Keeping Your Shit Together with Laura Cortese and Shannon Heaton: to arouse the creative spirits of self-employed musicians, helping more of us to be KYST every single day!

What a lucky thing to make a living performing music we love!

It can be a wild juggling act to make time for music and all the administrative work and pre-travel prep. But it’s possible to boil the job down to a few juicy basics and still build a strong and vibrant performing career.

Here are a few simple and effective ways to go about Keeping Your Shit Together—some of our darkest, deepest secrets. So, pucker up and prepare to begin Keeping Your Shit Together!

Friday, March 11, 2011

Enoying the Ride

Happy Spring! Just two things for you this month: 

First, we are gathering ideas for future blog posts (and PODCASTS!). Got something you'd really like to see covered? Send along your ideas to Laura at LauraCortese dotcom with KYST in the subject line. 

And second, we are each gearing up for Spring/Summer touring with our various touring projects. Our fresh resolve while we're on the road: enjoy the ride. When you build your own career/reality, you choose to enjoy your time off the stage and apply the same same creative joie de vivre that fuels your music to the rituals and realities of touring life. Five tips for joy-filled touring below:
  1. Plan ahead: spell out every foreseeable moment of your itinerary, including generous drive times, directions/specific addresses, pre-planned accommodations, ideas for food along the way. Think things through BEFORE you hit the road; and then (this part is for Shannon, especially) roll with things. When you plan a little extra drive time, you can relax if things take a little longer along the way.
  2. If you’ve chosen to be frugal on the road, make a sport of it. Find fun local markets and grocery stores for food runs. If you’ve chosen to live it up on the road, find a few great restaurants for nights off.
  3. You are what you carry around. All you need is a small, stylish suitcase containing toiletries, one or two performing outfits, one fun off-stage outfit, a few comfortable travelling/sleeping clothes, and exercise clothes/swimsuit. Enjoy being portable.
  4. When you feel good, you play well and maintain a sunny outlook. Eat greens. Drink water. Walk, swim, or run whenever you can. And take three super deep breaths when you start feeling bitchy.
  5. Keep your humor and sense of fun at all times: come up with something ludicrous (even fictional) to share onstage each night. Play find-the-nose-picker while stuck in traffic. Remember what brought you on the road—you’re creating YOUR music, YOUR career, in YOUR very own way. YOU ROCK!

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Do Just Two Things

Just do something. Or two things.

Shannon recently received a gift from her clever and thoughtful husband Matt: a to-do list notebook in which you write just TWO things you intend to accomplish for the day.

From where we stand, the self-employed person's daily to-do list is usually contains much more than two tasks. So imagine Shannon's surprise when she actually tried to humor Matt and use the list one day. Um, which two tasks were the most important? Didn't they ALL need to be done, like, YESTERDAY?

The process of choosing just two tasks helped Shannon prioritize. And the sense of accomplishment at achieving those two simple tasks was surprising.

Today Shannon decided to write two blog posts... one for KYST and one for Leap Little Frog
Turns out, there's enough time to do a few more things. But already she has accomplished good work for the day.

Wishing you all good, effective, joy-filled days of work and play.
-Laura & Shannon

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Resolve to Be Easy... to Cover!

This Special New Year Guest Blog comes from Boston Band Crush's Ashley Willard

A little over two years ago, I launched Boston Band Crush with some friends to have a place to share the music we loved, with a particular focus on bands from Boston since we were all involved in local music in one way or another. Back then we figured maybe a few of our friends would read it. Now, BBC has experienced growth beyond my wildest dreams. We have more than 1,500 followers on Facebook, we're syndicated on's music page, and last month we had over 40,000 page hits. Holy moly.

As someone who works a full-time job by day and goes out to rock by night, there isn't much time left in my day for running a blog. And with emails eternally piling up faster than I can get through them, more stuff probably gets lost in the great black hole than I'd like. I mean, look, I started a music blog because I like music and want to blog about it; it's not my intention to toss things aside and not take submissions seriously. But when I'm buried under a pile of them, the ones that make my job harder are the ones that will be saved for later, and many times later becomes never.

