Things look very different from the stage, part 7.

For those of you who are following along, I’ve been writing a bit about the different shows that we’ve been doing. Of all the things I do on this site, this is the closest to “blogging” as I really come. And, I’m not even sure who I write this for?

Basically, I try to learn something and share something from each show and to give people the chance to see what it’s like from the other side. I don’t do it for every show, but I try to do it when I think there’s something interesting about the show.

Except this time…

This time, I don’t even really want to write this. It is going to be really difficult to explain to people who haven’t been there and it’s going to (maybe) seem like I’m complaining. I’m not. I have the most awesome job in the world.

It’s not always idyllic.

We’ve been a new band for a while now. But, we’re really starting to come together as a distinct entity and to be a group. We’re getting to be more tight and our efforts really show in our performances. It’s not without some pride that I say we’re pretty damned good and show signs of becoming even better.

Earlier on in our formation, I wasn’t quite sure where we were supposed to play. No, I knew where we’d play and I knew what we’d be playing, but I wasn’t really sure what those venues were supposed to be, exactly. I wasn’t really sure where our core audience was going to be. I wasn’t entirely sure who we’d appeal to the most.

And, I accepted a gig at an agricultural fair. In my defense, it paid very well and our merchandise sold very well. We opened the merchandise sales about 2.5 hours before we even went on stage and there were quite a few people running around wearing our shirts, even before the show started.

We’d bought a small number of sweatshirts as a test and those sold out, completely. We probably sold another ~200 shirts and hats. Those are astonishing numbers. Those are fantastic numbers. Those are something to be very excited about.

What else went well?

We got paid – and we got paid well. I was offered a set-in-stone price. “This is what we’ll pay you.” I took the offer because, frankly, it was fantastic. I shan’t be exact, but it was a five digit sum of money. (Way down on the lower end of a five digit sum of money, but it was still five digits.)

The promotion was excellent. We were heavily promoted on a few radio stations. I did two interviews on the radio (by phone). Our drummer did two interviews with a different radio station. Fliers were put up, attendance was great, and people were legitimately wanting to put their asses in the seats – or out in the field.

But, back to payment… They paid us more than enough to do our “usual” package. What we’d normally do is two sets (usually 5o to 60 minutes long) and an encore that’s 10 to 15 minutes long. For that, you can expect to pay us anywhere between a four digit sum and a lower five digit sum.

And, we’d go out and rock them for a show that lasts just about 2:45. We go out there and make the people wiggle, scream, cheer, laugh, sing, and have a good time. We do this for nearly three hours. We cause permanent hearing loss and people pay us well to do this to them.

That’s what we do. That’s what we’re good at. That’s our audience type. That’s what we’re meant to do. We’re meant to bring in stadium sound and effects, to smaller venues, to give them an experience of a lifetime and memories that will last for the rest of their lives.

We like doing this. We like this sort of stuff. We enjoy doing faithful replications. We enjoy covering the songs you know and love, because of so many reasons – such as you already have memories associated with them. Doing covers gives us a great chance to connect with you, to tie into your existing experiences and create new ones.

And, for the most part, nothing like that happened.

We were limited to one set. There was no band after us. We weren’t opening for anyone. We were the entertainment. That’s it. There was no act before us. We came, we played, we left.

The thing is, the show started at 7:30 PM. Oh, we had great attendance. The grandstands filled up and people used it as an excuse to sit there, stuffed with fair food – or eating more, and enjoyed the show.

The infield filled up – and many of the people brought folding chairs or blankets. During our entire show, I’m going to guess that maybe a total of 200 people danced, and they didn’t even dance all at once.

Oh, the crowd was awesome-ish… They sang along with us. They cheered. They stood up and gave us an ovation at several points. Children laughed and danced while their parents looked on. Everyone kept their clothing on and it was your perfectly ordinary show.

I’m not complaining – I’m explaining.

They could have had a band in there for a fraction of what we were paid and they’d have filled that role just fine. We didn’t make any great connection with the audience, it was just your perfectly average show. I don’t like average, I like exceptional. Remember, we come into your venue and rock it like the major label artists – complete with effects. (We’ll be adding a projector in just a couple of weeks, for example.)

Now…

What should have been different?

We should have gone on at 9:00 and done two sets plus our encore. Then, the toddlers would have been gone. The older people would have gone home. The midway would be shutting down. Things like that…

The audience probably would have been smaller, but that’s okay. That audience was there – they were just out on the midway, eating food, or playing games. We got the people who’d left the bingo hall and the kids who’d previously been in the petting barns.

This place doesn’t even allow open containers of alcohol or have a beer tent. Come on now… You know damned well that people are still drinking, smoking, and doing drugs. They just don’t officially allow it and they’ll make you dump it out if they catch you with it – unless you’re being a jerk, in which case they’ll kick you out.

Worse, we couldn’t turn the volume up loud enough to drown out the midway. So, every time we’d quiet down between songs, the damned midway noises would fill the air.

