If you didn’t run screaming from the building after Lesson 1 then welcome back. If you did find defining what makes you unique confronting then maybe this article will help you with that – whilst providing you with a new challenge. Let’s dive in…
Oh, this is a long one essentially in two parts, sure I could split into two articles but then I am pandering to style over substance which is not a good sign here.
Somebody Roll Me A Dime
This lesson is about learning to make a pitch. Yep, you done got me right, making a pitch as in selling your sad, sorry, self to someone else (stop sniggering). I hear many of you saying but we is Rock Stars we don’t do sales like some sort of aging trolly boy. Ok, well good luck with that. Even if you wanted to be a Rock Star to snag more chicks, guess what? You chose Rock Star to Groupie as your sales strategy & target market.
When in car sales, I was often sent to those Ra Ra events where some Brad Sugars wannabe (seen him too) gets up and tells you about Elevator Pitches. Wikipedia says “An elevator pitch, is a short sales pitch; that is, a summary used to quickly and simply define a process, product, service, organization, or event and its value proposition.” Yay.
I hated that crap but there is some merit to the idea of having a succinct way to get across what your thing was in a few sentences. Proton Cars are out of Malaysia and specialize in really well behaved & safe cars with a good feature set for a price below what you would expect for a similar car. That interests a buyer to want to know more or lets them know this isn’t a Porche dealer after all.
If you have a sense of who you are as an Act (Lesson 1) then this will be so much easier.
Buy My Love
Before we go further let’s define who you are selling your self (and art don’t forget) to:
- Fans – yes those guys & gals are always your #1 target and you must never forget that as without them wanting to buy your choons, you have nothing.
- Record Labels – including Managers, A&R people, and all the other people you need to impress enough to invest in your shebang.
- Band Members & Support Staff – are last in the list but are most often the very first people you need onside to get the ball rolling (and the first sacrificed when the wheels are falling off). This ranges from the guitarist you want to nick from another band, thru the sound guy at the hall you just wandered into for sound check, to the Producer you want to hire, or the record label hired in, to bang you into shape.
Now great news is that the core of your pitch is essentially the same for all these groups. It is just the call to action (when you ask em to do something) is different:
- Fans – make people intrigued enough to listen to you so you get the opportunity to upsell the CD, and even better the t-shirt so their friends want to come to the next show.
- Record Labels – see enough potential in your act to want it on their roster and be prepared sink cash into marketing to fans you can’t reach alone.
- Band Members & Support Staff – play your game and help make you look great.
Up The Irons!
Let’s make a little pitch to represent an act you should at least be aware of. I chose these guys because they have a strong & unique image that has seen them stay at the top of the game for 35+ years (yeah & I like em plenty).
Iron Maiden is one of the most successful Metal acts in the world. Powered by Steve Harris’ clanking, galloping Bass & Dave Murray’s soulful melodic riffs. Fronted by Bruce Dickinson’s hearty vocal delivery & the ever-present mascot Eddie, Maiden is one of the most enduring, loved & copied acts in Rock.
Does that make you at least think, I should check em out? Winning. Steve Harris, bandleader, has held a very tight ship so is a great example of how to get it right.
Let’s pull my precis apart:
- Iron Maiden: I get the product name right up front. Whatever is first is the most important thing.
- one of the most successful Metal acts in the world: hyperbole but in this case entirely true. The Irons have had some less well-received records but they keep going and the next record generally hits the spot again. In this case, this works for all three targets. If you start using hyperbole for your unknown act then you close ears hard & fast. Yes, hard & fast so you will never get another audience. Not a good call. Ever. Tell the truth only & ever.
- Metal: is the genre they work in. It is simple & broad, some may insist I write NWOBHM, Classic Metal or perhaps Power Metal or whatever hair-splitting sub-genre they think fitting. Sure on your Blog, you can do that but here you generally want to be broad as not everyone in your audiences knows (or cares) what those silly definitions mean.
