In this podcast you’ll discover:
- The concept behind Party Pianos.
- What makes Party Pianos different from the normal cover band.
- How Joe landed prestige clients.
- How Joe progressed from performing in bars for limited fees to getting high end clients.
- The power of networking and how it creates a snowball chain reaction that can lead to big clients.
- How Joe creates his line ups and packages for maximum marketing effect.
- Where a huge percentage of your success will come from.
- How Joe built a 20,000 strong database of event industry professionals.
- Various newsletter and email marketing strategies that have brought in big client bookings.
- Joe’s approach to building his portfolio of video promo material.
Listen to the Podcast:
Brad: Hi. Thanks for joining me. I’m with Joe Lee from Party Pianos. You’re probably wondering what Party Pianos is all about. I’m going to let Joe explain the concept to us on how we got into it, and what fantastic things he’s doing with this marketing, which has helped him achieve the levels of success that he’s achieved. In four years … It’s actually his fourth birthday party today in the sense that it’s their fourth anniversary of the first gig of Party Pianos. Happy Birthday, Joe.
Joe: Hi, Brad. Thank you. Thank you very much.
Brad: That is the first gig you did four years ago, was it?
Joe: It’s the first gig four years ago today. It was in a little village called Chalfont St. Peter in Buckinghamshire and its a wedding for a lovely couple. It was the first gig we got. It’s nerve-wracking then, and it’s just as nerve-wracking now when we’ve gotten gigs.
Brad: Right. Tell us a little about yourself. Or tell us a little bit about Party Pianos. You’re not your average kind of typical cover band style set-up. It’s something a bit different. If the listeners just hang on just because it’s not entirely about a cover band … I mean, you obviously do covers, but it’s slightly strange. It might be a bit of an alien concept Party Pianos to a number of different people, but stick around because there’s some great info here in terms of what Joe is doing with his music marketing and band promotion efforts . Joe, tell us a little bit about Party Pianos and the concept behind it, and how you got into.
Joe: Yeah. Sure. The concept is very much a visual thing essentially we are a dueling pianos act from America. What that is, is two pianos side-by-side on the stage with the drummer in the middle, and sometimes the saxophonist and the guitars there as well but also taking request from the audience.
As opposed to a normal function bands, the benefits are that we actually play what the audience is requesting live. I’m a player myself, and the other players that we have a massive, massive repertoire of songs from ‘50s rock and roll, all the way up to the latest chart hits. It’s important we keep that up-to-date and we get all sorts of requests. Once we get request, people come on stage, and they sing as well, so it’s a very interactive show. We’d like to get them on stage, have them sing, and hitting the keys, banging the drum, or just dance around us. It’s just really fun, upbeat, and with the pianos as a real signature look as well, which makes us different.
Brad: Right. Is that the key difference then? It’s the piano bit.
Joe: It’s one of them. Yeah. The aesthetic, the look of the pianos on stages. It gives the “wow factor,” because unless you’ve been to one of these Duelling piano bars in Las Vegas, or Texas, or New York, you may not have seen this. It’s been around a long time. It’s been around nearly a hundred years. It started in New Orleans back in the day where a bar owner put two pianos together and have like an X Factor style competition to see who would become the best pianist.
He realized that it was the audition stage with the two pianist, which was the drawer, so he kept the two pianist together, and it was born. How it started, I was working in Holland as a piano bar entertainer. I was in various hotels and clubs. I saw that they’ve come abroad over to Holland, they had these two pianos there. I was the same as if we’re NASA. What on earth is this? After a couple of gigs playing in that format, I loved it. It just works really well. You’ve got space to interact with the audience. You’re not just playing after a set list. That’s very exciting. I felt, well, why don’t have it in London or the UK? Four years ago, just before I brought over and we did our first gig.
Brad: Okay. How old are you now?
Joe: I’m 32.
Brad: 32. You started this four years ago, right? What were you doing before Party Pianos? How did you get to that point?
