Self Esteem and Your Audience…Do You Connect?

How important is self esteem to your audience? I’ve been pondering this question quite a lot since last Tuesday…when a couple of producers who were interested in perhaps featuring me and my music in a TV series that they’re shooting in different cities around the world came to the show. I was very nervous of course, and to add a little more pressure I had planned a mostly looping set including a total a Capella improv piece. Due to nervousness, I did what I normally do…which is to make self-deprecating jokes.

At the end of the show, it seems that both producers really liked the music, but one in particular didn’t like my stage presence at all. The self-deprecation was annoying to him and he felt that it just wasn’t what he needed for the show. (this is what I gathered after chatting with the other producer/filmmaker that stayed) To be fair, there is a difference in how I perform to a room full of mates (which this show certainly was, and how I perform on a large stage to hundreds (or thousands) of people whom I don’t know.

There’s certainly a lesson to be learned here. Music is the one thing in my life that I am confident about. So why do I feel the need to apologise for myself on stage if I make a mistake? Am I spending precious time internally focused when I should be spending time connecting with my audience? I do know one thing for sure; when I open up and talk about myself and explain what my songs mean to me, I sell a lot more CDs and people stay to chat after the show. If I can’t show the audience that I believe that I’m worth the six squids they just spent to see me, or the time they took to travel to the venue…do you think they’re going to think I am worth it?

The audience has no idea how long I’ve been writing songs, or busting my ass to make a living in this business and probably most of them don’t really care. They came out to be entertained…to a PERFORMANCE, and me being apologetic about dropping a D chord on the 2nd verse of Morgantown and Montreal isn’t nearly as interesting to them as me telling the story of what the song is about. About the last night I spent with my friend before he was in a horrible car accident, and the guilt associated with moving on with your life and having to leave people you love behind. How life moves on after you do and people who were once your whole world get hurt….people are born, people die, and you can’t stop any of it. A lot more interesting eh?

The truth is, I’m always going to be a little awkward on stage; I’m awkward in person. I’ve spent enough time in my life trying to force myself into roles that don’t fit…trying to be things I’m not. I’m not going to change everything I do based on the opinion of someone I don’t know who has seen me perform one time. But I can learn from the experience and keep in it mind in the future. The whole reason I perform is to share little snippets of my life. I’ve created little snow globes out of experiences and I shake ’em all up once in a while for you to see. The next time I do this, I’ll try and tell you more stories about the snow, I promise.


CATEGORIES : gigging, lets get serious, music matters/ AUTHOR : Lo.

14 comments to “Self Esteem and Your Audience…Do You Connect?”

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  1. Cris Fuhrman says: -#1

    Just a thought that someone once said to me in 1990 when I used to rant on Usenet about how much I hated classical music notation and how I thought it impeded learning music because it’s biased towards a C major scale (white piano keys). He said to me, “In the time you spend griping about it in a posting, you could be improving your skills.”

    Autrement dit, how many times could you have rehearsed Morgantown and Montreal in the time it took to post this blog? No dropped D, no Deprecation, no explanation, and more time to tell your stories.

  2. Hi Cris! Thanks for posting. I think you’re missing the point here. I’m not griping about dropping a D chord. This blog is part of telling my story, about sharing my experiences with my friends, my fans, my family. It is meant to be helpful, to help and encourage other people going through the same thing. I don’t need an excuse for missing a few chords in a performance nor was this blog intended to be one. If I blogged all the time you might be able to call me out on that…but I rehearse a hell of a lot more than I blog. πŸ˜€ Mistakes are going to be made in a live performance. It happens all the time to people at all levels. Anyhoo…hope Motown is treating you well!

  3. I think the point about playing differently to different audiences is key here – I certainly talk very differently to a room full of people who know who I am and know what I do than I do to a ‘fresh’ audience.

    When I did that tour opening for Level 42 a few years ago, I realised straight away that I needed to talk and gesticulate in a much bigger way to connect with an audience that were hundreds of feet away than I do at a gig at Darbucka where they’re all sat eating, drinking and loving the music before I even start…

    A TV audience would be different again, and it seems odd that a producer wouldn’t be able to discern that… Maybe he assumed you’d treat the show like an audition, rather than playing to the rest of the room as well, almost all of whom were friends… Who knows.

