Mini Tour; Not So Mini Blog, and Some Lessons Learned

So one month later I am finally getting around to writing a blog post about the Quintet’s mini tour over the Thanksgiving weekend. It was quite honestly one of the best weekends of my life and I can’t wait to do it again! This post is going to partially be just the story of the tour, but also what I learned along the way. There is a TL;DR at the bottom if you need it. I hope you enjoy it!

Day 1

We started out on Friday afternoon. Getting loaded up and out of town went relatively smoothly and the drive was uneventful in the good way. Our first stop was in North Battleford for a house concert at a place known as The Gog. This name comes from the fact that this house use to be a synagogue. It wasn’t as big as we expected, but it was a beautiful space to play in. The Gog is owned by Kelly Waters; what a lady! Kelly says that her art is cooking, and damn is she good at it. We arrived to her in the kitchen preparing an amazing spread of food for the guests that were coming to the show. I honestly wouldn’t be surprised if half the audience was there for the food and not for us! As we were setting up for the show, we ran into our first problem. Dylan had forgotten his snare drum. (We gave him a hard time about this for the extent of the tour, but he is chilling in Australia now so he doesn’t care).

LESSON #1: Even though we are all adults, adults make mistakes, and next time it would probably be a good idea to make check list of all the gear we need and go through it as we are packing up.

It’s something simple enough that it falls into the category of ‘better safe than sorry.’ In the end, things worked out. There was a guy at the show (whose name I really can’t remember) who was there early because he was displaying his art at the show (fantastic stuff). I wasn’t present for the conversation, but he heard we were short an snare so he offered to track one down for us through a friend. Crisis averted. When we started the show, I learned something else.

LESSON #2: HOUSE CONCERTS ARE THE FREAKING BEST!!!

    This was honestly one of the best audience I have ever played for. Top 3 for sure! Because of the setting, they are sitting so close to you that you can’t not interact with them constantly. Not to mention, being able to find a group of 35 people willing to pay $20 for a jazz group they have never heard of. These people were fantastic. I have to mention one of them specifically. I only know her as Sue, but when we took our first break, she came straight over to talk to us and was just raving about the show so far. The word ‘phenomenal’ came out of her mouth more than once. I loved talking to her and her feedback was very much appreciated as it is from anyone, but I didn’t think this conversation was anything special. I was mistaken.

    LESSON #3: You never know who is going to be at your show.

    I learned later that Sue had also talked to my parents and my aunt and uncle who had driven up from Biggar for the show. They learned a little bit more about her. Before moving to North Battleford three years ago, Sue lived in Ottawa. During her time there, Sue was on the board of directors of the Ottawa Jazz Festival. Holy validation Batman! I always appreciate positive comments about our show from anyone, but when it comes from someone with a background like that it gives you a major boost of confidence. After the show we spent some more time talking to the wonderful people who came out to the show. Bryn and I both ran into friends from the area that had come out to the show. Kelly was kind enough to let all five of us spend the night at her house so we spread ourselves out on the floor and couches and called it a night.

    Day 2

    Saturday started with the drive from North Battleford to Edmonton. Before hitting the road, Kelly hit the kitchen again and cooked us a fantastic breakfast. We thanked her a million times, did several dummy checks to make sure we didn’t forget anything and then we hit the road. Our first stop of the day was for lunch. I had consulted the hive mind that is Facebook for the best place to stop for lunch between North Battleford and Edmonton. The consensus was the truck stop in Innisfree. I got a lot of flack from the guys for picking a greasy truck stop diner as our lunch stop, but as soon as they got there food everything changed.

    LESSON #4: Greasy truck stop diners are the best thing ever!

