April 24, 2013
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Hi Gary, regarding your book i’ve just read the chapter where you consider the audience on a ship, do you know where i can find what percentage of nationalities cruise with what companies ? as this will affect the show i’m thinking of a lot ! thanks x
That’s a good question. It can vary a lot. The only way to be sure is to ask once you’re on the ship, but you can can a good idea depending on where the cruises start.
If you have a ship coming out of Southampton, chances are it’s mostly Brits. If it’s coming out of Barcelona, changes are there will be a lot of Spanish.
The Queen Mary 2 sometimes sails out of Hamburg, so about half the guests are German. When it crosses the Atlantic between Southampton and New York there are a good mixture of English and Americans.
Whatever language your show caters to it’s up to the agent to book you on the right ship at the right time.
The best thing is to have a few extras in your repertoire that you can put in the set when necessary. I’d have one or two places in the show where I know I can slot in a foreign language song.
Hope that helps. 🙂
I’m preparing for an audition for Cruise work and have read your fab book, it has lots of great advice. I just wondered how I should address the audience at an audition? Any help with opening lines would be much appreciated!Thanks x
Good question Katie. First thing I would say is only use material that is tried and tested. You are bound to be nervous for an audition so stick to the songs and patter you do best. If you have any shows coming up where you can run your auditions songs and chat, better still. The more rehearsed you are the better. In the book I talk about this when I break down the running order for my Brazilian show. I always make sure my first song is one I don’t have to worry about.
As for opening lines… it’s a personal thing. You need to find something that’s a good fit for you. If you’re not comfortable with humour, don’t do it, but if you can use a funny line or two it will help relax the audience and show that you are at ease and don’t take yourself too seriously. Depending on the audience you could make a joke about your home country, home town, or maybe say something funny about your dress. Since it’s an audition you might make a comment about the fact you are being judged, maybe a joke about Simon Cowell or reference The Voice e.g. “At least you’re already facing me, which is a good start…” I like self effacing humour. For more ideas listen to comedy shows on Radio 4 (if you’re in the UK) or watch out for funny famous quotes.
Another big tip is to do your opening chat/lines over a vamp. It adds energy to the show, keeps things moving and if the lines falls flat and no one laughs you can just immediately start singing, avoiding an embarrassing dead moment on stage.
Without me writing the lines for you, I hope that helps in some way.
Thanks for your reply Gary. That’s really helpful. Useful to know that it’s ok to mention you are in an audition when you are in one…if that makes sense. I’ll give it my best shot.Thanks again x
Hiya Gary, Thankyou so much for your fantastic book. As a more ”mature” singer, is there any room for established singers, as i would now like to work as a lounge or intimate cabaret vocalist with maybe a trio etc, as i much prefer live music to backing tracks and i’m used to working with dots. I thought maybe adult only cruise ships or hotels but not sure how or who to contact. Thankyou so much Jan x
HI Janette. Thanks for getting in touch. Half the battle is getting booked in the right place at the right time.
There are opportunities for good lounge duos and trios on ships and in high end hotels (especially abroad). Unsurprisingly the better venues are always on the look out for smart, young acts who bring an element of “cool” to their venue. There is a lot of competition but there is room for good older acts with a large repertoire and plenty of experience.
Before taking on a new act, most bookers I know will either need to see a good DVD show reel or hold an audition. There’s plenty about how to get an agent in the book, so I’d start there. You have to show you have something valuable to offer an agent before they’ll consider you for anything.
If you have a good show already that you think can attract a paying audience, you could always hire a room and promote yourself. This is risky of course, but it’s a chance to develop a fan base and get potential bookers along to see you in action. Otherwise you can always “get your act together” by going along to open mics like the one at the Crazy Coqs.
Hope that helps.
Thankyou for your reply, Really helpful. xx
I hope all is well. I wanted to ask your advice. I really need a huge jump in my career. I feel like I need to create my own opportunities. I’ve been struggling so long for people to give me a break. Audition, after Audition. The only time I get a break is when I create one for myself.
I have a few cabaret show popping up next month which is good. Now, I read your book which again was excellent. I tell people about it :-). I need to reread it again for inspiration. Anyway, I want to create a tour for myself so I can really put my name out there. I want a break through.
Gary, what would be your advice on how I can create a cabaret tour for myself? Where should I start? I’m know you gave great advice in your book. I guess, I’m feeling a little lost on where I should begin.
