By Tamara Fuller
When we opened The Velvet Note in 2012, I often asked myself the question, “Whose job is it to promote our shows?” I sincerely hoped the answer would be, “Not yours, Tamara.” After all, hadn’t I come up with the concept, invested my own money, built the club from scratch, designed the decor and interiors, and taken the risk of location and size? Didn’t I spend countless hours doing accounting, finance, taxes, contracts, and website management? Didn’t I book the artists, choose the menu, create the recipes, buy the food and booze, obtain the endless licenses necessary to operate, recruit, hire and manage the staff, and open and close the doors each night? Please oh please oh please, let the job of show promotion be anyone’s responsibility other than mine!
Unfortunately, this was not the answer. There was no answer. Artists and venue owners throughout the industry seemed divided or unsettled on the issue. Poignant contemplation on the subject matter had been published in national articles, with no commonly-held conclusion reached. After years of frustration and anger, I finally decided that whose job it was was completely irrelevant, and that if I wanted the privilege of sitting down with a $10 glass of wine (or a $3.99 slice of pizza) and watching 100-plus years of accomplished musical experience perform in front of my eyes, it might not be my job, but I had better make sure that the promotional job got done.
And then, I had to face an inconvenient truth: I didn’t know how to do it.
Yep. I had to admit to myself that the reason I kept asking whose job it was was that I didn’t know how to effectively promote a show. If I had, I would have been doing it instead of trying to find someone else to do it. And when I say “effectively promote”, I also mean “cost-effectively”. Anyone can spend $1000 and throw up a Hail Mary that will probably pay off. But having a budget of..say…$20, crossing my fingers and hoping customers would come simply wasn’t enough. Ms. Know-It-All-or-Figure-it-Out had forgotten to take a digital marketing class, or even learn the basics of Facebook advertising. Was paying for a $7500 billboard more effective than calling 6 friends with large email lists? I didn’t understand Twitter or Instagram, and I couldn’t conceive of the logic behind SnapChat. And most of all, I doubted that any of it would work, even if I figured it out. As a representative of my target market, I do not sit in front of social media all day, waiting for someone to tell me where to go for entertainment. Why should I expect anyone else to do so?
Fortunately for our club, The Velvet Note has featured many, many artists who are very good at promoting themselves and who fill all of the seats when they perform. Artists such as singer Karla Harris, saxophonist Dwan Bosman, singer/actress Toni Byrd, guitarist George Price, saxophonist Kenyon Carter (list goes on and on) were essential–from day one–in helping us to grow a club that can make money and have great talent on stage too. At some point, I stopped getting so frustrated with the artists and started paying attention to what they were doing. I watched them, asked questions, picked their brains, counted their seats, followed their pages, and years later, they–and a slew of other artists–have taught me a great deal about what any artist must do to successfully fill seats. For each and every show, we know that we must pick up where they leave off and carry the ball over the goal line. It has taken a while, but I think we’ve finally figured some of it out. Artists and venues whose shows consistently sell out share a definitive set of qualities, behaviors and actions in common. It’s not easy, but it is achievable and repeatable. Whether you are a venue, a musician, a promoter, or a fan-bassador, show promotion might not be your job, but it is certainly in the rational self-interest of anyone who wants to enjoy a world in which live music flourishes.