I’m sure they aren’t all great, but there was clearly a reason that everyone who responded to my call for a recommendation told us to go to Innisfree. After lunch we continued our drive to Edmonton. We made the obligatory stop in Vegreville, Alberta for a group photo with the worlds largest pysanka (Ukrainian Easter Egg). Our first stop in Edmonton was to pick up a snare drum for Dylan. Thankfully, because Dylan had gone to University in Edmonton, he knew someone there he could borrow a snare from. We arrived at the venue, Café Blackbird, pretty early so we scoped things out, chatted with the staff, and had some coffee. They were kind enough to let us set up earlier than scheduled which was really great because there was no stage, just a spot on the floor, so tables had to be taken out to accommodate us. At the start of the show, there were very few people there, but it was a 3 set show so we were hopeful that more people would come. Unfortunately this didn’t happen. It was Saturday night, it was snowing, it was a long weekend, and its as our first ever show outside of Saskatchewan. All of these things probably contributed to the small crowd we had and we were prepared for that so we were thankful for the people that did come.

LESSON #5: Straight door deals can really suck sometimes.

The venue was giving 100% of the $10 people were being charged at the door. Unfortunately we only had 15 people through the door. At the end of the night we made $150 and our tab was $100. This sucked, but it doesn’t mean we didn’t have a good time. The band played really well and the people that were there seemed to really enjoy it. The highlight of the night was our last set. There was only 2 people left in the venue beside us and the staff, but they were Dylan’s friend that lent us the snare and his girlfriend. We made the decision to cut all the ‘filler’ tunes that we added to the set to fill out 3 hours, and replace them with extra long solos in the other tunes and it turned out to be a great show! Afterwards, we packed up, thanked the staff at the venue, and then braved the drive in the snow storm to my cousin Justin’s place in Nisku where we were staying while in Edmonton.

    LESSON #6: Make sure your navigator is sober. I think this one explains it self.

    What should have been about a half hour drive, turned into a little over an hour due to wrong turns and the snow making the roads very slick. When we arrived at the house, Bryn got excited about the sauna, we had some drinks, we chatted, and it was a pretty chill night. For our first ever venture outside of Saskatchewan, I think we were off to a good start.

    Day 3

    Sunday was a pretty chill day. As we were already in Edmonton (more or less) and our show that day was in Edmonton again, we took the opportunity to get some extra sleep before heading into the city. We drop Dylan off at Mountain Equipment Co-op because he wanted to buy some gear for his trip to Australia and New Zealand. While he did this, the rest of us went in search of food. We were hunting blindly. The consensus was that we wanted good pizza and good beer. As we arrived at this agreement, we find ourselves driving past a restaurant called “Beer Revolution: Craft Beer & Pizza.” We felt like a ray of sunshine had come down from the heavens and guided us there. The pizza was amazing and the beer variety was incredible. The best part was the beer list being displayed on TVs throughout the restaurant in a similar fashion to arrivals and departures at an airport. Unfortunately a couple of us didn’t look at the price of a beer before ordering it.

    LESSON #7: Check the price before ordering something. No beer is worth $20/pint.

After lunch, we picked up Dylan and headed over to the venue. We were playing at the wedding of an old friend of mine. I always appreciate when my friends hire my band and support what I’m trying to do with my life; it really means a lot. We were running a little behind schedule so we set up super fast so that I could pop in for the ceremony before we played. When I opened up my case to set my horn up I had quite a shock. A piece of my horn was laying loose in the case. Thankfully, I’m prepared for that. I pulled out my repair kit, reattached the key with some help from Mike, and set up my horn all in time to catch the ceremony. As soon as the ceremony was over I rushed out because we were scheduled to play during cocktails immediately after the ceremony. For this event we were just background music. People were clearly enjoying it, but unlike our other gigs on the tour, the audience interaction wasn’t as important. It’s just nice to play for people, and for them to enjoy our music.

LESSON #8: Private events on tour are pretty damn great.

In jazz we have the luxury of being able to do what we usually do as background music. The reason this is a luxury is because it opens up a whole new set of places to play. The reason for having this private event on the tour is because of what comes with it. We may not get any real new fans out of it, but there was a guaranteed amount of money at the end, we were able to bill a portion of the tour expenses, and it came with a free meal. After the less-than-awesome turn out the night before, a cheque at the end of the wedding really brought it all together from a financial point of view. After dinner we all did our own thing. Dylan met up with some friends, Bryn and Nevin found the piano in the theatre where the ceremony happened and had a small jam session, and Michael and I stayed and enjoyed the wedding reception, as we both knew the bride and some of the other people there. At the end of the night, we all met back up and drove back out to Nisku for the night. The drive still contained some wrong turns due to a drunk navigator, but the weather was much better this time. The rest of our night was much like the previous one; though this time replace the sauna with the hot tub.

