Disclaimer: This is in no way intended to step on anyone’s toes. I love all styles of music. This blog post is about musicians awareness of “giving value” to their listeners, regardless of style or instrument.
In case you don’t know it. I was a stone cold, bebopping, jazz guitar player with a big old archtop guitar, running around NYC and playing every show, rehearsal and session I could get to.
It was a hectic and underpaid life for many reasons . But now I am happier and more successful now than every before . I will delve into the shift that changed my life, in this post.
I switched to fingerstyle guitar for many reasons. I felt the urge to entertain people, first and foremost. Entertaining gives me more joy than anything. The entire shift was brought about by asking myself “for whom am I playing?
My life changed…I stopped caring what other musicians thought, and started caring what the audience thought.
These days I see many musicians play and not “keep the audiences attention” for various reasons. The musicians are usually beyond excellent, so what’s the problem here?
I have a question for you . Are people talking through your gig? Are you holding their attention?
In no way am I suggesting that you or anyone change what they are doing to what I do. I am however encouraging you and other musicians to ask themselves why they are doing what they do.
The question each musician must answer – with utter honesty is “For whom am I playing? Who is my ideal listener? Who am I trying to impress? What is my ultimate musical goal?”
Our sense of survival is our deepest fear and psychological button. Back before jazz schools a MUSICIANS SURVIVAL was based on entertaining.
Fortunately, I was in many bands with leaders who came up in the era of entertainment being a MUST, and if I did not rise to the occasion, I lost my gig and did not eat.
I can remember in Harlem a band leader threatening me to stop practicing and entertain the “room” or else I’d be fired. GULP! And I remember bored faces of bar patrons “light up” when I stopped playing a million notes and started playing the blues.
That is called a FIRE under the ASS, as it were. ‘Scuse my French.
If you are trying to impress:
– Other musicians
– Yourself, to see how you stack up
– Other musicians on the internet, Youtube, etc
That means….YOU BLEW IT! You forgot about the most important people – the PUBLIC. Ok, that’s simply my opinion – but check it for yourself!
What’s really confusing though is that when you are in school, you feel like your SURVIVAL depends on the approval of peers and teachers….and impressing them becomes the goal. That’s why music school has nothing to do with preparing you the real world environment of music.
Regular people, not musicians, are your main audience!!!! Make this your mantra.
Regular people need to like what you do. Regular people need to feel good when you play.
Take a Lesson from Marketers
Anyone marketing a product knows that they need their ICP – Ideal Customer Profile. Well, think about your listener as if they were a customer. Who is your listener? What age, gender, financial bracket, etc are they? How much of society do they make up? Where do they hang out? And so on….
The idea of whom one is playing music for is so deeply ingrained in a musicians playing approach, it literally permeates EVERY note that a musician plays. And if you’ve spent years playing for other musicians – everything regarding your tone, time touch and concept are over there.
It can feel downright weird to play music for the “audience” if you are in that other zone. I can “hear” whom a musician is playing for as if they told me in plain English.
I am not talking about the musical skill. I am talking about the breath of life which permeates the musical thought, and intent behind the music.
I showed my girlfriend (who is not a musician) two jazz quartet videos – one old (1960’s) and one new (current) and she said “the new one – they all sound like they are playing their own thing and it is not matching up the way the old one does”.
No one could be further from understanding music than her – but she did hear the main difference!!!! Food for thought, kids.
So let’s close with the questions to ask yourself:
For whom am I playing?
Why am I playing music?
What is my ultimate goal in playing music?
Would I rather be “the best” or see “happiness” in my audience?
Write a full description of your ideal listener – sex, age, eductaion, financial bracket – whatever you want. (This will tune you to thinking about THEM instead of YOU.)
What reaction do you want from them? (Hint – joy is the right answer, thinking YOU are awesome is the wrong answer.)
Be a giver, not a taker! Wake up this way, go to sleep this way, practice music this way and talk this way. Amen.