Rob Adler on Acting, Teaching Acting to Children and Adults, Games, and Other Thoughts

Rob Adler on Acting, Teaching Acting to Children and Adults,
Games, and Other Thoughts
Interview by Sue Basko, esq.

You seem to be an actor, a teacher, maybe an improviser. Please tell me about you and your work.
Yes, I am an actor, director, teacher and though I prefer a script, it seems that life is improvised, so yes, I am an improviser. My work as an actor is about helping to tell stories that inspire people into action. I want to help demonstrate that there is real power in coming together, identifying and relating. There is a great history of people coming together to act. I believe that stories help us to imagine the possibilities and theater, films and television allow us do that together. I also coach and teach actors working in film television and theater. The focus of my teaching is to help people find spontaneity, presence and play. The play’s the thing.

Please tell me about your background, what led up to where you are today.
While watching the VHS of Superman II, at age five, for the umpteenth time, it finally occurred to me to ask my big brother how they made him fly. When he told me, I first understood that there was much more to the picture than what I saw. There was a crane! And the notion that someone might sew me a cape and dangle me from a piece of construction equipment piqued my curiosity to say the least. My aunt Margaret made me a cape but I’m still learning to fly.

I fell in love with the rehearsal process with my first play, which was a school production of Peter Pan in which I played Curly the Lost Boy. By the opening night, I was hooked. That summer I attended the Summer Arts Institute at Rutgers University in New Jersey where I lived. I apprenticed summers thereafter at a local theater, where I met some amazing artists who would become my mentors. I studied, read and practiced everything I could. I swept floors and built sets, hung lights, made props and costumes, and stage managed. I danced and sang and acted.

When I was sixteen, I was invited to study Shakespeare in England with members of the Royal Shakespeare Company. I had always loved language (a gift from my grandmother), but in the UK I learned some skill with verse. From Fiona Shaw, I learned to fuel text with passion.

I decided to study in Chicago after High School, because I wanted a non-psychological approach to acting. I had read about the method, affective memory. I had read Meisner and Strasberg but sensed they weren’t for me. In Chicago, I found a physical, collaborative approach to acting and the skills to play to spaces large and small. I learned an intimacy and intensity that lent well to film & television.

After completing Theater School, I did a production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream in Woodstock, NY, directed by my old mentor, Richard Edelman. I then moved to Los Angeles. In LA, I began working with David Avcollie, studied with the Groundlings, Second City and Joyce Piven, all of whom derived their work from the games of Viola Spolin, which I had studied in Chicago. I pilgrimaged to Wisconsin where Spolin’s son, creator of the Second City, Paul Sills, was still teaching. Upon returning, I met an actor named Todd Stashwick who was also interested in Spolin Games as they applied to theater. We created what we called The Hothouse Spontaneous Theater. I taught adults there and at the Chicago & Seattle Improv Festivals.

It was then that I also began teaching kids. But, to kids I taught Shakespeare, while performing (I did a five year run as Bottom in A Midsummer Nights Dream!) as a member of LA’s oldest classical theater company. This was a wonderful juxtaposition: Games to adults & Shakespeare to kids.
I left the Hothouse when I was hired by ABC to be the on-camera acting coach for Disney’s High School Musical: Get in the Picture. Now I coach actors on set and teach classes at two Hollywood acting studios and periodically at schools and theaters nationwide and worldwide. I continue to act in theater, television and film and I’m working hard for more of the latter.

You work with children. Where, doing what?
Currently, I’m teaching young actors at an acting studio called Talentorium. I’ve taught master classes and workshops at theaters and schools from Boston to Baton Rouge, Orange County to Orlando, Seattle to Syracuse! I also coach young actors on set.

What are your main goals in working with children?
To increase their capacity for focus, build confidence, presence, compassion and joy. To meet them where they are and help them take the next steps. On set, I aim to help them fulfill their part of the whole.

I think acting classes or skills are a big help in all other aspects of life. How do you think this applies to children and teens?
Teenage is tough. Preteens might be tougher. Acting skills can help a person to be comfortable in their own skin and in the present moment. They can help us escape our critical mind and learn to relate. Acting can teach assertiveness, build confidence and enable creative problem solving. Acting skills and living skills are closely related.

Are you from a certain school of theater philosophy? Please explain.
I have studied many schools and philosophies. I apprenticed with William Hickey of Uta Hagen’s HB Studios and also studied acting in the UK, The First Folio approach to Shakespeare, the Japanese training of Tadashi Suzuki, American Anne Bogart’s Viewpoints, clowning with students of the French mime Jacques Lecoq, Hungarian Rudolf Laban's movement analysis, The Feldenkrais Method and others.

