Saturday April 19th, 2014 – McHenry, IL/Volo, IL
Improving my marketing skills from the ground up is my mission not only this year but every other year that I am lucky enough to experience from here on out. It’s something all businesses need to succeed, but especially entertainers. We are our own product, and marketing is a must.
I have been lucky enough to have squeaked by for decades, mostly because I was in the correct place at an opportune time. I rode the wave of the comedy club boom of the 1980s, and was able to make enough to at least survive from late 1985 on. Some years were better than others, but my primary source of income other than a few scattered years doing radio has always been comedy.
That’s good and bad, but most people can’t see the bad. “You make your LIVING standing on a stage telling JOKES. How bad can life be?” Well, in a lot of ways that’s true. I always enjoyed the performing part of it, and I was never motivated by money. If I could squeak by, that was ok.
As it turns out, I could have more than squeaked by and it was my fault for not doing it. By all accounts, I should have had at least one recording a full ten years before I did. I actually thought about it, but nobody else I knew had one and I thought it may appear egotistical. What a dummy. Ego shmego. It would have been some financial security I could have used to further my career.
It probably would have been a cassette, but the form doesn’t matter. Maybe it would have been a vinyl record album. Or both. The point is, I would have been able to sell them every week and even at low numbers I could have hauled in a nice chunk of change over a ten year time window.
I was averaging at least 45 weeks of work then, and quite a few years I worked 50-52. It wasn’t always the best work in the best clubs, but say I could have averaged ten units a week sold over a ten year period. That’s 450-500 units per year at what likely would have been a $10 retail price.
On the conservative side, say that’s $45,000 over ten years minus say $2 per unit to make. That still leaves me $36,000 had I not touched any of that money – and knowing me I would not have. I’d have saved it for some kind of stunt nobody else would have done. It may have been a flop of epic stature, but that’s me as well. I’ve never been afraid to go all in. I have tasted defeat often.
What if I had spent that $36,000 on TV commercials somewhere or a full page ad in one of the trade papers? When was the last time you saw a comedian or performer of any kind spend money on self promotion? It just doesn’t happen – at least not without management or a recording deal.
There are obviously taxes in there too, and I realize that. I would report every last penny, as it’s just not worth trying to screw the government. I’d rather have a clear conscience and just pay my fair share. Whatever was left would have still been a nice bit of cash to use on some promo stunt.
I wasn’t forced to think that way then, as work was plentiful and nobody was selling anything other than their comedy act. We were ‘artistes’, and that’s great on paper but most of us are now certified vagrant caliber broke and wish we would have had our marketing chops on the way up.
Too late now, but it’s not too late to change. One thing I have that the newbies don’t is a whole lot of experience in front of audiences coast to coast, and a backlog of polished material that I am able to use whenever I need it. That’s part of what paying dues is about, and I’ve put in my time.
Now I’m looking to sell what I’ve been able to create, but in other ways than just saying it on a stage somewhere. What else can I do to get paid? I suppose I could write columns, and I’ve been doing that for the past few months in a publication called “Scene Magazine” in Fond du Lac, WI. My friend Silk Casper asked me to do it, and he’s been making sure I get a check every month.
It’s not huge, but it’s been steady and I guess I can say I’m a published author. I think. I’m not anywhere close to being a professional, but it’s a solid start and I am grateful for the opportunity. Branching out and creating a new stream of income for being funny comes in very handy now.
But I know there’s more – a LOT more. There’s both a flea market and an antique mall within an easy drive from where I live, and I took a lap in both today just to check out that scene. I have been going to thrift stores, flea markets and rummage sales for decades, but now I’m seeing them all with fresh eyes. I used to go there looking to score treasures. Now I’m looking to be a seller.
The marketing skills of the sellers at flea markets and antique malls are all over the place. Most are very poor from my experience, and have little to no people skills. Just a friendly hello when I walk past their display should be the bare minimum, but I’d guess maybe 10% or less will do it.
I went today just to observe, and I learned a lot. I went to the flea market first, and looked at all the displays to see which ones I liked and which ones I didn’t. Most of the stuff was thrown in an unorganized pile, and was difficult to look at. It took work to sort through all of the clutter to see if there was anything I’d want to buy. They made it hard for people to spend money. Not smart.
Even little things like business cards were missing. What if I was looking to sell something one of the dealers specialized in? Maybe I had a relative pass away that was a big collector, and I was looking for someone to help me appraise the collection. Whatever the case, 99% of these mutants didn’t even say hello and maybe strike up a conversation that could have led to a business deal.
One guy there had some old toys, and his display was a bit sloppy but still interesting. He had a pair of old Schlitz salt and pepper shakers that I bought for $10 and an old pair of Schlitz patches from the ‘60s or ‘70s that their drivers used to wear. I can use all of that for “Schlitz Happened!”
The antique mall was a little better, but not much. Most of the vendors that were there were not very talkative, and I found that appalling. They didn’t have to pester me like the stereotype of an old time used car salesman, but a friendly smile and a hello would have been nice. I didn’t get it.
I ended up buying a collection of 50 old ‘Fate’ magazines from the ‘50s through the ‘70s for $1 each, and that was a steal. They’re a great read, packed with tales of UFOs and the paranormal of all kinds. I’ll scour them for King of Uranus ideas, and keep exercising my marketing muscles to use in the future. I want to go out past Uranus, and find ways to make money when I’m sleeping.
|I found some old Schlitz salt and pepper shakers at a flea market today. I can use them for 'Schlitz Happened! An Old Milwaukee Blatz From The Pabst'. www.schlitzhappened.com.|
|I also found a pair of cloth patches Schlitz drivers used to wear in the '60s. Hadn't seen them before.|
|At an antique mall, I found some old FATE magazines from the '50s through early '70s. The cover art alone was worth the $1 each I paid for them all. Still, I eventually look to be a seller at places like this.|