Written by Ted Goslin
If it’s not enough that steelpan musicians are either asked to play the typical dread of our business (Belafonte, Little Mermaid) all the time, we also have to worry about making a steady living on it. In many cases, it’s just not possible anymore to play Pan for a living. This forces players to rely on other means of income like writing (wink, wink), sales, or retail.
Don’t get me wrong. There’s nothing wrong with supplementing income to make ends meet. But if we as an industry want to strengthen the Pan world and allow for more innovation and versatility within the performance landscape, there has to be a stronger foundation.
To illustrate this point, here are some examples of things we can do to help one another to grow:
1. Create a Unique Product- Competition is nothing new in business. Some Pan players have seen this as a danger to their business and work hard to disassociate with other players to keep their product popularity high. This is a mistake. Players should be focused on creating a unique product and not so worried about what the other guy is doing. Things to consider are appearance, playing/soloing style, musicianship, and genres performed. If you are strictly a jazz panist, make sure to communicate that to the client and build your client base from that core concept. Market yourself online in such a way that clients will flock to your site for that style of product. Not everyone is looking for the stereotypical-looking steel drummer; if they were, many of us non-ethic folks would be out of work! Just remember to be true to yourself and the type of clients you want to attract.
2. Attend Each Other’s Gigs- Not all gigs are open to the public, but for the ones that are, it helps to have support. Not everyone is excited about seeing an instrumental music act. If you sing, that tends to help with the mass public, but even still, there are other bonuses for attending your friend/competitor’s gigs. And no, I don’t mean stealing their ideas for yourself. You attend to show support, which in turn gets them on board with you as a person and potentially sends future subbing gigs your way. The more we interact, the more ideas are shared and the more we improve as people and as business professionals.
3. Buy Each Other’s Music- It’s not easy selling your music in today’s competitive marketplace. If you want others to support you, you’ve got to support them. Even when money is tight, most of us can afford to spend $10 on the latest Pan album. If we support each other, others will follow, especially if you share your enthusiasm for the album with friends.
4. Communicate- Using online forums or social media sites like Facebook are some of the fastest ways to share information, get advice and generally shoot the sh%$ about the latest in the gig life. Phone calls and emails work as well if you prefer a private discussion, but there’s something to be said about putting up a question or idea and running it by a group of people.
5. Watch Your Mouth- We all have opinions about the best way to improve the popularity of both Pan and our own music, but badmouthing other players and their product is not the way to go about it. Remember, everyone has a different style and product focus. If they want to play nothing but Metallica, wear all black, and worship the devil, that’s their decision. Not that you need to support the extreme type of player, but you certainly don’t need to give yourself a black mark by attacking them for simply doing things differently than what you might perceive to be the standard to follow. Being supportive of others, no matter their style, and you’ll find yourself with a stronger reputation and more allies than ever.