I chose to attend Chicago’s Theater School at DePaul University because of their physical approach to actor training and their de-emphasis of an individual method in favor of exploration of many and pursuit of a method for each individual. It was there that I began my study of Viola Spolin’s Games, which I continue to play now. I have since made it my business to study Spolin’s approach with as many experts as possible as I did from her son, Paul Sills, and her protégés, Gary Schwartz and Bob Moyer, among many others. It is Spolin’s philosophy that guides much of my work. But, unlike in music, an actor’s instrument is our self, so no one can teach you where to place your fingers to play a chord. Actors must learn from experience, play with communication and be students of life.

What are your personal goals in acting? What would your next big step be?
My next big step would be a regular role on a network series. I have a great desire to pay forward what I received as a child. As a kid, my siblings and I could rely on a few television shows to be there, consistently and make us laugh. I relied and counted on them. After a play, the audience gets to thank the players in the form of applause, but how can I thank Sam & Diane? Cliff & Claire? I can be there on the screen for some latch key kid to count on week after week. It is this gratitude that lead me to Hollywood and to wonder what else could be done. I have come admire great storytellers like Warren Beatty and Tim Robbins who shine a light on a path for me.

You have a presence, even in small photos. You capture the space. Why are you not famous? Or are you and I just don't know?
I guess that I’m not famous because I haven’t learned how yet. I love how you ask this question. I consider it a great compliment that you feel I have presence and capture the space. Space is what’s between us and it is one thing that I am certain binds us. Connecting with the space is a large part of my daily practice. Being an actor, playing in many media, I must explore the space if I am somehow to connect and communicate to another through it.

I have a sister who teaches figure skating and a niece who teaches gymnastics to young girls who might be Olympic contenders one day. They say it takes the full package -- the child must have talent and desire and discipline, and the parents need the money and time to support the classes and activities. Is it the same in acting?
Not exactly. Acting is as old as fire, we all do it. I like to say that Act is a three letter word with a two letter definition: do. To make an art form of that is a wonderful challenge and it may be the very basis for a conscious life. I’ve had so many good teachers it is hard to imagine I’d be anywhere without them. Three of the best came to me for FREE: The drama teacher at my public school and two wonderful teacher/directors at a local theater who accepted my offer to volunteer during my summer breaks.
I had desire but discipline is involvement. Talent in acting must be re-considered, its measure may just be our capacity for focus. No actor gets scored with a perfect ten like in gymnastics. It’s far more important that we simple learn to, stay on target, keep our eyes on the prize.

What are two things a parent can do to support the child's acting career and two things a parent can do to harm it?
A career as an actor is a lot like a career in the basketball, the odds are slim. Most actors work other jobs and have little security in their careers. It’s harder in times like ours, when so many people are underemployed.

Two things a parent can do are: 1) play games and 2) read aloud and tell stories together. I’ve seen parents push their kids into the industry while failing to develop their child as a person. To me that is failure.

I often ask my students why they want to be an actor. If the answer is about self, then I am certain they will have a rough go of it. If the answer is about service than they will find many opportunities in life to act in service, no career required. Service, compassion, and presence also amount to likeability, which is helpful in any career, especially acting.

What about Oakwoods? Do you know anything about that?
Not much. I know people stay there, often if they are visiting Los Angeles for Pilot Season. I taught a workshop there once and attended a party there once. Seems like a nice place.

Getting cast or not depends so much on looks. What types are popular now?
The same types have been popular for ages: The Buffoon. The Lover. The Servant. The Dreamer. There are more. The business part of show business knows what sells and sells it. There is only one you in all of time: Be that and they’ll call it what they call it. In my opinion, labels are limiting. The best actors are capable of transformation.

When I think of a lot of the top stars who "made it" in childhood, many came from single mother homes. I am thinking of Tobey Maguire, Leonardo DiCaprio, Tom Cruise, Brooke Shields, Jodie Foster. (In other fields, I could name Kanye West, Barack Obama) I am sure there are others. Do you see single moms somehow having a touch for this?
What a wonderful question. My mother was single for part of my childhood, she is amazing and an example of what one can accomplish when their focus is clear. My mom once called acting my “baby.” She encouraged me to treat it like she treated me and my siblings. She worked as hard as she could, with as much love as she could muster, to care for us. I pale in comparison. Love is paramount. If and when I have kids, I believe that nothing would be better for them than a stable, loving home.

If a child who does not live in Los Angeles wants to be in TV shows or movies, what course of action should they take?
Well, there are TV and Movies made in many cities and now, from people’s home computers so I’d say go and do it! I got my first manager as a referral from my mother’s hairdresser in a small town in New Jersey.

What might be a good reality check for aspiring young actors? For their parents?
Van Gogh died broke with one ear, hardly ideal.

