Marketing Yourself at NERFA

Our Thanks to Paul Barker, PE, from Barker House Concerts in Austin, Texas for creating this document and allowing us to share it with you.  We tried to change much of the information to make it more applicable to NERFA.  However, it was written before the so called “Digital Age” – therefore some of the information is outdated which should be obvious. However, we thought there was so much other worthwhile information – we thought it still worth sharing.  We intend to update this for our website next year.


An artist going to a music conference several years ago asked me for suggestions on how best to market herself.  I kept the notes I made in answer to her question and prepared this paper to help her and other artists market their professional services at similar conferences.

This paper has two purposes.  First to introduce you to the concept of target marketing and second, to provide you with a host of nuts and bolts tips on how best to present (market) yourself and your artistry at Folk Alliance and similar music business events.  While this paper is dedicated to assisting artists, I have included some suggestions at the conclusion to assist venues as well.

For everyone, thanks to Cash Edwards and other friends, I have also included tips on how to stay healthy at our music conferences.  As these tips are the newest addition to this evolving paper, I do hope the reader will send me any suggestions that might improve what we have.

To the uninitiated and unprepared, NERFA conferences can be more than a bit intimidating.  These conferences are a lot like attending a spouse’s family reunion for the first time—everyone (else) knows each other, there’s a lot of hugging, and everyone is really friendly--but, they aren’t exactly sure who you are or who you came with.

Bear in mind that you are NOT attending the conference to simply book gigs, although that does happen many times over.  You are there to build relationships with the venues where you want to play.  You need to develop the attitude that you are here to develop relationships with your target venues that will lead to mutually rewarding career-long opportunities.

Thirty years ago, a man who attended my house concerts hired the engineering company I worked for a project.  When I thanked him for the work, he said, “Paul, it’s really simple. We hire our friends.  There are a thousand Engineers (musicians) out there, but we give our work to our friends”.  That statement changed my entire perspective on the marketing of professional services.

Before you read on, you will be required to take the official “Pledge”:

“I am not here to book gigs.  I am here to build relationships and the gigs will follow.”

There are many artists who attend NERFA conferences that have full lives, families, or other careers and will be happy to have one or two gigs a month to fulfill their need to perform.  Then, there are those artists who want to move to the next level of financial and professional success and want discover how to do that.

If you are in that first group of artists, you should enjoy the conferences to the maximum, stay up late, join the jam sessions in the lobby or in rooms after hours, make many friends, and develop relationships with other artists that will get you openers and friendships that will last for many years.  If you ARE in that group of artists, you need read no further.

If you want to move to the next professional level, then you need to approach the NERFA conferences as a business conference where you need to WORK to justify the big bucks you (or whoever is supporting your career) spent to attend.  You will need to get up every morning to attend the business-related meetings, and you will prepare a marketing plan to effectively put your professional services in front of those in the industry you want to meet (your “targets”). Read on!

Target Marketing:

First, let’s define “target marketing”.  Target marketing for a musician/artist is simply focusing your efforts on the venues or “targets” with the most potential to be successful, and, just as important, NOT expending your energies/moneys and efforts on marketing efforts that have little potential for success.  Intelligent marketing also means being where you need to be at the right time and being ready to capitalize on an opportunity when it presents itself.

"Luck is when opportunity bumps into preparation .“

Sound simple?  If it were, I wouldn’t get artists contacting me asking if their Bluegrass/Country/Rock/Reggae/Klezmer/Christian band could play my house concert series.

Let’s look at some examples of bad targeting:

  1. You take out an expensive ad in the Wall Street Journal that is seen by millions of people, at least one or two of which are venues that might book you.
  2. You have a band that ONLY performs Christian campfire songs and you mail a copy of your CD to Moshe Liebowitz who runs the Star of David Coffeehouse in Israel.
  3. You have a new CD and you mail it to every radio station in your touring area.
  4. You have a rock band and you email all the house concert presenters in the Folk Alliance directory to ask if they would consider your band.

And, now examples of good target marketing:

  1. You take out a relatively inexpensive ad in the Folk Alliance newsletter which is seen and read by thousands of venues—a target-rich environment.
  2. You have a  new CD you want to get the right kind of exposure. You check the play list of the radio stations in your desired tour area that play your style of music to determine which DJ’s showcase bands/artists that are similar to your music.  You send your CD to that station along with a personal note to that DJ and point out to him/her how your work is similar to those artists he/she has hosted.
  3. You want to play a certain venue or house concert series so you look at their website, determine what kind of music they host, make a note of the artists you know that have played there, and then send them your CD along with a hand-written note that explains how your artistry is like one or more of the artists they have hosted.

By use of these personal notes to the DJ’s and venues, you slip into the comfort zone of your targets by showing that you have spent the effort to find out a little about them.  You can further cement their interest by telling them that you have played with one or more of the artists they have hosted who can give you a reference.