- Powered by Steve Harris’ clanking, galloping Bass & Dave Murray’s soulful melodic riffs: you have to find your adjective but when you listen to Maiden, the rhythm & bass sound are distinctive and Dave’s guitar work is quite different from say Black Sabbath or Judas Priest. Notice I bypass Nicko McBrain’s drumming, not because he is bad in any way but because in this case, Nikko’s drumming is not a unique feature of Maiden. Important to real fans and we’d hate to lose him but they could get another quality drummer and still be Maiden so don’t fluff the unnecessary. Like the hyperbole example above, don’t feel the need to mention all the facts, only the key things that really set your act apart (which can actually be none of the band members and still be ok).
- Fronted by Bruce Dickinson’s hearty vocal delivery: yes, Bruce is unique in all of Rock. With the possible exception of Arthur Brown who Bruce modeled much of his presence on there are few frontmen like him (as was discovered in the Blaze experiment). Notice I haven’t said the word “unique”. We’re all that so it means nothing all too easily. Find a better adjective (and therefore be unique).
- the ever-present mascot Eddie: now while not note-related Eddie is a truly unique part of the Iron Maiden experience. Not many bands have mascots (and I’m not advocating you have one) but Maiden struck gold with Derek Riggs’ cartoon character and early artwork. Fans love that in one form or another, Eddie graces almost every release & piece of merchandise. See how several band members didn’t get in the precis but Eddie did. This is because Eddie is unique.
- Maiden is one of the most enduring, loved & copied acts in Rock: again very carefully not hyperbole. Note the use of a nickname for Iron Maiden, subtly lets the target know these guys are loved enough to have one. “Enduring, loved & copied” tell the targets that they are safe to invest in this act (as fan, investor or member) as they are a force of not only themselves but now culture. I broaden the genre out to Rock to widen the base as Maiden are in fact larger than just the Metal genre with fans outside of the expected pasty-faced longhairs with complex t-shirt artwork. These soccer louts pull serious coin.
Can you see how in a few words I encapsulated all that information and made Iron Maiden look like a good thing to pay attention to? If not read it again.
Get a cuppa as here endeth Part I
I got all my sisters with me
I assume you have some understanding of pitching to the first two targets Fans & Record Labels so I won’t spend a lot of time on that right now (besides I covered a lot already in my Marketing course). Chances are right now that you are better investing heavily closest to home which is in Band Members & Support Staff.
Tricky Dick, Richard Branson (of Virgin fame) tends to rail against the “customers are the most important people in our business” codswallop. Branson says instead that the most important people in his business are the staff because with happy staff he has good productivity, ideas… and happy customers as a natural flow-on effect (none of that being yelled at to be nice to customers as happy staff just do it). Think on it. He’s right – Branson is a gagillionaire with this strategy if you hadn’t noticed.
Your Band Members and the people you need to support you from Girlfriends, Roadies, Lighting Techs to Sound Engineers & Producers are your greatest assets. It is highly likely that The Beatles would be a footnote if they hadn’t developed such a good working relationship with George Martin (Sir to you & I). This is why he is referred to as the Fifth Beatle.
The way you pitch yourself (and generally behave) with this group of people is your baseline & backline. They are your day to day support network and once you know how to do it right with them then you will find it not only easier with fans & record execs but your support network are likely to start opening doors for you, ones you may not have known about or been able to access.
Show Me The Way
Let’s assume you want to hire in a new support worker, be that a guitarist, or roadie it doesn’t matter, the rules are the same. Now always think of it as hiring even if there is no cash exchange. You are paying this person something or they wouldn’t turn up. Remember that so you can be sure they get paid well and on-time no matter what.
