This week we talk to Martyn Strange of UK band Get Funked. Martyn has built Get Funked from the ground up and now can boast to be the band leader and manager of the one of the UKs most successful cover bands. He is very focused on getting his band perfectly set up for high profile corporate and private events while at the same time always looking to see how he can better sell and market his band. There’s some big lessons in here.
Brad: Hello listeners and welcome to the Gigging Success podcast. It’s Brad here. I’m not with Del today because we’ve got something a little bit special for you. I am interviewing a lovely guy called Martin Strange. Now, Martin runs a band called Get Funked. They are one of the UK’s busiest and best. They’re a fantastic band. They work a lot in the corporate market, they do a lot of high end corporate stuff, good decent weddings and bar mitzvahs and that type of thing. Really, really busy band. He’s made them really busy over the last two years. He’s doing some really great stuff in it. So, I hope you get a lot of value out of this cause martin shares some great stuff with us as well. Just remember, if you are looking to get more gigs for your band, head over to giggingsuccess.com/cbe and you can get our very special cover band essentials guide. That’s giggingsuccess.com/cbe. In the meantime let’s get into the interview.
Brad: Hi. Yes. I’m with Martin Strange. Now Martin is a fascinating character who has been managing his own band called Get Funked for quite a while now. I’ve known Martin for, I don’t know, how long is it now Martin? Kind of 4/5 years even now, I think…
Martin: Yeah, something like that.
Brad: So we’ve been chatting a lot over the years and I’ve been asking him to come on and do an interview for Gigging Success, I’m delighted to kind of have him here. So, how are you?
Martin: I’m very well. Thank you. I’m good.
Brad: Well, let’s get straight into it. Let’s have a little bit of background on you. How did you kind of start out. Maybe if we go back, you know, to a point maybe ten years ago when you start in the business. Will you tell me… Give us a little run down of your background.
Martin: Yeah sure. I’m 30 now and I went to a music college when I was 19 years old. I think the writing was on the wall before that. I was always quite entrepreneurial at school. I’ve always had some little project on the go. But whilst I was at university, that’s when I first set up my business, which at the time was a sole trader, it was a small company. Because I wanted to get gigs for myself and gigs for my friends, I wasn’t really happy with what I could see available elsewhere, so by the time I was 21/22, the company had kind of found its feet a little bit and I graduated, and at that point I wasn’t a student anymore and it was my living and I had to take it a little bit more serious. So I think it’s probably been eight years now that I’ve probably been taking it serious; more serious in the last three or four years as I approach my 30s and chilled.
Brad: So when you talk about a business, what was that business at the time that you set up?
Martin: I initially set up a company called Blue Throat Music Event Solutions, which was a strange name, but I was 21 years old and I knew no better. It was a management company for bands that I was in, bands that I wanted set up, bands that I had set up, and potentially some friends of mine, but I didn’t really want to be an agency. I wanted to work with agencies. The “Event Solutions” part of the title was I also had a bit of background in production, so I knew about live sounds and stage and lighting and things like that. Which is one thing that’s often missed by bands, they don’t take that part of what they do seriously and that sometimes is what lets them down. So I kind of offered production services as well as musicians and bands. And that grew into Gluter(?) Office Management, which is a limited company which I set up I guess six or seven years ago. I knew you from a friend. I came to you to see if we could work together on stuff. I didn’t want to leave any stone unturned. I set up that company right into the middle of the recession and it was pretty bad timing, and I invested quite heavily in it which probably wasn’t the best idea. It wasn’t a good time. Who was to know what was around the corner…
Brad: So were you, at that particular time, were you playing the bands or were you in a band?
Brad: How were you fitting into the mix in terms of you being a musician?