Day 4

The last day of tour was Thanksgiving and it was just a travel day. Bryn was flying Vancouver to visit his family so we were up at a reasonable time to take him to the airport. The rest of the day was pretty uneventful. We made the drive back to Saskatoon with only two stops for gas and nothing more as we were all in a hurry to get back for Thanksgiving dinner.

LESSON #9: Have a driving schedule for the tour.

Michael and Nevin literally slept the whole drive back from Edmonton to Saskatoon. We had planned to rotate drivers throughout the weekend, but because we didn’t have a real plan, I found myself being the only one awake or the only one sober all weekend so I ended up doing all of the driving. It was a short enough tour that this wasn’t the end of the world, but anything longer I wouldn’t want to do it that way. When we got back to Saskatoon, we unloaded and everyone went home. The last thing to do with return our rented trailer.

LESSON #10: If you are going to forge someones signature in front of someone, practice first. Especially if you have to sign two copies.

The trailer was rented in Bryn’s name, but because he didn’t come back with us I had to pretend to be him and forge his signature when returning the trailer. This was, of course, all with his permission, but those two signatures didn’t not look anything alike and I am thankful no one noticed.

P.S. I do not condone illegal fraud 🙂

All in all it was a really great weekend. We had fun, we played for a lot of new people, and we really bonded as a band. I’d like to close with a lot of thank you’s. First, thank you to my bandmates Michael, Bryn, Nevin, and Dylan for taking on this adventure with me. Thank you to Kelly at The Gog, Michelle at the Café Blackbird, and Lisa and Mark for inviting us to play at their wedding. All of you giving us that chance to play means to world to us. Thank you to my in-laws for letting us borrow their van for the weekend. And last, but not least, thank you my wife, Chelsea, for letting me be on the road with my band on our first Thanksgiving weekend as husband and wife. Thanks for reading!

    TL;DR

    Tour was a lot of fun. Thank you to a lot of people (just read the paragraph above this). And I learned the following 10 lessons:

    LESSON #1: Even though we are all adults, adults make mistakes, and next time it would probably be a good idea to make a check list of all the gear we need and go through it as we are packing up.
    LESSON #2: HOUSE CONCERTS ARE THE FREAKING BEST!!!
    LESSON #3: You never know who is going to be at your show
    LESSON #4: Greasy truck stop diners are the best thing ever.
    LESSON #5: Straight door deals can really suck sometimes.
    LESSON #6: Make sure your navigator is sober. I think this one explains it self.
    LESSON #7: Check the price before ordering something. No beer is worth $20/pint.
    LESSON #8: Private events on tour are pretty damn great.
    LESSON #9: Have a driving schedule for the tour.
    LESSON #10: If you are going to forge someones signature in front of someone, practice first. Especially if you have to sign two copies.

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Hiring Musicians: A Helpful How To Guide

The Holiday season being one of the most common times of the year for businesses or individuals to hire musicians/a band to perform at parties and events, I thought it timely to give you all a sort of ‘how to’ on hiring musicians. You may think that it shouldn’t be that challenging, but you would be surprised the things that people don’t realize. So here are some helpful tips to keep in mind year round when you consider hiring musicians.

  1. Musicians are vendors too!

The first and most important thing you need to be ready to do is pony up some money – just like for your photographer and caterer. Musicians are trained professionals and we don’t perform solely for the fun of it. Music doesn’t come cheap. You may think you are just hiring a few people to perform for an hour and that hour is all you are paying for, but there is more to it than that. There is the performance time itself, plus they are probably arriving an hour or more ahead of the performance to set-up and do a sound check, they are going to be there half an hour or more after the performance packing up their equipment. That is just time you will actually see. You are also paying for the hours of rehearsal, both as a group and individually, the cost to get to and from the performance, and the cost of any equipment that needs to be rented for the performance, just to name a few. There are any number of costs factored in, so be prepared! This goes for ALL individuals, companies, and organizations. Fundraisers are not exempt from paying for musicians; I would be willing to bet you aren’t getting everything else for free. One of my university professors told me that the only place that one should perform for free is in their own church. This is the standard that I hold for myself and that I would like to see across the whole industry. Since I am not a religious man, I won’t be playing for free anytime soon.

