Posted by: Reginald Cyntje | August 12, 2013

Whose Job Is It To Promote? Musicians? Venues? Both?

I’ve worked different types of gigs over the years. High profile to small clubs… I do my best to share the information about upcoming performances. I feel it is important. But I don’t think that feeling is mutual.

In 1998, I did my first gig as a bandleader. It was difficult. I had a lot on my mind. What tunes to play? How should I pace the set so my lips don’t get tired? Who should I use? When should I rehearse?

The most crucial part was the pay. We were performing on a weeknight. That meant we were working for the door. It was my first bandleader gig. I was broke. I wanted to promote and get people out so the band could make a decent amount of money. Most of all, I did not want to be paying cats out of pocket.

I printed up lots of flyers and started posting them up all over Washington DC. I also gave flyers to the musicians. At one of my rehearsals for the gig, I saw the stack of flyers I gave one of the cats months before on the floor.  I learned a valuable lesson that day. Musicians don’t promote. Or so I thought?

Fast-forward 15 years later. Now we have social media. It is even easier for us (musicians) to reach large amounts of people. But do musicians promote? Hmmm… I’ve seen cats promote certain gigs and ignore others. I’ve seen cats not promote at all. And then, there is the rare case where cats actually do promote most public gigs.

Whose job is it? Is it the venue? Some clubs are great. The pay is right. The management treats you with respect. They have a steady flow of traffic coming to the club. These spots promote the artist using email, website, social media and print. The entire experience from beginning to end is beautiful. I love these situations as a sideman and bandleader. It makes my job a lot easier.

Then there are those spots where you love the history of the place but mistreatment and mismanagement makes you ask “why did I book this room?” These establishments expect the musician to bring the people out. I guess the thought is “we are doing you a favor.” You might end up bussing tables, ensuring the room is presentable, bringing air freshener and hopefully playing some good music. But, once folks are in the seats, they are sometimes turned away by the lack of customer service. When you pack the house, they don’t pay you extra and when the room is empty they cry broke. Some of their checks are not good. As a bandleader, I have to set aside money just in case the check bounces. Contracts are almost fruitless unless you want to take a small club to court. That path is not beneficial to the community. Jazz clubs are rapidly closing down.

Now you would think that some of these small establishments would be respectful to musicians who pack the house. Unfortunately, that is not always the case…Do they promote?

One can say, “It is the venue’s job to promote a concert. They should have a steady clientele. The musician’s job is to create and perform music.”

Well, I somewhat agree with this statement. I think venues should do their part promoting concerts. It is in their best interest to insure folks are in seats. However, recently, Wallace Roney had a concert at a venue that does promote but the tickets did not sell so they had to lower the price. This shows that even the greats still have to promote at good venues. If Wallace Roney needs to promote, I guess I need to do the same. I see superstars promoting their events. I also see members of those bands sharing information about concerts.

Now back to my experience. Since the clubs might or might not do a good job promoting, is it the musician’s job to promote? There are musicians who promote gigs, don’t promote or only promote certain gigs. I’m sorry. If I hire you for a gig and I ask you to promote that is what I expect. Telling somebody about the gig is all I ask. Simple? Some cats might say “Sh!t, my job is to play the music!” The funny thing about that? I’ve hired superstars and upcoming cats. Many of them jack up the music when they don’t practice or check out the charts. So the least cats can do is promote. Right?

I’ve directly asked cats to invite people to events. Ignored… Now if a cat does not usually promote, I don’t expect anything. But if I see you promote other gigs (especially a jam session that is probably paying you $40 to $60), should I be offended if you don’t promote a public gig I hire you for? I’ve seen listeners do more promoting than cats on gigs.

Being a reasonable individual, I look at different aspects. Has this musician led a band? Are they aware of what goes on behind the scenes? Are they experienced or inexperienced? Are they trifling? Are they having a difficult time in life?

If the musician is aware and still does not promote, I think long and hard before hiring them for a gig. I’m especially frustrated with cats I pay out of my own pocket that don’t promote. I think to myself “you are a liability.” I learn my lesson and move on. I get it. There is no love lost. There was probably no love to begin with.

But let there be a problem with pay? I will get tons of emails, calls, etc. The same cat that did not extend me the courtesy of checking out the music, rehearsing or simply mentioning the performance to folks will suddenly expect me to do my part. I guess I pay musicians to show up.

It is bad enough having to deal with club owners, book the gigs, cover the checks if something goes wrong, etc. I guess asking someone to promote is a little too much. Sh!t, asking someone to practice the music is out of the question.

I’ve seen cats show up to gigs and recording sessions unprepared. It must be something in the water…

I get it. Really, I do. I work as a sideman. I have kids. I have a life. I have other responsibilities, etc.

All I can do is live by example. When I get hired for any gig, I do my job and show up prepared. When I get hired for a public gig, I share the info. I understand the importance of getting the word out. Lesson learned…Thank you!


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