To get right down to it, here were the results of the efforts I put forth toward getting my music career off the ground, as described in the last post:
By the time I began following up with the 90 commercial “AAA” radio stations I had sent my CD to, one of the stations had gone off the air, two had changed formats to “Country”, and another switched to “Spanish” (all par for the course in the world of radio).
That left 86 stations. And, kind of amazingly, I received airplay on no fewer than 13 of those (even if it meant only one of my songs being played once on, say, a “new music” show…but in a bunch of cases a song was thrown into some degree of actual rotation for a time). I was very pleased with these results, given that I was a completely unknown artist on a completely unknown record label, competing for air time with very established artists on very established labels, who themselves were competing with each other for the same. And, of course, unlike the heavy hitters, I was in no position to offer any form of payola. 😉
I sent discs to 202 college radio stations. There were many hundreds more than this nationwide, but (being a one-man record company and all) I could only do so much, and I only had initially pressed 1,000 CDs. So, having to choose, I primarily targeted stations on the east coast, since I was doing the same for the colleges I was soliciting gigs from.
Of the 75 of these stations I actively followed up with (again, limited time and resources), I learned that I had received airplay on 21 of them. A higher success rate than with the commercial stations, and not surprisingly, given that they had much greater freedom to play whatever they wanted without having to answer to corporate consultants and the like.
I sent press kits to a total of 75 newspapers/magazines in the hopes of getting the CD reviewed. In the end, I was written up in only 6 of them (to the best of Max’s knowledge). And though they weren’t exactly glowing reviews, as a friend pointed out to me, each one had positive things to say.
The College Tour:
As previously mentioned in the last post, the above efforts at gaining some exposure and sparking some interest notwithstanding, the bread and butter would come as a result of paying gigs.
182 different colleges gave me the go-ahead over the phone to send my materials, and I followed up with each and every one of them. For months. The fall semester gave me a window of roughly 100-120 dates in which I might schedule gigs. The goal: as many bookings as was humanly possible to secure and play during that time (driving logistics, of course, taken into consideration).
This was, after all, a tour, and would be my first experience of life on the road. I awaited it with eager anticipation. Would I find it tedious driving so many miles on my own? Would I find it lonely? Exhausting? Or…would it be incredibly exciting? Exhilarating? (All of the above, I presumed.) Would being a traveling musician live up to my romantic vision, or would I determine it wasn’t really for me as a long-term lifestyle? How would I be received? Would I build a reputation that might jump-start my career? Would I make money doing this? Lose money? Break even? Would I be able to continue doing it once the semester was over? There was only one way to find out the answer to all of these questions.
By my calculations (again, detailed in the last post), an itinerary of somewhere between 20 and 40 shows (11% – 22% of the total number of colleges I was in communication with) would constitute success as far as I was concerned, and seemed a reasonable, attainable goal. Any number greater than this would, of course, be that much better. With any luck, CD sales along the way would help with gas money.
When all was said and done, when the spring and summer months had come and gone, when all of the follow-up calls had been seen through to the end and all negotiations finalized, the total number of gigs booked on the “Sanity Check” college tour for the fall semester of 1997 amounted to:
For the math majors and non-math majors alike, that amounts to a success rate of roughly one-half of one percent (0.005) of all of the schools at which I actively – very actively – pursued bookings.
On October 8, 1997, I performed my one and only show at Dickinson College in Carlisle, PA. It went alright. I was paid $900, and given a meal and a room for the night.
And that was it.
Just over one month prior to that performance, and several days before my 25th birthday, I moved back to Philadelphia to live with my parents in my childhood home. What followed would be (at least as of this writing) far and away the most excruciating year of my adult life, if not my entire life. I’m quite sure it was no picnic for them, either.
I wasn’t just disappointed over the way things had turned out. I was devastated.
I was also heartbroken over the long-distance romance that had fallen apart. I had projected huge hopes onto this particular young woman and had invested a lot of myself emotionally in the relationship. And even though we had shared an incredible amount with each other, the truth was I had only just begun to get to know her. And even though it became clear to both of us that we ultimately weren’t a match, I was still crushed over this unraveling, as well.
The relationship heartache on top of the career heartache was almost unbearable. I was – simply put – a wreck.
It’s kind of funny to think back on all of the angst I experienced wondering how these two Big Pursuits of mine – the career (specifically, being on the road), and the relationship (which was already a long-distance one) – could possibly coexist. Clearly, all of that worry was for naught.
Little did I know, things would get a whole lot worse before they got better. But I’m not going to delve into all of that here. What I will do is stay on point regarding the question that makes for the title of this series of blog posts – What Do You Want To Be When You Grow Up? – and I will elaborate in the next post on how I, personally, continued to wrestle with this question in the aftermath of a broken dream.