If I would have to choose one of the biggest mistakes that we the instrumentalist’s have the tendency to commit while we play, I would go for the topic of “playing for ourselves”.
I’m not a rock or a pop player myself. In fact quite the contrary. I’m not interested in showbiz at all. I’m that typical idealistic nerd musician that loves instrumental music, fusion and jazz, because we like it, and that’s the way the general audience perceive us. By “general audience” I mean the 90% of the people who turn on the radio and attend to concerts all over the world. We can state that these are not the people we are interested in reaching with our music, so that lives us with just the 10% of the spectrum, or maybe less. So the big question now it would be, are we doing what’s necessary to communicate effectively and be able to at least get the desired attention of this small, specific and “initiated” musical audience?
In my humble opinion the answer is, No!
What I’m saying here comes from a profound self analysis, and from numerous questions I’ve done with musicians and students through the years. In other words my opinion is not just my opinion, it is also what I’ve been hearing from people.
One of the few things I like from the musicians that choose to dedicate their lives to playing commercial music is the huge importance they always assign to the audience and the stage itself. That’s why that audience is usually so unconditional even when many times the musical outcome is quite deficient.
What is music about? Why do we play music? What is our main intention when we go on stage standing in front of an audience instead of having fun at home with our music? There are many questions, and the answers tend to be elusive at best.
In my opinion, the main word here is “Communication”. So we have to choose what we want to communicate, because like it or not, while we are on stage, we’ll be always communicating something even if we communicate that we don’t really care about communicating with the audience, at all. Understand?
We can also communicate that we just care about ourselves and that we love “self-gratification” with our instrument (there’s a better word that starts with an “M”)
We can communicate that we’re good, and expert musicians. We know a lot about music, and we’ve done all our homework in relation to harmony, scales, rhythm, and technique, etc.
We can communicate that we are extremely professional, and we have the best amplifying systems and the best instruments money can buy (or endorse).
We can communicate that we hate the system and that we go against it. We can help ourselves by wearing black leather jackets and pants and singing or screaming with rough voices.
We can communicate that we look well dressed, hot and handsome, and at the same time we are communicating we are available for all the chicks.
Everything I’ve mentioned above is being done right now over thousands of stages and in front of millions of people every day and every night all over the world.
Please note that I mentioned we’re talking about different types of behaviors, some adopted by musicians who play more commercial music like Hip Hop, Rock, or Pop, and other behaviors usually adopted by musicians who play fusion, jazz, and instrumental music in general.
So what’s my point?
First of all, on stage, Be Yourself!! But this common phrase is not as simple as it looks. Let’s say I’m an angry person, and I aspire to “be myself on stage”. Needles to say, this is exactly what I’ll be communicating and “sharing” with the audience. So before we look at the phrase “be yourself” or “express yourself”, which these days is even more “En Vogue” than the other, I think it’s a moral duty to precede that phrase with the following sentence: “Improve yourself as a person, be honest, be a better human being, be generous, be kind, express love through your actions, and after that, PLEASE “Be yourself wherever you are and especially on stage”.
Always remember people pay to see YOU. If you don’t care about them, if you give them something different than what was said they were going to receive, you’ll be literally swindling them. Please don’t confuse what I’m saying here with the fact that the audience can like or dislike your concert.., that’s a completely different matter related with more subjective aspects. But there are certain aspects that are really objective (if objectivism exists), like don’t turn your back to the audience, speak clear and loud enough so they can hear you, don’t be drunk or stoned on stage so you’re barely able to play properly, at least rehearse a little bit and don’t think that because you are a jazz player you are so good or so cool that you and your group can make mistakes and “It’ll always sound cool”, etc.
When you play music on a stage, you don’t need to think about the music, in fact, don’t think, just FEEL and look inside yourself for the best and the most positive aspects of your feelings and pass them on to the audience naturally and unfiltered through your playing. If you are communicating honest and luminous feelings through your music, that’s exactly what you’ll get back from the audience, AMPLIFIED!!
In a concert situation, the audience is the best amplification system ever created!
The Virtuous Cycle begins (or not), and you’ll be responsible for that!
Respect the Stage…Respect the Audience!!