Unlike a business office, however, the parameters of a musician’s work space change with every venue. Numerous elements are outside of my control, such as:
- Whether or not there is a proper stage on which to perform;
- The nature of the physical climate (temperature inside or out and precipitation, wind, and related factors if outside);
- The quality and reliability of the sound system particularly if it is not my own (but I generally bring my own as back up and there are plenty of times I was glad I did so);
- The presence or absence of a sound technician (I’m so grateful when someone can run sound for me);
- The audience; for example, are they there to listen as in a concert format or am I background music as in a restaurant or bar (which is fine);
- Whether I can hear my vocals and guitar playing;
- The presence of external distractions such as irregular behavior in the audience (as the time I was playing in Bisbee, AZ and about 50 men and women walked into the venue wearing women’s undergarments). You just adapt to whatever these circumstances might be!
These thoughts came to mind yesterday as I was driving home after performing in a noisy bar environment. I don't take patrons’ conversations personally because, in this case, they came for drinks, food, and to visit with friends. They appreciate the music and listen with one ear, but I may not be the main reason for their visit. One issue for me yesterday, however, was the lack of a monitor so I couldn’t hear my guitar playing over the other noises (talking, television, etc.). I wasn’t confident the audience could hear my guitar or if guitar and vocals were in balance, but the person running sound seemed to think it was okay. It was somewhat distracting and not ideal, but it happens.
As I pondered these issues, I realized how important it is for me as a musician to create a protective space around myself regardless of the distracting parameters of the performing environment. I need to block out the less than ideal circumstances and get lost in the songs that I already know so well. Yet, it is essential to be sensitive to my audience because they are partners with me in the experience. Sometimes that means changing my set list when I realize certain types of songs are not going over well (e.g., too slow or fast) and I need to change directions one way or another. Other times it means interacting with audience members, hopefully in positive, affirming ways. Or, sometimes I may need to firmly, and ideally with humor, pull the reigns in on an overly enthusiastic audience member, as the time a man made a very loud commentary at the end of every song that was distracting to the audience members and myself.
Another integral element to this discussion is my own physical, emotional, and psychological states. As a matter of preparation, I try to be sufficiently rested. Keeping hydrated is of upmost importance and, for me, plenty of water is the key. These aspects of performing deserve their own blog, so I’ll save those thoughts for another post.
Performing music is not simply a matter of getting up on stage and doing what we do, but it requires accounting for and dealing with numerous parameters of the context. My goal is to entertain and give audience members my very best at each performance delivering my songs with quality, heart, and emotion. It means surmounting less than perfect parameters of any performance setting and finding a zone of comfort for myself so that I can deliver my very best efforts to audiences.