Martin: Well it was always about me being a musician. I mean, initially, it was because… the entrepreneurial has always been there, but I wanted to pick the gigs. I wanted to manage my own gigs because I like my own management style better than I like other peoples’. So, yes. I was playing in all of the bands, and you know, I’d go out of my way to cast myself. I want to be as involved in as many of the bands a possible and the performance casting. But at the time, I’d also drive the band, I’d lift the PA, I’d set up the lights, I’d even do the sound from the stage, and be in the band, and deal with the client, and it all got a bit too much. I wanted to grow, and I couldn’t find anyone to manage us or to do my job without giving up a huge amount of money. So it was a more cost effective thing and a more sensible thing at the time to get another sax player involved. So I kind of replaced myself with one of my very good friends, Jake Goss, who ever since has been the sax player in the bands that I managed. But back to the part on the recession, it was a year or two into that I decided to fold my agency (at that point, that’s what people thought it was, but really it was still a management company). I folded to because the agents saw it as an agency and being as unestablished as I was, because, you know, all I had under my belt was a few years and I was based up north at the time (I was in Leeds) now I live in London. I decided that it was holding back my most successful band, which was a band called Get Funked. I had lots of little jazz bands and a swing band and saxophone quartets and a string quartet (obviously, I wasn’t in that one). Doing a little bit of gigs but nothing like Get Funked. Get Funked was doing 100 gigs a year at the time, and it was going for a lot of money and it was is doing very well so that band needed to be its own independent company the agents would see as being the band that they’d get to deal with, not another management company. They wouldn’t want to introduce their clients to another management company if they could avoid it.
Brad: Well, that’s interesting because I had a note here to kind of have a chat with you about agents and this seems to be a good time to talk about that. So you found that as pitching yourself as a management company with your kind of flagship act under the banner of that management company was holding you back from building relationships with clients because they thought that your management company was competition for them
Martin: Yeah, there was a flip side to it as well. The agents would look at it as “you’re an agent.” They didn’t understand that they were my bands and even if they did understand that they were my bands, they would think that they could be got elsewhere. I remember cases of introducing my band to the agent and then the agent contacting some of the musicians in the band to try and book the band. The musicians just went “It’s martin’s band. We don’t have anything to do with it. Martin runs the band. So there were some interesting experiences with some of the agents.
Brad: When you talk about that point you’re doing about a hundred gigs a year for Get Funked? So that was by far and away your best act on your roster, I presume?
Martin: By far.
Brad: Where were those gigs coming from at the that time?
Martin: Well, in the early days, when I first set up, I got a lot through the college, because I was still at Leeds College of Music and the girls in the office thought I was fantastic because I was one of the only people that was actually trying to get gigs and everyone else was in the bar doing just gigs and having fun and I was walking around with a PDA and a shirt and tie on trying to be the businessman.
Brad: Okay, so you were kind of networking and talking to people about the band…
Martin: Yeah, and I was getting everyone in my course involved in stuff. People were setting up bands all over the place… It was a little bit of a distraction. It was a conservative choir of excellence. People weren’t meant to be creating provisional music, which we were, but everyone has bills to pay and there is that sort of cliff drop at the end of university where you’ve been in this safety bubble of lots of involvement in bands run for you, projects that will happen as part of your course, and when it gets to the end of it, if you haven’t got stuff got yourself, not only will you have no money you’ll have no opportunity to play your instrument. So I think they also is positive thing and I did and my friends, they still do. A lot of them are still involved in it now from my college days. The guys in the office originally would put all of the inquires that came to the university to me, which is fantastic.
Brad: And that was because you had gone in there and pitched yourself this person I want to those inquiries and could offer service off the back of it?
Martin: Yeah. I did them a favor too, because before I came along, they’d constantly have the local authority or somebody contact the friend of the university contact for their function and they’d have to start rummaging through the musicians trying to find somebody that would take it seriously, which was not that easy.
So there was kind of almost a lesson in that in the sense that you inadvertently spotted a marketplace and pitched yourself as a solution to the girls in the office.
Martin: yeah, without realizing the market existed. It was just by chance, they saw what I was doing and said “By the way, we do get a lot of phone calls…” And it wouldn’t be enough now but at the time as a student it was more than enough, because I only had a certain capacity for dealing with clients and I was doing a full time degree, so it’d only be once a week I’d get an inquiry and one in three of them would turn into an event. But we’d get 20 gigs a year for the second and third year of my degree and the bits of word of mouth. At that point we were also cheap, so people would contact the university because peopled wanted a band at student prices. That’s what we did; we didn’t’ need to be expensive we didn’t have kids, we didn’t have mortgages. In fact, it was beer money, it wasn’t even rent money because most of the guys in the band would have some pocket money from mum and dad, they were still quite young. So obviously that changed very quickly, and when it cuts into my degree I had a chat with a friend of mine whose down in London who had a similar thing to me. His was all jazz and saxophone as well but he move into the party bands. He still runs a little agency now. He started doing AdWords and he told me all about AdWords and AdWords were the start and almost the end of me with that period of my life because…[Laughter] It was an interesting experience because I got hooked on AdWords at that point.
