A quick story:
For three years, I was trying to book a performance at a small festival in Canada.
I contacted one of the festival’s board members – I’ll call him Joe. I got the connection through my uncle, who is a friend and neighbour of Joe’s.
Some time later, I released ‘Solo’ in 2008. It was getting good reviews, and eventually the Juno nomination. I sent Joe the album, and followed up with him. He was well aware of the reviews and the nominations, but another two years passed before I was invited to perform at the festival.
After the performance, I asked Joe how the decision was made to have me play.
He told me frankly that when he first listened to ‘Solo’ he didn’t think it was anything special. He thought I was just another piano player trying to hustle gigs with another family member shamelessly promoting his nephew.
Hence, I was having a hard time booking the gig.
But then he got word that I started working with Richard Paul; Richard has a good, professional relationship with the festival and he called them to book me into their program. Joe told me that within a heartbeat, I had the gig!
From the artist’s perspective, the irony is clear: The music on ‘Solo’ never changed; the notes were the same before and after they hired me! The reviews were still positive. My photos hadn’t changed. My marketability hadn’t changed. I could have played the exact same set list, with the same positive reception three years earlier! Why couldn’t Joe see that?
Because that’s not what gets gigs. Positive associations get gigs!
It would be unfair to scrutinize this kind of decision process. I make these kinds of decisions in almost every other aspect of my life. Who should I ask to manufacture my next album? Who should I hire? Who should I ask to design my website? Which institutions should I bank with? Which credit card should I use? Where are the best restaurants?
Advise from a trusted source goes a long way in unfamiliar territory. These kinds of relationships are a reliable source of positive association. That’s how I landed the gig at Joe’s festival. That’s why people say: “It’s not what you know, it’s who you know!”
Sometimes our music alone won’t stimulate enough positive association. Sometimes good reviews and nominations aren’t enough either. Different people have different ways of making these associations, so you have to be creative in how you nurture them. Otherwise you’ll have a harder time landing the gigs you want!
Other sources of positive association: Money, marketability, attendance, ticket sales, entertainment, education, engaging programming, 1st place in a music competition…what else?
Keep in mind: It’s not about you; it’s about them! The best strategy is to inspire people to spread the word and talk about your music. It’s the most reliable way to get gigs in the future.
As Seth Godin says: Be remarkable!