So often when trying to get a discussion going in social circles about educating each other on how to improve pan business, I encounter resistance. This resistance is due to the growing competition in the pan business as the popularity of pan continues to spread. Players and bands don’t want to give their competition any advantage.
Like most popular artistic endeavors in this world, pan’s growth in popularity is not unique. When it started no one knew about or understood it. Then pan caught its stride and gained popularity by being versatile. Yet the instrument was hamstrung by critics and the status quo of society, believing it was a novelty and no more than an “island” instrument for playing reggae, calypso and the like. How wrong they were.
Now the instrument is more popular than ever and has crossed many barriers that were once thought unassailable. Now a discussion should begin regarding how players and bands can establish and maintain success amidst stiff competition. Here are five tips on how to make you and your band indispensable regardless of how much competition there is in your town:
1. Be Unique – If you’re just starting out, do your research. So many players will just pick a name and go, but if there is another act in town with a similar/same name, similar style, and similar look, you won’t have the impact needed to make a good living. You can also partner with dancers or other types of performers like magicians or DJs to create a combined product or at least an entertainment package to provide clients two things they might normally get separately for higher rates. Do your research and make your product as different from everyone else as possible, while remaining true to yourself and to why you’re doing this in the first place.
2. Create a Strong Contract – There are so many elements to remember when setting up a performance that creating a specific and detailed contract isn’t a bad idea. Some items to include are a checklist for clients to fill out with various items you can include on gigs. To protect yourself from poorly worded language and potential lawsuits, it’s a good idea to have a lawyer review the finished product. Also find a pan mentor to review the document.
3. Protect Your Product – So many things at a gig are out of our control, no matter how hard we try to prepare. For instance, you play a gig on a rainy day. The performance area is covered, you’re alone with a mixing board and backing tracks, and the only outlet is outside. While this isn’t always a recipe for disaster, it can be catastrophic on occasion. On this occasion, the outlet shorts, your equipment is fried, and the breaker goes down for the entire building. Why take a chance? Get insurance for your business. While some can be pricey (up to $200 a month), insurance can help you fix problems like the one mentioned above and many others. You should also consider other ways of protecting your brand with copyrighting your name and logo, just in case there are any unethical copycats out there who want what you have. If you write and release your own music, make sure to go through proper publishing channels to get credit for your work before someone else does.
4. Share Gigs – It’s understood that not everyone is rolling in gigs, but occasionally, dates get filled, and you might need to sub out a performance. What’s for certain is that more often than not, when you give others gigs you can’t do, they remember and reciprocate later. If they don’t, word travels and someone else will. Whether it be a one-off gig with a band or a repeat solo gig at a resort, being a giver pays off. The more we give to each other, the better we all are in the long run.
5. Do Something For Pan! – When you’re doing well (if you follow the advice in these blogs you likely will), it doesn’t hurt to pay attention to what’s happening with pan in your town. Whether it means doing some pro bono work at a retirement home with a little free afternoon music on a dry Sunday or visiting your local middle school steel band to preach what the future can look like for young players who love pan, it’s good to get the word out. Pan is an instrument that draws listeners in and inspires all who take part. Remember to be thankful for everything you have and give back to the instrument you love. It’s the only way to make the pan industry grow, and to keep the circle of life moving, both spiritually and fiscally.
Phase II Pan Groove performs Len “Boogsie” Sharpe’s “Do Something for Pan” at the 2011 Trinidad Panorama Finals.