    …And I like your comment about this being part of the story-telling – blogs are a vital part of musicians creating a ‘back-story’ in the new music attention-economy. The old ‘you could be practicing’ line is moot, given that practice is about quality not quantity, and there’s certainly no inference here that you spend 12 hours a day writing blog posts…

    Sx

  4. Greetings Lo;

    I suppose that there are many ways to look at this; you could take the producer’s thoughts and opinions to heart and believe every word (and in the process, beat yourself up). Another way is to reject it out of hand; perhaps he had something else in mind all along and you “weren’t what he was looking for” (so to speak) and you could say, “Well, he’s missing out on all of this awesomeness; his loss!”.

    I suggest that it’s better to look at both sides and take a kernel of knowledge from each. Your shows had a mix of comedy (with shades of self-deprecation) back when I performed with you. Self-deprecating jokes are not a great idea after every song (I’m sure that you are well-aware of this) but one in a sixty minute set isn’t a bad thing. So don’t throw that aspect of yourself away, by any means.

    Confidence is a strange beast; as artists, we get up on stage and expose ourselves in ways that other people cannot understand. The fellow at the 9 to 5 job in the cubicle doesn’t have a few hundred people watching him send emails and perform IT network support. There aren’t people cheering him for fixing that router issue and then sitting in silence when he sends out the company-wide email without spell-checking and realising that he’s accidentally replaced the “h” in “hunt” with a “c”. We’re a bit odd; we crave the spotlight and then kick ourselves in the pants when we are not perfect whilst under the spolight. Art doesn’t demand perfection, it demands art.

    Don’t forget the audience’s perception of you is much different than your own. I played a show with Amanda Mabro at the Cabaret Juste Pour Rire. I thought that I had a “good” show. Afterwards, Chris Cuber came up to me and gushed about my performance (you know that Chris is rarely effusive about shows). He kept saying “Oh my God were you ever ON!”. My friends that came out to see us that night also heaped praise on me, the band, and Amanda. The idea of the audience seeing/feeling something different than me is not exactly a new concept, but when you have evidence to support this fact, it makes things easier.

    You can try somethign that I am forced to do, based upon my insturment of choice; you can play for the room. Much like how I need to re-think and re-write my parts when playing in smaller venues be it television, Centre St-Ambroise or the larger ones, such as Cabaret or the Montreal Jazz Festival, you can do something similar with audiences that are not filled with chums and mates. Perhaps have a different show (that still is “you”) that you can give them. Also, I wouldn’t worry about delving too much into the “why” and the “what” in your songs with the audience; show them where the road is and let them walk down at their own pace. Or, to use your analogy, you shake the snowglobe and the snow lands wherever it lands.

  5. It’s their problem. ( No wonder it’s confusing =).)
    Just keep on doing what you want with your music.

  6. There are so many levels to this that I can’t begin to touch upon them all, but I will hit a couple points. One is simply that yeah, it would be easy to just say, “Lo, the hell with ’em. If they can’t see what you have to offer, then their loss.” But that sort of blind allegiance is neither my style, nor good for you. I come not to criticize, but to support. ; )

    When I read critic’s reviews or hear feedback of any sort, I try to see if there is something there that I can learn. Sometimes, it IS something that is just bullshit, and sometimes it’s an out of the blue truism that you had just never been brought up. But most times, it’s a reinforcement of things that we already know to be true, and this I feel, is the case here. We have talked ad nauseum about performing and the idea of playing for people as opposed to playing for ourselves. The lack of confidence thing may have been our first point of commonality. ; ) But you are right when it comes to understanding their (the audience) point of view and HAVING to factor that in. You see, you have chosen to be a performing artist, not just a recording artist. Once you ask someone to pay to see you, then the rules change. Yeah, you do start to owe them things.

    Maybe the fact that they simply get to hear the songs played in a live setting are enough to justify the money. Maybe just the fact that they get to see you recreate these pieces in person is enough. On some level, I think that it is. But the artists that truly connect with their audiences are rare and if it simply is a case of you deciding HOW to interact with them as to whether you CAN connect, well then just freakin’ DO IT.

    You have the opportunity to not just sell more CDs and concert tickets, but to do what we all should do in this life-touch people. You have a gift, as cheesy as that is. You have the opportunity to move people (hence our ongoing argument about the pros being the ones that can disconnect their own need to entertain themselves from the responsibility to their audience) and you need to do that. Don’t get caught in the ego stroke pursuit where you just want to be lauded for your musical prowess. It’s the artist that connects, that moves their audience that has the staying power, that has the most chance at longevity and influence.

