When & When Not to Play Open Mics

When & When Not to Play Open Mics

Do you have regular open mic nights in your hometown?

In Calgary, Alberta, Canada, where I live, I got connected with a lot of musicians I know because of the open mics I regularly attended (a couple of years ago; I don’t go to as many as I used to these days). There are a lot of great things about open mics, but there are also some not-so-great things about them.

A recent conversation sparked the idea for this post, which goes onto explain when and when not to play open mics. Sometimes it’s a great idea to play out, and at other times, it won’t do much for you.

Let’s start with when to play.

When to Play

Here are some thoughts on when to play open mics:

  • When you’re trying out something new: not sure how your new song is going to be received? Looking to try out a new arrangement of an old song? If so, an open mic is often a great place to test out your ideas. You can gauge audience reactions and get a sense of whether or not people like what you’re doing. Some open mic crowds are too polite not to clap, no matter what, but if you play enough of them, you’ll probably be able to figure out whether or not people like your new direction.
  • When you’re trying to get connected with other musicians and industry people: and let’s not get too carried away here. When I say musicians, I mean people that typically have other projects on the go already. I have seen some collaborations happen as result of people meeting at open mics, but that doesn’t happen all the time. And when I say industry people, just so you know, you’re probably not going to run into an A&R rep, but you might meet bloggers, podcasters, studio engineers, and so on.
  • When you’re trying to gain more live experience: as a musician, you have to know when you’re good and when you’re not. If you’re not, you need practice, and an open mic is a great place to get that much-needed live experience. Keeping that in mind, if your sincere intention is to improve, don’t just show up every week without preparing. Other attendees should be able to see that you’re making an earnest attempt to get better.
  • When you want to have some fun: there’s nothing wrong with showing up to an open mic to have some fun, to play a few songs, to get together with friends, and to enjoy some drinks and pub food. Just don’t construct any delusions about “moving your career forward”, because that’s probably the last thing that’s going to happen next time you play at an open mic for fun.
  • When you need to qualify for a real gig: some pubs require you to play at their open mic if you want to do a full show at their venue, and in cases like that, you might want to show up at one of their open mic nights to prove your worthiness. However, you still need to think about whether or not you actually want to play that gig. If it’s a venue you absolutely want to play, and the money is good, why not? Otherwise, you’re just wasting your time.

When Not to Play

And here are some thoughts on when not to play open mics:

  • When you’re feeling entitled: open mics are almost universally first-come, first-served. Some performers do tend to get special treatment, especially if they’re regulars or if they’re hosting. However, the general idea is that you aren’t more important than anyone else that appears onstage. Own it while you’re up there, but don’t pretend like you’re owed something. You get to play three songs (or however many), just like everyone else, and you have to wait your turn, just like everyone else.
  • When you’re looking to get paid: generally speaking, only the hosts get paid at open mic nights. Unless you happen to be the host, you probably shouldn’t expect to make a lot of money at an open mic. Most of the time, they’ll let you sell your CDs and merch, but selling to other musicians is often an uphill battle. If you need money and you’re looking to get paid, you should start looking for other opportunities immediately.
  • When you think you’re too good for it: no one is ever “too good” for an open mic. There might be strategic reasons not to go, and you may hit a point where the opportunities are tapped out, but that doesn’t mean you’re beyond open mics. It just means that you have higher priorities to tend to.
  • When you already know everyone there: have you met everyone at the open mics you’ve been going to? Does it seem like there isn’t anything more you can do at the open mic nights to move the needle on your career? Odds are, you’re right. If you’ve explored every opportunity and relationship, it may be time to pursue other prospects. You can count on your true fans to buy your music when you put out a new release, and subscribe to your email list given the opportunity. Anyone that hasn’t done that already is probably lukewarm and isn’t likely to become a dedicated fan… ever. Don’t write off creative possibilities, partnerships and collaborations, but don’t blindly stick to a routine that isn’t benefiting you.
  • When your fans are fatigued: fan fatigue is a very real phenomena, and I know it’s hard to hear, but too much of you isn’t always a good thing. When you go to open mics, people have free access to you and your music. Granted, it might just be a taste of what your full shows are like (especially if you’re only playing three songs), but on a local level, it’s almost better to limit your appearances so that your fans feel more compelled to catch you on a less frequent occasion. They’ll tend to appreciate your performances a lot more too.