If a child or teen wants to study acting in their home town, with an eye toward a professional career, what resources do you suggest?

Get a good, diverse education. Study hard. Play hard. Build forts, imagine yourself magic, invite dangerous people to tea. Be silly. Stay loose. Avoid drugs and alcohol. Volunteer. Watch people. Get involved in local theater. Journal often about your experiences, this will provide an amazing point of reference. Be brave. Practice breathing, dancing, singing. Go to college. Make movies, do plays, write! Honor your body. Talk to people, find good mentors and role models. Read everything. Acting books are great, but acting is learned in the body, not the head. Read the newspaper, play charades. Fall in love.

Same question, but for an adult?
Same answer, add: Be relentless. Have capital. Stay open.

I would cast you in a movie, if I was making a movie. What role would you like to play?
The inspiring one. Since Superman II, I’ve loved the hero myth. But my heroes are people who bring others together, not those who rescue. Would you cast me as Dr King? I’d like that. Truthfully, I just want to act, to be a part of the dream.

Rob Adler (email:
Because Great Acting Looks Improvised

Photos by Molly Koch

"'s the creative edge that sets you apart from your peers. Adler is a coach who can marry improvisation with not only scripted material, but the modern demands of the industry as well. Through his humor, passion, intelligence and generosity, Rob has a way of getting actors to let go and play." -Adam Mayfield, All My Children, current student
You might also want to read:

Naming Your Creative Business

Naming Your Creative Business
by Sue Basko, esq.

Today, many creative businesses are located on the internet. This means they have a national or worldwide reach.  Your business ideally should have a name that no other business is yet using, so that others cannot stop you from using your name and so you can protect your name. If you start a company using a name that someone already has taken, you might get cease and desist letters, be forced into trademark battles over the name or into WIPO battles over a domain name.

A business name should be easy to spell, catchy, sound like what it is, not have any bad connotations, and most of all, be yours only.

Easy to Spell: The name must have an easy and obvious spelling, so people can find it online and in other listings.  Alternate spellings of common words can mean you miss business.  Examples: Spellings such as Xterior Paint or Kopy Shop will make it hard to look up. 

 Catchy:  If it has more than 5 syllables, it is not catchy.

Sound like what it is:  It should sound like what it is unless knowing what the name means is part of what makes the customers part of an in group.  

Not have any bad Connotations:  Have someone else ask random people what the name reminds them of.  Have someone else do this because often, we want so badly for our idea to be good, that we may prevent others from giving honest feedback.  If the name reminds people of death, disease, crime, or notorious bad incidents, it is best to find a different name. 

BE YOURS ONLY:  Many times, people come up with a catchy name, but it is a name already in use.  Do this checking first:

1) Google it. 
2) Look at company names on LinkedIn.
3) Check if someone is already using that URL with any domain extension.
4) Check domain registries.
5) Do a trademark search. (I do these for clients.  A search should be done on the national registry and perhaps on a state registry.)
6) Search on Twitter.
7) Search on facebook.

IF THE NAME LOOKS CLEAR for you to use, immediately:

1) Make a Twitter account using the name.
2) Add the name to your LinkedIn profile.
3) Make a Facebook page for it.
4) Make a gmail account using it.
5) Make a few free websites and blogs using it.  These do  not need to be completed, you just need to secure use of the name.
6) Buy the domain name with several extensions.
7) Talk to a lawyer about registering trademark on the name.  It is not possible to register trademark on all names.  However, if you are starting a website-based business, you are best off finding out in advance whether the name can be registered as a trademark, because this is of great importance.  

I strongly recommend that you do not use a do-it-yourself trademark service or kit.  Trademark law is very complicated and most people bollix it up.  Many people fill out the application and think the process is done, when in fact, it has only just begun.   Messing up the registration can end out costing a lot of money and time and you can end out losing the name, too.   

Trademark registration is a process that takes about a year to 18 months to complete,  unless the registration is challenged by a person who holds registration on the same or a similar trademark.  If there is a challenge, it can take much longer and often ends out with one party paying the other to stop using the name.  The trademark registration filing fee is about $300 and the lawyer charges for their work.  Every lawyer is different and every registration will present different challenges.   You can expect to pay about $1200 to $10,000 in lawyer fees, depending on the situation.      

Releasing a Remix of a Cover Song

 Releasing a Remix of a Cover Song

by Susan Basko, Esq.


Do you know what the process of releasing a remix of another artist's song would be? I would imagine it's more complicated than a cover song.


Yes, that is a derivative work and you have to get permission from the owner of the sound copyright (such as a record label), as well as from the songwriters/ publishers, as well as often from the actual artist on the recording. Also, you need permission and access to the actual tracks. Issues that come into play are copyright, moral rights, etc. //

MANY people just make remixes illegally because of all this. If it turns out good, then they bring it to the people and say listen, if you like it, give me permission to sell it.