Any advice you can provide would be greatly appreciated.
Thanks much and I look forward to hearing from you.
You’re not alone. It’s very tough out there. We are all bombarded with so many ways to spend our leisure time: the movies, Broadway shows, HBO, restaurants, Zumba and on it goes. Trying to find a bunch of people who would prefer to give up a night to pay and see your show over all the other choices is hard. I have friends who literally can’t give tickets away for their shows. Everyone is so busy.
Here’s what little advice I can offer you.
Be cheap. Keep your costs as low as possible. Absolute minimum. Use only a pianist or even (though I hate to say it) backing tracks. If you play guitar or piano yourself better still. Keeping your “get out” low means it’s not a disaster if only 13 people show up.
Choose carefully. When you see a sold out show chances are it didn’t happen by accident. There are a hundred reasons why a show sells out and some of them are down to you. Choose your night carefully – make sure you don’t clash with a major TV event like a sports final and unless you’re performing in a vacation spot avoid vacation times. Who is your target audience? If they are seniors don’t use a late night venue in an edgy part of time, if it’s kids make sure it’s not a school night.
Take your time. It won’t happen overnight. Build slowly and carefully with a three to five year plan. Start with two or three small venues in places you know well. Build up reviews, a fan base and word of mouth. Maybe get a show filmed to help promote future shows. Build on your success each year adding one or two new venues each time.
Get a hook. I talk about this in the book. If your name means nothing to audiences you need to give your show a catchy title and strap line. Your flyer is all you have to get people through the door. For more on this listen to the Podcast I recorded with Anthony Davis and Harry the Piano.
Service the dates yourself. If you send the venue flyers make sure you follow through to check they are putting them out. Ideally go yourself. I once had a disastrous night at a well known London club. I couldn’t understand why it had sold so poorly. When I got there for the sound check the marquee was advertising someone elses show! Can you imagine! My posters we nowhere to be seen inside. When I asked they claimed they’d never received them though I was later able to prove the manager himself had signed for them. Bottom line is that most people don’t give a shit whether your show sells or not. Why? Because they are not the ones loosing money. Expect nothing from the venues do it all yourself.
Remember why you’re doing this. If your main source of income is from performing in small cabaret rooms the chances are you’ll be poor. Presumably you’re doing this because you love it. You want a creative outlet and cabaret gives you a voice. I always used to say, “If I want to earn money I’ll do a wedding,” all the creatively satisfying work – the stuff I but on my bio was poorly paid. I earned my money elsewhere.
There’s no shame in spending your days waiting tables when you’re living your dream at night.
Hope that helps. Good luck and keep me posted.
I have been reading your book. You really have done a great job. well done. I am an act on ships and the one thing I’m really thinking about….and I never thought I’d say this….is packing in a carry on bag. As I’m doing more 3 day trips I think I might get away with it. Firstly are you definitely allowed the carry on and a back pack? I notice easyjet say only one piece per person. Also have you found the definitive carry on case? what make is it. I saw this case called gate 8 some cabin steward has designed it.
Glad you like the book Robert. Honestly, hand luggage is the way to go. For example, just yesterday I arrived in Toronto (on holiday) an hour early (for a change) and instead of waiting 6 hours for my connecting flight I managed to jump on the an earlier flight that was leaving in 45 mins. If I’d had to wait for checked bags that would never have happened.
With budget airlines you can usually only take one bag so it won’t work. With other airlines you can take a roller and “one personal bag” like a handbag or laptop bag. I use a large(ish) rucksack and a regular roller – any cabin sized roller will do.
I get away with it because (a) I check in online and no one weighs my bags, (b) the ruck sack doesn’t look at heavy on my shoulder as it actually is. I have never been caught out yet!
Really – go for it. You will thank me forever.
Gary, I’m reading ‘Cabaret Secrets’ and going insane with all the info you have packed in there. I am, quite literally, putting my act together through your book! I’m so excited that you put this together!!! From the basic layout to the expert tips, you’ve not only saved me money, but a lot of heartache too- leaving me more time to concentrate on the show itself! This book is an invaluable tool for a first timer!
Hi Gary,I am putting on my first big cabaret show. I have been at it now for 4.5 years and finally the biggest venue in my part of the state has hired me to perform.
