Drawing a Crowd

Problems, how to get them, favorite songs to play, groupies, funky bar owners, etc. NO names of clubs, please.

Drawing a Crowd

Postby jbone1 » Sat Jul 26, 2008 6:56 pm

this has escaped us mostly. we're good at what we do and get good responses when we book a show or do a street gig, but mostly our efforts at building a following have met little real success. i can think of several reasons for this:

we don't have big mass appeal
our material is a lot of it very old
we have little time to promote ourselves- but we do manage myspace bulletins and other internet blurbs, and local radio plugs here and there
dui laws
gas prices and the economy in general
availability of so much internet and digital entertainment

on a more individual basis, usually if a place has some regulars, a few of them do dig what we're doing. a built in clientele can be a double edge sword, either you make that great impression or you don't. we usually have at least a few people come by and compliment us on the street or at the farmers' market. and depending on the venue, we've had good response at happy hour gigs and some weekenders here and there. but nothing consistent. one yardstick i use is if we are invited back to a place, or if i have to ask for a gig, and whether we get a second gig or not. this has been the case sometimes, we get an invite back and a guarantee, but it seems that this season these have been more rare.

we do the material we love. some of it we've covered from others or found in song books, and more and more is original lyrics and music written in the traditional blues style, just guitar, harp, and vocals. i decided some years ago that i would do what i wanted rather than try to be a juke box. we take requests sometimes but a lot of what we do is kind of obscure- memphis minnie and other artists' "lesser" songs.

we opened a show last evening to a small crowd. got some good response. the next artist was a very good slide player, self-styled and very competent and i might add a real nice guy. in fact he wanted me to sit in on harp for the last few songs of his set. as the place began filling up, he was cut loose somewhat early. no explanation given. this was a young crowd and more into rock and dance music. at this point i am not even sure if we made any $$ off the door. more on that later when i find out.

many places i've talked to are looking for you to bring in a crowd. the fact is, if you aren't doing loud bass-y thump thump quasi-music, a lot of the younger set is just not interested.

we do best at a benefit with several other acts or on the street. it's not that we don't have the material or the chops, i think it's just kind of a dying style with a big part of the public.

i'm still committed to doing what i feel is the right stuff. i suppose running into a segment of people who respond to it is just harder these days.

i'm wondering though if you cats have noticed a change in the whole live music dynamic in recent years, and if so, how have you coped with it and stayed viable?
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Re: Drawing a Crowd

Postby texas blues » Sat Jul 26, 2008 7:21 pm

I have a different take on the subject. To me, if the crowd is not into my thang' then it's more a matter of two things. Either I am playing the wrong venue, or I am not up to snuff. For myself, I have found 99% of the time, it is the latter.I have done gigs in the past that one night the crowd is flat. The next night I changed the set around a bit, took out a tune here, added one there, and stepped up my own energy output. By that I mean, instead of simply standing there, I had more fun with it and began to move and groove and the crowd picked up on it. I also don't put all of my emphasis on covers. I try and incorporate as much as my own stuff into the set as possible but I am not naive enough to think that my own work outshines all others. I have written more than a few bad tunes and am smart enough to know that even if I dig it, if the listeners aren't, then I drop it.I don't think blues, whether acoustic, electric, old, delta, is outdated and only for 40 somethings on up. There is no "use by this date" label on blues. It's entertainment, and as long as it entertains....mission accomplished.

