Posted by Dave Cool
Musicians and the Art of Polite Persistence
A few weeks ago I went back to a venue that I was the program director at for 3 years. The band playing that night was a jazz trio called “Apartment 5”. I realized that the bass player Paul is the perfect example of polite persistence, because it took almost a year for me to first book his band, but they have been playing regular gigs at the venue ever since.
I first heard from Paul after I had started booking a space called the St-Ambroise Centre here in Montreal, which is owned and operated by local micro-brewery McAuslan Brewing (if you can find their St-Ambroise Oatmeal Stout, it’s considered to be the best stout in the world by many beer geeks). Anyway, his jazz trio had played at a visual arts event at the venue (the artist had hired them), and he called me shortly after to see if we would be interested in hiring his band for other gigs. I explained that it was something we simply didn’t do. We didn’t charge to rent the space, but we also didn’t offer guarantees to bands. But they were a work-for-hire band, so there was nothing I could for them at the time.
A few months later, I got a voice mail from Paul, asking if we had any need for his jazz trio. I didn’t call him back this time because I was swamped with work, and there was still nothing I could do for him. A few months later, he called back and we spoke on the phone once again. I didn’t have anything different to tell him, but he was a nice guy and I honestly didn’t mind talking to him for a few minutes.
These phone calls and messages continued every once in a while for most of that year, until one day we got a call at the venue to host a private event for a company. It turned out they wanted a jazz trio for entertainment during the evening. Guess who I thought of first? My friend Paul. So I called him up and offered him the gig. It was for less money than they normally charged, but Paul said they’d take the gig to show me what it was like to work with the band and to prove themselves.
As it turned out, they were perfect. Great musicians, totally professional. They came in, set-up on time, played their sets, tore down and got out of the way (and they didn’t get drunk, eat all of the client’s food, etc.). They knew they were there to do a job and that’s what they did. I was really impressed.
I got a thank you phone call from Paul shortly after (remember how much I love those). He of course reminded me they were available to do more gigs, and I reminded him that this was a one-off kind of thing, but that I would keep him in mind if anything else came up.
The Pay Off
Well, the following spring I was given the keys to the much larger outdoor space at the micro-brewery, the St-Ambroise Terrace (250+ capacity versus 50+ capacity). We also made a decision to invest a considerable amount of money into hiring entertainment throughout the summer, a good portion of which would go to weekly music nights. I think you know who got a lot of those gigs, and they’ve been playing regularly at the space for 3 years now, even after I left my job as the program director.
Everyone Needs a Polite Reminder
So when I saw Paul recently after his set at the St-Ambroise Terrace, I reminded him how it had all started with his regular phone calls and messages. We laughed about it, but then he thanked me for reminding him. He admitted it’s not easy to do for an artist, and he had lost sight of the fact that polite persistence can indeed pay off. He realized that there were a bunch of potential clients that he had stopped phoning simply because he had lost confidence after he wasn’t getting calls back, but he said he would pick up the phone and try again.
I figured since the guy who was in my mind the perfect example of polite persistence needed a friendly reminder, then other musicians might need one as well. So take it from someone who was fielding dozens of booking emails/calls every week for 4 years, polite persistence can indeed pay off.
IMPORTANT: Why Paul’s Polite Persistence Paid Off
It’s one thing to say that polite persistence works, but I want to take a closer look at specifically why it worked in this case:
1. He never sounded bitter, angry or frustrated
Whenever Paul called, he never came across as pushy, and never sounded bitter, angry or frustrated that I wasn’t booking him. He was always upbeat, asked me how things at the venue were going, and was just fun to talk to. The reality is that had he given me any attitude along the way about not booking the band, the story probably would’ve ended there.
2. He didn’t take a non-reply as a “No”
There were several times when I didn’t call Paul back, but he didn’t take the non-reply as a “No”, and neither should you. If a booker or media person (or anyone else you’re trying to reach) doesn’t return your phone call or respond to your email, all it means is that they didn’t return your phone call or respond to your email. It doesn’t mean the answer is no.
People are extremely busy, especially any gatekeepers in the industry, and emails and phone calls often get lost in the shuffle. Heck, even when I did tell Paul the answer was “no”, he still persisted, but that’s because I always left the door open to the situation changing in the future, so he kept following up until the answer was a definite “No”, which it never ended up being.
3. He persisted, to a point
Yes, Paul persisted, but he didn’t call every day or even every week. It was more like once every few months. Had he called me every day or every few days, I probably would’ve blocked his number and never booked the band. He struck the right balance.
4. Once opportunity knocked, they exceeded expectations
Once Paul's band got the first gig, they did an amazing job and exceeded my expectations. They even took the gig for less money than they were usually paid, just to get their feet in the door. They made sure that if ever another opportunity came up, I would have no choice but to think to book them, which is exactly what happened.
Have you ever used polite persistence to get a gig? How about to get an interview in the media or song on the radio? Let us know in the comments section below!