Hi have got two segments of 38 minutes of all music. How much patter should take place in between 24 songs I will be performing. I can see if I talk to much the show could last much to long with a 10 minute intermission. It could last two hours. That to me is to long. They have given me from 7:30pm to 9:30PM for the show. Should my every word be rehearsed and measured carefully to see the full length of this act would be?
Thanks for your message Larry. Congratulations on landing your first cabaret gigs. It’s an exciting process.
To address you questions:
How much patter?
It depends on how much you need to say about yourself and about the songs. Did you read the book yet? There is a lot of info in there about this. I suggest you look at other singers’ shows and see what they do. I have done this for you in Cabaret Secrets, analysing where and when other acts speak. I’ve just looked at my own cruise ship act. It’s 50 mins long. In that show there is only about 8 mins of chat and much of that is over vamps in songs. In the first half of the Christmas show I’ve just done in London I did about 9 mins of chat in a 45 min show. Hopefully that gives you a guide.
Should my every word be rehearsed and measured carefully to see the full length of this act would be?
I would say yes. When I work on new chat I script it and then practise it over and over and over and over again. Don’t think that anyone just “does it” off the cuff. Any act that makes it look easy only does so because they have practised the hell out of it. Again, the Christmas show I just did was a new set for me. I scripted it about 4 months ago, practised it, then recorded myself doing it as if it was on the gig. This gave me a good idea of times and helped me get a good feel for it. I then practised it “live” on other gigs whenever I got a chance. I did it over and over so many times that by the time I did the actual gig it was second nature. It sounded very natural to the audience but only because I knew every word as well as I know my address. Only then could I ad0lib a bit and go off script here and there. I can’t stress this enough. Practise until you a sick of it and can do it on your sleep. THEN you’ll be able to make it sound real and natural, like you’re doing it for the audience for the first time.
I’ve recently been asked to sing as Frank Sinatra in a Rat Pack themed show thats playing at various venues in the UK, The first show for me is at the Terry O’Tool theatre in Lincoln. I don’t feel that I particularly sound like Sinatra. As a swing singer I’ve worked hard to create my own vocal style and have taken most influence from Dean Martin and Bobby Darin. As someone who has played Frank Sinatra but very much has a style completely your own, would you be able to offer any tips as to how best to portray Frank? Many thanks!
Hi Toby. What a good question!
I struggled with this a lot when I played Frank in the West End.
Firstly I felt like an imposter. Who am I to think I can sound like the great Sinatra and pretend to be him? I was worried the audience would be offended. In the end, I got over this by reminding myself that the audiences came to the show because they wanted to believe. They knew non of it was real, but it was theatre and they were happy to play along. The show was always well received and I had, after all been hired for the part, so I reasoned that it couldn’t be that bad!
The actual vocals – trying to sound like Frank – was a challenge. My voice is more soft and breathy than Frank’s so I tried to add some edge to it, a little rasp. Of course I listened carefully to a lot of recordings and tried to mimic his timing and phrasing. We had a voice coach to help us with the speaking voice.
Mostly I think it’s about an attitude. Imagine you ARE Frank and how that would feel. As a cabaret singer I am always wanting to reach out and connect with my audience. I get eye contact, I smile, I connect. The Director would always be telling me, “You’re Frank Sinatra. Fuck the audience! You walk on stage thinking THEY are the lucky ones to be able to see you perform! Stop being so nice. You’re a God. Let them come to you.” That helped!
Thanks alot Gary! Really helped! I’ve really started to get into it now and like you say the audiences want to believe and see the spirit of Sinatra not actually Sinatra! I absolutely love that directors quote! I AM A GOD!! again many thanks.
I hope you were serious in your offer for ‘questions’… as I have one!
Firstly – The book is fantastic. I’ve been combing through it non-stop for a week now, I must have read it twice! My question though relates to the template concept.
I am actually writing a cabaret at the moment – but not for me. I am writing it for a very successful musical theatre performer and well known TV personality. I am a comedy writer with no experience in this world. I specialise in stand up and story telling but the ‘structure’ of cabaret has me flummoxed. The show won’t be 90% singing and 10% ‘patter’… it will be 55% singing and 45% patter, very much a ‘my ‘real’ story till now’ with a cheeky twist.
Is there a template change that this would make to effect the flow of the show. I know it’s a big/broad question, but if you have 1 or 2 tips on how it may effect the flow/intro/final section, etc – that would be fantastic!!
