Whether she’s appearing in her high-energy bands, “Party Like It’s” and “The Legwarmers,” or organizing a great night of female-led bands at Tortoise and Hare, Cathy Di Toro is a force of nature. As both a performer and show organizer and booker, Cathy is also a great example of how being an artist and a businessperson don’t have to be mutually exclusive.
Whether it’s teaching, consulting, or another related field, a lot of us use our creative skills in side gigs that help support us, advance our careers, and hone our abilities. So, how does Cathy keep her creative tank full when she’s juggling different roles? Are they distracting from her work as a musician, or can they contribute to her career as a performer? I asked her a few questions to find out.
1. Does being a performer set you apart from other bookers? Are there things you know, from your experience performing, that you apply to the decisions you make when you book other acts?
I think being a performer sets me apart from other bookers in the sense that I can see both sides. I can understand the perspective and needs of a musician at a gig, but also can relate to what the venue is looking for.
However, I am definitely a musician first, so I always make sure I get all the information I need when booking a gig for someone. Live music really is a joint relationship between the artist and the venue. If everyone is informed and promoting the gig, then it’s mutually beneficial.
2. How about the other way around–have you changed the way you perform, based on things you’ve learned while booking other acts?
I wouldn’t say I’ve changed how I perform, but I have a newfound understanding of the business side from the venue’s perspective. I see the importance of promoting and doing my part to make sure I’ve done all I can to set the venue up for a successful night. It really is a partnership between both parties.
3. If you could go back in time and give your earlier self some music career advice, what would it be?
To not be afraid to ask for what I need. Playing music is a job…a real job. I find that many people still don’t quite understand that and expect musicians to be happy just playing for exposure. As a musician, I am still providing a service and it takes time and effort not only to play at the gig, but to prepare for a performance.
4. How much are your booking choices influenced by your community and what people want to see vs. your personal tastes and preferences?
I would say it’s a combination. I am always excited to find new acts that I like and want to promote, but I also take into consideration the venues wants and needs and what type of act I think will fit best, despite my personal taste.
5. Your music style is so peppy and positive and fun. Is it ever difficult to stay peppy and fun when things are tough in your own life or you have a tough audience? How do you deal with that?
This is a very appropriate question for me this year as I had a significant loss in my life and kept performing through it all.
For me, music is therapy. Of course it’s difficult to play through tragedy, but I derive such positive energy from playing music that I’m able to push through the stress, heartache, and pain.
It’s an extension of who I am so I’ve never really feel conflicted about it. When it comes to audiences, I’ll play for 1 or 1,000 — you’ll still get the same show and I guess that’s because I do it because I really love it.
6. Do you ever ask your fans/supporters for help and input, or do you rely mostly on yourself and/or your bandmates?
I am always open to input and suggestions. I am constantly evolving as a performer and musician and believe strongly in collaboration. I think input can be vital for growth, plus I’m very open to any ideas and get excited when someone suggests something cool!
7. What is your favorite thing about your fans and/or what is the coolest thing an audience member has ever done for you guys during a show?
We often play for people who haven’t seen us before and after the show will tell us how much they loved it. That’s a great feeling. It’s always so much fun to see the crowd dancing and singing along — I often feed off of that energy.
We’ve had people at our shows wearing our shirts which is cool, or telling us they heard about us through a friend and wanted to check us out. Recently, we released our first original song and lately at shows people have been singing along while we play it, unprompted. That’s probably one of the coolest feelings ever.
Hannah Sternberg is a novelist, creative writing instructor, and avid music fan. Her first novel, Queens of All the Earth, was praised by Kirkus as “modern and exuberant,” and her second novel, Bulfinch, was named a Notable Teen Book for 2014 by Shelf Unbound magazine. She teaches creative writing in Washington, DC and is the Events Manager of East City Bookshop. Learn more at HannahSternberg.com.