Staton, a longtime insurance salesman in Washtenaw County, started the Black Crystal Café six years ago. "Initially my intent was to just use it to entertain clients," he says of the fifty-seat club located in the basement of his family home near the Ann Arbor Airport.
But Staton, himself a singer-songwriter, soon found a larger purpose. The fact is, he says, that many good but "under-the-radar" artists aren't particularly well paid when they perform at regular nightclubs or other venues. He mentions a friend who's had one million plays on Internet radio yet received a check for just $16.98.
Staton wanted to improve on that experience-for both audiences and for musicians. So in 2007, he created a "listening room" that offered artists a high-quality performance space and decent compensation-as much as $1,000 a night-and gave audiences a once-a-month chance to see some of the finer pop, jazz, and classical performers touring the country.
If he sells insurance, fine. If not, that's fine too. And there's absolutely no sales pitch.
Many of the people who now attend the intimate concerts aren't there to do business at all. Those original clients brought their friends, who told others, "and then it kind of went from there," Staton says.