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Hotel gigs where no one listens, what to do.


The Wind

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Seems to me that part of the job description is "Background music." You are there for the ambiance of the setting. The venue just wants there to be quality music in the background, that doesn't get in the way of the patron's conversations.

 

At least they are bringing in a live performer, rather than having satellite radio in the background.

 

 

As a professional, the venue should expect you to bring your best performance every time, even if it seems no one's listening. Play your best, and no one notices. Play sub-par, and everyone notices.

 

 

"In the beginning, Adam had the blues, 'cause he was lonesome.

So God helped him and created woman.

 

Now everybody's got the blues."

 

Willie Dixon

 

 

 

 

 

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Background music is how I make a good living, and I've come to prefer it over the years.

 

I'm full time at the two Bellagio piano lounges in Las Vegas, and do a large number of corporate parties here as well.

 

I would never presume to tell any player how they should make their living, but if you do accept a gig that is clearly NOT a a concert, you owe it to the guests (they're not really an audience) . . and you owe to the host of the function who invited you (the client who is paying) to perform as you've been hired.

 

If you want to excel at background music gigs, (and you should if you accept them) - - I suggest you set aside some of the comments above which say things like you should "play for yourself" . .. or "try new chords" . . . or "use the opportunity to practice" . . . and focus in on the reason someone has paid you money.

 

It starts with turning your attention away from yourself, and toward the desire of the host of the event/club, and thinking about the guests - - their comfort, and their overall experience. At a gig,these things are more important than our personal musical goals.

 

For background music gigs, you want to play tunes that are familiar to your audience, at a volume where they can both converse, and tune in/out of the music at their pleasure.

 

Use my 80/80/80 rule - - 80% of your tunes should be familiar to at least 80% of the people, 80% of the time.

 

Concerts and background music gigs are almost the opposite in certain ways - - at a concert, the artist invites the audience, determines the repertoire, controls the volume. At a gig, the audience invites the artist, determines the repertoire, and determines the volume.

 

At a concert, dynamics, variety, and breaking new musical ground, and musical drama are needed to keep the interest of the audience. At a gig, there is no audience - - they are guests at an event. Dynamics, variety, new musical ground, and musical drama call too much attention to themselves at the expensive of the primary purpose of the event.

 

For all who are forlorn because the "people aren't listening," all I can say is this: DUH! At a concert, the primary activity is listening to music. At a gig, the primary activity is human socializing. They are tuning in and tuning out when they want. That's their right.

 

At a gig you are there for them. They are not there for you.

 

Again . . I'm not saying you "should" accept background music gigs. If the things I'm saying here turn your stomach, don't take those gigs.

 

If you want to do them . . or need to do them .. . you might as well get good at it. Think about what I've said here.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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I agree with most all the advice above, with the possible exception of Hanon... :crazy: I've done and still do many gigs of this type, and be aware of this; People are often listening much more than you think they are. I don't know how many times I've felt like I was playing to the walls, only to have people approach me after I stop and tell me how much they enjoyed the music. Always play your best! :cool:

 

I agree with this.

 

Here's a worse situation. Once I got paid to play for a nonprofit org for a fundraiser. When some attendees found out that I was getting paid, they attacked the board member that hired me. The board members had a very visual argument about it. Half of them came up to me and apologized and the other half gave me dirty looks

 

On a related issue, I attended a corporate function that had pro musicians at lunch and dinner. Half of the attendees were pissed off that this corporation spent a ton of money on food and entertainment for us, but were asking us to cut prices to them.

 

 

Yamaha Motif XF6, Yamaha AN200, Logic Pro X,  Arturia Microbrute, Behringer Model D, Yamaha UX-3 Acoustic Piano, assorted homemade synth modules

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More people are listening than you know. Practice, fine. Trying new things, fine. But, always do it well never disrespect the gig.

