Reading an Audience...

Take the time to analyze your audience!

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

travlin'easy
11-02-2003 06:06 PM

I'm always amazed at the number of performers who cannot, or will not, take the time to analyze their audiences. This, obviously, should be done before playing that first note or hitting the start button. But there are times when that analysis just comes out wrong. Last night's job was a classic example.

This one was for a yacht club's installation of officers. During the cocktail hour, they wanted background music, which is quite boring, but easy to play. Just light, styles, a little piano playing, maybe throw in a sax solo or a flute, but nothing glaring. So far, so good.

Then came the dinner, which they also wanted background music. Dinner lasted just over an hour, which made the night seem endless. After that, there was the installation of officers, which ate up another 45 minutes. During this time, I sat at the bar and drank ice water with a twist of lemon.

Finally, after all the regalia, it was time for the dance segment, which gave me just one hour remaining at the job. Keep in mind that these were folks with lots of money, most dressed in a tux or suit, the ladies wore gowns and the gal at the cash bar was getting rich on the tip jar. I tried a couple upbeat 50s songs for the crowd of 65 to 75 year-olds, but no one budged. Saw a little foot tapping, but no one headed for the minuscule dance floor. At this point I figured I had to switch gears until I found the magic song that would fill the dance floor. Who would have ever figured it that this was a country music crowd -- not me, that's for sure. Did that first Jim Reeves number and the floor immediately filled to capacity. Kept it up for the next hour, then graciously bowed out with Show Me The Way To Go Home, which again filled the floor.

The bottom line here is that there are no hard and fast rules when it comes to reading a crowd. The golden rule, at least when it comes to performing, is to play what the customer wants to hear -- not what you want to play. If anyone has any tips as to figuring out what an audience wants, especially on a job where you don't know any of the folks that hired you, I would sure like to see them posted.

Almost forgot. When the treasurer handed me the check at the end of the night, he said "We're opening a new marina across the creek in April, and we sure would like to have you as a regular for our Friday evening get-togethers -- you're the best performer we've had in years. Ironically, on the check's memo line it said "DJ Services." Ya just never know!

Cheers, -- Gary

bruno123
11-02-2003 08:08 PM

Gary, great topic -- reading a audience. First of all, I am my own worst problem. If they are not dancing, it's my fault. Hmm!

I was called to play a four-hour job at the Elks Club. This was the early eighties. I had a four-piece band. The first hour, no one danced. The second hour, I tried playing older songs, then newer songs; no one danced. The third hour, still no one danced. My pants were on correctly, my shoes were tied, I tried adjusting the tone and volume controls. There were enough of the young people there. Was I destroying the contemporary music?

The last hour some of the younger people got up to dance -- hold on now -- they danced using a box step -- a very large, awkward box step. I looked toward the bar; no one was drinking. I later found out that they were a religious group for Pennsylvania who did not drink, and very rarely danced. Ouch!.

It's always nice when people come in, ready for a party. They have a good time, and I have a great time -- then they pay me -- how good does it get. It is really not work. Many times after a job, I go home, unpack my instrument, and play till I get tired -- till I wind down.

There is a group, whose main purpose is to have a social. They want to talk with soft music in the background. Toward the end, they get up all at once, as if someone blew a whistle, and they dance. They get right into dancing and have a good time. 45 to 50 minutes later, they stop in the same way they started, suddenly. I love playing my instrument, sooooo, I play all the songs I have touched for a while during this soft music period. I play them in different rhythms, change tempos -- just enjoy. But, I am always ready to turn on to the crowd as soon as they are ready to dance.

I have been blessed. I have been playing since I was 23. I have supported a family of six, 49 years later I am still getting calls to play. Please, in no way am I exalting myself, but I am paid enough money this New Years Eve to pay my houses taxes for the year. No, this is not about money. It's about being thankful for what I have been given. I love music, I thought I would have to leave this business when I approached 60. Thank you Lord. Sorry if I my post is to long -- you know, memories.

Have a special day, -- John C.

Bernie9
11-03-2003 02:40 AM

I have the same problem of trying to read the audience and tend to blame myself if there isn't much reaction. In this instance, I am talking about playing weekly at the Elks for the bar patrons. To my surprise, people compliment me on my music even though I wasn't sure they were paying any attention, much less enjoying it.

I guess I should remember that I am contributing to the social atmosphere and it isn't all about me. After 40 years, you would think I would know that.

Thanks for the post. I think it is a good thread.
Best Regards, -- Bernie

bruno123
11-03-2003 03:22 AM

When writing a contract for a playing job, I ask the following questions:

  1. How many people will be attending?
  2. What will be the major ethnic groups?
  3. Are there any favorite songs?
  4. Are there any announcements you wish me to make?

I tell them that it is sometimes difficult to judge the volume of my instruments, so please let me know. I do let them know that I am good at reading the audience and knowing what to play and when. I want them to know that I will be in charge. Most times when I have allowed them to lead the job, it fails or it goes poorly.

I have had the person who hired me give me a step-by-step, hour-to-hour written schedule they wanted me to follow. I agree, but unless there is something special, I normally will not follow a schedule, it is the audience, and the dancers that create my schedule.

This may sound like a no-no, but when I see that the song or type of dance is not going over to well, I will start a new song and beat, even if I am in the middle of a song.

Well, it's always nice talking about myself. It brings back many nice memories. It would be nice to read more about how you do it; how do you run your job?

-- John C.

btweengigs
11-03-2003 06:20 AM

Unless you are Elton John, Vic Damone, Willy Nelson, P.Diddy Doodly Daddy or some other well known whose talent for a specific type of music or entertainment is well known, we have to be chameleons ready to change colors (programming) as needed. It's a nice ego booster when folks tell you they came to see and hear you, but many times they are there for any number of other reasons and we are just the entertainment du jour. Some of those situations are boring, true. But, the checks still clear.