And now, an example of opportunity bumping into preparation:

During NERFA, you will meet many more venue operators at one of the morning-sponsored continental breakfasts  than you will at two a.m. guerilla showcases or in after-hours jam sessions.   At NERFA, there may be 500 artists, 300 venues, and 40 DJ’s.  The ratio of artists to venues/DJ’s at the 2:00 a.m. jam sessions is maybe 100 to 1.  At the breakfast coffees and morning seminars, the ratio is maybe 1 artist to 10 venues.  Get the idea? Target marketing is NOT a difficult concept.

Target Marketing Before, During, and After a Folk Alliance Conference:

In this paper I will suggest what you should do before the conference, what you should do during the conference, and finally, what you should do after the conference to stand the best chance of landing gigs and/or establishing relationships and networks that will allow you to land gigs in the future.

A NERFA conference easily can have  800 attendees and can be intimidating to the uninitiated, however if you apply target marketing principles to the attendance list, there will likely be no more than ten individuals that you need to identify as a target, to contact prior to the conference, and to get to attend your showcases.  Ten venues that book your kind of music, are in your area of travel, and have booked artists similar to you.

While it all may seem like a lot of work, KC Clifford from Oklahoma told me last fall that she identified 30 venues she wanted to target, followed the tips, and had ALL 30 venues come by her showcases.  Christine Albert from Austin kept track of all the hours she spent targeting and writing personal letters to venues before the conference and told me later “We got a year’s worth of gigs from those people.”  Of course, both these artists are extremely talented, but my goal with this paper is just to get you the opportunity to be heard.  After that, it’s all up to you.


You should begin your preparations for the November NERFA conference by  May or June.  The artist who starts to look for showcase opportunities in October for the November conference is trying to buy a ticket on a train that has left the station.

Register for the conference as early as possible.  Weeks before the conference, Venues begin scouring the list of attendees and sharing “recommendations” among themselves.  When I arrive at the national meeting, I usually have the names of at least 20 artists my peers have tagged as “must hear”.  If you’re not on the list early, you will lose that opportunity.

Showcases are critical, but if you have never been to NERFA conference, it’s also OK to go the first time with no showcases. Instead of trying to round up venue operators who may not know you that first year, bring pen and pad, attend lots of showcases and meetings, and take copious notes on what is and isn’t successful. Ideally, what follows is geared to the returning attendee who wants to maximize his or her time.

Showcase Booking (Formal, Quad & Guerilla) – First, apply for Formal and Quad showcases as soon as the applications are live. Send in your music immediately after filling out forms so that you don't miss the deadlines.  Also the judges tend to listen to the early entries much more intently than the last minute entries.  Read the applications carefully and include all required materials.

For Guerilla Showcases, start contacting previous hosts in June (use old program books for contact info) especially any well-established presenters.  Provide the prospective host with a demo CD (but not a promo pack) at the time of your initial contact. Follow religiously any submission rules imposed by the presenter.  Be sure to ask what his/her requirements are in your first contact.  Please note the tips on booking in the “Conference Activities” section of this paper.

To find out in advance who will probably present showcases at the next conference, consult the showcase table listings from previous years in old program books or ask friends who have attended in the past.  Once you have the names, you will need to contact the presenters. Previous program books have this, or, if you’re a member of FA, access the FA’s web-based directory of members.  If you’re not yet a member of FA but will be joining to attend the next conference, ask someone who was there the previous year if you can borrow their conference directory.

Try to confirm showcases long before end of summer rush – that is when artists will light up the lNERFA istserv and NERFA message board The Forum) looking for showcase opportunities. You want to have your spots locked in before this rush. Scheduling multiple showcase times allows venue representatives to hear you later if they have a conflict at an earlier time.

Vary the content of your showcases.  Interested venues want to know if you have enough material for two 45-minute sets.  You may see a venue rep pop in and out of more than one of your showcases without staying.  This is a good sign that he/she is checking to see if you have a repertoire.

Stick to material you know well and ALWAYS stay upbeat.  Save your new, unpolished songs for some other time.  This is NOT the time to try them out.  One suggestion from Cash Edwards: If you have a “signature song” that really knocks it out of the park, you can have that in each set, but vary all the other tunes.  When the “buzz” starts about you, people will remember that signature tune.

Ideally, line up your showcases  as early in the evening as possible. Nearly all venues go to bed early and get up to take advantage of the morning seminars, hosted coffee session, etc (HINT: You should too!!)

Though arriving on Friday will minimize costs, almost ALL the venue people arrive by Thursday.  If you arrive early, you have a better opportunity to meet the people you most want to meet.  The highest ratio of venues to showcases is on Thursday nights.  More fish + smaller barrel = target marketing.  See how target marketing works??

