The Audience Is Waiting
By Mick Polich - 10/22/2008 - 08:47 AM EDT
The audience is waiting………where are YOU???
Is it possible to find an audience for your music by less conventional means? Busking, living room concerts, backyard parties – are these all valid entryways for presenting your stuff??
Allow me to bring forth the ’ah-ha’ moment: I recently played my neighbor’s now semi-annual back yard party (one on Memorial Day, one on Labor Day) to a fun and enjoyable audience, and maybe a little bit of exposure to more conventional gigs. Given my ‘a gig is a gig is a gig, and every gig can have some positive vibes’ philosophy, I was pleasantly surprised – musical trainwrecks, yes, new material risked, yes, good time, yes, and lessons filed away for the future, ditto.Ya see, I’m beginning to see the light out here in the ‘burbs: folks just like me that, yeah, wanna hear some Stones, some Creedence, but also want to hear some twists – quirky stuff, maybe left-of-center and below the radar. Plus, you throw in your originals, well, it can be a heady brew, cap’un. There are people out there paying the bills, greasing the wheels, trying to get their kids thru school, but want to have not only a good time, but some INTELLIGENCE, a side order of art, and a bowl of wit with their beer, BBQ, and tunes. Hey kids, let’s put on a show, but let’s give it a goose, a twist, and an arch of feeling, o.k.?
We used to joke about never overestimating our audiences – yep, some Skynyrd, some “Mony, Mony” so that they could do the obscene chant during the chorus – give what they want, and you’ll get paid and embraced by rounds of Wild Turkey during and at the end of the night. Well, it’s STILL like that, but what about the people lookin’ for a little left-o-center? How do you determine who’s out there for that? Oh, believe me, they are out there, and in the most unlikely places – your neighbors, your kids’ Scout pack, and your ‘button-down’ types. Gotta take a little R and D, but when you look for the possibilities, it can be a real groove, ladies and gents.
Plus, how do you FIND people like this? Well, one is by taking hints from the big boys and girls and micro-scale a ‘tour’ of your block, neighborhood, town, rural area, metroplex, and wherever else you’ve got the time to go book.
Music bio books are riddled with stories of mismatched artists for tours from hell – recently, I’ve recently finished up a Sonic Youth bio that explained in detail some of the groups struggles going on tour with Neil Young back in the early 1990’s. The usual opening act shenanigans were at play – poor sound mixes, shortened sets, shorted money, elitism from Young’s road crew (until Neil got wind of it and told his crew to knock it off).
Again, I think the ‘finding-the-audience-locally’ route can be found to great success. Case-in-point: I went back to jam with one of my old bands in Des Moines, Ia. – this has become a semi-annual thing to do (and even with an 11 ½ hour drive, this is the most accessible we’ve been in our relocation locales thru UPS to do such a thing). The Sons Of Gladys Kravitz, formerly Gladys Kravitz, are a ‘classic rock’ band that plays as much as they want around central Iowa. For the second year in a row, the Sons have played the Beaverdale Fall Festival (Beaverdale being a great little north Des Moines suburb). For three days, bands, vendors, rides, great food, and other attractions fill the streets, to much great appreciation.
I did my customary half-set/equipment teardown with the Sons, who pretty much play anything from Pink Floyd to Jethro Tull to Elton John note-perfect, with shimmering harmonies and great soul, Since 1991, when Wade and I started the band, along with friends Ron Kennebeck and Don Myers, as an acoustic side project to Wade’s recording band for his CD projects, the Sons have built a cool little following – saw a lot of folks there on this recent trip that I remember seeing in 1991 – 1994 before Mary and I split town for the first of a few UPS moves. Unfortunately, I compare any band trying to do the ‘classic rock’ thing to these homies, and it ain’t fair, I know, ‘cause these boys have got it DOWN. But what fun – a great pre-autumn, Midwestern eve in Des Moines, playing music on a makeshift stage, done with love and respect in the street, surrounded by an APPRECIATIVE audience………
Well, well, an appreciative audience – who wouldn’t dig that? I mean, at the end of the day, besides the pay (still welfare wages), the occasional ‘cool’ venue to play, and the musicianship, what’s left?
Where do you think your audience is? Are they on the corner, in front of, or in the local café or coffee shop? The local theatre that subs between old movies and concerts? Your son’s school? Your OWN neighborhood?
Dunno – it’s up to us to find these gigs !
