The Prime Directive of Live Performance: Stay positive!

Audiences can smell bad attitudes from a mile away. They stink! I know we’ve written about this numerous times before, but I recently had the opportunity to re-witness the power of a positive attitude winning out over adverse performance situations, and I figured it can’t hurt to share the lesson again.

The size of your audience is not a reflection of your talent.

Both in hosting our own CD Baby showcase and wandering through the Memphis Downtown Marriott (a hotel filled with more than 100 performance choices at any given moment during the International Folk Alliance Conference), I heard a LOT of music being made. And one thing I can assure you of is that talent should never be measured by how many full or empty seats there are in the room. During one of our slower showcase nights, we had an act play (who shall remain nameless, just in case they are shy about these things) to NO ONE besides myself and another CD Baby employee at the beginning of their set.

Were they bummed? Maybe. But I sure as hell couldn’t tell. They were polite beforehand, started on time, played an amazing set (all smiles and enthusiasm and impressive musicianship), and thanked us afterwards. People DID begin to gather to listen as the performance went on, but overall, their show was sparsely attended. And never once did they show a whiff of attitude, resentment, bitterness, or ingratitude.

I was sold. A fan for life. Their confidence and passion was intrinsic to the act of creating music together, not based on external validation or praise or audience cheers.

You never know what unseen factors are playing hidden hands.

This act was mature enough to know not to let the lack of audience weigh them down. They knew that, especially at a conference the size of Folk Alliance, there are so many things to consider when it comes to concert attendance. Maybe they’d already played 6 showcases by then and had saturated the festival. Maybe they had specifically promoted a different showcase that night, so their fans were waiting to go to THAT one instead. Maybe the hottest buzz band of the whole conference was playing at the same time and drawing away potential listeners. Maybe there was free beer on the 17th floor. Who knows? It could be a hundred things. But the low turnout was not due to lack of talent. Because they understood that, they performed a pretty magical set for a tiny audience and converted us all into lifelong supporters, who’ll potentially blog about them, recommend them to friends, spin their songs (since many of the Folk Alliance attendees are radio DJs), and book them at shows.

Hey man, park your dark cloud somewhere else!

Conversely, Folk Alliance is also a fantastic opportunity to see what NOT to do. I watched a few (not many) acts who seemed filled with a sense of such entitlement and ego. If even a slight thing seemed less-than-ideal about their performance,the space, or the attendance, they’d let you know about it. And that is not a fair burden to put on your audience. We want talent, vibe, mood, song, escape, and transcendence. NOT attitude. Besides, no one cares if you’re the 2nd (or 20th) coming of Bob Dylan, you’re still a human being, same as the rest of us. Success, or the feelings of entitlement that so often substitute for it, are no excuse for condescension or anger. If your passion is turning you ugly, it is time to start looking in some other mirrors.

All’s well that ends well

The day after the sparsely-attended performance I mentioned above, while I was walking by some of the larger showcase rooms, I was happy to see the same polite and cheerful act entertaining a packed room. They had the audience’s rapt attention, and all was right with the world.

-Chris R. at CD Baby

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