Published on June 27th, 2013 | by Hugh Hession0
Tim Obelgoner, GM of The Hummingbird Stage & Taproom, Macon, GA
I recently met with friend Tim Obelgoner who is widely known around the Southeastern United States as the GM of The Hummingbird Stage & Taproom, (known as “The Bird” to locals) and Billy’s Clubhouse in Macon, GA. This is a must read for touring bands and artists!
What do you look for in bands before you decide to book them?
Probably something different, that’s no too different. We are so inundated with music nowadays, the whole performance has gotten to be less about what a band is playing or what their message is, and how entertaining they are. I think people are looking to be entertained much more than they are to get some sort of heart-felt message out of a piece of literature set to music, than they might of been years ago. I think the message is secondary and as long as the music isn’t bad and the performer is entertaining, you have the workings of a band that can deliver a good product for a long time. Entertainment can go from folks like Unknown Hinson – they have their own brand of shtick to something as subtle as presence. You know, when an artist walks into the venue – you know they’re in the band, even though they have street clothes on. Those are the kind of guys who are going to do pretty well.
What are your thoughts about bands that play originals vs. a band that plays covers?
At some point in the evening, the customers are going to want to hear something they’ve heard before. They just do. On the other hand, the goal of every band on the planet that wants a music career, is to become a cover band playing their own covers. So, it’s a little bit of a dichotomy. I don’t think you can be successful and have enough broad based appeal to keep it going for very long, if you don’t have some sort of mix. Depending on how good your original material is, that mix needs should be comprised of 25% to 75% original stuff. Someone like American Aquarium…they don’t have a whole lot of material and normally play only 90 minutes or so, but they play all their own songs and it’s all stuff that people can immediately relate to, because it sounds like something you’ve heard before. They can get away without playing a single cover all night long, but that is the exception. Most bands can’t do that.
As a venue owner, obviously, you want to sell liquor, but do you have any other criteria you use when booking a band?
You know, part of it is, that me and my staff have to listen to it (laughs), so it can’t be too far out on the fringe. It can’t be too annoying, because we run 10:30 to 1:30, and you want to get something you can listen to for 3 hours. We do better with some version of a rock show and our customers don’t give us much latitude on that. Bands can get away with indie rock to southern rock and everything in between. Country doesn’t work real well in here. Our customers also aren’t really forgiving when it starts sounding punk. I think I’d really like to box it in, rather than to define it, at least where The Hummingbird is concerned.
I’ve always found that every venue has their own set of requirements that bands need to be aware of when they reach out for a booking. For example, a good many venues these days only book bands through email or the FB page vs. the traditional phone call. Also, some just want an EPK, while there are a few who like a “hard” copy of their press kit. What are your requirements?
First off, the one thing that makes a difference when deciding what makes the cut or doesn’t make the cut; when I get an inquiry, it probably needs to be by email. Dropping a CD off here isn’t going to do it for me. Now if you walk in the door without a CD, I’m going to probably say no. Don’t come walking in the door and say “Well, I’ll get you something.” That doesn’t do anything for me. An email really has to have some live links to it. And if you’re not super easy to find…I mean, if you don’t have your own website, your own Reverbnation page or Bandcamp account and your own Facebook page that’s easy to find, with some music on it, I’m done.
Do you prefer bands giving you specific dates or a range of dates?
I’d rather have 4 or 5 available dates and a price range. It’s a small room, so, if they are asking 2 grand and I’ve never heard of them, I can go ahead and hit delete right now. At that point we’re pretty much done, because if they can play for $300 and they are asking $2000, WTF?
Bands often get frustrated when trying to get ahold of venues and getting a response back. How many emails does The Hummingbird get in a week?
We get about 50, which is a lot for a club this size. I would expect The Tabernacle or someone like that to get 50 a day or more, but, we get about 50 a week. Personally, I’d rather get one email from a band. I don’t need to hear from you every other day. Hearing from you every other day is going to come closer to pissing me off then actually making me pay attention. I will get to it sooner or later. Once a month is probably a good number. There is a lot a band can take care of in an initial email, like some available dates. We book two months out so, don’t tell me you want to play next week! If you have a clue of what you’re doing, what you want and what you can offer other than “hey we’re a band,” it helps a lot.