 

I'm sure you know how it can go, out of the blue someone walks up to you who's a heavyweight player and says, nice job man. Especially at a nice hotel. Anybody can be staying at that hotel. One evening years ago a couple members of the Crusaders were sitting in that quiet lounge where "nobody was paying attention". That'll make you think twice about just blowing crap out there. Maybe it's because I live in LA that I'm more aware of this than most. I did a quiet background house party gig for a doctor way up in the Hollywood hills. I had no expectation that it was an industry gig but there were still a couple of studio types there who were his patients.

 

Bob

Hammond SK1, Mojo 61, Kurzweil PC3, Korg Pa3x, Roland FA06, Band in a Box, Real Band, Studio One, too much stuff...
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No matter the gig, someone is always listening. Always. And sometimes they tip! ;)
Instrumentation is meaningless - a song either stands on its own merit, or it requires bells and whistles to cover its lack of adequacy, much less quality. - kanker
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There's always ways to draw attention to yourself if you feel you need that

 

 

figure it out... from my experience lounge pianists dont take much chances

 

Coolest thing I saw from memory was a cheesy restaurant dinner pianist busted out full on the police message in a bottle. That got applause for the first time (since i was seated)

-Greg

Motif XS8, MOXF8, Hammond XK1c, Vent

Rhodes Mark II 88 suitcase, Yamaha P255

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A positive aspect of most of these gigs is that the piano is there; no gear schlepping. There's few things that sour me more than schlepping gear to a wallpaper gig -- the pay has to be really good for me to do that.

 

It's been said several times already -- people are listening, even if it doesn't look like it. There's a self-motivational aspect to this, and getting good at that is probably as important as anything else you'll need to succeed. Don't put yourself into a psychological downward spiral by telling yourself that no one cares, because I'm not playing well, because no one cares etc. . .. Create upward spirals instead.

 

If you're used to playing in groups, you'll be hit hard by the realization that there is no one on your side at these gigs. No one to joke with or roll your eyes at the patrons, etc . . .. Compensating for that is not easy!

 

When it's not inappropriate (and note that it often is!), start a conversation with some patrons, try to find out what they'd like to hear and see what you can give them that comes close. This in line with the comment above about guessing what certain tables want to hear. When talking to customers, be upbeat, witty, entertaining, and brief.

Gigging: Crumar Mojo 61, Hammond SKPro

Home: Vintage Vibe 64

 

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Bring your synth, set your amp to 11, and break into the intro to Final Countdown. that'll get their attention.

 

I respect solo piano players that play background ambient music, many are so much more talented than I am, so I appreciate a skill level when I hear it, regardless of what specificaly they are playing.

 

but that sorta gigs not for me. I'm sure I make 5x that rate at my day job, and then have kids family etc etc. I play keys for fun, for an escape, I do 2-4 gigs a month. Rule 1 for me is I have to find it fun, I just don't have time to do projects just for money as the money for those projects never meets the level to get my attention.

 

of course, i'm not as good either :)

The baiting I do is purely for entertainment value. Please feel free to ignore it.
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Background music is how I make a good living, and I've come to prefer it over the years.

 

I'm full time at the two Bellagio piano lounges in Las Vegas, and do a large number of corporate parties here as well.

 

I would never presume to tell any player how they should make their living, but if you do accept a gig that is clearly NOT a a concert, you owe it to the guests (they're not really an audience) . . and you owe to the host of the function who invited you (the client who is paying) to perform as you've been hired.

 

If you want to excel at background music gigs, (and you should if you accept them) - - I suggest you set aside some of the comments above which say things like you should "play for yourself" . .. or "try new chords" . . . or "use the opportunity to practice" . . . and focus in on the reason someone has paid you money.

 

It starts with turning your attention away from yourself, and toward the desire of the host of the event/club, and thinking about the guests - - their comfort, and their overall experience. At a gig,these things are more important than our personal musical goals.

 

For background music gigs, you want to play tunes that are familiar to your audience, at a volume where they can both converse, and tune in/out of the music at their pleasure.

