I love hearing from readers of the Educate and Entertain blog, and when a question comes up that I think I can help with, I’m glad to take a swing at it.
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Here’s a question I received from a long-time reader…
Packaging: How to Make the Accordion Cool
David Laprise, aka “Coach Dave” wrote:
“My group is ‘me’ and is called Accordion Cool after my TV show of the same name, where I strive mightily to make the accordion cool. Main question is the age old one of getting gigs, but in my case getting away from the stereotype accordion stigma. I refuse to play polkas et al. It is almost like an education process and pulling teeth. I do not do ethnic related shows as I have learned the hard way, no matter how many ethnic songs one digs up, there is always the one or two that someone wants and gives a hard time about. Most of my gigs now are farmers markets and once I am heard, they go well. On my TV show, I always give a brief history of the song(s), and try to do so when I am in a concert setting. My genre is light jazz influenced by the late, great Art Van Damme and the “youngster” and friend, three time world champion, Cory Pesaturo, who, in spite of his greatness runs into the same road blocks I do.”
Hi Coach Dave,
First of all, thanks for reading. I believe you were one of the earliest subscribers to my blog, and it’s been fun to hear from you every now and then.
Your question is a great one, and I’m hoping that several readers will have some good ideas for you as well. (The Comments section is below.)
For me, this is really a question of “packaging,” i.e. how do I sell myself to people who already think they know what I do?
While I’m not super familiar with the accordion world, I do know something about banjo history/players/styles, and I think these two instruments share some similarities in terms of strong associations with particular types of music, at least here in America.
I’d say “get out there and change everyone’s perception,” but then I think about 16-time Grammy-winner Bela Fleck‘s genre-bending musical exploits on the banjo (classical, rock, jazz, various world musics, and more) and the fact that his (and many others’) decades of boundary smashing has done little or nothing to change people’s expectations when I pull my banjo out of its case at a gig.
(They’re not thinking “boy, I’d love to hear some Chopin on that 5-string,” or “I wonder if he’ll play something African.” They’re assuming they’ll be hearing “Foggy Mountain Breakdown” – a bluegrass classic – and probably hoping for “Dueling Banjos” too.)
So…I think the thing to do when promoting yourself for bookings is to lead with what you do rather than the instrument you do it on. That way, you’re setting the table with the important stuff right up front.
Then, when you happen to mention that “oh, and I do this with an accordion,” that becomes a unique selling point that could easily work in your favor.
What are the gigs that the light jazz players are doing in your area? And who are the players doing that work? Go after those gigs as a light jazz player who has his own TV show and loves to banter with the audience, etc. “Oh, and by the way, look at the instrument I do it on!”
When I think about how I “package” and promote my own shows, I essentially follow this same model, describing the uniqueness of the material that I do, who I do it for, and what others have said about it, long before I mention the instruments that I play. In fact, that might not even come up until the second or third paragraph!
I hope that’s helpful, Dave, and that you and others will chime in on the Comments section below so we can continue to discuss this.
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Thanks everyone for the great emails. More Q&A for subscribers in a future post!
About The Blog
Since leaving a white-collar marketing job in 1992, Dave Ruch has been educating and entertaining full-time in schools, historical societies and museums, folk music and concert venues, libraries, and online via distance learning programs.
Along the way, he’s learned a great deal about supporting a family of four as a musician.
The Educate and Entertain blog provides articles, tips, encouragements, and how-to’s for regional performers (in any region) interested in making a great full-time living in the arts.