take a photo of you with your own camera phone.
ALWAYS REMEMBER ROI
Headshots are marketing investments.
Who are you auditioning for? Are you up for major TV roles that pay. Maybe at that stage you need something fancier.
But lets say you are fresh our of college, or still in school. You are audition via Actors Access for $50-300/day parts. Or worse unpaid showcases. Maybe you are walking into open calls for non-union theater work paying $200-600/week.
Now add up how many auditions do you have to go to to get a paying job.
Now consider the amount of hours it takes auditioning, plus travel, before you get the call, “YOU ARE HIRED!”
If you do the math, I bet many of you are barely braking even or losing money by the time you get your first job. Sure, you have to spend money to make money, but the smart investor balances risk/reward.
As a beginning actor, what you need more than anything is a calling card. Something simple that the casting director will remember you, so that when they get back to the office, they can put your talent with your picture and say YES/NO.
In professional TV/Film you never need to carry a hard copy anymore. My manager / agent submits my photo/resume electronically. I show up. After two years of hearing, “I don’t need that” I started to save my money. Everything is online. Casting Directors have far too many artists to keep track of and not enough office space to store 1000s of head shots.
If you insist on wasting that $500-1000 put the cash into audition classes, dance, movement, stage combat etc. More on that to come…
One of my earliest TV jobs came from simply mailing postcards to casting directors. I was still sleeping in when Late Night with David Letterman casting called me on morning in 2007.
“Would you like to work on the David Letterman Show today?”
DUH (not the actual words I used but seriously, you had to ask?)
“OK, we need you here in 90 minutes for costuming!”
That one postcard, lead to that one call, lead to 9 bookings with that show. That postcard printing cost me $85 for 2500. I spent about $50 and 3-4 mailings over the course of 2 years. Letterman bookings alone grossed over $5000, plus a lot of free coffee, cookies and fruit in the green room, a few conversations about Jazz will Paul, and turns out Bif and I love the same fast food Chinese food restaurant. I also got to hear Adam Sandler say “You going to something funny, buddy?” and Paris Hilton “I’m so nervous” That’s Hot!!! I almost got in trouble making fun of Donald Trumps Hair, but the hair and make-up people got a good laugh.
More than that, I have sold a lot of comedy tickets and shows now that i am Walt Frasier with TV credits like MTV and Letterman.
If anyone ever asked, WHO ARE YOU?, i whipped out a post card with my photo, website and mini resume.
Compared to headshots, much easier to carry, far cheaper to print and even cheaper to mail. If they get thrown in the trash upon arrival at CD offices, as many headshots do, far less went into that endeavor.
ROI was pretty great!!!
So I had very little money. but after quitting my day / survival job I had a lot of time on my hands. Time is a huge commodity that is usually equally wasted on survival jobs and candy crush and Mine Craft.
Time is our greatest asset. How many get to 40, 50, 60…. and regret wasted time. I wasted at least 5 out of my 10 years in restaurants when i should have been out there auditioning. LEARN FROM MY MISTAKES… PLEASE!!! I did eventually, thank you very much to me!
How much time is wasted by artists bitter they are not working in the arts?
I learned early that for every hour I was not in the rehearsal, class, or private instruction / study, another artist was. I see dedicated artists with average talent passing amazingly talented lazy artists every day. The latter sit around and say, “I just don’t understand how that person is getting work. I am so much better.” Give me amazing talent AND great work ethic and I show you a working artist.
There is work out there. And all you have to do is go find it. OR Go create it for yourself.
2002-2004 I spent most of my time, with the troupe, finding venues, promoting our shows on the streets, going all over town putting up a flyer where ever I could.
DO IT WHILE YOUR YOUNG
Don’t wait till 30+ like I did. I was in so much pain some nights after spending 8-10 hours walking the streets of Manhattan looking for coffee shops, laundry mats and other places to post stuff about my shows. Even now at 42 I have more energy than most on stage but it hurts more and more the next day. Less and less now that I have lost 50 pounds this year, but still age has to be considered LOL
If you are fresh out of college, start taking control of your life sooner than later. Don’t wait to be discovered. Create opportunities now.
YOUTUBE & VINE
So I am just old enough to say I grew up in the arts the old way. I have since learned the new way and impress upon all young artists to use the powerful tools at your disposal.
These days there are teenagers getting record deals from filming themselves singing with webcams and phones. But like every other tool, they are not all or nothing. Sure for every huge success story there are 1000s – if not millions – of wannabes, but many of those are using these tools to build their brand and following.
I know an amazing comic, Yannis Pappas. Yannis has been a working comic for a while. If you are a comedy fan, you have heard of and most likely seen Yannis at NYC area clubs or on the road. But a few years ago, Yannis started making YouTube videos based around a couple characters. I have no idea if he ever made money off the videos directly, but they did get some serious hits. And next thing you know, Yannis went from featuring and headlining a show with 2-5 other comics on the line-up to selling out his owns shows at major NYC clubs. Most comics make $20-$80/show in the city but Yannis was now taking the door 4-5 times/weekend, making what many young comics make in a year.
We have videos with 20 hits and some with 300,000+. I know over the years I have landed roles because one of my videos showed I could do a certain type of character on film and/or stage. We have sold tickets to patrons that found our videos first. We have booked college gigs thanks to a few videos that appealed to that market. And many of our fans keep up with us by watching our videos. They remind the world we exist long after someone sees our live show and keeps us in their mind when it is time to go see another show.
More than that, YOUTUBE is owned by Google. I am amazed when folks piss on the Google name. If you are in the public eye, or hope to be, GOOGLE is the #1 search engine in the world. Might as well use their tools. If you don’t your competition will and get the job.
Search for something on google. Anything. right up top is a video or two on Youtube. Click on VIDEO search and it is mostly YOUTUBE. When you look for IMPROV our videos often pop up along side of WHOSE LINE IS IT ANYWAY. Most often way above more established performance organizations. It may take a while to get your work up top on searches but the longer you wait to start, the long it takes for anyone to notice you…
THE ABC’s – ALWAYS BE CREATING!!!
So the real power is when you put all of these elements together. You have a few Youtube videos, vines, blog posts and live shows. You promote all of those on your website and social media. At live shows you have a flyer or something for people to take home and find you online. One feeds the other. Combined you grow your brand quickly.
ALWAYS BE CREATING your blog, act, original material, audition material, showcase material and more… Get your self out there and you will be found eventually. Sit at home waiting and that phone just never rings….
TO BE CONTINUED…