I don’t mind karaoke in its place – it can be great fun. But the ubiquitous TV talent formats have swamped the gigging circuit with too many wannabe warblers, and everyone suffers – the audiences, the venues, the musicians…
Sorry, but while I’m all for ambition, for every one who can carry a tune in a bucket there are hundreds out there who are driven more by unshakeable self-delusion than talent.
However, let’s be charitable and assume that Jill from Rhyll and Murray from Surrey are actually as good as their doting parents (in row G) think they are.
There’s the little matter of craft, and that only comes with experience. And while working for a week on 45 seconds of high-impact histrionic performance to impress judges is admirable focused work, it doesn’t prepare you for a real-life gig. I’m afraid you really do have to “pay your dues”.
Of course there are some that get it, and I do appreciate that we all have to learn. But I’ve played with a few of the following types…
IT’S NOT YOUR BRAIN, IT’S JUST THE FLAME
They turn up to a small bar and ask where their dressing room is – at which point someone stifles a laugh and directs them to the staff toilets. Grumpy from then on.
They need reverb at God’s Bathroom setting. They get confused, then lost, then angry if you don’t play precisely what’s on the backing track they’re used to.
On jazzier gigs this can be especially problematic – you actually need instrumental solos, otherwise every song would be just 3 minutes long (and they only know about six songs). And since they can’t follow form (or count) and don’t know to watch for a cue, the band has to be constantly ready to leap to wherever they happen to think the tune is. And sometimes whatever key they happen to have decided to sing in.
They often expect you to just know from memory at the drop of a hat everything they do – whether it’s Moon River or that bloody thing from Frozen.
BULLY FOR YOU, CHILLY FOR ME
To be fair, the blood rushes to their heads and they’re usually pretty strong on the first two or three tunes, then fumble their way through a few more. Then they start looking troubled during the following type of conversation about the second set:
“What shall we do?”
“Well, it’s more lively now, but I suggest we keep things light and reserve the real energy for the third set.”
At which point the blood can tend to rush back out of their heads.
If they’re still standing for the mythical third set, you invariably wind up repeating most of the first set. By which time the hard-striving sweetheart (“music is my life”) is dog-tired and their voice is shot. You’re just hoping the early crowd’s gone and the late crowd is good and drunk.
Finally, they’ll call the sound engineer an amateur because their vocal wasn’t being real-time pitch-corrected by NASA. And shoot a parting sneer at the band because the live quartet didn’t sound like a full big band on Big Spender. (During which they came in too early after the bridge and in the wrong key…)
OVER TO THE JUDGES (ME)
If your claim to fame is that you once got to the second round of the Smolensk & District auditions for The Oh My God, Why Factor (Боже Мой Зачем Фактор), don’t be surprised if musicians are a bit wary of you. Why not prove them wrong and genuinely “bring it”?
I suppose what I’m ultimately saying is that if your answer to the question “why do you want to be a musician?” is “I want to be famous” then you’re probably in it for the wrong reasons. Of course, there is always an outside chance you might get famous anyway…
PS Cruise ship gigs aren’t as glamorous as you think they are. Tax-efficient, sure, but not glamorous – it’s like being in the merchant navy but with more sequins.
No David Bowies were harmed in the making of this post.