If showcasing on Thursday, take the time to personally invite key venue representatives with a pre-conference flyer. Call attention to your Thursday showcase with a star or a colored dot sticker on the flyer or card.  Do so before the conference begins because it’s nearly impossible to do so during the chaos of check-in and registration.  Showcases early in the conference (Thursday) are the most difficult to promote after you arrive, so do your homework before you arrive.  Showcases later on in the weekend  have a lower ratio of venues-to-artists but are easiest to promote at the conference because you have time.  Do both.

Be aware of the detailed NERFA schedule for the conference and be extremely wary of getting into showcase rooms that “over-book  Some hosts set up showcases, take the prime slots for themselves and their friends, and leave the late-night or other dregs for unsuspecting newcomers.  Over-booking reduces their costs or even makes a small profit, but it screws you.  Some showcase sponsors book unsuspecting artists into time slots up against NERFA-sponsored parties or receptions where there’s food, wine and beer.  Don’t get taken.

Ask the sponsor what “treats” they will have in the room for guests to nibble on while they catch your show.  A showcase with good snacks can be an oasis as the night wears on.  Alcohol isn’t necessary.  It’s a major expense and liability that can turn into a real detriment.  Bottled water, good cookies, and good coffee can make a showcase room successful and hospitable.

Ask the showcase sponsor about the “Gatekeeper” who ensures that artists stay on schedule.  If the sponsor seems lax about the schedule, think twice about being part of it.  Venue operators tend to avoid rooms that don’t rigorously follow schedules.  Their time is precious at these events and they don’t like to waste it.

Finally, if you can’t find a showcase, start your own and “trade” slots in your showcase with other artist-hosts to increase your exposure.  If you create a new showcase room, you will be surprised at the caliber of artists who will approach YOU and ask to be part of it.  Contacts, mutual interests, openers, and career opportunities will flow from helping others while helping yourself.

If you do host a room, be sure to make it a real showcase and not just your personal promotion room.  If it’s “all about you,” you may not even get listed in the conference schedule. Post your intended showcase on list-serves for other artists to respond to.

Very importantly, learn about artists before offering them timeslots, and try to attract ones who are more established than you are.  The quality of performers associated with your showcase will be a reflection on you and by association, people will respect you even if they haven’t heard you.  As host, don’t play more than two or three of your timeslots on a given date.

Make Your Travel Plans EARLY – Book flights in the Spring to save money. Sadly, those who can least afford it wait the longest to purchase plane tickets and conference registration and thus end up paying the most.  If you plan to save or borrow money for NERFA, save or borrow less in Spring.

Book Your Conference Registration – Register for the conference in the spring and take advantage of the NERFA’s discounted early rate.  Early registration also gets your name on the NERFA’s list of pre-registrants so venues can find you.  In the early Fall, many venues begin to share information on artists who will be at the conference via Internet discussion groups.  Venues review the list of pre-registrants and recommend artists who “must be heard”.  Register early for both savings and increased exposure.

Book Your Room at the Conference Hotel –  Save money by finding a roommate early, NOT by staying off-site. Keep in mind that all your meals are included in the cost of the room and meals are where the bulk of networking and connecting occurs. Don't miss out.Book a table in the Exhibit Hall – As soon as possible, book a table in the Exhibit Hall. Extremely important for even more networking opportunities.

Begin Target Acquisition –Target attendees.To get the right people to your showcases, start by copying and pasting the list of pre-registrants into a document and delete the names of the artists to identify the venue people who’ll attend. Now further edit this list.

Narrow the focus of your marketing.  Start with geography. This part is easy. Strike off any venue operators in places where you don’t plan to tour.

Develop a Plan – The next part is a little harder. Identify the venues who host the particular kind of music you play. Determine which of the remaining venues have web sites and visit there to determine

  • what kind of music they present
  • what nights they operate,
  • whether or not they have openers
  • if all or part of the money goes to charity
  • a list of artists who have played or will play the venue, especially ones who do the kind of music you do

If you’re male and do blues almost exclusively and the venue hosts only female singer/songwriters, strike that one from your list, etc.  A quick scan of the venue’s upcoming shows should answer that question. When you find venues you want to contact at the conference, the ones who host your particular brand of music, jot down as much info as you can on individual note cards and have each handy for review before you introduce yourself to the operator. Showing that you know a bit about a venue will do much to ingratiate you to the operator.

If a venue doesn’t have a website, do some research on sites such as Pollstar or on the other end, to see who that venue’s been hosting.  Also, Google the venue or operator. Often you’ll find an article about a concert that has taken place there. Every additional bit of info you can collect about a potential venue is pure gold when it comes to introducing yourself.

