Now to continue the discussion from the other day, marketing yourself and becoming your own boss…
DEVELOPING MY TALENT
Every hour you spend at your survival job, playing video games, at the bar or otherwise not focusing on your career, your competition is passing you by…
Now that is not to say you cannot have fun or down time, but I know way too many artists that spend time watching bitterly as other move up in the world while they make excuses.
MAKE CHOICES – NOT EXCUSES
So as an artist developing your talent could mean many things. Maybe it means taking classes. Maybe it means going to the gym. Maybe it means learning new songs and monologues for auditions. Maybe it means going to auditions more often.
I have a number of students and younger cast members that are right out of college or even high school. I always say you should get a college degree, but if that is ultimately not for you, you still need to learn your craft to get ahead. Put yourself in the school of life, with discipline…
Learn one new song every week.
Learn one monologue every week.
Read a new play every week.
Audition for at least one PAYING project every week.
Get Backstage and read articles and casting notices every week.
Check out new listings on Actors Access every week.
If you are not getting work, create your own. I currently do Improv because trying to run unpaid showcases 12 years ago for sketch and theater was far too hard. With Improv, I was able to do a show regardless of who showed up. Less rehearsals and more stage time. No royalties with Improv to worry about either. Also I find with Improv everyone is a leading player. There are no small roles in Improv – unless you cast a stage hog.
But you can find some colleagues and produce a showcase. Cabaret, one act, new play, monologues, Improv, sketch etc. Just find ways to get on a stage in front of an audience and showcase your talents.
And then MARKET your performances. (See preceding post)
Every time you rehearse and perform a new project is a learning experience. Some times for the worst reasons. But no mistake is horrible if you can learn form it and correct it next time. If the showcase is good, repeat your successes.
Continually stretch your comfort zones. Casting Directors may pigeon hole you to a type and you have little control over that. If they pay, TAKE THE WORK. But on works you produce and collaborate spread your wings. Show the world what you can do.
SELECTING MATERIAL – Here is a free tip. Really old and Really new material can be cheap and free to use. Anything published in the last 75 years is going to cost you if your are above board.
There is a reason so many companies produce Shakespeare. Besides being awesome, it is Royalty Free, as long as you do not use a modern translation. Older plays do not have royalties because they are in the PUBLIC DOMAIN.
Works in the public domain are those whose intellectual property rights have expired, have been forfeited, or are inapplicable. Examples include the works of Shakespeare and Beethoven, most of the early silent films, the formulae of Newtonian physics, and powered flight.
Anything that has been on Broadway or Off Broadway, Film or TV will most likely be out of your reach. The one exception is doing Musical Revues in a Cabaret venue with ASCAP license. these venues have a generic right to have performers perform rights protected works by paying a small annual fee.
But a group of young performers or students looking to showcase some songs and monologues are never bothered. Only when you produce a full work, or excerpts from that work are you going to get I trouble with out permission.
You could probably sing a few Andrew Lloyd Webber Songs on a showcase, but if you ADVERTISE “Selections from Phantom of the Opera” you may get a call from Cameron Mackintosh himself (more likely his lawyer).
You will see many new companies produce “NEW WORKS” and “WORLD PREMIERS”. There are 100s and 1000s of young, fresh out of school playwrights that are looking for a shot. Find a few and do a deal. If the show makes money they share in the profits. But you are going to produce and promote their work. Sing a 1-page contract. If the piece gets famous you may even celebrate in its success for years to come. New York is full of amazing small companies introducing many new works every year. Every once in a while these companies become famous because one of those shows takes off. And many of the actors in that show take off.
My favorite story and inspiration for this formula is STEPPENWOLF. Gary Sinise, one of my favorite actors, was barely out of high school when he teamed up with Rick Argosh and Leslie Wilson – both still seniors in high school. A year later they formed a the non-profit theater company known as STEPPENWOLF with new members such as John Malkovich and Laurie Metcalf. Ever since the troupe produced many new works that have gone on to Off Broadway, Broadway and Film while launching the careers of numerous companies.
New York has more places to produce a show than anywhere in the world. For comedy there are probably 15 comedy club is the 5 boros, but over 200 bars and coffee shops promoting a comedy night. And all of those are produced by indy artists so they can showcase their talents and develop their acts. Practically every block in this city has a space used for theater shows or rehearsals at some time during the year. Many are hidden form the public eye on the darkest of side streets.
If you cannot find work create it for your self. If you cannot find a theater, create one. Many bars and coffee shops are happy to have you do smaller shows on slow nights to help bring in business. Those situations are challenging to a director space-wise but to the producer they usually cost ZERO. i produced in comedy clubs because they were free. My guests have to buy a drink but my over head is next to nothing. Cabaret spaces used to cost me $50-100/show. Theater spaces $75-500/show. An Off Broadway space with clean bathrooms is about $1000+ for 199-seats. There are a few dingy off-Bway theaters that are cheaper.
