WILMINGTON, NC – The nuggets of wisdom shared Wednesday night at the latest Creative Career Workshop at The Painter & The Poet were meant for the creative community – but all of us could benefit from these life lessons.
- Be nice
- Be on the scene
- Keep the party going
- Don’t be a potato
Okay that last one might need a little explaining.
Local musician Shawn Pugh, who plays at several venues and also books solos and duos for Bourbon Street downtown, says you basically have to be an entertainer AND a musician on stage in order to be a regular working artist.
“You can sonically sound good and be a potato,” Shawn Pugh said.
Basically – keep the party going!
Pugh joined Jenni Gilewicz, owner and main booker for Seawitch Café and Tiki Bar in Carolina Beach, and Stuart Currin, a drummer with several local bands including Boba Funk and Monkey Funktion, on the panel discussion Wednesday. The trio discussed the booking process in the greater Wilmington area – how to get booked, how to keep getting booked and what to do to even get your foot in the door.
And a lesson from childhood may be the first tip in your bag of tricks. Try the Golden Rule.
“The bartenders are basically the first line of folks,” Artist Delia Stanley, the host of the Workshop series, stated. “You want to be polite to them.”
Pugh added if they know you have a history of not being nice to the staff, you aren’t going to get hired. Currin mentioned it’s even good practice to tip the bartenders, even if you don’t have a bar tab that night. That front line can also help discover acts to book as well.
“Frank Grant for example. Half our bartenders heard him downtown and really liked him,” Jenni Gilewicz said about one of their regular performers, Frank Grant & The Feelin.
Not everyone will be “discovered” though. Sometimes you have to grind.
“If you want to be on the scene, be on the scene. You can’t expect people to know who you are if you aren’t around,” Pugh said about some of the best advice he’s heard recently.
A great place to start is an open mic. You can network, practice your act and try out new material on a crowd.
Don’t get discouraged if that open mic has low attendance. The artists pointed out that could be a great time to record your performance with less crowd noise and use that video to help get future gigs.
When you’re ready to reach out to venues to try to get booked, Facebook seemed to be the most popular communication method among the panelists. But you should keep notes on the ways each location prefers to communicate. Also – be patient and be persistent.
Stanley calls it “polite harassment.”
Gilewicz said that it can get tricky when booking if they’re waiting to hear back from certain acts before proceeding.
“There is so much mapping out that goes into it,” Gilewicz said. “If one band is taking forever to get back to you, you are stalled.”
Some other things to keep in mind if you’re looking to get booked – be prepared to play some covers. Stanley said it’s a necessary part of the business to be a regular working musician. Gilewicz seconded the thought, pointing out that booking is a business. They need to draw a crowd and recognizable songs help. But it doesn’t mean you can’t play some originals.
“I’ve always been a fan of sucking them in with a cover and blowing them away with an original,” Stuart Currin said.
Consider where and how often you’re playing a certain geographic area too. You can run the risk of over-saturation if your gigs are all within the same basic neighborhood.
“If you book nearby venues four times a week, it is too over-saturated. It’s not as valuable to the venue,” Gilewicz said.
Stanley mentioned the proliferation of musical options in the Leland area and even Surf City has helped give local artists a chance to find new audiences and territories.
The panel also spoke at length about pay for bands and the dangers of “free gigs.” Stanley said if a venue is seeking a free performer, you need to think why they are doing it, pointing out free gigs can hurt the whole community. And there may be valid reasons – fundraisers, for example. But consider all options when thinking of booking a gig.
There are venues already booking out their entire calendar in 2024, so things can get gobbled up quickly. Stanley recommended starting to reach out now to see what’s out there. But don’t get discouraged, Gilewicz said, because cancellations happen quite a bit and there are always opportunities.
And once you get the gig, keep the party going and tip your bartenders, you’ve likely set a good example of what those venues can expect from you. And at least for Gilewicz, that goes a long way.
“At Seawitch, It’s kind of like the mafia. Once you’re in, you’re in,” Gilewicz said.
–> The next Creative Career Workshop is set for Wednesday, November 30th at The Painter & The Poet at 1202 Chestnut Street. The topic will be “Sound and Stage: Best Performance Practices & Tech Tips.” Register here.
–> The second workshop was live streamed on Facebook. Watch the replay here.
–> Check out the latest musical lineup at Seawitch here.
–> On top of his local gigs, you can catch Shawn Pugh each Thursday night as the host of Open Mic at Bourbon Street.