Cheers, TB.
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Re: Drawing a Crowd

Postby oleman » Sat Jul 26, 2008 8:05 pm

jbone, I really admire you for playing what your passionate about. But my trio, sometimes fouro, needs the money, whether tips, door, contract etc. so we play a broad spectrum of music we like. Django style jazz, Beatles, old standards
lots of C&W, folk and some contemporary rock. But still with the blues vibe that is our roots. But let's be honest; with out our hot female fiddle/vocalist, noone would even give us a second glance, no matter how good we sounded.
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Re: Drawing a Crowd

Postby ricochet » Sat Jul 26, 2008 8:59 pm

Robert Johnson didn't play whole shows of blues. He played stuff that was currently popular with his audiences. He recorded pretty much all blues, because that's what that's what the producer wanted. Still, he got in that silly vaudeville song "Hot Tamales," which was probably the tip of an iceberg of his material, that engaged his audiences.
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Re: Drawing a Crowd

Postby texas blues » Sat Jul 26, 2008 9:58 pm

Come on now...who doesn't like red hots? "Hot tamales and their red hot, yeah she got'm for sale..."
Cheers, TB.
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Re: Drawing a Crowd

Postby ricochet » Sat Jul 26, 2008 10:05 pm

Exactly. Wasn't blues at all, but it got people in a happy, partying mood.
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Re: Drawing a Crowd

Postby jbone1 » Sun Jul 27, 2008 3:33 am

thanks guys. we do venture away from standard blues, into ragtime, country, even some rock material like hank sr., johnny cash, dylan, and a few others. and tb is right, we are sometimes not 100% energetic or together. it's a reality check sometimes. i think our best times out have been when we were rested, fed, and just didn't care. we meshed and just had a great time. we do a couple where we split verses and when we just let go and cut loose they work great.

interesting how i feel about all this tonight- after we got paid well for our one set we did last night! every dime we make with music is headed for the next cd, recording and producing. so last night put us considerably closer! but at the very core of things, we have so much fun just playing, maybe i worry too much about the bigger picture!

thanks for letting me vent a little.
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Re: Drawing a Crowd

Postby watertore » Tue Jul 29, 2008 4:50 pm

hi jbone: I have run the gamat with drawing crowds- from self promotion, to agents, media, public access tv, giveaways, to shiner bock providing free kegs at our gigs....... It is now a huge relief to not even think about drawing a crowd. I just play what turns me on and that seems to get enough promoters excited enough to call me. I am done with the self promotion thing. It is a bottomless pit from my experience. No matter how many people come out, part of you wants more. My advice is to play exactly what turns you on. People can say what they want about me, but I am not lumped in the clone group :D I am not putting people down that cater to the crowd, but from my experience that is another dead end road. You will end up a jukebox type player, always looking out instead of in. Be yourself and you will shine you own special magic on the world. That is what attracts folks- a rare thing in the insecure musicians world. Walter
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Re: Drawing a Crowd

Postby MakaInOz » Wed Jul 30, 2008 4:39 am

Hey jbone,

I used an abbreviated version of your story as a discussion point with the kids (22/16/14) last night. The theme was the 'battle' between artistic integrity and paying the bills. It led to interesting issues about when a musician or band should ditch their 'day jobs' to follow the dream, whether the band should focus on entertaining the crowd (e.g doing covers) or stick exclusively to what they want to play (e.g originals), potential differences of opinion within a band and with management/venue owners about what should be played and following the music dream as opposed to the wife/kids/domestic bliss/mortgage dream.

It was a really good way to get the kids to think about some of life's big issues and some of the compromises that they will need to consider (they all play in bands). Probably not what you intended, but thanks - its always good to have 'deep and meaningful' conversations with the kids now and then.
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Re: Drawing a Crowd

Postby jbone1 » Wed Jul 30, 2008 11:21 am

maka, i bet that was a good discussion! i've had it with my own self many times. these days, i think it's a brave soul who takes the plunge. and it better be someone who isn't picky about where to sleep or how often to eat!
this day and age and maybe all along, 99% of people with music aspirations keep a day job imho. we just hope to more or less break even on this whole music thing, which is a lot more than many hobbyists in other pursuits can do. i shudder to think how much we'd be spending on greens fees and clubs and balls if we golfed instead.
we have a grandson who is on fire to play in bands, found bands, work the guitar. he's living at home being only 15, and has no conception of how hard it is to make ends meet even with a job let alone as a musician. for him it's about the art of it with no worries about paying bills and buying gas at $4 a gallon or more.