When you introduce yourself and inevitably come to the question, “What’s your music like?”  You can answer, “Well, my style’s a lot like ______ who has played your venue”.  Knowledge of your target venue can be disarming and flattering.  At some point, you should even consider asking artists you know to recommend you to the venue—that would be high-end pre-conference marketing.

Pre-Conference Mail-Out – Mail-Outs are a more time-consuming but hugely rewarding activity. Get venue addresses from either the websites or the Folk Alliance on-line Directory (one advantage of membership in FA).  At a minimum, prepare a post-card flyer that tells a little about you, has a few of the best quotes about you, and contains AN IDENTIFIABLE, RECENT PHOTOGRAPH OF YOU on the flyer.  Don't use an "artsy" or glamour photo.  This photo should be the one that’s on your flyers, your handouts, and your business cards.  Imprint your image on their minds and you’ll be there forever. The following is of utmost importance:

  • In longhand, write a personal note, mentioning that you’ll be at the conference, want to meet, and will have a promo pack if they have further interest
  • Personalize the note with the name of the venue contact person.  “Dear Ms. ___”
  • For your quotes, choose ones that are either unique or that originate from well-known sources.  Avoid over-worked phrases such as “stellar guitar work”.  Also, avoid quotes that compare you to someone well-known or a combination of two different artists.  Quotes from well-known venues, publications, or artists are the best.  A quote from Sing Out! or Willie Nelson or the New York Times will have more weight than one from the Duddleburg Examiner. However, the DE is better than nothing.

Consider burning a demo CD to include with your pre-conference flyer. If you play with and without a band, possibly consider doing four songs with just you and your instrument followed by the same four songs with your band.  Live recordings are the most optimal for the venue operator.  It’s not necessary to mail your retail CDs to venue prospects. A CDR will do. Venues will notice the postcard, but they’re more likely to pop in the CD and give it a quick listen to see if they’d like to hear you at the conference.  Your CDR and jewel case should have a photo of you, contact information, and your web site address.  Having been mailed out before the conference, your CDR won’t be in the bottom of the presenter’s bag with 20 others at the end of the conference.

Keep Records of All Your Contact Information – Use note cards to record what you’ve sent and said to each venue.  These notes will remind you of “who has what” so you can ask them if they had a chance to listen to your CDR before they arrived.

Prepare Your Poster Artwork – If the conference allows posters and hand-outs, prepare your posters ahead of time. Posters should:

  • be no smaller than 8.5” x 11” (Check conference rules!!)
  • have a good color photo of you in the upper two-thirds of the frame
  • have all showcases and times in the lower 1/3rd
  • Only hang posters in the areas designated by the conference – or they will be ripped down.

Note: Leave blank areas for room numbers, which you fill in once you get to the conference.

Though a close-up photo of you seems ideal, creativity can be useful. Ask yourself, how can my poster stand out from the other hundred plus posters that will be posted everywhere? One caveat: nude, lascivious pictures attract some and discourage others. A lot of presenters ask, “Is this an attempt to make up for a lack of musical talent?”

Finalize Your Target Acquisition Plan – Since Get your index cards in order so when you go off to that meeting and meet the target, you’ll be able to say something about their venue.  Make a note at the bottom of the card to, get “closure” with a request such as, “I’d really like you to hear my showcase”, “Can I give you one of my promo packs”, etc. Better yet, if you know artists who’ve played the venue you target, ask for an introduction!

Your “Plan” shouldn’t include more than ten target venues. Better to have modest success and closure with a few venues rather than a diluted effort.  Ten targets are manageable in a crowd of 800 people.  With a plan and a limited number of targets, you’ll be successful.  For your “top-ten” targets, review the data on their cards repeatedly until you know everything about them and their venue by heart.


Preserve Your Identity and Your Face – Repetition is how we remember and it is through repetition of your name and face that venues will begin to remember you.  As soon as you’re registered, put your badge in a place where everyone can see it.  If it pins on, put it over your right front shirt pocket so someone can see it when you reach out to shake hands.  If the badge is on a lanyard and you are short, tie a knot in the cord so hanging badges will be mid-sternum where it can be read easily.  Resist the urge to pin it on your pants pocket, tie it around your waist, or place it in some other idiotic location where no one can read it.

Review the Finalized Registration List – In your  program book will be a finalized list of those attending the conference.  Immediately go to your room or a quiet place and scan that list for any additions to your target marketing list.  Make notes of the new targets and add them to your file.

Be Prepared for Opportunity to Bump Into Preparation – Keep your target venue notes and your promo materials with you at all times while at the conference.  You never know who you’ll meet in an elevator or in the dining room.  Always, keep a small number of your business cards in the back of your conference neck wallet  so you can grab one quickly and avoid fumbling through and unzipping a bag to find your card.  Always have pen handy. When you exchange cards, jot down notes on the back of cards you receive.  These notes will be invaluable memory aids later.

