Letting Off Some Steam

This is really just a means of dealing with some anger right now, though I sincerely hope I’m not alone as performer who’s bothered by this. Maybe I’m just not as good at taking it in stride.

I can’t believe how oblivious some people can be towards public performances.  They come, they sit in front of me, they sit close to me, and they hold conversations as I perform. Loud conversations, which I can hear.  And the louder I play, the louder they talk.  They act is if someone just turned up the volume on the radio, and I might as well not be there.  In many cases, it’s not so small a place that you could go away from the stage. Other times, there are even separate rooms.  Still, for some reason, I’m supposed to believe that someone is actually interested in what I’m doing as they stand or sit 10 feet away from me and blather on about who knows what.

I understand that bars are generally louder places, and even though I don’t understand why the some of the least interested people end up so close to the stage, I go into bar expecting that kind of noise going on. But coffee shops!? How can somone not have the decency or sense? People are willing to sit and hold a conversation at the same volume that I’m playing, and then they have the nerve to clap at the end of the song, as if they listened to any of it!?

I suppose it just comes down to why I do what I do. Don’t get me wrong, me being incredible moody right now has a lot to do with it, and I may look back on this days later and regret writing it, but I’m not the type of performer who performs to please himself. I want (and have always wanted) to play for the people who want to hear it. I don’t get any enjoyment out of being background music, even if I’m getting paid. It’s as simple as that, really. If you want to hear me, I want to play for you. If you don’t, then I don’t want to.


2 responses to “Letting Off Some Steam”

  1. Tommy,
    Moody or not, you make a good point, and one that I know many performers feel. Keep looking for better venues where music is primary and ‘blather’ is minimal.
    Best wishes.

  2. Hey Tom –

    Wow! Glad I found your blog. I was thinking about this issue in the last couple of days, and I’ve come up with a nice balance that is currently working for me- unfortunately it does not address the folks sitting right next to you and ignoring you, so that’s a challenge if you have other folks further away that want to listen. If the space is open enough I’ll physically turn/move my chair toward the listeners and away from the talkers. Don’t worry, the talkers are not paying attention.

    As my non-paying coffee house gigs increase, I have noticed some distinct audience dynamics, and they seem to fall into 3 categories. Here are the categories, and how I currently deal with each emotionally as a performer;

    OBLIVIOUS AUDIENCE- this is the situation you describe. Most of the time these folks don’t even bother to clap. For me, this is the time to practice. I’m aware that people may start focusing more on me as time moves on- but until that happens, I pretty much pull up songs that need work. If I make mistakes, oh well. I also noodle around, maybe sing “la la la”… I do keep playing, and I do end the “song”, but I really don’t worry about pulling out anything specific from my set list. That way, if someone DOES begin listening, I can start pulling up real songs, and hopefully start a dialog with them. Eye contact and smiling really help at this point. Let’s face it, coffee shops are places to hang out, so if I need to change the way I engage potential audience members so be it. This has really helped me avoid the frustrations you describe. At this point I’m attempting to get some of these people (maybe just one person) into the next category.

    POLITE AUDIENCE- they split their time between listening and chatting. They applaud for some songs. They sometimes tip too! These are only different from the OBLIVIOUS audience members by the fact that you just might be able to engage them in a short conversation. With this audience I find I can sometimes break the ice by verbally introducing a song while making some eye contact. This is where you need to begin gauging applause. Did they applaud for the upbeat song? Pull up another one… Use upbeat tunes (faster rhythmic stuff) to get them from being POLITE to ENGAGED. If you attempt to play a poignant, lyrically driven song too early, they will flip back to OBLIVIOUS. The POLITE audience is always on the verge of shifting down to the OBLIVIOUS, or up to our favorite, the ENGAGED audience member.

    ENGAGED AUDIENCE- the folks we want! They listen, chat with us, applaud and tip. This is the group that will listen to a lyrically driven tune. Don’t let them escape without signing up for your email list, and when they sign, give them your card, or flyer, or bumper sticker. Now they know you exist…

    If people are in the shop, that’s good. What you do NOT want to do is begin driving people out. Remember, these folks came to hang out, so, just go into hang out mode. You’ll feel better, the vibe in the room will loosen up, and it’s better for the shop too!

    Hope to catch you playing soon!

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