7 Things I Learned Reflecting on 19 Years of Performance

by | Jan 4, 2022 | Uncategorized

“Whoa! There’s WAY more here than I even expected…”

In December, I went to work on updating my musical history.

And as I was combing through the archives, collating, and organizing performance, release, and other significant dates in my career, I started noticing patterns. And I could see that observing these earlier in my career would have made a big difference for me as a young performing musician.

So, here’s what I’d like to pass onto you

#1 – Develop Your Own Performance Circuit

In the early days, it took a long time to uncover local venues and performance opportunities for my band and solo efforts. I don’t think it’s any different for most artists and bands.

Over time, though, we found a handful of venues who were more than happy to have me (and my friends) back to play.

As I was reviewing my musical history, I realized that I’d never made it a point to create a circuit out of these venues, returning to them ever so often (monthly or bi-monthly) while looking for new opportunities and continually adding new locations to the circuit. This happened sporadically but not strategically.

If I had been more intentional about this, the audience surely would have started to build at each venue, boosting merch sales in the process. And I would have benefited from having a predictable gigging schedule.

The lesson: Once you’ve found a few venues you’re welcomed at, return to each on a monthly or bi-monthly schedule. Do this while continually seeking out and adding new opportunities to your rolodex.

#2 – Follow Up with Event Organizers

I ended up playing at a variety of eclectic events in my early days, from afterhours networking events in libraries to hot dog lunches at addiction and mental health clinics.

Not that every event was worth returning to, but if I’d been intentional about following up with organizers, I certainly could have stayed top of mind to get booked for serial events.

The return on investment may have been small for the first few years, but it would have paid off long-term.

The lesson: Each month, go through your calendar, noting where you performed. Follow up with organizers at earliest convenience and ask to perform at their next event. You could get your calendar filled months in advance while building some vital connections. A busy calendar always looks better to those interested in booking you.

A busy calendar always looks better to those interested in booking you. Share on X

#3 – Take Breaks Strategically

If I’d taken some time to review my gig calendar, I would have realized that August and December (and sometimes January through February) were generally slow months.

Geography was certainly a factor, as Calgary winters were quite brutal. That made December mostly a write-off. August tended to be better in other parts of the province. You basically had to follow the rodeo around if you wanted to tap into relevant opportunities (something I would discover later).

If I had it all to do again, I would have been more intentional about taking these months off and resting, writing songs, or recording. That would have gotten me into a more productive routine with new merch and releases to promote at predictable intervals.

The lesson: Review your calendar and notice trends. Instead of crying about gigs that aren’t happening, use those months for other fruitful production. Take certain months off for strategic thinking and planning and book more heavily on peak months.

#4 – Pile on the Press Releases

300 shows across western Canada

The late 2000s were a magical time when getting attention on the internet was easier, and if you paid a bit of money and utilized the right PR services, you could get your message out far and wide.

In 2009, I performed at a Good Earth Coffeehouse and promoted the event with a paid press release. My angle was to support local business. After all, the local shopping complex had just gone up, and it had mostly been built with the development of future communities in mind, which had yet to be established. The café was having it kind of rough.

To my surprise, my story landed in the local paper, and the turnout to the café the day of my performance was phenomenal. I don’t think I performed for more than two hours, but people came and went the whole day, even as I hung out with my friends at the venue after the fact.

The owner tearfully handed me a thank-you note and honorarium before I left.

The lesson: Press releases still work, just not in the same capacity. So, the takeaway here would be to take advantage of first mover’s advantage where possible. And even if it’s an older platform or channel, if it’s working for you, utilize it more, not less. Don’t worry about posting too often.

#5 – Backup Plans are Essential

This is an example of something I did well as opposed to an area I could have improved upon.

Band members came and went through the years. It never stopped me from engaging in solo work and side projects, because there was rarely enough work with one project to take up my entire schedule.

I also had friends I could call upon to form a makeshift band at a moment’s notice, and that served me well.

Being flexible helped me snag timely, lucrative opportunities.

The lesson: Band members will come and go. But visions can last a lifetime. If you’re committed to a specific vision, you’ve got to carry the torch to keep it alive. Others may disappoint and betray, but if you’re prepared to go the distance, nothing will stop you.

Band members will come and go. But visions can last a lifetime. Share on X

#6 – Dream Bigger

As I look back on my performance history, I can see that I was able to accomplish about 80% of what I set out to accomplish:

  • Release my own CD ✅
  • Organize and perform at my own release party ✅
  • Play in various bands, side projects, and solo projects ✅
  • Perform at churches across Alberta ✅
  • Perform at an outdoor concert event in Rosebud, AB ✅
  • Play to an audience of hundreds ✅
  • Perform at the Calgary Fringe Festival ✅
  • Go on tour ✅
  • Be interviewed on the radio ✅
  • Appear on TV ✅
  • Appear in a live DVD ✅

And that’s noteworthy. But if I had it all to do over again, I probably would have dreamed bigger.

Because while these achievements are significant, and I don’t want to step over them, much of them ended up being a little anticlimactic, and I wanted more out of it.

In retrospect, I would have specified locations I wanted to tour, number of TV and radio appearances I wanted to make, specific shows I wanted to be on, income I wanted to generate, and so on.

As the best-selling book in the world says:

…you do not have because you do not ask, ask and you shall receive!

The lesson: If you make it your goal to be on TV, the radio, or anywhere else, it might not happen more than a couple times, and it might not do much for your career. Make it a goal instead to be on specific shows and to get specific results from the appearance (e.g., 1,000 new email subscribers). That makes it worth the effort. This applies to everything you want to accomplish.

#7 – Enjoy the Memories

The early years were the toughest. My music only mattered because I insisted that it did.

But about five years into my performance career, I found flow. Opportunities came pouring in, and I got to work with a lot of great, talented people and band leaders (like Jonathan Ferguson).

And those were some fun years, whether it was putting on a performance at the Calgary Fringe Festival or going on mini tours across western Canada.

I’m not saying that my performance career is over. But this is what came up for me in reflection.

The lesson: There truly is a timing for everything. My best years are ahead, but the time to play Alberta was while I was still living there, a young and eager musician seeking opportunities.

Final Thoughts

Is there something you can learn from looking back on your own live performance history?

What did you do well? What could you have done better?

Were there any major mishaps on that journey? Stories to tell? Lessons to be learned?

I look forward to hearing from you.