As a producer, the last thing I want is another company to compete with, but as a mentor and teacher, I say GO FOR IT!
SEEK OUT MENTORS
I have been very lucky. I have had a number of mentors over the years. Teachers are great, but a mentor really looks out for your best interests. They generally want you to succeed. And they make time to guide you beyond learning a skill.
When you find a mentor, be careful not to demand their time or be too clingy. But offer to intern or otherwise assist on their projects. As much as I value my many teachers in acting, singing and dance, I learned the most valuable lessons working with great directors that took me under their wing, or when I worked as Assistant director for some award winning talent.
I had a great voice teacher in college. Dr Muller later hired me at his church job. He truly gave me insight into working as a singer. But I felt like an adopted son – maybe more of a nephew – for the few years.
My acting mentor, Roberta Gasbarre, directed me in a number of musicals. I took a few classes with Roberta as well. At one point we created the DEAD ACTORS SOCIETY (it was the 90s and poets had just come out) where we got together and did Improv and scene work. At other times we got together to talk about my strengths and weaknesses. A lot of private and group coaching for free that was far more valuable than any class I ever paid for. I moved to NYC soon after but many of my colleagues went on to work for Roberta in numerous professional theater gigs.
When I got to New York, I met Ken and Caron Keller. At the time they were mostly documentary and short film producers but were just coming into their own. I worked in the same building in SOHO as their office. In the past ten years I can often gone to them for advice as a producer and film maker. I have yet to capitalize on the film making part of my career but the advice has been priceless! Ken even got me cast in a NICKELODEON show he was line producing “NAKED BROTHERS BAND”. This was one of my first TV gigs and a very valuable resume addition at the time.
All three mentors had a few key qualities…
– All wanted me to succeed
– All encouraged me to push myself
PERHAPS MOST IMPORTANT…
– All were extremely bluntly honest when I needed to be put in check
Mentors are like great girl/boy friends. Look to hard and you force a bad situation. But when you are out there being yourself, you tend to find the right fit!
MAKING SMART INVESTMENTS
So to me this is so very important as an artist. I feel everywhere you turn there is a leech looking to make money off of hopeful artists and it is almost impossible to tell what is legit and what is not without some guidance.
FIRST RULE OF THUMB – NEVER PAY UPFRONT… For management / Agent … To see a casting director
Now the one exception to this is networking classes and events. But even those are sketchy at best in my opinion. You can meet agents and casting directors that way. In fact many will tell you they do not go to showcases anymore – there are just to many – and networking sessions are the only way to get to see them. So do a few with the legit organizations.
But you should never have to PAY to meet them or audition for them. There are many fringe elements that make their money off of you by you paying them upfront with the promise of getting your work. Real agents and managers get paid on commission when they get you work. Casting Directors are paid by the producers to find you for a project.
I do recommend doing master classes with these people. Or perhaps a group session where you get to audition for many casting directors / agents at once.
I have even participated in speed casting sessions as a producer. I sit at a table and every three minutes a bell rings and you get to meet another actor/actress. I collected dozens of great headshots this way and met talent face to face. I actually did hire a few for a film project this way. Auditions often do not show who a person is. I am one that is far better on the job than at the audition. Many artists have this problem. And many I have auditioned did not live up to the work they displayed initially.
But be on the guard for scams and rip offs. Backstage and other publications regularly write about new scams popping up…
Here are some tips from a recent BACKSTAGE article
1. There’s no harm in someone teaching acting classes or selling headshots, as long as that’s what they are advertising. If you thought you were going to an audition or a meeting to discuss representation, but the conversation is all about you buying something, that is a bait-and-switch!
2. Some casting calls may be “no experience necessary,” but they should be exactly that: a casting call. You come in, fill out some paperwork, get your photo taken, and are perhaps recorded on video. They’ll call if they decide to hire you. No one tries to sell you anything, and there’s no fee to audition.
3. Reputable model and talent agencies are highly selective. If you show up and they are immediately willing to sign you regardless of your experience or suitability, question their motives—especially if they ask for money.
4. Bona fide agencies don’t require you to take their classes or use their photographer. They may provide a list of recommended coaches or photographers in your area, but they should not pressure you to use a specific one, or try to sell you something in their agency agreement.
5. Legitimate agents make a commission off the gigs they find for you. If they engage in hard-sell techniques for classes, photos, contests or representation, beware. That’s how they’re making their money, not by finding you work.
ADVERTISING v MARKETING
As an established producer I get emails and phone calls daily – sometimes by the hour – top sell me ad space. I always start with the notion that all “ADVERTISING” is a waste of money.