Brad: Just for everyone listening, we should clarify what AdWords are. AdWords is Google AdWords which is effectively the sponsored links that you see when you search for something on Google. So at the top of the search page and the sidebar. A lot of people might know that, but just of people who don’t, this clarifies it. So you became a bit obsessed by that did you?
Martin: Yeah, because at this point, we’re talking 2005, so I just graduated, I had the website for a year or two but the website had never done it. I was always really angry with my website guy because we never got any SEO. He’s like “Well, you know Martin. For the £400 you paid use for the website you don’t get SEO.” So I didn’t’ understand why it didn’t happen naturally. But we had a flash website at the time which didn’t really respond well with Google. Then I discovered that you could get at the top of the Google ranking for whatever you wanted by paying a certain amount and at this point it was fairly competitive already, but it wasn’t as competitive as it got towards the end of it. I could pay £30 a day and get 30 inquiries; it used to work out about a pound an inquiry. And I’d sponsor words like “wedding band” or “corporate party band” or “soul band” or “Jewish wedding band,” all sorts of stuff. But it was competitive. It was around a pound to be at the top, but you’d max out. You’d have a budget for the day, and you’d max out quite earlier on, but if you lowered what you were prepared to pay per click, you would get any at all. You kind of had to be at the top or you wouldn’t get any traffic at all. It was quite a hard thing to manage and I didn’t manage it very well, but it really kick started my business because what we have was 13 inquiries a day from people all over the UK who’d be finding us through Google. We were getting big blue chip companies, we’d get big events companies. The opposite end of that was we’d get somebody who had a working men’s club in the middle of nowhere who was having a birthday party for 30 people and wanted a band for £50, and you’d spend an hour on the phone with them going through everything. I’d talk all about all about what we could do for them and they were really excited and the second you talked about the money the phone couldn’t go down quick enough. So, the problem with it was whilst we got lots of inquiries we they were very wide and most of them didn’t really fit. You’ had stuck yourself at the top of Google, you’ve got anybody whose clicking, we’ve got lots of bands clicking. Suddenly I’d get five inquires a day from musicians who wanted to be in the band and each one of those, it costs you a pound, so you’re spending £5 a day on just getting musicians to contact you it was never the musicians you wanted to speak to either. It was good and it was bad. That’s when we got to the 100 gigs a year thing, the more I spent on AdWords the more gigs we got, but at one point the AdWords bill was £3000 a month and in that year were turn over close a quarter of a million pounds as a function band, but we had £40-50 AdWords bill which is 20% and then you take another 20% out for VAT and then sometimes they get a percentage out for the agency they work with, and then you pay the band, and then you pay for everything else and all the PA, and the van and all that, there was nothing left. So we ran it break even for two or three years and in those two or three years, we’re doing 100 gigs a year and I was exhausted and it just got to the point where I tried to slow down the AdWords things and all that’d happen was we’d have less gigs. So one day I just switched it off and I went “Right. I’m gonna immediately have most this is cash back that I’m losing every month and I’m going to do something else with it and build something that more sustainable.” So at that point it became DVDs, and CDs, brochures, and more investment in the website, and meeting people, going out, and getting on the phone, and phoning people you wanted to speak to rather than who wanted to contact you. What happened then was as a massive lean period and this was also the time of the recession where a) where there weren’t so many inquiries and events happening, but b) because we cut off the AdWords. The band suddenly went quiet and in that year, we did, maybe, 30-35 gigs instead of 100 and that upset the musicians because they had been quite dependent on the band, but I couldn’t do a lot about it because, in that year, we actually made a profit. So we went from 100 gigs to 35 gigs, but we went from zero profit to some profit.
Brad: So presumably, you built up quite a lot of word of mouth by that point. So you were getting referrals from your…?
Martin: We were but we were doing lots of weddings. The AdWords thing worked really well for weddings, it didn’t work really well for corporate. And at that point we weren’t doing anything in the Jewish market which is very referral based. I find that in the wedding market, it really isn’t that referral based. Nobody wants that same band that their friends had even if they loved it. Yet, quite often the people that were booking us were people who were really overstretching themselves, so we doing lots of “New Money” gigs where people would book a band because they’d come into some money or the had a good year –this was the end of the “Good Years,” so peopled were booking us in 2006 and 2007, for events in 2007 & 2008. So we were doing gigs in the recession that people had contracted to back in the good days, if that makes sense. That was the corner that was turned, because suddenly… we weren’t doing lots and lots of very wealthy people’s events. We weren’t doing a lot in central London; we were all over the home countries, all over England. We’re doing events for people who just wanted to have a big wedding, but it wasn’t necessary that demographic of chucking money at big events, if that make sense.
Brad: Absolutely. So, if kind of jump up to the present day now and how you’re getting on. I know the last couple years, you really focus down on Get Funked and really targeting a particular niche market, haven’t you, and you’ve had a huge amount of success with that. So tell us about that.
Martin: Around that time, things weren’t going well. We struggled with getting the quantity of even we had in the past. I then looked to the agents that… When I first set up my business, I found very quickly that agents weren’t interested in us. They haven’t heard of us. We haven’t come on their radio at all. They had loads of bands. I was very young, so I’m sure on the phone, I said something stupid from time to time, I’m sure that the information I sent them wasn’t that appropriate. The turning point was me going “We are established now. All of the agents do know about us. All the events companies do know about us. We need to become agents friendly.” That was the point where I decided to close down the management side of the business and just set up Get Funked Limited, which is what I did, and that’s been three or four years. Thins have snow balled and things have gone very, very well.
Brad: So what do you think the reason for that success is? There’s never one reason, but maybe two or three different reasons why you think you’re having the success with the band that you’re having now.
Martin: It wasn’t just becoming agent friendly It was also up scaling it. So the band went from being a 6- or seven piece and an irregular 10-piece option, to being a 13-piece that would offer people a seven piece if they wanted something a little more modest. So we kind of recognized in the recession and post-recession years, people with lots of money had more money than they had before. Now the corporate market immediately dried up because big companies couldn’t be seen to be throwing lavish parties but there was still a lot of very swanky birthday parties and decent budget wedding and we did a lot in the Jewish market as well, which has been really good to us and we’ve really enjoyed the work. We made our product more high-end. Now, I’ve always had high expectations and high aspirations, but I’ve never been happy with its performance, with what it does, how big it is. I’ve always wanted it to be bigger and better, so I constantly invest everything I get into making Get Funked a real powerhouse of entertainment. At the point that it is now, it’s unrecognizable for me from ever two years ago, let alone four or five years ago when we were doing 100 gigs a year. It really is, it’s quite incredible now. I think the band is fantastic. That is why we’re busy, because people…
Brad: I just want to go back to that. You mentioned you had different size options, and that was specifically because you felt that people wanted Get Funked, but they couldn’t necessarily afford a larger band, so you gave then a Get Funked experience in a smaller outfit.
Martin: It used to be the other way around. It was a small band with an expensive outfit for people who had more money and a bigger venue, and I did it the other way around. So, we were a big band that had a smaller option for people –and I don’t pitch as people with less money, it’s more modest events. It’s not always about how much budget they’ve got, sometimes it’s just about how big it is. You can’t crow bar a 13-piece band into a function with 100 guests and a little…
Brad: So you almost kind of doubled your market potential size by creating a smaller band option from what you had there…
Martin: Absolutely. if we had a four or five, we’d be so busy. We’d had an extra hundred gigs a year, because no end to the people we work with want a four or five piece option. Loads of the inquires we get, they’ve got a budget and an aspiration for a four or five piece band. however, we can’t do what we do with a four or five piece band without making huge sacrifices and the band would enjoy it. Really, the problem with that is whilst it would then drop it into that market where there’s a lot more affordability, the band wouldn’t enjoy it. Really, the problem with that is, whilst it would then drop it into that market where there’s a lot more affordability, it would really devalue the higher-end product. So we are a 10-13 piece band with five singers or two singers (which is the difference allocate between the two). We do offer discretely, it’s not on the website a seven piece band when people have something that’s a bit more modest. So to have a cheap, cheap option… it’s like when Porsche bought out the Boxster, do you know what I mean? You’ve got a higher end, you bring out something that actually a lot of people will turn up their nose at in the higher part of the market… So you’ve got to be careful.
Brad: Just to back to… You mentioned before that you made yourself agent-friendly. What did you do to make yourself agent friendly?
Martin: Not being part of the management company was the first thing. The agents didn’t want to deal with a management company, so it was setting up Get Funked Limited. Then, what really makes you agent friendly is not having a website at all, not being available direct, and putting yourself in the hands of the agent. However, I was suspicious as to how much work the agents could get us, because there are a huge amount of clients who don’t want to work with an agent and my experience of agencies is you have clients how do want to work with an agent. I’ve got one that’s booked me through the same agent through the last four years, but they’ve got my direct number and it doesn’t even cross their mind to phone me direct. They like dealing with the agent. I’ve got people who will go out of their way to avoid using agents. they will not use an agency, but they found themselves on an agency’s website looking at bands. So there’s no point in trying to force people out of what they want to do: They either want to work with an agent or they don’t. So we made yourselves agent friendly in as much as we had preferential agency rates, so the agents can get a better price as much as they can. So when the mark us up, they mark us up to what we charge, which means we won’t undercut them, which mean we’re not actively trying to take their business. I’d love it if all of our bookings came from agents but the fact is a lot of the higher end clientele don’t want to book through an agent, a lot of the corporates do, but a lot of the privates don’t and our Jewish clients definitely don’t. We’ve never had a Jewish function booked through an agent. So we can’t go to that point where we have no website and we rely on the agents because our business would just fall through the floor. We get a healthy amount of work through the agents and it’s valuable, and we enjoy it, and we treat it with a lot of integrity, and we always push that agent, and we try and send our clients back to them, but it’s not enough to keep us going. So we became agent friendly without becoming agent exclusive, which was the big thing.
Brad: you found that balance then, did you?
Brad: Okay, because one of the things which… cause I’ve been on the receiving end of one of your marketing pieces which made me smile. I think it was the beginning of this year… Do you wanna.. just… Obviously you’ve built a database of people in the industry that have the potential to get you gigs. Whether that’s entertainment agents, or event planners, wedding planners… So what did you do? Tell us what you did in the beginning of the year and what was the result of that?
Martin: This is trade secrets now, so everyone [indecipherable]… We sent out marketing piece in the post which we haven’t done three or four years, since I was running Blue Throat and I sent out What was our brochure and it was like a £20 brochure of a CD and a DVD sort of popped into a brochure. Very expensive, very nice and it didn’t really work. This time I, though, we’ve printed a thousand Get Funked CDs and a really nice double CD. Obviously, the CDs are coming to the end of their shelf life and I thought “What can I do to get these CDs out to people?” “What can I do just to reach out to people and say ‘We’re still here’ in a tangible way that isn’t a firm calling and isn’t an email?” So I decided to send out a with a New Year’s card that had all our pictures over it, but it didn’t have any kind of sales pitch. It was just “Happy New Year! Fun getting Funked!” It didn’t have anything on it saying “Book us now!” or “Special offers!” It was very, very informal and friendly. And, into each one, I needed to put something as a gift. It was New Year’s Day I sent them out, so people got them on their first day back in the office although I spent my whole New Year in my office stuffing envelopes and my girlfriend wrote all the cars because my handwriting is not neat enough. It also has to be quite cost effective, so I decided to put hot chocolate in each one. so we did a bulk order of chocolate and ordered 500 rock road slabs. It’s nice, it’s nothing too lavish. The last thing you want to do is put a £20 gift into 500… It’ll cost a lot of money, but people will think “Who are you trying to buy?” It’s just meant to be a token gesture without it being cheap. Something that just represented us well.
Brad: Something that represents your brand.
Martin: Yeah, quite high end but accessible. Everyone can really afford hotel chocolate if they just want to buy a chocolate slab. It’s on the high street but it’s still quite high end. So that’s kind of what I wanted to associate with. We did a snazzy envelope; it was black and it all matched. The most expensive thing was the postage. There was a couple of pounds to post each one. So we spent a £1,000 just on postage and the whole thing was four or five ground, but it paid for itself by the end of February.
Brad: so what kind of results did you get from that? How many did you send out?
Martin: I sent out 500 and they were to some past clients, all of our clients from that year (which was about 70 or 80), I sent them to the band are part of it, all the agents, all the events companies we worked with and few that we didn’t, a lot of wedding planners, even photographers and caterers that we worked with.
Brad: Anyone that has the potential to get you a gig?
Martin: Yeah, but mostly people on our radar and a few ransoms. I went on my LinkedIn and I’m friends with some people on LinkedIn who I’ve never met but they appear to have very glamorous jobs in some very big companies, So I found the address of that company, popper their name on it, and sent it to them and you just kind of thin “I hope it gets there and if it doesn’t, it’s gonna get to someone else and you never know they might be having a function or know something of their own.” So it worked. loads of them. I don’t know what happened to them –god knows what happened to them, I have no idea– but we had enough of a return within two or three months that it paid for itself. But actually after three months, I didn’t hear anything about it again. So if peopled didn’t deal with us within a month, two, or three, it’d basically forgotten about. It was over with very quickly; you had to be on the ball to get every opportunity out that came out at the time. The relationship is there with a lot people even if we haven’t spoken to them since. They will al remember us as the band that sent them chocolate and every now and again, I’ll speak to someone that says “Oh, it was you…” it just warms people to you.
Brad: I think the clever thing about that is there was no sales pitch in it. From my perspective , what I see there the timing is great because one of the busiest times of the year for inquiries and bookings is January/February.
Martin: That’s exactly it.
Brad: Yeah and you’ve got there right at the beginning of the years and you gave them a free gift, which is kind of like the whole kind of rule of reciprocity, when somebody gives you something you almost kind feel obliged to offer them something back. But there was no overt pitch there was there?
Brad: Do you think that was the thing which made it successful?
Martin: Yeah that was the key. It was always about the timing. I always had it in my mind it had to be the first week of January because people come into the office after Christmas and here we’ve got their favorite band who was wonderful all through the Christmas period and didn’t let them down once or they got let down and they’re looking for someone new. So there’s no point in doing anything before Christmas because everyone is just manic. The first week back, the phones aren’t ringing. The emails have stopped. Everyone just wants to breathe a sigh of relief. They take down all their Christmas cards and then what they get through the post is our New Year’s card. So, instead of having 50 Christmas cards on the shelf, they’ve got one New Year’s card from us. So, yes. It’s all about the timing and whilst it wasn’t totally successful in as much as I think I only dealt with 10 or 15 people of that 500 which is a pretty low rate. one of them in particular booked a £15,000 event with us within six weeks. Someone whose never heard of us before. They passed our CD on to someone they knew and that person had a very big event in August and that paid for the whole thing.
Brad: Fantastic. Okay, so that’s definitely something that you’re gonna do again?
Brad: You want to do something a bit different.
Martin: Yeah, we’re doing a mail out again on New Year’s Day, but it will be different this time. There’s no gift. No CD. But it will remain… It needs to be a surprise.
Brad: Yeah, no. We won’t go into that and spoil the surprise and give anyone too many of your secrets. martin, we’ve come to the end now. We’ve got to keep things tight. How can people get a hold of you and find out more about Get Funked and what you’re up to.
Martin: If they’re used to booking through agents, they can book us through most of the agents and we can be found direct as well which is getfunked.com that’s g-e-t-f-u-n-k-e-d.com.
Brad: And all that, the contact form on the website goes through to you?
Martin: My mobile number is on there, my email address is on there.
Brad: Well listen, it’s brilliant. Thank you so much for sharing that with us and I could talk for a lot longer as we’ve done in the past, but I think we’ve got to keep it tight here. Listen, thanks very much and hope fully we’ll speak to you very soon.