Sometimes an audience isn’t even close to giving you the energy you are craving (or needing) for your show. It doesn’t matter why–so many factors can play into it: small audience size, too far away from you, sports on the TV, networking events, et cetera, et cetera, ad nauseam [latin!]. It can be so crazy frustrating to play in these situations, but–here’s the thing–you can’t let it get to you. Keep pushing that rope. Keep banging your head against that wall. Keep herding those cats. You gotta do it, because there’s going to be a moment when something shifts, and the folks will be more receptive to what you’re doing. If you’re not there 100% to capitalize on that instant, it will pass you by. Don’t let it! It’s going to be tough–it’s going to be damned near impossible–but you can’t give up on that crowd. They’re going to be there for you. Where will you be?
When playing a request-based show, sometimes you are faced with a conundrum – you just don’t have any requests to play! This happens a lot of times at the beginning of a show while people are still getting situated, their drinks ordered, etc. Sometimes it can happen during a longer show if the crowd is in the middle of a turnover. Hell, sometimes the crowd just wants to sit back and listen without having to constantly think of another clever tune. Well, what do you play? It’s easy to panic and not be able to think of even ONE of the hundreds (maybe thousands) of songs you know you can play at that moment. That is where the “go-list” comes in handy. The go-list is simply a list of songs that you know can work at any time.
These lists are also useful when you’d like to change the direction the requests have been going. For instance, when a lot of people come to a piano-bar show, they limit themselves to only thinking of “typical piano songs” (Elton John, Billy Joel, Rat Pack, etc.). They don’t realize that we can play guitar-heavy songs, too. It’s times like these when a well-placed rocker by the Stones or even some Def Leppard can step up the request game. The go-list is a great way to remind yourself of that perfect song.
There are countless ways of putting your go-list together. You can jot down a list on the back of a request slip before the show starts. Some folks use a Post-It note. I prefer a spreadsheet on Google Drive that I can access at any time from my phone or my tablet [nerd alert]. I maintain a couple of them – one dance-heavy list for wedding receptions and another one for solo shows that I have separated into three categories based on the pacing of the show (low, mid, and high energy).
The go-list is a great tool to keep up your sleeve. You never know when you’ll need it. Keep it updated and keep it handy.
Every person in the crowd is important. Make sure you’re taking time to connect with every person out there. It’s tempting to just focus on the fun people who are giving the energy back to you, but take the time to branch out from that core. Even a glance and a smile can affect the energy in the room. Don’t worry – that core group will still be there for you if you need an energy refill.
When playing an all-request show, you absolutely must stay up-to-date with the current trends in pop music. I try to keep at least three or four current top ten songs ready to go. Right now that means “Love Yourself” and “Sorry” by Justin Bieber, “Stressed Out” by twenty one pilots, and “Hello” by Adele. Mind you, I’m not memorizing these tunes – most of them won’t make it a month in the zeitgeist – but I certainly get familiar enough with the tune that I can pull up some lyrics and perform it pretty well.
I have the Billboard Hot 100 bookmarked and I listen to most of the songs about every other day on average, usually while getting ready in the morning [edit – just the top few songs, not all 100!!]. The mind is fresh and ready to absorb new tunes in the morning, so why not take advantage! If you don’t subscribe to a music service, most of the current hits are on YouTube for on-demand listening. It also doesn’t hurt to sit down at the piano and play through a verse, chorus, and bridge of the tunes once a week or so. Make it a habit, and soon you’ll be winning over a whole new demographic of music fans.