I want to give my audience what they came for!
As musicians, we assume the audience is there to hear some good music. We have some great music and songs for them and some cool lyrical things going on. In one song there’s an awesome bass lick, and in another song the lead guitar is stellar.
But audiences can’t discern that stuff because they’re not musicians! It’s like a big plate of goulash to them. So we need to make it more obvious – more like a filet mignon, baked potato, salad and key lime pie. It would be a pretty bad chef that would take all those things and stir them together so you couldn’t recognize what you were eating.
When someone tells me they’re going to be playing an hour show, immediately everyone in the band thinks a set list of 13, 14 (or more) songs. I want to say “hold it! – what if we just create 7 great moments?”
Those same artists usually say, “no, I could sing more songs”. That’s like saying you go to a restaurant and eat as much as you possibly can in an hour. That’s not what you do, (…I’m not including those all you can eat buffets!) and musically that’s not what the audience wants.
They come to experience moments! Just like we want to experience a fine meal at a restaurant.
You see, music comes at an audience like goulash. My definition of goulash? When I was younger, my mom would make goulash a lot, and when I’d sit down to eat it I wasn’t sure what was in it. Maybe it was some rice, some meat, some vegetables, some beans, pasta or spices … I wasn’t sure. I’d be thinking to myself, “this is pretty good, but what is it?”
Audiences don’t understand musical things. And most audiences will think you’re “pretty good” too! Just as I’m not a chef and can’t discern the ingredients in goulash, your audience is not made up of musicians who can discern all the musical details in your show.
Oftentimes, to help an artist create moments, I’ll listen to their songs with headphones on, but I’ll only use one side of the headphones. In other words, I’ll get rid of one side of the stereo track. I do this in order to hear the song in a different way, to isolate certain things that might not be heard otherwise.
You see, when you mix the song, you’ve got a great little background here, or an instrumental lick there. Certain things that you, the musician, know are there. But it goes right by the audience!
One group I worked with had a cool bagpipe melody going on in the background of a song. It was nice, but really short. So when we got to that part in rehearsal, I stopped it, and we developed that little section into a 2-minute bagpipe thing. We pointed it out to the audience so they could hear it and enjoy it. Otherwise, they probably wouldn’t even have known it was even there, because it went by so quickly.
There are things inside YOUR songs that are cool musically, lyrically, vocally, whatever-ly – and they need to be developed. Maybe they’re developed rhythmically, vocally, message-wise, movement-wise, visually – that’s what your audience will sink their teeth into. You’ll make a connection with them, and they’ll “get” what you’re about.
It’s the take-away (the “carry-out” of the meal). And I’d much rather “carry-out” a 7-course dinner than goulash!