The Working Band: The Importance of a Large and Varied Repertoire

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!


Summer Gigging: What Should I Book?

Summer is closing in. I know that it’s not technically spring yet, but the summer local festival dates are coming in for my band, a booking process that started last fall. The area around Chicago has many summer outdoor gigging opportunities sponsored by the various suburban park systems and civic organizations. Some are summer concert series and others are special events, like festivals. Festivals are fun to play and typically the bigger they are, the more fun it is. One member of a band I’m currently working with prefers to play only these types of venues during the summer, which is understandable. Often these types of situations involve a built in audience, most of whom come specifically to listen to the music. For the festivals there is usually an actual sound company contracted to provide the PA system and run the boards, guaranteeing a better experience for the musicians (most of the time). Stage space is often more than ample and the crowds are appreciative. There are many benefit to doing these gigs during the summers; however, there are certain drawbacks to the outdoor venues, particularly when they are the only type of gig that is booked for the summer.

Outdoor gigs, such as those noted above, do offer quite a bit in terms of return for the band’s efforts. For one thing many of them pay pretty well, particularly the festivals. At the festivals, as well as some of the park gigs, the sound system is provided by folks who run and set up p.a. systems professionaly. This has multiple benefits for the band, not the least of which is the band doesn’t bear the responsibility of contracting and paying someone to come in and do so. Many bands can and do provide their own p.a. systems but usually don’t hire someone to run the board, because it’s an expense they don’t want to incur and they figure they can get things set they way they want them most of the time. This generally works well enough that it’s not an issue for small venues, but does overtask the band when working elsewhere. That being said, professionally provided sound systems usually provide a luxury experience for the performers. Sound is balanced on-stage through the provided monitors. What you need more or less of is delivered by simply asking the soundman and out front the mains are entirely in the hands of the same.

This type of situation also provides quite a bit of exposure for the performers, often to different types of crowds than are often run into in the club circuit. Most of these events are geared toward families, both young and old, while others cater to specific groups of folks. Any way you look at it, further exposure means a potentially larger fan-base, which could result in larger draws at clubs during the fall and winter, as well as potentially being re-booked for the following summer events. Plus, unlike many other venues, these events tend to be less predatory upon the acts they book. By that I mean they don’t just offer exposure as compensation for performing but also pay the performers.

There is a downside to outdoor performances, which is in itself no surprise. This type of gig is mostly weather dependent. While some do involve large tents that do more than provide shade, most of the time the stage areas are exposed to the elements and if it rains, you’re done. Cancellations can really suck the income out of a band if the summer turns out to be a particularly wet one, and while some places will attempt to reschedule, they are in the minority. Generally there will also be a clause in the contract covering payment in the event of a weather related cancellation, which usually indicates that the band does not get paid in this situation. There are also situations where inclement weather is threatening but it hasn’t started to rain as of yet. Since it is not raining you will be expected to set up and prepare to play until it does, or in the situation where there is a covered stage you will need to set up and wait for a break in the weather to start. If you don’t bring a tarp for your equipment and it rains, chances are your equipment, particularly anything electronic, is going to suffer damage, which you will solely be responsible for repairing or replacing.

Logically enough, if it’s a wet summer and your band has relied solely on outdoor venues for gigs, you are going to have a major income deficit, which will be a big deal if you’re relying on the income to make ends meet. If that is the case, then it would be wise to pursue as many indoor venues as possible in addition to the outdoor ones. While some might think that in areas with substantial opportunities to see live performances outdoors it will result in lower draws at indoor venues, this is not necessarily the case. Clubs will still draw crowds, particularly if your band is popular. Some of this has to do with target audiences. Most of the local outdoor events are indeed geared toward being family friendly and the crowds are generally filled with families and folks who really aren’t interested in hanging out in bars and nightclubs. There are some outdoor venues that cater to the twenty to thirty something folks, singles and couples, who are out having a good time, but these people are still more likely to be hitting the nightclubs and bars. The festivals that are populated by this demographic tend to be more focused on multiple band events, primarily with quite popular local and national touring acts brought together for large events. So, what are you looking forward to this summer?