Thursday, 6 December 2012

Article in The Stage Newspaper.

I've written a guest article for this week's The Stage Newspaper - Nov 29th issue - out in shops now!

Whilst the printed article mainly offers advice to aspiring performers in how to deal with the quieter times of the year, I've included the full unedited article below which might be of interest to some of you. It contains a bit more of an in-depth look at how I started, and continue to run my business:

What for you are the skills performers need both performance wise and business wise to be successful in the function market? How did you first become involved in this field? What would you suggest a singer do who is interested in starting off in this area? Do you find there are slow periods and then busy periods and how do you cope with each?

I started out aged 17, performing in the pubs and clubs of Stoke on Trent with my then girlfriend as a duo. While certainly an excellent apprenticeship in performing to a vast range of people – more so to the often scary clientele of Stoke’s Working Men’s Clubs – we soon found that the private, function market was where nicer venues, gigs and richer pickings were to be found. After paying our way through our uni courses by doing lots of gigs, both our professional and personal relationship ended. With a few up-coming bookings, I decided to take them on a solo singer. Around this time, in 2002, I decided to re-brand as ‘The Wedding Singer’ – as a part cash-in on the popular film but also to aid me with the all-important search engine keywords for my web site. theweddingsinger.uk.com was born and at the time, was one of the very few web sites of its kind. Indeed booking and buying things over the internet was far from common place and the first conversations with brides and grooms on the day was often about the novel way in which I was discovered and booked! I’m happy to say that I’ve made very good living from singing, purely within the private function market, since finishing university and haven’t set foot in a pub or club (to sing!) since 2002 and more importantly I’ve managed to achieve my goal of avoiding the dreaded ‘proper job’!

As a completely independent singer, I do all my own accounting, marketing, admin, web designing and SEO work. 99% of my clients find me via my web site and I’ve never used an entertainments agency. I’d say the clerical side of my business is as important as the performance side, if not more so. You can be the best singer in world, but if you’ve got no gigs to go to – you have no business. I answer every phone call and reply to every e-mail quickly and professionally. The way you deal with wedding clients in particular is so important, you want to give them complete reassurance that you are the right person for the most important day of their lives. A badly worded, misspelt e-mail or an unprofessional phone call, maybe with dogs barking or children crying in the background, is all it takes to make you appear as something less than the complete professional they require.

For the performance side of my job, I would say there are three key areas of utmost importance: training, equipment, repertoire.

The best move I ever made as a singer was to start voice lessons. I study with a Speech Level Singing teacher and quickly realised that the voice is essentially a muscle that needs continued training. My voice has improved so much in terms of stamina, power and range in 6 years since I started having lessons.

Secondly, I invest heavily in making sure I have the best equipment. Not only does it help to keep me firmly at the higher end of the market, the renewal of equipment also adds that all important frisson of excitement to the job for myself; the trap of over-familiarity and complacency is an easy one to get caught in when you perform similar sets of covers week in, week out.

The third area of importance is all about the music. A mixture of common sense, trial and error and lots or experience help to find exactly which tracks work best in different scenarios and at different times of the day / evening of a function. This coupled with keeping things fresh by adding new tracks and of course, accommodating clients’ play list requests, is the key to a successful function.

I don’t have completely baron periods with no work, I only have 2 or 3 quiet months where I would still expect to book 4 or 5 weddings opposed to the 8 – 12 weddings I would look to book in the busier months. It’s important however to be well organised financially to not only compensate for the uneven revenue stream throughout the year, but to save up for the all-important January tax bill. I also make sure as well that I have enough in savings to cover the complete replacement of all my equipment and provision for replacing my van should the unthinkable happen.

As I work 99% of the time within the wedding market a quiet January, gigs-wise, is inevitable but not necessarily a bad thing. The Christmas and New Year period is the most popular time for marriage proposals, so most of my January is filled with dealing with enquiries from newly engaged couples. December is very quiet for taking new bookings as most people are thinking about, and saving up for, the festive season so they haven’t the time to do the research or the money for deposits. Therefore January is also the time where those who put their wedding planning off during December will start to book their suppliers. December is a very busy month for weddings surprisingly, I guess due to people being more likely to have time off work but also, I suspect, due to the number of people that search out better value out-of-season honeymoons in exotic destinations that are hot all year round.

Also, although I do very few non-wedding gigs, lots of businesses that are very busy over the festive period - those in the hospitality and retail sector in particular – actually wait until after Christmas to hold their Christmas parties, for which they obviously require entertainment. So there is potential for January work if you know where to look!

As I’ve said, I don’t really have very quiet periods of no work but when things aren’t looking as busy, I just intensify the following up of any current leads or enquiries. I make sure anyone who may have enquired within the last few weeks have no unanswered questions, and more importantly that they have actually received my responses to their enquiries in the first place. Email and even post doesn’t always reach its destination; there’s nothing worse than a client thinking you’ve forgotten about them when they just haven’t received what you’ve sent through! Also, I may look into attending a few local wedding fairs to promote my services – although this is something I largely avoid if possible due to the extra time and expense involved. Finally, I might put more effort into building relationships with local venues by finding out the name of the function and events manager and asking them to add my name to their list of recommended suppliers. Obviously the better any song demos or promotional material you provide them with are, the more likely they are to add you to their list of people to recommend. Saying how easy you are to work with and providing them with a few references from previous clients or venues would definitely help your cause.

What is the most useful piece of advice you have been given in your own career and by whom?

I think the most apt piece of advice I have received, and would pass on to others, comes from my old mate Winston Churchill - “A pessimist sees the difficulty in every opportunity; an optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty.” I’ve had periods of pessimism and optimism in my life and career, and certainly periods where I’ve both hated and loved the job. What I have learned over the last few years though, where I have really excelled and expanded the business, is that I have accepted more jobs and challenges than I ever had previously. Moreover, the challenges I have accepted, I’ve entered into with much more optimism and excitement and far less apprehension than in previous years. In the process I’ve learned that approaching something – a gig, e-mail, phone call, client meeting, radio/newspaper interview, magazine article – in a positive, ‘can do’ way produces far better results, leading to an upward spiral of confidence-boosting success!