The reason why I didn’t go to your show is that I hate you. I hate you, I hate your music, and I think you’re the biggest scumbag to walk the planet. Your personal tastes are garbage, and, on a good day, your “band” might sound like the fifth-grade band at the school just up the way. Wait, scratch that. Screw you and your band. I’d rather see a group of fifth graders struggle through “Hot Cross Buns” than listen to your group of wannabees. What do I hate the most about you? You have the narcissistic audacity to call the unprofessional, screaming banshees that you assembled with the assistance of of Craigslist and terrible taste on your side “musicians.” Merely sharing that job title with you is enough to make me want to quit music and apologize to the general public on behalf of musicians everywhere that you exist. You sicken me.
In all seriousness, I didn’t go see your show because I had no idea it was happening! I really hadn’t the faintest idea. Why does this happen? After all, a large part of any musician’s leverage is draw. So wouldn’t someone who wants to do grow their music career put effort towards their draw? Or, have some marketing power when it comes to other projects that they’re a part of? Where does this this power come from? And where does it go when it’s not engaged properly?
It is true that most musicians would want to focus on their draw. There are a few ways to increase one’s draw which are unfortunately rarely employed by players. One way is to promote shows according to a schedule so people can mark the date on their calendars and make sure that they show up. I am a big fan of the four-week promotion plan. One month away from the event, or preferably sooner, people are notified about the date, and they can mark it on their calendars. During the weeks up to the performance, audience members are reminded of the show date through multiple channels. Email blasts, text message blasts (although antiquated right now), flyers, and social media posts tend to help this. Then, the day of the show, there are going to be at least a few people who show up and are willing to buy tickets. I see a lot of clubs using this method, where shows are announced even a few months before the show date. This allows people to plan on actually showing up, instead of throwing a haphazard event on the internet.
Promotional things usually get lost among the vast amount of digital noise on the internet. There are a lot of musicians who I actively follow on social media and I just don’t see their posts. I’m part of a lot of groups, and the group posts tend to take up most of my feed. The other posts that take up most of my feed are promotional posts of some kind, or unpleasant political posts. It’s rare that I actually see content that’s relevant to me, including posts from people I respect and want to engage with. Sometimes I’ll go to a musician’s profile, only to see a listing of all the gigs they played that month. I’m not sure how they expect me to attend any of them, since I wasn’t told directly, and I usually can’t make it after the show already happened. Email blasts are a great way to mitigate this because
Another way to improve attendance numbers at a show is to increase the quality of the music. This is probably the most obvious step in a musician’s career, but ironically most musicians do not focus on it. It is easy to read some blog posts about music industry tips and apply the business tips to one’s own career. Unfortunately, without quality music, these tips aren’t very relevant because people are not interested enough in the product to go spend time and money to engage with it. A product must reach a certain threshold of quality before others will enjoy it. While there are multiple interpretations of what good music is, there is a certain class of music which is enjoyed by millions of individuals that exceeds the quality standards that most local musicians are capable of.
Before we discuss these characteristics that have to do with a piece of music’s perceived quality, I’d like to briefly add that I’m writing very loosely about what these characteristics are and where they exist. Discussing music is challenging for all sorts of reasons, but the most significant challenge to writing about music is that it is an inherently invisible artform, and the traits are determined after the musical experience ended. Music is a time-based artform, so attempts to condense complicated musical ideas into a time-less medium, such as writing, should always be taken with some doubt. When we write about music, we have to “freeze” it in a certain sense, and through the process of this “freezing” we run the risk of distorting the reality of the music itself and how listeners engage with it. Also, the boundaries that I use to divide these ideas are porous at best, and non-sensical at worst. This is a topic that I will come back to in more depth in later posts, such as where musical properties and stylistic practices exist outside of someone else writing about them at a later date. But, we’ll talk about those things later on.
Most of the issues I see with performances involve precision. Many people play without attention to maintaining the pulse. It is important to maintain the pulse among all the players in the band. Many times, I see a show, to hear that the vocalist, bassist, and drummer have a different interpretation of the beat. Other times, the instruments are badly turned, or the balance of the group is off. Sometimes the bassist is incredibly loud or the pianist wants to redline his amp. Either way, it is not very pleasant.
In addition to these lower level issues, there are some aesthetic issues that often negatively impact a musician’s draw. The most common issue I’ve identified is that the music can sound generic. What do I mean? Well, when music sounds generic, it lacks that special quality that separates it from other players. For instance, a jazz group playing at one hotel likely sounds like it’s made up of the same musicians as a jazz group playing at another hotel even when they’re different people playing at different times. The issue is that, instead of using the music as a vehicle for artistic expression, it is used to play another night and make a few extra bucks or drum up some business. Musicians often think about music in terms of traits. So, jazz (or other styles) ought to be played with x BPM, y eighth note feel, and z chord patterns and voicings based off of what their teacher or some other scholar wrote. Instead of developing their own opinions on what jazz should be, they’re simply rendering what others agree on. Consequently, the attempt at music sounds agreeable and inoffensive, without having any interesting content in it. It’s all style without content. While I targeted jazz musicians with this example, every musician must fight this type of ennui. I hear the same issue across scenes and styles. Whether it is your local, anonymous club DJ, a classical pianist, or church musician, most of the time people play music that is, well, hard to remember.
Another aesthetic issue that often negatively impacts draw is the “advanced” music. This type of music only appeals to those with degrees or years of study of music and draws upon influences that are based more on the score and academia, influences foreign to the craft of music itself. It appeals to the type of listener who yearns to hear a special polyrhythm or polytonality to check off in their head that they heard it that night. Is there anything wrong with this? No. While this music may not be to my taste, and it is certainly not how I listen to music, I’m not making the case that musicians who produce this type of content are lesser than others, or that their followers are foolish for having these tastes. What I mean to get at is how it negatively impacts concert draw. Should you be interested in increasing your draw, and your music appeals to a minority of people that have advanced training, the draw will be perpetually limited by the small amount of people who have this training. If having a large audience is not a priority for you, and engaging with others is not either, then I suppose there’s no point in changing your style. But it could be getting in the way of your career without you knowing it.