Start your Engines:
One of the most difficult things that musicians are confronted with is choosing songs that will appeal to a crowd. In most cases your choice of songs will be defined by the following guidelines:
1. The type of gig you are going to be playing
2. Your musical ability
What’s the Gig?
To address the first guideline is fairly easy. Although this may seem fairly obvious to seasoned professionals, for the newbie’s out there, pay attention. If you are going to be playing in a jazz lounge common sense should prevail… learn as many jazz standards as you can. Pick songs that are popular within the genre that the venue has asked for. This really is a no brainer guy’s n gals. If the client asks for South American Bossa give them just that. Learning to follow specific directions can really assist you to progress and please the client.
Your Musical Ability:
This is where it gets interesting. Musical ability is so much more than how fast your fingers fly over the fret board or the amount of double kicks that you can deliver in a minute. It covers a vast range of skills such as:
– Sight-reading/notation/chart reading etc- Education- Experience- Memory- Stage presence
In this day and age working musicians have to become increasingly knowledgeable across different genres to stay employed. So any abilities you have should be utilized to the fullest.
Borrow and Blend:
An astute individual or band can pick tunes that are can cross over into several genres. For example songs by Sade or Norah Jones can easily cross genres. There are many others that lay on the fringes too. The primary reason for choosing songs in this manner is so that the number of contracts that you could do increases. Also you may find that a lot of your songs can be changed and manipulated to resemble songs from other genres. I have heard Iron Maiden tunes being played in a Bossa nova rhythm, jazz versions of Pink Floyd tunes and numerous other examples. So you could look through your repertoire and devise other ways to play the songs that you already know.
Dull Wins the Day:
As dull as it may sound you can’t really go wrong with picking easily recognizable songs from any given genre. It is nice to pick obscure tracks but the risk of displeasing the crowd increases. The reason for this is due to the fact that most people you entertain are not die-hard music fanatics that know every track ever written by Metallica, or Michael Jackson’s birthday. They are simply general people that enjoy hearing and seeing a band play stuff that is regularly played on commercial tv or radio stations.
Some gigs are really quite specific about what they want played. For those of you that don’t know Charlie Parker was one of the prime movers and shakers for the ‘Bee bop’ era of jazz. In a case such as this there is every possibility that the crowd or possibly someone in management has detailed knowledge about the genre. A request that is so specific almost inevitably means that you need to really understand and be able to deliver a convincing performance within that narrow, well-defined genre.
Get to Know the Locals:
As time passes and you get to know your audience and see the requests coming in then you can adjust your repertoire accordingly. Get to know the regulars and ask them what they like to hear. The regulars are your guiding light to success at a venue. With most contracts the regulars are there before you and will probably be there long after you and your band have departed. Managers always give their regulars special treatment as they are the lifeblood of the business. You can do yourself huge favors by getting to know the regulars and getting to know what music they like and playing it for them, possibly even giving them a shout out before and/or after you play the song.
New Kids on the Block:
If you haven’t done a contract and you’re wondering what to put into your repertoire you must firstly decide what kind of gigs or contracts you want to do and then go from there.
Ask yourself the following questions:
– What type of music do I want to play?
– What songs do I already know?
– What kind of venues/clubs/cocktail lounge etc do I want to play in?
– Where are my musical strengths and weaknesses?
Answering those questions honestly and comprehensively will help you to decide what you can and can’t play and what is likely to be suitable and unsuitable for any given venue.
Repertoire lives and breathes. Try to pick your songs wisely and do your due diligence. Research well and apply the information to create a practical repertoire that will serve you well.