Monday, August 27, 2012

7 Reasons Why I Don't Take Requests

There are many musicians in Second Life as well as in-the-flesh performers who do live shows where they take requests from their audiences and perform whatever people want to hear. While I admire many of those people, I am not one of them, and it's not because I am an asshole. I mean, I certainly can be an asshole, but I have actual non-assholistic reasons for not doing requests at my shows. Here they are in no particular order.

1. I Actually Plan My Shows
Despite my occasional references to having my set list come together at the last moment, there is always a reason for performing certain songs and not performing others. Sometimes it involves playing songs that fit a theme; sometimes it's the mood I'm in when getting ready to play (see below for all the details). But in any case, having the audience randomly pick songs doesn't necessarily make for the better shows. I know there are songs I do that specific people want to hear often, but the fact is that out of the 300 or so songs that I draw from in my solo shows, I purposefully spread them out so that the rest of the folks don't burn out on the same tunes over and over again.

2. In the Mood
Let's say it's an autumn day and the sky is overcast. I'm feeling the slight melancholy and/or wistfulness that comes with the season. And then, someone requests a song that is upbeat and happy and silly. Well, I don't blame them! But I do know that when I build my set list, I intentionally include songs that feel right for the moment, which is mostly based on my mood. I simply am not going to shift gears emotionally to play something that is in stark contrast to how I feel. That is the difference between a musician and a jukebox; the jukebox doesn't care, but the musician should.

TOP PHOTO: You can almost always find me with a yellow pad and a pen in my hand an hour or two before the show, jotting down ideas for the set. ABOVE: While I'm playing, I like to put together specific songs that take audiences through different vibes, which is hard to do with random requests coming in.

3. Sticking to the Theme
At a good portion of my shows, I put together some kind of loose theme for the music, especially when I play at the same venue on a regular basis. There are an infinite number of themes that can be done... I've done "female songwriters", "two for Tuesday", and "songs that start with the letter A" in the last month alone. I think it goes without saying that taking random requests tends to screw up the flow of said theme, understandably.

4. Things I Can Sing and Play at That Moment
Ask any honest musician, and they'll gladly tell you that they are not a machine who plays the same songs the same way every single time. There are days when my voice can handle the higher registers with ease; there are other days that I simply can't do my best on certain songs. Some days, my fingers fly all over the fretboard, and on others, I feel like I'm playing while submerged in Jello. So, I simply don't do certain songs on days that I don't think I can play them well, and I don't want to be put in a position to turn down people who would otherwise request those songs. Simple enough.

5. Covers & Originals
Since the music I perform can be most easily grouped into two broad categories -- my original music and cover songs -- it's important to me to try and put together a set that includes some of each. How many of each? It depends on the venue and the crowd, and what I feel their receptiveness will be to either original music or stuff they're more familiar with. Since there are only so many songs one can do in an allotted time slot (usually 11-13 in an hour for me), accepting requests throws off my balance of covers versus originals.

As crazy as it seems in a virtual world, the setting and vibe of the venue influences what I choose to play at each show. Some places are definitely more formal than others, while certain venues seem to enjoy a lively and rambunctious show. I plan accordingly with my set list.

6. Goodbye Spontaneity
Wait, you say. What could be more spontaneous than getting a request from an audience member and playing it there on the spot? Well, the audience has to choose the songs from somewhere, right? That means that people have to get a copy of a preset list of songs to choose from. So there I am playing, and someone is busy searching through a list of 300+ song titles instead of listening to the show? Again, not to belabor the jukebox analogy, but as soon as someone says "I'd like song number B-103 please," I've stopped being the kind of musician I like.

7. Disrupting my Mojo
Finally, there's the actual act of taking requests. I have a terrific manager who books my Second Life shows and handles in-world promotion for me, the lovely Maali Beck. I could easily have Maali collect requests from audience members and send them to me while I play, as she does with some other artists. But once I start my show, unless there's something I really need to know, I want 100% of my focus to be on just two things: a) my performance and b) the audience's reaction to the songs. I like to acknowledge folks who come and thank them for their support when I get tips. But I don't want to be stopping to read IMs and finding songs lyrics, thereby imeding the flow of the show.

So there you have it: seven solid reasons why I don't take requests. By the way, I did decide while writing this that at least half of these reasons actually are rather selfish and assholish as a result, but I'm sticking with them anyway.

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