Lessons about performing, lesson 40: Remember why you’re there!

If you don’t know what I’m doing, why are you even here? Sheesh! I write these intros and explain what I’m doing. I probably should have just written one and the copied and pasted it to start every article. It’s a little late for that now.

So, what am I doing? Well, I’m telling you how to be a performing musician and how to actually increase your odds of getting paid to do it. No, I’m not telling you how to become the next person to have an album go gold. That’s entirely unrealistic (sorry, but it’s true).

What is realistic is that you can be a professional performing musician and not have to work multiple jobs. What is realistic is that you can do so without having to resort to eating nothing but generic cereal and peanut butter and jelly sandwiches on cheap bread.

The odds of you getting rich are pretty low. The odds of you getting great fame are also pretty low. The odds of you actually being able to afford an off-lease car are much better. So, if you don’t want to be rich and famous, here’s the lessons that have so far been published.

There has been new daily content for the site for over two months now. The amusing part about this is that I never expected to do this. No, I expected it’d just be a few articles and then abandoned due to lack of interest. I figured the greatest lack of interest would be on my end. But, here we are…

I get a lot from writing these. I don’t get paid, ’cause y’all don’t actually click on any of those ads. In fact, it costs me money. However, it costs me more time than money. But, I do get rewarded.

I get rewarded by honing my skills as a writer and, more importantly, learning to understand my audience. That’s an art in and of itself and it’s one that can take a lifetime to truly master. It is also related to today’s lesson.

Rule #40: Remember why you’re there!

In a recent conversation with Chris from The Kilt Lifters, I was having a hard time figuring out why I refer to some performances as “shows” and to other performances as “gigs.” Also, I was drunk.

He deduced that there really was a difference between them. He too was drinking. But, he was right.

It came down to why we’re there. I’d been applying a mental filter and used this to define them, even if I couldn’t articulate my reasoning for their use. They are, on some reflection, not really interchangeable – under most circumstances.

At a show, you’re the center of attention. You are the source of entertainment. You’re why they are there. You’re why the audience has come out, waited in line, and paid their hard earned money.

At a gig, you’re the background. You’re not the center of attention. People have come out for reasons other than you. People are there for food, for drink, or maybe to walk around a festival. You’re providing background music and ambiance.

Those seem like pretty good working definitions and they seem to suit well enough. Granted, there are a few that may cross the line or even be rightly called both a show or a gig.

But, I think that, generally speaking, the rule holds true as much as any other rule and, as important, tells us a lot about how we should perform for either situation.

At a show, the audience is your audience. You’re the center of attention and you get to interact with them more. You’re able to get them to do things like sing along and, well, that’s hardly appropriate if you’re playing ambiance at a fancy restaurant.

At a gig, you’re not there to be the center of attention. You shouldn’t be trying to do things like turning up your volume so that the servers can’t do their job. You shouldn’t be trying to be the center of attention – you should be trying to set and maintain a mood.

Your set list and your antics will depend a lot on the mood you’re trying to set. You’re not supposed to be up there cracking jokes and asking people if they’re ready to rock when you’re not the center of attention.


There are some that cross the line. There are some that have elements of both and will vary – depending on why you’re there. Let’s take a bar, as an example.

You’re there to provide ambient music – and you’re potentially there to be the center of attention to certain people. They are there to dance. Hell, they might even be at that bar specifically to hear your band. So, to them, you’re the show – but to the guys over in the corner who are talking about work while they nurse their beers, you’re just background noise.

I can’t stress this enough. There are few rules set in stone and one has to be dynamic and always aware of what’s going on around them. But, in this case, you need to remember why you’re there. Remember what your main goal is. Remember what it is that people are going to take away from your performance.

You can’t be all things to all people, but you can do reasonably well. You can be a show to some and a gig to another. If the bar is small and more people are dancing, go ahead and give them a show. If it’s smaller, shoot for something in the middle – but be considerate of the people in the back who are trying to have a conversation.

There’s gonna be a whole ton of variations to this. These things are on a spectrum and there’s the possibility for it to have elements of both – depending on everything from the venue, to the people, to the time you go on stage.

I think this falls under the heading of being dynamic and knowing your audience. It seems like something important enough to put out there. It’s something I’ve been doing, but hadn’t really articulated. Until next time…

Shut up and play us a song!

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