Here are some tips to catch my attention and make it easier for me to cover you: 
  • Be clear with the subject line. It's the first thing that I'll see. I constantly skim my inbox to see what's coming up and schedule things for the week ahead. If you send an email about your upcoming show, but the date of the show isn't in the subject, there's a good chance that date will have come and gone before I realize I missed it.
  • Ditch the press release attachment. In a time when your information is readily available online, press releases are unnecessary in my view, and I most definitely do not want to have to open something else beyond the body of your email when you could have just put that information in the email. What I need from you is the basic important details, not some flourishy prose about the chance meeting one fall day that brought your band together. If I need that info, I'll find it on your website or I'll just ask.
  • Get your music on Bandcamp. With Bandcamp, I can embed your music on my site, and if someone listens to your music on my site and likes it, they can easily click through to your Bandcamp and purchase/download your music. And now that Bandcamp has just added show listings, they can also find out when you're playing next. ReverbNation is also a great resource but I think it has struggled to catch on, so many bands signed up but don't keep their info up to date. (Keep your info up to date wherever you are online!)

    It's been interesting in the digital era to see which online music services have peaked and which have bottomed out. When we launched two years ago, I had already long ago canceled my MySpace account; I think you're bananas if you have a band and MySpace is your only web presence. There are far superior tools, and I don't think I know anybody who actually prefers MySpace.

  • Now that you're on Bandcamp, send me a link to download your music. I'm going to need it if I'm to write about you.  
  • Find the submissions instructions on my blog and follow them. Most blogs and other media outlets will have some kind of posted guidelines for you. They are for your benefit as much as for the blogger's. Now, if we happen to be pals, Facebook/Twitter friends, or are somehow otherwise connected, don't assume I'll make exceptions to my rules for you. I don't use my personal Facebook account to run my blog, and Facebook messages get buried even faster than those that come in through my BBC email. And I definitely can't promise that I'll remember the details of your show just because you told me about it in person when I saw you last night after my third whiskey.
  • Set up a Google alert for your band name. Granted this is harder if your band is called, say, Women, but it will help you to know when your band gets a mention on the web. When I get a submission from a band for something I've already covered, and they clearly don't know that I've covered it, I can tell that they don't read my blog. Not that everyone needs to be a regular daily reader, but with our posts feeding to our Facebook and Twitter, it's pretty easy to keep an eye on what we're writing about. Follow us on these social networks, and make sure you check first to see what we've already written about you before making yourself look foolish. If it doesn't look like you care about my blog, then why should I take the time to care about your band?
  • If possible, get to know your local bloggers and other media. In Boston, there's a monthly event called the Rock 'n' Roll Social (second Tuesday of every month at The Model, 7-10pm) where lots of networking takes place. It's a chance to meet local bloggers, radio hosts, etc. On the basis of simple human nature, if we've made a personal face-to-face connection I will be more inclined to take interest in you and your band. Other similar networking opportunities happen around town regularly so become a part of your local community and seek these opportunities out.
Finally, realize that some media outlets just aren't going to be right for your music. There are certainly bands that I pass on simply because I just don't enjoy them. The wonderful thing is that music is subjective, and different people like different things, and so just because Blog A won't give you the time of day, you should not give up on Blogs B, C and D, and so on. On the other hand, harassing Blog A because they didn't cover you is an excellent way to ensure that they never ever EVER cover you.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Kicking It Up (or Down?) a Notch for KYST 401

Wow, KYST is already 3! We ran Keeping Your Shit Together 301 at Club Passim this November and had a blast with another amazing group of indie performers.

Fiddler Katie McNally took the course, and she suggested we do less soul-searching in future classes and more nuts and bolts of the music biz. Katie is fabulous, and her original fiddle tunes are brimming with personality and fire... so we sat up and took notice of her suggestion! Today we are taking stock:

KYST 101 brought in a BIG group (20+ participants). We crammed as much practical nitty gritty info about booking, promoting, touring, recording that we possibly could into one, big, intense Saturday. It was fabulously full of info and energy!

