Here’s a simple suggestion: Determine what your most popular songs are and play them at every show.
1) If you’re wildly famous, your fans will feel cheated if you don’t play the hits after they paid $50 for the tickets and $40 for the sitter.
2) If you’re an unknown band fighting your way out of obscurity, you’ll want to keep showcasing those same tunes that have had the biggest impact on crowds.
Yeah yeah. We know. You’re tired of them. You’re really psyched about this whole new direction you’re going in. Well guess what: no one else cares. If you’re not famous yet, then ALL of your songs are brand new to 99% of listeners out there (even if the tunes are 5+ years old).
Playing in your local market once a month is FAR different from the kind of carpet-bombing exposure a Major Label hit song will get. So maybe you’re sick to death of hearing Katy Perry’s “Teenage Dream.” But that doesn’t mean your fans are sick of your most popular song.
Believe it or Not, You are NOT Radiohead
Sure, Radiohead never plays “Creep” anymore. Van Morrison never plays “Brown Eyed Girl.” But you’re not them. Don’t be stubborn.
James Taylor once said that he has to put in the personal performance and practice work in order to keep infusing “Fire and Rain” with new life. He’s played it thousands of times on stage, but he knows his audience wants to connect with that tune. So, rather than being tortured by boredom or resentment, he chooses to make a musical and emotional challenge of that concert requirement. If I recall correctly, his live version has stayed pretty faithful to the original recording.
In contrast, Bruce Hornsby has found ways of meeting fan expectations while also feeding his own hunger for musical discovery. Aided by his amazing band, he’s been known to play extended, jammy, danceable, improvisatory medleys that weave together several of his hit songs over the course of 20 minutes or more. This is thrilling for the crowd. The audience is willing to follow his lead into the musical unknown, while also getting their fix of the familiar. The most daring musical moments of the concert are grounded by the most stable, concrete, crowd-pleasing mile-markers (his hit songs).
No More Moldy Bread!
So, the moral of the story is simple: play your popular songs. Find a way to keep them fresh.
We’d love to hear how you keep your old songs from growing old. Please feel free to let us know in the comments section below.
-Chris R. at CD Baby