Joe: I went to university. I studied business and law. Instead of becoming a lawyer, I always wanted to have this something fun. I followed everyone into London and I did various sales jobs and things. I was always in, trying a business, you could call it. But I always play the piano, because I learned it when I was a kid. I always kept it up on the side. I use to do the odd wedding, the odd bar, gig, and things at that. I thought maybe I should have a go to this real living. I started doing piano bar work, and got agents, and did auditions, and built up. It was really 2010 when I went self-employed as a musician and essentially moved to Holland because there’s a lot of work there for piano entertainers. One thing about my little part of the music industry is that there aren’t many piano in centers out there. There are tons of guitarists and tons of drummers, but there are not many piano players that can sing.
We’re quite a rare breed so we’re always in demand. So I’m quite lucky that I learned the right instrument.
Brad: There’s not many singing piano players.
Brad: Right. That I did not know. Okay. So that presumably means you could charge your premium to your service, could you?
Joe: Yes. That’s right to the extent, but also meant that we have a little bit more power in a way, because we could make sure that we choose fairly.
Brad: Right. Okay. You’ve got the concept. Presumably, the concept just free for you. You didn’t have to pay for a license or anything did you? …
Joe: No. Not at all. However, it’s pretty much so not now in the UK and in the Middle East. It is quite high cost to enter, because you got to build this quite big piano. That’s the one thing. You can go and do it, but, yes, and the sold of it is about doing it right and doing it authentically.
Brad: You’ve got your concert. You’ve built up your infrastructure. You’re out there. Now, how you … You’re getting some great booking, obviously. You’ve got client ranging from BMW, Mercedes, Coca Cola. What else have you got on here? Kind of Audi, some really good prestige brands that you’ve been working for. How have you managed to get to that point? How long did it take you? What did you do?
Joe: First, we took every gig we could. It didn’t matter what it was. At first it was a wedding, which was great because I knew someone’s a friend of a friend, and that was it. They liked the idea and they booked us. Other than that, it was pretty much anything we could get. I was out there to show the set as much as possible. I think it was about standing back and making sure the strategy was right from the start.
I think that’s where a lot of people could go wrong, because they don’t have a strategy about who their customers are. I knew that I didn’t want to be playing in the pubs for 200 Quids. That’s a trap I think a lot of bands can get into that cycle, and you’ll never earn a living. I knew I didn’t want that, so I thought weddings would be great and I think a lot of professional function bands, weddings are their bread and butter, the staple. But I knew there was a corporate market there as well. I joined a networking club called “The Best Of.” My local one is in Gilford, but all over the country. It’s like a BNI kind of thing.
You got along the network of people. Anyway, though this networking event, I met the dealer/owner for BMW around the corner in Gilford. They said, “It’s 2012. We’re going to be doing the cars for the Olympics. We’re one of the headline sponsors for London 2012. We’re going to do a big event at the BMW dealership. Do you want to do it?” I was like, “Yes, please.”
So we went to setup with the dealership, and I think that was our first big corporate job and we setup pianos on the BMW 6 Series plinth. Loads of people came in, had their photos too by the Olympic torch. They were looking at the pianos. Of course, the people that would come in were all good demographics. They are people who are working in town or they are directors of companies, and it just went on and on from there.
Luckily, at that BMW event was the marketing director for Coca Cola. He said, “We’re also sponsoring the Olympics so do you want to come and do our event?” And we’re like “oh yes, please.” It just built to like that and from doing those events and so we did the Coke torch relay and Gilford, which is amazing. There’s about 50,000 people walking past us. It was fantastic exposure. From that, I could then use those events to trade and talk to companies and say, “Hey look. We did this for these guys. We’d love to do it for you.”
Brad: Was that first meeting at your networking event that led to this chain reaction of future bookings?
Joe: Yes. It opened my eyes as well to just see what kind of events are there, what uses are there for a function band. It’s not just a private party. It’s not just a wedding. It could be a product launch. It could be a day festival. It could be a corporate party, a garden dinner. All these things which you might not think about.