Stay Healthy – The following simple suggestions are offered to help you maintain your health while getting by on too little sleep and working at energy levels you never knew were possible.  During these times, your body is vulnerable to ills that you might normally shrug off when you are rested, fit, and well-fed.

  1. GO TO BED each evening by 2:30 am (alone) and get up at 8:30 am to attend workshops and seminars with the venues.
  2. Wash your hands constantly.  Conferences in the winter can be huge Petri dishes of flu bugs waiting to take you down while your defenses are lowered by fatigue.
  3. Use your used paper towel to turn off the faucet and open doors of restrooms when you leave.  Think about how many people you see use the bathroom and not wash their hands.  That should be an encouragement to wash!
  4. DON’T eat with your fingers.
  5. Avoid the Petri dishes of open, unwrapped snacks that many showcase rooms offer.
  6. If you have a cold and have to cough, do so where you will not infect others.  If at all possible, cough into your elbow. If you have to cough into your hand and cannot immediately sanitize it, use your left hand to cover your mouth in case you forget and shake someone’s hand before you have a chance to wash.
  7. Step out of the hotel for some fresh air. Hotels are notorious for cutting back on fresh air make-up during the winter.
  8. Eat well.  You’re spending a lot of money to be here.  The food is plentiful. Eat well and keep your energy up.
  9. At all meals, carefully wipe your eating utensils with your napkin before using them.  By the time they are placed at your table and/or wrapped in that napkin, at least three food handlers have touched them, very likely without the benefit of protective gloves.  If you have hand sanitizer or handy wipes, this is a perfect time to use them.
  10. Invest in a portable tube of hand sanitizer and handy-wipes and use them all the time—discretely after every hand shake.
  11. Change your shoes at least twice a day—it will dramatically improve your sense of well-being.
  12. Slip off to your room and wash your face when you start to wear down.  It will refresh you and get you back in the game.
  13. Manage your sleep as you’d manage anything else.  Take naps when you can.  A short nap in the middle of the afternoon can recharge your batteries for the long evening ahead.  Rules for Napping:  Lay down, put a moist wash cloth over your eyes and relax.  Do NOT take your clothes off or get into bed when you nap.  Doing so tells your body that you’re going to bed for the night and you will be punch-drunk when you wake up.  Sounds crazy, but it works.
  14. If not a “morning” person, get up early and go to the hotel gym for a refreshing workout or swim to give yourself a jump start. Reach down and find the momentum and energy reserves to make the most of the few days you have.

Poster Placement – Arrive at the conference early and, if the conference allows posters/flyers, get the best spots for your poster placement:

  • Post at eye-level in the middle of the board if the approach is straight-on.
  • If in a corner position where the crowd will have to walk around, post on the side of the board as close to the traffic pattern as possible
  • Bring push pins, tape, and a miniature stapler.  If the conference uses cork boards, always use the stapler as it’s much faster and also prevents others from borrowing three of your push pins.
  • Only post in the authorized areas!  Defacing the elevators, walls, ceilings, etc. with inappropriate tape will not only result in the FA staff tearing down your posters, but you might end up offending some of the very venue people you’d like to impress.

Poster Management –Throughout the conference and several times a day, monitor your posters to be sure that someone hasn’t placed a flyer over yours or used three of your push pins to hang their own posters. If someone ‘accidentally’ covers your flyer, re-position their poster so it doesn’t conflict with yours.  Don’t feel guilty about asserting yourself.  Remember: The poster hung over yours may have been moved there by someone taking that person’s board space.  Your repositioning it is the right thing to do—Don’t assume they did it intentionally.  Keep tape, pins, and a felt-tip marker with you in the fanny pack/briefcase/shoulder bag with all of your other promotional materials.

Managing Your Table in the Exhibit Hall Booth  The NERFA exhibit Hall has somewhat limited hours, therefore you should try and be there as much as possible. Get over your shyness while at your table. Pull your shoulders back, look people in the eye, and introduce yourself to perfect strangers. That’s the whole idea.

  • If you have a banner, place it on the wall behind you or drape it on the front of the table.
  • If you have a table, use a half-height display to raise your photo and name closer to eye level.  Use the SAME photo that was on your pre-conference flyer, business cards, demo CD, and other promotional material.
  • On your table top, have two CD players for visitors to listen to your music—just in case one’s in use.  Pack plenty of batteries for your players if you don’t have electrical outlets.
  • Display photos of yourself on stage and in front of “intimate” audiences such as at house concerts and children’s presentations.  That way, venues can see that you perform for a variety of audiences
  • Put out two or three of your promo packs with the words “for Booth Use Only” written on them with red felt tip.  You’ll still “lose” a few of these kits if you have to step away from your booth, so have two or three back-up copies ready to replace them.  Keep promo packs and demo CDs out of sight, but handy, so that you can give one to each viable prospect.