KYST 201 was a smaller ensemble of participants, so we were able to spend more time remembering the heart of it all---the music! We played around with personal mission statements (coming up with promotional hyperbole, yes... but also tapping into WHY we each play music, to keep eyes on the prize). This was a deeply fertile session! And Shannon was 8.5 months pregnant at the time!

In KYST 301 we set out to continue the KYST 201 magic. We put a lot of emphasis on the WHY. And we decided to let people show instead of tell by performing in class, too. This was an exciting development which worked well with a smaller group.

We are grateful to Katie for reaching out about future KYST classes. Looking ahead to KYST 401, we might aim to balance nitty gritties with a big, creative, musical approach. We hope you will be in touch, folks, if you have additional ideas, desires, or thoughts about our next course.

Kisses from Laura and Shannon

Reaching Out For Fun

It is such an amazing and lucky thing to make a living performing music we love! Yes, it can be a wild juggling act to make time for music and all the administrative work it takes to get our music out there. But we are always trying to find ways to have more fun with the admin stuff. Why not apply the same creativity to that piece of the job that we do to our music, right?

Semantics has something to do with it. The word “Marketing” makes us cringle. “Marketing” does not seem like fun. OUTREACH, on the other hand—reaching out to cool people who we think would enjoy coming to our shows, buying our CDs, reading our blogs, and taking our workshops—now THAT is fun. That’s just about connecting with people.

It is our joy and privilege to entertain, nurture, and support listeners who support us. Here are five fabulous ways we like to reach out to our fans: 

  1. Invite people to sign your email list (don’t just add people without their consent!). Then establish regular communication with your list. Consider what will best serve and entertain your target audience—monthly contests for fun prizes, recipe contests, news about creative projects in the works. Give them the inside scoop before anybody else.
  2. Online social networking is an easy way for fans to stay in touch with you and for you to have quick and current connection with people. Share music, photos, short videos, personal experiences and insights. Take people on tour with you by telling them tales from the road! Share news about other musicians you love… or news about some of your fans (since most of them have creative, successful careers, too). 
  3. Give free stuff to your email list and/or facebook, twitter, etc. friends: write (or find) a helpful article and share the link; offer a free mp3 for download (maybe something new you’ve been working on); have a regular educational podcast or blog; offer to play requests at your next live show. This is a nice way to give thanks for support! 
  4. Book return shows where you have fans. Return regularly, and stay an extra day to teach a workshop when possible. 
  5. Back at home, play local shows a couple times each year. The rest of time, be present at local shows! Participate in other people’s events, and/or host a series where you invite other musicians to participate! Support your peers, when you can, and get inspired!
Thank you for reading and for reaching out to us as KYST continues to grow. We are grateful for your support and look forward to connecting soon.

with kisses, Laura and Shannon

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Tour Management: so you can avoid anger management on the road!

You can do a lot to guarantee success, minimize stress, and maximize fun on the road by making decisions and getting organized BEFORE you hit the road. Here are five bright points to help you KYST before you set out:

1. Book all gigs, and send detailed contracts with posters (write date/time on posters). Follow up with venues until you receive signed contracts. Make sure to coordinate and then carry out your part of the promo deal with each venue.
2. Book flights and hotels/homestays,
3. Make a tour book with contracts for each venue (with contact names/numbers for venues, addresses, load-in and start times, etc.), generous drive times for each day, directions/addresses of accommodations. Print copy of itinerary for your sidemen or decide how/when you are going to communicate leave/arrival times clearly on the road (at least one day before)
4. If you’re paying sidemen, it’s ideal to have money for payouts before you leave. Determine and communicate to your players what the frequency of payouts will be (daily, weekly, as needed?). f you’re in a democratic band where you divvy the pay, agree on what the band will cover (gas, lodgings, tolls, baggage fees at airport?) and what will be considered personal expenses (meals, alcohol, mascara?). Decide who will collect checks and keep track of expenses on the road.
5. Weigh personal and financial goals: be frugal on the road and maximize earnings? splurge on nicer meals and accommodations and break even?

