It’s Friday and you’ve carted the PA all the way through the high street because the venue doesn’t have parking. You shimmy in with every musical piece of equipment snug, under your arms. Waiting for you is a sea of stone-hard faces, who look as though the last thing they want right now is a hard-working singer-songwriter giving a raw and heartfelt performance. Oh sh*t, what have we done?
Now, as a musician, I’ve been here what feels like 100,000 painful times. You know from the first simple second of stepping into the venue that tonight will be as tough as Tiger bread that is just one measly day out of date. I still haven’t quite grasped why one pub, event or festival’s audience can be different from the next in such a radical way. I’ve wondered if it is location or the calibre, or maybe even my set? But it is just one of those things that you have to toss ya hands up in the air to and accept. And how can you do this with ease, style and a worry-free time? Well, I’m not a gig veteran, that’s for sure. But I’ve had to develop a few nacks to getting through and to guide you, my musical superstar … here they are!
It is their loss because right now, you are just getting more time into work on how brilliant you already are.
Tip 1: Use the gig as a chance to practice full out!
So what no-one is showing one droplet of attention! This is your craft and that cardboard platform you are on, beer-smelling carpet corner, or very hastily put together marquee is YOUR STAGE. You have the PA rolling (and we know how long it is to set up PA when you are just having a quick stop practice at home) and most likely the trusty old monitor in front of you so for once you’ve got a good shot at hearing yourself back- a good time to make some mental notes for next time! If there aren’t any eyes on you apart from the odd scowler who looks as though someone could hold a door open for them, and they would turn their nose right up, use this 40 minute set to try out some of those brand- spanking new covers that you’ve nailed in the privacy of home, but just need to run them a few times when gigging to really OWN it. It is their loss because right now, you are just getting more time to work on how brilliant you already are. Just like the water off a duck’s back …
TIP 2: Recognise those who are appreciating you, because they’ll enjoy being appreciated back …
I had an experience that nails this on the head quite perfectly not too long ago. The audience were tight-lipped and that was about it. But amongst what felt like an impossible barrier to barge through, there were a couple of audience members who began to immerse themselves by singing along with improv vocals (snazzy), swaying in the posh leather armchairs (I began to sway with them and almost pulled the jack out of the guitar, audience 1- Poppy 0) and the kindest thing an audience member can do, they applauded after each song had concluded. That small round of applause turned the whole experience on its head. I had been fully appreciated. And so I made it my priority to make sure they knew in their bones that they were mine! When I performed I made sure my back didn’t turn away from the area they were tucking into some lovely tapas in (mouth-watering) and I thanked them for the jovial and comforting singing along. It made what was a potentially difficult gig into a mutually enjoyable experience. Just because the reception overall isn’t responsive, IT DOESN’T MATTER! Just enjoy those who are lovin’ it. They love what they hear for a reason, so you must be doing something wonderfully correctomundo.
TIP 3: As hard as it will feel, try not to take it to heart …
Hey, this is pretty darn hard.
Hey, this is pretty darn hard. But as musicians, frustratingly, this is the industry we’ve readily signed up for. I’ll admit, I still fight back the watery eyes when a pub floor clears like mist on an eerie lake as soon as I sing the first note. But I have begun to challenge my thoughts (CBT technique, I’ll link more about it below!) and acknowledge that many come to a pub to speak to friends and have a laugh whilst finally sippin’ on the G&T they have longed for all week (I can relate)! They may just be into a different style, or it may have simply slipped their mind that live music is on in the corner. It is hard to remember at the moment, but have you always sat with eager eyes, listening to every single second of the musician’s set when down the local? If ya have, keep that DEDICATION UP! But I know there have been several times I have had to go to the loo, answer my phone or just catch up with pals because it is Friday. In this sodding situation, you just have to focus on how happy your music is making YOU feel. Because at the end of the day, you are what your music is. And the most important critic, truly when it comes down to the steamy boil, is you.
If you are proud and motivated by the incred songs that you are writing, or seamless guitar licks you are ripping- then this is what’s important. Not every gig will feel like Brixton Academy with a sea of crowd surfs going ahead. But if you can be brave and push through the dodgy nights, and embrace the perfect ones… you are already a fully fledged musician and with hard work and grit… I am sure your time will come.
I am still working for mine, but as long as there are gigs and a bucket load of ambition … we’ll rock it!