Booking conferences seem to be cropping up in every state during all times of the year. I thought I would offer some tips on how to approach attending a large booking conference.
Let me make a few distinctions first. Among the many varieties of conferences one may attend, some are geared toward bookings, (agents and artists connecting with promoters and club bookers) and other conferences are more media events where an artist may connect with prospective agents, managers, record labels and create a media buzz about their act. Promoters do attend these media events as well, and there is always potential for getting gigs, but much less so than at a conference specifically set up for promoters to see new talent. I would like to discuss the booking conference and specifically, address how to maximize your showcasing efforts when you have been selected to showcase. In other articles I talk about how to benefit from the exhibit hall, attending workshops and networking techniques.
Before planning to attend any conference, it is best to set some career goals or review your long-term goals and marketing plans that you may have previously established. Conferences cost money, so it is important to select the most appropriate conferences based upon your career goals for the upcoming two years. If you want to expand your touring in a specific region, select a conference that opens doors to that region. Perhaps you are ready for national attention, then set your sights on some of the larger, national conferences. Avoid attending a conference that you are not ready to attend. Choose the conference that will offer you opportunities to jump to the next logical level in your career, not leap to a level for which you are unprepared.
Here are some examples of specific career goals as they relate to selecting the appropriate conference.
Build a following in the mid-Atlantic region: Attend conferences such as Independent Music Conference. Even though attendees come from all over the country, there will be a concentration of venues, bands, managers, agents and media from the mid-Atlantic region. Here all styles of music are represented.
Build a national following: Attend SXSW in Austin, TX held in mid-March each year. This conference has grown over the years and attracts promoters, media, managers, agents, film industry, recording industry from all over the country and Canada as well as some international attendees. If your goal is to create a national buzz as you look for management, record labels and stir up some major media attention, this may be the right conference for you. This is a very large conference, and one can easily get lost in the crowd if you are not prepared to make a big splash and invest in some promotion for the conference.
These are just two of the many conferences currently happening. Some conferences are international, some genre specific, some are event specific. It is likely that you will find a number of conferences right for your next career move. You may find listings for many conferences in the Musician’s Atlas, available at music and record stores and in the Trade Shows and Events chapter in my book.
Once you are confident in your conference selection, consider applying for a showcase slot. Some conferences select their showcasing talent by a jury selection committee, and others work on a First-come, first-serve basis. There is an application fee and a showcase fee. Along with the officially juried showcases, many conferences also have opportunities to self-produce your own showcase in either designated rooms which you must rent or in rooms or venues of your own selection and at your own cost.
The official showcases sponsored by the conference get major promotion from the Conference and are most often attended by the greatest number of attendees. Depending on the conference set-up, independently promoted showcases tend to attract a great deal of attention when extensively promoted. Creating a buzz about your showcase is key to drawing the attention of those you desire to see your act. There is a lot of competition, with multiple showcases happening simultaneously. Each showcasing artist is vying for the attention of many of the same people.
Key Elements to Successful Showcasing:
It is important to make yourself stand out in some unique way: Ask yourself, “What is unique about my act?” Emphasize that aspect in all of your promotional material, during the show and after the show with every follow-up contact.
Advance promotional campaign: Some conferences send registered attendees an advance attendee list. Use this list to send email or printed invitations to your showcase to those you have identified as people you want to know about the act, promoters, agents, managers, labels, media. Make pre-conference phone calls to personally invite specific people. Contact local media in the conference town and pitch them a story—you’ll need a hook to attract local media, can you find one? Pre-conference contact is so important if you are trying to create interest prior to everyone’s arrival at the conference site. Once people arrive, there will be an inundation of flyers and promotional materials for every act’s event. Concentrate your efforts on setting up meetings and issuing personal invitation prior to the conference.
Promotional campaign at the event: Check over the official conference attendee list. Identify people who you have previously contacted and those who are new in the official list. Create attractive flyers to post in designated areas around the conference. There will be thousands of similar flyers so make sure yours is graphically attractive and readable from a distance. If there is a major event that most conference goers will attend, check for permission to place table tents on tables or seats promoting your showcase. So many acts will be attempting similar promotion campaigns so that the information about showcasing events begins to become diluted. It is important to make personal contact, hand each person a clever, uniquely designed, invitation/reminder of your showcase. Find a promotional item that is different from the general flyer or paper sign. At one conference, an artist had a remote control blimp with their name on the sides. He floated the balloon over the heads of the attendees as they gathered in lounges, bars, dining areas and other general meeting places. He definitely attracted attention. Be creative – competition is fierce!
As you plan for the actual showcase keep the following in mind:
Know exactly how long your set can be. Some conferences allot very short times, like 15 or 20 minutes—some give you 45 or 60 minutes.
Plan to perform material that is the most familiar to you. You are under enough pressure when showcasing; this is not the time to try new material or take chances. You want to be impressive.
Time your set, music, and talk.
Rehearse your set many times until it is second nature.
If you are offered a sound check, take it and use every minute to make sound and lights work for you. When you are using a sound company provided by the conference, find out contact names prior to the event and forward all sound and light plots ahead of time. Be in touch with the engineer and review your specific sound requirements to understand what will be provided and what you must bring to avoid surprises when you arrive. In situations when you are able to provide your own sound, arrive in plenty of time to set up and sound check.
With so many acts rotating on and off-stage, showcasing can be unnerving and sometimes frustrating when things don’t go as planned. If you are solid in your performance, even if the sound and light go bad, stay cool and do the best show you know how. The audience appreciates that and sympathizes and such situations can often work in your favor when you remain in control.
You never know who might be in the audience, no matter how many people show up to your showcase. The two who attended could be the one’s to offer you some deal. Show them what you’re made of!
Finally, if there is a chance to meet people after the showcase, get out there and shake some hands, have plenty of cards ready or offer promotional packets or CDs if you have them.
Having a successful showcase can be a major career boost. Attracting the attention of movers in your field can change your life. It can also simply be a well-done showcase that caught the attention of some new people and not provides any monumental changes immediately. For the most part, showcases and conference events require consistent follow-up after the event with contacts you made during the conference. The impact made may not be realized right away. If you don’t come away with the deal, you were hoping for or get the number of dates you were planning, don’t be discouraged. Act by keeping in touch with those you met after the conference is over to move toward your desired goals. My experience has been that some connections may take a number of years to result in significant deals or bookings.
For those of you who are ready to take a serious step toward the next level in your career, attending and showcasing at appropriate conferences could be the boost you were seeking. Good luck.
And, I invite you to learn more about this and other topics important to your career development and to sign up for free weekly audio Biz Booster Hot Tip! Every Monday you’ll get another valuable strategy and technique that you can put to use immediately. You’ll find helpful books, career development seminars, Booking & Touring Success Strategies & Secrets online course and information on booking tours, the music business and performing arts. It’s all waiting for you at http://www.performingbiz.com. Jeri Goldstein is the author of, How To Be Your Own Booking Agent The Musician’s & Performing Artist’s Guide To Successful Touring, 3rd Edition.
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