Brad: Right. Okay. That’s really interesting. Presumably you’re very adaptable. What kind of … If you’re an act that can fit inside a car showroom is what is doing a lot, what kind of lineups are you offering there that enables you to be able to achieve those types of setups?
Joe: We’re very flexible. We’ve got a full range of packages. That’s important, not just so that we’ve got a broad range to offer, but also that we’ve got many price points. We can fit into different venues as you say. For example, we’ve got a show, which is starts at 3,000 pound. That’s for the two pianos, the drums, the PA, everything, up to 12,000 pounds in the UK. That’s for a 10-piece version of the band. We call it the party pianos excel. There’s a brilliant video that we did in a private aircraft hangar with private jets and Lamborghinis and all sorts of fun toys surrounded us. The summary, for the high-end that is something for a more fordable end.
Brad: Great. I just want to ask you just jump back to this networking side of things. Maybe dig a little deeper. When you met that … Was it BMW …
Joe: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Brad: … showroom? When you met him, how did you develop that relationship? Talk us through what you did to take things to the next level that you ended up seeing that chain reaction you described?
Joe: Woody Allen always says that 90% of successes is showing up, which I really believe in, because if you do show up and the other guy doesn’t, then you got a chance. I think it was about the need. They happened to have a need, and we had a solution to fulfill that need. And their need was “we (BMW) need to draw people in, entertain people while they’re there within that big torch. Make a bit of a spectacle and make a bit of a day out of it and also so we can showcase our cars and have the sales guys running around.” And because I had been to these network and things for probably about eight months. Within that eight months, I hadn’t really had any business out of it, but just that one in all the time and making an impression on the people there. One person said, “I know this person. Actually, you need this for your showroom. I know a guy that might be able to help,” and then they connected us.
It’s about kind of being in the forefront to people’s minds when they think, “Oh. I need a band. Oh. I know. I can call these people.”
Brad: Wow. So went to eight months to the networking event …
Brad: … right before you got that break.
Joe: Yeah. If anyone’s been to these kind of things like a BNI or a local networking, it’s very much near printers, plumbers, photographers, estate agents, will writers. It’s those plenary things as well as whole manual labor skills. So going as an event’s company, really, it wasn’t going to be our target market. I didn’t know that time. I just want to get out there. I didn’t care who I talk to. I just talk to everybody. I drove everyone mad. Like this is Party Pianos. What on earth is that? And then I fill them in with everything. Then we get a couple of parties from there.
Brad: Right. That one thing led to another. So you built your client base now. One of the things that I think you do really well is your regularly I’m on your mailing list, and you’re regularly emailing your newsletters. What’s the thinking behind that? Talk to us about that strategy.
Joe: It’s kind of brought from the main music industry with chart acts and things, because it is getting tougher these days. You’ve got people like Peter Gabriel for example said that the most important thing is to build a database, and you see these big acts now that basically are running databases. The Protégé in doing their tour at the moment, I saw them last week. They are meticulous on their email. You wouldn’t know it, but they’ve got a great backend of emails and data and social media going out.
What does that mean? Well, it creates the impression, again, on the end-user. There’s a point in sales philosophy that someone won’t buy from you unless they’ve had seven to 13 impressions. That means they’ve seen a sign with your name. That counts as one. They’ve seen the business card with your name on it. That’s the second one. They’ve seen an email pop in some inboxes, the third one. They might like to see your show. All these impressions will then give them… build up that trust in the brand and in what you do, and then there will be more likely to get to buy from you because you’re an established thing.
The email in a sense is getting the name out there, getting the brand out there, so people think, “Oh yeah. These guys …” We send it out to about 20,000 people.
Brad: What’s that again, 20 thousand is it? Wow.
Joe: Yeah. It sounds like a lot, but not everybody opens it. You get about 10% open rates, so that’s 2,000 people and then you get about a 10% click through rate.
