The First Gig

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Which
came first, the audience or the performer? Was the first performance of
all time inspired by a random group of people in need of entertainment?
Or, were the caves and forests of yesteryear filled with lone singers
belting out their hearts without ever intending to present their
talents to others? These aren't silly questions if you're passionate
about performing. Because the answer to this "chicken or the egg"
paradox provides the key for connecting with modern-day audiences. And
while I'm not quiet old enough to have been there at the beginning,
there is a lot of evidence as to how the first gig must have
transpired.

Imagine a man at the
dawn of humanity. He's walking along looking for food on some random
Friday when he stubs his toe on a rock, again. The guy is not only in a
fair amount of pain but also really aggravated. What are the chances of
that happening twice in one outing? He can't think those actual words
because he has yet to develop language but he knows he's not having a
good day. Not only has he scared away any potential meals with his
angry cries but he's also caught the ear of a nearby human who
cautiously heads in the direction of the commotion. The curious
onlooker crouches behind a bush and watches as the injured man vents
his frustration by shrieking and howling at the top of his lungs. And
so, in this very unceremonious manor, the first performance unfolded.
Musicologists and critics will later refer to this type of emoting as
"rock music." After all, it was inspired by hitting a stone.

Without knowing each other, a connection was made
between those two ancient people. The spectator was captivated by the
expressions and sounds of the other man because he related to the
feelings. He continued to spy as the unsuspecting performer's voice
then swooped up in delight upon discovering some berries, and then
groaned downward in disappointment as the last berry was consumed. The
vocal sounds triggered feelings of empathy in the one-man audience.
Bonding with the stranger, he also released a sigh when the berries
were gone, inadvertently calling attention to himself. Suddenly aware
that he was being watched, the performer's heart skipped a beat as he
realized that his actions had captured the emotions of another person.
Wanting to explore this new connection further, the performer was sorry
to see his audience scurry away into the forest.

The next night the man who had witnessed the
impromptu performance wanted to share the experience with his woman.
This being a time well before political correctness and without the
ability to actually ask her if she'd like to see something interesting,
he simply dragged her by the hair until he found the man he had spied
on. Not only did this create the still-honored tradition of Saturday
being date night, but it also doubled the audience of the previous day
for the rookie performer. So the stage was set but just before the
second gig of all time could get under way, something unexpected
occurred.

Stage fright seized the performer's mind and
body. How would he recreate the special circumstances that existed the
day before? What was it that made his audience return? He desperately
wanted to connect with these people yet he was in the dark about their
desires. At a loss for what to do he ran over and purposely kicked a
large rock with his bare foot. It certainly hurt but not like the day
before. Embarrassed, he stifled his discomfort. His audience sat
stone-faced. Then he grabbed some berries and woofed them down. He
scanned the two onlookers for approval; bypassing the enjoyment he had
previously experienced when eating the fruit. No reaction from his
audience, until the woman shot a disapproving glance to her man for
dragging her out of the cave for nothing.

Seem familiar? Since the second gig in
history performers have struggled with trying to please an audience.
And since that second gig, audiences have been subjected to a
hit-or-miss chance of attending a great live show. What was true then
is true now: An audience is most interested in how the performer feels.
The first gig was spontaneous. The connection was real because the
feelings were real. The next night the performer was so preoccupied
with the mood of his audience that he failed to connect his emotions to
the actions of his show. It's a simple rule: The singer leads the room.
Let down your guard and feel something and the audience will be yours.
Step on stage with your shields up and you're in for a long night.

Every human responds to basic emotions in
the same way. We all cry when sad and laugh when happy. There are no
exceptions anywhere on the planet. All healthy people communicate with
melody in their voices as an extension of their feelings. Our pitch
rises when we're excited and falls for disappointment. These are the
same melodic cues that every song attempts to capture. In other words,
music stimulates our emotions by imitating the sounds we produce
naturally. On hearing a melodic cue, we quickly assess if the gesture
is authentic. If we deem it real, we begin to search our own feelings
for a connection.

Unfortunately many people feel uncomfortable
navigating their emotions in public. They clam up and close the pathway
from head to heart. The irony is that these are the people who would
gain the most from opening up a little. So it is up to the performer to
create an environment safe enough that the biggest hold-outs surrender
to their emotions. That's why your audience has ventured out in the
first place. They long to feel something but don't know how to get out
of their own way. It's the old safety in numbers theory – which is why
performers and audiences alike love a big crowd. The flip side is why
it's such a challenge to have a good show when there are only six
people in the club.

As always, it's best to lead by example. On
any given night, during any song on the set list, there is an
opportunity to connect with your emotions – and therefore your
audience. You don't have to act out the lyrics. Think big picture. Joy,
love, loneness or heartbreak are all typical song subjects because
everybody can relate. To keep your performance real, draw from your
experience. The heartbreak you're singing about doesn't have to be the
heartbreak you're feeling. You can reminisce about the family dog that
recently passed away during a break-up song. If you're still missing
that pooch your audience will pick up on those feelings and start
searching their hearts for what they miss most. Before long everyone is
tearing up. No one has to know that the "she" that left you had four
legs and a very cold nose.

So which came first? The answer is neither
audience nor performer. It was emotion that started the whole
entertainment business. And it is the pursuit of an emotional
experience that draws people out of the comfort of their modern day
caves and brings them elbow to elbow with strangers. It is an agreement
with the way you feel about things that will inspire someone to start
your fan club. So start connecting the way you feel to the songs you
sing and inspire your audience to explore their emotions. Because no
matter how well you can sing or play, it's the way you make people feel
that is remembered most.

This entry was posted in Notes and Musings.

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