There is no statutory right to make a derivative work, -- they can tell you yes or no, set any limits, set any price, make any crazy demands.

"The Cave" covered by Courrier

"The Cave," covered by Courrier

Update - Sorry - "The Cave" video has been removed. We've replaced it above with an original by Courrier called "Paper Ghost."  Enjoy!

Courrier, a band from Texas, covers the Mumford and Sons' hit song, "The Cave." Please note the free download that is available.

A few months ago, Courrier wrote a guest blog here telling how to do thoughtful music marketing.

Cover songs can bring notice to a band. Would you like to record a cover song? If so, please see Cover Songs: Performing and Recording Them Legally.

Would you like to make a video for youtube with a cover song in it? If so, please see: Cover Songs on Youtube.

Do you need to get a mechanical license so you can record and distribute copies of a cover song? If so, please see: Limelight: Cover Song Licenses.

Courrier: Thoughtful Rock Band Marketing

Courrier: Thoughtful Rock Band Marketing
by Sue Basko, esq.

SPECIAL NOTE: Courrier's debut album, "A Violent Flame,"
can now be purchased at these links on Itunes and Amazon.
In this blog post, we have some great, specific, practical planning, funding, and marketing strategy advice for indie rock bands and solo performers.

Today, we have Courrier, a rock band from Austin, Texas. Courrier makes music that is beautiful, deep, and joyous. Each song is a journey -- of hope, faith, longing, exaltation. I first noticed Courrier because of their wonderful use of photographs and simple design. Amid all the clutter and glitz of rock band hype, the simplicity and strength really stood out. The design work is an honest invitation to equally thoughtful music.

Here, Philip Edsel answers questions on behalf of Courrier:

Who are the members and what does each do?
The members of Courrier are Philip Edsel, Austin Jones, Nathan Drake, and Rob Rossy. We all have different roles from writing to booking to digital to finances. It really helps to spread out your talents. I do most of the promo and digital stuff for Courrier. I have worked for an artist management company doing digital marketing, so it kind of comes naturally for me.

Can you give me some good links to your best places online where the music can be heard?
Our music can be heard on our website , on our Facebook BandPage , and the usual MySpace,, iLike, etc. Our debut full-length record releases on Feb. 1st and we have a 4 song sampler that can be downloaded for free at NoiseTrade, as well as our EP which can be downloaded for free at BandCamp.

Did you meet in school or did you know each other before that?
We actually did meet in school. Three of us were in a fraternity at The University of Texas, and we met our drummer, Nathan, through church. We actually just graduated last May, except for Nathan, who is still in school. We're still youngins. Our studies span the spectrum. I was a writing major, Austin studied Government, Rob studied Spanish, and Nathan studies Economics.

How did the band form?
Our formation was pretty organic. Austin and I just began to write songs together. The three of us had a natural bond and spent our college years living together. So before we knew it, writing songs turned into playing shows which turned into being a band. Though we've been playing music almost all of our lives, we weren't professional musicians by any means.

Who writes the songs?
Austin and I usually write the lyrics and the music, but they are usually mostly ideas rather than finished songs, so we really do the writing as a band. We couldn't do it without input from every member, so in the end, all things are equal.

I have been most impressed with the strategy employed by Courrier, from the first time whoever (was it you?) designed the MySpace with the subtle blue background and large photo that held so much mystery and story. Who designed that? (This was back when MySpace had flexible formatting, before the change to the rigid “new MySpace.”)

That was back before I had any idea how to do that sort of stuff, so we enlisted a friend to help. When it comes to design, especially website design, I am a firm believer in simplicity is sexy. And not only does it look good, it's the most beneficial thing for websites. If site visitors can navigate your site easily and intuitively, you'll have greater conversion, traffic, and return visitors.

Tell me about your use of Kickstarter. What did you put on the page?

We knew that you only get one shot to make your first record. And so we wanted to do it right. We hired a fantastic producer, Matt Noveskey (also bassist for Blue October), flew an amazing engineer to Austin (Adam Hawkins, who engineered/mixed Switchfoot's Hello Hurricane and Regina Spektor's Far), and booked a legendary studio, Willie Nelson's Pedernales Studio. These expenses, we knew, were going to cost us a good amount of money, which we didn't have. So we thought if we could raise almost half of the cost ($10,000), we could find a way to pay for the rest. So that was the goal.

