How to do the Fringe

This is as much as a note for me to refer back to next year as it is info for you lovely bloglings, but if any of you are planning on going to The Fringe, maybe some of these tips will help –

  • Venue – things to take into consideration.
    The average edinburgh audience size is about 6, literally. If it’s your first year, you’re very likely to end up doing a few shows to virtually no-one. With that in mind, book a small venue. It’ll save you money, and feel less crap when you eventually get up to 15-20 people.

    a lot of venues charge more for ‘prime-time’ slots, so think about when your show is best going to attract an audience. I seem to do pretty well late night, so can take a cheaper slot between 11-12, rather than trying to book between 7-10pm, which is pretty much the main time for shows.

    When you talk to the venue, haggle over the cost of the room. I’ve never paid full asking price for an Edinburgh venue. Check what the extras are (do you need a tech? lighting engineer? door person? backstage help? most of that will be charged) – bargain with them. The usual deal is to pay a ‘guarantee’ and then it’s a 60/40 split in your favour over and above that. Some places do a straight hire fee where you get all ticket money. others can be convinced to do a straight 50/50 split.

    It’s also worth finding out what kind of publicity the venue are going to do. If you go into one of the ‘big five’ – The Pleasance, The Underbelly, The Gilded Balloon, The Assembly Rooms or C Venues – they’ll have a load of publicity of their own. It’s not worth relying on (shows in each of these venue complexes still end up with 2 people in the audience), but it’ll help. A bit. possibly.

  • Promo before the fest. Make sure you get signed up to the EdFringe press office mailings, there are lots of useful things to do in there. They send out info of lots of press opportunities and other promo things like playing at the Fringe Opening party, Fringe Sunday etc.

    Get good photos! there’s no substitute for having a really eye-catching image, something that says something about your show. Remember, there are close to 2000 other shows on, putting on nearly 30,000 performances in the month. That’s a lot of competition, and a tiny amount of time you have to grab the focus of your prospective audience – you need to grab them with the picture and show title first, then the strap line, then the blurb. It’s all got to be there, arty doesn’t really cut it. I’ve been given flyers where I can’t tell a) what kind of show it is, whether it be music/drama/comedy/physical theatre/dance etc. and b) what the story is if it happens to be a narrative piece. It’s all got to be there on the flyers and posters.

    Also worth spending a lot of time on is your fringe programme entry – you’ve only got 40 words, so they have to be the greatest words you can think of to describe what you do. Quotes are good if they’re relevant. be descriptive, pique people’s interest, be hyperbolic – everyone else will be.

    Work out your budget for promo. Flyers and posters are a must. An absolute must. But you might want to take out an ad in the programme, or some ads in the free papers at the festival (Three Weeks and SkinnyFest), or even on the website. Again, you might be able to haggle on price, or team up with another show to take out an ad between you.

    One way to expand your budget is to get sponsors – this can either be individuals – see Richard Herring’s SCOPE appeal for more on this – or companies that have some vested interest in the publicity you can offer. For the last two years, my show has been sponsored by the Bass Institute – an excellent music school in West London. They can obviously get access to loads of people interested in music, particularly bassists, through my show, and I give them a logo on thousands of flyers and posters, as well as a full page ad in the show programme. A great deal for all.

    Use the press list! The Fringe press office sends out a press list, with the contacts of everyone who writes or broadcasts about the Fringe. Write a great press release (get help if needs be), and follow it up with additional news etc. Stick to the recommended method of communication, and don’t bug the people if they ask to be contacted only once. This again is where those killer photos come in handy. Press people are 100x more likely to write about you if you got good photos. head over to Steve Brown’s site for photo stuff – he regularly takes magazine front covers, so knows all about generating eye-catching, product-selling images for artists.

  • Once you get to Edinburgh – keep doing all of the above. Use the internet to follow up radio and press contacts, chase up reviewers and sort out cabaret and showcase slots. There are a few of these – you should contact them before the fest if possible, and then follow up when you get there. Some times people have slots to fill last minute, make sure they’ve got your mobile number for last minute bookings. A lot of the showcase and cabaret slots will be 10-15 minutes long – make sure you’ve got a highly portable extract from your show. This is harder if it’s a play, but it’s worth doing for the audience it generates. Shows like Mervyn Stutter’s Pick Of the Fringe are a great way to reach a much bigger audience.