 

Use my 80/80/80 rule - - 80% of your tunes should be familiar to at least 80% of the people, 80% of the time.

 

Concerts and background music gigs are almost the opposite in certain ways - - at a concert, the artist invites the audience, determines the repertoire, controls the volume. At a gig, the audience invites the artist, determines the repertoire, and determines the volume.

 

At a concert, dynamics, variety, and breaking new musical ground, and musical drama are needed to keep the interest of the audience. At a gig, there is no audience - - they are guests at an event. Dynamics, variety, new musical ground, and musical drama call too much attention to themselves at the expensive of the primary purpose of the event.

 

For all who are forlorn because the "people aren't listening," all I can say is this: DUH! At a concert, the primary activity is listening to music. At a gig, the primary activity is human socializing. They are tuning in and tuning out when they want. That's their right.

 

At a gig you are there for them. They are not there for you.

 

Again . . I'm not saying you "should" accept background music gigs. If the things I'm saying here turn your stomach, don't take those gigs.

 

If you want to do them . . or need to do them .. . you might as well get good at it. Think about what I've said here.

 

 

 

I agree. What's your set list? 80% is very high. It seems to me that ages by decades seem to recognize different songs. I tend to play song for the older folks (Gerswhin, Berlin, Rodgers & Hart, Jerome Kern, Sinatra, Beatles, Billy and Elton.)

 Find 660 of my jazz piano arrangements of standards for educational purposes and tutorials at www.Patreon.com/HarryLikas Harry was the Technical Editor of Mark Levine's "The Jazz Theory Book" and helped develop "The Jazz Piano Book."

 

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There is a big part of me that greatly admires the "piano bar" pianist whenever I come across one. He (almost always a he) reads better than I do, does more things well than I do, gets a bit of a chance to stretch and show some chops sometimes--often in ways better than I could--seems way more versatile than I'll ever be, and has the additional benefit of getting to show up without hauling equipment, play for two hours, and collect $ for it. Drunk women like them, alcoholics appreciate them. What's the downside?

 

And yet, after doing it for a year long ago, I wouldn't do it again for all the money in the world. Never. Some part of me dies when I think about it. No idea why, but it's true.

Now out! "Mind the Gap," a 24-song album of new material.
www.joshweinstein.com

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I wouldn't do it again for all the money in the world. Never. Some part of me dies when I think about it. No idea why, but it's true.

 

I won't say never but I agree with this. It's just not fun. I'm a jammin, rockin, jazz/rock/blues type of player. On a jazz gig, I'm not into Misty, Embraceable, Ipanema or any of those schmaltzy old tunes even though I've played them for years and will again if the leader calls it. I like doing stuff like Mr. Magic, Tune 88, Mambo For Trajid, Blue Rondo, Watersign, things like that. I'm not about to create the tracks and do Mambo in some little lounge.

 

Bob

Hammond SK1, Mojo 61, Kurzweil PC3, Korg Pa3x, Roland FA06, Band in a Box, Real Band, Studio One, too much stuff...
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I played in bands for over 30 years. Generally, I was good at it and it came easily to me. Now (in large part because of time restrictions from a job and a toddler), I'm trying to get somewhere as a solo pianist and it's probably the hardest thing I've ever done in music. But I love the challenge.

 

The sad thing is that the solo pianist is going the way of the Dodo bird. It's just not the right era to be trying to be a performer this way. Sure, the elite will find work, but for guys like me -- good but not great -- we might as well be trying to find work as chimney sweeps. It's not like days of yore when piano players were a common sight.

Gigging: Crumar Mojo 61, Hammond SKPro

Home: Vintage Vibe 64

 

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I did occasional pianobar jobs.

Way too much (as far as artistry is concerned) or way too little (because they're the best money-for-effort ratio in the market)

 

Anyway, I fully support raddtunes' view.

It's true, it will probably be boring, and frustrating, and you're a part of the background and not "the show".