Here’s the process:
- Prepare the Project Brief: yes indeedy this is a project. If you haven’t got a clear sense of what the project is and how to explain it you will come unglued real fastly like. Is this guitarist wanted for two weeks, are they to be a writing partner or just a hired axeman??? Get all the scope of the project clear, write it down if it helps, so you can define what & who you need to make it happen properly. If this is the first time then you may not know all the details or what they really mean so don’t create false technicalities. Focus on the main goal like a new record. You can ask the relevant experts. Seeing how they answer you is good info. Just be aware that if you ask silly Q then you get stroppy A. Admit what you don’t know and learn, learn, learn…
- Scope the Prospect: no Lawyer goes into court without doing research. Do it and do it plenty. Don’t assume that because this person exists they are the right fit or even interested in serving you. Also, don’t assume they will automagically do what you want them to because you want them to. If this is a guitarist then go see them play, ask around former band members, fans and the like – are you about to hire a Dave Mustaine? If this is a technical support person do the same. In all cases read their website and any material they have about their services, what they do and don’t do. If they give a process by which they like to be approached follow it or you are saying that you have no respect for their needs and won’t follow the first instruction (particularly important with Producers etc.). I am sadly getting several blind calls a week that show that the person isn’t suited to me and they launch straight into trying to batter me into doing their will (commonly for a pittance). Exit stage left, running all the way…
- Develop Your Strategy: once your research says that this person seems like a good fit then develop how you are going to approach them. Work out how you are going to get in front of this person, make your pitch and hold your own in any ensuing discussion. Also plan how anyone you are about to displace, or disturb is to be handled. Check your strategy with not only band members but any support staff you already have. See what they really think (and make sure they can tell you this) and any suggestions they have. Sure, some of those suggestions may be duff but part of being a strategist is weighing the inputs. Sometimes a manager can do the work but not every time as some things are your job (e.g. art and personal relationships).
- Make Contact: if all the ducks are lining up then it is time to initiate contact. Remember to re-check any requests this person makes about how to contact them. Even if it seems annoying, do that and exactly that or you may well get ignored completely. Hard to recover from that. The mode you use depends entirely on the situation but if in any doubt us a slightly more formal method; e.g. don’t call a personal mobile if not requested, use the email instead – something like “Hi Benedict, I was hoping to have an opportunity to have a discussion with you about helping make our next “Jane of Evil” record. When would suit you?” That sort of thing (of course your website is linked as are a few good contact methods as not everyone likes every method). If going straight to the person then be sure they welcome this and if they show any hesitation then ask if you can arrange a time to discuss. Now, wait whilst trying not to pull out all your lovely hair…
Prepare Your Proposal: You now know that your proposal starts with polishing your Precis (Elevator Pitch) & Project Brief so you aren’t about to stand there and blather some crap about being the hottest act never heard in the Future-Cross-Fusion-Retro-Ironing-Core-Breakstep style that everyone is listening to. Hint, no one has heard of this genre and “everyone” is far too broad to be useful let alone factual. Consider using supporting material; prepare a binder (one of those folders with slip-in pages) and have it prepared and printed out. Be sure to print a second & third copy (just on stapled A4 is fine) as they may bring a friend or want to take a copy home. If you spelk lyke a iddeotte and make documents that look like spew then find someone to help as this is important – clean and simple is best so don’t write it in odd fonts or use clip art of any kind. If you have a folder it should contain your Precis and supporting info like band photos, your contacts and any press you got (outside of your 12 Facebook friends). Rehearse this info so you aren’t reading anything (but the pages can be there to remind you of the key points). You will also need to add in your Project Brief for your target to digest at leisure. Oh and don’t forget clear and easy contact info (avoiding your ilike69@hotmail address). If emailing this then ONLY use the general .PDF format as anything else is asking for trouble. (hint Word will Save As PDF)
