Kicking the Start, or, stuff I keep wanting to say

08/12/2012 at 11:13 am | Posted in How to this-or-that, News & Explanations | 7 Comments
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It’s the middle of the night in Juneau. My hair is still all curly from being in a wedding today.  I have a lot of thank yous to say, and a lot of explaining to do.

THANK YOU to all of you folks who contributed to my crazy Kickstarter.  You are mighty when you pull together!  Just look what you’ve done, it’s incredible!  And by that I mean barely credible!  I mean, I knew you would fund my asking amount, but I did NOT anticipate becoming a poster girl for Kickstarteriness.  More on that in a second.  I’m busy trying to keep up with your messages to me and get the survey stragglers in the database and get necklaces mailed out.  But first –

THANK YOU to the people who forged the Kickstarter and who are even now working on making and fulfilling the rewards.  Thank you Chris Cushman who made the armor — Valette who shot the photosAdam Levermore who designed the graphicsPatrick who made the website and shot the videoKatie who helped build the back-of-house infrastructure (there’s TONS of it) — Annie who will soon have handmade over 150 necklaces — Dammit Liz who is even now helping to book shows in Europe.

If you missed the excitement — I’m sorry you did, because it was terribly exciting.  In short, I decided to fund a Europe tour, because my European fans have been patiently waiting for a tour which I could not afford.  I conjured rewards and a sort of game to try to fairly determine where in Europe I would book shows.  Then I asked for $11,111 with some stretch goals reaching up to about $18k, at which point my tour would be funded to several countries.

We raised the first $11,111 within about 3 hours of my first announcement.  Holy hand grenades, Batman!

I was shocked.  I knew we would raise the funds, but I don’t think anyone who has been tracking me closely would have anticipated the speed — or the fact that, for the first couple days, the average pledge was around $79 (the Kickstarter overall average is $25, and while I love my fans, I know they aren’t all rich, so I was blown away by the level of support per person.)

I set some stretch goals, because we blew past the $20k mark within the first two days, if I remember correctly.  I caught a lucky snapshot on my phone of this moment:

Booyah.

Things slowed down awhile in the middle of the fundraiser, but toward the end Patrick told me I should offer cover songs for higher levels.  I decided to choose songs that were classics to me, songs from my musico-cultural desert island list, like the Muppets and TMBG and Tom Lehrer and Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious (I wanted to be Julie Andrews when I was little).  The internet responded that yes, they wanted those cover songs, and they funded us all the way from $40k to $50k, and then up to $60k, where I threw up my hands and decided to just lie prone on the floor in surprise for awhile.

Now I am  happier and wiser and very very very very very busy girl.  I have used up my all caps quota for the year several times over.  Now I’m just piled high in more work than anyone can manage; if you’re still waiting on something, sorry, working on it.  Fulfilling rewards is no small task, and I have laid out for myself a nearly impossible amount of recording by the end of the year.  But in my family we have a saying: “That’s impossible. Let’s do it.”

Guys. Guys. We did it.  Thank you!

In the middle of the work, though, I thought I should take a minute to talk about the whole experience, because I am getting asked lots and lots and lots of things about Kickstarter, and I’ve gotten letters of all kinds, from very nice and admiring to sort of slimy and advertisey to very mean (only one of those though).  And I get asked tons of questions about the music business in general that I wish I could answer better.  So without any particular order or editing, because it’s 1am, here are some of my thoughts.

