Thursday, May 29, 2014

Listening Audiences?

A Thing Of The Past?

It’s no secret that people are listening less and less and talking more and more at all kinds of musical events. It’s very rare to see a video of a live performance without seeing many many hands holding phones up to video the show. It seems that a lot of people are so interested in commenting on their experience or in generating content that they are almost unable to stop. They are always talking, texting, tweeting or checking their phones, and to let someone else take center stage in their heads is all but impossible, even for a few minutes. Many of my friends have complained about this. And I usually say, if you want there to be more listening, the best way to do that is to listen yourself, because the more people listening in a room, the more talking will stand out and the talking people will at least be encouraged to keep it down a little.

Personally, I don't expect anyone to listen to anything ever. I expect people to be in their own worlds, ADHD, checking their phones constantly, yelling, talking and generally oblivious, whether it's in a bar or a concert hall. It's always a nice surprise when they do listen, but I don't expect it anymore. However, I do my small part to encourage listening by listening myself. Listening can be like gravity that pulls other people in and gradually takes over a room...or not.

I don’t need people to listen in order to keep making music. Playing in public does not motivate me to keep creating music. I'm actually not motivated to create music and if I was it would not be to please other people, listening or not. I don't need a motivation to create music. Music itself is my motivation. Birds aren't motivated to sing, they just do. The word motivation usually implies a goal and a hoped for result. My motivation, if I have one, is to express myself, to sing my song just like the birds do and see what comes back. If an opportunity is presented to me to do this, I usually take it, but I generally don't spend much time making them happen. I make music because I have to in order to feel like myself. It's a part of me. I'm not doing it to get things for myself. That's nice of course, and I do have to make a living, but I'm not doing this to get something or somewhere. Most of the time, I'm doing it to do it, with no other goal in mind than that.

I’d prefer that people listen, but I don't impose my wishes on people where I play, which is mostly bars, restaurants and coffeehouses. Most businesses are so hard up for customers that if even one or two people didn't like my suggestions, or left, I would probably be fired. And I appreciate their concerns. I can understand why they'd rather have a bar full of loud noisy people than be out of business. I voice my opinions and suggestions here and on facebook to get them off my chest and maybe reach a few people who might consider being a bit more polite next time they're out and about.

I've accepted that times have changed and listening is going out of style. I've played many gigs where most of the people in the room spent most of their time on line or looking at their phones. It's almost exclusively people over 40 who complain with emotion about this tendency of people to not listen. To everyone else it's mostly just the way it is now.

We are all media saturated with so, so, so many music and entertainment options to choose from. It's one of the downsides to everyone and anyone being able to make their own CD's and videos. There's so much music that the water is incredibly muddy. The supply keeps going up and the demand keeps going down, so it's literally worth less and less all the time, in a general market sense.

When I was a kid, very few people around me played guitars and played gigs and virtually no one had their own albums unless they were at least kind of famous. Good musicians were fairly rare and got a bit of respect. Now they're literally everywhere. There must be hundreds of self produced albums in the valley where I live and I don't know how many original songs posted on line worldwide every day. Probably in the thousands. I don't expect anyone to listen to anybody and I sure don’t feel entitled to anyone’s attention. I'm always pleased and happily surprised whenever anyone listens to me and genuinely grateful if they actually like what they hear. Meanwhile I make my sound because it's a pleasure to make. It's not my career, it's my life.

I don't mind providing background music. Birds do it all day for free. I prefer that people listen and like it, but I don't blame them for not listening. They are free to do as they please. I do not put my heart and soul into what I do expecting to be listened to. I do it to do it.

A problem I often encounter is other people assuming that my goals and motivations are the same as theirs, or the same as most people who play music.
For the record: I am not interested in becoming famous. I am not interested in a recording contract. I am not interested in the "music industry".

I like to write, record and post my songs on line and sing publicly whenever and wherever it feels right. I am interested in seeing what comes back when I do this. I am fine with anyone who's signed on to the industry bandwagon covering my songs. I am fine with whatever money, fame, attention, or whatever comes back to me, as long as I get to do exactly what I'm doing now: whatever the Hell I feel like doing. I am willing to make almost no compromises whatsoever for fame and fortune. Again, this is my life, not my career.

If I only played at "listening" venues, I'd hardly play out at all. There is no listening scene where I live and not much of one in other places too. I see many, many youtube videos of some pretty well known folks playing in rooms with a constant murmur of talking going on. So background type scenes are pretty much what there is.

That said, every place I play, has been absolutely great from time to time. I've had hushed moments and longer periods of time that resembled an audience at every single place I play. I’ve also had fun nights playing with other musicians where the crowd was not necessarily listening closely to what we were doing, but definitely enjoying it and/or dancing to it.

I play out because I love to make my sound and see what happens. Even if people aren't listening actively, some part of them is getting what I do. If it's a raging noisy crazy place where I can't even hear myself, then I won't play there. But when I do play, I go to see what happens. I go to reach the people that are reachable with what I do. I usually reach at least someone every time I play. So it never feels like a waste of time to me.

When people are not listening, I can always take joy in making my sound and the simple act of practicing my songs. And I almost always do well in tips so something is getting through.

Usually though, it’s a pretty mixed bag. I've played in many bar or coffeehouse situations where the staff were some of the loudest people in the room. I think we're all pretty music saturated in our lives and coupled with our internet fueled self-importance, listening to people play music is just not what people are interested in doing, even if they pay to get in. I love to make my sound. I need to make it actually, in places where I have a chance at being heard, so I will continue to take whatever I can get. The less I care about what audiences do and the more I focus on the work at hand, the happier I am. But it sure is nice to be listened to and heard.

Some of my friends get mad when I tell them stories about some of my gigs, but I don't feel I have any right to tell anyone to shut up and listen. I don't even "go after them" when I play. I offer what I offer and the audience does the same.

And please keep in mind that I very rarely play anything like a concert. I'm talking about bars, restaurants and coffeehouse type situations. I keep my volume at a level where people who don't want to listen don't have to, and people who do want to listen can do so. What bugs me is when people are really loud and disrespectful. A little rowdy is one thing, being the only table in the room yelling and screaming is another. But even then, it's not on the level of "I am an artist, pay attention to me!" It's more like it's just hard to hear myself and concentrate on what I'm doing when people are being really loud. It's more a functional interference than a psychological one. I'm totally used to people not listening and do not usually take it personally.

When I was focused on whether or not people were listening and whether or not they liked my music or whether I got booked at this or that venue and what my status was, etc. I was pretty unhappy, always considering quitting and in fact did totally quit singing and writing more than once. Since I gave up all that and started focusing mostly on the work and letting the audience feel and do whatever they want to, I'm much more happy and productive. I'm focused on the parts of making music that I enjoy most. And ironically, I’ve gotten a few really nice gigs that used to forever elude me when I was trying to get them so hard. To each his own though. Plenty of people feel differently than I do about music, audiences, when and what they will play and how much they need to get back from it. We all have to find our own balance with it. This latest way of being has worked really well for me and continues to. I do keep checking though to see if anything has changed...

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