Recent Subscriber Questions (vol. II)

We’re going back to the mailbag this week to answer more great questions from subscribers on things like email outreach, historical music, multigenerational audiences, perfectionism and more…

(Feel free to keep your questions coming, BTW!)

#1. Working With Multi-Generational Audiences

Matt was asking about “tips for working with multi-generational audiences.”

This is something I’ve put a lot of thought into over the years, mostly because I’ve ended up in some unexpected situations along the way…

  • More seniors than children show up at a concert for kids
  • Kids show up at a performance for adults
  • EVERYONE shows up for a summertime outdoor concert

Suddenly, you’re wondering “who am I playing for” and “should I be catering more to the adults or the kids?” and “how do I keep everybody engaged.”

Here’s how I handle things…

If the booker has told me, or if I have any intuition, that I could end up with a mixed audience of kids, adults and/or seniors at a gig, I make two tentative setlists.


Because the audience makeup isn’t always what they say it’s going to be.

Setlist A – for a truly mixed audience
Setlist B – amendments to Setlist A if very few kids (or very few adults) show up

This way, I’m covered either way.

If I do have a truly mixed audience, I tend to split things down the middle in terms of repertoire – I include a few things just for the kids, I don’t give elaborate song introductions or do as much “educating” as I would with adult audiences, and I include everyone in the participatory parts.

Adults love to see kids interacting with the music, and they also don’t mind participating right along with the kids – I’ve had audiences of adults doing all kinds of silly stuff in this context.

But I also wouldn’t aim everything at the kids. Even at a “kids” concert, if their parents are there, include them too.

I hope that helps Matt. Feel free to comment below if I’m not quite answering your question.

#2. Finding Regional and Historical Music

Steve wanted to know:

“How to research period music. I’m playing out quite a bit, but trying to step up to the next level with a historical theme, like you do. I am based in SW Ohio.”

Hey Steve – you know I love a question like this, and I don’t talk about this side of things much on the blog because most of my readers aren’t doing regional or historical music.

Lots of ideas for you:

  • Mary Eddy’s 1939 book “Ballads and Songs From Ohio” (try used booksellers or your public library)
  • Recent book on the Ohio song collecting work of Anne Grimes
  • “Ohio State Ballads” recording (and liner notes) by Anne Grimes

You should find plenty of good music and stories in those three sources, but if you really want to geek out further, the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress has vast holdings of field recordings made in Ohio (and every other state in the Union). You’re bound to find some gems there too.

I feel like this is such a worthwhile path to pursue, because:

a) the material is important and rare, and there’s almost nobody else is doing it – you’ll get a lot of satisfaction from your work researching it, and people will appreciate your efforts

b) a program of these songs is highly marketable to schools, libraries, museums, community events, historical societies etc.

As we’ve said here before, themed shows get booked.

#3. When Things Aren’t Perfect…

This is the first of three questions from Skyler – – I’ll see if I can get to all three today.

She wanted to know “how to put your work out there when you don’t feel it’s perfect.”

This is an easy one for me to answer.

Things will never be perfect! (And, most people won’t notice the small things that bother you, the creator.)

That said, you definitely need to have a standard, and you don’t want to put unflattering things out there.

But, if you tend to lean toward perfectionism and an unrealistic standard for yourself (as I do), get things close to where you want them and then let it rip.

#4. What An Outreach Email Looks Like

Skyler’s second question had to do with what an email to a potential venue, school, or center looks like. 

I should probably do a whole post or webinar on this at some point, because this is a fairly common question.

And, of course, there’s no one right answer.

I would encourage you to keep the following things in mind though:

  1. The recipient is BUSY – make it short and relevant to them
  2. Your subject line matters a lot
  3. Your first sentence is also very important – if you don’t hook them there, you’re probably in the trash folder
  4. Have one goal in mind for the email – don’t try to accomplish five things with it
  5. Put yourself in your recipient’s shoes when writing – what do they care about and how do you help them achieve that?
  6. Don’t ask them to click on a bunch of links to learn more about you (they won’t)
  7. Include a powerful testimonial or two
  8. Ending with a question can be a good way to elicit a response
  9. If you don’t mind using the phone, you could end with “I’ll give you a call next week to see if ….”

#5. Performing Live On Camera

Skyler’s last question was about “how to perform live on camera without instruments.”

I perform live on camera all the time, both with and without instruments, and I think it all boils down to keeping your audience (who you can’t see) engaged.

How to do that?

  • perform for your camera, looking directly into it (which translates to looking right at your audience)
  • aim to make a connection with them
  • involve them
  • assume they are responding just as a live audience does
  • build in some feedback loops – message board, or chat function, or even by text
  • don’t acknowledge that you can’t see/hear them – be comfortable
  • be confident and engaging and you’ll carry the day

There’s no substitute for just doing this a handful of times – you’ll figure out your on-camera “persona” and settle in pretty quickly.

I always ask for feedback afterwards, too, so I can get a feel for how things went on the other end.

Hope that helps!

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About The Blog

The Largest Online Gathering of K-5 Classrooms for Connected Educator MonthSince 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.

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13 Responses to Recent Subscriber Questions (vol. II)

  1. I have a question for you Dave. How does a band get press quotes? We play fairs, breweries and Assisted Living Facilities, and anywhere we can get hired, none of which are hotbeds of press coverage or roving reporters.