- Meeting & Discussion: all being well you hear back reasonably quickly. Anyone who is remotely professional in manner will reply. It may not be overnight if they are on a lock-down session but any well-presented opening will at least get a thanks but no thanks answer. Of course, you don’t want that but if you do then take it on the nose and try another person (Step 2). If you get any kind of yes then read the info given very carefully and do exactly what the person asks. If they want to read your bio & hear three recent tracks then send only that. If they want the scope of your project then send that. If you fake or flam that they will probably know and either lose interest or ask for more/better info (in a worried tone). This person is an expert (or you wouldn’t be asking them) so ask and listen to their advice. Let them guide you and follow that guidance to show you respect them and are a good fit. During any meeting avoid Wibble-Speak & casual swearing – yo my mutha, so wassup fuckstik. Keep that for the stage as no one is impressed and it makes you look very tiny trying to pretend you are a big man. Not a good look. Normal words will do just dandy. Also, not all service pros are into your genre or even understand the wibble speak so don’t use it. Personally, I loathe people starting the conversation with the word “so” – it makes me think this person is a tool. Also, decide what you are going to wear. If in doubt dress up a bit. No one is impressed with a git (even if it is your band image). You are a businessman and have to be able to prove that, yep even to other musos. If they can’t roll with that then walk away. When the meeting ends, be sure to precis back any requests made of you (that you wrote down nice and neat and popped in your folder). Once that is square and you are parting, thank the person for their time, even if they said no, and walk away with your head high. They are watching and judging you so if you slope off back to your Mum’s Tarago and swear at her then you did damage.
Follow Up: Sometimes you will be asked to be in contact at a certain time and at others, you will get the don’t call us, we’ll call you line. It can be confusing but do exactly what they said to do. It can be a test. If you have sent something off or it has been left a bit up in the air (as is so common) then you do have a right to follow up in 1-2 weeks. This can be a test too so don’t fail it. Your follow up should be short and sweet, something like: “Hi Benedict I sent off the “Jane of Evil” material you asked for last week and I just wanted to be sure it had arrived and if there is anything I can do to help you with this?” The other guy knows exactly where you are at so YELLING at him that he isn’t getting back to you and missing out on the greatest deal ever is not a wise plan. If you don’t hear back then move on. Don’t harass anyone ever. Not replying is rude of them and maybe tells you that they are a doofus. File that info.
- Tasks: if you have been given a set of tasks (homework) then set about them. You may also have a timeframe given. If so be sure you stick to it lest you seem disinterested. Even a day late says this isn’t a priority for you (even if you have an excuse like having to go to work). At times, in a Producer role, I will set a task I know is hard, if so I will warn and say something like “Get back to me in a week no matter what”. What are you going to do? Good boy. Even if a deadline isn’t given, try not to let things drag past a week lest the other person assume you have lost interest. You can always post an update. If you are having trouble with the task and really can’t pull your own socks up then better to ask early than look like a dill on the deadline as that makes the next meeting useless (or a counseling session). Remember that if you went to this person as an expert you need to be honoring their advice or you are saying you are too cool for school which will destroy the relationship. Sometimes it will be hard or scary but remember you sought this out so no pain, no gain. Ask for understanding so you can get to the next level. If it was easy, you’d be there already (along with every other slacker).
If you are the band leader who has arranged this meeting/relationship and the other band members are not towing the line, this is on you. You need to decide what is more important, your mates or professionalism. No surprise really that I am going to say better to dump people who don’t want to do it right and find the right people. They may be your buddy but not really if they are scuppering the job. If this happens then tell the people you are working with. They may have possible solutions or help you put things on hold.
Homework: Look at your Act and write a few drafts of a Precis. Get a few people to read them and roll the bits that work well into your masterwork. Remember you are looking to represent your Act and not write shallow spin. Then use that to build yourself a Presentation (minus the folder) with your Precis, Band Info, Band Members, Accomplishments and any Press you have.
Action: Post your presentation online as a webpage (or a PDF if for some extremely good reason you haven’t made a site yet). You can then post a link below for me to peruse. (if publishing online then often best to only use some of your contact info – lest that crazy pregnant groupie in Azerbaijan finds you again).
No matter when you meet this course, please feel free to participate actively in the Homework & Action sections at the bottom of each page. Even if this article is old, I am still listening.