I love playing live, but I’ve been realizing more and more that it’s a mixed blessing to have several shows in quick succession. Sure, the only way a performer gets exposure is by, ahem, exposing himself. Too much exposure, though, leads to saturation, which dilutes the audience base and causes fewer people to come out to see you. So you have to ride that thin line between playing too often and having people not want to see you, and playing too infrequently and having people have no idea who you are.
I’ll be the first to admit that I do not have this balance figured out yet. At the beginning of April, I booked myself for 4 shows across the next two months. Right after I finished booking the last one, I realized that I might have made a mistake. Not only had I potentially saturated the market, but the venues themselves had some potential problems.
Venue 1 is an ideal space to play in: a coffee shop with no cover charge. I’d be playing for tips, but I had done rather well there in the past, and there was a lot of foot traffic. I also had 3 hours to do my thing, so I’d get to be a little more experimental, which would make the show memorable. On the other hand, it’s 25 miles from Philadelphia, so I couldn’t depend on my usual cadre of fans to come out.
Venue 2 is a great space in Philly with a fantastic sound system, good reputation, and spacious room. There’s a significant cover charge, and I’d only get paid if a certain number of people show up. The downside is that I’d only have a 20 minute set. For my fans to come and pay a chunk of change for a ticket, I feel bad that I’ll only be on stage for that short of a time. Also, I found the last time that I played there that a large number of people preferred to talk loudly at the bar than to listen to the performers, which is demoralizing.
Venue 3 (and 4) is a newer space in Philly with a big room and lots of potential. There’s a cover charge and once again, I’d only get paid if I brought in a certain number of people. Since it’s a newer venue, they’re still working out the kinks in the sound system and the lighting. Unfortunately, many of my fans came while they were still working things out, and as a result, they have negative association with the venue.
Still wanting to expose myself as frequently as possible (does that joke ever get old?), I knew I needed to create an incentive for people to come to my shows. I came up with the Neon and Shy Punchcard game, in which I put the 4 shows on a small card and handed them out at the shows I was playing. For each show attended across the 2 months, I would stamp the card. Depending on how many a person went to, fabulous prizes could be won:
- A pat on the back
- A homemade whoopie pie
- A private concert in the backseat of your car for you and up to 2 friends
- A free copy of my cd (when it comes out)
I liked the idea of making it fun and whimsical. I also thought the prize for three attendances was hilarious.
So how did it work out? I’m not sure how well it worked as an incentive. The people who were into it thought it was really fun, but I get the sense that they would have come to see my show anyway. Tonight I have my last show on the card, and the only prize that anyone will be winning is a whoopie pie. So I don’t even get to give the private concert. I’m glad I tried it out though, in my continuing quest to figure out how to market myself. At the very least, it gives me an excuse to bake whoopie pies.
Speaking of which, I really enjoy baking. I’ve always enjoyed the process of following a baking recipe, though these days I’m willing to improvise a bit more. It’s neat to see how small changes affect the outcome. I’m told I’m quite good at it, but I attribute that almost exclusively to the oven in my house, which heats very evenly. I also use real butter. Lots of butter. Unsalted European butter. Plugra in the gold wrapper, to be specific. I think that also makes a huge difference.
This morning and afternoon, I’ll be baking whoopie pies for the two-show attendees, using a recipe I found at the Whoopie Pie Historical Society.
Inexplicably, this recipe calls for shortening for both the cake and the filling. The filling is supposed to be a buttercream. Shortening is unacceptable (as I unfortunately found out once), so it’s Plugra all the way for me. I’ll leave you with my changes to the recipe.
New England Whoopie Pie Recipe
Yields: 9 large whoopie pies
Prep time: 30 min
Cook time: 15 min
1/2 cup butter
1 cup firmly-packed brown sugar
1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 cup milk
Whoopie Pie Filling (see recipe below)
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Lightly grease baking sheets (I use silpats).
In a large bowl, cream together butter, sugar, and egg.
In another bowl, combine cocoa, flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt.
In a small bowl, stir the vanilla extract into the milk. Add the dry ingredients to the butter mixture, alternating with the milk mixture; beating until smooth.
Drop batter by the 1/4 cup (to make 18 cakes) onto prepared baking sheets. With the back of a spoon spread batter into 4-inch circles, leaving approximately 2 inches between each cake.
Bake 15 minutes or until they are firm to the touch. Remove from oven and let cool completely on a wire rack.
Make Whoopie Pie Filling. When the cakes are completely cool, spread the flat side (bottom) of one chocolate cake with a generous amount of filling. Top with another cake, pressing down gently to distribute the filling evenly. Repeat with all cookies to make 9 pies. Let finished whoopie pies completely cool before wrapping. Wrap whoopie pies individually in plastic wrap, or place them in a single layer on a platter (do not stack them, as they tend to stick).
To freeze, wrap each whoopie pie in plastic wrap. Loosely pack them in a plastic freezer container and cover. To serve, defrost the wrapped whoopie pies in the refrigerator.
Makes 9 large whoopie pies.
Whoopie Pie Filling:
1 cup butter (yes, that’s 2 sticks!)
1 1/2 cups powdered (confectioner’s) sugar
2 cups Marshmallow Fluff**
1 1/2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
** Marshmallow Creme may be substituted.
In a medium bow, beat together butter, sugar, and Marshmallow fluff; stir in vanilla extract until well blended.