  1. Know who you are hiring

If you find musicians online or hear about them through word of mouth, make sure you have listened to at least one of their recordings before you contact them. It is incredibly frustrating to have someone phone you to inquire about your band and they have no idea what it is that you actually do! We live in an incredible age where you can type the name of any individual or band in to Google and find out all kinds of things about them. Use this to find exactly what you are looking for and then make contact. It will be less painful for both you and the musicians.

  1. The devil is in the details

Now that you have found the performers of your choosing and they have agreed to perform at your event it is time to work out all of the little details. I know a lot of musicians who are terrible at doing this so if you are prepared it helps everyone. These details may include: what time the show starts, what time it ends, where it is taking place, what time the performers can set-up at, are there any times during the performance that you need the performers to stop for someone to speak. These types of details not only help the performers to prepare, but they also make your event run smoothly. There may be other details that need to be settled; it will be different with each event. Be prepared!

  1. Tell people about us!

This next point only applies to events that are open to the public. Smart musicians will advertise on social media at the very least when they are performing at public events even if the number of people in attendance has no effect on how much they get paid. They want people to see the cool things they are doing and they want people to come out and see the cool things they are doing. They are doing you a favour by bringing more people out to your event, so why not return the favour and advertising that they are performing at your event? It will likely attract people who weren’t interested in your event before, but are not because of who is performing. It helps all of us, so why not just do it?

  1. Be Prepared!

On the day of the event it isn’t so much about what you have to do, but what you need to have prepared. The most important is that when the musicians arrive at the venue at the previously arranged time, that you aren’t now changing their set-up or performance time. They are busy people and they live on schedules like everyone else. Changes complicate things, so try to avoid changes on the day of the event, and if unusual circumstances arise, let your musicians know as soon as possible! You should also know where the band is to set-up if it’s not in a space with an obvious spot such as a stage. You should also consider having a green room (pre/post performance space) for the performers. It isn’t always possible, but it is always appreciated when there is a spot to store our cases, to change, to relax, and to warm up. At the very least have a place to store cases, because nobody wants those randomly strewn about or stacked in a corner of the room. As well, if you have someone acting as MC at the event, make sure the musicians are included in the “thank you’s”. It can be pretty disheartening as a musician to hear the venue, the caterers, the photographer, and everyone else be thanked publicly and the musicians are forgotten. It happens more often than you would think, so don’t let it happen. The last, but most important, thing to do on the day of the performance is have the performer’s payment ready for them. Payment before the performance is a great vote of confidence, but payment immediately after the performance is generally expected. “I’ll mail you a cheque” all too often means the money isn’t coming, so spare everyone the hassle and have the payment ready to go.

After the event is done there is nothing you are expected to do, but it is nice to receive a follow up phone call or e-mail. If you were happy with the performance, we want to hear about it. If you weren’t happy with the performance, we probably don’t want to hear about it, but we probably should. It’s just a small detail that helps to build a good business relationship.

Here are a few other small things to keep in mind through the whole process: Don’t try to change aspects of the artist’s performance; you should be hiring them because their music is what you want for their event. If there is a meal involved with your event, offer to feed the musicians – it’s just a nice thing to do. Don’t leave booking music until the last minute because it will probably cost you more.

I hope you find this guide to booking musicians to be helpful. These are my own opinion on the matter and they may differ from others. If you are a performer or event planner (professional or not) and have additions, disagreements, or questions, please post a comment. I would love to hear from you!

 

 

What would an artistic professional’s blog post be without a little sales pitch! It’s not too late to book me and the band for your holiday parties! If you are reading this after the holiday season, it’s not too late to book us for whatever you may be planning. Visit the contact page to get the ball rolling!

 

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