Getting to the tail end of a great little memoir by Juliana Hatfield called “When I Grow Up’’, recalling her touring days with the Blake Babies and her own solo career. Yes, at times the reading does get whiney and way self-analytical (I thought I was bad on that trait ….), but it ends up being a fascinating, at times, insight to a musical life on the road. Now, I can’t say my career has gone beyond driving for 2 hours to get to a gig, but I can relate to a few things in the book. But even in the midst of gaining a short-lived time in the spotlight (covers such as Spin magazine, Ben Stiller-directed videos, major label releases), Juliana seemed to have quite the audience following, nonetheless.
Then, the bottom fell out of a maybe-promising career – her label dropped her, and Juliana went into a year - long battle with severe depression. An all-too- common arch to a music career, but what makes this tale worthwhile is what happened after the fact. Not a return to the hill towards stardom, but just getting your JOB back, on your terms, and coming out with one of the best records of your career. I know – I went out and bought here new CD, and A/B ‘ed it to an older one, “Made In China” (both excellent, if diverse, collections).
What I like about Juliana’s story is not that it’s girl-meets-gutter, girl-heads-back-to-stardom-again. No, contrary, Juliana is back to playing mid-level bars, halls, and festivals, most a step up from her salad days. But she’s making a living again, and is on a second, critically artistic life with her new music.
You know, just because somebody throws a lot of money at something doesn’t mean it’s good – it’s just that SOMEONE is throwing a lot of money at it! Rare is the blockbuster film or CD that sells worldwide AND is a critical success (would rank the Batman flick, “The Dark Knight”, in that category – it comes pretty damn close to me).
I read a book years ago on creating your own marketplace for your music, and that’s pretty much the truth – there really isn’t a road map or guide; you need to go out to establish that stuff. And, I’ve read stories and seen real life examples of people at ANY age doing it – some folks release their first CD at 55, 60, or 65 years old!
Given our present economy, things are in a spin for a lot of folks – myself included. As I continue to advertise my skills, pick up repair work and new music students, and basically try to do what many daily – get up, give yourself a pep talk, and go hustle some business while not trying to compromise your morals, ethics, or values. In the mean while, we look for places and chances to present our art, and make a living at it. Rest assure, things change, and we need to adapt in order to survive. Darwin said words to that effect, and if you believe in his theories or not, well, the past is past, and the future is now…..
Re-invention is a big key to survival, and gaining (and perhaps losing) an audience. As is the obvious, we ain’t perfect beings (I get remind of this daily) – where our strengths are in one area, we have depletions in another. For example, I’m math-challenged – this shows up in how I approach music, business, home life, and my understanding of the world. As a business major, it makes you wonder (makes me wonder, too). I had a hell of a time with my quantitative methods class, and business math class, in college. It gets to the point of embarrassment if I goof up something at home, or thru other activities. Needless to say, I think I’m better than I was 5, 10, or 15 years ago (which does me no good now since I’ve already manage to get my college degree). That said, some days, it isn’t good enough. I get mad at myself, and others – “ Jee-bus! Can we slow down a bit???” – and in the long run, it’s wasted energy (which I happen to realize after my stewing…). Do I accept my faults, quit the whole damn ball o’ wax, or just keep going to improvement? Well, after my tantrums, I keep going, because I need to – gotta pick up the ball, and keep running……
You may think you’re too old, fat, bald, stupid, or any ‘kinder’ adjectives, to play music in public, record CD’s, or attempt to build a music business thru performance, repair work, recordings, teaching, or any other music business facet. Really, though, your audience is waiting, and wondering where you’ve been. Now, is it at the Staples Arena? I don’t know – maybe it’s just up the street at the corner bar or coffeehouse. Is it at Soldier Field in concert? Again, can’t say – perhaps it could be there, or maybe in your local church choir. As many who have been there before say, it’s a journey, and you’re making up your own road map.
Believe you me, kids, after I write these words, sometimes, I need an ol’ pep talk myself to make sure I get my OWN message! Like the CEO giving the needed ‘press on’ speech while he’s not sure of anything himself, I do lapse there myself from time to time. But, you can’t give it any ground, or at least circle the wagons when you feel Chief He-Who-Is-In-Doubt coming at ya…….
The gig/audience thing is probably far different than anything you conjure up in your head (I should know – my imagination can be on overtime on that one), BUT it’s usually exactly what you need at the time (yes, even the gigs were you wonder, ” Why? Why am I HERE???”). You’ve got to sort it out later on – and sometimes, it’s much, much later on.
Be creative – in our age of battery – powered music mobility and busking permits, where or could you play? If downtown Fort Worth can have a ton of street musicians (including a country-swing group), plus a herd of cattle being traipsed around twice a day, you’ve got some gig chances, my friends!
Yep, your audience is out there – now go out and find ‘em!
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