We gave ourselves 3 months to complete this project, which is the maximum amount of time Kickstarter gives a campaign to be completed. We knew we would need all the time we could get, and the campaign would end about a month before we went into the studio. As for incentives, we offered everything from unreleased acoustic songs, our EP, an advance signed copy of our new record, a signed poster, a private acoustic show, a day in the studio, etc. The thing about the incentives, and the price levels, is that you have to set smart price levels. I see a lot of bands offer price levels for 5, 10, 15, 25, 35, 45, 50, 65, 75, 100 dollars, all the way to $5,000. The problem with that is there is no incentive. Why give 50, when I could give 45, or why give 15 when I could give 10? Our price levels were $10 (a good starting point because everyone can afford that), $25, $50, $100, $500 and $1000. I know those feel like big jumps, but it actually gives incentive to give to the next price level. And even if you only get one or two people who donate $500, you've already made quite a bit. It's really just common business sense.

As far as promotion, that's another things I see bands do incorrectly when it comes to Kickstarter. You HAVE to be on top of promotion. I'm talking about EVERY DAY. We would tweet about it or Facebook post about the campaign at least once a day. From the Courrier account AND our personal accounts. We sent out emails to friend and family, and wrote blog posts along the way. When we started, we wrote a blog post about what we were doing and why.

In the end, we couldn't have made our record without Kickstarter. It has brought us where we are now. I would HIGHLY recommend bands use it, but I would also recommend bands to give it a lot of thought, choose an ambitious but reasonable goal, and do everything they can to promote.

How about NoiseTrade?

In addition to Kickstarter, NoiseTrade is one of our favorite resources, and has been a HUGE help to us as a band. In the current state of the music industry, money is no longer the most important currency. NoiseTrade recognizes this and capitalizes on a social currency. The idea is that you exchange free music in return for a fan's email address, as well as a Twitter or Facebook post about your music. Don't underestimate the importance of this! We have taken our email list from 0 to 3,800 people, which we have collected by giving away free music. Now, when we want to publicize our new record or an upcoming tour, we can send out an email to all those people who know about us because they've downloaded our music. There is also an option for people to "tip" artists they download from. While that's not our main goal, it's been an added benefit, because people tip us every now and then, so we've made a couple hundred dollars from that. Oh, and the service is FREE! You can also add their widget to your site, so if you want to collect emails there you can do it that way.

What about the wonderful photographs of the band? Who is taking those? What sort of ambiance are you trying to create?

Ah, yes, the photos. We are a bit different than most bands out there in that regard. So many bands are using photographers who are taking really cool looking digital HDR photos with digital cameras. And while those look great, they feel new and clean and modern. That isn't necessarily what we are about. If our music is going to be about real life and love and pain, the "grit" of reality, then we want our photos to convey that as well. We want "Courrier" to connote a certain vintage ambiance. So, because of that, all of our photos have been taken by a good friend of ours, Steven Bush ( He shoots with an AMAZING old vintage film camera called a Hasselblad. Another thing that we love about Bush is that he creates stories. We don't want to do the typical band photo where everyone just looks real serious and into the camera. We want to tell stories with our photos. This usually means creating scenes. We did one set of photos where we took an old broken down building and put a piano, chairs, and tables in it, and covered it in old newspapers from the 60s. We shot at night and lit it with lights. We're all doing something different: playing an instrument, reading a paper, playing cards, etc. Not only does the film look so rich, but it looks like there is a story happening. And people notice too. Our photos are recognizable and impressive (because Bush is amazing).

How would you categorize the music? Do you think it fits any genre?
I'd say alternative rock. I think it fits in there. We do our best to create music of a certain importance. We don't write songs about trivial stuff, not that those songs aren't important, but we just don't write them. We write songs about the most meaningful stuff to us: love, faith, war, life, pain, joy, death, etc. And we think we connect with people on a deep level because of that.

Do you see Courrier as aligned in any musical camp or as similar to any acts? Which ones?
As far as acts go, there are a lot of bands that we admire and strive to live up to their standard. It's different for all of us, but we all love some of the same: Coldplay, The Arcade Fire, Death Cab for Cutie, Switchfoot, and Radiohead, to name a few.

What does the name Courrier mean?
Courrier means messenger. Like I mentioned previously, our message is about the more fundamental and important things in life. And we hope that message rings true with people.

What online music sales services are you using and why?
We are selling on iTunes (all over the world), Amazon, and Emusic. Those are the big ones. We feel like everyone is familiar with at least one of those stores. We use TuneCore and Catapult for distribution, because they seem to have the best deals and be the easiest to work with.

Tunecore vs. Catapult: both are great, but have different features. Catapult has a low initial fee and no reoccurring annual fee, but take about 5-8% of sales. We went with them because they allowed rush distribution when we released our EP in '08. This time around we are using Tunecore because, while the initial fee and annual reigniting costs are higher, they give 100% of sales, at least from iTunes. Both are great services though.