    And now all those flyers and posters come into their own – put posters up in every legal possible place. Shops are a great one, cafes, restaurants – get there early to guarantee a slot on the walls. Make sure your venue has done enough promo around the building, you want to catch as much passing trade as possible. Don’t go too mad putting out piles of flyers alongside all the other piles of flyers – they get buried fairly quickly.

    Then it’s time to hit the high street and sell the show – have a one sentence description – ‘late night music show’, ‘chill out comedy’ bizarre road trip comedy’ ‘shakespeare on ice’ – something that’ll grab people’s attention. Then have a prepared one paragraph description, so you don’t um and ah through it. Be confident and smilie, very friendly, ask people’s names, shake hands, say how much you’re looking forward to seeing them at the show. In short, make them feel like they are as special as the show is, and they clearly belong at it! As for quantity, you really need about 7000 flyers for your first week, and 5000 for each successive week. We had 5000 this year, and could easily have done 7000 in the time we were there. If you can get friends to come and stay and flyer for you, that’s great, but there’s nothing quite like people seeing your picture on the flyer and then chatting to you about the show.

    Same with posters – about 150-250 a week should do it – make sure you put them up on the pillars on the Royal Mile at least three times a day, as they get covered up pretty quickly. Same for the boards outside the E-ticket tent.

    Work out with your venue before hand what they are happy for you to do in the way of comps, 2 for 1 deals etc. Do you need to have special stickers for it? can you just write it on the flyer? how precious are they about it? If you’re doing three weeks, I’d recommend doing maximum effort in the first week just to get people through the door, try and create a bit of a buzz, get the word out. Lots of two for ones, comps to the casts of other shows etc. Be generous with other performers, most of them won’t have much money for full price tickets.

  • Take care of yourself. Edinburgh folklore is all about people staying up late, getting drunk, stoned and shagging anything that moves. Clearly not a good idea if you actually want it to be a success for you. Almost everyone at the fest loses money. Perhaps this is why. I’ve never lost money there. I hardly drink at all while I there, and try to get enough sleep – I really don’t want to be falling asleep on stage. If you’re a pro, it’s work, 24 hours a day. If you take it seriously, you can do well there. That’s not to say that you shouldn’t go out late night – it might be a great way to meet people who could come to the show, or review it. There’s a whole other world at the fest that starts at midnight. Just proceed with caution. ;o)
  • And finally, make sure the show is shit-hot. If your show is lame, all the promo in the world isn’t going to sell it. People will come, and you’ll get crap reviews, crap word of mouth and the crowds will die off. Come with a great show, and it’ll go the other way. Spend the time making it right, and you can do really well.

    What have I missed? If you’ve ever been there, post your best tip in the comments section…

The Master

About two minutes after posting that last blog, I checked today’s mail and found the Master CDR of the album, back from Denis – I’m not sure exactly what kind of alchemical scariness goes on at the mastering stage, but it’s remarkable the ‘sheen’ that it gives to a recording. It’s often a layer of polish that you can’t even predict being there hearing the original, but when you A/B the two, the change is amazing. It’s very similar to seeing before and after photos that Steve Brown has been tweaking – he takes great pictures anyway, then drops them into photoshop and, even on the ones where he’s not changing the background, does these magical tweaks that make everything look shiny and lovely and perfect.

So for the next 70 minutes I’ll be sat here listening through the CD, making sure it all does what I want it to do, and finishing off the artwork so that it can all be sent to those lovelies at ICC to be turned into proper CDs. How exciting!!

Oh, for those of you that care, the cheque finally arrived for the tour with Theo in February… Yay, money! Theo and I can feed our huge families now…

A day off

didn’t have any gigs or recording or NAMMing to do today, so had a mellow day pottering up the Pacific Coastal Highway – that’s Highway 1. It runs all the way from San Diego up into Oregon, I think (maybe even to Seattle – anyone care to put me right?) – I’ve driven it from LA to the Bay Area before, but never the bit below LA. As I was staying just south of Long Beach last night, I started there and headed slowly up the coast.