I talked a little about ROI in the previous post. RETURN ON INVESTMENT
To be honest I do not think I have ever made back my investment on any ADVERTISING. Print ads, banner ads, email blasts etc have always cost me more than the number of tickets they got sold. Now a few outlets I will pay for from time to time because i believe there is a name branding value even if there is not an initial return.
But creative marketing costs little or nothing and always leads to sales.
These days you MUST have a Facebook page with events linking to ticket sales online. If not i cannot take you seriously and neither will most other patrons. But you should also employ Twitter, LinkedIN, Pinterest (#1 for reaching women!!!), Instagram, DIgg, Read It, Stumble Upon, Pocket, Tumblr, Google+ etc etc etc
It seems every day there is a new platform to market yourself. I still post on MYSPACE fro time to time because it pops up in searches.
Social Media allows fans, family and friends to find you easily and follow your activities. Post discount ticket offers, photos, videos and other fun facts. Engage your audience. Don’t make everything BUY TICKETS. Tell them funny stories about rehearsals.
Post VINES and YOUTUBE VIDEOS. These to me are more social media than entertainment outlets.
Each platform reaches different audiences. I find LINKEDIN is the best way to reach business people. Mostly for finding jobs, sometimes they need to find from release that our comedy provides.
TWITTER is great for quick announcements.
Pinterest wonderfully displays photos and videos
FACEBOOK seems to be the mother board for all.
Post your facebook events on TWITTER
You can automatically forward TWITTER to your FACEBOOK feed.
If you are not SOCIAL MEDIA SAVVY – TIME TO LEARN. Companies spend a small fortune to young computer geeks. Start posting today and you will be an expert with in a month.
ADVERTISING ON SOCIAL MEDIA
Tough Call!!! I say don’t waste your money here, BUT I will admit we did some early on and got results. Other times it seemed like a waste. Most of these campaigns cost very little but they add up fast. Spending 20 minutes/day on these platform could probably serve the same purpose.
Instead of paying for ads, try to find websites that will trade links and ads. I will share yours if you share mine…
I get link exchange requests every day. I turn down many because i do not feel their brand matches mine.
But recently an off Broadway Producer / Marketing Rep asked me to share their info with my Facebook and Twitter feeds. I though, these guys are WAY TOO BIG to consider a trade with me, BUT I asked anyway and the were happy to oblige.
Trade Web space, social media posts, blog posts,
ENGAGE THE COMMUNITY
This is a popular technique for bloggers from all areas, not just the arts. I personally love to follow the blog of Ken Davenport “THE PRODUCER’s PERSPECTIVE“. I find Ken to be one of – if not the most – savviest of all NYC producers when it comes to marketing and social media. Not only do I read his blog almost daily, I often leave comments. I have found other followers via comments on the page and started conversations. And Ken has a number of sites – including BEST OF OFF BROADWAY and YOUR BROADWAY GENIUS – that I have found of value. I have invested in email blasts for both when they offer some deals in the off seasons. These are all sites frequented by theater goers and industry, so even when sales were break even, I felt the name branding value warranted the expense. YOUR BROADWAY GENIUS even works on a commission so as long as you hit a low minimum set by the contract with the site, your expenses are justified. BEST OF OFF BROADWAY has a BEST OF THE MONTH blast that is very inexpensive and allows smaller budget shows to get featured on the site for months after the email.
I love BroadwayWorld.com. They post almost every Press Release I send out. In turn i post links to those listings to every social media platform of mine. The get traffic back to their site, I get ticket sales. They are basically a blog that hungers for content. But they have great original content and theater information with a very decent readership.
For IMPROV 4 KIDS, I reach out to MOMMY BLOGGERS, one of the most powerful and most successful of all blog types. Many post my Press Releases. A few have come to see my shows and written reviews. A few enrolled their kids in my classes.
Best yet, one blog publisher, Robin Gorman Newman, from MotherhoodLater.com and has been republished often in the Huffington Post, requested two free tickets to a performance this month. In exchange, Robin not only posted our Press Release, but invited her Moms to join her with their kids. At the time of this posting, their are at least 20 tickets sold to that performance (A rare Monday Matinee) – via the unique discount code I gave Robin – and who knows how many new potential future patrons were reached for free. Two seats – that would otherwise be empty – cost me nothing. And the benefits of building a new partnership will be tremendous for years to come.
Stu Hamstra’s Cabaret Hotline is a great way to get the word out. More for singers and musicians I even bought a small banner ad here years ago because it lead to a review and other special treatment with our listings. Not to mention, I feel like I was supporting an institution that supports the arts – kind of like donating to WIKI – not just a money making blog for Stu.\
Network and engage with artists, producers, marketing gurus, and patrons. Never stop looking for new ways to learn how to make your brand better…
Constantly re-accessing ways I can cash in on my talents, hone my skills and hone new marketing techniques.
This is a big area. It is not a full time job. But regularly I find myself taking a step back and taking the temperature of my life and career.
