I’m deep in prep mode for my first full-band, real live show in three years. It’s a special show, one I wasn’t even going to do, but something was telling me you’re not done yet. It’s a record release show. And it’s draining the shit out of me.
Getting the venue wasn’t so hard. I knew I wasn’t going to lug my keyboard through the streets of Manhattan mid-January so the venue had to have a piano. I didn’t want to stress too much about filling a huge room, so it had to be under 200 capacity. And I wanted it to be something familiar while also being a new experience. And of course, something borrowed and something blue.
I landed on Rockwood Music Hall. I have played Stage 1 a dozen times, so the request to play their bigger and nicer room, Stage 2 wasn’t a completely out-of-the-blue request. It would feel like a homecoming, as much as a way to start fresh, which is what my record, Inevitably was all about. At the same time, I hadn’t played in NYC in a while, I had no idea what my “draw” would be, so I had my PR folks reach out. In no time, I was on the phone with the booker negotiating a better door deal than their standard skim-off-the-top-then-take-a-% (sorry, musicians, Rockwood is slipping through the cracks and trying to stay alive, thus making their door deal slightly less than ideal for artists, especially first-timers in NYC who don’t know their draw). Anywho, we landed on a deal that felt a little better than shitty, and required me to sell advance tickets – 101 of them – before said deal kicked in. Oh well. On to making this show actually happen.
Note the timeline here: Venue was confirmed December 15th, 2015. Show was scheduled for January 14th, 2016. If you’re reading this before the show date, please do get tickets ahead of time to see how this all goes down.
I was working with an indie PR company for the record release. They were getting me a few exclusive reviews and premiers of the videos we made for the record (Inevitably and Dissolve if you’re curious). Mid-December, we shifted to full-on live-show promotion. And for them, I’m not sure what that meant other that make sure the show gets in all the local listings.
The venue sent me a list of media contacts which I forwarded to said PR team, grateful for not having to start my personalized pitched to each one to either post or write about the show. I was left to do my own promotion. Something different that I’ve done in the past. I have more followers on social media. I started Periscope, I am in some engaging conversations on Twitter. This time will be better, thought the familiar hopeful indie musician voice in my head.
I stopped touring full time for a number of reasons, one of them being the massive pain in the ass it was to promote shows and then explain to bookers what you did and how many people you expect to come and the STRESS of it all. I never quite got it in New York City. Switzerland, now that’s another story, but let’s keep it local for now.
I hadn’t sold out a 200-ish venue in New York since my first CD release at The Cutting Room in 2004. Twelve years, four CDs, ten tours (US and European) and 300+ shows later, I’m hopeful. My new record is all co-writes and duets so most of the songs I’ll do at the show will have a special guest singer. I’m working with an all-star band of old friends including Shawn Pelton on drums (SNL, Sheryl Crow, Bruce Springsteen), Conrad Korsch on bass (Rod Stewart), and Oscar Rodriguez (A Great Big World, me!). I decided to do a social media post a day highlighting all of the awesome guests and band members- nine days in total if you include me, telling the story of how I know them, why I’m excited to play with them. I’m tagging and forwarding, retweeting and commenting.
And I’ve sold two tickets a day since I started 10 days ago.
Okay. No problem.
Breathe Cheryl. Let’s focus on the music. Not everyone in the band can rehearse. Okay cool. Skype rehearsals, Google docs of set lists, tempos and keys. Perfect charts. Written notes for the sound mixer. Stage plots. Cello parts. Me, learning songs I only pieced together in the studio for the record. Me, learning lyrics I wrote and sang once for a recording that happened over a year ago. Getting to know my writing again. My playing. My voice. Is it better? It’s worse. I know it’s worse. I’m out of practice. It sounds rough and scratchy. It sounds like you spent three years living life. Okay. I can live with that. I will stop trying so f*cking hard to sound good.
So while I’m at it, I may as well stop trying to look so good. That’s what’s driving the stress around selling tickets. What if people think the room looks empty? What if the band thinks I’m not a serious enough musician to fill a measly 170-capacity room? What if the venue doesn’t invite me back because I didn’t sell enough?
WHO CARES you don’t even know if you want to continue playing live.
True. At first I thought this show was just going to be a listening party. I thought the live thing was done done done. But I wanted to play these songs live. Just to see. I was curious. So I booked it and that was that. Then I started thinking this would be my BIG GLORIOUS RETURN TO THE STAGE. [*eye roll*] Oh please. Look how stressed you are about selling tickets and getting through the songs. You don’t want to do this. Plus it’s costing an arm and a leg for rehearsal space and paying the musicians (even though they are friends, they are pros, so I pay their asking rate. I do not negotiate with musicians.) And I don’t think I want to play this music alone. They are duets. Writing these songs was a process, a healing, a cry for help, a complaint, a get-it-out-of-your-system sort of cathartic structure that was temporarily created to serve a specific purpose. Performing the songs alone at solo shows feels inauthentic, like I am not doing the songs, or my collaborators, justice.
So then I thought that this show could be an official “goodbye” from the stage, so I can focus on writing, scoring films, creating great courses for musicians, being the entrepreneur and composer I know I can be.
But that didn’t feel right also. Sure, it may be the last show I do, perhaps for another three years, but why declare something like that and bind my future of performing to it.
So I’ve decided to make a game-time decision. To see how the show goes. What goes on during the rehearsal, the sound check and the performance. That will be part 2. Part 3 will be the results I get from performing live. I’ll share numbers, and take a look at how this all felt and how it will drive my next actions.
For now, I’m going to be authentic. I’m going to share this post. I’m going to let people know that this show feels bigger than me, that it is bigger than me. So much so that I’m not afraid of hitting a wrong note or messing up a lyric. For the first time I am truly trusting the songs, and the musicians, and the process, and the fans. I’m trusting it all and am focusing all of my energy not in stressing about ticket sales but on replacing that stress and desperation with grace.