Thank you so much in advance for your help!
Hi MG. Thank you for this question. I’ve given it a lot of thought and hope the following suggestions are of some use.
We are all in the business of creating theatre. Whether a traditional cabaret show, stand up comedy or a play, I think the principles are the same.
Cabaret is special because of the significance of the individual performer. Whatever the medium the show needs to be about them. We want to learn who they are, what makes them tick and find personal resonance in that. We want to be moved by them – who they are, their story.
I think the sample template in the book still stands even if you’re not singing any songs. As I say, it’s the mood we are trying to create that’s important – not the song choice.
I like to open my shows bursting on with something short and lively. I could achieve this by singing The Lady Is A Tramp or telling a quick series of hard hitting jokes. The object is to grab the attention of the audience and quickly engage them. To follow with a medium tempo song that helps the audience relax, I could sing Can’t Take My Eyes Off You are tell a longer anecdote with a more gentle punchline.
I usually like to close my shows with three songs each bigger and more impactful than the last (I refer to these are big, bigger and biggest) and come back for an encore. A stand up comic could do the same, saving say 12 minutes of very strong material for the final build. They might even follow that up with a more gentle, sentimental anecdote that delivers a message to trigger a strong emotional response. This could back reference something that was mentioned early in the show, tying everything together so we feel like we’ve reached the end of this personal journey.
I hope that helps a little. If I were you, I’d try to find a recording of another performer who has done a similar thing and look at their structure. Note the shape of the show, the emotional peaks and troughs. Once you strip a show down you understand the formula and reveal the mechanics behind the magic.
If anyone else can add something to this I’d be interested to read it myself.
I heard about you from Gary Parkes, I’m a musical cabaret act and have been working as a headline act on the ships for about a year and a half now. When I first met Gary he recommended your book and I found it really helpful – thanks!
I’ve got a question – I’m just getting an album/CD together to sell on the ships and can’t decide what is the best case/packaging to put it in – do you have any advice? Is it better to take more CDs with
you in your suitcase but with thinner/lighter packaging – and does the packaging affect the price, – or is it better to just stick to jewel case? I wondered if you had come across any benefits which I may not have thought of.
Do you have any recommendations for artwork and duplication?
Lastly – I wonder if you have any tips on maximizing sales of CDs both on and off the ships, and if there is a “good” and “bad” way to go about it?
I look forward to hearing from you,
Musical Cabaret Girl
Thanks for this Musical Theatre Girl. Great questions!
The problem with Jewel Cases (the hard plastic, standard CD cases) is that they break easily when traveling and are a bit bulky. If you’ve read the book you’ll know the lengths I go to to avoid checking a bag. I like to travel light! I have used “6 panel Digifiles” for years. This is a cardboard sleeve with two panels that fold into the middle. I used DMS Ltd (I’m not on commission but tell them I sent you just so I can feel the love!) and can highly recommend them. Here’s a link. These sleeves are exactly half the width of jewel cases. TIP – get them shrink wrapped when you order, otherwise they will get tatty.
For artwork I use a few people. Dominic Mandrell has done a few bits for me and is very good. Also Ben Hickman at Home Creatives. Ben did my Let There Be Love, Gary Williams Meets Frank Sinatra and Gary Williams Live In Brazil – all 6 panel digifiles, so he knows the format well.
The main thing is you find a great designer. Find a specialist. Artwork can make or break a CD. It’s like sound and lights in your show. If they’re bad, it doesn’t matter how good you are.
Prepare your artwork copy very carefully. I start doing it months in advance so I can live with it for a while and make sure I am happy with it. Use someone else’s artwork to make sure you get all the important elements in.
For selling on the ship. Try mention it in your show (some lines won’t let you do this) in a subtle way. I’ve found making a big sales speech at the end of the show sounds terrible and actually makes little difference to sales. Just mention briefly that you’ll be there selling CDs if they are interested. Be there yourself to sign – that does make a difference – people will want to meet you after your show. Think about doing an offer – buy two get another free for example. Maybe sign free postcards to encourage people to come to you. Once they’re there they might buy a CD.
Hi Gary, I reached out to you in 2013 when I first purchased your book. Well two years later and I am finally ready to launch out. It is a scary move. However, I feel ready. So, I have a question for you as I am trying my hardest to figure out this whole business. What is the best way to book gigs? How do I approach the places I am interested in? What should I provided initially? You’re answers would be greatly appreciated
Thanks for getting in touch again. First of all decide whether you want to promote your own shows or get hired on a flat fee.
