Monday, June 17, 2013

8 Reasons I Limit My Performances in Second Life

The number of shows an artist does in Second Life is much like the speed at which they choose to drive on the freeway. As George Carlin famously noted, anyone going slower than you is an idiot, and anyone going faster than you is a maniac. Of course, the irony is that other people, from their perspective, think the same thing about you.

Therefore, the last thing I'll do is tell anyone else that they play too frequently, or not often enough. They have reasons for the numbers of shows they do, based on many factors, and I do as well. What I can do is tell you the specific reasons that I choose to perform live music in SL at the rate that is right for me.

How Often Does Zak Play?
Let's get this out of the way up front. I currently play about two shows per week, on average. There are occasional weeks with 3-4 shows, and occasional stretches of a couple of weeks with none at all. However, I try and maintain a pretty consistent schedule that has me do roughly two per week. Why does that amount work for me?

1. I have other musical activities.
I was a musician long before Second Life existed, and will remain one long after it's gone. At any given time, I am working on songwriting and recording (both for my own solo work and currently for my band They Stole My Crayon), and occasionally playing live in real life, both as a solo artist and with various bands. While I may only be performing live in SL a couple of times a week, there are many more hours I need to dedicate to my other musical adventures. But a much bigger time suck is...

Even when I'm not playing in SL, I usually am playing in some world. Here I am working on a song with Bunny.

2. I have responsibilities and activities beyond music.
I certainly love making and performing music. But only a tiny fraction of musicians have the luxury of devoting their lives to music full time, and I'm not one of them. I own a small business which could take up my entire day, every day, if I allow it to. I am the father of a teenage son, which is a much more important role than that of my being a musical performer. And I have a wonderful love life with Kat, and that does (and should) take up time as well. And, of course, there are all the other things that we all do in life... cooking, sleeping, housekeeping, and all that. Again, while I love being a musician, it doesn't take precedence over the other aspects of my life for which people rely on me. Speaking of responsibilities...

3. I only play fee-based shows.
This is a simple one: when an artist charges venues a fee to perform there, he or she should automatically stop performing for free (or for "tips-only") at other venues. Here's why: it is not fair at all to the venues who pay for your services to then have you give them away elsewhere. Imagine you walk up to a fruit stand, and pay $5 for a delicious bunch of bananas. While you're there, another customer walks up, and the seller gives them a bunch of bananas for free. Chances are, you'd feel like you got ripped off, and you'd be right. It's not that the bananas aren't worth five bucks; it's that the same price should be charged to everyone. All this having been said, I support the idea that all negotiations for artist appearances in SL are between the artist and the venue, and people can do whatever they want to. In my early days of SL, I'd play upwards of 6-7 times each week at tips-only places. However, once I got to a point that I started charging fees at all shows, I knew that it wasn't fair to the folks who paid me to play at places that don't. My ethics dictate my decision in this regard. There is an exception to this rule, though...

If I felt it was okay to charge some venues and not charge others, I could play five times a day. Instead, I prefer keeping it fair. Photo at The Islands of New England by Kat.

4. I play for many charities and benefits.
Over the course of a year, about 20% of my shows are done for various charitable causes. These are shows in which I do not accept a fee, and any tips go to the cause being supported. These causes have ranged from Relay for Life to the Kidney Foundation to diabetes to animal shelters to helping kids in Africa, and more. As far as I'm concerned, these are all shows of mine, and they require my fans to come and see me (and donate) for them to be successful. So, especially during the spring and early summer when these charity shows tend to be in full swing...

5. I don't want to burn out my audience.
Look, I have hundreds and hundreds of songs in my repertoire, and add new ones very often. I have original music; I have cover songs that people don't hear all the time. Despite all that, there are only so many times per week that I can expect the same group of people to take time out of their days to come see me perform live music. While I do strive to get new people to my shows, perchance to become fans, I care a lot about the people who've comprised my hardcore fan base over the last six-plus years. That's why real-life artists tour; they wouldn't expect the same people in the same city to come back to see them every night, and I don't expect that of my SL audience. There's another group of people who I always try and help, rather than be a burden for them...

6. I want to help the venues.
Running a successful venue is Second Life is really hard! The amount of time that the good venue owners/managers/hosts spend on being physically present at shows, on booking artists, and promoting their shows is mind boggling. When I perform there, I want it to be like a special event that draws a good-sized crowd for them, increasing their venue donations, and making it worthwhile to have me there. You will find it rare that I play at any single place more than twice per month. That's also why I want each show to be as good as I can offer, because...

I always want to be sure that I'm giving something back to the venues where I perform, and making it a special event is one thing that brings in bigger crowds. Photo at Key West by Kat.

7. I like to offer quality over quantity.
Back in the day where I'd pretty often play multiple shows each day, I found something disconcerting happening: I didn't have the energy to give my very best at each show. My voice would get rough, and my guitar playing would get sloppy. By limiting my shows to 1-2 each week, I can really prepare well and make sure that each performance is something in which I can take pride. But no matter how good you are, there's an intangible aspect that also dictates the number of shows one plays in SL...

I put a lot of energy into my shows, and if I overdo them, I can become a burned-out mess quickly. Here's me, sweating and panting directly after a recent show.

8. Popularity matters.
The entertainment business isn't "fair". Life isn't either, but it's all the more obvious in the world of performing arts. You can be a good performer who just isn't capable of getting yourself noticed. You can be a mediocre-at-best performer who makes up for it in other ways and achieves popularity. I am extremely grateful for both the fans and the venues who've helped make me a pretty well respected performer in SL, but the fact is that there are X number of venues and Y number of performers, and at some point you need to acquiesce that just like in real life, performers who consistently bring in bigger crowds tend to get more shows. It's not a talent contest. It's not an indication that the less popular performers aren't as "good" (whatever that means in something as subjective as music). It does mean that for people who would otherwise play shows more often, they need to be able to offer venues a reason to book them, beyond the fact that perhaps they can play an instrument and sing well.

Anything else?
Yes, one more thing. For my first five years in SL, I booked my own shows and did all of my own promotions. Since 2011, though, I handed off those duties to my manager Maali Beck, and I have to highly commend her for one specific thing: she listens to me. I specifically told her from day one that I wasn't into playing too often in SL, and she has always respected that. Also, I should add that the services she provides actually frees me up to focus much more on the performance, and less on the business side of things, which is good for everyone. Hats off to her.

For the rest of you, as I mentioned above: this isn't the right way... it's just my way. For some people and certain kinds of performances, doing 2-3 shows (or more) every single day is right for them, and for others, doing a show every month or two works. As George inferred up top, everyone is either an idiot or a maniac... even me and you!


Maali said...

It's been a pleasure working with you and for you. I appreciate all that you bring to the SL music scene and the audiences there. I am blessed to know you as a friend and a gifted musician!

~Diana said...

And I thought it was because you hated lag. I will give you props, you have changed the way I look at the events I choose to work on and how I work on them.