Other tips for table management:

  1. Never sit unless the hall is empty.  Wear comfortable shoes and be prepared to stand up since it’s hard to walk past someone standing up.
  2. Look at people as they approach and be prepared to greet them.
  3. Ask people who approach your booth who they represent.  If they say they’re from a “folklore society” or similar folk group, ask them right up front if they’re in charge of talent booking.  If they aren’t, be cordial, but don’t offer up your demo CD or press kit.
  4. If the individual is on your target marketing list, use clear language—language that “closes”.  Instead of saying, “I’m playing a showcase at midnight tonight”, try “I’m playing a showcase at midnight tonight, and I hope you can find the time to come hear me.”
  5. If a venue expresses enough interest to revisit your table after hearing you, or to approach you in the hall after a showcase, be sure to use “closure” language again.  Not: “It would really be nice to play your venue sometime”.  The venue person will likely agree with you—yes, it would be nice.  Instead: “I would really like to play your venue.  How would I go about getting your consideration”.  Be direct, professional, and avoid use of vague time-frames such as “some day.”
  6. Don’t initiate a discussion by talking about yourself or what you are selling.  Get people to talk about themselves (and their venues).
  7. Ask questions that do NOT require a yes or no answer.  Good questions include: “What type of music are you looking for?”  “How does one apply to be considered for your venue?”  “What is the process”?
  8. Listen!  The ratio of books on “Speech” and “Public Speaking” to books on “The Art of Listening” is over 100 to 1 in the US.  We have one mouth and two ears.  That should indicate that we were born to listen at least twice as much as we talk.
  9. Be upbeat! Be interesting!  Outside your room, never be negative about anything, the food, the hotel, NOTHING!
  10. Have a snack on your table.  Individually-wrapped hard candy and/or something in a wrapper is perfect.  Here’s an opportunity for you to be creative in attracting people to your booth.  Hershey Kisses are tempting to everyone and are reasonably priced.  Avoid nuts, fruit slices, or open packages of M&M’s, which are breeding grounds for germs from people’s hands.
  11. NEVER bring reading material that absorbs your attention.  I’ve seen artists so engrossed in the latest copy of a magazine they never look up.
  12. Don’t chat with others who have tables when there are guests in the area—being locked in conversation may cost both of you the opportunity to contact visitors.
  13. When you visit with someone, give them your full attention, regardless of who walks by. Everyone you meet deserves courtesy and respect, both for the obvious reason (treat everyone as you'd like to be treated) and for the mercenary one (you never know who that person is going to turn out to be). You don’t want to be a person that is always on the look-out for someone more important or influential to talk to – dropping a conversation when another person enters their field of vision.
  14. While in the exhibit hall, don’t block access to anyone’s table.  You can have conversations without getting in someone else’s way.
  15. Ask for a card from every person to whom you give your promo pack.  Have a pen handy at all times and as soon as the person walks away, jot some notes on the back of the card about the person (height, hair color/length, glasses, etc.) so you can recall them later.  These cards will eventually become part of your post-conference activities (see below).
  16. Ask before taking anything from an exhibitor’s table unless “free, take one” is readily apparent.  If you take something from a vendor or other artist, you should feel obligated to hear their spiel.
  17. Finally, leave the exhibit hall promptly at closing time so the hall can be cleaned and secured until the next session.  Do NOT leave anything of value such as your computer in the hall overnight.

Conserve Your CDs – Don’t give out your commercially produced CDs. Use CDRs. Provide the venues with live recordings if possible, songs in both a solo and band context if applicable, packaged in jewel cases with your photo on the front, and all contact information on both the case and the disc. Be sure to test all the CDRs you plan to give out since sometimes the duplication can be faulty.

Although most venue hosts will be content with “organic” paper/cardboard wrapped CD’s, you should keep a few jewel cased CD’s handy for DJ’s who need to be able to see your name and the title of your CD in a stack/shelf when they are sitting at the console.  If you make these up especially for the conference, be sure to use easy to read lettering in bold colors—you want to stand out in that stack.

Most “venue” people attending a FA gathering are professional and only take CDs from artists in whom they have a genuine interest.  Others, however, may be from a local folk club or folklore society and have absolutely nothing to do with booking for the venue they “represent”.  These bloodsuckers go from table to table collecting “free” CDs for their personal collections.  It’s very unprofessional, but they think they deserve it for their “support” of folk music.  Before handing out one of your promo packs or sellable CDs, feel free to ask the visitor what their role is with the venue.  If they aren’t the booking person, ask who is and tell them you will send a promo pack to that person when you get home.  Don’t be taken!!!