Most people want to get hired on a flat fee. Though the fee is usually pretty low there is no financial risk to you. The risk of loss is the booker/promoter/club owner. That’s why those gigs are hard to get. They usually only take a risk on acts who are very likely to make money and if that’s the case you would probably want to do it yourself.
If you’re promoting your own show you need to give yourself the best chance possible of doing good business and getting out without making a loss. It’s hard. Ideally you will:
It’s all about building long lasting relationships really, both with bookers and your audience.
If you have a good package like this you should find rooms quite receptive, especially if you’re happy to take the risk. In London many rooms will charge a pretty low fee to hire the space, then it’s up to you to fill it. Sometimes they’ll take a cut of the door too.
I hope this is helpful. Please come back if I’ve missed the point or you need something else!
Hi Gary, i am a pro singer that earns a very good living: weddings, corporate, celebrity events etc. Its a high end circuit but my passion is playing live with my 7 piece swing band and guesting now and again for a few full big bands as well as putting on my own theatre show once or twice a year. As you know there is not much money in this area. I have been offered the chance to make an album or EP by quite a famous big band singer but i’m not sure where to go with it once and if i do? It would cost a few bob and i’m stuck at a crossroads and wonder how i make the transition from my current position to becoming a recording artist/cabaret singer. Can you offer any advice regarding taking my career to the next step?
Hi Joseph. Thanks for reaching out. This is a tricky one but I will share with you what I can.
The first thing is, congratulations! Just to be making a living as a singer is an enormous achievement in itself. You should feel very proud of yourself to be keeping busy gigging as you are. It’s natural and commendable that you want to improve your lot, but don’t underestimate what you have already achieved.
As for "the next step" first thing about exactly what you want your career to be. What do you mean when you say you want to be a recording artiste? A record deal? Make your own albums? Radio play? Record your own songs? And to be a "cabaret singer" it sounds like you’re pretty close to that. What else do you mean? Singing on ships? Cabaret rooms? How many gigs do you want? Are you happy to be away from home a lot?
I don’t know what a recording artiste is these days. I don’t think of myself as that. I’m a singer who makes an album every couple of years. I make them because (a) I love the creative process, (b) they are good for profile and help me get national radio attention, (c) I can sell the on gigs.
What do you want? The kind of thing that sells on gigs is probably different to the kind of thing that will get radio play. You should listen to the Cabaret Secrets Podcasts on recording albums – there are a few – but if I were you I would spend the money I have on the best arrangers and musicians I can find. Fewer musicians, but better quality. Use a trio, not 7 piece, or even just piano instead of a trio, but use the best guys you can find. Record songs suited to the line up you have. Original arrangements, something new. Contact the producers of the Radio shows you want to play your music and keep your fingers crossed.
For gigs, other than a few exceptions, there is very little cabaret work about on land. You’ve got Warners, Butlins, a few small clubs. Mainly it’s on ships. I’ve written a lot in the book and talked in the Podcasts a lot about how to get work on ships. Listen to the Podcast with Gary Parkes (my agent) and the cruise directors I have interviewed. Great information there.
Decide exactly what you want to do, then plan how to get there. You can do it but you need patience and persistence.
It’s not always the most talented who get to the top. It’s those who want it more than anyone else.
Hi Gary, many thanks for the feedback. I have no intention of being a recording artist as such, in one way that would be my idea of hell being controlled and manipulated is not for me so apologies for any confusion. However i would like to record an album and use it for airplay and to promote and sell, l i just wasn’t sure of the value or where or how to use it so thank you for your advice. I will have a listen to the podcasts and possibly look into cruise ship work as my children are getting older now so that was possibly part of my plan. Many thanks for taking the time out to reply, it is greatly appreciated. I will take on board your advice and recommendations.
Hi Gary. My name is Stephen and i’m currently putting a show together to impress an agent and do what your do so well. But I wanted to know if there was a software I could purchase to run my entire show. Backing vocals and all. Im trying to keep my overhead as low as possible. And second question….Can you point me in the right direction regarding stage projection equiptment. Thx so much Steve
You’re talking about using a click track for your show. Since you also want to keep the costs low I’m not sure clicks are the way forward.
