I’ve been a working musician for more than thirty-five years and I’ve played to all kinds and sizes of crowds. If memory serves me correctly, my largest audience was probably in excess of 80,000 people while on the other end of the spectrum I’ve played to a few as two lone patrons who didn’t want to go home just yet. What can I say? It was an off night. My point is this; whether it’s two or two thousand people watching you perform, you give them the same show. Unless you’re playing for the door (something I learned early on not to do) it really doesn’t matter how many people came to see you strum your guitar, tickle the ivories on your keyboard, pound on your drums or sing your little heart out.
You could have a crowd of a thousand drunks who couldn’t care less about you. That doesn’t mean you have to put on a better show for them than you would in some dark, smoky bar where there are just a handful of patrons. One of those patrons could be a talent scout and if you lay back and coast through the night, he’ll get up and leave without talking to you. Not that this has ever happened to me and even if it had, how would I have known?
I said that I’d played to as few as two. Well, that was the old record until I broke it last month. I still had one more one-hour set to play when everyone had left. I was playing to the bartender. So I guess the new record is one listener. At least it was until two weeks ago. I found myself booked at a new club that was divided in half. In one room was the bar with the jukebox, cigarette machine, pool table, Pac-Man machine and most of the barstools. Through two doors patrons could enter the back hall where the stage and the entertainment (that would be me) was supposed to set up. For most of the night I played to five or six people who came and went as the night progressed. With half an hour to go, the last of the stragglers went back into the main barroom and once again I’d found that I had broken my old record of one listener and was now playing to no one (not counting myself).
Did I care? Oh contraire! I looked at it this way; they were paying me the same amount whether I played to a packed house or to no one. I used this opportunity to try out several new midi tunes that I hadn’t had time to practice yet. A live performance is the best way to see if everything comes together as you might hope. The new midi files (Cybermidi files, no less) worked out just fine and I considered my last set to be nothing more than a paid practice. There were no talent scouts waiting in the wings for me. No record executives offering me a recording contract. No groupies waiting for autographs. No one to clap as the last song died down.
While it may be more fun and more personally rewarding to play to an enthusiastic packed house that stamps their feet at closing time, insisting on “one more,” I find that on occasion, I welcome these slow nights as a time to reflect and play what I want for a change. My point to all this is simply not to let yourself get discouraged by the size of the audience. Just keep on playing your best and laugh all the way to the bank.
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