Final Thoughts

What’s the big deal about open mics?

Well, it all goes back to your goals. What do you want to accomplish with your music career?

Do you want to make it big, or do you want to have fun? Do you want to make a living, or do you want to pursue what makes you happy?

There isn’t necessarily a right or a wrong answer, but you have to make sure you don’t have any delusions about hitting it huge when the only thing you’re doing to make your dreams a reality is playing open mics.

What do you think? Do you go to open mics? Do you think open mics benefit your music career?

Let me know in the comments section below!

TQP 002: The Heart and Quantum Consciousness

The Question Podcast

We’ve known for over 150 years that electrical impulses passing through a conductive medium generate an electromagnetic field, and evidently, the heart is now known to be a significant conductive medium.

Is there a connection between the heart’s EM field and Picasso’s famous and spontaneous centaur drawing?

The second TQ podcast features highlights from our second gathering. You’ll hear clips from our presenter Frederick Tamagi, as well as music from David Andrew Wiebe, who explains the story behind several of his original songs.

Thank you for listening!

What questions will you be taking with you after listening to this episode?

We encourage you to connect with us via social media:

We look forward to interacting with you.

Long Jon Lev Telltale Heart Release on November 27, 2015

Long Jon Lev Telltale Heart Release on November 27, 2015

You may have noticed an upcoming show on my calendar with the band, Long Jon Lev, on November 27.

Well, this is no ordinary “show”. First, it is to be held at a beautiful church (see below):

The Lantern Community Church

Second, there will be 10 Calgary music luminaries performing together. Yes, Long Jon Lev, at least on this occasion, will be a 10-piece band (seven members pictured below)!

Long Jon Lev - 10 Piece Band

The band is comprised of:

  • Jonathan Ferguson – Reluctant Showboat
  • David Andrew Wiebe (yeah, yeah, that’s me) – Master of Zen
  • Eugene Kirton – Straight-Shooting Sage
  • Emma Rouleau – Confident Storyteller
  • Joanna Drummond – Carefully Precise Mountain Peaker
  • Harry Faunt – Time (Signature Traveler)
  • Mercy Lemola – Quietly Intense Peace Provoker
  • Nikki Romeril – Witty Truth Teller
  • Ben Comeau – Humble Wizard
  • Mike Jones – Patiently Energetic, Casually Cool Cat

Yes, those are the instruments we’ll be playing.

Third, this is the official release of Long Jon Lev’s Telltale Heart, an album I had the pleasure of playing way too many guitars on (Strats, Teles, Gibsons, hollow bodies, lap slides, etc.).

Jonathan Ferguson - Telltale Heart

I’ve listened to the album a lot (does that make me weird?), and yes, I am very biased, but I happen to think it’s the best project I’ve had the pleasure of being a part of so far.

And, did I mention that the tickets are only $10 in advance and $15 at the door? It’s a steal of a deal either way.

And, you thought this was going to be “no big deal” No way, dude!

So what are you waiting for? If you live in and around Calgary, go get your tickets right away.

(Update: Tickets are no longer available. The concert was held on November 27, 2015 as planned. We all had a good time. The small but mighty crowd loved the performance and will remember it for a long time to come.)

4 Music Marketing Ideas I’ve Tried That Didn’t Work

4 Music Marketing Ideas I’ve Tried That Didn’t Work

You might recall that I’ve shared some interesting music marketing ideas with you in the past.

It’s fun to think about what might work, but sometimes when you put your ideas to the test, they don’t produce the results you thought they would.

That’s what this post is all about.

I wanted to share with you some things that failed spectacularly for me. And the best part about this is that if you learn from my mistakes, you won’t have to repeat them.

Here are four music marketing ideas I’ve tried that didn’t work.

1. Postal Mail Campaign to Book a Tour

I’ve told this story many times now. If you’ve read my eBook, you probably remember it.

When I set out to book a tour with my band back in 2003 or 2004, I decided to put together a postal mail campaign.