Good click tracks are expensive to produce and add an extra element of technical unpredictability to your show. They are often unpopular with musicians because they’ve got a loud cow bell in their ear the whole time which makes it hard to play with expression.
If you do them they should just be two tracks, regular stereo with the actual click on one channel and the instruments on the other. It’s easy to run from a laptop or CD or whatever. You can have the MD or sound tech play each track when they hear the appropriate cue.
Personally I’d rather do a showcase with backing tracks or a trio. I’d spend my money on the best musicians I could find rather than tracks that will always be something of a compromise.
Better still try to get on a large agent’s showcase where they provide the full band and you just provide the sheet music.
Best of luck!
Thanks very much Gary. And one other question…How do you set up passing out roses? Is there a song you sing…How do you set the mood for that? I saw you do that and thought is was so classy. And the girls screamed from the balcony. I need that in my life! Lol. Thx again, Steve.
Haha. Well, the set up is really everything in the show before that. I don’t really say much just before the roses. That said, you also need to find you own thing and your own way of getting girls to scream at you. What works for me might not work for you and besides, it’s good to discover and create your own ways of getting the reaction you want. Good luck!
Aggghhhh…..Your killin me. But I guess your right. Thanks for the quick response Gary. I really want this to come out good. And in about a year…If you come across a guy singing " Oh Danny Boy " , Then attempting to hand out roses….It’ll be me! LoL.
Firstly thank you for everything on this website, podcast and your brilliant book. I am looking to move away from the good old pubs and clubs more often and am developing a cabaret show as a piano/vocalist and the information and advice you have provided is just what I have needed.
I was hoping you may be able to offer some advice on the following questions.
Thanks for your excellent questions. It’s hard to give the best answer without being face to face and hearing more, but based on the information you give, here’s what I think.
Yes, adding piano to your act adds colour and variation to the show. It works well. If you can, you should. Decide whether you want to be a piano/vocalist or a vocalist who can play the piano a bit. That really depends on how good you are at the piano. Unless you’re a VERY strong player I would be a vocalist who plays once during the show to surprise the audience. In this case, the pianist can quietly slip off stage while you chat so you can then sit at the piano and create a "magic moment". This can be a real highlight of the show. Lights down, just you and piano, maybe a bit of rhythm in half way through. It’s all about you and the music. Maybe a nice ballad or one of your own songs. Something emotional that really connects with the audience.
Lots of piano vocalists stay at the piano for 80% of the show. I’d say that’s normal. They usually step away from the piano for a few big numbers. Also starting a song at the piano then moving away half way through works.
As I understand, some lines like Princess have a position of piano/vocalist in their dedicated piano bar. This is like doing a show every night – just you and piano. The better people will have their bar packed and rocking every night. The nice thing about this on Princess is that you’ll also get to do a headliner show in the theatre once a week. You’ll get less money per week but on the plus side you’ll have constant work for however long your contract is and won’t have the fly around every other week to join other ships. Again, this only works if you are a VERY strong pianist and singer. It’s a different skill set to being a cabaret singer. Just as demanding and skilled in its own ways.
Thanks for your advice Gary, very helpful. It is a long term project but wil hopefully be ready to go for summer 2017.
Hey Gary…This is the Steve that asked you about the roses a few months ago. I didn’t want you to get confused because now I see there’s 2 of us…lol. I have 2 questions for you this time..1st…How much would you charge to come to the US to consult for the show im putting together ? And 2nd…Whats the most I could make being an in demand Resident Guest Ent. On a ship. Id like to live on the ship for 6mos at a time and get to know my band and lighting guys.
Hello there, Gary! I happened upon your site in my search for advice in booking my show, and thought, "Hey, might as well ask the questions!"
I have a theatrical cabaret (cabaret format but set to a theatrical script and played as a specific, popular, late French singer) with music for either piano-only, or 5-piece band. The music is in great shape. I have been performing the show, actually, for about 8 years. I’ve had no problem booking it in local venues who know me well, have performed several times around the country (booked by the show’s original creator) and I have audio, video (still need to have a sizzle reel cut, though), and professional photos of the show. It’s always a hit, and I even sat in with cruise ship bands a couple times. But…now I’m fully in charge of producing/booking the show, want to be able to perform it nationally, internationally, on ships, etc., (am positive the show is good enough to do so) and I feel at a loss as to where to start all on my own.
