November 22, 2013 I did what countless people dream to do, I quit my day job to pursue my passion. I walked away from the security of an every two week paycheck to endure life as a touring musician playing venues and places I had never seen in hopes of building new fans. It’s pretty much worked out - for the most part. Sounds romantic enough right?
What I wasn’t prepared for was just how much of a challenge I was to face being a DIY artist booking my own tour dates. And by challenge, I don’t mean just the thousands of emails having to be sent out or the countless number of follow up phone calls, that was to be expected. What i’m talking about isn’t just hearing a ton of “no’s” but dealing with what accompanies the “no”.
To give a little perspective, part of the booking process for me is to research the venues thoroughly before I even contact them. If it’s a different venue in a market I have already played well that’s all good too I just need to know for sure this is a good fit and part of that good fit is seeing who has played and who is scheduled to play. If I spot a consistent showing of hip hop acts, they’re most likely a venue i’d like to deal with. I’ll say this, more times than not, and as evidenced by the amount of shows i’ve played since 2013, my dealings are with good people who wanna work but from time to time I get a reply that leaves more questions than answers. It generally is one of the following:
“We don’t book hip hop”, “We don’t want the crowd hip hop brings” or my favorite “Hip Hop doesn’t do well here”
Or even the more brash response I got from a college in upstate NY:
“We’d love to have you but the only way this will work is if we pair you with someone who reflects our audience”
Remember, i’ve done my homework on these venues and might have even played their city before and this is where the question of racism and live music comes into play.
Admittedly, I want to play as many shows as I possibly can, so naturally, I make sure to follow the routes of hip hop artists who I see tour the most. For example, back in 2013 I tracked down Macklemore’s tour history of smaller venues around the country, i’ve done the same with just about anyone signed to indie hip hop powerhouse Rhymesayers as well as up and comers that are hitting the tour circuit. The common denominator is those are mostly all “safe” white hip hop artists with booking agents. Make no mistake, anyone who’s followed my music knows the “crowd” my music leans toward isn’t necessarily a rowdy bunch and isn’t skewed one color or another and to say that Hip Hop doesn’t do well there or they don’t book hip hop is an out an out lie because they’ve booked these guys in the past or they -and guys like them- are on the future calendar. And for sake of argument i’ve had plenty of venues and promoters plainly spell out that my lack of history in a market could alter what day they give me for a show but it doesn’t keep me from being able to book one.
Of all the venues i’ve played (well over 200) in all the markets (48 and counting) there has been 5 bookers/promoters who openly identified as specializing in hip hop (notice i didn’t say black or white, just hip hop). Not just a guy with a passive interest in the genre but hip hop is their number one thing they work in. I can’t help but wonder if that has something to do with it all. Here I am reaching out to a guy or gal who’s a booker at reputable venue in a certain city who also plays in some obscure indie folk rock band or a metal band or any other band but a hip hop band and who’s favorite experiences with hip hop go back to RUN DMC and KRS-1 or most recently hearing G-Eazy for the first time. No offense to the former but those guys are several generational shifts in hip hop ago.
My honest opinion is there is some racial bias between hip hop and live music. I don’t know to what degree but I believe my ability to work has been effected by it. Sure, in the case of the super star acts the money speaks louder than skin color, I get that. Still, I think there’s a ton of venues out there that will only book a “certain brand” of hip hop simply out of fear and lack of knowledge and while I realize that i’ve been fortunate enough to actually tour where a LOT of artists are not, I do know that i’ve been in a weird spot of only being able to play certain markets. There will always be those markets that Macklemore in his earlier days, Grieves, Brother Ali, Sam Lachow, G-Eazy and Lil Dicky will be able to play that until I hit some form of epic superstardom I will not be welcome in.
But regardless, the grind continues.