Saturday, November 22, 2014

Free Software on the Web to Promote Your Show Biz Career

Putting together a set of software tools to advance your career needn’t cost an arm and a leg. If you are PC based, here is a list of essential software that you can download and use for FREE.
First things first. Secure your system with a good anti-virus software. There are a number of good, Freeware programs out there  (including AVG) but you can’t go wrong protecting yourself with:
Avast Anti Virus Home Edition – Simply the best Anti-Virus & Anti-Spyware program that money can’t buy. Period. (or upgrade to PRO for even more protection).
Of all the programs you’ll need, a good Calendar / Contact Manager / ToDo List may be the most important! Organize yourself by keeping the three things you need most, Contacting, Scheduling & Prioritizing on one single screen.
If you are willing to pay approx. $50 USD, Time & Chaos ( ) is about as good as it gets. If you’d like something with a similar functionality for free, consider using Essential PIM.
Essential PIM 6.02 – is a professional Personal Information Manager  (PIM) that you can use to store and manage all your important data, including notes, contacts and schedules.
The intuitive program is configurable enough to allow you to display only the modules you use.
For “on the flypost-it style notes on your desktop, there are a number of freeware options. I’ve tried several but always come back to Stickies.
Stickies 8.0b – Virtual “Post It” notes for your desk top with alarms. Couldn’t live without them.
As you promote yourself via posters, websites and mailings, you’ll want the ability to work with graphics and photos. There are great professional packages out there if you’ve got the money such as Paintshop Pro and PhotoShop - if you are on a more meager budget (or just don't need all those bells & whistles), consider using Phoxo.
PhoXo 8.3 - is a free and powerful image editing software. It's tiny, fast, easy to use, can be treated as a “mini PhotoShop”. Its features include layers, undo, over 50 special effects, batch processing, and a wide variety of useful and powerful tools for selecting, crop, painting, retouching, measuring and navigation. You can easily add text effects to image, such as shadow text, ripple text, gradient color text etc.
A good Office Suite (Word Processor, Spreadsheet, PowerPoint) is an absolute necessity. There are a number of good ones (even free) such as Open Office, personally I like...
WPS Office Free 2014 - is a versatile, light weight, free office suite, which includes a word processor, spreadsheet program and presentation maker. These three programs help you deal with office tasks with ease:
Support for most common file formats and it also has Office to PDF converter, automatic spell checking and word count features.
Other Software you’ll find useful....
Freemake Video Converter 4.1. - is a video conversion and editing software to convert between popular video formats, create image slideshows, music visualizations, and more.
In addition to straightforward format conversion, the program also includes additional features that let you trim, join and rotate video content, extract audio tracks without quality loss and rip or burn DVD or Blu-ray discs.
The supported output formats include AVI, WMV, MP4, 3GP, SWF, MKV, MPEG MP3 and DVD, with a variety of ready-to-use profiles for iPods, iPad, PSP, XBox and other devices. Freemake Video Converter can also convert and upload your content directly to your YouTube or Facebook account.
PicPick - is a screen capture application that includes a capture editor and several on-screen measurement tools, including color picker, color palette, pixel ruler, protractor, cross hair and more. It allows you to capture the entire desktop, active windows, selected areas or window controls with the click of a button or via keyboard shortcut.
Skype – is a user friendly video and text messaging software, that allows you to make free Internet phone and HD video calls to any Skype user, anywhere in the world.
The sound quality is as good or even better than regular phones, and requires no additional equipment, besides a normal PC microphone or headset.

If you find that you need something else not listed, the two best resources for free software on the web are: & where there are literally thousands of programs to chose from!

Friday, November 21, 2014

Using The Internet to Promote Your Show Biz Career

Making a go of it in Show Business has never been easy. Talent alone is never enough. It also takes planning, persistence, organization... and luck! Today, we are fortunate to have the technology tools at our fingertips

 30 years ago, things were different.

If you wanted to promote yourself to Agents, you had to scour the Yellow Pages for Agents then you got 500 copies made of your 8x10 from a Repro Service, the you made Audio Cassettes & labels and used a Typewriter to make a Cover Letter & Resume which you took to a copy shop to Xerox and then you stuffed Manila envelopes and marched them down to the post Office where they weighed each piece and attached the postage.

 Then you waited a minimum a month before either hearing back from someone (or not) or discovering that over half of of your mailings were “returned to sender” due to old or incomplete addresses!

 That’s how we did it “in the old days”.

When I began, I found the addresses to all of the Cruise Lines listed in the Travel Section of the Sunday Paper, put together the mailers and addressed them attention to the Entertainment Director. It was hard work, but it worked!

Early in my career, I was given a piece of sage advice from a fellow performer. He said “keep a record of everyone you meet in the industry” get their business card, contact details etc. This is an industry of networking and you never know when that tiny piece of information might prove useful.

Back then, it literally was a hand written “little black book". Today of course it’s contained on my phone & computer.

Things are easier (and cheaper) these days.

 Whether you are just starting out or looking to take your career to the next level, there are many great FREE tools available to you via the Internet. Some we just take for granted (but shouldn’t) and others are great little “finds” that make getting somewhere in this Business of Show, a little easier.