I’ve never pursued an agent, and never really reached out to venues in which I didn’t already have contacts…and I’m stuck in an endless loop of what steps to take next, and not wanting to ruin my chance to make a good first impression. So…
— Do I even really need an agent? If so, who/how do I approach them with this finished show.
— Will anyone be interested if my own name is relatively small, even though my show and my performance in the show is not small at all, given how past performances have gone? (Ride on the name of the person the show portrays? Or find some way to maximize the press I have gotten in the past, even if it’s not something like ‘Broadway’ or ‘West End’.)
–How does one get ‘in’ with the cruise lines?
–What’s the best way to approach venues for ideally co-production?
Thanks so much for your feedback. I’m going to grab a copy of your book!
Thanks for your message. Here are my answers. Remember, this is just my opinion based on what I know of the business. Do ask around and if you have better ideas, please share them here so we can all learn from them.
There are a few acts who go direct to cruise lines, but they are the exception. The bookers don’t have time to deal with all the acts direct. They usually prefer to have the agent be the liaison. In the book, there is a whole chapter on how to get an agent, you’ll find lots of advice there. Also have a listen to the podcast with Gary Parkes, my agent. Lots of useful stuff in there: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=m1hEugLwj2w
This doesn’t matter too much on a ship. Press and profile may help getting the gigs but on a ship you just need good billing and a strap line. Again I talk about this in the book, but if you can say “Direct from Broadway’s Hamilton…” or whatever it’s stronger than “Vocalist…” out ships won’t give you a lot of space in the programme anyway, so just a few lines will do. You’re competing with dinner and other activities on the ship so you want your show to sound attractive. Use your billing wisely. For example, “Celebrating the queens of soul and Motown…” then people know what to expect.
You need to find an agent who takes you on and them wait to get your chance. When you get it you need to deliver a very strong show so they want you back.
This is not something I can offer any advice on.
Hey Gary, I just wanted to ask if you had any tips for dealing onstage with rowdy audiences? We have a couple of dinners this week where the noise and general merriment can get pretty loud. My usually trick is to shout "Order, order" in a legalistic judge-like way, but realise that the more persistently rowdy crowds require more than my limited repertoire of light-hearted ways of getting silence. What methods have you got for this situation?
Hi Guy. Thanks for this great question.
Every gig and every instance of audience interruptions is different so there are no hard and fast rules. I approach this in two ways: good preparation before the show and a carefully judged response during the show.
Before the showGood planning before the show is important, especially for private events. Try to make sure you go on at a good time. If you’re too late, say after the meal, they’ll all get up to talk and go to the loo or smoke. The later you’re on the more they will have drunk. Don’t go on for too long. It’s hard to hold the attention of an audience and the best sets (for everyone) are often just 20 mins long. If you do a single 20 min set it’ll probably be enough for the audience. More will be asking too much. It can be hard to persuade a booker to agree with this when they want more value. They think more is better, so you need to try and persuade them otherwise.
During the showUsually, if you’re doing a show where people have paid to come to see you, they will be well behaved and listen to what you’ve got to do, especially in a theatre style environment. Sometimes, in a cabaret style room, people may talk a bit, especially if they’ve been drinking. I find this is more of an issue for my Christmas shows when people are often out in large groups celebrating. It’s worse when the group leader is a fan, so they bring all their friends who have no idea what they are seeing. The friends just want to drink and chat so the host ends up embarrassed.
For me, I’d rather everyone be talking than just a few. If I’m doing a corporate and everyone’s talking, it’s fine. I just go with it. I’ll talk less myself and sing more. I’ll do more stuff with audience participation, or if I really can’t hold their attention I just switch to music for dancing or background. I am very happy to do this. If most of your act is talking you will struggle with this; you simply need their full attention. If I were you I’d have a reserve of popular songs on standby you can sing instead.
I have known acts simply give up and walk off stage a few minutes into their set. It’s a last resort, but sometimes it’s all you can do.
What I don’t like is when most people are there to listen and only a few are talking. They spoil it for everyone else. It’s a very tricky situation. Ideally the venue will be onside and ready to polity ask the talkers to be quiet. Many venues actually make announcements before the show reminding everyone to be quiet. Some have signs on the tables.