Where am I now?
Where have I been?
Where am I headed?
A big part of my starting this rant about marketing was to become your own boss. For me, that means how can make a living using my talents unburdened by survival jobs that take me away from what I feel what I was born to do…
Every few years I take a fork in the road from the path I predetermined for myself. When I went to college I was a trumpet player. Before I left i was an Opera Singer with some Broadway Musical, Acting and even Dance training/experience. Right out of school I worked in DC are dinner theater and stipend Operetta and even played Henry VIII in “A Man for All Seasons”. I moved to NYC and became a full time waiter. Until one day I sang at my cousins wedding and HATED how I sounded. That was the first day of my new life as a dedicated artist. Then I broke my foot HORRIBLY and directed theater in a high school while singing a few local Opera Companies. Then 9/11 happened. I quit all survival jobs because i just could not pick up the phone for telemarketing or give a crap about you drink order anymore. Within the next year I did “Fiddler on the Roof” at Gateway Playhouse, 2nd National Tour of Scarlet Pimpernel and then performed the first showcase called EIGHT IS NEVER ENOUGH. That mostly politically charged music and sketch revue eventually became the all Improv show. Over the past ten years that show grew, became a major force in educational outreach, Improv 4 Kids and even off Broadway under an AGVA contract as LMAO Off Broadway. In the mean time I became the director of instruction at the Comedy Hall of Fame, did a number of TV appearances and got some decent press form a few Fringe Festival and other works.
ECLECTIC to say the least. OH and I forgot to mention I made a lot of money playing Santa, Elvis, Abbott & Costello and Blues Brothers at Corporate and Private Events. Just 8 weeks ago I dress as a chick on Halloween for 15 minutes to make some insane cash. Also stand-up comedy, roasts, produced a few cabaret and short film festivals YADA YADA YADA
Point being, I will do anything to never pick up a tray, sell shoes or work in an office EVER AGAIN!
I make in an hour of playing Santa what most make in 8 hours of bartending. As Blues Brothers or Abbott & Costello what a survival job pays in a week.
The closest thing I have to a day job now is booking Improv shows. And if the client is crazy and unreasonable, I give them a horribly high quote. If they are crazy enough to yes, I can suck it up for a few hours.
In the past two years I have flown to Norway to film with Steven Van Zandt on Netflix’s Lilyhammer. and Puerto Rico to film USA’s Royal Pains. I appeared on CBS’s Blue Bloods and was seen by just about everyone in the country as Dr Oz’s FAT PANTS – a commercial that not only played just about every where for a month – January 2013 – but was discussed on Letterman (BAD ACTING GIG) , Kimmel (WHO WAS THAT GUY?) and Piers Morgan (Very British Eye Roll). In that same time I have produced and performed improv at colleges, corporate events, theaters and clubs from New York to Maine to Nebraska to North Carolina.
I am not bragging. I am not wealthy. I am even far below what I consider financially successful. But I know many in our business far worse off and far more miserable. I am not totally cashing in yet, but I am living the dream. And more importantly their has been steady upward growth every year since I stopped working for the man!
My point? Don’t wait till you turn 30 to start your life like I did. Start now. Learn from my mistakes and successes. learn form the 100s that came before you. What ever you do, don’t take advice form the “know-it-alls” working with you as a barrista, waiter or shoe sales-person. Trade up…
Find a mentor.
Find what your talents can do for you.
Get out there and network (Not including PAYING to network)
Just when you think you know it all, take another dance class, yoga, stage combat, commercial auditions, etc
Investigate new ways to market yourself!
Stay in the know by reading backstage and other trades yourself.
NEVER TRUST ADVICE in form of GOSSIP
Get on social media – EVERY platform
Use the free tools at your disposal
Invest money wisely and only when needed
TAKE CARE OF YOUR NEEDS FIRST –
WANTS SECOND BUT ONLY AS NEEDED
I truly give the darkest three years of my life the credit for my current successes. After 9/11 I hit rock bottom financially. I moved into a room in Washington Heights. I found a part time job that paid $20/hour that I hated. And I started to hustle, along with my wife and early EIGHT IS NEVER ENOUGH partners, to sell this show. I surprised myself on what I could live without.
Necessity is the Mother of all Inventions
Reduce things in your life you don’t need. Large apartment in a great neighborhood.Expensive cable bills. Expensive phones.
These days you need a smart phone. You need a cheap computer. But you do not need the blinged out delux version. Eliminate wasteful spending altogether and you will find you need that survival job less.
MOST SURVIVAL JOBS ARE DEAD ENDS
You need a roof, nutrition and clothes. Scale back. Scale down. And get focused. AND TRUST ME – this is far easier at 22 than 32 or 42.
Why to drug addicts and alcoholics have to hit rock bottom before getting help?
Why did I hit rock bottom before focusing on what matters in life?