Brad: Where did you get that list? Because 20,000 is a lot of names to build up over a certain period of time. Did you buy the list in somewhere?
Joe: We worked in it. It was my … From day one, I want to get that data. We basically did. We went where the people where. We did a lot of tradeshows. After BMW and the Suns get their first corporates, I looked into where did these people exist? Where did they hangout? Who are my target market? I keep coming at this target market, but it was so important to define who our customers would be, and then I could find out where they go, what they do. We’ve found event tradeshows, which we went to which were up in London. We basically did deals with the guys and said, “We’ll be your band.” We went with their band for the after show parties and all that kind of stuff. We had learned that for about two years. As a result … I mean, you’ve got thousands of people walking through these exhibitions. As they came out, we had people that are ready to talk to them, zap their patch around the neck, and we got the data.
We became real data gatherers for a good company just trying to get as many people as we could.
Brad: Wow. That’s fantastic. Okay. That’s a great strategy. I noticed obviously on your emails, you’ve run a couple of pretty special competitions as well, haven’t you, where you’re giving away … There was a dream holiday, I think you were doing at one point? What was that one?
Joe: We gave away a dream holiday. What other band do you know that does that? Is there any other band who does it? It’s about being different and doing something unique. If we put someone that’s going to book us for 10,000 pounds, a dream holiday which will cost about 1,000 pounds of holiday vouchers, we were willing to kind of invest in that. Yeah. We did both on that. We got some great inquiries. We’ve got some good relationships. One lucky lady got an amazing holiday.
Brad: Wow. God, that’s amazing. Okay.
Joe: Also the champagne as well. We do champagne from time to time. We did a recent one where if you book us for four sets and dates, then you get a bottle of champagne.
Brad: You get a good response on those promotions? Do you?
Joe: Yes. It’s funny because most of our clients are women. I find it strange, but they are pretty much all women, all of our clients. I think it’s because the traditional role, the PA, the EA or the Event Manager is a woman. So I thought, “What do they like?” Well, they like holidays and they like champagne. They like big tea mugs and things like that.
Brad: Tea mugs..
Joe: Yeah! We got branded mugs. We have Party Pianos mugs, and they go out to our clients. Whenever there are any offer served the cup of tea, they’ve got Party Pianos writing on their mug and showing it to their colleagues.
All these things about, again, coming back to the target audience who are our target market is women between the ages of 22 and say 52. The email is basically written with those guys in mind.
Brad: Right. I love it. I’m big on the choosing that target market. That’s definitely top of the list. Tell us a little bit more about … You mentioned you had done some online marketing stuff as well. I should actually mention, I mean you can go and checkout Party Pianos at PartyPianos.com. Go and check out the website. There’s a whole bunch of videos and that type of thing, which is taken the time to produce really well.
When you are driving traffic to your website in the way that you’re doing, obviously, you’re presenting yourself and you’re communicating your value really well. Just talk to us about the other … Is there other online marketing stuff that you’re doing at the moment?
Joe: Apart from the website, social media is the thing. So we have social handles for Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn. We’ve just started Instagram, which is really popular now. I find that more and more marketing has digested is in picture of video format. People don’t want to read anymore. Yeah. Pictures are very important. Luckily, we’re very visual kind of thing. We can post some great pictures especially when we do things abroad as well.
Brad: Okay. We covered a bit of the offline stuff. Let’s talk about that… You obviously got quite a presence now in UAE, haven’t you?
Joe: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Brad: Tell us a little bit about how.. that’s United Arab of Emirates. Tell us about how that came about.
