Perspectives of a Writer and Musician

Issues related to writing, publishing and playing jazz music: One man's muse.
by Al Stevens

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Location: Florida, United States

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

The FLOP system: Learning what the competition charges

Today is my birthday. I use the occasion to announce the release of a product that every ventriloquist in the world needs.

Everyone knows that ventriloquists won't tell other ventriloquists how much they charge. Or if they do quote a fee, they lie.

(This is the secret shame of the business. No one would have thought that ventriloquists, of all people, would ever be less than truthful about anything. It pains me to let the cat out of the case, er, bag.)

This circumstance is an impediment to novice ventriloquists trying to break into the business. They cannot determine the going rate. They don't know how much to charge. It is also a competitive disadvantage to the professional performer who wishes to underbid the competition.

To solve this problem I developed a system called the Fee Learning and Outing Program (FLOP) with which you can instantly learn the highest and lowest rates charged by your fellow ventriloquists.

Development of FLOP involved extensive research. For ten years a team of data collection specialists have been calling agents and ventriloquists around the world pretending to be looking to hire a ventriloquist. Each specialist had a performance type in which they specialized. Birthday parties, banquets, libraries, etc. The specialist requests and negotiates for a quote.

From this research we developed the FLOP Online Storage Data Interchange Cooperative (FOSDIC), with which subscribers can instantly retrieve the fees quoted by ventriloquists, and, in many cases, the amount finally agreed upon. This additional feature reveals to those wishing to hire a ventriloquist the extent to which many ventriloquists will negotiate.

To implement FLOP, we hacked the websites of all active ventriloquists. Hacking websites was the least challenging part of the project. It seems most ventriloquists use one of two passwords to access their servers. They use either their main dummy's name or the word, Farfel. Our team of twelve computer hackers was unable to determine the origin of this odd word.

To access FLOP, a subscriber opens the website of the ventriloquist in question, places the mouse over the crotch of the dummy, and simultaneously triple-right-clicks the mouse while holding down the minus key on the numeric keypad, the Caps Lock key, the F12 key, and the door to the 5.25" floppy diskette drive.

(Remember, FLOP software was developed ten years ago on a home computer. We're working on an upgrade.)

If the dummy's crotch is not visible, use the ventriloquist's.

A popup window appears.

(There might also be a popup advertisement window for Victoria's Secret, particularly if you put your mouse on the ventriloquist's crotch. Ignore the popup. So to speak.)

Enter your userid, password and the cube root of your hat size. (Sorry, you'll have to compute that number on your own. Our team of programmers has not figured out how to compute a cube root.) Once you are granted FLOP access, the window then displays the ventriloquist's fee structure, adjusted for inflation.

It also includes links to any and all published reviews of the ventriloquist's past performances, including those printed in church bulletins, written on venue restroom walls, and posted on the blogs of left-wing extremists.

If you are a Premiere VIP Member, you can display a graph showing how the ventriloquist's rates have changed over the years. Note that the graph does not go past October, 2008. Contemporary screen resolutions do not support increases such as Jeff Dunham's or drops such as recorded for the entire rest of the community.

An additional link downloads the complete library of issues of Barker Magazine including all text and graphics from the entire run of the publication. If you have a 1200 baud modem, be patient; it takes approximately 12 seconds to download the zip file.

The FOSDIC archives are available in a data dictionary titled, FLOP's Yesteryear Dictionary (FLOPYDIC).

The success of the FLOP project will determine its future. If enough folks subscribe, we will add to it other performance types. We've already begun prowling the web in search of mime, balloon twister, and face painter websites.

(Did you ever listen to the audio clips on a balloon twister's website? Makes my skin crawl. Lucky for us there are no audio clips on mime websites.)

Footnote: I began the FLOP project almost ten years ago. The question of performance fees came up on the then-legendary and contentious, monopolistic ventmail discussion group. No one there would post their fees, except one member who quoted $7.42 for a five-minute act with a Juro doll. The Doll did not move or speak during the act but merely sat still while the performer read all the lines from cue cards stolen from Col. Bill Boley's garbage can.

(It turned out that not only was the fellow not really a ventriloquist, but the doll's jaw string had retracted into the head, and the fellow did not know how to retrieve it. The ventfigures discussion group did not exist then, and he had no one to ask.)