  • I am being asked quite a lot about what I did to make the Kickstarter go boom like that.  I have a lot of specific techniques and ideas (most covered below), but seriously, the biggest thing is do your art.  Do it a lot.  Make the art good.  Make it good enough to turn heads.  Then make it better.  Nothing else comes before that.  Because if you’re asking other people to put up money for it, it needs to be really good, and there’s a lot of really good art out there right now (yay!).  I’m not trying to say my art is so amazing, I’m just saying that the REAL first step of my fundraiser was studying and performing music intensively for 20 years.  And that was hard, and it mostly didn’t earn me anything, and it still doesn’t earn me much more than a secretarial job.  But that’s where it starts, not with a smart fundraising strategy or clever video.
  • The second biggest thing is to know your audience.  Duh, you’re saying, and I’m like, that’s so nineties of you to say Duh.  But here’s what I mean: know in advance how much you can fundraise, and how fast, and who is likely to fund it.  I knew the amount I proposed was a doable amount, because I fundraise sort of quietly in the background all the time, little poster sales and things, and I have an auction once a year.  After fundraising slowly for my album Something Fierce, I had a very clear idea what a reasonable minimum would be.  I can’t tell you how painful it is to see Kickstarters for bands asking for $50,000 for their first ever album — with stretch goals already listed for $100,000, which is just embarrassing when their funding is stalling out at $10k.  Where will the money come from and how much will it really be?  If you don’t know this in advance, wait.  Do some other experiments first.  Test the water.  You might have a lot of fans or followers, but that doesn’t translate to money.  How and what people purchase is something you really only find out by selling them your things.  No model works but your own, don’t use other people’s numbers.  We all sell differently and we all sell something unique in this market.
  • When I say know your audience, I mean something else too, something more important: love your audience. Respect your audience.  I spend time with my fans more days than I don’t.  I’m definitely not perfect with them (there is just never enough TIME, guys) but I like them.  I like you.  And I like spending time with you, and I just wish there was more time to spend.  I kind of want the same things my fans want;  I get excited by what excites them, so putting together a silly website gamey thing they might enjoy was fun for me.  I can’t tell you how many hours I puzzled over the Rulebook and the Coins and the FAQ’s and the ridiculous minutiae, because I knew some nerd out there would care as much as I do.  When I was coming up with the rewards, I just asked my Twitter stream: what do you want from me out of a Kickstarter?  What are other people doing, what have you liked, what bores you, what’s meaningless? And I got exactly the answers I needed, within minutes.  (Here’s what’s meaningless, according to the survey: movie credits. I kinda have to agree.  The glamour went out of that ages ago since every person I know has been part of a movie recently.  I don’t need a movie credit, guys.  I need a cookie.)
  • Now that I’ve typed it a bunch, I kinda dislike the word “fans.” It seems weird to me. Beyoncé has fans.  I have ………um………my people.  The people who live in my phone and sometimes materialize at concerts, and then I sleep on their floor and meet their pet tarantula or hedgehog or what have you.  I really really like and respect them, and I am convinced their time and money is precious, and it’s awesome when they spend some on me.  They have so many other options.  If you don’t like and respect your fans, if they’re not the folks you want to be hanging out with, well, bummer.  (I get sad when I see artists who sort of secretly scorn the people who support them, because that means they secretly scorn people who like what they do.  I hope they try making different stuff or marketing it different ways.)
  • Two things I’ve had to tell a lot of different people, in a friendly fashion, trying not to hurt their feelings:  1) If your music doesn’t turn the heads of strangers on the street, don’t have a fundraiser yet.  2) If you can’t immediately list 10 specific subgroups that describe your demographic, if you don’t know who your fans are — then you shouldn’t have a big fundraiser yet.  You should make/meet more fans.  Or have a tiny discreet fundraiser appropriate to your audience base right now, and use the thing you make as a stepping stone.
  • Make a spreadsheet. Patrick forced me to make a spreadsheet, and I spent as much time fussing with and fretting over it as I did on the rest of the Kickstarter.  Why? Because when you look at your chunk of money, and you deduct 10% for Kickstarter/Amazon and then 15% for taxes, and then you really add up the cost of fulfillment, you might be earning only $2-3 at your reward level that seems to profitable.  The thing most people forget in their spreadsheet is worth looking at if you’re gonna kick some start, it’s on the second NUMBER SMASH page of my public budget.  I calculated what each reward level would cost me, and then I wondered how many people would go for higher-return vs. lower-return rewards. What would people buy the most of?  If everyone went for necklaces & USB drives, could I still actually afford to do my trip?  I worked through a couple different scenarios to get a good estimate of what rewards would cost me — and how much I would need to ask for to wind up with $7,000 to make it to Europe & back (the answer is about $11,000, so $4000 would go into fees & fulfillment).  The extra math saved me much grief. I frequently see bands offering physical CD’s or vinyl at reward amounts that ensure they will be losing money.  Please do the extra math and give folks the physical CD for $25 instead of $15 if you’re raising funds for anything besides just duplication.
  • Be prepared for both failure and success.  I had a solid plan if funding wasn’t going well.  I was prepared to pound pavement if the pledges were not coming in, and I knew exactly what pavement to pound and how to pound it.  Turns out I didn’t have to.  But success brought its own problems — I had to completely redesign my website and Kickstarter page on the first day when we funded so quickly.  I had to come up with more rewards at certain levels.  Local jewelry suppliers ran out of the silver we needed to finish the necklaces.  Fulfillment got to be a huge job, much bigger than we thought, not to mention the pure administrative effort involved (thank you Katie!).  So plan ahead.  I thought I was overthinking absurdly, with all my FAQ’s and blathering, but it turns out it was very good I thought through all the questions carefully just in case of success.
  • For heaven’s sakes, don’t list tons of stretch goals until it appears you will certainly fund ahead of schedule. Chickens, counting, hatching.
  • I have a rude question. Does anyone want you to make the thing you want to make? Are people clamoring for it? Because — this is an important distinction — there is art you make because other people want you to make it, and there is art you make because you must make it. The latter is more pure, in some ways, personal and vulnerable and sometimes revolutionary (and occasionally both sorts align). But you only want to crowdfund something people want and need and get super excited about.  Before you start *any project,* ask a ton of people whether they want it, or what they want.  Don’t ask your friends, ask strangers and fans.  Would they pay for it? Do they really want it to exist?  If they’re not responding, that means it doesn’t compel them.  I’m not saying don’t make it. I’m saying fund that thing in another way. Get a grant. Invest in it yourself. Produce a more popular in-demand thing to fund the Art You Must Make That Nobody Demands. Don’t let the crowd decide the fate of that kind of art — it’s too personal and it doesn’t need thousands of voices in on the process anyway, people who feel like stakeholders.
  • Don’t do a Kickstarter thing just to raise some extra money. People can tell and it’s weird.  Do it when you have a project you really really care about.  Kickstarters, like Hansel, are so hot right now.  And for good reason — what a great model!  You won’t believe me, but I wrote those two sentences without initially seeing any connection between them.  But the thing is, everyone’s got a Kickstarter or Indiegogo cause lately.  They’re like belly buttons.  I get requests to retweet them every day (sorry, I mostly can’t, the volume of requests is absurd).  So let’s pretend you are only allowed to do one Kickstarter for the next two years, just one. What will it be about?  Why is it bigger and more special than your everyday business?  (Because your normal business should be able to fund itself — you shouldn’t need a Kickstarter to just do your job.)  A Kickstarter is fast and big and dramatic and public, moreso than the mellower kinds of fundraising that go on all year.  So don’t do one just to do one.  Do one when you have a real project or a real vision that moves you.  If it moves you, if it’s exceptional and exciting for you, it will be for other people too.
  • Since you asked or assumed: I am not rich now.  I don’t know if you saw Amanda Palmer’s blog entry re. “where did all that money go,” but my budget looks very similar; the business itself eats the money.  I put a big chunk of money towards debt, I replaced some failing equipment, and the rest is all getting folded back into touring and business expenses and fulfilling the promises I made.  After sweating over the budget quite a lot, I realized there was no tropical vacation in it for me, and not even really a shopping trip.  I might get crazy and spring for a doctor and dentist visit, but that’s about it.  Upgrading my infrastructure and doing a ton of recording and touring and being a little less in debt will be my reward. (And for someone who love love loves her business, that’s a huge reward.)

