Cultivating Your Crowd

This is the first of what I hope to be a series of blogs about my observations and opinions on being a performing musician.

For many years I worked as a professional musician with music being my sole source of income and I managed to do well. Playing music to pay the bills, however is quite different from playing for the love of the art. You must make concessions and choices out of financial necessity. You must play songs you don’t like in venues you despise for people you don’t particularly care for. Now I know there are purists out there who will say they make a living without doing that but they are most likely either famous or poor. I am fortunate now however to have reached a point in life where I don’t need the money to survive and I have the luxury of playing for the sheer enjoyment of doing what I love. That being said, I, like any performer have a healthy ego and a need to be acknowledged as being good at what I do.

I like to consider myself a performer as much as a musician. Any performer who has worked on stage for any period of time has experienced the ups and downs, the nights when you killed it and had the audience in the palm of your hand and the nights that you labored for a smattering of applause. After nearly fifty years on stage if I have learned one thing it is that each performance, good and bad, should be a learning experience. Unfortunately for me I am a slow learner but a persistent one. Working in a tourist town you play to a wide variety of people. I have found that I am not very good at looking at people and determining what they want to hear. I have also determined that trying to please everyone is a recipe for mediocrity. I find that I get the best response from the audience when I play what I like because I am playing to my strengths. Also there is a certain amount of honesty and validity in that. I consider myself to be a pretty damned good country and blues singer and performer. The further I stray from that in an effort to do what I perceive an audience wants, the more mediocre I become. There are songs and even genres of music that I love but am not very good at. It is a constant struggle between trying to please everyone and just doing what you do best but I have found that if I play to my strengths and do what I do best and forget about everyone else, I will have many more good nights and far fewer bad ones. My advice to any performer is do what you do best and know that not everyone is going to like you. Be thankful for the ones that do and forget about the ones that don’t. My old friend John Meek called it “cultivating your crowd.” This is just my opinion though and as always I may be full of shit.