I found an online directory that listed churches across Canada and the US, and put together a form letter to send out to 1,700 some odd select churches. Each band member had to sign every one of those letters by the way.

First, we sent out all of the Canadian letters, which totaled between 150 and 200. We only got three responses back, none of which turned into a substantive opportunity. One response in particular was quite negative, though mostly funny looking back.

As for the US letters, we never sent them out, because postal mail costs a lot of money, and we had no budget for it!

We also had to label and organize every letter by state, which we did do, but ultimately the remaining 1,500 or so letters landed themselves in a recycle bin.

Now this isn’t to suggest that postal mail campaigns can’t work. David Hooper actually suggests that they can be incredibly effective.

But you have to do it right. You have to research your recipients, and think about how you can build a connection with them.

2. Holiday Promotions

I realize that the last three months of the year is inevitably the biggest retail quarter there is (meaning a lot of stuff sells during this time).

And while I can’t speak for you, any music related promotions that I’ve run during the holiday season have done absolutely nothing for me.

But I will be the first to admit that I probably did a lot to sabotage such promotions, including:

  • Giving away digital copies of my album entirely for free on my website without asking for anything in return.
  • Changing the price of the album arbitrarily throughout the year to see if I could generate more sales.
  • Running CD giveaway contests simultaneously.

At least I now know what not to do, right?

Bottom line – if you’re desperate, or if you’re just trying to make money, don’t discount your merch. People always sniff it out.

The reality is that holiday promotions can be incredibly effective. But as with anything else, it really depends on your marketing.

If you don’t market well, you certainly can’t expect to sell any more albums – digital or physical – than you normally would.

3. Spreading My Online Presence Too Thin

Music Industry Marketing FailsYou may have heard that obscurity is the artist’s worst enemy.

I think there is some truth to that statement, but that doesn’t mean that you should run around like a headless chicken trying to spread your online presence far and wide.

This runs somewhat contrary to the idea of distributed identity, which is still valid, but hear me out.

What I did was find as many different places as I could to try to sell my music online and create profiles on each of those sites.

In theory, it sounds like a good idea. In practice, it was kind of painful.

First of all, you have to think about the amount of time an activity like that is going to take. Even if you find a blog post or a database that lists all the places you can promote your music, you’re still going to have to go through the process of signing up with each and uploading your music.

Second of all, it’s incredibly hard to track how many people are actually being exposed to your music through so many channels. Tracking, measuring and tweaking is a vital and often forgotten part of marketing, and it’s virtually impossible to do when you have so many sites to look after.

4. Giving Away CDs

Early on, I gave away a lot of CDs to friends and family.

Eventually, I just decided to give away one CD per show, and I would give it to the first person who came and grabbed it, or had the audience answer a music-related trivia question, and give the CD to someone that gave the correct answer.

But having given away a lot of product – both in music and in business – I have to say that it isn’t a wise thing to do unless you have some kind of strategy behind it.

Product in exchange for an email address – that’s not a bad deal. But just giving stuff away for the sake of giving it away probably isn’t going to move the needle on your music career.

I know this sounds almost contradictory to what I’ve said about adding value to people in the past, but there is a line, and when you cross it, you can rest assured there is no win-win. You’ll lose every time.

There’s no point in throwing pearls to swine. Those who feel they have received something from you will invariably reciprocate.

Final Thoughts on Music Marketing Ideas I’ve Tried

The interesting thing about each of the previously mentioned ideas is that, if you were to apply them more strategically than I did, they could actually work.

None of these tactics are necessarily bad. What matters is execution.

So next time someone tells you that the right strategies are all you need, run the other way. How you carry out those strategies does make a big difference.

What mistakes have you made in your marketing? What strategies have you tried that didn’t work? Let us know in the comments section below!

Tempted to Quit Facebook as an Artist? 3 Reasons You Shouldn’t

Tempted to Quit Facebook as an Artist? 3 Reasons You Shouldn’t

Should you quit using Facebook as a marketing tool? Well, that depends…

If your thought is that your own website should be prioritized over Facebook, I would wholeheartedly agree with you. Your website should be the central hub of all of your online marketing activities.

If you’re thinking that Facebook is more of a community-building tool than a sales engine, I would also agree with you there. That’s social media 101!