In Part One, I’ll discuss the FREE SERVICES on the Internet that you should be advance your career.

 Email: Seems like a “no-brainer”. Everyone uses email, right? Yes, but many do not use it well. I see email addresses more suited for 14 year old kids than Entertainment Professionals in my inbox every day. If your address is you might want to reconsider the message it conveys to an agent. 

Put together a few template emails (introduction, promotion etc.) and save them as drafts so you can fill in the blanks and reuse them. It beats re-writing the same emails over & over again.

Most email services allow you to save contacts lists in “groups”. Use this feature to clump together similar contacts ie: Agents, Fan Base, Performance Venues etc. This makes mass mailing a targeted email much easier.

Many Email Accounts (Yahoo, Google etc.) allow you to publicly display your online Calendar via a link to let fans & potential clients know your availability or where you are performing.

Make use of the “automated reply message” if you are going to be away from your email for any length of time (such as working on a cruise). It lets the sender knowimmediately that their email was received and that you will personally respond as so as possible.

Blogs: Can’t afford a dedicated website or don’t know how to design a Webpage? A blogging site may be just the answer you are looking for.

Sites such as and offer free web space. If you can use a word processor, you can set up a blog quite easily. Blog sites are easily updated and can lend themselves to a more conversational approach to promotion.

Some blogs will allow you to redirect from a purchased domain name as well (ie:

For an example, checkout my site at

Facebook: If you are reading this blog, you probably linked to it from Twitter or Facebook. Again, like email, many people have Facebook but don’t utilize it well. If you are a professional entertainer and plan on using Facebook as a promotional tool, consider having a separate page for “work” and another one for friends & family.

If your Facebook timeline is full of pictures of you, drunk on your knees or is littered with off colored jokes or photos of Kim Kardasian’s posterior, that might not be the image you want you convey to potential clients.

Google: You use it everyday, now start tapping the resources it provides to aid your career.

Back in the 1980’s , I was touring across the country and in every city, my roommate would go down to the hotel lobby and tear out of one of the pay phone’s Yellow Pages, the listings for Booking Agents, Night Clubs etc.

That was the 1980's equivilent to Google

Today if you want the address, phone number, email & contact person at almost any Agency, Theater, Casino or Cruise Line in the world, you can Google it in seconds! Start building lists of potential agents, venues, clients etc and keep them in your “virtual black book”.

When searching, if you are getting too many listings or wrong listings (ie: I want “banjo” NOT “banjo kazooie”, you can use advanced search to limit results to region or to exclude certain terms.

Google also allows you to save news searches and have them emailed to you, a great way to track an individual news story ( such as reviews of your shows).

Youtube: It’s not just for watching videos of cats playing piano.Set up your own channel, and once again, use the channel specifically for promoting your shows. Don’t include videos from the family vacation or your bachelor party. As an example, check out my youtube channel at 

Once you have videos in place, you can easily direct potential clients and agents to view them online. The immediate access and the fact you aren’t paying to mail copies of your DVD around the world is a great benefit.

It goes without saying, to always upload the best quality videos you can and to keep them short (under 10 minutes). If the client wants to view your whole show, either send them a DVD or direct them to another link.

As you set up these different accounts, try to have as much continuity in name & design as possible between each platform - it helps build brand identity.There are other tools out there (Twitter, Google+,etc.) that may be well worth your time but if you concentrate on setting up these properly first, you’ll have a great start.

 And just be thankful it isn’t 1984 anymore!

NEXT: Part 2: Freeware on the Web to Promote Your Career

Monday, November 17, 2014

Lessons from a Cruise Cabaret Act

The Cruise Industry continues to grow with an estimated 21.7 million passengers sailing on the 63 member Cruise Lines of CLIA (Cruise Lines International Association) in 2014. Demand continues to grow and as a result, 24 new ships will be introduced over the next two years.

This sustained Industry expansion, even in tenuous economic times makes working on board a cruise ship more and more desirable, especially for entertainers.

I have been fortunate to have spent the past 30+ years as a Headline Cabaret Act on Cruise Ships having appeared on well over 80 different cruise ships during that time.

I've learned a few lessons along the way...

A few caveats, I am an Instrumental Cabaret Act. While some of the details I will outline will be useful to all performers who work on ship, it is specifically written for aspiring Musical Cabaret Acts.

1.) Have an Act! If you are a singer or instrumentalist, you need to have a show (preferably two shows of 45 minutes) with professionally written (clean) charts for at least 7 instruments (Piano, Bass , Drums, Guitar, Trumpet, Trombone, Clar/Sax). Make sure your charts can “fold down” to a smaller configuration (ie: Rhythm section) and still still work without too many "holes to fill".

Also, if you charts need a dedicated “Conductor”, consider re-writing them!

Some acts use backing tracks but, unless they are extremely good, you are better off with a live band. Just the dynamics of having a band to interact with as opposed to working alone on an empty stage brings far more energy to your performance.

And, anyone who has used tracks can tell you, the smallest technical or human glitch can tear a show to shreds seconds!

