How Not to Get On Broadway

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I was reading a post by blogger Chris Brogan yesterday entitled “Earning Attention” which in short was about earning a place of importance within your industry as opposed to having expectations of someone else take you there. I’m not going to do it justice by attempting to recreate his post in a sentence or two so how about we just make it mandatory to head over there and check it out…just finish reading this one first!

His post reminded me of my days as a professional musician. For those that may not know me that well, before I started a career in Internet Marketing about 12 years ago, I played bass for the Broadway Show “Rent” amongst a bunch of other pretty cool gigs. As a successful musician I was hounded on a fairly regular basis by other bass players interested in subbing for me. With a few exceptions, they mostly left a bad taste in my mouth. Their attempts to get to know me had less to do with me and more to do with me giving them their big break. They would go something like this (actually, I should say exactly like this…this was an actual e-mail I received):

“Greetings. My name is Bob, and I am a virtuoso electric bassist. I am including a link to some of my original compositions. I am a reader, and I’m well versed in all styles. I wanted to inquire about what it would take for you to consider me as a sub for any current or possible future Broadway work. I would be willing to come to you at your convenience to play/read for you.”

That’s it.

I would imagine whoever was on the other end of that e-mail was a nice guy. Clearly a good player. I can’t really say for sure since I never got back to him. Nothing personal. This type of approach just wreaked of the stench of entitlement. Besides, I could never quite get past the word “virtuoso.”

Is it me or have people in general become so used to asking Mommy in order to get what they want that they think the rest of the world works this way? Well, it doesn’t. If you want something bad enough, you have to be willing to move heaven and earth to get it…give before you can receive…or at the very least try a little harder than that!

I may be overly critical about his approach because I was once in his shoes early on in my musical career. I wanted to sub on Broadway bad enough that I went into the city and grabbed a Playbill from every show so I could get the names of all of the players. I didn’t have the tools that are out there now at my disposal. There was no Facebook or Twitter. No blogs. The Internet sucked unless you were in it to watch porn or had all day to wait for something to load. I actually picked up the phone to call people I wanted to sub for…this of course was after stealing a phonebook from the bus station so I could find their number. When I was told no over and over again I looked for another way. I added value by getting a job as a writer for a popular musician magazine and wrote articles about the people I wanted to sub for. I filled in on the gigs they didn’t want. I showed up unannounced and took them out to dinner between shows. I kept giving more and more value until finally I got my big “break”. It took well over a year…not 4 sentences.

I earned it.

It was not easy. It was frustrating. It would have been so much easier to give up. I was told “no” more times than I can remember. BUT…I was eventually told yes. That one I do remember. And nothing ever felt as good as the first time I played on Broadway. I left the theater and sat in my car for 20 minutes staring at the Broadway street sign. I think I even stopped breathing for a few minutes. It was a life changing moment for me not just because of what I accomplished, but because I earned every single note I played that night…and every night thereafter.

What’s interesting is that it has been 16 years since my first appearance on Broadway and here I am once again starting over in a way. Recreating myself in the form of this daily blog. Unsure who is going to read it or exactly which way it’s going to take me. Yet with blind faith, I know I will get there. I can’t tell you how long it is going to take, but I do know where I’m going with it and I can promise you that I will earn every single minute of it and I am honored to share the journey with you.

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  • Irina

    Hi Marc, I love reading these and look forward to them in my inbox. Thank you for continuing the value production ;). Irina S.

    • http://www.marcensign.com/blog Marc Ensign

      That’s awesome, thank you so much Irina!!!! I have the warm fuzzies now! For anybody reading this, Irina is the extremely talented photographer that took a bunch of the pictures you see on this site. She’s awesome!  You can find out more about her here: http://www.irina-smirnova.com

  • Brian Regal

    Excellent post.  Just starting my own company and I love getting jolts like this to snap back to doing what I know I have to, but sometimes put off because it’s ‘uncomfortable’.  To hell with uncomfortable.

    • http://www.marcensign.com/blog Marc Ensign

      Thanks Brian! If you are starting your own business, it’s time to get comfortable being uncomfortable! Don’t fight it…”to hell with uncomfortable” can make it worse. Swim in it a little bit and be OK with feeling uncomfortable, stressed, nervous, confused, etc. Often that is when your brain starts search for a better answer!

  • http://twitter.com/nachase Nicholas Chase

    Enjoyed this story about ‘overnight’ success taking one year. I worked in Hollywood for ten years as technical adviser / engineer to the stars for most of the broadcast tv networks and several movie studios. It was always a new thrill when i was assigned to assist someone who had ‘just made it’. I also experienced how cruel some producers / directors could be to the ‘talent’ when they were frustrated with the performances. I produce and direct in SF Bay Area CA these days and also engineer on some integration projects at Google and other infrastructure assignments as contracted. 

    Chris Brogan has also encouraged me to begin sharing some memories of my Hollywood days here: http://mymoviecareer.wordpress.com/2012/04/16/4/ No Ads, No Gossip, just interesting stories I hope. You have a good writing style Marc, I just tweeted your link out to my Twitter Followers. Keep writing! 

    Respectfully, Nicholas Chase – producer / director / engineer / writer

    • http://www.marcensign.com/blog Marc Ensign

      Thanks so much for stopping by, retweeting and all that. I checked out your blog and I like the premise of it, especially having been on the inside of that industry for a while. “Creative folks have issues”…funny! When I did my first national tour I would have slept in the luggage compartment under the bus, it didn’t matter, I was just so happy to be there. By the time I left, when we got into a new city I was in and out of 3 hotel rooms on average because they didn’t meet some ridiculous standard. When I got off the tour, I did go back to normal. No idea where that came from…probably from a bus full of 30 or 40 creative folks trying to one up each other on who has more issues and can be more difficult. I never asked anyone to remove the green M&M’s from my dressing room though!

    • http://www.marcensign.com/blog Marc Ensign

      One more thing…as a heads up, you still have the “Just another WordPress site” tagline on your blog. I would get rid of that and think about installing a different theme so it doesn’t look so “out of the box” – I like Genesis themes which is here: http://www.studiopress.com/themes/genesis – I wrote a whole post on doing WordPress on the cheap.  Check it out…hopefully it helps and keep me posted on your progress so I can check out your next post!

      Check this out: http://www.marcensign.com/the-dog-ate-my-ipad/

  • http://twitter.com/LEAmerman Laura Amerman

    love

  • stevied

    While I see your point above…I have gotten many gigs including the opportunity to sit in on major Broadway shows by just emailing and asking. I think it is also important to know what you want and have the guts to ask for it. It just takes one person, and if that fails of course buy everyone dinner and drinks.