The Land of the Gigs: Musical Apathy, Hecklers & More…
It’s a land where most of us musicians gravitate toward—this Land of the Gigs. It’s good land, but
it’s not inexpensive, and it does have its hazards. We seek it out ‘cause we like to play, and we want others to listen to us play. Not sure why, but a lot of us do. Those of us who write songs are communicating our sorrow, angst or joy. Maybe we’re telling a story. It may be personal. It may just be a silly, shallow bunch of words we put together for lyrics to make our song. But it’s our baby, that song. And we’re sharing it with you. You may not like it. Maybe it’s boring. Possibly it’s not well-written. Perhaps we shouldn’t share it with you at all? But it’s a part of us that we’re sharing with you and it’s something you won’t find anywhere else. Like a small, locally-owned family business, we undiscovered musicians are unique to your city or town. We reflect our surroundings–both our inner mental and our exterior physical environments affect our songwriting and performing. That reflection will always be unique–for better or worse. You won’t find it at Walmart and you won’t find it on corporate-consoled mainstream radio. You’ll only find it here, and if we aren’t allowed to perform publicly, you may never hear it again.
I find it inspiring to play in front of an enthused crowd, but it’s also demoralizing to play in front of an unenthused crowd. (You know who you are. You’re the ones who sit in front of the musicians while they’re playing, ignoring them and talking loudly to your friend as though no music were playing at all… Or worse yet, you stand up and leave as soon as the musicians get up to play. How dare they interrupt your texting and gaming?)
But it’s okay. Because you’re there. An audience that doesn’t care is better than no audience at all, right? Well, sometimes.
An unenthused audience can prompt the performer to work harder at grabbing attention and pleasing a picky audience. Frankly, you the audience are casting your vote when you choose not to listen. What you’re telling the musicians and the venue is: “We don’t want to hear it, and we don’t like it!” When you choose not to see local musicians perform but to pay a lot of money to hear national acts instead you’re casting your vote for the national acts. You’re making a statement that says, “We don’t want local musicians to play at our venues. We only want to hear music performed by famous people.” Hey, that’s okay. No worries. Your choice. You like what you like, right?
Just know that you are making a choice. You are casting a vote. Just like no one forces you to shop at Walmart when you could support local businesses instead, no one forces you to support local artists and musicians either. Do you want musicians in your area or would you rather they pack up and just go somewhere else? People, you decide. It’s all about you!
When we played recently at a certain venue, two audience members loudly ignored us. So… we played a cover song that has been played probably thousands of times over the course of nearly 100 years. Yep, a tried-and-true tune. And guess what? They turned around. Turned around to look at us musicians. It was the first time they noticed us up there performing while they talked loudly in front of the stage, upstaging the performers with their banter… But that’s okay. It gave me a chance to experiment, to take risks. They clearly weren’t listening anyway, right? And so I played a cover song that I knew they’d heard many times before. And voila! Their short attention spans revealed themselves! The psyche has no clothes! The naked mind exposed—and there was nothing inside it; nothing but rehashed, regurgitated melodies that one has heard countless times over the course of a century and that only a narrow and nearly empty mind could appreciate. (Actually, it was a good song that well deserves to have been played over and over again throughout the years. It’s just frustrating when people don’t give new songs and new ideas a chance. After all, every old, cover song was once a brand new song no one had heard before…) More than this, it’s also sad that people are that disconnected from each other that they can ignore each other even when one of them is standing on a stage and talking into a microphone.
Turn off that bloody TV set and start interacting with your fellow human being on a regular basis before it’s too late and you forget how to interact with other people!
“Ha ha! Got ya’ to look! Made ya’ look!” I thought triumphantly as the cover tune got the two audience members to turn around and look toward the stage. As much as it occurred to me that this couple that sat near the front of the stage and chatted loudly in front of the performers may have been purposely attempting to heckle our performance, it also occurred to me that this was a challenge for me to rise up to. I was determined to get them to listen to something I was playing. I’m not suggesting it’s possible to get people to like you, but I am suggesting that some people will appreciate your music—if it’s good—in spite of their worst intentions. We can’t convert everyone, of course, but our challenge as performers is to at least get their attention and entertain them on some level.
And that is, after all, our job as performers—to be good, to be entertaining, to play well, to write good songs and to present them professionally and wonderfully so that an audience is engaged, enlightened, and, we hope, enthralled at some point.
So when you find yourself heckled or otherwise frowned upon, remember that not everyone appreciates the time, energy, training and skill some of us musicians put into our performances. Some people just take it for granted. Ah, there’s some nice music playing in the background of my conversation. People are up on stage performing it. How nice. It just doesn’t occur to some people that musicians work to get good at what we do, that we may have spent years practicing that instrument, studying music theory, and prepping ourselves for those onstage performances. Gratitude for each other, it seems, has become a lost art.
How many times do we stop and think about who made our clothes, for example? Who built our smart phone? Who paved the road we drive on everyday to work? So yes, we musicians are guilty of the same ingratitude. I see it as yet another symptom of our atomized, disconnected society. As humans, we were meant to be connected to each other, but these days we are afraid to talk to “strangers.” Who are these “strangers?” “A stranger,” a friend once explained to me, “is just a friend you haven’t met yet.”
Estranged, detached, we are self-centered, texting our narrow circle of friends, Facebooking, tweeting, Instagraming, but not so much thinking about or really pondering each other. Possibly there just isn’t time to think about much of anything anymore. But we don’t need to be intellectuals, don’t need formal education, don’t need a strong vocabulary to just focus on our surroundings and question that reality.
There I go again, into the realm of abstract thinking in the decidedly concrete yet shallow world of the blogosphere.
So much philosophizing about a mere performance at a café. Silly me! Am I, perhaps, haunted?