I want to start this show report not by talking about what I played at Key West in Second Life, but what the person who performed after me did. Her name is Loreen Legion, and for some reason, I hadn't heard her before. That's a beautiful aspect of the SL music scene... there are always new people and new sounds to discover. Since I simply don't have the time that I once had to cruise around to other people's shows, I rarely catch other SL artists unless they happen to be randomly performing before or after me. Well, I was very glad to have discovered Loreen, because she seems to have a similar attitude about music performance that I do. Let me explain what that's all about.
Loreen Legion. Photo courtesy of Showtime Magazine.
If you want to be a popular musician, there's a simple and formulaic way to do it. Just perform music that is familiar and comfortable for the largest portion of the potential audience. What most people like to hear is music that they know. If they hear new music, they'd like it to be reminiscent of music they already enjoy. There's nothing at all wrong with that. I repeat: there's nothing at all wrong with that. What does that mean in terms of Second Life music performance? The biggest crowds will be for artists who focus on covers of music that's widely known or currently popular, whether they're a live performer or a DJ. I need to say once again, that's fine. What people choose for entertainment is entirely up to them, and they will gravitate toward the musicians who play what they like. It's very simple, as I said before.
So, why doesn't every artist in SL just do what I described above? In fact, let's expand the question outside of SL: if an artist wants to get big crowds at real-life shows and sell lots of recordings, shouldn't they just do their best to sound like other artists?
Yes! Of course they should.
Thankfully -- for people like me, both as a musician and a music lover -- not everyone has the same goals. My goal has never, ever been to be a popular artist in Second Life or otherwise. My goal is to make and perform music that I truly enjoy, with the hope that some percentage of people might also enjoy it. But I've never changed what I write, record, and play based on what I thought people might like. If they happen to like it, that's wonderful, and it is a very fulfilling feeling to see people get into what I play, both originals and covers. But if they don't like it, I'm still going to play it. I don't know Loreen very well, but I'm willing to bet she feels the same way. And sure... we both have songs in our respective sets that are more widely known. It's not the intent of artists like us to purposefully alienate anyone. But with both covers and originals, we play the music that we want to play.
Most artists who perform in SL are not like this. Should I say again, there's nothing wrong with that? Because there isn't. Those people aren't necessarily sacrificing some aspect of their own art to be more popular, a phenomenon known as "selling out" in the music world. They just have different goals, and guess what? That's fine too. But at least for my tastes, the handful of people who do songs that have a lower chance of attracting big crowds are usually among my personal favorites as a listener. Most of them incorporate a good amount of original material to their sets, making them "singer-songwriters", which happens to also be among my favorite types of musicians. Most of them are competent on an instrument to the point of being able to create new sounds and do interesting things beyond getting through a song in a live setting. Most of them have a good deal of performing experience in real life that they draw upon for their SL shows. And most of them have decidedly smaller audiences than the folks who cover the latest hits, or the classic rock and pop songs from the '60s/'70s/'80s that everyone knows and loves.
Again, it's not a "good vs. bad" or "us vs. them" situation. Think of it more like an ice cream shop. Some people go in and want vanilla, and others want chocolate, and others want strawberry or pistachio or rocky road or pineapple. The great part about music in Second Life is that nearly all of the flavors are represented in some way. When I heard Loreen, I knew right away that she was a similar flavor of ice cream as I am, as a musician anyway. I absolutely plan on seeing her again soon, because I get the idea that just hearing one set of her performance is probably the tip of the iceberg, and I want to hear more.
Before anyone wonders why I'm complaining... I'm not! I get good crowds at most of my shows, and by no means am I some kind of purist about what music should and shouldn't be played in SL. I love a good pop tune. I also like the weird stuff. Key West is accepting of both. Photo by Kat.
And now, I shall go back to talking about myself, though it was nice to take a break from that activity. Last night at Key West was good. It was the first show I did after the passing of Prince one week earlier, so I felt obligated as a musician and a fan to acknowledge his genius-level musical contributions by performing a couple of his songs (one he was well known for playing, and another that represented the many songs he wrote that were made successful by other artists). Overall, we had a decent crowd, but more importantly, it was a group of people who truly seemed to enjoy what they were hearing. I tend to pitch my shows by saying that people will likely hear things at a Zak Show that they don't hear elsewhere, and I try and stay true to those words.
One last note: I promise to stop opening every one of my shows with that Martin Courtney song, as I've been doing for the past couple of months. It's just got a good, happy vibe and puts me in a good frame of mind to perform. Also, it has a crucial refrain for artists like me: Please don't go forgetting about me. After reading what I wrote above, you can understand why it's always a concern, heh heh.
Key West set list...
Airport Bar (Martin Courtney)
Saved by Zero (The Fixx)
Take Me with U (Prince)
Nothing Compares 2 U (Prince)
Vendetta (They Stole My Crayon)
Never Run Away (Kurt Vile)
Bull Black Nova (Wilco)
Falling Down (Zak Claxton)
Here I Land (Nicholas Stevenson)
Gardenia (Iggy Pop)
Desire Lines (Deerhunter)
Black Hole Sun (Soundgarden)
Huge thanks to all who came and saw me be my usual weird self at Key West, especially the following who helped support my show!
Trouble Streeter, JustOneMore Loon, RoxxyyRoller Resident, Kat Claxton, RansomTalmidge Resident, Christine Haiku, Tyche Szondi, TheaDee Resident, Nancy Lei, Anek Fuchs, Key West host Skeat Abonwood, owner Liz Harley, and my always-great manager Maali Beck!