But you're being paid to be a professional and perform a service (which is not to rehearse in public), if you don't like the job, do what you'd do with any other unwanted/unpleasant job: turn it down and look for something better.

 

And yes, it's true somebody is always listening, and you never know who could be in the audience.

 

I have a funny story about this: early nineties, my uncle was doing pianobar stuff in a low-key restaurant in the countryside of rural, unfashionable north-eastern Italy (definitely not Milan or Rome). Working day, around 10pm, quiet evening. Most of the guests had already finished their dinner and left, restaurant was almost empty.

 

A bunch of guys come in and ask for dinner: they speak English which is quite unusual, but they look like truck drivers: in a hurry, sweaty, dirty, noisy.

My uncle thinks "Oh gosh, look the kind of people we get. Do I have to play for THESE? I should already have packed and left".

 

Anyway he goes on doing some light pop music, and notices that the guys are listening, even tapping and singing along. One of them also looks somewhat familiar...

 

After a while this guy stands and gives a thumbs-up, my uncle suddenly recognizes him, and realizes he was playing to a table of Sting, Vinnie Colaiuta, David Sancious, Dominic Miller...

There was a date of the Soul Cages tour nearby, and the band had just finished setting up and doing rehearsal's for the next day's gig!

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A bunch of guys come in and ask for dinner: they speak English which is quite unusual, but they look like truck drivers: in a hurry, sweaty, dirty, noisy.

My uncle thinks "Oh gosh, look the kind of people we get. Do I have to play for THESE? I should already have packed and left".

 

 

My father was a truck driver.

 

You got a problem with that?

 

 

"Music expresses that which cannot be put into words and that which cannot remain silent." - Victor Hugo
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My father was a truck driver.

 

You got a problem with that?

 

of course not.

They were just not the typical patrons of that kind of place: imagine a small restaurant in the countryside, usually gets families or couples, not workers... and surely not that late at night and not english-speaking ;)

 

No offence meant, sorry if it could be misinterpreted!

:)

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My father was a truck driver.

 

You got a problem with that?

 

of course not.

They were just not the typical patrons of that kind of place: imagine a small restaurant in the countryside, usually gets families or couples, not workers... and surely not that late at night and not english-speaking ;)

 

No offence meant, sorry if it could be misinterpreted!

:)

 

:laugh: You didn't offend, Spider. I was messin' with ya.

 

Dad drove a truck after WWII. Back then (1945) all of those veterans were trying to get back on their feet, establish families, and get on with life as they knew it before the war.

 

Driving a truck isn't easy. And he didn't want to work for someone else. So he started a business hauling textiles from NC to NYC. It grew and prospered.

 

I worked there during high school and after college.

 

When I first started I was thirteen or so, and I was sure those drivers were mean and ornery.

 

Boy was I wrong!

 

It turned out that the drivers - every one of them - were great guys and dedicated professionals.

 

I don't know the details, but I believe quite a few of them had a girlfriend in each town they visited up and down the East coast of the USA! :blush:

 

-----

 

Back on topic...

 

I've played quite a few gigs where I was the wallpaper - mostly in college. I always gave it my best shot because I figured that there were people in the audience who could blow me away with their musical abilities (music majors) and I was just doing this on the side. I was majoring in business.

 

It was fun, but I agree with the guys here. It can get tedious. When you feel that it's run its course, it's time to move to another venue or try something else.

 

Thanks for giving me an opportunity to ramble, Spider! :)

 

Tom

 

 

 

"Music expresses that which cannot be put into words and that which cannot remain silent." - Victor Hugo
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I've enjoyed reading everyone's stories, but I've also seen terms thrown around in this thread describing completely different things. There's a big difference between playing dinner piano in a restaurant or private event and playing piano bars - where you're singing, doing light conversation, fielding requests, and really are the center of attention in a room.

 

I've done 'em both. Practically the only thing they have in common is a piano.

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Personally I understand their boredom. Talented chops are nothing new in the world of social media we live in.

I only suggest pounding out something with a groove.

