In this episode, Eric Hayes, bandleader of one of California’s top party bands, The Freshmakers, shares why his group is so successful. We dive into his backstory, and why he had an advantage when he started his group in California.
Hey gigging musicians. Welcome to the Gigging Musician Podcast. I am so excited today for our guests, we have a very special guest out all the way from California joining us via zoom. His name is Eric Hayes. He is a bandleader and a bass player. And he runs The Freshmakers, which is a high energy party band out in the Bay Area. His group is actually one of the highest grossing groups on BookLive. So I'm super curious as to how you did that. So Eric, it is an absolute honor having you here. Thanks for joining us. Thanks for having me. Awesome. So tell me about yourself and the band and just your musical background? Sure, yeah. So originally from Ohio, Cleveland, Ohio, I moved to Columbus for school. There built a band in 2006. really doing the dance band, high energy thing there, saw that it really took off, met a girl through this and ended up getting married, moving out to California a couple years later. And yeah, we've been we've been doing The Freshmakers gig for about four years now. Wow. That's super cool. I actually didn't know you were from Ohio originally. Have you ever run into Viva la Strings? The string quartet out there? No, no, no, I think they run in different circles. Yeah, definitely. They're also their BookLive members, too. So that's why I asked perfect. Yeah, we did like the more you know, rock and roll like club thing there. And then again, like I said, coming out here, I just saw, like the need for more of the wedding and private event kind of thing. That's awesome. And you met your wife through that. So that's super cool. It's awesome. Yeah. Cool. So I am curious, a little bit more about The Freshmakers. So tell me what, what is The Freshmakers? What kind of events do you do? And how did you get started with that? Yeah, so we, essentially we play mostly this year, especially, it's been a lot of weddings, private events. And being in the Bay Area, there's a lot of tech so there's also this whole bit about corporate gigs as well. We got into it really, again, I moved here with my wife and you know, looking for still had the urge to play, playing in a couple different bands and just didn't really see the fit. And I thought that there was definitely like whitespace that I could fill. So a guitar player and I we both moved here actually at around the same time. He's from New Orleans. And yeah, we moved at around the same time and wanted to start something in this field. Yeah, that's how we got started. That's awesome. And this guitar player, were you playing with him in another group? And that's how you joined up? No, that the interesting thing is like we the three founding members, Aiden, who's our singer, Andrew was a guitar player and I we all moved here within six months of each other. And we all met through Craigslist, believe it or not, so. Oh, wow. Yeah. Bringing people together. That's actually kind of how I got my start to who wrote the Craigslist post. Was that you? It was Yeah, it was me who wrote the crisis post and Andrew to say let's rock let's do this. So so you identified this gap in the Bay Area for a band that could provide this explosive fun energy dance experience that you were already accustomed to playing? Is that right? Yeah, so I mean, in the Bay Area, don't get me wrong. There's definitely a lot of great bands here. The musicianship is off the charts but as far as you know, I think a lot of bands in in this space but in particular with weddings and corporate parties that I think they take themselves really serious and you know there's there's none of this like tongue in cheek nature to it and the production also is something that I noticed was kind of like to be frank was just lacking so I think we we really came into this understanding that those were like areas that we would need to improve on. I know that you have a show Yeah, so tell me a little bit more about that show what makes your so unique Yeah, so I think that the the biggest thing is like you know I think too often band musicians in general have this idea of this is a gig let's just like do our thing and then move on and really well for us it's you know, we look at it it's there's only 52 weeks in the year like let's make sure that all of them are fun. So we're getting out in the crowd a lot their costume changes we're you know, we go from wearing you know, suits black suits to actually wearing you know, wrestling tights and like so it's like all over the top there. We have video production. We have, you know, lights, the light shows crazy. So we really invested in idea of of getting the biggest bang for the buck. Yeah, that's awesome. And it obviously, it gets you a great result. I mean, you book a ton of shows and you get amazing reviews. And yeah, we're trying clearly doing something right. Yeah, we're hoping we're helping. Cool. So take take me back now to Ohio. And I want to hear a little bit more about how did you start playing music in the first place? Yeah, so it's a really interesting story. So I was in seventh grade, I can tell you this very specifically. And I live in a little town called Cleveland heights, which is like a small suburb right outside of Cleveland. And in Spanish last, we had to, like present the alphabet in an artistic way. And a buddy who lived on the same street, played guitar, he played bass. He's like, Hey, dude, let's like, you know, let's play some. Let's play Marilyn Manson. Like, do the alphabets. And Marilyn Manson. I'm like, Cool, let's do it. And