I guess what I’m really wanting to say to you is this.  The groundwork for a successful fundraiser is not having the right strategy or the right gimmick or the perfect combination of currently popular things (Ooh! Zombies and steampunk and rhythm gymnastics! A hit!).  It’s about knowing yourself and knowing the people you’re connecting with.  To thine own self be true.  Know what you want, know what your supporters want, and make them align.

I hope I didn’t say anything wrong but I’m too fall-asleepy to discuss anymore. So I’ma add links, publish, sleep, and spend tomorrow working on getting all you survey stragglers into the Kickstarter fulfillment spreadsheet I made, and fulfilling your rewards, and booking Europe.  Then I’m gonna disappear into the Alaskan wild for a couple nights to do something that’s not Kickstarter.

Next up: I play Juneau on 8/17-18, I tour the Midwest thru the end of August and then go to Dragon*Con, then I play at SPACE CAMP on Labor Day, then Auburn, then I’m desperately seeking a concert in Nashville, then playing DC and the Northeast U.S./CAN including 3 shows with Molly Lewis & the Doubleclicks, then I go to Europe, then Anchorage, then home for the winter to sleep for months.

Love you all. G’night!

The Hot Place: Texas

04/06/2011 at 4:42 am | Posted in 49>50, Stories from the Road | 2 Comments
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(Photos to go along with this blog are at Flickr.com/mariancall.  Earlier blog posts linked & listed in this entry here.)

For an Alaska-dweller I spend lots of time in Texas.  I have a lot of fans there, I have family there, and I must admit: I love Austin.  I know I know, loving Austin is passé and uncool already, but know what?  I don’t care.  Avocados are 5/$1, they sell hot sugared pecans by the side of the road, and there’s live music and street fairs everywhere — well-attended too, people come out and support local.  I just avoid SxSW and snooty “industry” types and eat a LOT and I’m good.  So despite its reputation and its insecurity issues, I usually enjoy my time in Texas.  (When they aren’t shooting me with airsoft guns between the eyes, like they did on my first tour there.)

Bryan Ray and I drove very late from Oklahoma after I did this shiny breakfast interview to head “home” where I’d stop for a full week.  I recall getting out of the car at 1am and doing jumping jacks to stay awake at the gas station — which is a great way to attract some Texas homeboy attention. “You in need of assistance ma’am?” asked a would-be cowboy.  I couldn’t think of a good way to say, “No, I just want to do jumping jacks,” so I’m pretty sure I hid behind a trash can until his hat went into the convenience store.

We pulled in exhausted and in the morning I woke up in familiar surroundings — for the first time since I left Fargo, ND, I recognized something!  I knew where my coffee shops were at!  I could navigate without a GPS!  Almost.  So visiting Austin is a dream.

I could also afford a couple of concert-free days to play Ingenious with Dad, drink lots of tea and eat lots of peaches, and actually hear other people sing.  I drove out to Kerrville Folk Festival, a sort of beautiful remote hippie folkie lovefest in the Hill Country.  I’ve always heard only wonderful things about Kerrville, and sure enough the performances we enjoyed were completely stellar.  I ran into Randall Williams whose wise words in 2007 helped direct my career more than he could ever suspect.  And I found Raina Rose, a favorite singer-songwriter of mine, hanging around the music shop playing guitar with friends and strangers.  So I knew a grand total of two people.

