We had the good fortune of connecting with Peter Kolter and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Peter, what was your thought process behind starting your own business?
I was a couple years out of my undergrad at UF and I was waiting tables. I hated it. I was drinking a lot and was spending a lot of time either waiting tables or trying not to think about waiting tables. At that time I was working mainly lunch shifts so I could have time for playing gigs at night, I had one weekly gig on Friday nights and one biweekly gig on Saturday at 150 bucks a piece, so I was making 225 a week playing music plus tips (which I was not very good at soliciting). At a certain point I just got fed up with it and realized how much energy I was wasting in someone else’s stupid restaurant. I thought ‘I’m quitting and I’m going to spend this energy finding more gigs, if I can get two more I’ll be at 525 a week and I can live on that for a while.’ So I quit and like magic the phone rang that week and a friend of mine who was managing a restaurant offered me another biweekly gig on Tuesday, which ended up being my longest standing gig. So now I was making 300 bucks a week plus tips playing music and I never looked back from there. I remember the day I quit the restaurant I said “I will never wait tables again.” So far so good.
Can you open up a bit about your work and career? We’re big fans and we’d love for our community to learn more about your work.
So I am a musician, and music is an art. But really most of what I do for work currently is the performance of cover songs in bars and restaurants. I often say that what I do is really more of a trade than an art. The goal is to make people in restaurants and bars feel more at home. You’re not exactly producing art, you’re helping to create an atmosphere where people feel safe having fun. I’m also an artist, and the money that I make as a cover musician allows me to work on guitar and singing technique while I earn money. It also affords me the flexibility of schedule to spend a lot of time working on original music, which isn’t paying the bills YET. I think one thing that really sets me apart from others is my skill with handling a crowd. I’m a charmer, I pride myself on making people like me who are absolutely certain they aren’t going to like me. Of course I’m also among the best musicians in town, but in the cover gig world, that really is secondary. If you’re a great player and/or singer but don’t know how to handle a crowd you may as well be a jukebox. It certainly wasn’t easy to get to this point. I think the hardest part, and something that many musicians can’t do, is to humble yourself (I know I know I was just bragging about being one of the best in town, I stand by that). But you need to have the humility to sit in front of a room full of people eating and drinking, shred the guitar, belt notes that no one in the room could dream of hitting and be completely ignored. And then you need to be able to smile, wink, crack a joke, and start another song. That’s the job a lot of the time. In the face of that, so many musicians become part of the party and get drunk at work, phoning in the music part of the job, content to be mediocre. It’s really common to respond that way. I know a lot of those people. There are two ways to respond to being ignored in a bar, you can say “Fine, no one cares what I’m doing that’s fine, I’ll be good enough not to get fired and maybe someone every once in a while will notice me and clap.” or you can say “I’m going to be so good at playing and/or singing that only a true moron could ignore this if they heard it in a bar.” If you take that second path you won’t want for work, in my experience.
Let’s say your best friend was visiting the area and you wanted to show them the best time ever. Where would you take them? Give us a little itinerary – say it was a week long trip, where would you eat, drink, visit, hang out, etc.
Well, I’m not the most passionate person about the area I’m in. It’s a great spot to do the work that I do, but it has really become Disney Land for the elderly. That being said there are two great things about it. In southwest Florida we have world class beaches. I would take a visitor to Capitva Island, Sanibel, or certain parts of Fort Myers Beach. The second set of cool things here is related to the whole “Disney for old people” thing. The fact that the area is so tailored to sunburnt tourists and retirees has forced the small community of young creative people to consolidate in little oases of cool. There are a couple of spots, like Nice Guys Pizza, that are just cool as hell because they have pretty much all of the interesting people in the county hanging out in them. There aren’t enough interesting people here for them to spread out so you can find them all in one or two places.
The Shoutout series is all about recognizing that our success and where we are in life is at least somewhat thanks to the efforts, support, mentorship, love and encouragement of others. So is there someone that you want to dedicate your shoutout to?
Two people spring to mind. My mom, who was always very supportive of me being a musician, let me live in her spare room while I saved my money and got on my feet. Jesi Cason, who’s my partner and best friend, who helped me with my deteriorating mental health and addiction issues. I’d be nothing, or worse, without them.
Jesi Cason Photography