I confess to being the same way early on in my musical career. When we begin performing it’s natural to develop our repertoire around music and artists we like. This is the way it’s probably always been for budding musicians. But the danger is not realizing those artists have the luxury of playing pretty much whatever they want; they’re famous already, right?! In the real world of work-a-day, gigging musicians we must keep the audience interested.
If we’re lucky we play at places with enthusiastic or at least sympathetic audiences. Remember – the owner of the establishment wants his or her customers to have an enjoyable experience and (sad to say!) often the music is not nearly as big a priority in their mind as the quality of the food and drink. So as performers we have to make ourselves as integral to the overall experience as we can. So, here are a few ways I think we can make that happen.
First and foremost: mix it up! Don’t play every song at the same tempo. And for goodness sake, don’t start the evening with a slow, minor key song. As my mother told me when I was young, “You only have one chance to make a first impression!” If you act like you’re happy to be there and enjoy playing and performing a good vibe will be set from the get-go.
Mix up covers with original material (if you have some). In some instances like open mics or showcases where original material is the norm it’s fine to try out your own songs on an audience but even then, leave the songs of heartbreak and angst for later in the set. Putting your own spin on a cover is fine as long as it’s at least marginally recognizable and perhaps even preferable to trying to sound exactly like a well known recording, which for most of us is impossible anyway!
Build a repertoire that takes into account the type and age group of the audience you’re likely to encounter. This takes time but is well worth the effort. It may require putting aside some of your opinions about certain artists or types of music but performers who understand this work at lot more than those that don’t, believe me.
Build momentum. Don’t play your best or fanciest tune right away. Some of the best performances I’ve ever heard started with moderate tempo, major key songs in the beginning (with a more up-tempo tune thrown in occasionally), followed by a few slower tunes in the middle of the show, followed by more energetic playing and singing building up to a enthusiastic finish. Depending on the type of venue, this game plan is a great way to produce that positive reaction to your music, and maybe even an encore or two!
Very few of us are natural born performers and the best of the best learned their craft by trial and error. I guess all I’m really saying is (and I know the hip musician types might disagree): we’re there but for the grace of the audience. Otherwise, why the heck are we doing it in the first place? Give your repertoire some serious thought and planning, regardless of your level of experience. Good times for both you and listener will be the result.
Peace & good music,