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Folk Alliance Newsletter

Performers Column

by Joel Mabus

written December 1997




If you are a performer planning to attend your first Folk Alliance Annual Conference this year, congratulations! You'll have a blast! It's a unique event, and each year it's new location reminds us just what a moveable feast it is. It can be a smorgasbord of opportunities for the performing artist, but you will get more from your investment if you are well prepared before you head to Tennessee. Let me offer a few tips from the performer's perspective:

DO wear sensible shoes. Your feet will get a workout.

DO be ready for any kind of weather. And while you are at it, pack a pair of earplugs with your pajamas, just in case your roommate performs a snoring showcase at 4 AM.

DO familiarize yourself with the layout of the hotel and convention center immediately upon arrival. Get to know the lay of the land and where the happening spots will be. Scrutinize the schedule. DON'T expect to "do it all." You won't be able to go everywhere you want to be at all times, but if you plan your day wisely, you can maximize your big investment in time and money attending the conference.

DO take plenty of business cards. Consider whipping up a "mini" version of your promo kit on one page or handout. Something with your name and image, all your contact numbers & other pertinent info, and just your best blurb or two. DON'T plaster the hallways and litter the lobby with these -- just have a few with you at all times to give to anyone who expresses any interest in knowing more about you. But please don't act like a zealot passing out tracts at the airport. Nobody likes to be pestered -- and you don't want to be remembered as a pest. And I shouldn't think you'd want to waste your money at the print shop creating tomorrow's landfill. 

DO take a generous supply of full-blown promo kits with photos, recordings, etc. in case you are asked for it, or if you intend to hand deliver a pack to that special someone. But keep in mind most prospective talent buyers will want to schlep less stuff -- not more -- home with them. It's also not a bad idea to compare your promo with that of other artists, or to get your pack critiqued by someone savvy -- if the opportunity presents itself.

DO familiarize yourself with the rules and guidelines concerning showcasing well before you arrive on the scene. No, you can't go from table to table at the luncheon playing your bagpipes.

DO have recordings ready to give to the right people. If you bring stacks of your latest CD to give away to prospective bookers and agents, don't forget that you might be asked for a copy of a live performance tape from some folks. Be prepared. And be gracious if someone declines your offer of a CD or tape. They are doing you a favor by telling you up front that they are overwhelmed or uninterested. The alternative for them would be to smile, take your CD and throw it on the slag heap. Better you should keep it for a better use.

DON'T get so into your own promotion that you forget your good manners and social graces. As a performer and a working musician looking for exposure, you will want to be noticed at the conference. But you should want to be noticed in a positive way. It's sometimes tough to maintain your humanity in the madding crowd, but do try.

DON'T have unreal expectations. Yeah, maybe you'll sign the contract of your lifetime, woo the agent of your dreams, create the kind of buzz legends are made of. But don't bet the farm on it. Rather, come with the idea of charging your batteries, making some new contacts, renewing old ones. Rub elbows with your compadres, sharpen your focus, expand your horizons, have a wonderful time -- but don't expect lightning to strike, or you'll probably be disappointed.

DO be professional. And as a professional musician, there are many other benefits to attending the conference other than simply promoting yourself. There is a lot to be learned in those meeting rooms first thing in the morning -- a lot to be gained from dinner conversations with chance companions -- a lot to be shared with your peers. DON'T go into the conference with blinders on, focused only on your own career path. Keep your eyes, ears, and mind open.

DO take the time to attend the membership meetings. Yeah, I know -- the dull stuff. Hey, it's your organization. You need to know how it works. And it works better if you get involved.

DO enjoy Memphis.

DON'T eat too many Elvis-fried peanut butter and banana sandwiches.

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