If you keep your sh*t together before you hit the road, you’ll avoid preventable stress. Still, unexpected circumstances and challenges will come up. So plan what you can… and then dial in that good humor response and a healthy dose of flexibility. It’s going to be great!

xx Laura and Shannon

Pitching Your Act...So they don't pitch you in the trash

We started KYST after many people had approached and emailed us each separately with questions about venues, negotiating, you name it. This is stuff we’ve learned (and continue to learn) after years of performing, recording, touring, booking, and promoting our own music. We thought KYST would be a nice and smart way to provide help to our colleagues and students in one neat, sassy little package.

Once we had defined our project, we did a couple of gigs (gave two one-day workshops) to hone our act and stagecraft, and to begin building our KYST fan base. We’ve learned so much already from our amazing participants. Everything you read in this blog and learn in our workshops has grown because of the dynamic performers who have already been KYST.

As soon as our project had some legs, we decided to outline a few projects and goals for 2010-11.  With a preliminary long-term booking plan, we had ideas about where-ish and when-ish we wanted to rock our workshop live. Of course venues and dates rarely line up exactly as hoped, but a flexible plan is a good place to start.

Here are the five steps we took to set up our first workshops. You can use these same strategies to pitch your stuff to venues you want to play:

1. Make sure the venue/s you’d like to play book/s your style of music (and is dedicated to presenting music/artists like you). Check online calendar to see if dates you want are available. Note any booking policies the venue states on its web-site.
2. If the venue requests to be contacted via email, do that. Otherwise pick up the damn phone.
3. In your initial email pitch—or follow up to your phone call—include the name of the band and the date you want to book in subject line
4. Be concise: request specific dates, include MINI paragraph about your band, include a LINK to mp3/photo/YouTube.
5. Be memorable: convey a personality consistent with your band’s image. Check out our spiel on Personal Mission statement. (If you’ve already played this venue and have a rapport, be personal and talk about the last time you played).

Every time you contact a venue, use this same standard pitch/process. In no time, pitching will become routine and it won’t feel daunting.

Learn more about pitching—and booking, branding, promoting, touring, developing your fan base, recording, sharpening your performance skills, staying on top of admin work on the road, and much more as the blog continues!

xx Laura and Shannon

Thursday, October 7, 2010

The only road Jack Black knows…

Once you have identified and reached out to people about your music, one of your rewards (and responsibilities) is to perform your stuff for your fan base. It makes sense to start locally, then regionally. And gradually, as you hone your act and build your audience, you may move farther nationally or even internationally.

Here are five steps to building sensible tours. The more compact and intelligent your can route your tours, the more flexible you will be to play different markets with different fee structures and still strike a successful average night income. 

Determining where to play and how to get there involves a simple combination of long-term planning and map/calendar work:

  1. 1. List anchor dates you already have on the books AND list venues you have played that you would like to play again (if relevant, note specific days of the week they have shows). Organize these dates and venues by region.
  2. 2. Decide when you would like to perform in each region. Using a map and a calendar, create a loose driving route/desired schedule for each region. Hone in on specific show dates you are shooting for. Note the long drives and try to allow several days between venues that are far apart.
  3. 3. To fill in your calendar, identify cities you will pass on your route and what day you will be there, and find venues in those towns that book your style of music. (Ask other artists for recommendations!) Remember that house concerts, school shows, and many clubs book during the week. Mid-week booking is imperative to filling out your calendar
  4. 4. Contact venues, carefully following any booking policies the venue states on its web-site… check online calendar to see if dates you want are available.Check out our suggestions on how to pitch your stuff.
  5. 5. Know that different venues have different timelines (festivals, anchor dates, clubs, series/coffeehouses, house concerts). Plan ahead: get your shows with longer booking deadlines on the books early on.

We’ll cover how to pitch your act to venues in our next blog post. Hope you will stay tuned!

xx Laura and Shannon

Monday, October 4, 2010

Branding Yourself!

If you’ve been KYSTing with Laura and Shannon, you’ve already defined your Personal Mission Statement (your core inspiration, how your music feels, what you’re trying to convey). And you’ve looked into the future and drafted a few Long Term Music/Career goals.