    There IS an aspect of this “business” that IS just that,..a business. If you can profit from the honesty that connecting with the audience brings, then you have it beat on both accounts. You don’t have to “manufacture” any connection. They WANT that connection. It’s like a first date with someone you find strikingly attractive. You WANT it to work, as awkward as it can be. They are in your corner. Face it, if you belittle yourself, make yourself seem unworthy of their attention, etc. then you insult them, because they chose to pay to see you. You tell them that they are stupid for wasting their money. They don’t like being called stupid. ; )

    I’ve been in your audience when you let us in, and ultimately made me literally tear up with pride as you knocked it out of the park again and again. I’ve also been in the audience when you’ve looked like you had never played in front of people before. The difference in what I took away was staggeringly different. No details necessary.

    Whatever it takes for you to get on top of this, do it. I’ll tell you what I used to tell a mutual friend of ours that used to party too much on stage. I said, “90% of the crowd knows who you are and knows you aren’t a drunken fool with no visible talent. The other 10% are seeing you for the first time, they don’t know anything about you but what they are seeing right then. They probably won’t be back.” First impressions are everything.

    I heard a comedic actor say just today on a documentary that he used to look at the camera as if it were 5 friends of his on the couch that he was trying to make laugh. If you do perform better with friends, then pretend that they ARE your friends,..and you know what,… by the end of the show, you won’t have to pretend anymore.

    Wishing you the best, darlin’.

  7. Cris Fuhrman says: -#1

    Never intended to say you didn’t practice, nor did I want to say you shouldn’t write about this stuff on a blog. I remember the fun gigs you did a couple of time in Grafton at the diner where you improvised poetry that people would write on napkins.

    You said quite clearly the one producer didn’t like the self-deprecation. I think it’s great that he told you what he didn’t like, rather than write you off and not say anything. At least you can know what to expect in the future. I think his comment is reasonable.

    My experience with teaching is that audiences can be very unforgiving and they tend to remember glitches more than spectacular moments. Drawing attention to a glitch in a 3-hour lecture is even worse and will show up on my evaluations at the end of the semester without fail. Somehow, when you’re on stage in front of a lot of people, they expect it to go over polished. Admitting a mistake with grading goes over just fine and is often very civilized, I suspect because it’s one-on-one when it happens. There is indeed some psychology about numbers, distance, etc. as Steve points out.

    Motown is working out well. The location of my “efficiency apartment” is awesome. But it still smells like chicken tikka, even though I cleaned the kitchen cabinets thoroughly… that is not the worst of smells πŸ™‚

  8. Where to start. I’m not a singer/songwriter. I’m not even a proper musician. I *am* a card-carrying member of AEA, and have appeared in 40+ stage productions in NY, LA and the regionals, totaling…1200+ performances; I’ve also directed another 40+ shows.

    It’s been my experience that it’s the young’uns who pause to apologize; the pros generally move through a kerfuffle as though nothing happened–and if the kerfuffle is big enough that NO ONE could have missed it, a quick quip and back to work generally suffices.

    It’s not about being an artist, and it’s not about being on display–the first is assumed and the second is an occupational hazard. πŸ˜‰ Playing for oneself is practicing–playing for an audience is performing.

    I have a real problem with anyone who practices in public–but I’ve seen you on stage countless many times and that’s not the case. You know your stuff and you come to the stage ready. And then some kind of nervousness creeps in…out. Why? I haven’t a clue. You have one of the best voices going and a repertoire of songs any singer would kill for. So you drop a chord? Eh. You can clean it up later. We don’t care about the D. We care about you.

    But we also depend on you to set the tone.

    A little insecurity can be quite endearing (to me); cross an invisible line and it becomes annoying. About the third time it happens, a performer loses me.

    I learned it early: “Unless it’s a fatal error, keep going–and keep your eyes off the floor!” Everyone makes mistakes. It’s the underlying energy of live performance–the chance that, at any moment, any beat, something could go horribly awry.

    One of the most astonishing performers around is Alyson Palmer. She’s 1/3 of Betty, but her solo work is just breathtaking. Another tall, gorgeous woman (as are you), Alyson walks on stage and whatever else has been true all day, all is now right with the world and will remain so for at least the next 70 minutes. When she’s on stage, I relax and give myself over–because she’s in control. She’s strong, she’s vulnerable; she’s an Amazon warrior, she’s a little girl…but she’s the one in charge of that stage.