Funny though — I didn’t quite fit in with the straight folk crowd.  My songs don’t have repeating choruses that everyone can harmonize to around the campfire.  And not having grown up with the culture myself, I didn’t know the music everyone else knew.  I didn’t have a guide to show me around, and a couple people asked me if I was from New York. “Um, no, Alaska.” “Well you look like you’re from New York City.” I hid behind a trash can again until their hats went away, thinking, “But I was so careful to wear dirty Texas hill country clothes!”  I wandered around the campsites and numerous hippie buses, and thought how strange it is that I lived on a hippie bus for half a year — full-time in fact, through the winter, hard-core hippie bus-living.  Yet I totally failed to gel with this crowd.  I was too metro, too fast, too uptight, too techie, and too New Yorkish.  (Incidentally this is also my social obstacle in Alaska, where so many of the awesome people are chill and outdoorsy and carry djembes and guitars on their backs.  Wonderful folks. Me no fit.)

Kerrville Folk Festival

Ah well, you can’t win them all.  I returned to Austin, bought Hadestown at Waterloo Records, drank beer, played more Carcassonne, watched some Pixar movies, and felt more like me.  And tried not to be too disappointed in my awkwardness around the nice folky hippies I would so like to befriend. #toouptight

The next morning (if memory serves), I got a phone call that expanded my working definition of ‘surreal.’

“Good morning, this is Paul of PaulandStorm. We do this thing called w00tstock and everyone has been recommending you.”

I hid behind a trash can but this is a less effective tack when you’re on the phone.

For the most part I tried to convince them that they had the wrong person, because my renown and fan reach were insignificant compared with the rest of the lineup.  But I failed. “I really don’t have that many fans,” I told Paul.

“Well, you have the right ones,” he replied.

There’s no disagreeing with that.  My fans are amazing.  So I signed on for w00tstock 2.4: SDCC.  Then I packed to leave Austin and head Into the West.

***********************

Well, mostly west.  First I drove south.  SOUTH TO SPACESHIPS!

A friend of mine from college is now awesome enough to be designing launch/abort/reentry suits for astronauts.  She’s an adorable & sweet engineer who can do her job in killer heels.  Geek girls FTW.  She & her husband threw a house concert, populated almost entirely by NASA folks, and I could not have been more excited.

Some audiences are harder to play than others — it took me some time to learn that certain groups, such as engineers, astronauts and Saskatchewans, do not respond with quite as much laughter or applause or engagement or Zombified passion as, say, SDCC attendees.  Thankfully the Midwest had prepared me for my engineer audience and I managed to navigate the stoicism.  Afterwards I got to learn just a very little bit about what’s been happening with NASA’s funding and why — but don’t ask or argue with me, I’m not an expert.  Just a curious party.

The next morning I got to go to Johnson with my host and hostess.  Not for the tram tour, for the REAL tour.  The photo blog describes my visit better — you can find the set here on my Flickr with captions.  GUYS THEY HAVE SPACESHIPS THER EFRO REALS

In fact as I was touring robotics with my host, he asked if I wanted to get in the Lunar Rover. “You mean the spaceship?” I asked. “We usually call them rovers or modules…” he said. “NO!” I replied, maybe only in my head. “You are making spaceships.  Don’t ever lose sight of how freaking incredible that is.”

What blew my mind the most was the age of their infrastructure and the incredibly tight budgets they have to work with.  Still using the same everything from the sixties — buildings in need of renovations, ancient furniture, no chance to redesign older elements with newer synthetic materials…sometimes it was a little hard to stomach.  NASA’s research has historically given humanity so many things for so little investment.  I’ll spare you the political rant I want to write here — I’m sure you can imagine how it goes.  Grr Argh.

My tour over, I left Houston with one mission: to warn you all that there is a Cylon device inside the Lunar Rover.  I didn’t put it there.  Not my job.

Cylon Device

****************************

Dallas would be my last stop on the way out of Texas.  There are a number of other worthy cities, but Dallas had two things I wanted to see: Kristina Morland and Jayne Cobb.

Kristina Morland made one of my desert island discs, Pidgin Music.  It’s one of those CD’s I have bought seven copies of for everyone I know.  I asked her to open for me at Poor David’s Pub — and as I remembered, she’s not much for live performance.  But glory can she write and arrange, and hallelujah can she sing.  I’ve worn out that disc.

I didn’t have as much time as I wanted in Dallas, so I coordinated a sort of happy hour with some fans ahead of the show.  The minutes were too few, and like at all geekish fan gatherings, it started awkwardly, but I tell you what:  I really love my fans.  Given a half hour and the right topic they are so warm and funny, and yes it’s awkward, but as I learned at Kerrville — maybe awkward people are just my people.  I don’t think I fit with the cool kids.

But the uncool kids had a great time that night.  We rocked Poor David’s, which is a really fantastic TX venue — I hope they’ll let me back.  My heroes play there, folks like Sarah Harmer and Kasey Chambers.

And a real honest-to-gods hero showed up, too. Jayne! The man they call Jayne!

Jayne Cobb

Yes, this is his actual head and his actual plaque.  Zippy wantsta go to the crappy town where he’s a hero.

