Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Marketing is Hard. So is Poverty.

Yes, folks, it’s decorative gourd season.  But it’s also the start of “the dry season,”  A.K.A. “ramen noodle season” for freelance musicians who’ve worked hard over the summer, but are now facing a bit of a drought where paying gigs are concerned.  Anyone who’s made music their bread ‘n’ butter knows exactly the phenomenon of which I speak.  There ARE fall/winter gigs out there, but they're fewer, farther between and harder to score.  It's hustle time, kids. 

Marketing is not a natural thing for me:  As a rule, musicians and creative types absolutely dread self-promotion of any kind.  I’m no different.  There’s something in us that just cringes at the thought of marketing ourselves.   I suspect it’s our fragile, delicate egos engaged in a constant, often-contentious dance with our innate sense of entitlement. On one hand, we absolutely require that audiences pay attention to us, but wouldn’t dream of asking anyone to do just that.  It’s quite the pickle.  Rock, meet hard place. 

I have to admit, though, I wholeheartedly love the feeling of getting a sweet gig for myself and/or my House of Cards bands.  It’s just so satisfying when the contract gets signed and musicians get paid fairly for their work.  My work with the PP&R Summer Concerts in the Park follows that same vein.  We insist on paying musicians what they ask and deserve for their work, despite our tight budget.

Facilitating that “get ‘em paid fairly” ethic feeds some primal part of my soul.  I feel like, in some small microcosmic way, I’m helping to “rebrand” creative working musicians as professionals who deserve fair pay for their work. 

There are roadblocks.   Just last week, I had a person offer the well-established, nationally-touring band Sneakin’ Out  $50 + “exposure” for a 4-hour gig.  When I countered with their actual asking price, the woman openly scoffed.  “WHAT?!?!  For musicians?!?!”   The recent FB-viral plumber joke instantly sprang to my mind (call 3 plumbers, ask them how much they’d charge for 4 hours on a Saturday night, and the band’ll work for half that price), but I held my tongue.   I gently suggested she contact some local high schools and junior colleges, to see if there might be some young, hungry aspiring musician kids out there, eager to tap into this ephemeral thing they call “exposure.” 

People need to be trained, but it can be a tedious, sanity-testing process.    And musicians need to pay their bills.  They have mortgages like everyone else.  And they've spent hours and hours honing their craft, just as other professionals have.

To this end, I’m making a conscious and concerted effort this year to use this year's down time for business development of The House of Cards Music.  Word of mouth only goes so far.  One of the things I’m doing is attending a few cool trade shows that focus on the wedding and event industry.  Wedding gigs are such a festive and wonderful way for musicians to showcase their talents, and actually get paid for it.  I know some musicians wouldn’t dream of playing a dreaded wedding gig, and that’s their choice.  I'm in my 40s and I gots bills ta pay.    Most folks in my immediate community love the freedom that freelance living affords them, and absolutely love playing weddings.  What’s not to love?  Everyone’s happy, the energy is infectious, the locations are beautiful and there’s usually free food.  ☺

The House of Cards is actually exhibiting this Friday (October 12) in its very first live trade show, “Committed.”  I have to admit, I’m a little nervous.  It’s hard to be the new kid on the block.  But I know it’s actually going to be tons of fun, once I get everything set up.   It’s being curated by the fine fillies of Luxe Event Productions, and the theme is “indie-alternative weddings.”  Most of the exhibiting vendors are funky-cool folks who are thinking outside the box, so I should feel right at home.      They’ve also framed the event as more of a party atmosphere than an actual trade show, so the booze will be flowing and it’ll be easier to talk to potential clients and network with other vendors.  Ohhhhh yeah…….   They’re also having an indie bridal fashion show.  Eye candy!

Here’s a link to the event page:    http://www.committedevent.com/

And here’s the FB page too: http://www.facebook.com/COMMITTEDEvent?ref=ts&fref=ts

There’s a rumor that there are still some free tickets that they’re giving away too, so hit me up if you know any folks who are getting hitched, or if you yourself are doing so.  I can get you on the guest list.  At the very least, come say hi to me and imbibe cocktails!   Here're my coordinates:   jen@thehouseofcardsmusic.com

That’s all for now.  Thanks for reading my musings on music, life, money and marketing.   And I'm sorry if this post is hopelessly disjointed.  It's 1/3 soapbox, 1/3 therapy session and 1/3 advertisement.  I told you I’m really bad at marketing.  But I’m trying to get better.   Namaste:  The divine marketing idiot in me acknowledges the divine marketing idiot in you.

My next post will probably be about winter soups and stews.

Ciao for now. 

Love, Jen


Friday, July 6, 2012

An Introduction to The Queen of Hearts

Welcome to my new blog, The Queen of Hearts! This blog will explore some topics related to the music scene here in Portland, and also riff on the relationship between successful poker playing and creative musicality.   

This blog is also a partial homage to my maternal grandfather, Raphael Salisian. He was a professional gambler, classical musician and composer. He wove the two seemingly-disparate worlds of professional gambling and musical artistry together into a seamless life, much as I’m aspiring to do.

Let’s start with music. I run a local boutique music booking agency called The House of Cards Music with my friend and fellow musician, Pete Krebs. We have the pleasure of working with an exclusive cadre of Portland bands for special events, weddings and festivals. The roster includes Karaoke From Hell, Klezmocracy, Vagabond Opera, Pete Krebs and His Portland Playboyshttp://petekrebs.net/music/the-portland-playboys, The Notables, Water Tower3 Leg Torso, The Stolen Sweets, The Pete Krebs TrioThe Ariel Consort Chamber Ensemble, Sneakin' Out, Boy & BeanSwingtime PDX and Tony Starlight.

Three years ago, I was asked to join the team that produces all the elements of the free Portland Parks and Recreation Summer Concerts in the Park series in July and August. The concerts take place in 13 parks across the city and feature some of the best talent Portland has to offer. I do a lot of behind-the-scenes administrative work, logistical coordination and booking. I also attend many of the concerts to greet concert-goers and make sure that small children don't climb up the speaker stands.

In much of my spare time, I play poker. I started playing penny-ante 5-card draw in 1976 with my dad around the dining room table, and never looked back. I love the elements of chance, concentration, psychological brinkmanship and intuition. And let's face it - I love beating guys at poker. The game is certainly male-dominated, and many of these guys have rarely sat next to a woman at the poker table (though times are changing). I love the looks on their faces when they realize that I am, in fact, a formidable competitor who can simultaneously calculate pot odds and pick up tells, and there’s a good chance I’ll take their hard-earned dough right out from under them.

That’s Jen Bernard in a nutshell:  a little creative, a little competitive, a little entrepreneurial, highly organizational and always wearing as many hats as my head will accommodate. My upcoming posts will offer up features on our House of Cards bands, talk jive about the music scene in Portland, riff on creative marketing ideas for bands and explore nail-biting topics such as “freelance musician survival during a recession.” You might get some poker lore thrown in from time to time as well.

Welcome to the Queen of Hearts!