Making Every Gig a Great Gig

rockband 1© 2010 Vinny Ribas

Have you ever played a 4-hr. gig that seemed to last 10 hrs? Have you ever been in a venue where you were completely ignored? Have you ever had the feeling that you really weren’t the right act for the room? Would it surprise you to know that even superstars have ‘off’ crowds and favorite cities to perform in because of the audience they draw?

There are things that you can do before, during and after your gig to increase your chances of having a great gig every time you perform.[private_member]

Before The Gig

  • Enter with the right attitude. Make sure you have a positive, ‘’It’s going to be an amazing night!’ attitude. The audience will sense anything less.
  • Invite people you know to the show, even if that means meeting people earlier the same day. It gives you an edge to have people to relate to from the first note. It also makes you look like you have a big fan base.
  • Whenever possible, meet some of the audience before you start. Learn names. Find out what they would like to hear. Feed off of them to fuel your energy. Plus, they will wait to hear you play their requests.
  • Do your homework. Before you play one note, ask the owner or manager what to expect and what he/she expects.
  • Get to know the waitresses/waiters and bartenders before you play. Ask them what to expect as well. Their perspective may be different than the manager’s.
  • Ask how far into the gig (time wise) the crowd will loosen up. It may be typical for the audience to be quieter for first set or 2. If you know this, you won’t be stressed if you’re not ‘capturing’ the first wave of listeners.
  • Check out the venue on a night when someone similar to your act is performing there.
  • Ask other acts that have played there what really works and what falls flat.
  • Ask other acts what the manager, bartender and waitresses like. They will love you if you surprise them with their favorite songs! Get them on your side and they will help you win the audience over.
  • Read the local papers and watch the news. Learn any outside factors that could influence an audience’s disposition (e.g. how the local sports teams are doing). Play up to these if they are good, and avoid them completely if they will bring the room down.
  • Know what to expect based on the nature of the venue or the audience. For example, you probably won’t get a lot of dancers if the room is filled with the participants from an all-men conference. Also determine if the room has mostly single people or couples, and cater to that majority.
  • Ask beforehand what to expect regarding the size of the stage, how the sound carries in the room, how many sets you’ll be playing etc. Eliminate the chance of any surprises.
  • Show up early to set up and get the sound dialed in perfectly. Never wait till you start playing your first song to make avoidable major adjustments in your sound.

During The Gig

  • Smile and have fun, regardless of the audience’s current reaction. Never get mad at them or get discouraged. Just do what you love and what you do best.
  • Feed off the rest of the band and have them feed off of you (if you have one). Make sure the band is having fun. You may be having the time of your life, but if one of your band members looks bored, it can directly affect the overall vibe of the room.
  • Meet new people during your breaks. They will stay longer and pay attention more if they feel that they know you personally.
  • Dedicate songs to the people you meet, as well as to the staff. First, it will break the ice by getting the audience to focus on the person(s) you’re dedicating the song to. Secondly, the person you’re singing for/about will talk you up.
  • Tell pre-rehearsed stories and/or jokes to break the ice. If possible, make them directly relevant to the audience.
  • Have some ‘for me’ songs. Sometimes you hit an audience that, for their own reasons, only want to talk amongst themselves rather than pay attention to you. You may very well win them over if you play songs that you absolutely love rather than trying to figure out what they want. Audiences are often more intuitive than we give them credit for.
  • Determine if it is you or them. Sometimes you just get an audience that is uncharacteristic for the venue. Sometimes there are outside happenings influencing their mood. If the nature of the audience is prefrably quiet and subdued, cater to it. If they are getting a bit loud, run with it (unless the management doesn’t want that).
  • Ask for requests (if you’re that kind of act). Oftentimes this can break the ice because you get direct feedback regarding what the audience wants.
  • Improvise. If you have the feeling that something different than what you planned would work better, try it.
  • Change your set list around. This is especially important if the same people see you on consecutive nights. Avoid becoming too predictable.
  • Feed off the waitress or bartender. Ask them what they want to hear. Make them happy by dedicating songs to them. Remind the audience to tip them. Make them laugh by telling jokes about them (respectfully, of course).
  • Take chances. Try something new if the ‘same ol’ same ol’’ isn’t working, as long as the room lends itself to taking risks.
  • Pick one person in the room to focus on for a short period of time, and then move on to another. Win the crowd over 1 person at a time if you have to.
  • Tip the bartender and/or waitress well. They will become your biggest supporters to the patrons and to the management.
  • To break the ice, offer a free CD, t-shirt or something else to the first couple on the dance floor.
  • Check in with the manager, bartender or waitress during breaks to see what you’re doing right and wrong. They will hear customer comments about you.

After The Gig

  • Survey the audience at your merchandise table. Learn from their comments.
  • Check back with the manager to gauge his/her satisfaction. Ask what you might do better the next time you return.
  • Ask the bartender(s) and waitresses if the crowd was good to them. Find out what they suggest to make the next night or time even more lucrative for them. They will put a good word in for you because you are concerned about their satisfaction.
  • Get the people in attendance on your mailing list, then send an informal survey to them. Study their comments for the next time you return.
  • Make notes of the names of the people who got on your mailing list. Call them by name the next time you see them there.

If you love what you do and you do it well, your passion will become infectious. That can often win over an otherwise hard-to-reach crowd. Add in the networking aspect of meeting patrons, the staff and the manager, and you’ll have your own cheering squad. If the feedback is all positive, follow up immediately to book your follow up gigs.[/private_member]