Does Courrier have a manager? Does Courrier have a booking agent? Does Courrier plan to tour?
We do not have either! Do you know any?!?! Ha, we would love to have both. We still want to remain hands-on and involved in the day to day business type stuff, but it would be a huge help to have a manager whose sole job was that, which would free us up for more music activities. We also put on a great live show, so we could use a booking agent to get us out there.

We are planning on our first Southern US/ National tour this summer. Still in the planning stages.

Left to right: Philip Edsel (lead guitar), Rob Rossy (bass),
Nathan Drake (drums), and Austin Jones (lead singer).

Please give me the timeline leading up to release of the first album, "A Violent Flame." This can help other indie artists see the timeline and planning that led to your successful completion of an excellent first album.

Decided to record album: January of 2010 

Start to end of Kickstarter: May to July of 2010

Preparation for Recording: Leading up to the record we had done songwriting retreats and other writing sessions to make sure we had everything rehearsed for the studio, so we would have time to be creative and try new things sonically, but not waste time trying to learn songs. All instrumentation on the album is by the group members.

Studio recording: August of 2010 - We recorded our album over a 2 week period. One week at Willie Nelson's studio, one day off, and then one day at Ben Kweller's Hideout studio.

Mixing, etc: September-December

Release of 4-song sampler from "A Violent Flame": January of 2011 - We wanted to give people a preview of our album. I think that we have such a strong record that almost anyone who downloads our 4 song free sampler would want to buy our record. Or at least, I hope!
Release of full album: February 1st, 2011

Do you have any songs in films or on TV yet?
No, but we think our music is pretty "cinematic" and we'd love to get it in movies and TV shows.  (Update July 2012 - Plenty of Courrier songs have now been on the most popular TV shows.  Look on youtube for clips.)

The current plan is to continue to promote the record on the wake of its release. I honestly believe a good product will be heard, if you take the right steps to let people know about it. We've made a good product. We've taken the right steps. Now it's just time to see if that theory holds true. Thanks, Sue!

And thank you, Philip and Courrier, for sharing all this useful information with independent artists out there!

Wes Humpston: Skateboard Artist,
original Dogtown Skater

Wes Humpston: Skateboard Artist, original Dogtown Skater
Interview by Sue Basko, esq.

In the mid-1970s, Wes Humpston was a kid in Santa Monica, California. He hung with the skater kids who sought out schoolyards and empty swimming pools for a good skating surface.

Wes is now known as one of the early skaters of the Dogtown group made famous by the 2001 documentary film "Dogtown and Z-Boys," narrated by Sean Penn. The film stars the members of the former Zephyr Skate team and the Dogtown skaters, including Tony Hawk, Jeff Ho, Jay Adams, Jeff Alva, Shogo Kubo, Wes Humpston, and all the others. The story was later fictionalized in a film directed by Catherine Hardwicke, "Lords of Dogtown."

Wes started drawing designs on the bottom of skateboards. This was unheard of at the time. His early skateboard art looks like the kind of pictures boys today make in their notebooks.

Wes soon moved up to making painted versions that became sought after. Wes was founder of Dogtown Skates with Jim Muir. The company did well and then closed during a bad time in the late 1980s.

About 10 years ago, Wes started his own company, Bulldog Skates, putting gorgeous, brightly colored designs on skateboards.

Wes gives his history in a whoosh as fast as if he was back in his youth, skating past.

WES: I'm not much of a skater these days. But I grew up in Santa Monica. Surfed Pacific Ocean Park. Worked at Jeff Ho Surf Shop & a skate team came out of the that - changed skateboarding in the mid 70's... Did Ya ever see "Z-Boys & Dog Town"? That pretty much covers what happened.

So, at that time, the boards were junk. I was making belly boards, so I started making skateboards. I drew & painted on them & that was a first. I also made them wider & put concave in the boards. All 3 became pretty standard on pool boards & most skateboards from then on.

So, 10 years ago, I was let go from a pretty good job & was doing boards on the side, so I started doing them full time.

Here's My site...
Wes definitely wins my award for turning his passion and his talent into his moneymaking business. I think that's what we are meant to do -- and he has done it. From what he has told me, the business has had its ups and downs -- as any business does. But overall, he has changed skateboarding while using his unique and wonderful skills and interest. I hope that is inspiring to my blog readers in all the creative fields.

House Concerts:
How To Book and Play Them

House Concerts: How to Book and Play Them
by Sue Basko, esq.

Several of my music clients have found that house concerts are very fulfilling for them, as well as a great way to build a loyal following. House concerts are also a great way to make money -- for the right acts under the right circumstances. Some very famous acts play house concerts and find they make better money than at clubs or bars. This blog post is going to tell you how to do it, but it is crucial to read the entire post and pay close attention to all the rules.

