logo for female-musician.com
leftimage for female-musician.com

Playing Conventions and Corporate Events

International Musician, Aug 2008 by Bob Popyk

There's a tremendous amount of money to be made playing corporate gigs.  Many AFM musicians who make serious bucks at these events are kind of below the radar.  They don't have recording contracts and don't make concert tours.  They aren't regional or even local stars.  Most of the country has never heard of them, but they work steadily.

A dedicated core of musicians in hundreds of cities around the country earn a comfortable living entertaining for corporate groups who meet regularly in cities like Nashville, Dallas, LA, San Diego, New York, Atlanta, Miami, Orlando, Denver, Detroit, Cleveland, Chicago, San Francisco, and others. What's interesting is that these corporate conventions, meetings, and events might also be going on in a town close to you (if not in your town) and you might not even know about it.  Event coordinators could be bringing in musicians from other cities because they don't know you exist.

These corporate meetings and programs involve industries as diverse as the automobile, funeral, grocery, insurance, real estate, snowmobile, motorcycle, pool and spa, kitchen and bath, RV, boat and motor, cable TV, computer, casket-making, sports equipment, and other industries. The list is almost endless.

It's interesting work.  Convention shows don't get rowdy like some rock concerts, but they can be lively. They can also be fun and lucrative.  The Associated Press recently ran an article about musicians who work corporate events as a major part of their income. "I get Mike from sales up on stage to sing 'Mony Mony.'  That's a home run," said one musician interviewed in the article.  His band has been performing for conventions for 20 years and does a minimum of one corporate show a week.

A few years ago, one corporate entertainer/musician worked out a special song, while performing with Tammy Wynette for GMC truck dealers.

"Instead of her 'Stand by Your Man,' his band did 'Stand by Your Van,'" the AP story recalled of the late singer's classic hit.  On cue, corporate officials rolled a van out on the stage at Nashville's Grand Ole Opry House.

Got the idea?  Clever and creative gets work.  That same musician performs before a few hundred to several thousand spectators, doing blazing versions of "Rocky Top," "The Devil Went Down to Georgia," and "The Orange Blossom Special."

The musician went on to explain, "We give them a little bluegrass, a little country, and maybe a little Southern gospel, and a medley of patriotic songs."  He's done hundreds of conventions in Memphis, Nashville, and elsewhere for some 20 years.  The money is many times what we could make playing at a club.

One fiddler and singer with a degree in vocal performance from the Berklee College of Music in Boston, does a few dozen corporate shows a year hoping the gigs will be a springboard to a recording contract.  The article said that she performs "a good range of the spectrum," covering songs by Marvin Gaye, Stevie Wonder of Local 5 (Detroit, MI), Shania Twain, Reba McEntire, and Lynyrd Skynyrd.

This kind of publicity is invaluable, but the work can be a little tricky as you need to know your audience.  "I've had shows with a lot of Amish there.  I've worked Amway sales meetings and psychiatry conventions," commented one musician.  "I try to ask questions beforehand and be sensitive."

And there lies the secret.  It takes networking and homework.  It takes some persistence and perseverance.  It takes some business sense.  You have to come up with some ideas that will get a client's interest.  You have to learn a little about the industry you're going after, something about the event, and who the check-writers are.

To get corporate gigs and convention work, you need to think beyond the clubs and wedding work. These big paying gigs with companies as large as Ford, Apple, GE, Toyota, Kawasaki, 3M, Sea Ray, Alcoa, Prudential, Yamaha, and Disney, plus smaller companies with names you never heard of, are out there, even on a local scale.  They have national meetings, regional meetings, and local events.  You have to find out where they are, who to talk to, and how you can be involved.  You need to be an ultimate schmoozer, a musician who will play anything put before you, and a businessperson as well.  You need to know the people at your local convention bureau, as well as the point-people in surrounding towns.  Being clever and creative will help a lot.

And remember this: Once you get some interest and someone asks you what you charge for playing the show/event/meeting (and helping to put the program together), don't be afraid to ask for five or 10 times scale.  Professionals want to deal with professionals.  A CEO or business executive earning $400,000 a year is not going to flinch when you quote a month's pay for two-days work. They will probably flinch if you come in too low, plus they may not think you're any good.

There is a ton of this type of work out there.  In spite of the economy, the stock market, and the gas prices, these corporate events are going on.  You just have to go after them.

by Bob Popyk of Local 78 (Syracuse, NY) and Local 283

Copyright American Federation of Musicians Aug 2008

Provided by ProQuest Information and Learning Company. All rights Reserved