Just Taking Inventory

12/01/2010 at 12:21 am | Posted in 49>50, Just for Fun, Stories from the Road | 4 Comments
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The time has come, the Walrus said, for summaries and lists.  I have some math to do later, but for now, here’s the list of cities that partook in the 49>50 Tour:

Fairbanks, Tok, Anchorage (5 shows) AK
Fort St. John, Tsawwassen, Vancouver BC
St. Albert (2 shows), Edmonton  AB
Fargo ND
Minneapolis (2), Savage, Roseville (2) MN
West Bend WI
Chicago IL    (3)
Saugatuck, Ferndale MI
Indianapolis IN    (2)
Fairfield, Des Moines IA
Kansas City, St. Louis MO
Manhattan KS
Claremore OK
Austin (2), Houston, Dallas,  TX
Albuquerque, Santa Fe NM
Green Valley, Chandler AZ
Cambridge, Toronto, Ottawa, Kitchener ON
Lancaster, Joshua Tree, San Juan Capistrano, San Diego (4), Encino, Venice, San Luis Obispo, Redwood City, San Francisco, Oakland, Sacramento, Elk Grove CA
Las Vegas NV
Sandy UT
Boulder, Monument CO
Cheyenne WY
Bozeman MT
Prosser, Spokane, Gig Harbor, Tacoma, Seattle (4), Bellingham WA
Bend, Portland (2), Eugene OR
Boise ID
Sioux Falls SD
Omaha NE
Conway AR
New Orleans (2), Sulphur LA
Biloxi MS
Hunstville, Auburn AL
Atlanta GA (4)
Fort Lauderdale, Winter Park FL
Greenville SC
Charlotte, Raleigh, Julian NC
Roanoke, Fairfax VA
Charleston WV
Louisville KY
Lebanon, Nashville TN
Westlake, Cincinnati OH
Edgewater, Silver Spring MD
Vernon CT
Claymont DE
Philadelphia PA
Long Valley, Highland Park NJ
Glenmont, New York (2), Brooklyn NY
Providence RI
Montpelier VT
Portland ME
Holden, Boston, Cambridge MA
Concord NH
Montréal QC
Winnipeg MB
Regina SK
Honolulu HI  (3)

The list is final as of this writing, though Hawai’i may still surprise me with another booking outside HNL. Oh, and if you’re more of a visual learner, here’s a map. Hawai’i will get added to that once I complete it.

In other words: I haven’t been everywhere this year.  But I’ve come damn close.  (And yes, I still want to live in Anchorage.)

I wish I could tell you how many towns and suburbs and cities are on this list through the sheer force of will of a single person in that town who REALLY wanted me to come to their place and not somewhere else.  I couldn’t honor every request, but I nearly broke myself trying, because you guys are worth it.

If you Twitter-catch me snoozing a little on the job through the next month or two — this list would be why.  Currently I’m sleeping a lot, wrapping up tour business, planning Hawai’i, writing postcards, and breaking out my studio because I have an album to finish.  Oh, and I hafta do my taxes.  From last year.  *gulp*

Love to all — Marian

Instructions in Excruciating Detail: Booking Shows Near You, or, Fan Power!

03/28/2010 at 10:13 pm | Posted in 49>50, How to this-or-that, News & Explanations | 4 Comments
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**NOTE: This is an awesome blog post, but it is out of date!  Instead, see this page for updated 2013 show booking notes!  The writing below is wonderful but also it is a historical document from early 2010.  New info:  http://mariancall.wordpress.com/booking-a-house-concert/**

This blog entry is your complete guide and FAQ to making a Marian Call concert happen in your area on the 49 to 50 tour.  Odds are I sent you here so we can make a show happen!  Below you can find links for the forms you’ll fill out and answers to a number of questions.  Please read the applicable sections before requesting a concert.

There are two kinds of shows: House Concerts and Venue ConcertsHouse concerts I set up directly with you (even if they’re not at a house, or not at your house).  For venue concerts, such as cafés, bars, farmer’s markets, and music halls, I collect information about a venue that you think is really a perfect fit and has dates open, and I contact them myself (unless the manager happens to be your brother-in-law or something, in which case you introduce us).

If you get a mass e-mail or a contact from an minion of mine during the booking process, I hope you’ll pardon me.  This project is so huge and so exciting I need a little help and a little automation to manage it all.  But the good news is it makes it possible for me to meet you in person at sometime soon!

The bestest newest ever e-mail address for booking questions, which goes to me and my various helpers: mcminion42@gmail.com!!!!!

Use this e-mail address for booking questions and venue suggestions.  No need to cc mariancall@mac.com; all the mcminion42 messages are forwarded to me automatically, and I still read everything myself.  I might have a very cool helper answer some of it though.  Don’t worry, your personal information (home address particularly) is very very safe.

Applying for a House Concert:

If you want to host or set up a house concert (even if it’s not at a house), be sure you’ve read all about how I do house concerts and then follow the instructions here.

