Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Musicians...Want More People at Your Shows?...Then Be Better

Disclaimer: This rant is directed as much at myself as anyone else who plays music live. I'm not saying anyone with the guts to write and perform their own stuff should give it up. I'm just saying you gotta care enough to get better at it.

Musicians, myself included, often gripe about how difficult it has become to get people out to see shows, but we've gotta look in the mirror and realize that a good portion of the blame rests on our shoulders as a community. We all need to be better. 

I know people don't go to shows like they used to. I know that live music isn't the thing to do that draws people in like it once was. I also know that it's not because people stopped enjoying live music. People don't want to go out and be subjected to crappy music, and I think we let that happen too often. Sure, we can blame it on the economy because people don't have as much money to go out. Sure, we can blame it on consumer culture and advertising that tells people that going to their local chain restaurant is a fun, cool thing to do on a free night. We can find any number of things to blame for the decline in concert attendance for local and regional shows, but we first have to be honest with ourselves. Too many of us have put on lousy shows. I know you can't stop other acts from being bad, but you have a responsibility to be as good as you can be when you get on a stage.

Sealab anyone?
Musicians need to play live, and they need to put on a great show. The kind of stage presence I see at great shows is a combination of being comfortable on stage but still engaged and serious about the music. A lot of great live performers have that ability, and a lot of less-than-stellar artists either never quite grasp it or lose it at some point. There's nothing worse than some tired old music vet half-assing their way through a set. Experiencing live music is a part of human culture that goes back for centuries. Recorded music, as great as it is, has only been around for about 150 years. Seeing music live is a real-life experience that listening to a recording just can't compete with. At least it should be.

Must've been a killer show

First and foremost, you've gotta write good songs, and you gotta be able to perform them well. You have to be good, and you have to practice to get that way. I have seen entirely too many bands or performers that don't have much, if any, talent, and that apparently can't be bothered to practice enough to either be tight or put on a good show. If you are part of a group, you have to understand that everyone has to be on the same exact page in order to make the most of the talent you have. If you perform solo, you have to play and sing well.  I'm not saying you have to be perfect at all.  You just can't be a sloppy mess.

After getting good at playing your songs, you have to get comfortable on stage.  People at shows want to have a good time, and if you are on stage it is your job to lead them to that point. Tim Barry has a great line about "should sound like escape, not rent." You need to be a facilitator for people having a good time if you want them to come to your shows. Also, there are a handful of artists who are terribly uncomfortable on stage, but so damned good that it doesn't matter. You probably aren't one of them. I know I am not.

It's easier for cover bands, they play songs people already know and like, but the soul of it all is missing if you aren't doing your own thing. I know this because I'm still playing bar shows where I do a lot of covers. It's fun, but it's not something that drives me and makes me feel alive. The covers and bar shows are a way to make a few fans and a little money in order to finance the new record.  Once I've taken care of those things, playing a bunch of covers won't be interesting anymore. Create something of your own, and you have the potential to add a small piece of yourself into the vast expanse of human culture and experience.

So, what do we, as musicians, do to get more people to shows. Sure, you have to advertise, which is easier than ever with the internet, and if you don't push your shows you're just lazy.  It all starts and ends, however, with actually being good enough and interesting enough that people want to come see you and have a good time. If you are playing for five people, make sure they are going to come back to see you again with some friends in tow.

Killer location, gotta make sure more folks come out next time

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