There were some lovely bits and some really grim bits – Seal Beach sounded like a nice place, but turned out to be largely just some hideous Naval war machine thing. then there was LA harbour – Steve Brown, if you ever need a location for some kind of post-apocalyptic industrial wasteland for a photo shoot, that’s the place!

and I got all the way to Venice Beach which I know quite well anyway.

Throughout the day I was phoning all my southern california chums, catching up and arranging where and when to meet up. Eventually got through to Kerry Getz, who I’ve played with in London before now, and so we were able to catch up this evening, which was lovely.

And now I’ve found that the house next door to where I’m staying has an unsecured wireless connection, so that’s how I’m online now! Gotta love untech-savvy peoples!

Soundtrack – Francis Dunnery, ‘Man’ (I’m struck once again by what an incredble album this is – the tunes and vocals are outstanding, Frank’s guitar playing is an glorious as ever, but the real revelation is Matt Pegg’s bass playing – some of the most amazing singer/songwriter bass playing I’ve ever heard – his sound, his phrasing and his choice of style is so unlike anything else I’ve heard before. Definitely one of my favourite bass albums.) The rest of the in-car tunage from the last few days – Juliet Turner, ‘Live’ (another glorious album); Foo Fighters, ‘The Colour And The Shape’; OST, ‘Bugsy Malone’; Scritti Politti, ‘Cupid And Psyche’.

Point and Shoot…

So, as I’ve mentioned, Theo and I have got an arts council-sponsored tour in February, and are getting all the promo stuffs together. Yesterday was the photoshoot, conducted by the genius that is Steve Brown. My last shoot with Steve was in a studio in the west end, but now Steve has all his own lovely photo geek-gear, and after buying a huge white background, we set up in the newly decorated back hall at St Luke’s, which proved absolutely perfect for the role.

We got what looked like some fantastic shots – lots of great ideas from mr photographer, and a couple of reasonable ones from Theo and I. Steve not only takes great pictures, he has a real skill for the dynamics of a photoshoot, getting people into sensible poses, and guaging what they are and aren’t going to be happy to do (I’ll ponce about all day in all manner of strange clothes and poses, whereas theo is slightly more refined, despite being the one with the red and black ‘kings road circa 1978’ jeans).

I can’t recommend Steve highly enough – and it’s vital if you as a musician want to get any press to have great photos. Magazines – especially smaller magazines – won’t run articles about you if you don’t provide them with great photos. It’s as simple as that. If you do, they may run an article they weren’t really planning on, just because your pictures make their mag look good. Your posters will be more eye-catching, your flyers more likely to be picked up, your website snappier, and all the foxy laydeez will digging your wikkid skillz. So, head over to his site now, get a quote and get booked in. He’s cheaper than Anton Corbijn, and I prefer Steve’s style… 😉

A Saturday doing not much

I so rarely get a saturday off! I’m really relishing this one – it’s nearly 3pm and I’m still not dressed, just sat here faffing about online in my dressing gown. Actually, does uploading gig dates to count as work? If it does, i’ve been working, but it certainly doesn’t feel like work compared to my usual 5/6/7 hours of teaching.

The reason for the day off was that there was a possibility that I was going to be flying out to Verona to play at a bass-day gig there, but it didn’t come off, so I’m here and happy and mellow and enjoying the rest.

Especially as yesterday was a bit of a frantic day flyering (echoes of Edinburgh in that sentence). Headed into town late morning to meet Dweez from the forum for lunch and to give him a big pile of flyers to dish out (gotta love them street-team lovelies!), and then off up Upper Street in Islington putting flyers and posters in all the little cafes along there that have flyer racks and walls devoted to posters for local events. The split between the corporate and the family-run couldn’t be more stark. All those places where decisions are purely made on their financial efficacy wouldn’t be seen dead allowing flyers for events not associated with the brand to be put in them. All the little funky family-owned cafes/bars/restaurants etc. are more than happy to help promote events in their local community. Good peoples, one and all.

After that, it was up to the Gallery in Camden to deliver more posters and flyers, and to see Alex who works there. A fun visit, for sure.

