For anyone familiar with the European jazz club scene, one name that has been around longer than many is the Unterfahrt Jazz Club in Munich, Germany.
Across its 40-year life, it’s hosted many of the biggest names in jazz – as well as countless rising stars and brand new projects – and for today’s interview we caught up with Michael Stückl who has been running the club for more than 30 years.
Alongside overseeing a team of people presenting daily jazz gigs, Michael also works full-time as a doctor – if you want to know something about good time management, he’s your guy!
You can find the full interview below, but first I wanted to highlight two big takeaways that he touched on…
Booking Tip #1: Be Personal!
Whilst mass mailouts can be good to inform people of a piece of news at scale, they don’t build those personal connections that really help when trying to book gigs.
As Michael says: “I don’t feel I have to answer a newsletter. And I rarely do. A personal email is more important to me”
Booking Tip #2: Be Persistent!
As 99% of jazz musicians who’ve tried self-booking a tour know, spending days sending out emails only to hear nothing back is not very motivating.
But the advice to ‘keep following up’ isn’t just coming from us as booking agents and managers; many promoters themselves also acknowledge that keeping on (in a friendly and polite way) is leads to results:
“Try to find out the right moment by resending your proposals.” – Michael Stückl, Unterfahrt
The Unterfahrt has been part of the European jazz scene for more than 40 years now! What’s the secret to keeping it running so long, with such an important reputation?
We managed to evolve quite a loyal audience. And we always want to make a concert at Unterfahrt a great experience.
The most important stakeholders at a venue like ours are the musicians and we do our very best to make them feel welcome at the club.
So we were able to present many great musicians at the venue like Kurt Elling, Monty Alexander, Dee Dee Bridgewater, Maria Schneider’s New York Orchestra and many more.
It works quite well to present many unknown artists successfully as well, as the audience always expects good music at our venue.
How has the German jazz scene changed in that time, in your opinion?
It has changed quite a lot.
When I started to work for the club, back in 1989 there was quite a good and diverse scene in Munich; the city had 6 or 7 venues with a daily program.
In the nineties after the German reunion that changed a lot. As Munich was the most expensive city in Germany, many musicians moved to Berlin or Cologne.
In the last couple of years there has been a lot happening in Germany with many young and very talented musicians creating a very interesting pool to book from.
In terms of building a tour, are there other clubs that musicians often play before/after Unterfahrt, due to their geographical location?
Unfortunately there are too few venues with a comparable program in Germany. For some international jazz artists Unterfahrt is one of a very few stops in Germany.
Quite close and in a good travel distance there is the BIX in Stuttgart.
From a European view, we have many artists playing in Zurich (Moods) or in Vienna (Porgy & Bess). Other venues are located in Innsbruck and there are many small venues with only a handful of concerts a year.
How have you managed to combine running a venue with a medical career? Any tips on time management that we could use?
Nothing I can really recommend to copy.
It was always quite strange to combine the two full time professions.
I usually worked at the hospital during the day and tried to manage my club at night hours.
To keep in contact with my club team who worked mainly during the day, I used a self programmed management software which made it possible that we were always at the same information level.
That system kept me on track as it told me always what has to be decided in time.
When a new ‘foreign’ band comes to perform at the Unterfahrt, what are the most important promo ‘assets’ they can have to help you?
It’s useful if they have good video material – preferably live performances.
That saves a lot of time, as I can catch an idea what the music is about and learn about their stage presence.
Good and interesting or eye catching photos help as well, as we have to sell the band to our audience.
But the most important thing is that the band convinces us by being special enough to be interesting for our audience.
We know you have a good membership support at the club. How much of the attendance is a result of your network, and how much does the artist’s work affect this?
In pre-corona times we had about 20 to 25 percent of our audience from our membership organisation.
We offer reduced tickets for our members, so it was quite good to have a diverse and attractive program to gain the number of members.
In 2020 we were astonished how much stability was ensured through the organisation. We got many supporting members, even without any live shows, and their support made it possible to do around 100 streaming concerts this year with extraordinary fees for the artists.
What jazz magazines or websites do you check to keep up-to-date with the scene?
I check Downbeat and if I find the time, some of the German jazz magazines like JAZZTHETIK.
But mostly it’s quite random.
As almost every touring jazz artist asks for a gig at Unterfahrt, I check out those proposals and then I might get interested in their sideman projects and so on…
That ends up in infinity of jazz artists.
Do you pay more attention to musician newsletters (mass mailouts) or personal emails? Or it doesn’t matter?
That is two different types of communication.
A good newsletter may attract my attention partly subconsciously. Sometimes I follow the links of an unknown band and check them out.
But I don’t feel I have to answer a newsletter. And I rarely do.
A personal email is more important to me.
The artists can more likely expect an answer, if they are addressing the email personally.
So I know that they at least know a little bit about the club, they are reaching out for a gig.
For me personally it is important to get an idea of the person who is writing.
And I’m quite allergic to emails quoting only some numbers of social media contacts with the lack of any real information about the project they want to present…
During 2020 you ran some online concerts in collaboration with German radio. Is this something you see as an option for the long term, or was it just to deal with the temporary covid situation?
By the end of the year we will have more concerts that were online only, than concerts with an audience in 2020.
And we were able to pay at least the same fees for the online concerts as for normal gigs.
So we will keep presenting every concert online as well, even when there will be normality in audiences in a couple of years.
It was only a few shows, where we had a radio broadcast on top.
For us that will be a concept for the long term and that was the plan already, when we did the first livestream in April.
After the first show we started to invest a lot of money in the streaming equipment.
We can attract people that can’t visit the club because of travel efforts and we can reach the audience we had to send home for sold out shows in the past.
Nothing is comparable to a live attendance at a show at Unterfahrt. But, if that is not possible, attendance at a livestream is a good complement.
What’s your best tip for an unknown band to persuade you to give them a gig?
- Be patient with our email responses.
- Tell us something about you and your music.
- Try to find out the right moment by resending your proposals.
- Let your music speak for itself.
We love young, fresh and original music.
Big thanks for Michael Stückl for taking the time to answer these questions and share his considerable experience here art Jazzfuel.com!
You can find out more about this legendary jazz club, and it’s programming, via www.unterfahrt.de
Remember, you can find more interviews by other promoters, journalists, agents and other industry people here in our Jazz Interviews series.