Pacing Performances

How long to play and how long to rest?

The discussion below is taken from a thread launched by "Dan01" on the Synth Zone Arranger forum. Click here to go to the original thread including any additional comments.

DanO1
06-25-2002 05:21 PM

So, Donny, DonM, Uncle Dave, Scott Yee? HOW DO YOU PACE YOUR set's? How long are each set ?

Dnj
06-25-2002 05:53 PM

Most of my work is private affairs, where it is hard to apply the 40 on / 20 off rule for my club dates. For continuous music, its 55 on / 5 off. I have to follow the flow of the party and try to squeeze in playing between the dinner courses. They usually don't want people dancing while waitresses are serving dinner except for light background music. But I will make it up later on by staying on longer in the next set when people are ready to really pump it up on the dance floor. Hope this helps. -- Dnj

Bsharp
06-25-2002 06:12 PM

Right on Donny. Same here, with the possible exception of the dining period. Since the kitchen and servers hate dancing while serving, I will often put on some very quiet, hardly danceable midi and take an extended break while they eat. As dessert is served, I come back live and work up to dance volume and tempos. From that point on, the sets usually go an hour on, ten off.
-- Eddie

Scottyee
06-25-2002 07:26 PM

I agree with Donny & Eddie re: the private party type gigs, but for regular "on going" 4-5 hour club/piano bar gig dates, it's generally 45-50 on / 10-15 off per hour, but you soon realize you can't go by these rules if you want to keep the house happy and make great tips as well. Flexibility is crucial. If the room's really hopping, and the bar is selling lots of drinks, you skip your breaks(s) and take longer breaks when the room slows down, sometimes never. You have to pace your playing to the "mood of the crowd" which can be unpredictably different every night.

Though I no longer play piano bar gigs, I do remember quite a few nights having to play 4-5 hours straight without a break. I appreciated the lucrative tips but now I think I'd prefer the breaks instead. The number of tunes I'd do in a set vary from 10 to 14 songs, depending on how much stage patter (which is also important) there is. This also has a lot to do with the energy of the crowd too. On a busy night, you might squeeze in more songs whereas on a mellow slow night, you can take a lot longer to chat & schmoose between songs. The bottom line, you need to pace your set to the mood of the evening. As you can tell, being a good musician is only a small part of the requirements of a solo musician-performer.

I remember a bartender telling me (when I first started out gigging years ago) to intersperse my set with fast - slow - fast - slow songs etc. I quickly learned how ridiculously inappropriate that was. Every evening the crowd is different. You quickly learn to gauge each night "as you go" as to what "appropriate" songs should be played, and when. There are a number of techniques used to draw the audience in (group participation songs, hi energy numbers, etc.), but once you got them, you can then take them where you want: sophisticated ballads, originals, etc. As performers, we are responsible for orchestrating the mood of the crowd. It's our job to know WHO your audience is and what they want on a given night. Psychology 101. -- Scot

Uncle Dave
06-25-2002 07:40 PM

Perception is the key. You've got to know what to do, and WHEN. Some places need you to take the breaks so the floor clears and the drinking resumes - others like the flow. In the end - it's up to ME, usually to pace it the way I see fit. That's why I get the big bucks ... (when, exactly IS that???)

The worst thing you can do is write a set list and stick to it religiously. You need to improvise constantly, and a pre-written set will just suck the life right out of your brain. If it's a dance party or a really big affair, you can get away with a few sequences of things that always work. But in the more intimate settings, a loose, personal touch is better, I think. I tried to use a set list once. Got as far as the second song and threw it on the floor; never did it again. I trust my initial feelings better than my second guesses, so I can't follow a set.

The most important thing is to communicate with the audience. It might be all show, all wallpaper, or all dance -- whatever the situation. Make sure it's the BEST choice for THAT moment in time, you won't get it back.

As far as breaks - in regular club dates, you HAVE to schmooze your customers, so breaks are every bit as important to the evening as the tunes. People want a hug or a story or just to see you up close (scary, huh?) Treat your crowd like family and you won't go wrong. Communication is PARAMOUNT. Watch, listen and THEN decide how to enhance the moment.
Another thing I do is pick rhythms, NOT songs. I determine what KIND of beat is needed next, and then find a song that fits the bill. Sometimes I'll even do a song that's not usually done in that style (like, Ipanema as a swing tune or whatever), just to have the right beat for the "pulse". Just another "hat" to wear! Add it to the collection!

Dnj
06-25-2002 08:21 PM

Dave,
I agree with you -- NO SET LIST at all. Just watch the room and play what it needs out of your repertoire, which should include a few songs with EVERY TYPE of Rhythm possible to satisfy everyone young and old.

ChicoBrasil
06-25-2002 08:41 PM

My set: Piano Bar and music background: 50x10 off
Great gigs:
- First block - light songs (Bossa, 8 and 16 beats, slow swings, slow rocks, light boleros) +/- 90x10 minutes.
- Second block -Heavy songs (Bigbands, salsa, mambo, samba, baion, lambada,
dance, disco, 60 & 70's rock) +/- 120X15 minutes.
- Third block - Very light songs (Slow ballads, new age) +/- 60 minutes.

A small secret: Music for off time: A very old cassette with much isssssssss, low volume and zero equalization / effects... -- Chico

DonM
06-25-2002 11:18 PM

I pretty much agree with everybody else. You have to "play it by ear." Tonight, for example, I started 10 minutes early, played for two hours, took a 5 minute break and played 2 1/2 more hours. They got their money's worth tonight!

Who knows, tomorrow might be totally different. I have the piano bar job from 5-8, then across town to a different motel at 8:30. Everything is all set up at both places so no real problem other than stamina. -- DonM

tony mads usa
06-26-2002 01:06 PM

It's easy to tell we've got some experienced 'giggers' around here.

Set list -- NO WAY ... list of tunes by tempo, yes, but this, too, could be varied as mentioned by UD above ('Girl From Iwo Jima' as a swing instead if bossa.)

I agree that each gig is unto itself, and we have to "read the lines" as they develop. I've done the piano bar/lounge, (which I still enjoy A LOT!!!), where some nights I've played 4 1/2 - 5 hours straight through, and other nights was told by the owner that I may as well pack it up after 2 - 2 1/2 hours, because the place was DEAD. If you're in a place for any length of time, it all evens out.

As to "What to play," also depends on the venue and the crowd. The lounge crowd doesn't look as much for the "line-dance" set as a wedding crowd would. But again, you have to get the "sense" of what they are looking for. AND some bites you will bust your butt answering requests, keeping them on the dance floor, tolerate the "singer" in the crowd, and walk out with nothing more than your bite's pay. Other times, you think people couldn't care less about what you were playing, and the tips are overflowing. Speaking of tips, in a lounge setting, do you guys put "seed money" into whatever it is you're using for tips?

Whatever the situation, I love this stuff, especially when I'm on my way home after a gig, thinking .... "to think I get PAID to do this.."
-- t.

DonM
06-26-2002 01:12 PM

I do seed the pot. I have a jar on which I put a sign that says: "Needy Musicians Fund, Give Until It Hurts" -- DonM