he, he taught me a little bit on bass. And it's crazy. Like my mom. I told my mom how interested I was, and then and she's like, you know, your godfather is actually a bass player, like, no. So he actually gave me my first bass. And then he kind of schooled me for a little bit. But that's actually how I got started. It was a randomly a school project in seventh grade. That's amazing. So your music career was literally started because of Marilyn Manson. Yeah, I guess Oh, that's so cool. My dad would be so proud. He's a big Manson fan. Yeah, man. Yeah. So it's crazy. Because like, you go from that, and then, you know, doing the whole jazz band thing. And in high school, and then studying at a conservatory in college. You really start from zero to 100? You know, yeah, for sure. Which, which colleges you go to? There's a small liberal arts club school called capital University in Columbus. So yeah, so it was really nice. You know, I wanted to do the whole music business concept. And obviously, a lot has changed since I went to college. But essentially, it was great because you had 50%. business. And then you also have the 50% of like, actually performing, which was allowed me. That sounds perfect. I mean, I've seen a lot of people in the music business, say, in order to be a successful musician, you can't do 100% performance, you have to do 5050. You do. And it sounds like you got that experience. But there's probably something that happened between you getting inspired by Marilyn Manson, and then deciding to go to college for music. When did that happen? Yeah, I had a buddy in high school who was amazing drummer. I mean, like, I mean, just ridiculous. He still is amazing drummer now. But he, he kind of convinced me He's like, hey, let's let's do keep doing this in college, like you can, you know, let's go to the same school, we ended up going to a different school, but he kind of like convinced me that I was good enough to kind of really make it pass where, like, where I was, and I had a great high school, you know, band lead, and it really they kind of, like convinced me that this is the way to go. Awesome. So in high school, you had a project that you were one of the band mates for not leading. Exactly, yeah. And, and then they urged you, you should keep going to go and do this. Yeah, I mean, I think that it's hard. You know, it's intimidating when you have like, in like a he's an amazing drummer. And so it was intimidating. I'm like, I'm not sure how good I am. You know, I think I love playing this thing. But, you know, I'm also playing to the radio, I'm like, playing to like, you know, jazz records or whatever. So like, How good can I actually be, you know, I remember my first audition in college and how, like, stressed out I was mad, and, you know, like, you're doing all these like performances in college. So it definitely, it was a learning curve, but it was really just out of fear. I was nervous, you know? Yeah, for sure. And we all go through that imposter syndrome. Even to this to this day. It's like, you know, am I really good enough to be doing what I'm doing? Did I ask myself at all? I feel like music does that to you, it's like, you get better and you feel slightly more confident. But then it also makes you feel a little more nervous, like, Am I supposed to be here? I know, I just, you know, I think about like, again, like, I'm sure we'll talk about it later. But like even that, the area that I'm in, it's just like such a high dollar area. And just like, you know, I have this whole thing about like value, especially from where you know, where I grew up, you know, I grew up in a very blue collar situation. And, you know, I want to give the best for the price. But at the same time, you're like, looking at all these other bands were charging less than you or like, more than you're like, Where do I actually stand but like, this is where I feel my value is so it's a it's definitely a juggling act there. For sure. That's great. Alright, so I want to hear about the first project that you started. Sure. So tell me about what When did that happen for you? Yeah, so I was a junior in college. And again, I was really thinking I'm gonna I'm gonna move to New York and I'm going to be an a&r rep and do all this kind of stuff. And I saw a post in my college in the conservatory building, for the need for a bass player for a cover project, and at first I'm like, you know, to be honest with you, I think cover bands are cheesy. You know, this is like, this is selling out. You know you're not playing real music. And I remember like, you know, taking a gig with a guitar player who started in that band and play the show and I'm like oh this is actually real money this is this is nice as I'm not playing for $40 This is awesome. So that project didn't necessarily pan out and then he came back and said hey, like you know I'm thinking about start another project would you want to start with me and and I'm like, absolutely. So we ended up calling this project swag. We did that just the band is actually still working a little bit but yeah, we you know, I we started that for I was there for 10 years and it was interesting I mean, like definitely grew up in the in that industry doing that. Yeah, and that swag was a cover band Yeah, yeah. So like, again like I said like that that band did way more of like the like the club scene and like if you had the occasional wedding That was great. So when we first started that group, though, again, it was the guitar player and I and then he stepped away so I took took over the reins of like really running the business side of it. And again, like I even there I kind of knew that like in order to like really