The act was named Herman and Herman. Those who had seen the act reported a certain degree of confusion as to which character spoke which line. Most requested a refund. Herman and Herman are not included in the FOSDIC data collection research. They were deleted when Herman retired from show business to become caretaker of the family's pet memorial garden and strawberry business.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Good news, etc...

The bad news is twofold. Small businesses around the USA are having trouble making ends meet. Postal rates have gone up.

The good news is that the appearance of junk mail in my snail mailbox has gone to virtually zero.

Has anyone else noticed this?

Monday, June 15, 2009

A day in the life of a semi-retired musician...

Our community band played an outdoor concert yesterday for Flag Day. It's Florida. It's the middle of June. It was hot. No clouds. For most of the concert the band was shielded from the sun by the bandshell roof. The audience was not shielded. When the sun lowered, neither was the band.

The band had the audience outnumbered. We had to be there. They didn't.

(If God had meant for people to go outside in June this close to the equator, He would not have invented air conditioning.)

As I unpacked my tenor sax, I realized I had no mouthpiece. Dummy. I'd taken it out of the case and put it on a horn in the studio. There was barely time to drive home, get the mouthpiece, drive back, pull charts, and make the downbeat.

There was time only because the program began with the obligatory speeches by all the local potentates. As they spoke, I watched the audience dwindle in numbers. Obviously they had sense enough to come in out of the sun.

As could be expected, there were more speeches than we planned for, and they were too long. Plus the bagpipe player who played more tunes than he ought to. I didn't realize you could configure that many tunes from only five notes.

No surprise, then, that we got out of there an hour late.

At the end of the concert I had to hustle over to north of Orlando for a rehearsal with the Altamonte Jazz Ensemble. That included schlepping a keyboard and setting it up just in time to start the rehearsal.

My plan had included a stop at home to change clothes and grab my drug stache. No time for that.

When the rehearsal was over, several of us went to Hooters for burgers and beer. That was the highlight of the day. I came home afterwards and crashed and burned.

I slept until noon today. Because I'd spent yesterday without getting a hit off the ol' needle, my fasting blood sugar was above the national debt. I'm paying for a lifetime of excess and debauchery.

Is your act not getting booked? Try this...

Terry Fator got hot by way of national exposure. He has a lot of talent, but it takes more than talent. Terry got lucky with a hot reality TV contest that just happens to feature entertainment.

Jeff Dunham took a different approach. He exploited youtube (or rather let youtube do the exploiting) to build a huge fan base among young people. (That's not all he did, but it helps make the point.)

And the point is: Two practitioners of a relatively minor and obsolete entertainment artform used modern technology with its own built-in fanbase to build themselves a huge constituency. They had to do it without being paid for it, but it really worked for them.

Here's my idea. Over the past several months I watched the popularity of Karaoke grow. A group of my friends gathers every Wednesday evening at an Applebee's. About a year ago they introduced Karaoke on Wednesday nights. (We're not there for the Karaoke. We were there first.) At first it seemed to be a fizzle. But as time went by, the crowds of young people grew. Now, it's wall-to-wall young adults every Wednesday night cheering on whomever has the cajones to take the mic and sing off key and out of meter.

There it is. A built-in high-energy audience (fully loosened up by beer and looking for a good time) and a professional sound system. Cut a deal with a Karaoke operator. Ask for 5 minutes (which is the length of the average singing participant's performance) to take the mic.

Introduce yourself with heavy references to Jeff Dunham and Achmed. Virtually everyone there knows who Jeff is. Associate yourself with what Jeff does in their eyes. (Hey, why not? Everyone else there associates themselves with Elvis and Madonna.) Do a killer five minutes with your funniest, most off-the-wall figure. Finish with you and the figure singing (badly or not, it doesn't matter; they don't know the difference) a tune along with the Karaoke machine.

Make sure everyone there knows your name.

Hit every Karaoke bar in town. You'll see a lot of the same people in the audiences. It's a culture. If you are good, they will start yelling out your punch lines.

Build a following of young people who are old enough to drink and young enough to want to go out at night. And young enough to have parents they can tell about you.

Get the media to cover it if you can. Get someone to record it wih their cellphone for your next youtube upload. The grainier the better.

When everyone in town knows who you are, your more traditional marketing efforts should begin to work, and the gigs should start piling up.