In going out to hear live music in small venues for seven nights in a row, I learned a few things that I hope to apply to the bands I play with. (Full disclosure: a lot of individuals in a lot of the bands I saw last week play with me or used to play with me or play with people who play with me…you get the idea…lots of people playing with each other…that’s rock and roll!)
So, here are a few things I was reminded of:
1. Shut up and play. Stage banter is boring and tiresome unless you’re really good at it.
2. Shut up and play already. Don’t take more than 15 seconds between songs. And if you have to tune, for God’s sake get it done in under 5 seconds or tune silently.
3. Variety. It’s one thing to have a singular sound (easier said than done), but all your songs shouldn’t sound the same (also easier said than done). At the very least, tempos and energy levels should ebb and flow. And the set has to vary, otherwise people will see you twice and think they’ve seen all there is to see. At least 50% of every show should be different from the last show. Occasionaly throw in a song that sounds totally different from your other songs.
4. Choose venues wisely. If your friends come to see you in a crap venue, they won’t remember how great you are, they’ll remember how crap the venue was. Ideally, it’s a small place with a great sound system and reasonably priced drinks without too many other distractions, like sports on the TV.
5. Most people aren’t musicians. Most of the audience is there to drink, get laid, and hear some nice music along the way. They might notice if you’re too loose or sloppy, if you miss an ending, if you’re way out of tune, if your singer sucks or talks too much, if there’s too much space between songs, or if all your songs sound too similar or boring. It’s easy to fret way too much about the details–the gear, the precision on a particular run, whether you’re playing too few or too many notes–and lose track of the overall picture.
6. Rock and roll will never die. Especially in Seattle. There’s an oversupply of really talented musicians in this city–far moreso than I remember in San Francisco in the 1990s. Hopefully, with the impending demise of the big business record industry and decreasing relevance of commercial radio and audiences staying away from huge concerts in droves, the demand for small scale local live music will catch up with the supply.