But if you’re thinking that you should stop using Facebook because they require you to “pay to play”, that’s a whole other thing.

Here are some thoughts on why you shouldn’t give up on Facebook… yet.

1. Facebook Drives a Ton of Traffic

According to Search Engine Journal, social media makes up for nearly a third of all referral traffic, and Facebook represents a significant portion of that.

This isn’t to suggest that Facebook is a magic bullet; it’s not. You have to put a lot of time and effort into building an engaged community, and that doesn’t happen overnight. It doesn’t necessarily need to be a large following, but it helps if your community – large or small – is interactive.

Now, it should be noted that traffic for the sake of traffic does absolutely nothing for your music career, so you have to know what to do with that traffic.

When your community cares about you and your music, you can drive sales, encourage more people to come to events, ask them to vote for you when you enter a song contest, and ask them to join your email list. It really depends on what your goals are, but in general most artists would agree that more concertgoers, more sales, more voters, and more email subscribers would be a good thing.

Ultimately, this isn’t so much about increasing your Facebook ‘likes’ as it is an exercise in cross-promotion. You can have your website promote your Facebook page, which you could have promote your email list, an on the cycle goes. You’d be surprised by how well this strategy works.

2. Facebook Ads are Very Effective

I’ve now had the chance to run several ad campaigns on Facebook, and I must say that they have proven to be quite effective. I have several friends that I’m sure would agree.

With Facebook ads, targeting specific demographics has never been easier. Not only can you choose what gender(s), age range and location to target, you can also go after those who have liked certain pages, be it Van Halen’s or Metallica’s. And I’m still just scratching the surface of the possibilities here.

Another great thing about Facebook ads is that they allow you to control your budget. The daily minimum is $1, but there are no maximums. Most forms of advertising tend to cost a lot of money, but when it comes to Facebook (and even YouTube or Google), you don’t have to spend a ton of money to be seen.

You can go check out my first ever Facebook advertising experiment and see what the results were, but I think what you’ll find is that you aren’t paying for the kind of engagement you used to be able to get for free. You’re paying for a lot more than that!

Did Facebook do us a disservice, or did they actually do us a favor by creating a platform that allows for highly targeted, highly customizable ads that can be deployed with minimum cost to the user? I’ll let you be the judge of that.

3. A Facebook Presence Helps with Your Credibility

You can’t always pick and choose your marketing tools based on what’s convenient for you. You have to be thinking about the people that want to engage and interact with you.

When is the last time you’ve seen a major artist without a Facebook account? Not too often, right?

This is because both artists and labels know that music fans hang out on Facebook. It’s the most ubiquitous social platform there is, which means that there aren’t any better opportunities available to you… as far as social media is concerned.

If you’re an independent artist and want to stay that way, then there is never any need to be a slave to the trends. However, if you have major label ambitions, then I have to tell you right now; you’re probably not going to score a contract without a sizeable and engaged Facebook community.

Labels don’t want to take chances on artists that aren’t proven, and one of the ways in which they are “proven” is by the size of their social following. Unfair or not, it’s a reality.

When you have a strong following, you have people that are ready and willing to purchase everything you put out. If not, you have to go and find those people, and labels aren’t going to do that work for you.

So, it all depends on what you’re trying to accomplish, but a solid Facebook following can really help with credibility and legitimacy. Buying ‘likes’ won’t do much for you though; just so you know.

Final Thoughts

Maybe Facebook really doesn’t fit in with your overall marketing plan, and I can totally appreciate that.

But I wouldn’t suggest quitting Facebook because of the algorithmic updates. Google continues to release their updates too, and you don’t see people quitting SEO outright, do you?

Every platform is subject to change, and you don’t have any control over that. You only have control over your own web properties, and they should be your highest priority. But this doesn’t make off-site marketing null and void.

In fact, when you’re trying to grow your audience, off-site activity tends to be a lot more important than on-site marketing, be it guest posting or social media campaigns. You can’t expect the audience to come to you; you have to go to where they are.

Facebook is just a tool, like any other. It isn’t better or worse than much of what is already available to you. It really just depends on how you use it.

What do you think? Is Facebook a part of your marketing strategy? Do you think it’s worth it?