We ended up doing a perfectly average show, a typical fair show, with typical results. There was nothing exceptional about it. We were professionals and did our job very well. The audience was exactly as great as that audience is going to be.

But, our preferred audience was there. They were in the fairgrounds. They were just off playing games and riding rides between breaks of eating delicious fair food. And, I can’t blame them. The midway shuts down at like 10:00. The cute girls with bare midriffs are all over there getting guys to take them on rides, win them cheap prizes, and feed them delicious fair food.

Seriously… Fair food is delicious. Sure, it’s unhealthy as fuck, but it is delicious! They have this thing here that they call ‘fried dough.’ It’s basically dough that’s been, you guessed it, fried. You put powdered sugar, syrup, cinnamon, chocolate, or a variety of toppings on it. Then, there’s the foot long “Italian” sausages. I don’t think there’s anything Italian in ’em, but I’ll be damned if they aren’t delicious.

But, it comes down to this…

I didn’t make a mistake. We got paid well. We did a great job with what we had to work with. We filled our contract. We satisfied our audience. We gave them an experience they’ll remember fondly. We did everything as close to ‘perfect’ as could possibly be done.

However…

It could have been so very different. We could have gone on a couple hours later and had 1,000 screaming fans out there. We could have rocked that place until the police came and shut us down. We could have left an indelible mark on the memory of our audience. Instead of 5% of the audience dancing at a time, we could have had 90% of them dancing.

We could have gotten the whole audience laid – twice. We could have caused them all to need hearing aids by the time they’re 50. We could have had a collection of bras hanging on our mic stands. We could have made the newspaper, possibly in the crime section. We could have gotten dozens of people arrested for various offenses from public nudity to driving while intoxicated after the show.

It didn’t have to be average. It could have been fucking awesome. We don’t want to be average. We don’t want to be “good enough.” We want to go down as legends and we want every show to be the best show you’ve ever been to in your life.

And, it just wasn’t there. It just wasn’t happening. The sad thing is that it could have.

I’d like to say we’re not willing to do that show next year and, while I was still pretty passionate about it, I indeed thought that we’d never do that show again. But, we will. We will do it because it paid well. We’re not doing this to follow our dreams. I’m doing this because I’m teaching them how to be professional musicians. We’re doing this because these bandmates need to learn how to make a living with their musicianship.

Sometimes, that means giving a perfectly average show because that’s what the customer ordered. Sometimes, that means just doing your job, because it pays the bills. It’s not about achieving stardom. It’s about being able to finally quit your day job. So, we’ll do it again.

But…

You can bet your ass I have already contacted the promoter, manager, board, town office where the fair was held, two radio stations, and the contractor that does the midway games and rides. I sent them all an email with a list of things that went well and a list of things they could do to improve it.

Yes, yes I do follow-up with the people who hire us. I not only let them know of my experiences while filling the contract but I also let them know things they may wish to consider changing for when they next have us in. I thank them for the experience and emphasize what they did right. That’s actually something scheduled for a later lesson, so I won’t get too into it today.

You know how I often say there’s no such thing as a perfect show? Well, this one was perfectly average. It didn’t need to be. It could have been pretty damned awesome. Oh well… Maybe next year it will be even more awesome? Until next time…

Shut up and play us a song!

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2 thoughts on “Things look very different from the stage, part 7.”

  1. Sucks that you didn’t get the feel, but from an audience perspective, those people who watched, who liked, who had toddlers with them here, will be the ones watching for when you come to their town on a weekend, and will be the ones getting babysitters, hotel rooms, and their real buzz on for a 10PM-Close show nearer to them?

    Not trying to argue – you are writing from your POV – but from an audience POV – fairs, festivals, etc., you are just another entertainment to add to the list, not THE entertainment. For some, you are background noise, for others a chance to enjoy 30 minutes of YOU time in an attempt to get some enjoyment after spending the past 8 hours of kids time or “others” enjoyment time – when you go to a fair, it is a social thing – so the audiophiles (for lack of a better term) are enjoying the shit out of you, but their friends want to see the Demolition derby, or go ride the ride, or show their girl how they can win the prize, or the girl showing their guy they can win balloon game or eat the deep fried ______ from the one place.

    I think you wrote before something along the lines of “get to know the audience”. Maybe this is one of those times where you as the artist has the opposite situation where no matter what you do as an artist, the audience doesn’t know you?

    Wish I could have been there, either way. Peace!

    1. Oh, it was a perfectly average show – for a fairground with the fair ongoing. The audience had a good time. We had a good time.

      It just wasn’t EXCELLENT. It just wasn’t as awesome as awesome can be. It wasn’t so awesome that it exceeded the ability of the English language to describe it.

      And it could have been.

      This isn’t the first time we’ve played while there were toddlers in the audience. This isn’t the first time we’ve played to an audience with older people. This was the first time we weren’t the only real center of attention, had to compete with noise levels from a midway, and had an audience that was exhausted from a long day. This also might have been the most sober audience we played to.

      If you’re ever in my neighborhood, let me know. We’ll get you back stage, on the stage, intoxicated and laid!

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