    I’ve seen her miss notes–the little ones she moves through seamlessly; the big ones–she roles her eyes and moves through seamlessly. She never apologizes.

    Being strong doesn’t mean being invincible, inaccessible.

    As for telling the audience about a song…. The history of a song can be, to some extent, useful. (“I lived in Morgantown and moved to Montreal….”) Telling an audience what a song *means* deprives the auditor of an opportunity to engage with the song on *their* very personal level.

    I have been to plays and before the lights ever come up, I’m ready to leave because the writer (usually) or director (occasionally) has taken it upon themselves to put a note in the program explaining what I’m about to see. I want to find the offending author and pummel them into (further) insensibility. “I can sort this for myself, thank you!”

    And I know it’s true. There’s nothing more gratifying than having someone come up to me after a performance of one of my plays and tell me what it’s about–and it’s not at all what I meant when I wrote it. And how wondrous that they found so much that I had no idea was there.

    Trust your audience–not to get what you wrote, but to quite often get something different…and, sometimes, something more.

    Indeed–shake the snowglobe for us, but then let the snow land where it may.

  9. Thanks for all the great replies! I am taking a lesson away from this which is to play for the people in the room who don’t know me as well as the ones who do. I know how it feels to connect and really that’s why I do this job. It’s certainly NOT for the money…as I make a hell of a lot more just staying at home writing songs that I ever have touring and performing.

    I’ve really grown as a performer in these last couple of years and I’m a lot more confident on stage that I used to be. I suppose this blog was about me being disappointed that I’d let myself slip back into my old ways due to nervousness which isn’t such a common occurrence anymore.

    On the point that Suse and Tim made about letting the audience discern the meanings of the songs…I’m on the fence over that one. I don’t think you should tell the meaning of each song before you play it (thinking about Ana Muira here)….but I just think about Rob Szabo and how much I love it when he takes the time to tell the audience a story about how he wrote a song and what it means to him. I think it’s a good way to further connect with your audience; but, like all good stuff, there are some things that should be left to the imagination.

    Thanks Kevin, for the verbal spankingencouragement πŸ˜‰ I actually thought of you and our conversations when I was writing this blog. You’ve given me so much advice throughout the years, a lot of which I’ve ignored because I always think I know better for some reason…which is clearly not true. So thanks for continuing to give it in hopes that I’ll eventually listen. (I’m listening now)

    Cris, no worries was just explaining further. Yeah, I was just thinking about those Grafton improv things the other day and thinking about incorporating it into a set soon to see how it goes over here. I was also happy that I got instant feedback (albeit from the other producer) as you don’t always get the chance to know why they didn’t like you. I like knowing so I can asses and work on it. It’s a good thing. Glad things are going well in Motown and sorry your new place smells like Tikka! I actually like that smell though I’m not sure I’d like to smell it all the time!

  10. Lo;

    There’s nothing wrong with a story before an important song; just don’t give away too much before you play it. Think of your stories as theatrical trailers; you don’t give away the ending (the butler did it!) but rather, tease the audience and make them want to listen. If they get something different then what you had intended, that’s fine.

    As for confidence, you’ll be fine. Remember that people came out and paid to see you perform; they’re confident that you’ll be great, now you need to be as well. πŸ™‚

  11. Of course, girl. Who would I be, if I just kept my mouth shut and let my friends make their own decisions without any input from me? A better friend maybe,..but this isn’t about me. ; )

    As far as how much you talk about your songs,..just go from your gut. If it seems like it’s good for you AND your audience, you should figure that out soon enough. Being cryptic for the sake of the art is iffy, if not just silly. Just do what feels right and feels like it works. Bridging that gap between what entertains you and what entertains them.

    And in regard to calling attention to mistakes: I’ve seen both Joe Jackson and Tony Levin flub notes live. Tony gave a sly smile, and the ones in the audience that were truly paying attention “got it,” and with Joe, he let out sort of a Pee Wee Herman laugh and went on. Both were endearing, and made us connect with them even more, because although they are both musical geniuses, they are in fact, still human. They certainly didn’t apologize about anything. Shy of falling off the stage, most people don’t notice mistakes anyway. But those guys are both known for being perfectionists, and they probably felt that their “fans” would notice that stuff. If those guys didn’t feel the need to apologize, after all the experience they have, you certainly don’t need to do it.

