Bill’s Booking Treatise

A guide for seeking bookings at the Café Carpe- a very long treatise by Bill

After over 21 years of running our restaurant we have been sitting ducks for a long enough period that we are on many people’s lists of places to contact for booking musical (primarily) shows. We have long since passed the point where this served our function of finding acts to present and have entered a phase that demands far more time in respectfully responding than we are willing and, at this time, able to give. As such, herein are listed some parameters, not to be taken as absolute rules but as serious suggestions. The pleasure of meeting performers and developing some type of friendship and the loyalty attendant to that relationship has been sorely tested in the barrage of new names and faces that are presented to us, mostly through our email.

It has undermined our ability to champion individual performers in a way that we have found pleasing in the past – helping to convince people, by repeated gigs here, that a performer is worth putting down hard cash to take in.

We are, of course, 21 years older than when we started. We value the friendships that have occurred over that time and grown into something beyond simply appearing on our stage. But at some point under this onslaught of talent looking for recognition we have lost the ability to even remember many of the names that cross our screen or, to my embarrassment, our stage. And the many hours per year spent in communication with new talent, almost all of which can not be accommodated immediately, and very few of which will draw enough people here to satisfy either us or the performer, adds up to time we need to spend in other areas of our lives, both privately and as workers in our restaurant.

If you do not already know it, we are a small performance space (55 – 65 depending on table placements or space needs of performers). We are in a community with little history of support for this type of small concert presentation so rely on folks coming from circumference of about sixty miles to a given show. So if a performer is booked in, say Madison, Wisconsin (35 miles away) in the same tour we are unlikely to draw our usual suspects from that area. Our original concept was to be a stage for emerging and modestly successful performers from this same sixty miles area mixed with some regional performers that were mostly already known to us. That we became a crossroads performance space for performers throughout North America and other continents at times is primarily due to staying in business, and by that we mean the restaurant business. And though we exceeded the scope of our original intent, it has never left our minds that we are just a little joint that likes to have music presented in the all too rare atmosphere of listening, presented to the all too rare types of folks who like to devote themselves to just listening (at least for 45 minutes at a crack or so). That we have attracted such a diverse and overwhelming number is, in part, due to the shared romance with many performers of making music in a small, and very intimate roadhouse type of setting with food and beverage close at hand. That has always been part of our deal – food, drink and lodging, if needed, for the performers.

The change alluded to here is simply to spend more time bringing back performers for whom we hope to increase the audience and others who ring the bell, as it were, of drawing sizable numbers when they appear here. We need both to continue to prosper and be here as a future place to return to.

So we are reduced to getting less informal in our dealings with the sea of talent out there. We need to concentrate on a smaller pool. So you may now be among those who receive this ‘form letter’ in lieu of a one-on-one response. We mean no disrespect to any of you, many of whom are having successful shows in other parts of the world and have every right to want to expand your performance area on your way to spreading your musical message and/or making a living at a thing you love to do. We do not want to introduce rudeness into our demeanor (any more than we already do) as so many beleaguered club owners choose to do in order to deal with the never ending line of aspirants. I, for one, don’t sleep as well in a colder world. As this is a first draft, it will be revised as needed. So here are the hurdles as they now stand (not rules – too many rules already).

Our standard arrangement is:

  • A. 75% of the cover charge goes to the performer/s.
  • B. Cover charge is arbitrary but starts low until what the ‘market will bear’ is shown.
  • C. Food and drink are provided to the performer/s.
  • D. Anyone expressing an interest in performing here must be willing to do either an open stage (no compensation) or a song swap (three or four individuals sharing an evening). We typically charge a small cover ($5 as of 5/06) and divide the 75% equally among the performers. Until we know approximately how many folks may come we can not feature a person except at our discretion (sometimes we just feel strongly about what a person is doing but that is a subjective decision and is not meant to exclude anyone from an opportunity to play here – the audience or lack of is the real measure).
  • E. Folks that have more than a duo should not even consider playing here unless there are circumstances beyond just contacting every place on earth to find gigs. This is not because we don’t like trios or quartets or quintets, but financially playing here is not likely to make sense for a group.
  • F. Regarding openers: don’t ask to be an opener for another performer. For one thing, we usually let our good drawing performers have input, and there are people waiting in line that have ‘paid their Carpe dues’ by already taking part in open stages and song swaps. We also like to avoid having opening acts on any nights but weekends.

This being an initial off-the-top-of-the-head rendering, be generous in your thoughts as to our lucidity. Amendments are sure to come.

One other point, if you do not regularly go to places and listen to other performers you are either too busy with your own career or are not paying attention to one of the ways of educating yourself as to what works in a listening situation. ALSO, if you expect to have people pay money AND listen intently you must be doing something original (this includes interpretations). Impersonators, mimickers and Karaoke performers do better in places where people either come to worship a specific iconic performer (living or deceased) and other things happen at the same time (TV blaring – friends talking – cash registers ringing – machinery running etc.).

Should any inquiries survive this treatise, please e-mail bookings@cafecarpe.com with the subject matter “booking inquiry”. This will make it less likely that such an inquiry will get lost in the forest., though that likelihood still exists. Follow-up by phone if we do not get back to you.

Thank you on behalf of my partner and me,

Bill Camplin

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