Like a blind date

This is from David Hepworth’s blog, and will ring a bell with many who read these pages!

I was talking to a young musician friend recently. He plays in his own band but also goes out regularly doing covers in pubs. "You’ve no idea," he said, "how difficult it is to get people to listen."

I’ve been thinking about this ever since. Maybe part of the reason I’ve been able to persuade musicians like Chris Difford, Mary Gauthier and Barb Jungr to come along to True Stories Told Live and just perform for ten minutes is because they know how precious somebody’s undivided attention is. In some ways they’re happier playing to a listening audience for ten minutes than competing for the attention of a bigger, paying crowd for much longer.

I’m always amazed by the resilience musicians show in walking out in front of people who would clearly be happier drinking, eating, talking or being entertained by someone else. I try to put myself in their shoes and imagine how the world looks from the other side of the monitors. I often wonder why they don’t just walk off.

I was thinking about this again this morning while looking at Amy Rigby’s excellent blog. She’s an American musician who’s married to Wreckless Eric. They live in France and play wherever they can. This never was an easy life and it’s harder than ever right now. There’s no record company, no management, no structure, no career path, just a life. Unlike many musicians Amy Rigby is perceptive enough to notice the audience and candid enough to write about them. This is a show the other night:

Today I’m recovering from our gig at the Site Corot last night. Held in an unused auberge in a lovely spot near a river, next to some old glove factories, it took five meetings and three months to organize. Many people showed up, having been told we were either a) a "rhythm and blues" group or b) country music. They stayed for about three songs and the rest of the set we played to our usual ten friends and the few assorted French people too polite to desert us. But the river made a nice sound and we still remembered how to play.

The dread and anticipation, the inevitable misrepresentation, the evening that peters out before it is meant to, the embarrassed silences, the battering taken by the confidence: sounds like nothing so much as a blind date

And a couple of good points from the comments:

Dan Biddle said…

The Open Mic scene holds just as much etiquette horror. There are some events that take the musicians’ side and demand silence – repeatedly by the host – and intense attention to the artists and their efforts: which I always appreciated, but also felt left the room feeling a little too worthy, a little dour. Then there’s the other kind of night run by good-times merchants who are happy to let the crowd do their thing – it’s a pub, it’s a night out, who are we to tell you how to enjoy yourself? And while that’s potentially a nightmare to deal with as a struggling solo folkie, by god it drags your stage presence up by the scruff of the neck – or soon teaches you that this ain’t the gig for you.
David’s absolutely right – resilience is vital in a musician. If you can’t handle being ignored, talked over, even playing over a juke box (one great gig I played..!), then you ain’t gonna make it. You have to be indefatigable in your self-belief (or at least in the belief that this is what you want to do with your life); I wasn’t – that’s why I stopped. Good luck to all who keep the faith.


Michael said…

In about a hundred years people will look back on the ‘rock n roll’ era from the 1950s to the 1990s as a strange time when performers of music expected their audience to stop do anything else and just give them their undivided attention, with perhaps a bit of a swaying and appreciative whooping allowed. I say this after spending time in China where there the tradition is for audiences at musical and theatrical events to talk, eat, drink, heckle and wander around during performances. I imagine it was much the same at the Globe in Shakespeare’s day. Isn’t it a bit narcissistic to expect your paying audience to put their evening on hold while you express yourself?

To me this points to a wider truth – that attention is the only real currency in the world – the giving, receiving, attracting and distracting of attention is what all relationships in human society are about.

1 thought on “Like a blind date”

  1. Maybe audience members ought to have to fill out a questionnaire to allow it to be determined whether or not they are suitable for the event?
    The lack of respect shown by many members of audiences these days is, frankly, apalling and ignorant…
    I know people’s attention spans are extremely short now but why, if you’ve paid a hefty sum for a ticket, would you want to chat to your mates instead of pay attention to the event you’ve paid to see?
    You might as well have gone to the pub or, better still, have invited your mates round to your house, stuck on a CD or DVD of the artist and talk loudly over that…
    Then, people who actually want to go along and listen/watch wouldn’t be impinged upon by uncultured, ignorant morons…
    I seldom now go to gigs or the cinema for fear of
    having to spend the evening in the company of these idiots…

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