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Friday, July 30, 2010

What musicians are thinking when they look at the audience

I was talking to a young musician friend recently. He plays in his own band but also goes out regularly doing covers in pubs. "You've no idea," he said, "how difficult it is to get people to listen."

I've been thinking about this ever since. Maybe part of the reason I've been able to persuade musicians like Chris Difford, Mary Gauthier and Barb Jungr to come along to True Stories Told Live and just perform for ten minutes is because they know how precious somebody's undivided attention is. In some ways they're happier playing to a listening audience for ten minutes than competing for the attention of a bigger, paying crowd for much longer.

I'm always amazed by the resilience musicians show in walking out in front of people who would clearly be happier drinking, eating, talking or being entertained by someone else. I try to put myself in their shoes and imagine how the world looks from the other side of the monitors. I often wonder why they don't just walk off.

I was thinking about this again this morning while looking at Amy Rigby's excellent blog. She's an American musician who's married to Wreckless Eric. They live in France and play wherever they can. This never was an easy life and it's harder than ever right now. There's no record company, no management, no structure, no career path, just a life. Unlike many musicians Amy Rigby is perceptive enough to notice the audience and candid enough to write about them. This is a show the other night:

Today I'm recovering from our gig at the Site Corot last night. Held in an unused auberge in a lovely spot near a river, next to some old glove factories, it took five meetings and three months to organize. Many people showed up, having been told we were either a) a "rhythm and blues" group or b) country music. They stayed for about three songs and the rest of the set we played to our usual ten friends and the few assorted French people too polite to desert us. But the river made a nice sound and we still remembered how to play.

The dread and anticipation, the inevitable misrepresentation, the evening that peters out before it is meant to, the embarrassed silences, the battering taken by the confidence: sounds like nothing so much as a blind date.