Showcasing Tips –Play your heart out at every showcase even if there’s only one person in the room.  That may be the person who books you at a major festival. If you let the number of people in the room get you down, you may give a lackluster performance in front of the top prospect you’ve identified.  Play your best material.  DON’T experiment with something new and untried—do that at an open mic back home. Also, remember to have alternate sets of music for those who might go to two of your showcases.

Time your showcases well.  Always end on time or slightly early.  Don’t force the host to shut you down.  Don’t infringe on the next artist’s time with your inability to control your set.

Don’t be offended if people come and go during your performance.  Folk Alliance showcases are the one time that it’s “acceptable” to leave between songs or even during songs.  Most venue representatives are trying to hear as many new artists as they can, and to do so, may have to listen to more than one artist each half-hour (I try to hear one artist every ten minutes).  If they were there to have a good time, they’d just sit in one of the major showcases rooms all night.  The fact that they came and listened at all should be considered a compliment to you.

At the conclusion, immediately collect your instrument, tuner, cables, etc. and quickly clear the way for the next artist.  If there’s a Green Room, quickly leave your equipment there and step into the hallway to meet people who may want to visit with you.  Do NOT just go to the Green Room and lose this opportunity to strike while the iron is hot.

In hallways, step a few feet away from the doorway to allow others to enter and leave.  Be sure your conversations don’t interfere with the next artist’s showcase.  Once the opportunity to meet and greet has passed, slip back into the green room through the other door to retrieve equipment without interrupting the next performer.

Always be “on”—never let your guard down outside your room.  Whether in the elevator, standing in line to eat, or in a seminar, act professionally. Never gossip.

Look for opportunities to meet the venue contacts on your target list and expect to meet people at all times or when you least expect it.  The old guy in the elevator wearing the fire department shirt may just book three venues in Austin.

Don’t be loud or boisterous in the hallways outside someone else’s showcase room.  If you don’t respect the music of others, you may offend a possible venue contact.

At the meals, DON’T sit with friends.  You and your friends/band members should spread out around the room and sit at random tables. It’s critical to meet new people. So jump right in amongst perfect strangers, one might be the perfect venue for you.

After midnight on the last night of a conference, walk around and pick up good examples of promo material that you have seen on the tables and tack boards.  Those examples will help you improve yours for the next conference (and you’re reducing the waste stream from the conference).


While at the conference, try to visit every showcase room.  Observe how each is managed.  Take notes.  Are they rigorously on time?  Is the host professional or running a slumber party for their friends?  Are they showcasing music similar to yours?  Are they well attended?  What is the level of talent?  Would you want to be associated with the artists the host is showcasing?

Note the times the host of the showcase room uses in the time schedule.  If they book odd times like “11:35” or “12:10”, AVOID them like the plague.  The host may think they are being smart by hosting at a time that will give them a “unique” time slot on the program, but they are absolutely wrong.  Venues looking to hear artists look at the major time blocks, “11:30”, “11:45”, “12:00”, etc. and mark their choices out of the 30-50 rooms that are available.  The “cutesy” time slot of 11:35 is usually buried on the next page and doesn’t get noticed until after its over.

For the showcase rooms you determine you want to play, find out who the host is and introduce yourself.  Ask how to be considered for next year, what the application schedule is, and when you can send a demo CD for consideration.  It is totally appropriate to ask about costs because the refreshments supplied and room rates vary from year to year.


When you get home, FOLLOW-UP or a great deal of your effort will be wasted and your momentum will be lost.  The concept of “closure” is a key part of target marketing.  As a venue person, I probably get fifty pieces of pre-conference mail.  After a national conference, I will likely only receive one and never more than two notes “thanking” me for stopping by a booth or attending a showcase or asking if there’s potential to play my venues.  Without follow-up action to “close” the deal or the relationship, your efforts may be for naught.

Send a note to all the venue people you meet, reminding them who you are and asking if they would care for a more detailed promo pack.  Good notes on the back of their business cards (or the target cards you prepared about them) will assist you in personalizing and tailoring your follow-up note to the venue.  These notes should ALWAYS include a recognizable photo of you and your contact information.

Don’t assume the world will beat a path to your door.  If you don’t contact the venue and express your interest, that person may interpret your lack of follow-up as a lack of interest or simply assume you aren’t planning to be in their area in the near future.  Your target will assume that someone else wants the work more than you do!

NEVER, EVER leave your level of interest open to assumption.  If you do, your target will assume that someone else wants the work more than you do

If you don’t get a reply, wait about a month and drop another note or email.  In it, ask if they would mind if you called them in the near future to discuss their requirements and to see if your work is compatible with their venue.