    This also opens up a new can of worms about how being known for musical prowess as opposed to sincere connection puts added pressure on the artist. But I’ll spare you that one. ; )

  12. Ah, yes…Ana and the swimming-pool story. Thank you for reminding me. πŸ˜‰

    I think that explaining how a song was written is, if it’s brief, allowable. But a lot of this kind of patter–the “…what I really mean here is….” has grown out of VH-1’s “Behind The Music”–and what’s been lost in the wash is that, at least early on, those stories were being told about songs we’d all known for years. We’d already had a chance to react intellectually and emotionally, to form our own thoughts and feelings.

    Once you tell and audience what a song means to you, they can never hear that song again without that awareness, that information. Whatever you touched (or might have touched) in *them* with the song is forever lost to you. There are so many songs I just don’t ever want to know what the artist meant–because I already know what they mean to me. And yes, sometimes, I do want to know what they were thinking.

    Can you hear Rob’s song, “Paper Planes” without thinking about his father’s admonitions and the diploma that never was? I didn’t know the story the first time I heard the song, and I thought it was a marriage license. (Go figger! πŸ˜‰ )

    Rob’s always been exceedingly generous in NOT telling me what his songs meant to him. Rather, he’s let me tell him what I hear. It’s delighted him that I’ve heard changes in verb tenses and the occasional phrase that turns a song (and my heart) inside out.

    He’s done his job–he’s written and performed the song. I’ve done my job–I’ve listened, and absorbed, and interpreted it.

    I could do several (many!) pages on what your songs mean *to me.* I think you’re faffin’ brilliant (have I mentioned that lately?) and I have no idea if what I got is what you meant me to get…but I must tell ya–what I got was worth the world to me.

    As for your stage persona? Advice worth every penny you paid for it: just be you. The you around the table, the you I go shopping with, the you walking down 23rd St, the you at the Comfort–funny, warm, serious, silly. The you of one-liners I shall not repeat here. You never apologize for nail lacquer or sweaters–why worry about a chord or a garble? Raindrops in a river…here for a half a heartbeat and gone.

    Just go on…we’ll come with you.

  13. I agree with Suse that if you can just convey “yourself” to the crowd, then you are golden. There is a reason why we all are still your friends. You have an innate charm that makes people gravitate to you, especially when you sit down at a piano. It doesn’t require anything but confidence IN that,…in YOU. And as Steve said, the venue/setting may require that you use larger or small motions to convey the same thing, but you are still just being you. Simply realize that you ARE worthy of the attention, and if that makes you uncomfortable, then pass it off as belief that the music and the time you’ve spent on it deserves that attention. You already have the talent, and the sooner you realize that it’s OK to be confident in who you are and what you create, the sooner that all of this will seem logical to the point of silliness. If you move on past confidence to the point of arrogance,..I’m sure one of us will kindly point that out to ya. ; )

    Rock on, Princess.

  14. That was such a great post that I had to read it aloud to Joe! I love your snow globe analogy.

    Timely post, too, as I’m helping teach a music camp this week to 50 kids ages 5 to 16, ending in a performance Friday evening. I’m agonizing over how to convey the concept of “performance” to them, especially since their life and music experience varies so dramatically. It’s a challenge to explain how important it is to connect with the audience. For those who are on the shy side it must be agonizing and I wish I knew how to ease their anxiety, but performing is one of those things that has to be done over and over before you realize the world won’t come to an end if you make a mistake.

    Self-deprecation is the surest form of protection because you’re beating your detractors to the punch. It’s a hard habit to get out of, I know! But still, I think some people in the audience actually warm to that because it makes you seem more human, and it’s like you’re letting them in on your little secret. Gah — I don’t know, it’s all so confusing!!

    I had to take time out from typing to run to the window and listen to the Amish man go by in the night, singing a slow, haunting song in full voice with nary a care of who might be listening. If I could just embrace that…

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Bio

American born Lobelia isn’t just your typical singer-songwriter. A multi-instrumentalist who worked as a studio musician for 10+ years, she has won multiple awards for her songwriting, has been featured in Billboard Magazine, and was one of the original Women of MP3.COM in the early days of the Internet. In the UK for 10+ years now, she hosts several acclaimed songwriter nights at Tower of Song, shortlisted by the PRS as one of Birmingham’s best small venues. She can sometimes be seen performing with celebrated solo? bassist, Steve Lawson. (aka Mr. Lo)An advocate for sustainable touring, she travels the world performing at house concerts and small venues.