What Musical Acts are Right for a House Concert? Here are the rules:

1) Acoustic. To be right for house concert, you have to be an acoustic act. Many house concert acts are rock electric guitarists who play house concerts with an acoustic guitar and sing without a microphone. You have to be able to play live without any amplification. You could also be playing violin, keyboards, etc. -- but it must all be played acoustically, so no sound emanates from the house.

2) Drums and Bass. There must be no drums and no bass beat. For obvious sound reasons, you can't include drums or a bass. If the house is big and set on a large piece of property, an acoustic bass and soft percussion such as egg shakers or bongos played with brushes may work. Things that don't work are drum kits, bongos, cajon drums (unless played very softly), tambourines, anything electric.

3) No Microphones. There must be no microphones -- not for singing or for announcements. Microphones distort the sound, remove the intimacy of a house concert, and carry the sound out of the house. Explain this all to your host in advance in writing. If you arrive and your host has a Mr. Microphone and tiny speaker set up, politely decline to use it.

4) Suitable Repertoire: The repertoire for a house concert should include songs that are upbeat, fun, or pretty. Some sing-a-longs are excellent. Songs with sad lyrics or with off-color lyrics are unacceptable, since the host or hostess has a duty to provide comfort and happiness for his or her guests. No host or hostess wants guests to feel squeamish, offended, or to cry.

5) You must be a friendly, reliable person. You must be able to show up on time, keep to the commitment, smile, meet the guests, and make people feel happy. If you come attached with substance abuse problems, hostility, violence, paranoia, or a disinterest in meeting the public with a smile and a handshake, house concerts are not for you. You have to be willing to pose for pictures (with a genuine smile) with any of the guests.

6) Bring as few people as possible. Most house concerts are an act of one or two people. That is the goal. Try not to bring any entourage. If you are bringing anyone extra, let your host know well in advance. If you bring anyone, make sure the person is someone that is totally reliable to be sober, honest, and friendly. (One man brought a "friend" who insisted on going along, who then rifled through the coat pockets of wealthy guests while they were distracted by the house concert. Do not fall into any such traps. Your reputation must be kept secure.)

7) House Concerts are Listening Shows. Your voice and music are not amplified. This is suitable for people who want to gather round, keep quiet, chill out, and listen. The host should make sure everyone has a drink before your show begins. Food and drink tables should be placed in a different area so this does not interfere with your act. The host should turn off any stereo, TV, etc. Small children should be seated with their parents. Older children can be seated grouped in front of the performance, and may be specially included in sing-a-longs. Older folks that have trouble with seeing or hearing should be seated up close -- or far back if they are likely to be disturbed somehow. You should email such rules to your host at the time you confirm your booking. Let your hosts know to be sure there are no dogs, noisy birds, or other animals present at your show. A barking dog can totally ruin your show for everyone.

8) Your show is your show. Make sure you list this in your rules that you send to the host upon booking. Do not let the host or anyone share your stage with talking or joining you in playing music. An exception to this might be if you are playing a party at the home of a famous musician who wants to join you for a song. Aside from this, do not let your performance get wrecked by others that want to share your stage.

It is best to tell your host that you will introduce yourself. Host-supplied introductions can become lengthy, embarrassing, and boring. Take this burden off the host by telling in writing that you will introduce your own show. If your host insists on introducing the show, ask him or her in writing to keep it to 10 seconds or less; do not say one minute, as one minute easily turns to 5 minutes of rambling. Be very friendly and polite, but do not let your show turn into a mess.

9) Should you sell things? Should you sell CDs or T-shirts? Ask your host. It might be appropriate and it might not be. People may enjoy buying such things. It is always appropriate to give sampler CDs. If you sell such items, you must keep them to a minimum and there must be no sales pressure. Your host might find any selling to be offensive, so be sure to broach this topic well in advance.

HOUSE CONCERT SCHEDULE: The typical house concert schedule is a 2 and a quarter hour commitment. You arrive 15 minutes early, say hello to your host, set up your space where you will play, grab a drink of water. You then play music and put on a show for one hour. Then you hang around for 45 minutes and meet and greet. Then you spend 15 minutes saying goodbye, packing your gear, and leaving. Let your host know the exact schedule in advance. Let them know you will be starting and leaving exactly as scheduled and that you cannot extend your stay because you have further commitments.

Must-Dos. Bring a notebook where guests can sign up for your email list.

