Issue 23 Volume 1 May 2011
WHO SAYS YOU CAN’T MAKE A LIVING PLAYING WITH YOUR VEGETABLES
The son of a well-respected music educator and music text-book author, Nick Peterson, Gene credits much of his music and business acumen to his upbringing.
“My dad is a really well respected music educator and he’s written about seven books and I know it gave me a huge advantage to grow up being surrounded by music from the word go. People talk about being “naturally talented” but I’m not sure that applies – I think talent is just about time on your instrument, time listening to music and just being surrounded by it. The biggest thing my dad ever did for me was when I was 14 I left school to pursue a musical career and he left school as well, he was a high school teacher and spent three years coaching me. It was structured like a school day but instead of maths or science we were doing music. It was kind of like doing a uni course but one on one,” says Gene.
Despite his reverence for musician’s musicians, Gene learnt early on that simply being a virtuoso on your instrument was no guarantee of bums on seats.
“I remember once when I was still quite impressionable I went to a drum clinic gig. I was following the techniques of all these solo artists and this particular clinic was with a world renowned artist. I got there and only about 30 people turned up and I thought to myself, “he’s the best of the best - is this what I’ve got to look forward to?” That was a turning point for me, that moment, when I asked myself how many drummers can there ever be in one town and I realised if I was marketing myself to drummers I would be severely limiting the size of my audience.”
Gene decided to market himself to the mainstream – but how many people in the mainstream want to sit down and watch someone play the drums for a couple of hours? A lot apparently, well at least if marketed the right way.
“I thought to myself, ‘ok how can I put on a show and make it as fun and entertaining as possible?’ I had friends who were tap dancers so I thought that would be fun. So the first show I ever put together was called Gene Peterson Live and it involved two percussionists and two tap dancers and was based on our journey through life. It started with us making music from kid’s toys then progressed to making music with the school desk, pens and rulers, then onto music at work using things like a typewriter and body percussion and tap dancing at a bus stop. There was a restaurant scene using kitchen items and the show finished with a scene with an elderly person where we made music using things like zimmer frames and spoons. It really worked because there wasn’t one person in the audience who couldn’t relate to at least one of those scenes – it covered from age 4 to 104.”
Of course the audience didn’t just walk in off the street to see an unknown drummer with an unknown show – Gene had to find a way to sell tickets on his own so he could convince theatres that the show would fly.
“The show premiered in 2007, but touring only really kicked off after I was able to build a reputation for theatres to purchase the show. Initially I had to hire the venues and put the show on myself and make it happen. I marketed it myself and filmed a DVD to promote myself to the venues. Eventually I was able to string enough venues together to run our first tour last year. This year so many theatres have purchased the show that we’re pretty much booked out in every state in the country as well as Christmas Island and Coco Island.”
With nowhere else left to tour in Australia, the show is now taking international bookings for 2012 in Asia, Canada and the Middle East. Gene says he had no formal training in marketing, he just knew if he wanted to make music his living it was a skill he was going to have to get very good at very quickly.
“Marketing wasn’t really a choice for me, it was a case of either you sell it well and make a living or you don’t,” says Gene. “So it was just something I was forced to do by jumping in the deep end. I have a slightly different perspective on marketing though - for me it’s not so much about how can I sell a product that I love but how can I tailor this product to be something that someone else will be interested in. So I guess that’s why the shows are less about technique and more about fun because at the end of the day people are coming to be entertained not to watch super fast playing. I also realised that venues are often interested in running workshops – so I started out with a pitch running workshops about making music from vegetables – that was a great as it was offering something really worthwhile and a bit unusual to the community which made the venues look great. Marketing for me was more about gauging the responses to the shows and watching other sales pitches at conferences. Other than that I just jumped in the deep end and figured it out from there.”
The show has done so well that Gene will not only be premiering a new show of his own next year, Loop the Loop, but is also now forming a production company to produce shows for other acts.
“I’m developing a production house called Onyx Productions that will offer a repertoire of shows to create tours. I can see my career becoming more of a producer than a musician but I still definitely want to keep playing – I’m not looking to move away from music. I’ll be collaborating not just with musicians, but dancers, circus acts and street performers as well. It’s just about making the work by creating the shows rather than sitting around waiting to be hired.
Gene’s latest show, Loop the Loop, features a musical battle between himself and musician Adam Page and is set in a boxing ring.
“We use all his crazy instruments and loop pedals to build the aural illusion of an entire band playing live. We try to outdo each other and as he’s a very talented musician so that’s quite a challenge for me. But it’s not just a music show but a comedy that targets a family audience rather than just musicians – it’s a broad demographic. Adam’s primarily a saxophone player but he’s also a phenomenal flute player, in fact there’s not an instrument or vegetable for that matter that Adam can’t play.”
Gene says it’s been a whirlwind from start-up show to international touring and admits he’s incredibly grateful for two things – his musical upbringing and the fact that his mother never told him not to play with his food!
For more information on Gene’s upcoming shows visit www.genepetersonlive.com.