Do you prefer a band tell you up front who they sound like?
Yes, definitely. And also, how much material you have. You know, the basics. Every band has an idea of how much they’ll play for and what they won’t and how long they can play. How much of your show is original vs. cover? You may be coming through Macon on a specific date and have no other availability. If you have a tour like that, I’m much more likely to book that band, then any of the other 50 that come through my email in a week.
A big hotspot is promotion. On one hand, you have bands who gripe about venues not promoting their show, while on the other hand, you have venues who complain about how bands need to get off their ass and promote their own shows. Where do you stand on this?
Well, that’s a pretty big topic, actually. You know, at a minimum, I really expect each and every artist to make a Facebook event. They need to do that and put it out on their page, and our page. If each band has three or four members in it, between them, they probably have 3000 friends. I don’t care if all your friends are in Indiana, invite them to it. It matters. Invite everybody to every show you have.
We also need some posters. That is a given. Also, press releases are good, because they do make it into the paper. You ought to have a press release made and I’ll even give you 45 media contacts so you can send it out. I mean, if the Hummingbird sends out 5 press releases a week, they’re not going to get read. If you send out one press release – because you’re coming through town and if you do it 2 weeks ahead of time – it’s probably going to make it into one of the local papers. Same way with radio and TV interviews. They are always looking for people to come in and fill some spots for them and they like traveling musicians.
You know, I know that living on the road is hard, but everybody’s got a laptop, or at least a smartphone. If you’re not blocking off 2 hours a day to promote your own shows because your too tired from driving or drank too much the night before, then you’re backing up. If you’re not promoting your show and talking to your fans and following up on bookings and doing all that stuff, then you’re backing up. Most artists that play The Hummingbird are barely making it on time. Honestly, the ones that travel all the time, it’s a real accomplishment just to get to the next gig on time. I understand that, but they’re selling themselves short. I mean, maybe they need to be playing three nights a week instead of five. Maybe that day in between needs to be spent on recuperating and marketing.
I think across the board, most venues don’t do a good job promoting shows, but I can tell you that we do as good of a job as anybody does, and probably better than a bunch of them. However, I will tell you without a doubt, that most bands don’t do a good job of promoting their shows. We are always here to help. We have all the tools in place, but most of bands won’t put forth the effort for one reason or another. They are too tired, too worn out, too busy, or maybe they just don’t know.
How do you respond to bands and artists with the attitude of “I’m a musician, I’m a pro,” I deserve to be paid to play, period.” I see that mentality a lot, and it’s crazy to me, because if you don’t have a draw, or have no value to a venue in terms of the propensity to sell alcohol, what kind of sense does that make?
You know, on any given night of the week, with the exception of Friday and Saturday, I can get away with playing Slacker Radio. If a band is going to come in here and not bring anybody…if they aren’t fortunate enough to have a rabid fanbase who are going to follow them wherever, because they haven’t bothered to put any time into their promotions, I’m not interested.
I think artists really underestimate the power of their own fanbase. I have friends who tell me about specific artists from Iowa, Ohio or wherever because those bands have made an effort to reach out and make themselves known. If you’re on the road anyway, you need to let your fans know where you’re going to be. But, if they’re going to walk into the door and expect to be paid just because they came and nobody knew that they were coming, or who they were, then I’m just taking money out of our sales to pay them, and hopefully they aren’t so band that they run anyone out of here.
If you’re not famous…if you’re not at least played on XM radio with any regularity at all, you need to bust your ass to promote. Get in town early. We had this band called Sexual Side Effects not long ago. You know, I don’t remember many artists names, but Amber came in and they did their show, and she was really nice and sweet, but after their show and before their show, they were running around with their clipboards and signing people up on their mailing list and taking the time out to meet people and selling merch. They understand. They were putting the time and effort in to do it. A lot of bands don’t do that.
What are your pet peeves?
Most of bands are going to ask about load in. We have that stuff dialed in pretty well. They need to be set up and ready to go by a quarter to nine. If they’re not and they haven’t bothered to let anybody know, then that pisses the sound guy off and in turn, makes my night bad.