LAW AND RULES regarding house concerts: Any house will be subject to laws and/or rules. The source of the laws may be zoning law, a sound or noise ordinance, or other laws. If a house is part of an association, co-op, or condo, there will be association rules. Those laws and rules almost surely include the following things, but may also include other things:

In almost any house or apartment anywhere, these law or rules are most likely to apply:

1) It will be illegal to sell tickets or charge guests a fee. The only way you can be paid is directly by the host of the party. Someone wrote to me asking why this is so. This is what I wrote back to her:
Almost every location has laws that require an entertainment license to sell tickets for a show. Also, in most locations, running any kind of unlicensed and un-zoned business from a home is illegal. Using a home as an entertainment business venue in most cases is against zoning, licensing laws, fire and safety laws and will negate the homeowner's insurance. It can also cause a renter or condo or coop person to be removed and/or to forfeit ownership.
House concerts are strictly for a homeowner to host his or her own personal, known friends -- following all laws and limits, and paying for entertainment directly as a hostess.
This is similar to this: A homeowner can host a party and serve alcohol to guests. But if a homeowner charges for alcohol, that is illegal. It is similar with music. In one, the person is hosting a party, and in the other, the person is running a business that must be zoned, meet building codes, fire codes, have an entertainment license, etc.
This is actually extremely important. There was recently a party planned in a big mansion in Florida and tickets were sold. Very good acts were on the bill. But since this was illegal, it was closed down before the party took place. The person that planned the party now owes the money to all the acts, and also to all the ticket buyers. The house owner is also in trouble for renting the house for that purpose and may be removed from the home owners association and forfeit the right to ownership.
There are venues called House Concerts that are a licensed music venue in a big house. What a great kind of business! To do this, the business will go through the process of meeting zoning, fire and building codes, licensing, alcohol or food licensing, parking requirements, etc. This is just a music venue in a cozier environment.

2) It will be illegal to advertise in any way.

3) It will be illegal to rent out a house or apartment for the purposes of holding a party. A house party must be a private event in the home of the host, for guests known to the host.

4) It will be illegal to have any music or other sound that emanates from the house or apartment.

5) It will be illegal if anyone stands outside on the sidewalk drinking alcohol.

6) There may be rules or laws about how many people may attend a party or how many cars may be parked or where they may park. Some places have laws that forbid any street parking. Some places forbid more than a certain number of guests or a certain number of cars at any given time.

7) Some places have rules about how late any party can go. You should be booking your house concerts much earlier than this, anyway. But if someone wants you to play a midnight house concert, ask them to check the local laws and rules. Be paid in advance. Make sure the host knows that if the party is cancelled or halted, your fee is yours to keep. Put this in writing in advance.

8) Some places require a sound or noise permit if you plan to have the music outside. This is more likely with amplified music and this post is about unamplified music held indoors with the music not emanating from the house. But, if you plan to host music outdoors, check your local ordinances to see if you need a sound permit. Austin, Texas, requires this. This also may be required in New York City, Houston, San Francisco, Santa Cruz, and other places. In many other places, the police will show up and make you turn off the music. That is why you are safest doing an acoustic concert indoors.


These are basic rules:

1) Start booking among relatives, friends, and loyal fans. Spread out from there. If you play shows in other cites, try to book house concerts in conjunction with this.

2) Use your email lists to book house concerts.

3) Use a simple contract that explains exactly what you will do, the time frame you will stay, etc.

4) Get paid upon booking. Get paid 100% in advance to secure a booking. End of story. You can charge 50% to hold a date and then the remainder within 10 days to secure the date. If the booking is made on short notice, get 100% upon booking.

5) Remain flexible about how much you will be paid, depending on how much you can get and how much the people have. If someone can only pay less, only take the gig if you can book a second house concert nearby before or after.

6) HOW MUCH TO CHARGE: The general going rates right now are $250 at the low end and about $2,500 at the high end. It all depends who you are, who your host is, what the event will be, and the length and cost of your travel. If you play local bars and clubs and the host is a supportive fan, and the location is nearby, the rate might be $250 to $500. If you have made successful records or your music is played on the radio, the price might be $300 to $1500. If you have big-selling records or play tours or on television, the price might be $700 to $2,500. If you work with a booker on these shows, add the percentage that the booker is paid.

Before you set your price, figure out your travel expenses to and from the event. This may include such things as gas, tolls, parking fees, airfare, hotel, meals, etc. If you can book house concerts in blocks over the same day(s), you can spread the expenses among the hosts. Whatever you do, make sure this is a moneymaking venture, not a way for you to lose money. If you want to play for free for a cause or charity -- do so, but do so as your own decision.

7) Try to get yearly repeat business. There are people who will want to make your house concert their yearly party for Christmas, early summer, Oktoberfest, etc.

8) Try to book several house concerts on the same day in the same general location. Or book a weekend trip where you will travel to a different city to play 3 or 4 shows in a weekend.

9) Have fun!

Please let me know how this all goes for you! Please email me your tales of success or of misadventure at: