One of the difficult things about being in a working band is coming up with a variety of repertoire that can serve you well regardless of the situation, particularly when your band is very genre specific. Artistic integrity is great, but quite frankly it doesn’t necessarily build a band following, and the inability to stretch outward to engage your current audience can be detrimental to future booking possibilities. This doesn’t mean that all bands have to be essentially live juke boxes; it just means that there needs to be give and take between the performers and the audience. Usually this means that the band needs to have a catalogue of tunes they can draw from that exceeds the three 45 minute sets standard, sometimes significantly. The deeper you can go with your repertoire, the better off you’re going to be when it comes to keeping your audience engaged and better your chances of being rehired at a potentially better rate in the future.
Bands that have an extensive catalogue of music to draw from have a definite leg up when it comes to building a following. For one thing it encourages varying the material present in the set lists. If your band has enough tunes for four sets, and plays those tunes at every gig, chances are you will end up losing people from their following because your band has become predictable, particularly when it gets to the point where the fans could even tell you what tune was charted next. When you have a deep pocket of tunes to draw from, this becomes a non-issue because you can program changes in material from gig to gig, and if it seems like the right thing to do, step outside of the current set list for something that the night’s current crowd might respond better to.
Having more repertoire that you “need” also has the benefit of enabling the band to be able to handle taking requests, something that is a major plus in building a following. This is a major form of interaction between the audience and the performers and if your band can’t, or won’t, take requests from the audience you’re basically shooting yourself in the foot. If you’re dedicated to your particular genre, that’s not a big deal, just make sure that you can draw a large number of standard tunes out of your hat as needed. You don’t have to dedicate yourself to the top 40 of your area, but you need to be able to trot them out on an as needed/requested basis. It might offend your sense of artistic purity, but let’s face it if you’re going to get paid then you need to deal with being an entertainer and entertain your audience. So you have to trot out a few tunes that you’ve played more than you ever wanted to, it’s a small price to pay for being able to do the ones you really care about and it’s going to make the audience much more receptive to your personal indulgences.
Another benefit of a large catalogue to draw from is that it keeps things interesting for the performers as well. Playing the same thing, night after night and often in the same order, is a real interest killer not just for the audience but also for the band members. The broader the catalogue, the less you’re going to suffer from a lack of personal stimulus. If you find yourself so familiar with the same thing that you’re watching the bar TVs while you’re performing, it’s a bad sign. For one thing, you’re on auto-pilot which means that you might be playing everything right, but you have disconnected from what you have been hired to do, perform. For another, you have reached the point of boredom with what you are doing. It’s no longer fresh and you are simply not interested in it anymore. If you aren’t interested, then your audience isn’t going to be either, and if they aren’t then you’re going to have a hard time rebooking the band. And why are you doing this anyway? One of the reasons we have chosen the path we’re on is a love of music. Performing in these situations sucks the life out of what we do, and can kill our relationship with our work faster than a team of athletes can wipe out a buffet after practice.
Variety is something that should be embraced. It keeps people interested in what we do, both as performers and as audience members. As musicians it is very important to realize that what we do involves a symbiotic relationship with our audiences, and it’s a relationship that needs to be nurtured just like any other; particularly if we want to encourage growth and a mutually beneficial outcome. We need our audiences, and while we might not want to admit it, we need them more than they need us. Part of convincing them that they do indeed need us is giving them what they want: a good show, interaction, and the chance to forget about all of the crap they’ve had to deal with over the past few days, at least for awhile. One of the ways we can ensure that we’re doing so is by having a catalogue to draw from that keeps things interesting for everyone involved and also allows the audience to have a feeling of belonging. Being able to take a request from an audience member gives them that while showing that you care about them, and that you have an active interest in their happiness. Build your repertoire and broaden it on a regular basis. It’s a win win situation for everyone!