Lessons about performing, lesson fifteen: Remember your fans!

Well, somehow we made it to #15 and didn’t get distracted, bored, or impatient. When I began this series, I had no idea how long it was going to last. I still don’t. I’m not actually that well prepared, so I have no idea how many entries this will have.

What I do know is that I’m writing this on a Monday and it’s to be automatically published later this week. I’m ahead of the game!

If you don’t know what I’m doing, click this link! The short version is that there don’t appear to be any books or sites really dedicated to giving you the rules you need to in order to be a successful professional performing musician.

I’d like to thank @crazy_eyes for having gone ahead and decided to become a performing musician. It was him (and a second person asking about the first rule) that gave me the idea. I did some searching and realized that nobody else had really written this stuff down, so I figured I might as well do it.

By the way, if you’re interested in copying these to publish elsewhere, let me know. My answer will depend on who you are and where you intend to publish them. For example, Rolling Stone Magazine can republish them – at the cost of $50,000 per word. Everyone else can probably do it just for linking back to the source and giving credit. Just ask and we’ll work something out. (It’d be nice if you’d edit ’em up for me!)

Anyhow, our next lesson…

Rule #15: Remember Your Fans!

We’ve touched on this before. We’ve spoken about it in other places. We’ve thought about it. We’ve tried to figure out ways to express it.

I like to think I’m a man of sound first-principles. I am, after all, not just a musician. I’m also a retired mathematician that worked in the sciences. Reduction to the basics is something I’m pretty well versed in – so I’m going to try to explain this.

Your job is to trade entertainment for money. I know, some of you will still want to make it complicated and say that you do it for the art. You’ll say you want to do it for the chance to share the music. You may say that you’re doing it because you love the way sound expresses thoughts, changes emotions, or forms memories.

Well, unless you have an alternative source of income, those thoughts are just pithy sentiments expressed like they’re going to impress me. In other words, you’re gonna be hungry. You’re not wrong, but you’re going to be hungry.

What we do is we entertain people for money. We’re not really all that different than court jesters, except we probably don’t play for royalty. We work in the entertainment industry. Yes, it’s an industry. But, there’s room for both – you just have to remember that it’s an industry and, at the end of the day, you need a source of income.

Allow me to wax rhapsodic, if just for a moment?

I enjoy performing and playing covers is what I enjoy most. I like them because they are so powerful. I like them because the audience already has memories tied to the music.

For those that don’t know, my art is making faithful reproductions. In other words, the sound you hear from us is, ideally, easily mistaken for the studio rendition and the original artists. When I cover something, it should sound just like the original. That’s not easy and it’s an art in and of itself.

I like this because the audience already knows the music. They have memories attached. They laugh, they smile, they recall good times, and they experience making new memories.

Sometimes, they have tragic memories attached to the songs and you’ll see an audience member slowly wigglin’ while they sob. If I see that, I’ll try to catch their eye and smile a little – then I’ll play while facing and looking at them. For that brief window of time, entirely too short, they understand that I’m playing just for them. For that brief moment, you two are alone in a universe of sound and a connection is made – one that will be a memory that lasts for the rest of their lives.

Sometimes, they all manage to wiggle in time with the music we play. Sometimes, we’ll adjust the music slightly (probably not even intentionally) to match their rhythm. They feed off our energy as much as we feed off the energy that they give us. Those moments, again too brief, are some of the most special moments you’ll ever experience.

Really, the view is very different when you’re on the stage.

It’s truly an honor. Those people are paying us to bring back old memories, to give them the chance to emote, and to form new memories. It’s a great honor to be entrusted with playing not just our instruments, but playing the crowd as well. And, if you’re any good, you will be playing that crowd. You will master playing them as much as you master playing your instrument.

You can make them laugh, cry, dance in unison, and sing along.

You can also make them laugh at you, cry because you hurt their feelings, walk in unison off the dance floor, and chant together that you should get off the stage. Don’t do that.

Remember your audience. They’re who you’re there for. They’re paying your salary. They’re the ones that are entrusting you with their emotions. They’re the ones that give you the honor of performing for them. They’re the ones who are paying you to give them new memories and remind them of old times.

Be nice to them. After the show, go talk to them. Have stuff to give them. Have stuff that will make them happy.

Ancient Ninja Secret: If you see a group of 12 people, give them two shirts. The rest will buy shirts – if they can afford them. Shh! Remember, you’re playing the audience (not in a bad way) just like you’re playing your instruments. They’re happy they got free shirts and they’re now happy they’ve bought shirts.

I like picks. I give out tons of ’em. I carry a felt-tip pen and sign them after the show. No, I’m not famous – but they think I may someday be famous. They’re happy to have my scribbles. It’s also small, so I don’t have to write, “To Henrietta and her five cats that I absolutely adore more than life itself…” I just have to scribble my initials.

So, I carry a green felt-tip pen and white picks. I throw ’em out to the audience by the handful. After the show, I’ll sign ’em – if they want. They’ll almost certainly have forgotten my name before Monday rolls around, but for that night I’m important to them. For that night, they want my autograph. For that night, I’m a rock star (at least to them)!

Don’t forget your fans. Definitely don’t forget the fans that drove hours to see you – and have done so before. They call ’em groupies, and you’ll find you acquire a few along the way. My current band has some groupies from their old band and there’s even a few older folks who have come around, and say they’ll continue to do so, who know me from when I played with another band.

(That’s that whole reputation thing. It’s important – very important.)

This one isn’t very lighthearted. It’s a bit serious. Your fans have true emotions about you. Treat that with respect. Of course, some fans demand different types of respect. If you’re playing with a thrash band, it’s actually okay for the drummer to throw broken sticks at (not to) the audience. At the same time, no matter the genre, it’s probably inappropriate to stage dive at a wake.

Use some commonsense and remember who pays your salary. Keeping that in mind will absolutely help you further your career and enable you to work your way towards having a solid career in performing. You’re still unlikely to get rich, but you can at least do what you love – and make a living doing it.

I don’t try to candy-coat it. I try to tell you the things that are important. I try to make you aware that it’s hard work and not always something you’ll want to do. The hours are long, the pay per hour is abysmal when you count all the hours you really have invested, and the venues aren’t always the greatest. But, more often than not, it’s very rewarding.

It might actually be one of the most rewarding careers you can enter. It’s rewarding because the fans make it that way. Don’t forget them and, if you find success, don’t forget where you came from. Until next time…

Shut up and play us a song!

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