Sam Newsome

Sam Newsome
"The potential for the saxophone is unlimited." - Steve Lacy

Thursday, February 7, 2019

Private Keep Out: Making Your Club Exclusive

Being in the music business, we’re often taught to focus on growing our audience. Court as many folks as you can. I propose this: How about we purposely keep our core audience as small as possible—an exclusive club if you will. Why? Because sometimes we have to be willing to say, “Take it or leave it. This is what I do.”

I’m a firm believer that if you’re making music for everyone, then you’re not making music for anyone.

Try this: The next time you go into a Starbucks, ask for a two-piece with a biscuit and mashed potatoes. They’ll probably send you to the nearest KFC. (Keeping the food analogy.) If someone came to my gig expecting to hear jazz saxophone playing correctly over the chord changes, I’d probably recommend Smoke Jazz Club, or perhaps Small’s on West 10th, and respectfully explain that what they’re looking for is not on my musical menu.
 As artists, just trying to survive doing what we do, we can be too willing to alter what we do to fit in. The flip side of earning permission to join Club Popularity, is you’ve now given people permission to ignore you. I guess the grass is greener on the other side.

I’m reminded of a micro short story I wrote called “The Invisible Man.”

Young boy: Were you always invisible?

Invisible man: No. At one time I was prominently seen by all.

Young man: What happened?

Invisible man: I tried to become like everybody else, and succeeded.

There are a few benefits to excluding certain people and catering to a select membership.

  • We have people in our circle who really want to be there.
  • Not having naysayers and skeptics in our inner circle, allows us to maintain our artistic focus.
  • We’re more likely to have folks around us who will help spread the word about what we do.

Instead of casting a wide net, I suggest casting a purposeful one. Keep those unwanted fish at bay. Invite only those whom you wish to devour to your musical plate.

I was inspired to write this piece after a recent performance at the Hartford Public Library as a part of their Baby Grand Jazz Series. I played there with Cooper Moore on piano, Hilliard Greene on bass, and Reggie Nicholson on drums.

It’s difficult to see on the video, but the crowd was really into it. They even gave us a standing ovation. But then there were several people not into it. Many saw fit to get up and leave, very early into our set. Probably not the brand of jazz they were looking to consume. And I’m glad they did. (Another food analogy.) If we’re grilling burgers, I don’t want folks hanging out, getting pouty because they’re no hot dogs. “Nathan’s is down the street,” I say to those folks.

 Enjoy our set!

Tuesday, February 5, 2019

Teacher and Student: Then What?

Student: I really want to have a more significant social media presence.

Teacher: Then what?

Student: I can let more folks know what I’m up to.

Teacher: Then what?

Student: If I have a gig, I can inform more people 

Teacher: Then what?

Student: If more people know about my gig, more will show up.

Teacher: Then what?

Student: If the club is packed, I can get another gig.

Teacher: Then what?

Student: If the word gets out that I can pack a club, more places will want to book me.

Teacher: Then what?

Student: If I’m playing all over the place, then I can start playing festivals.

Teacher: Then what?

Student: Playing festivals will get me a high ranking in the critic's polls.

Teacher: Then what?

Student: If I do it long enough I can become number one.

Teacher: Then what?

Student: What else is there?

Teacher: How about family, friends, physical and mental health?

Student. I forgot to consider those things.

Teacher: Now what?

Sunday, January 27, 2019

Self-Promotion: Another Point of View

When promoting your music to others, remember that people rarely follow you because of what you do. It’s because of the story they tell themselves about what you do.

Our work is not always recognized as a commodity but sometimes as a conduit through which others understand their own stories. This is one of the reasons why as artists we should see music not so much as a business but as a means to build a community. Fundamentally, they’re very different. The purpose of a business is to produce a product and make money from it. The goal of a community is to create a platform for shared values and to make a difference. One is about receiving, the other is about giving. 

Another point to remember is that folks rarely follow you directly; they follow others who support you. I can stand up and say "I AM GREAT" until I’m blue in the face (like this guy in the photo), but it’s nowhere near as effective as having others say it. Some call it "creating a buzz."

This is one of the reasons why many are willing to spend sizable amounts on publicists. The idea is that if Downbeat says nice things about your CD, maybe JazzTimes will do the same, joined by a few well-known bloggers, followed by various members of the jazz community. This, of course, is a financially manufactured buzz. Something I'm guilty of being a part of, numerous times. Again, I realize this is a simplistic way of viewing it. Ultimately, you have to have something on the ball for those as mentioned above to talk about you, even if you pay them.

The most effective and long lasting buzz happens when word spreads about your work throughout members of your tribe. And by tribe, I’m referring to individuals with shared interests, taste, and values who are emotionally invested in your work.

A little note about tribes: The benefit of a tribe is that they will often spread the word about your work for you. All you have to do is to keep producing work that gives them a reason to talk. Not a bad deal. This is also one of the reasons you should be very targeted with whom you choose to focus as your core audience--or how I think of it: my musical family.  Make your scope narrow, and the more likely you are to reach people who actually want to hear from you.

There's a big difference between saying "Hey, I made this. Buy it from me." And "Remember that thing we've been talking about? Well, here it is. I'd like to share it with you."

One sounds like financial coercion, the other sounds like an act of generosity. This goes against the grain on how we're taught marketing is supposed to work--also the problem I have with the publicists. They waste tons of CDs and time sending product to folks who have absolutely no interest in the artists they're promoting--only to justify their inflated fees. I call this template-publicity. Something I'll elaborate on in a later post.

To wrap it up: When promoting your work, It’s not just about being great, or having a great look, or having a great story. Successfully spreading the word about what you do is contingent upon how well you make human connections, not just musical ones. Don’t just aim to reach folks through your horn. Sometimes you have to aim to reach them through your heart.

Tuesday, January 22, 2019

Groan Tube Improvisations with Balloons

Some of you may be aware of my experimentations with the Groan Tube noisemaker and balloons. If you're not familiar with the groan tube, it's a narrow cylinder tube that makes a "groan" sound when turned on one end--hence, the name. The groan tube has been around since the 1960s and was made by the Japanese toy manufacturer Kureo.

How does a groan tube noisemaker and balloons fit in with improvisation? 

Obviously, as shown in the pic, the groan tube too large to fit inside the soprano. So, as stated I removed the noisemaker inside the tube and placed inside the bell of the soprano.

Balloons: As you know, unless they pop, balloons function primarily as a visual. However, if you place small objects such as uncooked rice or uncooked beans, the balloons then become a percussive rattle. In this video, the rattling sound is created using rice.

As heard in the video, I do have note limitations, but what I like is that it forces me to think of other aspects improvisation such as rhythm and motivic development, which are not always our default devices when we improvise.

This performance took place in Kingston, New York at a performance space run by Álvaro Domene, a wonderful guitarist and improviser who's creating quite a scene in the area. Please check out some of the later clips where we are playing together in trio with drummer Mike Caratti.

Stay tuned for more!

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