Joe: Started last year. We went and did … We had learned an award show for event professionals. We did that the Middle East Event Awards last May. It was a long time to making. It was about three years in the making. Dubai, as everyone looks at Dubai. It looks very glamorous. It seems to be a little money about … It always kind of appeal to me. I’d been on a holiday a couple of times and I’ve got friends over there who moved over there for work. They were all saying, “Come out. Come out.” So I said ok. I went out a couple of years ago, and I walked around a couple of tradeshows when I was there because I’m not able to have a normal holiday. A little bit of these then I went to the tradeshow, and just talk to people really and finding out the need. Again, it’s about trying to find a need and fill that before just rushing over there and just say, “Here we are this is what we do,” and no one book us.
So I had a good look at what the scene is out there. It’s not as busy as people would think it would be. There’s a big shift towards the DJ scene. There’s so many DJs out there. There’s not a lot of live music. There’s not that much of a live music culture, so it’s actually very difficult. We’ve been lucky. We’ve done some good events in the past eight months or so. We did one on the Palm, which is amazing. One in Dubai Marina, the Burj Khalifa at the Armani Hotel, and that is the tallest building in the world. We’re at the back on the terrace and playing right in front of this absolutely vast thing.
So there’s some brilliant experiences that we had. It’s a different thing. It’s a great place. It’s really a holiday destination. You got a lot of tourists there. A lot of young people there. A lot of British people there. It’s an interesting thing. You know, it’s only just began. The whole of the UAE is interesting, because it works like a school term. You have school holidays, if you will, because of the heat. So from September to June, there’s stuff on, but then you have Ramadan and the summer, where it’s just too hot to do anything. Everyone just disappears from Dubai. They go back to England or America or wherever, and then they come back. It’s very interesting. I do like it there. I really love it. It’s a brilliant country. People were really nice, so to speak.
Brad: Sounds great. You got some great video material as well. How have you gone about getting that all captured?
Joe: A bit of a mix. When we first started we were doing … I use an iPhones and things. Our very first video was a montage of iPhone clips. Just about got away with it, because when you start out you got zero budget. What can you do? You need a video to show people what you can do.
However, I would really recommend that you invest as quick as you can in a professional video that can really show you off with your best. We had a guy who won a Grammy or something with Kanye West for doing his video, and that’s the video with the private jets and stuff. That’s a very slick video. Then we had another video which was done on a Cannon 5D, I think at Ministry of Sound when we had loads of girls up on the stage dancing around the Spice Girls.
We haven’t got our own kind of unit. We’ve used different guys for different videos. When your opportunities are risen then we’ve done, we’ve taken videos. It’s really important to even just take pictures. Even on the phone now, you’ve got a really decent smart phone with HD capture. You can take an HD video. You could take an HD photo of the bands and stuff.
I found the action photos are better than setup photos. If you’ve got sound guy or there’s someone else there, give them the camera and then when you’re in the middle of your set rocking out, get them to take the pictures. Clip on an action shot to sell better than a setup shot.
Brad: Right. Are you using any particular type of gadget to take those photos? Is it just an iPhone or SLR? What is it?
Joe: SLR at the moment. One of our players got DSLR. He’s got a really cool Nikon, with some great lenses. Yeah, he’s taken some really quality photos with that.
Another top tip is if that you’re at an event, a big event there usually will be an event photographer and they will be roaming around taking pics. So it’s always good to go and make friends with them and say “Hi!” and everything. Be nice and say, “Look. Would you mind taking a couple of pictures of us and send them on?” 9 times out of 10 they would say “yes.” The other one time you might get … charging you. If it’s worth it.. you know if it’s quality…
Brad: I always find the ones that want to charge. That’s actually the worst shots.
Joe: That’s true. That’s in my experience.
Brad: Okay. Look, there’s some great tips there, I have to say. As well as being your gig anniversary, first, fourth anniversary today in the last week or so, you’ve launched another venture… B events.
Brad: Tell more.
Joe: We’ve always done gigs and function dance, which has been great. Sometimes when we arrive there, the sounds or the lights have been up to scratch. And so a couple of years ago, we decided to work exclusively with a sounds and light company. They have now kind of … We’ve partnered up and we’re going to be offering everything. So it’s kind of a vertical or background integration to have the bands, but also to do the sound and light, to do the staging. All sort of stuff. We’ve got friends who do cocktail bars. So I said, well look, let’s do that as well, so we can offer cocktail bars. We can offer promo models, and we can offer event management as well.
