Some Gigs Are Just Weird.

Just a brief day in the life of a musician. If you ain't one, here's what you're missing:

Some gigs are just weird. Well... actually most gigs are just weird. And some, especially the only one you have when all your other St. Patrick's Day gigs got canceled, are particularly weird.

Forgive me Last Night's Venue, but can we talk?

Last night, we played in a massive empty room directly connected by a wide passage to a large dining room that was full of people who I presume had come to see us. The event planners told us they were putting us near the dance floor instead of in the dining room, in case people wanted to dance. I suppose that would have been my moment to let them know we aren't a dance band. I just didn't think of it because we were loading in and we were transitioning our minds from the day's emotional baggage into performance mode. I didn't think much of the placement at the time, but I suspect that really our placement was in case we were too loud. Perhaps it was the venue's way of ensuring that the band was background music—sort of a live version of piping the CD Irish America's 100 All-Time Favorite Drinking Songs over the intercom.  That might work if we were that band. But we don't play most of those songs. And we like an audience because that's who we're playing for.

Professional musicians have a few responsibilities. One is to deliver great music. Another is to deliver it with heart. And be genuine. And be authentic. And don't read the freaking words or notes off a sheet of paper. Another big, huge one is to care about the audience—maybe even like them. We must notice that there are humans in the audience and react to them—play for them.

Last night, we were playing to a lot of people from a cavernous empty room. Apparently they were clapping after every song. We couldn't really hear it from where we were. We've been doing this a very long time, we're good at what we do, and we know we're delivering good music, but that could theoretically be disheartening. Me, I've developed some tools. In those situations, I stand back, say eff it, close my eyes, pretend I'm in a stadium, and I give it my all no matter what. Some musicians are more sensitive, mind you. Not everyone finds those situations bearable, and that's one of the reasons being a musician can be hard. You play for feedback but you don't always get it. Like anything we do, we feel good about what we do when we get positive feedback. In the absence of that, how do we know if what we're doing is reaching anyone? And how are we inspired to do more?

Musicians and people who plan events have very different concepts of what it means to be a performer and what a performer's goals are. Some musicians phone it in. It's a job for them. It's a job for us too, but we love music and we never phone it in. We arrive at every gig prepared to give 100 percent. My guess is that many event managers welcome the musicians with 50 percent trust and 50 percent fear that they'll be too loud.

If they hire professionals, it would be good to shift the balance toward the trust end. That's the ideal world. So here's the ideal world we can hope for:

Professional musicians who play in dinner venues know how to read a room. If we see people leaning forward to yell in each other's ears to talk, we know that we're too loud. We notice. We look for that. We'll turn down.

Professional event planners ideally know how to read a musician. If your person seems reasonable, professional, and mature, you can generally guess that they know when they're too loud. Get to know your musicians and respect them. Trust their judgment. And don't put baby in a corner.

And please please please don't charge them $6 for a glass of soda water with no ice.


kristin fonseca said…
Well.... you captured the essence of more than half of my 22 years of gigs Sue Lindsay. Sometimes I would sing an entire night with my eyes closed imagining that huge stage, imagining what it would feel like to have people watch and listen and appreciate and be entertained. If I played in a duo or trio many restaurants had us in a separate room. People would have to walk by us to leave. They would either turn their heads the other way to not make eye contact or comment that they didn’t realize that the music was live. When playing in the full band the club owner/manager would immediately start freaking out as the equipment was brought in. The number one concern the entire night was volume not the quality of musicianship or the fact that we had complete control over our sound and took pride in wanting our balance in the room to be great.
When getting a job my favorite insult was “I don’t care if you suck, all I care about is how many people you bring in.”
You already know my soda water story. Thanks “Cabby Shack”. (Yes I hold a grudge)
Soul Mama said…
Love you, Soul Sistah.