Being a good instrumentalist or being a great singer isn't enough. You need to have a show with a strong Beginning, Middle and (even stronger) End. It's not just about the music, it's about being entertaining as well.

Don't be a “one trick pony”. Present a variety of styles of music. Nobody wants to hear you do a show just of ballads, or bluegrass or [fill in the blank]. Personally, I prefer to keep most of my songs (unless they are medleys) to under three minutes. That way, if they aren't especially enamored with what you are doing at the moment, you will have moved on to something hopefully more to their liking, fairly quickly!

Avoid doing “original material”. People come on ships to be entertained, not educated. They want to hear the melody and recognize it. Face it, if your original songs were “that good”, you probably wouldn't be working on a cruise ship in the first place!

Someone once told me that “likeability” on stage is the most important quality you can have. If the audience “likes” you they will be forgiving of any minor flaw in your show. If the don't like you, it doesn't matter how good you are – you've lost them before you even start.

2.) Know your demographics! Over 50% of all cruise passengers are from the United States and the average age of cruise passengers are over 50 years of age. That's the average but it can vary from Cruise Line to Cruise Line, from Itinerary to Itinerary, with length of cruise and even from the time of the year.

A cruise ship on a seven day cruise in the Caribbean will have a different passenger makeup than that same ship doing an around the 106 day World Cruise.

Christmas, Spring Break and Summer School holidays bring out the younger cruisers including families with children. Anything less than seven days cruise will generally skew to a younger, party crowd as well.

A show that may work well in the Caribbean may not work as well in Europe, Asia or Alaska and vice versa. Personally, my show skews to an older audience and therefore I am reluctant to take any cruise in the Caribbean of of less than ten days!

I make a point of checking the Cruise Manifest before putting together my Show List. The Manifest will tell you the age group and Nationality of the guests on board. On a recent cruise, I discovered that 88% of the Guests were from Australia. Immediately I pulled “Stars & Stripes Forever” and inserted “Waltzing Matilda” and George Formby's “The Window Cleaner” - and it worked!

Understand that some nights, you "take one for the team”.

Everybody wants to perform on a Sea Night without the clocks going forward or an early morning port arrival the next day! Of course that's not possible. There will be times when you will be faced with a small audience in a cavernous Theater, totally exhausted from a day long tour to Cairo! It happens and it's no fun – but it goes with the territory. Above all, don't take it out on the audience who did bother to show up! Give them the show they deserve – no matter how hard it is (after all, you ARE a professional).

3.) Follow directions well. Once you are on board ship, make a point of doing what is expected of you. Show up (on time) for rehearsals, be backstage early for show times, dress appropriately in public areas, remember that even if you have passenger status – customers come first!, be respectful to Officers & Staff, fill out immigration & customs forms correctly and return them on time, show up for any required safety drills, inspections etc.,

A very important point - do the requested amount of time for your show. You are just a small part the ship's events scheduled by the Cruise Director. By doing more or less time than asked, you can throw off the timing for other activities (thus making the Cruise Director unhappy).

If your show extends past the Dinner Bell, trust me, they will get up and leave!

A lot of Entertainers join ships expecting it to be a 24 hour party. It isn't, and those insist on making it so, don't last long. More than one Entertainer has found his or her contract abruptly terminated due to public drunkeness or inappropriate behavior with staff, passengers or crew!

Be pleasant, fit in and avoid being “high maintenance” by pestering the Cruise Director, Purser's Staff or Shore Excursion's Manager over petty things. They have a LOT more to worry about than just you!

4.) Engage with the passengers. Your continued employment will be based on a Performance Report usually written by the Cruise Director and by Passenger Comment Cards.

At the end of the Cruise, guests will fill out a form rating all of the services on board. On some ships, Entertainment is a single category, while on others, each act is named and rated individually.

No matter how hard you try, you won't please everybody. Some people just don't like Magicians or Jugglers or Banjo Players or Ventriloquists to begin with. Guests also can write in comments about what they liked or didn't like.

Acknowledge Guests in the hallways, open ship's doors for them, speak to them in the elevators, sit and have a cup of coffee on deck with them, in general, be engaging.

Even if your show “didn't go so well”, you can repair some of the damage by spending time with the guests and letting them get to know you! Not only will your time on ship go faster, but you might just learn something!

Remember, you never know who may be in the audience. More than one Entertainer on ship (myself included), has had a simple conversation on deck with a guest turn into a contact for a job referral down the line!

5.) Take Care of you Room Stewards (& Waiters)! Your Room Steward cleans your room, makes sure it's in good repair, brings you ice & fruit, takes your laundry down and tries not to disturb you during your down time!

Tip him/her as you would want to be tipped for doing the same work (that goes for your Dining Room Waiter as well). There are Guidelines for Passenger Gratuities, if you are on ship and are given Passenger Status (most often you are), them tip accordingly!

Also, please if you are leaving at the end of your contract, vacate your cabin early so the Steward can ready it for the oncoming Entertainer who most likely just flew 20 hours to get there! After all, if you just flew 20 hours, you wouldn't want to sit in the Lobby waiting for your Cabin to be ready, would you?

It's all about getting along. Good luck and Happy Sailing!