we play because we love it. we play what we want because certain songs jump out at us and we see a way to make them work. a lot of what we do, people recognize even if they have only some dim memory of when that tune was a hit on the radio in the 50's or 60's. this sometimes does not lend itself to the tastes of the "younger" set, the 20-somethings.

other hand, when people hear us and then see us, they are sometimes amazed to see 2 50-somethings playing with competence and feeling and really having a good time! and that feeling that comes out is contagious. we've had people help us on some songs we do like "shake, rattle, roll" and others.

i do like to see some folks walk in the door. usually it's regulars, we don't have a "posse" to follow us around and i doubt we ever will. we have some friends and musical peers who are supportive and otherwise it's luck of the draw. i think that's what turns us on about street playing, usually it's total strangers who are walking by and you see their head nodding or foot tapping.

when the time comes we hope to turn the younger grandkids on to music. they are a bit too young yet but for pure joy there's nothing like music to fill the gaps in one's soul.

reaching a small percentage of a given crowd has been my goal for a lot of years now. i'll never be a pop icon of any sort. but to reach those few there must be some people in the room!
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Re: Drawing a Crowd

Postby gcd revue » Sat Aug 02, 2008 4:25 pm

Played at a pizza joint in a small town just down the road (pop. 450). Made an arrangement with the owner for two Saturday shows, two weeks apart (solo/acoustic, mostly delta and piedmont blues). The first night, there was a lot of in and out traffic, mostly teens looking to play the video games and a few 20-somethings in for a beer or two. Watching the people, the teens kept running out, then coming back in with a few more of their friends. They pretended to be disinterested, but I caught most of them leaning around the corner to hear better. At the end of the evening, a couple in their early 20's came in, sat down, and spent the last set on their cell phones. They were calling all their friends to get 'em down there. Most, it seemed, had left town for the long weekend. The next show was packed. Average age, about 22. No age limit.
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Re: Drawing a Crowd

Postby jeffl » Sat Aug 02, 2008 6:22 pm

That's cool, J.D.! You musta connected pretty good. The size of the venue doesn't always dictate the quality of the gig, eh! When I was a kid in the late 60's, the coffeehouse thing was really on fire; those little church basement and old house venues were intimate as hell. Everything was dark, and crowds were attentive. If you threw in a little social commentary, everybody was convinced we were all hip.
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Re: Drawing a Crowd

Postby gcd revue » Sun Aug 03, 2008 2:49 pm

I've said before that I do this stuff for fun. There's no other reason to do it. Even if you're making megabucks, and have a major label contract, it's too big a pain in the tuckus if you're not having fun. As I've told many a venue owner, I'll play anywhere, anytime for free. However, setting-up and tearing-down equipment, traveling, and dealing with drunken idiots I have to get PAID for. I have a ball, and go out of my way to see that the folks listening are having a ball, too. This gig was no exception. What made it stand out in my mind was the ages of the most enthusiastic listeners. I'll admit to some age-bias (seems to happen when you hit 40), and as a result, I never expected to have a bunch of teenagers (anyone under 24 falls into that category in my mind) REALLY INTERESTED in the antiquated blues I was playing. They were really into it no matter how hard they tried to act disaffected, which, in turn, got me even more into it. The experience was a real kick in the pants for me. I only hope they got half as much enjoyment out of it.
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Re: Drawing a Crowd

Postby Slim » Sun Aug 10, 2008 3:00 am

Its funny but I found living in NEw Orleans that it was mostly young people in the audience for most of the music ranging from ragtime and blues to Klezmer music. Now true it was the "Hip" neighborhood so that may have been part of it but the places are always packed with kids who really dug what would not in any way be calle dpopular music. New Orleans is a great place and The Marigny is the best neighborhood in the world...I miss it already!
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