gain foothold, especially in a town like Columbus, which lever not, there's like a huge appreciation for live music. So like, you know, there's actually money in that. There, but uh, just they're just like, realizing, like, you know, all these bands are good, but there's just, there's nothing to look at, you know, like, you go to a concert, you go see Muse in concert. And as a spectacle, you see Beyonce as a spectacle. So like, why shouldn't we try to have a spectacle on our level? Yeah, that's a great point. I mean, it sounds like you've always had this knack for identifying opportunities in your market, for sure. And I think, you know, part of it the spectacle thing comes from, like, when I was a kid, I loved like, you know, wrestling and like the professional wrestling and the whole thing. And you see these guys come out, and it's like, fireworks and all this kind of stuff. You're like, That's amazing, you know, and that showmanship is just kind of like always been kind of a part of what I believe in as well. Yeah, that's awesome. So first swag, it sounds like you already had this idea of a show. Was it easy to get gigs for swag? Or did you have to still work for it? Yeah, I mean, the club gigs are it's a lot easier to get, you know, but it was harder to actually to see. Like to get those wedding gigs to convince these people like to see you out on a club, that you can be professional enough to actually perform at a wedding, it's a different, completely different vibe, as you know. So I think it was hard to get going once you actually get the word of mouth going. And like, you know, you start getting clients from other clients like and you just find out it's circular like so one friend has to like the next round once he was well. So you go through and like just play everyone's wedding in that group. And it you know, it was definitely pretty cool to like, actually get into the wedding scene that way. Yeah, for sure. So how did you convince the first couple to book you for their wedding? I completely bs my way into it, you know? Start thinking like, okay, I remember the last wedding that I went to, they had an emcee. So we have to make sure that our singer can do that. And I remember that the first wedding had like a day of plenary, they didn't have a flat out wedding planner. So she sent like, an itinerary over, like, Oh, sweet. So this makes sense. You need an itinerary. That makes perfect sense. Okay, so we'll use that as our Bible, we'll just call it our Bible for the night. And then, you know, you just start faking your way through the firt. Luckily, we didn't offer that many products, it was literally just a dance band for four hours. And then, you know, we offer the emcee thing. So you know, in that they were like, Oh, yeah, by the way, what do we what happens musically during your breaks? What happens during dinner? And I'm like, Oh, yeah, we can play pre recorded music, you know, like you start like adding things that definitely could kind of get the ball rolling, and you start seeing like, Okay, this work this work, you can just modify as you go along. Yeah, for sure. Sounds like, you know, my projects, too. And all the projects of people who I've spoken to, everyone sort of starts out by flying the like, build the plane as you're flying it exactly. Like you don't know exactly what you're getting into. But there had to be some confidence in yourself, and that your bandmates that will figure it out, will be able to handle this. Absolutely. And I think that, you know, there are a couple different professions that you see real ego, and it's like chefs, you know, actors and musicians, I feel like, you know, with musicians, we all think that like our band, or like our, our project is better than the next. And, you know, I think that that that confidence, you're like, they can do it, we can do it. For sure. But also some level of humbleness, where you realize like, this is what I don't know. And I'm willing to learn it. Absolutely. I mean, I think that, yeah, absolutely. I can tell you different stories of like playing a project again, like when I moved here, and you know, at that point, I've been in this game for 10 years. I'm like, hey, Hey guys, like I think that you should try X, Y, and Z. And I think this will really help the business. And just like unwillingness to actually listen, even though I had the experience, it's interesting. So like, I've always really, you know, come into a situation understanding, like what the talent is, but at the same time, like, knowing that there's more out there and like, you got to learn more, there's always something new that you can you can add to your, you know, your presentation, or the way you guys play or whatever it may be. So yeah, definitely keep keeping your ears open. Yeah, for sure. Why do you think that you're more, I guess coachable than others? I don't know. I think part of it is like I actually listened to some of that imposter syndrome that we've spoken to. Yeah. And I'm like, well, maybe these guys have something that I don't and that, you know, maybe I can learn something I you know, it's also like a sports mentality. Like I played sports when I was growing up and just just understanding that, like, there's always going to be a next level. Yeah, for sure. I love that. I mean, I think the people that are the most coachable will get the furthest in life and in their music career, for sure. Absolutely. Absolutely. Awesome. So we spent quite a bit of time in Ohio. And I wanted to understand about like, how did you start your first project, because Freshmaker's is not your first project? And it sounds like you probably had a an advantage starting your your