Unless you’re a stand up comedian armed with a strong repertoire of put downs, you should deal with it gently and respectfully. If I have just one table talking, my favourite approach is to do nothing. That is, I just stop talking, mid sentence and politely look at the people talking. After a few seconds the whole room will be looking at them too and they’ll eventually be aware that something’s up. They’ll apologise, feel sheepish and you can carry on. It’s very effective and you didn’t have to say a word.
If that won’t work you might have to ask them very nicely to keep their voices down till the end of the show. Just be charming and honest. Don’t try and score points at their expense. If you shame them you’ll anger them. Try to keep them onside after all you just want everyone to have a fun evening. Just be charming. If you get the rest of the house on side they will help you and shush them for you.
I just wanted to say thank you so much for writing Cabaret Secrets and for your podcasts, after a few years on land working with a pianist, I’m putting together my first cabaret for ships with a full band (eeek and hooray!)
I have all my charts ready to print and I just wondered if there is a better tape than sellotape to use to join the pages?It always goes yellow quite quickly and I’m planning on working for years… 😉
Thanks again and I hope you’re well and somewhere glorious right now!
Great question Hannah. As you know, in the book I talk a lot about presenting yourself and your sheet music as positively as possible. You want the musicians, who have to read your music, to be delighted to work for you.
The main thing is that the actual music to good – the notes are correct, the chords are well chosen and there is no ambiguity. Assuming that’s all good, make sure the music is clearly laid out on a page, don’t squish too many staves on a page. It should be super clear to read and navigate. Then print it on quality paper. I use 140gsm cream paper. It’s like thin card. Feels good and is easy to work with. It instantly creates a great impression. As for taping, I don’t like using regular sellotape because it degrades. After a few years it will be less adhesive. I usually use an expensive type of tape used for book binding called Filmoplast P90. It’s about £20 per roll but it’ll last forever.
Your attention and effort will be hugely appreciated by the band, I guarantee it!
Hi Gary, can you give me some advice on where to get band charts produced and what price you should realistically expect to pay for them. I’ve got your Cabaret secrets book an note you have said there are differing qualities of chart and it’s best (particularly for cruise band work) to get good charts that can be read by all standards of band.
Also I’m looking to break into cruise work if possible, and/or more corporate cabaret work – what in your opinion and experience is required for an act in terms of length? I’ve gigged for many years solo and with small bands doing the often required 2 x 45min acts or even 2 x 60min acts but I realise that these length are not required on cruise and corporate work so much. What would your advice be with regards to set length and how many songs to include?
Thanks in advance for your help/advice. I love your work and your book has been a great read and refernece.
Cheers Gary, Neil
Everything you need to know about charts is here: https://goo.gl/9H43wr
Cruise ships usually required the act to have two different 45 minutes shows. They may then ask you to do less depending on what they need, so they may want you to do a 35 min show and a 15 min bit in a variety show. So be prepared to make cuts.
Medleys are good (getting more songs in less time) and your chat is important, but make sure what you say is worth saying. Every second counts so don’t waste anytime at all on an unnecessary band instrumental or song that’s not really moving the show along.
My 50 min show has 11 charts (inc some medleys). Hope that helps.
Hi Gary Williams – got 2 questions- on page 58 you share how you managed to make a joke story by using a band member – did you do this off the cuff or run it past them 1st? Want to keep your band members on board & 2nd question is on page 71 you suggest we find a pianist to collaborate with, is it possible to do this without paying a fortune? Working as a team? How would you suggest we find this person – I’ve found it very difficult to find someone like this who is able to play from classical to contemporary styles well and be able to arrange them and have good stage presence. Thanks in advance!
Thanks for these questions.
Involving a musician in a joke. I would only run it by them first if I thought they might be embarrassed or made uncomfortable by the joke. Usually the jokes are just silly little lines that no one would take seriously, so it’s fine. I prefer not to tell them because I’d like their reaction to the joke be real. I think most of us have good instincts so if you’re in doubt, talk to them first. Same applies to using jokes in a show that you think some people might find offensive. If you’re worried it probably means you shouldn’t do it. Unless, of course, you want to offend 🙂
There are plenty of great pianists around that can do what you want, but they will usually want paying a proper rate for their expertise. If you can afford it, it’s better to do this than collaborate (at least I prefer it) because you keep control and don’t have to work with that one pianist for every gig in future. For example, if that person is not available for a gig you might not be able to take the gig, or they might not have written the charts down at all (or very well) so no one else could step in anyway.