I'm not sure who I should attribute that quote to, but (in my opinion, anyway) those are words to live by. We all want our performances to be memorable but all too often performers seem to think that the playing alone will make that happen. Sure, the playing has to be as good as you can make it but there are other very important details that separate the real pros from the pretenders. Here are a few.
- Clean beginnings and endings. Nothing says you're a well-rehearsed band or single performer more than starting a song in a definite manner and finishing it on purpose. One of the bands I played in used to have what we called "beginnings and endings practices." We would work hard on cleaning up those points in the songs we played and the result was a more attentive audience. Mindlessly noodling around and having various band members enter at undefined points doesn't do it; neither will looking at each other and hoping some other band member will stop so everyone can stop.
- Planned solos, time-wise. Remember the good old 60s and 70s when some records had entire sides of improvised soloing? Well, those days are gone and I'm sure more than a few music fans don't miss them at all. Sure, soloing should be a showcase of someone's improvisational skills but knowing just how long a player has to construct their solo will inevitably lead to better solos! In most cases, three or four choruses are plenty, and if you're in a band that has a few people who are capable of improvising, shorter solos are the rule. The fact is, 99% of listeners don't give a rat's @ss how many hot licks you know - they are there for the vocals. Don't believe me? Why hasn't an instrumentalist ever won American Idol? (insert gagging sounds here! ;~) )
- Don't be afraid of the microphone! Lean into it. Most PA systems and the mics that are used are not studio quality so being close to the mic is essential. Remember what I just said about what the audience is there to hear?
- Tune up! Not while you're performing though, and not just before you begin your show. Have everyone do their tuning BEFORE it's time to perform, then put the instruments down. Few things are as annoying to an audience as a player tweaking strings during a performance. If your guitar goes out of tune during the set, tune as quickly as possible, or heaven forbid, if you break a string, it is time for a break. Even if the string breaks a few measures into your first song.
- Don't waste time between songs! This is a biggie. This begins with planned sets. You can go off your set list occasionally (for a request, for example) but mindless noodling and long stretches between songs are signs of a rookie. The audience is there to hear songs, not pieces of songs. And the longer you go between songs, the more likely the audience will lose interest. Drummers may be the worst offenders here - and the most annoying. The best drummers I've played with actually put their sticks down or rested them between songs.
- Be prompt about the start time of your performance. If you say you're starting at 9:00 p.m., make sure you do. This gets into something else, start times in general, and the current trend seems to be to start playing at 10 p.m - or later - in bars. I readily admit to being an older person who is thinking in terms of bed when some of the younger players are just getting set up, but starting earlier will sometimes encourage customers to stay longer, which translates to more drinks sold - the best way I know to endear yourself to the bar owner.
And most important of all...
- Acknowledge your audience!!! Now more than ever, with DJs and karaoke taking away jobs that once belonged to musicians, you MUST let your audience know that you're glad they made the effort to come out and hear you play. Some musicians are better than others at banter on stage - and there is a point where that too can become annoying - but doing something as simple as making eye contact, and most of all SMILING ONCE IN A WHILE lets the audience know they matter.
Peace & good music