    • Hi David – good question. Press releases to the media ahead of any notable upcoming performances would be a good way to start. (Notable in this case = anything tied into a current news trend, or something that benefits an organization or individual in an altruistic way.) There’s never any guarantee, but do this enough times and you’ll probably have some luck. The other benefit is that if the press happens to use your release to mention the event ahead of time, you can then quote them! For instance, if you call your act “David Flaa – Virtuoso Pianist” and the Des Moines Register then posts a listing saying that David Flaa – Virtuoso Pianist is playing at the county fair, you can now quote the paper in your materials (“Virtuoso Pianist” – Des Moines Register)

  2. I am confused at the statement above about not giving them links to click on, the venue always ask send me your info and an example of your work, this is all on our website,so, i include the link to the website and sometimes links to facebook. Is that the wrong thing to do?

    • Hi Nancee – that is referring to an outreach email where the recipient has never heard of you and you’re hoping to get them interested in booking you. If you’ve already had a conversation with them and they are asking for your materials, that’s a whole different story. Hope that makes sense.

  3. You the man! Thanks again & I do plan to research the material you suggested. My main gig is truck brokerage (find a load, find a truck, keep the difference) & I work from home. I am also a part-time Children’s Minister, Both very flexible as far as work hours go …

    Actually enjoy both of them, especially working with kids. But my passion is performing. No problem speaking or playing for people & since I was teenager, I have been able to engage & hold an audience. As far as my guitar playing skills, I’m probably just below the top-tier players.

    And I can find & book all the $100 / $150 gigs I can handle. But I have not been able to “cross the line” into the territory where you tread. Your posts & encouragement have been a big help.

    Making big plans for 2018 & beyond …

    And I love your videos & the way you interact with people. Very “David Holt” … I’d love to see you perform / meet you in person. Great music & great “schtick”!

    Thanks again.

    • Steve,

      You have described my life!! Ha. I have a similar background ministry-wise. (Worship and Youth) I try to infuse my experiences and personality that has grown from that arena into doing the “kindie thing”. So far it’s worked pretty well and also like you I can book 100/150 buck-a-roo gigs until the cows come home. I play with a semi-revolving group of musicians every now and again so of course that means the price goes up.

      What I am finding is sometimes it gets hard to get to the numbers that can support a full band….realistically. We have taken SEVERAL gigs under our minimum under the guise of paying our dues and getting our name out. 2018 (again…like you haha) is kind of our make or break year so we’re pulling out all the stops and maybe not taking some of those lower paying gigs to concentrate on the higher ones because a) if we take lower paying gigs all the time then we set a precedent of our worth to future bookings b) sometimes it just aint worth all the hassle and time it goes into full band gigs for less than a certain price point…and that’s just reality.

      So Dave, these posts/blogs/videos ARE encouraging because I read them and think ‘man if i can put these things to practice then I can take this music thing somewhere great’. Steve, I too am ready to cross that line. I don’t think I will be able to quit my day job and go on the road and do this full time…..BUT I do need to really start being more discerning on the gigs I do take. Mainly b/c those gigs are usually on the weekends and that cuts into family time. My family is supportive but again, I am not going to work 40+ during the week and then blow a good half of a Saturday to rake in 100 bucks. :/ I would definitely take less gigs at higher price points than kill myself every weekend to net the same amount.

      Just takes time I suppose…

      • Great conversation here.

        Nathan, it sounds like you could have written my very first article on the blog, which is called Do You Work Too Cheap?

        The article discusses the fallout from accepting too many low paying gigs and offers another way to approach things for those who want or need to be earning more. I update the article every year or so, and still feel that it’s one of the most important ones I’ve written.

        • That is a good post and I think that was one of my earlier reads on your blog. At that time it was more of a ‘these are some good points to consider’ sort of thing but now it speaks to me in a more ‘here and now’ sort of way. Like, I am having to make these decisions instead of keeping those tips in my back pocket for the future….the future is now! It’s freaking me out haha.

          What I have learned with taking lower paying (or no paying) gigs is it is IMPORTANT that those have the potential to “payoff” in some way. Either by exposing me to a new network/audience, laying groundwork for future performances, or is acting as some sort of public service. For example I have done several performances at a local Ronald McDonald House. The joy you bring people in a situation cannot be quantified by a booking fee.

          Dave, like your article says, there’s nothing wrong with taking lower paying gigs (esp in the beginning, someone’s gotta know you’re out there!!) but I will attest to the fact that it plays tricks on your mind!! You start to think that’s all your worth and that level of venue is as good as it will get.

          But then I started to do what you suggested. Instead of filling my time with a little gig here and a little gig there I focused my efforts in catching bigger fish. I wouldn’t have had that time to do so if I spent a whole day on the road for a 45 min show and bringing home 50-100 bucks after expenses. It gets frustrating and I don’t know how many times I have just wanted to chuck everything out the window and never play again. That’s the truth. But I had to realize I was the one putting myself in situations that led to the mentality that I would never advance.

          And maybe I won’t. Or maybe I won’t get as far as I would like but I also do not want to be complacent with where I am at. Just like with my guitar playing, it will get stale if I don’t push myself….so why not have that same approach with booking! 🙂

        • Oh and I will say I think a lot of it (for me) has to do with two things. 1. Being musically vulnerable 2. the fear of rejection. Sometimes I don’t push myself to go after the bigger opportunities b/c I talk myself out of them. I say, ‘why would they want ME?” “I am not good enough (music isn’t good enough)”

  4. Great advice, Dave. Only comment I thought of was regarding Matt’s question about multi-generational audiences. Sometimes the booking venue advertises a specific type of show but the audience doesn’t match what was advertised. For example, a “kids show” but mostly adults or seniors show up, or an historical show like “The history of American protest through songs” but the audience is mostly young children. In cases like this, of course I try to stick to the advertised program, but in all cases do the show that fits the audience – even if the show only remotely resembles the advertised theme.

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