The Killer Dueling Pianos group, which performed more than 500 shows nationwide in 2019, is slowly starting to rebuild its bookings. Photo contributed.
Written by Ravyn Cullor
In 2019, The Killer Dueling Pianos played more than 500 shows nationwide, but the pandemic cut their 2020 numbers down to fewer than 10. In 2021, they’re looking to make a comeback.
The Killer Dueling Pianos, headquartered in Visalia, offers performances for corporate events, weddings, fundraisers, parties and other events across the US. Owner Ryan Bueter said after a hallmark year in 2019, the company was on track to make seven figures in 2020, but the pandemic-driven cancelation of events changed that.
“The weeks that we had a little bit of work, well, we had a little bit of work, but it wasn’t anything survivable and it wasn’t like anyone could break into any new careers,” Bueter said. “It’s fortunate that we crushed it the four years previous so most of us were able to get by.”
While The Killer Dueling Pianos was able to start booking digital fundraisers, Bueter said the company lost around $500,000 over the course of the year. While he offered for those with deposits to reschedule, Bueter said he felt it was right to return deposits if customers requested it.
Engelmann Cellars did book The Killer Dueling Pianos twice for outdoor events during the summer, said owner Bret Engleman. With two acres available, they were able to allow a limited number of people in for a live event.
“It was a good feeling to have people come up after a show and thank us for giving them something safe to do in the 2020 world,” Englemann said.
Bueter said it was also hard on him to not have work for the independent contractors and employees who work with his company. At the beginning of the pandemic he sent all 21 people on his payroll $100 to show them how important they were to him and the company.
Portia Sabin, president of the New Jersey-based Music Business Association, said the pandemic affected the music industry from performers to accountants and for those who couldn’t diversify into sales or digital spaces, the pandemic was particularly hard.
For companies like The Killer Dueling Pianos, building back will be important as some of the types of meetings they previously performed at may not return for some time, Sabin said. She said access to vaccines will likely help audiences feel more comfortable in spaces where event performers work.
While the pandemic canceled many of his scheduled shows, Bueter said things are already picking up for 2021. With some states opening completely and others lifting restrictions, Bueter said he’s approaching being fully booked for the year.
He also didn’t take down advertising during 2020 lockdowns, which allowed him to connect with Backstage Kitchen and Bar in Santa Barbara, where The Killer Dueling Pianos will be performing Friday and Saturday at the bar indefinitely.
Bueter said this new partnership, similar to other piano-bar-night partnerships he has done in the past, will help bring in more private bookings and spread brand awareness. After losing so many performances in 2020, he said more bookings is really the only way to recover.
Bueter and Sabin said, even though 2020 was hard on performers, people’s love for music and live performance will ultimately rebuild the music industry.
“There is something about the energy of being at live music that is hard to convey over an internet channel,” Bueter said. “I believe that’s going to extend our careers.”