next big thing? Yeah. So we I mean, just again, understanding kind of like what to look for in the market, what like sold in, you know, a smaller market for sure. But like understanding that and then moving forward, like, how can we make that translate here, and there were definitely a bunch of different changes here. Like the group for the freshmen group, it's a lot younger than where we were for the, for the swag. So like, kind of, it's a lot of teaching there as well. Like, this is kind of like how if you got to do this, this, how you got to do this. But these guys, again, also super awesome in the way that they want to learn. And like they were willing to say, Hey, I'm not really sure about this. But I think it was also interesting is that with millennials, there's there is this idea of questioning everything, which I didn't experience before. So like, just for me understanding, okay, this is not just saying you have to do X, Y, and Z to succeed, but explaining the why behind all of those as well. Yeah, for sure. Have you ever read the book? Start with y? Absolutely. Right, Brooke Sinek. Simon Sinek. Yeah, that's awesome. So what were some of the challenges that you faced when you started Freshmakers, then? Yeah, so being essentially you're an outsider, right? If you're just moving to a market, especially as big as this, this market is really driven by agencies. So to get your foot in the door was really, really tough. It almost felt impossible upfront, you know, you either you get signed on, and you become like the lowest man on the totem pole. Or you try to do it yourself. And it just takes way longer. And again, being in this area, like having these, you know, these younger guys who were like super hungry, they wanted to skip a lot of steps. And that was the toughest thing is to actually tell them like and and realize like, we're at a disadvantage, because we're not one an agency or anything yet. Did you eventually join an agency? So yeah, so basically the way we kind of got in, but the way I looked at it, one sec, one sec. I'll edit this part out. No worries. Yeah, okay. So the way that we we ended up working out is we we worked with his agency out of Sacramento, which is funny, because, you know, it's like we had to go an hour and a half out of our way in order to get going. But the idea was like if they can get us some, some recognition and saying, hey, like, this is a real band, we, you know, we did the whole casino thing. We did some private events, but really just getting getting gigs under our belt, that weren't just like nightclubs really helped. But we came to a crossroads where we just realized, we knew we wanted to do private events, we knew we want to do weddings, and this agency really specialized in again, the casino world. So we had to step away from that. But it gave us at least a basis to say hey, look, you know, we've been doing this for a little while. Trust that we're actually good musicians, you know, whatever. Yeah, for sure. And had you gotten like testimonials from those casino gigs? No, I think video was actually our testimonial. It was also an ability to invite people who were interested possibly in hiring us to see us live and it was almost like we use it as a showcase. For sure. Do you do you plan out showcases nowadays? So yeah, we actually have our first individual showcase that we have coming up here soon, but before COVID We really use again club gigs, every once a while sparingly to really try to use those as like, showcases. Yeah, it's a great, especially if you can control the environment. So, you know, there was a club that we use that wasn't necessarily like a nightclub in the traditional sense, almost like a theater house, that they just had live bands kind of do the thing upstairs, and then everywhere else they would, they would have, like, you know, these, you know, troops of actors come in and do shows, and it was a different scene for us. But we could bring our friends who couldn't see us that those are wasn't they weren't willing to travel to casinos, into San Francisco, and they can see us there, which was really cool. So you know, you control like, Who's there? And then with that there's an energy, right? And people would say, Oh, my God, this is the energy I want at my wedding. You know, so I think that's, we use clothes for a while. So we're actually doing this upcoming showcase, again, in another setting that you wouldn't expect an outdoor venue, and we were just setting it up now. So we're excited about it. Yeah, that's awesome. So back me up just a little bit. You mentioned a couple questions ago that you and the bandmates had all kind of decided that you wanted to do private events. Sure. Was that the case when you first put up that Craigslist post? Absolutely. I mean, I always knew that that was the end goal. And I guess I can back up a little bit more before we decided to build a tie. Obviously, we did our whole thing where we, we tried to get into the news ourselves without the agency and it didn't necessarily work. And then we we decided to start like just going after all the bigger agencies in the area. So just, you know, sending a million, you know, cold calls, or emails like, Hey, we're a new band in town, we'd love to chat and, you know, see how you guys can help and how we can help you roster? Yeah, we did a lot of that. So that, you know, we tried early on and but and we knew that this was like where we wanted to be. Yeah. Awesome. And then what was it about private events that you wanted to just dive into? Yeah, I think I get a bit romantic. When it comes to weddings, I think that, um, again, this is their their one day, and like, you never want a bad story to come out about, like how crappy the band was. And that that being like the final impression. So like, it's always important for me, to try to help them have like that, that vision they had in their head come to fruition. So, you know, that's been huge for me, as far as like, a lot of the corporate events. You know, again, I think that the people who were kind of gatekeepers in that way are getting younger. And, you know, I think that like really providing this nostalgic view of music that applies to these younger, you know, younger gatekeepers, really is important. And I think that a lot of other bands kind of missing that, that mark as well. So again, just seeing the whitespace there. Yeah, for sure. What I love about the answers you just gave is that it's sounds completely unselfish. Like you're you're serving other people, you know, brides and grooms on the biggest day of their lives, corporate event planners, you want them to put on an amazing experience. And that's just super admirable. So thanks, Rob props. Yeah, you know, everyone says you can't chase can't chase the check. You know, hopefully, it just comes out of passion. And I really believe that that's that's kind of how you have to go about it. Yeah, for sure. So what have been some of your favorite gigs that you've played in booked for The Freshmakers? Yeah, we actually played probably one of my favorite weddings a few months ago, actually, where there's like a social media personality, who hired us from across the country, literally never saw us live. Just saw some of our videos, and she was really intrigued by us. And, you know, we had a great conversations. And it was great during the whole process, and I do this a lot is I make sure that, you know, while they're vetting us, it's also as vetting them, again, there was only 52 weeks in a year, and we want to make sure that like it's a great match. And it's not like we're just taking their money just because we want a gig, it's really about making sure that we're the right band for that for that wedding, or that that party or whatever it may be. So we had a bunch of these these conversations. And that was awesome. And it was this beautiful venue. This was a beautiful winery, and everything turned out the way you hoped it would. I mean, there were definitely issues here and there. But like it was just a beautiful wedding, great client. And there were just like so many little things that came out of that that were helpful. Again, it wasn't like we were doing this this wedding to be you know, just because she was a social media like I didn't even follow her before, right. But the fact that like, we just wanted to provide the best wedding for them, especially if they're going to have out of town guests. We want them to go back to their town. And kind of talk about us. So yeah, we played this this wedding did all these special songs for the couple and their family and it was awesome. And we ended up getting a bride's right up after that. We, you know, we had a member of the Florida Georgia line was in the crowd. So like they that was all Whoa, wow. You know, there was like a, there was a lot of cool little memories made after that. That's super cool. Sounds like an amazing gig for sure. So we're getting close to the end of the episode. So now it's kind of lightning round for you. What have been some of the keys to The Freshmakers success. And also what's some advice you can give in general to gigging musicians? Yeah, I think the biggest thing is to know you got to scale. So again, I mentioned that, like, production was a big thing. And obviously up front, we didn't have the money. But I think you know, you got to start small and got to start somewhere. And then as you grow, gradually go, that you can get bigger and better, like so it doesn't have to be perfect, but it can be progress. Awesome. At any other advice, just people getting started or people that are far along already. Yeah, I think the biggest thing is to understand that like, utilize social media and utilize, you know, other marketing tools that are already there, and then finally proven. it you know, while there might be an upfront expense, it's completely worthwhile. Yeah, anything that can help us, you know, get our message out there faster or save us time on the back end. It's totally worth it. And I will say this last little thing that I like, Someone once told me a while back and it still sticks in my head but just as much as people listen with their ears, they listen with their eyes. So whether it's you know, you you hiring a string quartet or you're hiring a band, it's it's they're hiring you because it's beautiful, it looks great. It's adding class. More than likely they don't know that you're playing Baldy. More than likely. They don't know that you just played this, you know, half diminished chord, they don't care. They just want it to be entertaining somehow. So like, remember that that everyone's always listening to their, their eyes as well. Awesome. That's great advice and a great place to wrap up this episode. Eric, I want to thank you so much for coming and joining us on the Gigging Musician Podcast. How can our listeners interact with you or find you further? Yeah, so Instagram is like the best way. Just follow the band Freshmakers band. That's the whole URL and then also you can just reach me at Ehaze511 on Instagram, and I'm always there. Awesome. Well, thank you so much, and gigging musicians listeners. Thanks for joining us again for another amazing interview. We just had Eric Hayes on us band leader of The Freshmakers. And thanks so much for listening to Gigging Musician Podcast. May all your performances be successful.