Viv: I am so excited to be back on our second day of the Songwriter’s TelesSummit and today we’re starting the day with Celeste Krenz. Thank you so much for joining us, Celeste.
Celeste: Thanks, good morning.
Viv: Good morning. I’m looking forward to this because touring has always been something it seems like it has to be a string of dates that take you through a region and all the way across the country. It seems sort of overwhelming in different ways. Looking at your notes of what you have sent to us today this idea of booking through art consortium’s and actually putting together unique shows that can really saturate an area and really get you into a community in a meaningful way I think is just fascinating. Celeste, tell us a little bit, at the moment you are living in Nashville, you’re a singer song writer, and you’ve been performing also as a duo with Rebecca Folsom, who is another one of our presenters, as the Rhythm Angels. Tell us a little bit about your early days in getting going with your singer songwriter career.
Celeste: Well I started out coffeehouses in Denver in the early ’90’s and at that time there’s so much just developing and there weren’t a ton of independent albums out. I think maybe in the Denver area there were like ten indie singers who had actually had an album out whereas now it’s like a thousand. But the thing was, when I started, I worked for an entertainment company as my day job. I was involved in all kinds of presenting concerts, big acts, little acts, just everything. But what I realized was, just through dumb luck, was that there was all these arts councils out there and I was booking other artists into them and a lot of them were booking sort of definable ’50’s/60’s, reggae, or something that they could totally define and sell to their audience. I think part of the difficulty about getting booked as a singer songwriter is that term is so nebulous and sometimes it’s so indefinable that they don’t know what they’re getting. They know they’re going to get reggae music if they book a reggae band. They know what they’re going to get if they get a particular band playing country music. They’re going to get country hits that they know. So the singer song writer thing is just a loose wire because you don’t know, can the person really write? Can the person play? So unless you’re really well known it’s, in that market, in the arts consortium market, you really have to showcase. And that’s what I did. I had luck with it because I had a little trio, and we had a look. I had been doing enough booking that I understood that I needed to do more than show up in a pair of jeans, and a T-shirt, and cowboy boots and play my songs. They’re not listening clubs. They’re not like The Birchmere. They’re not these kinds of venues. They’re theaters in towns all across the country where rural communities come to see acoustic music and they don’t come necessarily to see Celeste Krenz or whoever. They come to see music. And the arts companies get grants and there’s West Staff money and there’s a lot of different ways that the venues pay for the artist. But these are great gigs because they’re all gorgeous theaters. Lights, sound, you just show up with your guitar and you put on a show. Now that being said, you really have to put on a show. And part of it I think what learning about these things is not just to learn about them. It’s not like you have a ton of gig opportunities. You have to have a show that sets this. In a series you might have everything from a forty piece dance troupe to a guy who plays alternate sides of glasses of water to a classical violinist and then you be like the token folk act. Contemporary music. So what I want to talk about today is what those gigs are, how to apply for them, what it takes to get those gigs, and what the money is on it. So you know maybe this isn’t where you want to go for your whole career but if you want to make $30,000 for a year playing music so that you can go to New York and play for free where it costs you money or these other real high-end listening rooms, that you have a budget to do that. Or you have a budget to do a record. Or you have a budget to do those other things that you want to do.
Viv: Well this sounds completely intriguing and I know I’m going to be a taking a lot of notes. But you’ve also provided a really wonderful worksheet that’s got links and notes and everything which I will be putting up on the download page by this afternoon I should have it up there for anyone listening. So take it away. Tell us what we need to know.
Celeste: Well I have a list on the worksheet that you’re going to post and it’s just some questions. In some of this I’d know because I was a booking agent and I’ve always been a performer from the time I was fifteen. But when I moved to Denver I hadn’t done a record yet and I had gone to Boulder Theater to see an act that I was looking at booking as a booking agent. And I thought who was a main act, had never heard of him, and her name was Shawn Colvin. It was funny because I saw, I think they were called “Green Faces of Dead Presidents” was the opening act and totally was, “I don’t get it”. So I was getting ready to leave and I thought I should stay and listen to one song and Shawn Colvin walked out with her acoustic guitar and was an amazing solo act. Honestly this was a long time ago, this was when she just had her first album out, and I just thought it was really life changing for me because I had always seen, “Well if you’re a girl, you need a band and you need to do this and you need to do upbeat blah blah blah music”. It was so great to see such a great songwriter in such a quiet setting and just so commanding the audience. At that point, I made a decision to stop booking these bands that I was booking and just really work on my solo career because I’d already been playing for twelve or thirteen years but I hadn’t done a record yet. When I started doing that, then I was still working for the company and I needed to make money. I was working at developing my career but having a budget to do these other things that I wanted to do and I knew about the West Staff, I knew about all the showcases, and I knew about all the conferences and all that so it just started doing that and it was such a great thing because I could go out on the road for eleven days, make $15,000, pay my expenses out of that, and come home and have five or six grand to work on my record. So in that I learned how you need to look, what needs to be a show for that particular kind of theater show. And it was so great because I didn’t go through the whole long process of learning how to do a theater show. I basically just met Bob Tyler and he had been playing music professionally in Nashville for a long time and he really helped me but we worked up our show. We worked up the song, we worked up the patter in between, we worked up stories about the songs and funny stuff and then just totally honed that. It wasn’t like I just went there and tried to figure out if I went because I didn’t have time. I got all these huge shows right off the bat. It was right into the fire, which was really scary, but it was great. I guess in my notes I put, “How important is your look when you go to do these kinds of conferences and shows and showcases?” And it’s very important. You really have to go the extra mile. You have to think, “If I was going to be on the front of Rolling Stone today, what would I wear?” And that’s really what you need to wear. You need to wear something that really has a look about it and makes you look like you’re confident and defines you. I saw a show the other day in Austin. And it was a girl and she was playing Austin City Limits. She was like a punk rocker and it was this really kind of cool music but she was wearing this little librarian dress with these little blue flats and her hair was really conservative and I kept thinking, “This just doesn’t go together”. It was really distracting to see an act and here she looks like a librarian and she’s singing these pretender songs. I think it’s really important to have somebody help you or take a really good look. Rip out pictures in magazines and get your look together even if you can’t do it right now so when the opportunity comes you kind of know where you’re going with it. And think about the fact that when you’re doing these shows, it’s not a coffeehouse, it’s not a place where anyone’s talking, it’s a theater. It’s a microscope on you. It’s a light, camera, action kind of thing. A lot of you have probably done theater shows but if you’ve been playing coffeehouses and all of the sudden you’re on the main stage of a theater and you’ve got a two hour show to do, you really have to be ready. So that comes to my number two thing is what kind of show do I need. Define your look. Define your music. Then make sure you can name it because these people, they’re, I don’t want to call them country people, but they’re rural people. They’re not into the acoustic music scene. They probably don’t know who John Gorka is unless there’s somebody who’s really into music. A lot of times they have their board meetings and are like, “Let’s book one country act, one folk act, and a dance troupe.” If you’re calling yourself something that’s like ‘Flower Punk’ or I don’t even know what it would be but make sure that you have a, even if it’s just for this particular situation, make sure that you can define your sound in one or two words in something that is accessible to the people who are booking because these are not savvy New York presenters. These are little people in their community who really love to bring cultural events to their community. So you have to be something that they can kind of grab onto. Your audiences too. They’re, again, it’s like it’s a whole different game. Yes, you’re playing a theater. And yes, it’s all set up. But they’re not coming particularly to see you. They’re coming because they bought series tickets and this is one of the six shows and this is the acoustic music thing. It’s not like when you walk into one of your shows where all your fans are there and they love you and you can just sink into it. You have to work a little harder and present yourself to this is your first impression so you really have to be ready to think about what’s going to work for your audiences. A lot of them are families so you have to think about songs that it’s got a corporate element to it I guess. You have to think about songs that are really going to appeal to a broader audience. I think a lot of times the heavier folk stuff doesn’t really work in this situation. You sort of have to think, “Ok I need five uplifting songs. I can have a couple of these.” Not that you have to sit there and play all upbeat stuff but you have to think about the message and you have to pace your show so it’s kind of like a roller coaster—up and down. When you’re working a two hour show, two sets, that’s a lot of planning and it’s total focus I guess is my point that nobody is, there’s nothing else going on, you are it. So you have to be ready for that. The other thing that’s really important in getting these gigs and in making more money on the road is that they want people who can do residencies and songwriting workshops. You have everything from first grade to high school and sometimes you have adult groups. So you have to think, “What could I share that would bring enrichment to a school or a class of third graders?” It can be inspirational. Generally, if you’re the musician, they want it to be musical, like a drum class if you’re a percussionist. I did a lot of songwriting with the Kid Pan Alley group too the last two years. I’ve done songwriting workshops in schools for lots of years. But you write with a group of children. Third graders for instance. A whole class, and you finish a song and then you perform at your concert Friday that you do in the town. So that. We have a program this year that is songs of Laura Ingalls Wilder. That’s a huge curriculum in schools and so it kind of puts their program in a 3D aspect. People love that idea. And we just came up with that. We just brainstormed and looked on the Internet and saw what people were doing. Got some ideas and that’s what we ended up doing for this year. And then we do vocal coaching. We do singing emotionally. We do other workshops that we’ve done at Kerville Folk Festival and those things. The more structure you can give your workshops and the more age you can cover with your different workshops, the more money they can get for you because Weststaff is a company that does arts grants and they need to justify a certain amount of that for education to get that money for you.
What Can You Expect to Get Paid For These Types of Shows?
Which brings me to my next thing, which was, “What is the pay structure per workshop and per show?” Depending on what you go out with as a group, or how big your group is, $1500 to $7500 for their big, big shows because their going to bring in the huge New York dance troupe or something for most of the big shows or any kind of symphonic thing. For folk acts, anywhere between $1500 and $3500 is about where it is. We chose to take our whole band out to Montana to showcase, which cost us a good $2000 because we had to fly everybody in and stay in hotels and all that. But it was so worth it. We booked every single showcase. We booked every presenter that was there. I think there were fourteen presenters. Every single one of them booked us. We got the top dollar because we brought a band. I don’t know if we had brought the duo if we would have had the same punch. There were a lot of duos there and we had a really beautiful full sound. We had all the bells and whistles but then when they booked us, that’s what they wanted. These days there has been some funding cuts going on so we basically got about $3500 a show and we had to pay for our whole band out of that, air fare, all the stuff. We were doing all home stay, so we stayed with people; I think we had a couple of hotels. And we have to pay per diem. So it turns out that our net profit on that will probably be $4000. So you’re looking at, I think we booked eight or nine shows and probably twelve workshops, twelve sessions during the day, so that’s a lot of work too. It’s really good and it helps you hone your show. It helps you get in front of a large audience. There’s many, many good reasons to do it. And you can build on that for the next few years. You can go back to some of these places and if you wait three years you can probably go book the whole tour again. And that’s where it comes into block booking. These groups do a lot of the work for you because they sit down and have a meeting and they all vote, “Who do you want to block-book?” And so they’ll go around the table and they will say, “Well, we want to book the Rhythm Angels” and so ten people want to book The Rhythm Angels and they all decide on, “Ok, we have a time that works for them” and then they contact you and say, “Ok, we have these times”. And so then everything’s set up. You do shows every night. You don’t have any down time, which is good and tiring but for money, it’s great. I want to talk about what goes into doing a showcase, but first I wanted to see if Katie has any questions or Viv if you have any comments.
Viv: Yes and I think we have had a few more people join us during that time so if anyone has joined us, welcome. We’re talking with Celeste Krenz about how to work with arts consortiums and block book tours and workshops that can actually really support you as a musician. This is just fascinating. I’ll turn it over, I’m not sure if anyone else has joined us on the call. Katie, do you have any questions so far? I know you’re on the call. Perhaps Arlene is on, I’m not sure. You can press *6 to unmute yourself or, if you’re not muted, just jump in and say, “I have a question.”
Katie: So far, so good. Thank you.
Viv: Great, well carry on.
Celeste: Ok, so the next thing is after you did the showcase, what is the showcase? It seems crazy, we fly a whole band out to Montana, we have to stay for two days. We have to go to the after, the booth, and all of that have all your materials, you have to have CDs, rate sheets. And I can put examples together of some of the rate sheets and the promo that we done for these particular things because I think knowing what to put on there is really important. You basically get fifteen minutes and I mean to the second and they’ll shut you off if you’re longer. How do you, first of all, get on stage, get into, be effective, and get an idea of what you actually do to the presenter in fifteen minutes? Some people went out and they did two songs. Well, I have never done it that. What I have always done is I’ve thought, “Ok, I need to have sample of my show. I need to bring them up, I need to make them cry, then I need to bring them back out of it then it needs to be funny and then it needs to be way up at the top and then, ‘thank you so much goodnight’ blah blah blah”. You got to move them in that fifteen minutes and you have to take them through a sample of four or five songs, which sounds difficult. I don’t even think it sounds easier than it is. What we had to do was do a whole three days rehearsal to rehearse parts of our songs, which we’ve been doing for a year the other way. And you can’t afford to even make one mistake in that showcase because you only have fifteen minutes. And the audience, they’re not sitting there coming from a place of love, they’re coming from a place of critique. You really have to be polished and honed in on what you’re doing. We did a last rehearsal with the band where we said, “Ok, we’re going to do the first part of the first verse but not the second verse and we’re going to go straight into the chorus and we’re going to do the bridge and then we’re going to do the outro. So no last chorus”. So it was a lot to remember and for everybody. And we all charted it and everything but you can’t use any sheet music on stage. Basically you’re trying to show off. We had to do this with all our songs. We, in fifteen minutes, got pieces of seven songs together. We featured the band on one, and we did one where it was just a honky tonk ripping tune so the keyboard player, who was so great, could really play. And operate base player. We looked at what everyone was wearing and not corporate, we let them be themselves, but, for instance, the upright bass player kind of looked like he was on the video of Elvis’s “Jailhouse Rock”. While we did our outfits, kind of coordinated in vintage brown. We had a lot of our cards, but we really overthought it and I’m so glad we did because what happens on these presenters’ things too is they give you a feedback sheet and you actually read it. And it can be painful. They do everything from your clothes, how did it look on stage, how was your patter, how was your music, how was your musicianship, was it entertaining, did it move them. And we got five out of five stars except for one woman who said we were the most polished group but we didn’t, can’t remember what else, but it was just totally contradicting. It was just funny. But the thing was we thought about it and we kind of dressed the boys and I don’t think they liked it very much, but they looked great. I think it’s that movie thing. Like if you were going to see a band in a movie they would set it up. So think of this as your fifteen minute spotlight in a movie and have every part of it together. Practice those changes because if you do it the day before or if you practice it but your band doesn’t and something falls apart in there, it’s really hard to recover from that. You only get fifteen minutes and then they just fade the sound down. And if you don’t get to do your big ending, you didn’t get to go all the way to the top of the roller coaster. The fifteen minute thing, it’s hard but it works. And it’s enough. I’ve been a judge at showcases and fifteen minutes is a long time if things aren’t together. Fifteen minutes is really short if you’ve really got your show together and that leaves them wanting more. The next thing on my list is, when you apply for these, you have to have your showcase ready, have your look together. You’re going to need to submit audio, sometimes video. You’re going to need to submit a rider so that they know how complicated your setup is because that can get really expensive for a presenter and a lot of times they want to know what that is before they book you. And the rider, I’m sure everybody knows what that is, but it’s basically what you need for sound equipment because all these gigs you’re going to be flying to. And you’re going to have to have all your backline provider, all your drums, your microphones, sound equipment. Not very often are you going to find a situation where you’re going to drive out there but it could happen. And that would save them money. If you have someone who has a big sound system and you’re good at that. That could even be a draw for you. A lot of the artists who go play these level shows don’t have any gear. They just show up with the guitar, their keyboard, or whatever. You need to have a stage plot for each configuration and one of the ways to work on, if you’re booking yourself, is to have three stage plots. You have a full band, you have the trio, you have the duo or even a solo thing. So you need a stage plots that’s drawn out in a program that tells, and I have sample stage plots too I can send out, not going to go into that, but you need that. You need a current bio that kind of brags about you a little bit. Your press and where you’ve been and other venues you’ve played and I call that a booking one-sheet. And I also have a copy of that that I can include. It’s tricky when you do one of those depending on how much experience you have. Mine has a lot of stuff on it because I’ve been playing music for twenty years. But there’s a lot of ways to do one. I’ve got one that I did for an artist that was brand new that didn’t have a lot of experience but we didn’t focus on that. We focused on the things that were really great about this artist. You don’t have to compare your experience to somebody like mine who I have years and years. Ten albums and blah blah blah. I say blah blah blah a lot. The bio, this is all stuff you need. And you have to have it on hand because if you go do this, it’s like if you say you’re going to send it, you got to send it the same day. Workshop descriptions. And we talked about that earlier for those of you who have just gotten on the phone call. There’s a sheet that Viv was going to post and it has talking about the descriptions and the workshops and what those are. Number eleven is ‘Should I bring a band to the showcase?’ And, depending on what your standpoint it, I mean if you’re like a blues player, and you need a band, then you should bring a band even if it is more expensive. Whatever is going to showcase you the best. If you’re a solo artist and you’re amazing and you think you have to put a band together so you can go showcase, you don’t. It’s wherever you really shine, that’s what you should take. Maybe one other person. They do love fiddle players. It’s kind of like all over the Midwest. You can do anything. Take a fiddle player and they love it. So something to give you a little musical edge. Or a fiddle player or whatever other musical instrument. And I already talked a little bit about how they rate the music in performance on the little cards and how it’s just their opinion. They’re not music aficionados. They’re just people who have been appointed by their community to go out and get some good music and bring it back to their community and they really don’t know. They’re going to rate you on what their first impression is of how professional you were, how together your show was, and if you moved them. And that’s basically all you have to think about with that. That kind of brings me to the end of my little list. We talked about, I put in my notes, other things to think about: what size venues have you played in the past? And what is your goal with that? Somehow to not be practicing on any particular day because they really are career-building gigs in the way that you can go out back and do them again and again if you do a good job the first time. If you go out and you kind of figure it out on the road on these gigs, these bigger gigs, then you probably won’t get invited back. And that’s kind of a bummer because I think there’s so many other things that come out of these things. Other little communities that hear about it and get booked. I made a lot of money playing in Montana in the first seven, eight years of my career and ended up playing the biggest theater. Played it for three different events in Danvers in Montana. So I think you can really build on it but you just have to do the work. It really is just work. It’s sitting there and not waiting for inspiration to move you to do something but actually sitting down and figuring out what your show is and what you’re going to say between songs and does it work. And practice it on people and see if it’s working. There’s some great performance classes you can take. And I have no idea what level people are on the phone call or who’s listening to this. So at every level, it’s good information if you’ve already been playing theaters but you want to play more theaters. Or if you just want to get out of the coffeehouses and go do bigger shows. It’s a great way to do it but you do have to understand that it’s a completely 100% focus on the act. There’s nothing going on in the room. Any questions?
Viv: I’m going to jump in and say I think that’s an amazing differentiation between how a lot of us get our start playing in bars or small coffeehouses or something but we’re not used to having that much focus because people are there to socialize or visit. So the difference in when everyone is actually really focused and the work that it takes to put together a show that has room for spontaneity but it’s got a plan and I think I’m just taking that away. Thank you so much. Opening it up, does anyone have a question for Celeste?
Katie: I have a question actually. This is Katie. So, Celeste, how did you find out about the event in Montana? It’s a showcase. I’m trying to follow how you got there.
Celeste: Well I was working for the agency, pro event in Danvers, and I was booking acts, I was booking concert acts and I started working with people booking into the Montana Arts Consortium at the booking agency, other people, and I went, “Well, why don’t I do that?” So I went out and showcased with my trio and we did really well and we just started playing out there and then there were people from Idaho that said, “Come and do ours!” And so we went out and did the Idaho one and then I did the Wyoming one. I lifted all those links here. Basically, I lifted the top three that I’ve really dealt with: Montana, Idaho, Wyoming, Colorado and then there’s another one in Estes Park but they’re everywhere. And I have another link in here that’s called westarts.org and that is every single arts consortium between here and Canada and information so if you just went through that list and picked five (and there’s probably fifty on there), and went to your region, because obviously it’s easiest to tour around home, you’d be able to get a lot of information, find out what the deadlines are, when the showcases are, and how much they cost. Some of them are really, really expensive. There was one in Las Vegas that we were going to go do and all the sudden we found out it was like $10,000 to do the showcase.
Celeste: No kidding. We were like, “Eh, no”. But the Montana one I think was $100 and then you have food and hotel and then you have to get yourself there obviously. That’s how I found out about them and then once I found out about them then I just went crazy and researched it and now I use them all the time.
Katie: This is great information. I don’t feel I’m quite at the level yet to try a showcase but I’m just getting my songs fine-tuned and started to play out and polish my skills there. Right now I’m doing coffeehouse/bar type things. Just short sets of my music.
Celeste Offers Great Tips On Enhancing Your On Stage Presence
Celeste: Well I just listened to your stuff for a few minutes here Katie on MySpace and so if you were going to go out and do the Montana Art Showcase you’d have to go, ok I’m from Austin, Texas so I’m going to say Texas music because people have an idea that’s, ‘Oh, that’s cool, that’s Texas’. It’s folk music but you’re from Texas so use your region to draw attention. And then I though, your picture, it’s so pretty. Let’s just say you wanted to go out there as a duo and from what I heard, that one little song on MySpace, I’d go, “Why don’t you get yourself something really visual like a cellist?” Because I think that when you think about the stage, and you envision yourself, here you are sitting there, or standing, one person in the middle of the stage, which is fine if you can hold that space. But let’s say that you want to stretch a little. Get yourself a really great cellist or something like that where she’s a prop in a way and she helps musically. And cello, there’s not a lot of them in Montana, you know what I mean? So you can kind of go out and you can make something special and do something beautiful. Or, if you’re more electric than that then just take a great electric guitar player. But something where you think of the stage not only as what you’re going to do musically within yourself, but imagine yourself in the audience looking up at the stage. What’s going to help them get you? I think that’s kind of a good way to look at it. And even as you’re doing the coffee shops, if you think of yourself, like “I’m going to pretend I’m on the Boulder theater stage in Boulder and I have a packed house, just 800 people sitting there, what am I going to do?” I really think that just visualizing that can help you get to the point where you could go do a showcase and you could work on your show that way. Kind of what I did.
Katie: This is great. This is really great information. Thank you.
Viv: Anyone else with a question for Celeste? Like Katie said, this is really great information, to think it through as a totally planned, polished package, everything from your looks to song selection. That’s the other thing about ordering your songs. I have a question there. How do you do that? How do you develop your set list? And just FYI for people who are on the call that I’m just checking with the download page for this piece Celeste sent us and it’s ready for you to download. It’s got the links and everything and if you go to www.telesummits.com/celeste that will get you to the download and you’ll have all that information that you’ve been talking about. But, Celeste, if you could talk a little bit about, you said that you wanted to move people, you wanted to have them laugh, you wanted to take them down a little bit and then bring them, can you talk a little bit about set planning and how you order for a two hour show?
Celeste: Well, number one is that most CD sales happen on intermission. So don’t save your best songs for last. You’ve got to kind of think of your first set as, “Ok, I got to do this and I want to get them so inspired by the time the set is over that they go out and everybody buys one.” So I do my first set, I make sure that I save some upbeat ones for the end because I want people to leave happy. I want them to leave uplifted. During the first part, I’ll usually start with something kind of introspective but not a total ballad for the first one. Just something that’s going to just engage them. The thing I do when I do my set list is I picture myself in the audience and if I know people really well, like if it’s my audience in Denver and I know that 90% of them have every record I’ve ever done and they’re coming to hear all the old songs, then I do that. But if it’s an audience that doesn’t know me and I’m trying to let them know me, then I do songs that give a glimpse into what’s coming in the set but also songs that are not so personal that they’re all about me. My more universal songs. I have a song that I do that actually Diana Jones wrote. It’s called, “Cracked and Broken” and it starts out, “I want to know you. Know where you’ve been” so it’s really about the audience. So I try to do that, get them comfortable with what’s happening, and then I get a little more personal like maybe some of my own personal songs and stories that are kind of funny and I can only try to do three songs in a row without talking so it’s not song, ‘talk talk talk’, song, ‘talk talk talk’. I think that happens with folk sometimes and sometimes in a looser situation it’s ok but when you’re in a big theater, it can get really long for the audience. They’re there to play music and if your songs are written in a way that arc is effective, every single song doesn’t need a story before it. Your story should just be there because they entertain or they set the song up in a way that it really needs to be set up, but to really be thoughtful about that. ‘Why am I saying this about this song?’ To think as much about your pattern between as you do about your songs. There are some performers like Chuck Pyle who’s a great performer and he plays everywhere. His stage pattern is almost exactly the same every show. I don’t do that myself but I have a general thing, like on my set list it’ll be ‘song, song, song, talk’ to remind myself that this one has a good story or intro or whatever. Just to keep remembering that your audiences are there to hear you but they’re also there to have something in themselves acknowledged. I just always kind of keep that in mind and try to keep a couple of really universal songs happening during each set. Do your big bang right before the intermission because basically that’s going to sales and I also really look at which album I want to sell that night and pick songs from that album. If you’re doing a bunch of new songs, none of them are on your album, do that in the second set. Because, generally, by the time people have seen you for two hours, they’re a little less excited about buying a CD than they are when they’ve seen you for one hour. They’ve had two hours, and then they go, “Oh that was great” then they home and they might by it later. So that’s kind of a shallow way of doing a set list but basically I’m always thinking about I have to sustain myself in this business, I need to sell CDs. Sometimes I go, “Well, last night I did this set of songs and I sold 30 CDs. Tonight I didn’t do that ‘Craft and Broken’ songs and I always sell ten. If I do it tomorrow night and I sell thirty again, then that song always has to be in the first set.” I know which songs sell CDs. Just because it sells CDs that doesn’t mean the other ones aren’t developing you as a character on stage that you don’t need them. You need them. It doesn’t mean one song is better than another, it’s just that’s the song they want to take home. I need all those other songs to make them kind of get to know you as a character on stage. Does that make sense.
Viv: Total sense. In fact John is just nodding and say, “That’s really neat”. Developing as a character on stage, so you’re unfolding for the audience right there in front of them, who you are and what your life experience is and where you intersect universally with them.
Celeste: Exactly. Oh, you said it so good, I wish would’ve said that.
Viv: I offer it to you. You can take it for your own. I think that’s a really component of watching a really polished performer is that by the end of the night you really do feel like you had a window into their world and you have a commonality or an identification with them that makes me want to take the CD home.
Celeste: Right. And sometimes it’s so funny because I’ve had situations where when I get done with a show and I’ve actually done what I just talked about, people feel like you know them too. I’ll be singing to nice people and they’ll be squeezing my cheeks and patting me on the back and hugging me and they feel like not only that they know me but I know them. And that’s what I always aspire to do. I don’t always do it because I think we all love to talk about ourselves and sometimes in songwriting the songs you love the most are the ones that are the most personal and you want to tell people your story but, on the other hand, they want you to know their story too. So if you can sing songs that are about both of you, then that’s really I think what makes an amazing song. If it can find that crossection and that commonality in the audience and the performer.
Viv: For me, that’s a benchmark of a genius set is when people are so included in the performance that they don’t feel any different. That they actually feel like you are talking about them even though you’re talking about your experience or something else. I remember sitting in an Arlo Guthrie concert and as I was walking out, this was in Taos, it was at the TCA and there were about 300 of us and people walked out and I could hear people in the audience saying, “Don’t you feel like you’re exactly the same as the person across the row?” This sort of total flow of commonality and community experience so I think that’s a really neat thing.
Viv: I have another question unless Katie, unless you have something?
Katie: No. I’m ok.
Viv: Ok, well, you know me, I’ll keep talking. I am curious about how you, I know you chose Laura Ingalls Wilder which is again, a stroke of genius for how to appeal to the western prairie audiences for workshops. You say you also do vocal workshops with choirs and things like that? How do you choose your workshops or are they sort of prescribed to you?
Celeste: Actually we develop them and the Laura Ingalls Wilder thing came from an idea, I do graphic design and I develop packages for people, for artists and for just whatever, I have a big background in design. So I did a project for the music director from Vanderbilt, he did an album series where he had all these great Nashville musicians play all the old songs of Laura Ingalls Wilder and I designed the album and did all the artwork on it. So I knew that just from doing that, doing that research, the songs are really cool because I helped put the songbook together. And, also, have a nine year old and at one time was looking at homeschooling except then I would actually have to be home. One of the big curriculums for homeschooling all across the country is the Laura Ingalls Wilder book series. So I just knew that it was in the schools. I’ve done enough songwriting with school children that they all know Laura Ingalls Wilder and I thought what a cool way to make that whole project 3D. Not just to talk about the songs and to read about the songs, and Pa’s fiddle and all of that, but actually to learn the songs in school and to talk about where they came from and some of the language of the songs. What is the one about “Go Tell Aunt Rhody, that her old grey goose is dead” and just some of the songs like that are in that. I just thought it would be a way to round out a curriculum that they’re already doing. Again, to fit into what’s already happening and not to try to change the world in that way of, ‘I’m going to teach these people African music’. Well, that’s great if I’m African and I actually know that, but this is something that is in my backyard. That’s what we need to do, we need to take what we’re really familiar about. I didn’t go out and try to sell something that I was going to have to spend a year getting ready. What can I just do that would be really fun that I already and that was one of them. So each one of us has some certain talent. Like bird whistles. If anybody knew how to do bird whistles, kids love those. And the school would probably love to have somebody come in and do that. It’s endless and that’s what’s so cool about it. It can be so eclectic. And that’s what they’re looking for. Just good ideas of how to broaden the kids’ perspective.
Viv: Great. Well, with Kid Pan Alley I know that you go for a week. You go in for a five day. You go on a Monday and you’re there through the week.
Celeste: Well, I don’t do that. I do a different school every day. Sometimes I do three schools in one day. That’s how I work. You get paid anywhere from $150 to $300 per workshop. So I might do, like when I was in Wyoming, I did Powell Wyoming, Pinedale Wyoming, and one other town that I can’t remember the name of it. But I did three schools in one day and then I did a community center and like this senior center the next day and then we did a vocal workshop that night at the theater and then we worked with the choirs the whole next day and two high schools in two different towns. Then we did something else I can’t remember. And then Friday night we did our big concert and then we were done. The only thing I’ve done in the school for the whole week, and that would be an extensive thing to do, but with Kid Pan Alley, which Paul Reisler does that program and I worked with him off and on for a couple of years and we would go to Dallas and be in the school for a week and write with three to four classes a day and by the end of the week we’d written ten songs and we would do a concert in the afternoon and then just fly home. But that’s a whole different deal. These things, because you get all different ages, like we’ll do an assembly with first to third graders. So you kind have to know first to third graders don’t care about crap being broken. What do they care about? You’re going to have to sing Red Robin. And you’re going to have to work up a few songs, you’ll know in advance, but if you have 300 first to third graders. So it’s a lot of winging it and it’s a lot of work. It doesn’t all help you build your songwriter career but I think what it helps you do is learn how to be a better performer and it helps you make money to sustain your other projects that you want to do and plus you’re really giving back to the community. You learn a lot in so many ways by doing those. You learn how to work hard. That’s for sure. You learn how to do a lot of shows in a small amount of time. And there’s not a lot of downtime, there’s not a lot of rest. Rebecca and I just went out to California about three weeks ago and did a radio tour—we did three shows and like ten radio shows. One day, we drove all the way from L.A. to San Francisco and did three shows along the way. That was not new to me so I think the Arts Consortium on these shows, they really teach you how to be efficient in your work.
Viv: So in one day you hit three radio stations up the coast of California?
Celeste: Yeah and we did a show that night. The third one was a show.
Viv: Who’s better than you? That’s amazing.
Celeste: But it’s what we have to do. It cost us money every day to be out in California. We can’t be there for two weeks. We got to get ‘er done. And that’s how the Arts Council things are too. It’s not the kind of thing where you sleep in the morning. It’s hard work. And that’s why the title of my thing was, “What are you really willing to do?” Everybody says they want to do it but it’s work just like everything else and this is where the hard work comes in. But this is where you can go out and come home and hear a duo, you could put $8000 in your checking account and live on it for three months while you go play all the avant-garde listening rooms. It’s a way to make money. What I learned most out of these things is how to really be an artist. Instead of being a singer songwriter, I learned how to be an artist. I learned how to work in a 300-500 seat theater and hold an audience. I also learned that because I toured for eight or nine years before I ever made a record. All over the country playing lounges. And that was difficult but they were nice. Nice resorts and stuff but I learned a lot about how to hold the energy of a room where there were a lot of distractions. Then I went to the coffeehouses and then I started doing these theater concerts. So I learned a lot about performing and that is just invaluable. And it’s a good opportunity so that when you do get a big show somewhere and you’re opening for some huge areas, you can hold your own on that stage. That’s a lot of energy to hold and focus, especially for anything longer than twenty minutes.
Viv: Here’s a question. As an actor, I know I have a preparation that I do before I go onstage in my character to fill the room. There’s sort of a process that I go through mentally and physically that I sort of call it, ‘lights on!’ or ‘flame on, Johnny!’ from Fantastic Four. It’s that sort of igniting the inner fires that will then fill the room. And also allow other people to come into my energy in a way that can hold the room. Do you have any techniques or tips that you could give us that deals with that? How do you make that shift from a small listening room to the big theaters where you really have to be a larger personality or persona?
Celeste: Well I find that the opposite is harder. It’s easy for me to do the big theater thing because everything helps you: the lights. You can’t see the audience. There’s the backstage. There’s the whole preparation and the sound check. From four in the afternoon, you’re sound checking. You’re focusing. You’re getting what you’re going to where together. You’re taking care of yourself in that way. In the big theaters there’s a lot of ceremony to just getting ready to do the show. And plus usually there’s people around taking around so you’re like, “Oh, I’m a star. I feel good.” The times that are hard for me is when I go from a big theater to a coffeehouse where you can see everybody and they’re fiddling with things and all of the sudden somebody walks in and there’s your friend and there’s somebody who’s cute. There’s this going on. And then somebody drops a plate. Those are hard for me because I get really distracted. It’s hard for me to create that magic bubble when there’s a bunch of stuff around. But here’s one of the things I do. I try to take a little time before I go on to find a quiet place to sit and play the guitar for a while. Doesn’t always happen. Because usually when you sit and play those places you don’t have a backstage. And people that you know or haven’t seen for a while come in and everybody wants to talk. That’s difficult. The other thing is I just kind of try to pretend that I’m at the Boulder Theater, which is always my place I go because I love that theater, and I try to imagine that I’m making the same impression to my audience in this coffee shop as I make at the Boulder Theater. And I think it’s part of that envisioning yourself and that making that same exchange sacred again, even though there’s so much chaos in these little places going on all around you. And you know what else I do Viv? This has kind of probably bothered people through the years but when I go into, and I haven’t run a craft in many years because I don’t really do the coffeehouse thing anymore, I do more house concerts and the people are pretty used to making space for the music, but when I was first starting out, I used to go into the coffeehouse and rearrange all the furniture. And just turn every chair facing the stage. Nobody had their back to me. If there was a little L I’d take everything out of it and put all the chairs in front. I would do like four rows of just seats and no tables so that people really want to focus and be right there. And I would always bring lights. And I would make them turn the houselights down and bring my own lights. And it really helps. It’s like when you’re an actress, you have to control your variables. You couldn’t go in the middle of a shopping mall and do what you do. I guess you could but it would be difficult. You want to control the variables. You want to control the sounds, the lights, the action in the room. You want to kind of focus it to the center and then you have to take a hold of it and keep it there. Just because you turned the lights down doesn’t mean that if you’re not holding focus as a performer, they’re going to listen anyway. But it does help. It does help if you don’t have any of those other things going on around you. Does that make sense?
Viv: Total sense. This is so valuable. Well the time has flown. It’s just amazing to me. It’s 11 o’clock my time, noon your time. Are there any more questions? Or if not, Celeste, do you want to leave us with anything? It’s been an incredibly specific talk.
Celeste: Well I think the main thing to do is that my main thought around all of this is to just imagine yourself the way you want to be. I did a sold-out show in Chicago one time, just came into town, just everything worked out, it was at Shubas, and it was so great, and then the next night, I was in Minnesota somewhere, and like two people came. I did the same show and what I realized from that was just because the next night was not stellar and great that I actually did the same show so you have to find within yourself what that little nugget is of when you’re performing and when you’re really in your bubble and you are imagining yourself at the Boulder Theater, wherever you want to be. Make up a place that you really want to play or some theater where you’ve seen someone. Like the first time I saw Shawn Colvin is probably why I always pick the Boulder Theater because here’s this little skinny girl on stage with the guitar and she held the energy. And so I always picture that. As an audience member looking up and seeing that was great and so I try to just imagine myself there whether I’m outside on a festival stage during the day, which is not one of my favorite places to be or wherever, but just imagine yourself and then you can become that. And that’s it.
Viv: Thank you so much. Celeste Krenz, thank you so much for this wonderful hour that we’ve spent together and what an incredibly detailed and fruitful hour it’s been. And I just wanted to repeat go to telesummits.com/celeste and you will find the download link for a page that has all of what we’ve talked about today and the links, the web-links, the Celeste was talking about. Thank you so much.
Celeste: Well thank you for having me and it was just fun.
Katie: Thank you, Vivian.
Vivian: Your welcome Katie. And we’ll be back in a half hour and next up is fellow Rhythm Angel Rebecca Folsom will be joining us to talk about using your particular gifts.