We’ve done a couple of events like this. We did a big event in 2013 for Dell software. It was big, so we did all the catering. We brought in all the AV screens, we brought in, oh the whole event management. That’s really fun to do, because it was non-musical. There wasn’t a piano in the site, so it was something really different. It was a demonstration of that actually. This is possible when we can bring the same enthusiasm and fun and creativity for music into something else to create a really fun event.
Brad: You’re presumably bringing in your team around you on an event by then. Is that the thinking?
Joe: Yes. I think so, but also more and more I see the music industry changing within the music industry itself, but also the function band industry. When you’ve got the biggest bands in the world like U2 giving away their music for free, I think it sounds that really dangerous message to people that has booked music or would consider booking music. I do think that music has become devalued. I think musicians have become devalued. As a result, this could be harder and harder to sell bands and live music. Most bands would probably recognize this that if you try to set a band, people will say “actually we’re within a budget, we’ll just put a DJ on” or, even worse, all offerings got Spotify. We’ll put a player list and it’s done, and that’s it.
There’s more and more of this with technology creeping into the space and sector. It is about diversification, but not diversifying too far away from the call. The second reason why I have done it is because when you plan a wedding on events, say if you’re the bride or groom, the entertainment and the band is usually last on the list. You’re after the venue, catering, even the chair covers. At the end of all of those cost, whatever they’ve got left is for the band. Usually, they will try and get a very significant discount from you.
I thought, well, if we’re at the start of this chain, the start of this decision-making process, then we can at least and try to get the band in there at the end by controlling the other cost. That’s kind of the way I’m thinking to ensure that we get the band gig at the end by controlling the rest of it.
Brad: Wow. That’s super clever.
Joe: Well, try and look into the future. I think five years ago, you wouldn’t have thought that streaming will be so big and people wouldn’t be buying CDs anymore. In five years’ time, there might not be streaming and it might go back to radio or something or this description model. I think the future … Well, function bands, you got to be very good at live. If you’re not super tight and you have the most upstate songs, the best photos, the best videos, the best website, a great networking skills, it’s not going to happen. You’re not going to make it. Also, if you’re out there charging 500 pounds just to get your foot in the door, you’re also going to hurt the rest of the industry, because it’s not sustainable. Yourself and your peers won’t be able to make a living.
Brad: Good. Listen, yeah, that’s a really interesting insight. I agree to a certain extent. It’s definitely become harder and harder, which is what we talk about all the time obviously on Gigging Successes. Its about how to most effectively communicate your value through effective marketing and sales really. So I think there’s a lot of bands out there that are a lot better than they are able to market themselves at the moment. They’re still a huge… there’s people booking bands all the time. There’s no question about that. The market’s out there. The ones that are going to win, I don’t know if you’ll agree, Joe, are the ones which are able to communicate their value most effectively. I think that’s where it comes down to for me.
Joe: I’d agree with that. Yeah. I think musicians have to be a bit more business savvy and not think, “Oh, business is bad…” Because at the end of the day all it is, is making sure that you can play. I’ve been there. That’s what we want to do. We just want to play as many gigs as we can to put as many smiles in people’s faces.
Brad: Absolutely. Well listen. That’s a really good place to finish up. I’m running over slightly, which is always going to happen. But listen, Joe, thank you so much. There’s been some absolutely gold in there. Really, thanks for your time. We’ll maybe catch up with you. In months to come and see how B Events is getting on. I’ll be interested to see the impact that B Events has on Party Piano bookings, and how that is coming as one package, if you like. It will be interesting to see that.
Joe: Certainly, we’ll keep you updated. Thanks for having me today.
Brad: Pleasure. Thanks for coming on. We’ll see you again.