  1. Check my Public Google Calendar by clicking here [link disabled later] to see when I plan to be in your area, and what dates I already have scheduled gigs.  The schedule and map are flexible — until I have concerts anchoring me to this location and that (so don’t cry if you don’t see your city just yet).  You can ask for a date when I’m trying to be elsewhere; worst I can do is say no.  You’ll notice that later in the fall, i.e. farther east, I’m not sure which state comes in which order yet — gigs that get nailed down will determine my route. Also note: some days I will designate for “travel” or “rest” and those are unavailable.
  2. Choose a date or dates to request. If it’s way in the future when times are flexible, just pick something you like!  Know that for house concerts, Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Thursdays, and Sunday afternoons or evenings usually work just fine — and even more non-traditional times, like brunches or lunches, have worked in the past if you’re interested in something a little different.  If you’re looking for a date in, say, August, September, or October, know that we may have to hold out on nailing down the date on one show until I’ve confirmed a few others, etc. (events are very interconnected). So let me know if you have a time constraint, too, i.e. “I can do Thursdays but not Wednesdays,” or “I’ll be home this weekend but gone the next.” I deeply wish I could play in every town on Saturday night, but I can’t. I also wish I could play every day without resting, but I can’t do that either.  I’ll accommodate every request I can without running myself into the ground.  If I can’t play your town or your day, I’m sorry — hopefully I can come back!
  3. Gather information and make decisions about the kind of event you want to plan. Just figure out the basics — find out how many people you can fit (more than you think); if it’s not a house, make sure you can secure the space or find out if it costs anything; if it is a house, check to be sure that it’s yours, or that the neighbors won’t mind coming home to a big surprise.  Decide what kind of food you want to provide or coordinate, and whether kids will be welcome.  And actually count how many people you believe you can get to come from within your own social circle (I can provide more sometimes).  Decide whether you want a public or private event.  Feel free to ask  questions: mcminion42@gmail.com or, for quick questions, @mariancall on Twitter.
  4. ****Most important**** Fill out this Google form: [link now disabled]. This is how I can keep all of these requests organized and make the tour happen.  If you don’t have ALL the information, especially the optional stuff, don’t sweat it.  Though the more clearly you can visualize the event, the more likely I am to approve your date over someone else’s.  (But it’s not the LSAT.) Then e-mail me so I know there’s a new entry in the form. mariancall@mac.com
  5. If I can’t choose your proposed concert, I’d like to say in large, friendly letters: DON’T PANIC. I still love you, and I will nearly always provide you with a personal invite to another nearby show. Please don’t be bitter.  If you want to know what makes me choose some shows over others — larger house concerts will probably be better than small ones if they’re in the same area; public ones are usually preferable to private ones, so other fans can come; kids and pets have no influence on the yes or no vote, I just need to know about them; if you or your community can lodge me for free, you may have a slight advantage (though no lodging is not a dealbreaker); money overall is less important than connections — i.e. lots of people barely listening is worth less to me than just a few people really listening and caring.  Also, please don’t hold back because you think I’ll reject you — I’m happy to do small shows and out-of-the-way places if they fit into my schedule and you’re willing to bring some open ears to the event.
  6. If I do choose your concert: DON’T PANIC.  You may freak out about it sometimes, but trust me, when you look back you will find it was pretty easy.  And it will be really fun.  I’ll notify you, we’ll iron out the details and reserve the date, we’ll arrange a (very informal) contract, and I’ll equip you with what you need to set up/advertise/invite/manage RSVP’s and so on.

Explanations and disclaimers: The calendar and route are subject to change, because they must be.  The reality of such a large tour is that I may have to rearrange a date with you if my travel schedule changes (or my car breaks down).  I hope for no cancellations at all, but the universe will ultimately decide that.  So please be understanding and a little bit flexible.

If you’re offering lodging, that lodging will be for me and an accompanist (almost always a guy). We’re cool sharing a room but we don’t share beds. We’re also cool crashing on couches, air mattresses, cots, the floor, what have you.  Some accompanists are allergic to pets, so let me know in advance if you have them.

Let’s make it happen!

Recommending a Venue Near You:

If there’s a local cafe, restaurant, or music venue — or maybe a podcast or local radio station spot — that you think I should play, please, let me know about it!  It’s so hard to know which places are a good fit or locally loved when I’ve never been.  I may or may not hit them all on this tour, but I do want to know what venues I should be aiming for, and fan recommendations are the number one way I decide where to try to play.

  1. (same as above) If you want to recommend a specific date, Check my Public Google Calendar to see when I plan to be in your area, and what dates I already have scheduled gigs.  PLEASE check your venue’s website or calendar to make sure they have openings around that time before you send me pursuing them — if they’re already booked I’d hate to waste your time or mine.
  2. Not all venue recommendations require a date. So if it’s more a recommendation to file away for the future — or a radio station or podcast or another musician to work with — and not a specific concert for this tour, that’s ok.
  3. ****Most important**** E-mail Marian at mcminion42*at*gmail.com.  Let me know what the opportunity is like, and if you really want me to book a show there on this tour, please provide a date if you can and let me know you see this as a real, immediately possible event.  Let me know if you think you could bring people you know to it.  Otherwise I will probably file it away for reference and use it only if I need it, since this tour is mainly made possible through house concerts.
  4. Venues that might seem great but aren’t actually that useful: the premier venue in town, i.e. the Grand Ole Opry or Carnegie Hall. I’m unlikely to be able to play in the best spot in your city (yet).  Also, music festivals.  Folks are always inviting me to play at music and geek festivals, and I’d love to because they are FUN, but generally they aren’t the best use of my time.  I don’t make much money or connect with fans very well, the dates aren’t flexible, and I can’t take the time to keep track of all the different application processes.
  5. Venues I might like better than you think: bookstores, galleries, shops, radio stations, farmer’s markets, really good local open mics or showcases, cafes open to free lunchtime background music. 
  6. Really Good: connecting me with a local musician who does roughly what I do (someone making acoustic music full-time, touring, accessible to all audiences) to share a show.  I love to open for other artists, I love having other artists open for me, and I love to share the stage with locals.  Recommend a musician!

It’s really preposterous to attempt a tour of this size without a booking agent or full-time manager or promoter.  But you are already helping so much, and I’m hopeful your enthusiasm will only grow as this thing takes off.  I know mine is.  I can’t wait to hit the road again!  And I can’t wait to meet you or see you again.

I’ll be there soon — all my best,

Marian Call

House Concerts 101

03/22/2010 at 10:25 am | Posted in How to this-or-that, Music, News & Explanations | 17 Comments
Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

**NOTE: This is an awesome blog post, but it is out of date!  Instead, see this page for updated 2013 show booking notes!  The writing below is wonderful but also it is a historical document from early 2010.  There’s an updated version that is very much the same.  New info:  http://mariancall.wordpress.com/booking-a-house-concert/**

My 2010 tour will consist primarily of house concerts. Yet most of my listeners have never attended a house concert. Even fewer have hosted.  So what’s the deal? Here’s the deal.

Let’s go back in time, back to the millenia before television brought Mick Jagger at halftime into your living room through a glowy blue box.  If you wanted live music, you had to make it happen in your own house, yard, church, pub, temple, piazza, or outhouse.  The best modern equivalent is a house concert.  I’m not saying those old days were better, but I am saying it’s probably been too long since you’ve listened to fantastic music up close and live in a quiet environment — that’s a transformative experience.  It’s way different than going out, way different than listening to MP3′s, way different than anything the glowy blue box can bring you.  And you still make it happen.

I’ve played dozens and dozens of house concerts now, and 90% of them were with hosts who had never organized a house concert before.  So don’t say you can’t do it — you can!  It’s entirely simple, cheap for everyone, friendly, fun, environmentally smart, economically smart — and the food and alcohol are way better and cheaper than what you get going out.

How does it work? You contact an artist, set a date, get them your address, invite your friends by e-mail and take RSVP’s, plan for food or drinks (if you want to), and then I show up, set up my gear, and play for you!

Things prospective house concert hosts ALWAYS say to me:

  • “I’d love to, but my house is too small.” EVERY host says this at first. No, it’s not. I’ve done house concerts for 5 people in a tiny cabin in Alaska and for 25 in an even smaller crowded standing-room-only flat in Hollywood, with everyone shoulder-to-shoulder.  I’ve even played a dorm room.  Your house can fit way more people than you think.
  • “I’ve never done anything like that before.” You probably have.  Take any kind of house party you can think of — a drunken BYOB bash, a child-friendly family potluck, a birthday party with presents, a backyard BBQ, a fancy wine and cheese event — and just imagine that the theme of the afternoon/evening is music.  The artist (me) will provide absolutely everything related to the music part of the show; all you do is put on a very normal party, invite people, set out drinks, and wait for all of us to show up.
  • “I don’t know if I want strangers in my house.” No need to have any (besides me).  You can have a private event, just for your friends and family.  Or you can host it at a local community center, school, place of worship, park, swimming pool — anywhere!  People get all sorts of creative, using these concerts for fundraisers, community events, conventions, kids’ time, etc.  The host sets the parameters.
  • “It will take so much time!” Well, it can, but it doesn’t have to.  I’ve played some elaborate, carefully coordinated house concerts, and some that the hosts just let happen. Potlucks and BBQ’s, especially, are low-to-no maintenance and take only a few e-mails to coordinate.  To get everything you need to compose the invitation and promote the show, see the “Publicity Tools” tab above.
  • “My place is a mess.” Everyone says this, and everyone is lying.  By the time I arrive you’ve usually scrambled for thirty minutes and made it look lovely.  (If you need an excuse to clean up, this would be it…)
  • “You can’t come to my town, I’m out of the way.” People who contact me and ask nicely usually get me to come sooner or later.  If you’re out of the way, just guarantee me a certain number of people in attendance, or a certain amount of money (surprisingly little) and I’ll make it happen.  As long as I don’t lose money coming to your town, I will probably be game!
  • “Wow, that was amazing and special and unforgettable. And it was so much easier than I thought!” I hear this Every. Single. Time.

