Last week I was asked to DJ a party.
Let me add more detail. I was asked to put together a jazz group for cocktail hour and dinner music for a large backyard party. I was then asked if I could also DJ for the last hour. They basically just wanted me to put together a playlist and push play.
Now, I’m not one to go half way on an opportunity. I had my wife put together a playlist of 60 tunes (top 40 isn’t really my thing…), I bought DJ software (DJay 2 for iPad and iPhone), and I practiced.
On gig day, everything went smoothly. The jazz group played beautifully, just as expected. We were scheduled to end at 9:20 but by 9:00, I could tell the crowd was ready to boogie.
My playlist went off without a hitch. Tunes went smoothly from one to the next, and the dance floor was packed for most of the night. When I was about to wrap up and go home a friend of the bride tapped my shoulder and asked, “how much do you charge to go another half hour?”
In my entire music performing career, this has never happened. I’m used to playing shows with clearly defined end times, or jazz gigs where the thought of more money never enters our minds. I didn’t know what to say.
I gave her a low number, and she returned with cash. I was having fun, so I didn’t mind. But why has this never happened in my jazz career, with about 20 years of education and professional experience, but it has in my 2 hour DJ career?
They wanted a dance party, so I gave it to them. DJing was the best way to do that. It didn’t matter that DJing is easy and trumpet playing is difficult. It didn’t matter that a tight jazz quartet is much harder to find than a DJ. And it didn’t matter that I’d much rather play jazz. They want what they want.
It’s easy to forget when you’re an artist, but it goes a long way to explaining some of the frustrations we deal with.
MBA’s will tell you to direct all your attention towards the “Probable Purchaser.” For example, if you’re making a steakhouse you don’t have to bother advertising to vegans. You’ll just annoy them and waste your time and money. Your energy is best spent talking to people that already want the things you’re trying to sell.
Convincing this group of people that jazz music is intricate and interesting and far more unique than a parade of hits from the speakers isn’t going to do much good. They aren’t the probable purchasers.
There are two ways of approaching this problem.
- Start with a product, then go find an audience.
- Start with an audience, then determine a product.
Number two is the path most large companies take. Microsoft has a strong hold on its business users and builds new products with them in mind. Apple and Google do largely the same thing. If you have an existing base of customers this is a safe way to do business.
Most artists start with path number one. They create the thing they want to create and then look for an audience. It’s frustrating to young artists because they may be making great work, but without a connection to “probable purchasers” it may look like a failure. Major artists have an advantage in this respect. Taylor Swift doesn’t have to work hard to get attention. Fans of hers already know they’ll like her new songs. She can now focus on making products for her audience.
If you’re an artist involved in finding an audience, don’t assume that a failure to sell is indicative of a bad product. You may just be looking at the wrong audience. If you’re trying to sell a jazz quartet at a dance party you’re asking for disappointment.
There’s a reason for jazz cruises, jazz brunches, jazz festivals, etc. They are all attempting to appeal to probable purchasers in the way that they like to consume the product. This is also why the internet is such a great tool for the independent artist. It’s much easier to get in front of probable purchasers.
There are also times when the audience is determined for you. In those cases it best to look around the room, watch the people, and if you have to, DJ the night away.