Also, I don’t feel like I should have to call bands and remind them to put the show on their website etc. I shouldn’t have to remind them to mail out posters and do all those pre-show promotion things. I think there is a base level that ought to just happen. I get really aggravated when I don’t get that, and have to listen to some random excuse as to why it didn’t happen. This is nothing new. It’s almost like I’m a grade school teacher or something.
Then there are the ones that aren’t famous, but come in here acting like rock stars and piss off my staff with their self-entitlement. Artists need to have a bit of humility. You’re a guest in someone else’s house. You’re brining a product we’ve never seen before and shoving it down our throats. You know, once it’s booked, we have to endure what you put on the stage. Humility goes a long way with me, but also a long way with patrons too. If you bother to get out and meet and greet, and just be regular person, that goes a long way. I mean, the reason you’re on the road is to create a fanbase, build your product, earn a living and a little bit of a personal touch with the people that are providing you the means to do that, can go a long way.
What are your thoughts on the present music scene in general? Do you feel that it’s tougher for bands because of the fact that there is so much music out there?
You know, it shouldn’t be, because the cost of entry has gone way down. 20 years ago, you had to have a record deal and you had to be somebody special before that happened. Now, you can record in a basement with $2,000 worth of equipment and with a little time, you can do one good enough. The cost of entry is way down, but the market saturation is way up.
I think original music nowadays is quickly going the way of advertising. It’s almost impossible to reach people with advertising on a local level anymore. I mean, if you’re a Kleenex or a Coca-Cola, you can do it, just like if you’re a George Strait or Miranda Lambert. But, getting to an audience that is going to be receptive, is really, really tricky just because there is so much garbage to sift through.
There are a lot of really bad bands out there right now…just a lot of horrible product. I don’t know if there is that many more now, than there used to be, but I know that I was just at least insulated from them. You know, used to be, if I turned on the radio, I knew I was probably going to get somebody good and I knew if I wasn’t going to do anything else, I wasn’t going to get anybody bad. Now, everywhere I turn, I can listen to bad music at any time (laughs). It’s true. I can turn on XM radio and listen to bad music all the way across the country and never have to switch stations. There are entire XM stations that cater to sorry music. And then there are bands that think, well, I’ll just get a couple of my buddies together….I mean, there’s a lot of that because the cost of entry, again is so low.
A lot of that is driven by the consumer in the end, but you can’t go anywhere without someone throwing some live music up and thinking that is going to cure other problems in their business. A band in my mind really doesn’t belong in a restaurant. I hear other business owners say “the Hummingbird is down there killing it; they put bands on the stage. Gosh, if I put a band in my restaurant, that should fix things.” That’s really not the case. A band on the stage at The Hummingbird is almost incidental, because everything else is working pretty well. If your kitchen isn’t working right, having a band in the corner of your room isn’t going to make your restaurant better. Along with that, most restaurants trying to cure their problem with a band, aren’t going to bother to find a good band that’s going to actually enhance the overall experience. They are going to go out and get “a” band, because they think live music is going to fix the problem. They don’t really bother researching bands.
What keeps you motivated to keep doing what you do?
Coming down the Hummingbird on Friday night and seeing 400 people having a good time…that really does it for me. I can come down here and all of a sudden it’s 4 am and I wonder where the time went! People having a good time in my house. That keeps me coming back. It’s like getting a good golf shot – all you need is one a round. One really good golf shot every round will keep you coming back. If we can have a banging night, 2 nights a week, I’m good. I get to meet a lot of cool people. People like you, you’re a good guy. Also lot of semi-famous and famous people. That’s kind of cool.
What are the most memorable acts you’ve had in The Hummingbird?
I like James McMurty. I really, really like him. Billy Joe Shaver is another. Here’s a guy, a legendary performer who has written songs for Waylon Jennings, Elvis and Kris Kristofferson, playing on my stage..that’s pretty cool. Unknown Hinson, you can’t discount that. We’ve had Meiko in here washing glasses before. For me, it’s really about the people. I can’t name a song that Billy Joe Shaver plays, Meiko, or anybody else, but when bands come in and are happy to be here…treat the customers well, the staff well, deliver a good product…those are the ones that are memorable, the ones that actually contribute in person and not just necessarily with their music.
You can contact Tim @ firstname.lastname@example.org.