Where else for flyers? Ah, there’s Mole Jazz in King’s Cross. Back on the tube (via my lovely new Oyster Card) and head off to King’s Cross. Who’s this coming towards me carrying more camera equipment than your average hollywood film set? Why, it’s Steve Brown, photographer extraordinaire, and carrier of much photo-gear. Serendipity like this definitely calls for a coffee break. So we head off in search of Mole Jazz, which no long exists and is now a ‘Subway’ sandwich shop, so we find nearby little cafe and stop for lovely chat. It’s coincidences like this that make London special – bumping into your friends when you all live in a village of 30 people isn’t a surprise, it’s just called ‘going outdoors’. In a city of 11 million people, it’s a bit less likely, and therefor to be treasured.

It occurs to me while chatting to Steve that the commuter jazz series at the QEH (where it has transplanted from the RFH while the renovations are taking place) would be a great place to hand out some flyers, as well as to see some of the old RFH commuter jazz peoples. So i head down there, only to discover that it’s not every week, and this is an off-week. Ah well, at least I got to see the new shops ‘n’ cafes development on the Riverside bit of the RFH – it’s lovely, and I’ll have to investigate there further.

So, where next with flyers? Darbucka, of course! Posters and flyers delivered, time to head home. A knackering day, and one that earns me a mellow Saturday, fo shizzle.

Soundtrack – Sam Phillips, ‘Fan Dance’; Renaud Garcia-Fons, ‘Entremundo’; Prefab Sprout, ‘Steve McQueen’.

A top comedy night out.

Having missed their show in Edinburgh, TSP and I were most pleased to discover that Barry Cryer and Ronnie Golden were playing at our local arts centre, The Arts Depot in Finchley. It’s a new place that we’ve tried to get to a few times before, but each time the show has been sold out.

This time we were on the guest-list, so no selling out woes for us.

However, when we got there, and went upstairs to get to our seats, there was what looked like a civic reception in full swing – various people dressed like local dignitaries (no idea who the local dignitaries are, so not sure if they were just imposters), many peoples with ‘arts depot’ badges on, and a handful of local celebs (Robert Powell, the lovely Linda Bellingham etc.) Our first thought was that we were in completely the wrong place and something very odd had happened. Then the woman giving the speech (speech!?!?) mentioned tonght’s gig that everyone was about to go into, and we realised it was just a do that happened to coincide with the gig.

The gig was, as expected, marvellous – very funny indeed (I think TSP was laughing louder than anyone else there, but largely because we knew what the songs were going to be from their intros, as many of them were also in the ‘Men In Beige’ show we saw at Edinburgh last year). The larger venue didn’t really work in Barry and Ronnie’s favour – the intimacy of an Edinburgh-style venue was perfect for their style of musical comedy, and the bigger stage meant that those of us in the balcony didn’t get such a great line of sight for some of the facial expressions, but it was still a marvellous night’s comedy.

The party afterwards was lots of fun, given that we now knew what was going on, and would actually know two people at this bit of the party (they’d obviously been getting ready to go on stage when we got there at the start). Surreal moment of the day goes to Jeremy Beadle, who wandered up while I was chatting with Ronnie, and started to compliment him on his marvellous country singing (Ronnie is indeed a fantastic singer in just about any style he turns his hand – or larynx – to) – Beadle was as pissed as anyone I’ve seen for quite a while, and told us of his extensive country music collection. I’m sure if I’d had the forsight to video it on my phone it would’ve earned me £250 on ‘You’ve Been Framed’.

Also met the director of the arts centre who is, by the look of their programme, doing a marvellous job. Must follow up the contact – the main hall there is a beautiful performance space, and one I’d love to play in.

Today was a housework day, interrupted by coffee with the v. talented Photographer Steve, who has one of his shoots in the current issue of RockSound magazine, and is clearly going to be the most in-demand photographer in the country within the year. His latest shots are astounding. It’s always nice to sit and chat with other freelancers about the world of work and the state of the world. Also very nice to talk to one who’s doing so well, and deservedly so. Not only that, but his equally talented wife Lorna gave me her old minidisc player to record gigs with, as mine is broken. Talented lovely peoples. gives you faith in the world.

soundtrack – still the Rise Kagona tracks for the gig in October.