We hope one of your goals is to reach a bunch of people with your music! No matter what your sound, every style of music has a fan base. We wish you lots of success connecting with people who already like your style… and perhaps you’ll also find some general music lovers who might find your unique brand of Polynesian Funk wonderfully refreshing.

So, who are your fans and potential fans? And how can you reach them? By identifying your target market and coming up with visual and descriptive ways to convey to them what you are about (on your web-site, posters, Facebook page, etc.) you will build and nurture your base.

Five ideas for identifying your target fan base/s:

  1. Who attends your shows now, and what qualities and uniqueness do you offer them that will keep them returning?
  2. Who (else) do you want to come to your shows, and what can you offer them to bring them in?
  3. Read your personal mission statement (see initial blog post) “to your fans.” Do you need any additional phrases that might resonate with your target markets?
  4. Think about images that might capture your unique approach… that future fans will see and GET why they should give you a chance. Maybe you can set up a photo shoot or add some artwork to your website along these lines
  5. Ask your friends and current fans what they dig most about your music, your show, and what you have to offer—and use that information to come up with more stuff to offer the people who already love and support you.

Best of luck branding your music.

xx Laura and Shannon

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Passion, performance, and planning: and the most important is…

Our initial blog post emphasized the importance of your MUSIC (defining what you want to say and tightening your chops and stagecraft so your live act SPARKLES). 

Now it’s time to share your wonderful music with the world. Performances and recordings are the classic way to get your music out there. Whether you are aiming to tour internationally or just play semi-regular local shows, advance planning is key to identifying your goals and the steps it will take to realize them.

Conjure up your own star power with these five points of long-term planning majesty:
  1. List all the things you might like to learn, do, and create with your music (performing, composing, special collaborations, new skill set, themed recording, teaching, touring in specific regions, hosting a radio show, etc.).
  2. Blog about some of these ideas. Share them with friends. Check out other people who are doing some of these things. Get some feedback and some information.
  3. After a bit of research and reflection, refine your list. Let go of the initial brainstorms you are less fired up to do. Commit to the stuff that excites you the most.
  4. List the baby steps you will need to take with each project (and how long of a lead time you will need to do all those things) in order to make it come to life. For example, if you wanted to host a monthly Burlesque-style Revue in town, you might first find a suitable venue for your show. Then hone your own performance and maybe even your promotional concept, tailoring it to your target venue—and get a few other acts on board and excited about your venture. Then you might secure the venue/date and line up performers… far enough into the future that you have time to build a buzz/audience by printing and disseminating posters, press releases, social media posts, etc.
  5. Drawing a timeline over the next few years (as far into the future as you’d like) position your various music and career goals—and the steps it will take to realize them—into this calendar.
Deep success springs from passion, performance, and planning. And planning can be a creative endeavor, too. Remember, nearly all of the people you see enjoying vibrant music careers have laid a solid foundation and done lots of legwork—so should that lucky break come along they are ready to take it (or don’t need it anymore!).

 We'll share loads of tips on how to book, promote, and develop your act in blog posts to come.

xx Laura and Shannon

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

5 Tips for Focusing Your Musical Vision

It all starts with your music. What are you trying to say? And do  you have the chops, stagecraft, and star power to present that cleanly and strongly to your audience?

Stars have five points. Consider these five artistic queries, and you'll be well on your way to getting brilliantly star KYST:
  1. Why do you play music? List the music that inspired you when you first started playing and the music that continues to inspire you.
  2. What do you think your music sounds and feels like? Go ahead, take out a pen and draw it, journal about it, tap into your inner four-year-old. Be fantastical.
  3. What themes emerge from your thoughts and brainstorming? Form this into your personal mission statement (the why and how!)
  4. Are your skills where they need to be to present your musical mission effectively? If not, practice and find people who can help you sharpen them.
  5. How's your stage show? Really, how's your stage show? Get friends to give you an honest opinion, and listen to them.
Playing good music is the heart of what you do. And learning how to present your music onstage and in your promotional materials is what will help you connect with an audience and give your career life. We'll share loads of tips on how to book, promote, and develop your act in blog posts to come.

xx Laura and Shannon