Most hosts and guests are thrilled by their first house concert.  Get out to one in your area if you want an idea of how they go!  There are lots of normal folks like you beginning to host monthly or quarterly concerts because they’ve found it’s so easy, fun, and memorable.  Artists love to be asked to do house concerts — after the bars-and-cafes grind, they’re a pleasure.  Your favorite local artist would probably be thrilled to play one for you.  Why not ask?  Ask me anytime: visit this blog entry to actually request a concert, or e-mail mcminion42@gmail.com to ask questions.*

Answers to FAQ’s are below if you’re thinking of hosting. If you’ve hosted or attended a house concert before, do leave your thoughts in the comments!

- What do I need to provide? Just some comfortable space where people can stand or sit and mingle, and later listen attentively to music.  Consider what your sort of crowd would be comfortable with.  You also need to provide at least some of the people — most house concerts are populated by the host’s friend and social circle, though occasionally one will be promoted as a public event and I will invite other fans to RSVP.

- What’s the food and drink situation? This is completely up to you.  I’ve played at fully catered gourmet dinners, potlucks, barbecues, desserts, wine tastings, and even afternoon or late evening events which had no real food — only beverages and cookies. Anything goes, as long as your guests are prepared for what to bring and what will be available.

- How does the event flow? Usually the event starts with about forty-five minutes to an hour of mingling and food and drink.  When the moment feels right (or right on the clock, however you like it) you invite people to claim their space for the show, and I begin performing.  I usually do two forty-five minute sets with a break (so as not to wear down guests’ attention span.  I am very generous with my tunes;  if folks are engaged I’ll go as long as the audience likes and do any and every request I can).  During the show at some point, I invite people to give money, usually $10-15, and/or buy CD’s, and I leave it at that.  The host can keep their hands clean of the money business for the most part; I’m used to doing it myself.  After the show people mingle some more, in varying stages of sobriety, sometimes staying all night and sometimes going home right away.  When everyone’s gone usually you and I crack one last beer or heat one last cup of tea and sigh and chat about how fun the evening was.  Then I drive away (or sleep on your couch, depending) and provided your guests are the good kind, you’re left with minimal mess.

- How do I promote the event?  Do I have to post my personal information on the internet? You can make your event private — only for people you know — or public.  If it’s public, I will advertise it, but I will not post your name or address on the web unless you ask me to.  Usually prospective guests can get the address in exchange for a firm RSVP by e-mail.  (And my fans are awesome people that you’d want to meet anyway.)  To get the word out, e-mail invites and a Facebook event usually do the trick; some folks use a service like evite, but I’ve almost never seen that go very well.  The very best promotion in the world is word of mouth. If you’re excited, your friends will be too.  I’m happy to help with a free MP3 for invitees, plus all the links and photos and posters you could want — or a spiffy e-mail/web invite like the one below.  Plus I’m happy to give you CD’s and bonus things.  House Concert hosts get Marian Call perks of all kinds — just ask!

UPDATED: for help writing an invitation or get official images, posters, etc., just click on the tab at the top of this page called “Publicity Tools.” Everything you need is there (scroll down to the bottom).

Things it’s important to clarify when you invite people: 1) this will be a house concert, not a house party, and the music is the feature event; 2) bring your own (chair, food, beer, kids, whatever they should bring, as people want to know); 3) whether kids are welcome, and if they are, whether childcare will be provided.

- What about the *gulp* money? Awkward… I understand completely. Asking guests for $$ is awful. If you mention it up front, in the e-mail invitation, it’s actually less awkward — and if you leave a basket at the door, instead of passing the hat, again, less awkward.  People don’t like letting other people watch them pay.  A good way to phrase the invitation is to say there’s a “$10-15 per person recommended donation for the artist, pay-as-you-can.” I’ll reinforce that with a friendly announcement that I’m used to making.  I never begrudge folks coming and not paying, or paying less than $10.  But I do have to make ends meet.  So the idea is to prepare guests for what to expect before you’re speaking to them in person.  I don’t require a minimum guarantee, unless I’m flying far afield, but if you think you might have less than 12-15 people, it’s good to tell me that directly, since that may affect what other shows I look for in the area or what date I book with you.

- Can I really do this? Absolutely!  And to paraphrase most of my house concert hosts from around the country, it’s a fantastic and memorable and [insert many glowing adjectives here] experience.  You’ll be so glad you did.  So will I.  I’m proud of you!

*To inquire about booking a house concert with me, visit this blog entry and follow the instructions.  I don’t respond to Facebook or Myspace booking requests, nor Twitter DM’s; it’s not official booking business ’til it’s in my real inbox at mcminion42@gmail.com.  Also: you may hear from an assistant of mine sometimes, but rest assured I’m overseeing all correspondence that goes on.

House Concert InvitePhoto by Brian Adams. http://baphotos.com or http://flickr.com/brianadams.

P.S.: this is an old invite for a show in 2009.  But don’t worry Arizona, I’ll be visiting you in June!

***Update, by request: you can see my rough calendar dates on this Google calendar or at http://mariancall.com/tour.php.  If you want me to come visit, tell some friends about me!***

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