As a musician who does solo acoustic performances, I have noticed that I may not always be the center of attention. Let's face it; some places hire a solo acoustic performer just to be "background music." Some owners/proprietors think that their customers are just there to enjoy their dinner and that the entertainment should be there just as a component of the overall "atmosphere." As somewhat of a person capable of being reasoned with, I can appreciate that fact.
However, there are times when a performer would like to receive some feedback, just to know if people are really listening. When you play those places where the music is used for atmosphere, you sometimes feel as if you are more or less serving the same functionality as the wallpaper. In fact, you sometimes feel as if you might as well have worn a shirt that matched the wallpaper for the ultimate blending in effect.
I personally had difficulty dealing with this. In fact, it is more distracting to me than if there are people paying a great deal of attention to my performance. Thoughts start to enter into my mind like: "What am I doing here?" and "What am I doing this for? These people couldn't care any less." It sometimes gets to the point where I almost forget the song's lyrics or the chords.
Prior to going solo, I used to play out as half of a musical duo with a keyboardist/singer. It wasn't much different from when I went solo other than the fact that the money was split down the middle. Sometimes, though, we would do things to test if the audience was paying attention. We had certain songs where we would change the lyrics and sometimes they were quite funny. So we would throw a funny line in just to see if someone would notice. When they didn't', we would look at each other and smile. So we sort of made a game of it.
That was one of the things we did to deal with the problem. Sometimes, though, we would go to take a break between our sets and someone would question us about the lyrics. It seems we were busted and didn't realize it. So in fact, someone was at least paying attention.
Now, as a solo act, you can do the same sort of thing, even if it's not as fun as sharing in the joke with a band mate. Although, when the members of the audience do catch you, they often smile and you actually manage to keep their attention afterwards. You also feel better knowing that they are listening and you feel more comfortable while you're performing.
There were even times when I was performing and didn't use that little trick, where I was still able to find out that people were listening when I thought they weren't. I would finish my set, take my break and go to the bar to get a drink. Sometimes someone would approach me and tell me that they liked the song by so and so and thought that I did it well. They mentioned the song and, in some cases, would mention the differences in the arrangement I had made to the song.
So here I would be thinking that nobody was listening or paying any attention but, in fact, they really were. They say that the greatest fear most people have is the fear of public speaking. I would assume that public performance may be a great fear as well. As a public performer, feeling as if nobody is listening may be discouraging to you. The point of this article is for people to remember that even if they think others are not listening, they may want to look at things from a new perspective. That is: Sometimes they really are listening. Just keep that in mind and do not despair.
Photo Credit: Image created by Bob Craypoe, also known as R. L. Crepeau.