Elks, VFWs, Moose, Eagles, Country Clubs, Yacht Clubs, private house parties, retirements, birthdays, anniversaries (a biggie here in Fla.) restaurants/lounges, assisted living and nursing facilities ... these are the bread and butter jobs for me. The fun jobs are the casual lounge situations, but I don't turn down anything as long as it is a 50+ audience. -- Eddie

Fran Carango
11-03-2003 01:30 PM

When your audience leaves after your first set, you should get a read on your audience...

Bluezplayer
11-03-2003 02:20 PM

Hmm, if they ask you to leave after your first set is over, that's probably an easy read too. -- AJ

brickboo
11-03-2003 04:37 PM

Don Mason will satisfy the most people in the USA the most times. Why? Because he does tons of country, which is the most popular music in the USA. In 1958 when Fats Domino was as big as you could get and Ray Charles was coming up and even Elvis and Buddy Holly, Ike and Tina and the list friends goes on and on, I argued with a guy that R&R and R&B were the most popular music. What a laugh!

I'll bet all the money I can afford that just like where I live now and even in New Orleans, which is supposed to be a Dixie Jazz town, and in your town, USA also, that there are 2 or 3 country music stations to every other type of music station locally on the radio. Wanna bet? There may be one, maybe two, possibly three cities that are an exception, but I doubt it.

Country music rules in the USA. It always has and probably always will. If you want to play a lot and be popular, do country. There's a guy in town who sings very well and plays a little more guitar than I do ( I don't play guitar at all). He uses midi files and is very popular. The farthest he gets away from country is the tune From A Jack To A King.

I'm doing the music I enjoy the most. I won't make much money. I do maybe 30 country tunes. Maybe I should be doing more!

Country is king. It's a fact. Oh, I know Uncle Dave's crowd really likes what he does and Donny's crowd also likes what he does and that goes for Fran, Scott and others, but all of your crowds put together are in the minority. Country fans are the largest group in the USA. It ain't even close. If you don't know the folks, start the night with two or three country tunes you're sure to please most of the people. Even if they're under 30. My son and his friends are 24-28 years of age. They buy country CDs.

I just enjoy the standards more. Plenty of passing chords and a beautiful melody and or a swinging rhythm with plenty of improvisation. I know I'm not going to make a lot of money. I just wish I could play more. But I really know that won't happen either. Woe is me. I need to get out of this one-horse town. That would help.

It's really nice expressing an opinion and not getting anyone mad isn't it? What a great bunch of guys here. I'm going to visit DonM again one day and I'm only going to play on the country tunes. I'm going to make him do them in E, A and D. It's going to be very hard for me, but I'll get even on the last tune. I'll do "Body And Soul" in Db and I'm not going to let him use the Transpose button. Ha! Ha!

travlin'easy
11-03-2003 04:50 PM

I've got to agree with Boo on this one -- country rules, even with the rich folks at the yacht clubs. Swingin' Doors, A Jukebox and a Barstool has been my opener for a couple years, and Don Mason uses it as well. Ironically, I have a friend in the northwest just outside Spokane, Washington who says he uses it as well, and country is king there, too. That's about as far from the sunny south as you can get without crossing the Canadian border, but they sure like country music. Who would have figured, -- Gary

Fran Carango
11-03-2003 08:13 PM

Boo, you might be on to something. I worked a job for Donny last night, a traditional senior ballroom-type dancers. I did a country tune and created interest in more country. Sure, some liked the country for line dancing, while others seemed to like the popular country ballads. Hope I didn't ruin your dance fans, Donny.

S0C9
11-03-2003 08:41 PM

Living in "Takes-us," country is pretty gosh-darn big round here y'all!! My band, which often plays for a pittance [good thing we've all got real gigs], is marketed as playing "Country, Rock and Oldies," tho' it tends to be more like Country, Oldies and Rock. The country stuff ranges from Shania Twain (we got a cute gal as one of the lead singers ?? maybe that's why we get those gigs LOL!!), Tim McGraw and Alan Jackson to Willie and Hank (senior). Still, the rock is definitely"Southern," with the likes of Skynyrd, Kentucky Headhunters and ZZ Top on the list.

Country is a much maligned, mislabeled, too, broad "genre" - IMHO. If we talk Waylon, Wille and the boys, sure... pure traditional 2-step, waltz and boot-scootin' music. Not really my cup of tea. However, when you get into the more "modern" country, most of it is light [and not so light] rock. 12-bar with a twang!! Crossover country IS definitely the most popular music hereabouts and they ain't afraid to let you know how they feel about it neither.

So, we play what the crowds want to hear. It's a lot of work keeping up with the latest stuff, but when you play cover music. You have to do it!!

We try to analyze our audiences too, but in my experience you never can tell. It depends on their age, how their week went, are they tired, are they there to party or just relax. Do they want to dance or just want background music to sit and listen to. Sometimes, it's ALL of the above, and the challenge is to make 'em all happy. Many times we've played thinking we did not "gel" that night and had great feedback. Other nights you get off stage and go "WOW.. AWESOME gig dudes!!," yet the feedback is "You guys seemed a little off tonight." Duh???

So I don't worry too much about it anymore. Folks hereabouts (as I said) ain't shy about coming up and letting you know how they feel, or make requests, so we tend to rely on crowd feedback as much as 'reading' the audience.

Just my $0.02
Regards, -- Steve

Dnj
11-06-2003 08:27 AM

You can read the audience till your Blue in the face.....
YOU, have to have the "GOODS" to make it out there.....
Playing what YOU like is a No No...
Playing what THEY Like, Better then most, is the ticket!