If they fail to reply to your second note, don’t despair.  Wait about six months and drop them another note.  The “third time’s a charm” rule works when you’re making contacts.  Keep a positive mental attitude and assume that they’ve simply been too busy to reply.  Trust me, this is more likely the case.

Even after your third attempt, still DON’T WRITE OFF THE NON-RESPONDERS!!!!  Keep all your notes and look for these individuals at the next festival or conference meeting.  When you again meet them, be as genuinely nice to them as you were the first time you met.  Your openness will be welcomed.  Always remember, your primary objective is to build relationships.  Your secondary objective is to book gigs.  If you build the relationship, the gigs will follow.

Finally, NEVER assume that if a venue doesn’t book you that they don’t “like” you or your music.  A few years ago, I mentioned to Tim Mason that half my music collection was Reggae, but I couldn’t get five people out of my 700 person mailing list to come to a Reggae show.  He replied, “If I booked what I like, we would have been bankrupt 25 years ago.”  A rut is a grave with both ends kicked out of it and many venues get in a rut of providing what their audience will come to hear.  So, please recognize that fact and never get discouraged. You just haven’t found the right rut.



Timeline in a Snapshot

June:       Register for NERFA

Apply for Formal & Quad Showcases

Network with previous Guerilla Showcase Hosts for spots in the Fall


August/September: Confirm your Guerilla Showcase spots with hosts

Promote your appearances

Book Exhibit Hall table

Book Hotel room & secure roommate(s)


September/October: Pre-NERFA reach out via snail mail/email to chosen venues

Prepare press kits and CDRs


November: NERFA!

Post NERFA follow up with venues


December: Second follow up with venues


May:       Third follow up with venues


June:       Begin again!


Tips for Presenters at Folk Alliance Conferences:

  1. Arrive early. This allows you to have time to look over the final attendance list, meet with other presenters, organize your paperwork, go through the schedule and attempt to see a pattern to the scurrying around you will do for the next few days.  At the national and regional conferences, I join a number of venue friends on the night of the bag-stuffing party for a bite to eat and a whole lot of “you gotta hear…..”   These tips are invaluable.
  2. Develop a record-keeping system.  If you don’t, after 30 or 40 artists you’ll be saying to yourself, “Was she the guy with the beard?”  As much as we would like to think we will remember, we don’t.  You don’t want to end up booking someone that wasn’t who you had in mind.  Following my first FA gathering, my notes were such a mess (“G”, “NVG”, “BPS” (basic protest singer), etc. that I developed a record-keeping system that I will be happy to share by email with any venue who wishes to plagiarize it and make it their own.  My system includes Instrument Use, Use of Imagery, Use of Rhyme, Vocal Range, Universality of the Song, Song Variety, Audience Rapport, Appearance, and an Overall Rating.  It also includes the names of the songs performed and a physical description of the artist that helps me attach the photos I take of each artist.
  3. Take Photos of the Artists – An inexpensive investment that will help jog your memory.
  4. Be Upfront With the Artists You Meet – Let them know how many shows you host each year, how receptive you are to new blood in your line-up, how far out you book, what kind of music you are looking for, etc.  This will eliminate many unnecessary emails and/or uncomfortable non-responses down the line.
  5. Develop a Plan – Finding artists on the multi-page showcase schedule on the fly can be intimidating.  I again can send you a simple chart I developed with time, room number, and artist that allows you to lay out the multiple artists per showcase time so you can figure out if it’s better to see one artist on “this” floor, or waste ten minutes trying to get up three floors to hear someone else.
  6. Develop a Circle of Venue Friends – I have yet to find a venue host like myself at an FA gathering that wasn’t ready to offer an opinion on anything.  Develop this circle of friends and before the next conference, ask each of them to “cough up” their recommended “to hear” artists from the pre-registration list.  I participate in a group like this and by the time I arrive, I have a list of at least 20 artists who are recommended by my peers and that I would very likely never have stumbled on by myself.
  7. Identify Your Targets – When you identify artists you want to hear on the showcase schedule, mark each of their showcases with “1/3” or one of three, for example.  This will be most helpful when you have conflicts between showcases you want to hear.  If one artist is playing his/her 3rd of 3 and someone else is playing their 3rd of 7, you can plan to catch the second artist at another time.
  8. Manage your sleep -  If you allow yourself to be tired, you will be overly critical of what you hear.  I tell people that, if you give me a $100 bill after 2:00 a.m., I will whine that “now where the hell am I going to break this?”  You owe it to the artists who are playing their hearts out to be fresh and have an open mind/ear.
  9. Attend Workshops – Finally, attend the peer group meetings and find out what problems your peers have faced in their area—zoning, code enforcement, sales tax, contracts, booking, etc.  Everyone at these meetings is anxious to share their experience and knowledge.  NONE of us is competing with one another—we all want the others to succeed. Now, that’s a strange business model.