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Why everyone should hire Steve Brown

Over at they have a catalogue of the internet’s worst band promo shots, the hall of douchebags – some of the captions are very funny indeed, and many of the pictures are hilarious with or without captions. It’s amazing just how unaware some people are of what’s needed to do promo, and for that reason, anyone in a band needs to look at the hall of fame, then head over to Steve Brown’s site, check out what proper band shots look like and pay him lots of money to make you look very cool indeed. Seriously, you’ll get more gigs, and less people will laugh at your website.

Soundtrack – right now, I’m just listening to Duncan’s songs over and over to get them firmly planted in my head for the gigs at Greenbelt.

Another insane Edinburgh breakdown

in the Guardian today, there’s this article by Paul Arendt, about putting on a show at Edinburgh. It’s terrifying that there are all these people spending all this money with little hope of getting it back. Am I naive to come here expecting to make money? On their breakdown, I’ve shaved off lots of those expenses, some of them thanks to the huge generousity of some very talented friends (a photoshoot of the kind of quality that Steve Brown did for me would normally cost hundreds of pounds), but most of it is just TSP and I putting in the time flyering. Hours a day. Up to about 8 hours a day at one point this week. Selling the show to people, inviting them, telling them just how good it is, and hoping they’ll turn up.

I’m now of the opinion that if you’re not selling out, there’s no excuse for not doing your own flyering. If you’re losing money, and you’re not out selling it, I have little sympathy, to be honest.

And with that, I shall head into town, turn on the charm, and hope for another fine audience…

the poster for tonight's gig…

Just found the poster for tonight’s gig on the graphic designer’s website –

Ali Martin is his name, and he’s very good – does great posters, flyers, websites etc. Check him out if you need such things.

The photo is one from the recent shoot I had with Steve Brown, who also took some shots at last night’s gig – here’s a few of them –

So, you could get the whole package by hiring Steve to do some studio and live shots of your band, then getting Ali to design your posters and flyers! Job’s a good ‘un!

Soundtrack – Patty Larkin, ‘Stranger’s World’ (actually, the apostrophe in Stranger’s is missing on the album sleeve – shabby mistake, but Bruce Cockburn sings on a track or two, so all is forgiven)

weekend roundup

Lots of teaching yesterday, which was fun. Followed by lots of Edinburgh festival stuff – I was overdue on getting my press releases sent to the CVenues people, so needed to get those written – needed full press release, then 10 word, 20 word, 40 word, 50 word and 100 word versions of the blurb on the show! All needed for different types of advertising/promo/brochure etc. I got onto a bit of a roll and put them together pretty quickly. It remains to be seen what the press dept at CVenues make it them all…

Also sent them some photos for press useage – thanks to having had the photoshoot with the very wonderful Steve Brown, I have loads of very high quality pics to choose from. Edinburgh will, come August, be peppered with loads of pictures of me looking rather foxy (and slightly portly, worryingly…!)

Today was church this morning – fine preach for Pentecost Sunday drawing the parallel between the fragmentation of people through language at the tower of Babel and the reuniting of them through the disciples speaking in all the languages of those present at Pentecost – very nice link, not one I’d thought of before.

After church, it was off to celebrate the Bangla New Year in Spittalfields – was rather novel, and quite enjoyable, experience to be in a 2% minority as a white person at the celebrations. Lots of vibrant colours and happy people.

From there we (we being Steve photo-dude and his lovely wife Lorna, along with Paul and Rachel, Jazzy and Angus – Angus being my godson) headed over to Spittalfields market for a mezze lunch in that place that has the canope outside just along from Spitz, and then a stroll round the market.

Then home, knackered after lots of walking and carrying Jazzy (she’s 6, fortunately, so I wasn’t actually giving a full grown adult a piggy-back around all day!), but contented after a fun day.

SoundtrackSpearhead, ‘Stay Human’; Joni Mitchell, ‘Both Sides Now’; Jonas Hellborg, ‘Octave Of The Holy Innocents’; Thelonius Monk, ‘Greatest Hits’.

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