 

Even stealing the intro to Low Spark of High Heeled Boys is a single note used to establish a groove, after that you can pretty much do anything.

 

And remember when the Entertainment Director asks how you did you can suck, it doesn't matter.

Just tip everyone for water, and that basically translates into he was great....

 

Magnus C350 + FMR RNP + Realistic Unisphere Mic
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Short synopsis of a successful hotel gig:

 

When several patrons insist on tipping you, even though you have intentionally not left a tip jar out.

 

Gotta love them solo piano gigs.

 

PS, as I mentioned in that other thread - loving the CP4, SS and GK bass amp for these solo piano outings.

..
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I was on a gig where the sax player was practicing during his solo because he thought no one was listening. The trumpet player said "if he practices around people when does he play?" That really stuck with me. Even if it's a solo piano background music gig, which I've done many times, I still believe it's important to play my best and leave practice solely for the practice room.
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:laugh: You didn't offend, Spider. I was messin' with ya.

 

;)

perfectly fine with that, that's my favourite way of interacting!

 

Dad drove a truck after WWII.

...

Driving a truck isn't easy.

...

It turned out that the drivers - every one of them - were great guys and dedicated professionals.

 

yep I have the utmost respect for the so-called "humble" jobs: they're not humble at all, and many of the people doing them are deeper and more human than the "literate" high-profile guys.

My grannies were farmers in Italy after WWII: a country destroyed by a lost war. Multiple wars actually, as we also had a civil war after the collapse of Fascism, with multiple partisan units fighting for different goals... and a triple invasion of the Nazis from the North, the Yugoslavian army from the East and the Allied forces from the South.

Nice times. :rolleyes:

 

So I know what you're talking about, it feels incredible and humbling to think how these people could survive and rebuild their lives and their country, and after only two generations we give for granted luxuries such as university and safe life and vacations etc.

 

Ok, now it's MY time to excuse for the OT!!!

 

 

Thanks for giving me an opportunity to ramble, Spider! :)

 

You're more than welcome!

:thu:

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I agree. What's your set list? 80% is very high. It seems to me that ages by decades seem to recognize different songs. I tend to play song for the older folks (Gerswhin, Berlin, Rodgers & Hart, Jerome Kern, Sinatra, Beatles, Billy and Elton.)

 

My set list can best be described as "pop tunes." The most popular that are current (within the last five years), and the most popular, or biggest selling hits of the 70's through today.

 

When a pop song really has a big impact - - (Get Lucky, Happy, Viva La Vida, 1000 Miles) I make sure to learn it and play it.

 

Lots of my colleagues focus on standards and Broadway stuff more than I do.(most of them are better looking than I am so I have to do something to be competitive LOL).

 

Of course, you can never go wrong with Elton John, Billy Joel, Eagles, etc.

 

I've noticed this in my years at Bellagio - - When most guests enter a room see a piano player in a nice suit, they almost expect to hear Moon River and the songs from Phantom. I often surprise these people with songs they actually like, but wouldn't expect from a piano player.

 

You can truly distinguish yourself by playing familiar songs. With background music gigs, this isn't my opinion - it's a fact.

 

 

Here's a question for you: What do jazz standards, Broadway songs, and Country have one thing in common:

 

Answer: There are many folks out there who like one of them, and not much else. If I can do at least a few of their favorites, I'll keep them happy.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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There's a big difference between playing dinner piano in a restaurant or private event and playing piano bars - where you're singing, doing light conversation, fielding requests, and really are the center of attention in a room.

 

I've done 'em both. Practically the only thing they have in common is a piano.

 

Vocals change the whole dynamic of the gig and perception of the player probably more then anything. I've been in situations where I've done tunes I know the majority of the people aren't familiar with . Not to be messin' with them, but these are the tunes I just normally do and love.

 

If you play them in typical solo piano fashion-- melody, maybe a chorus of light blowing and melody out, you're more then likely to elicit a lukewarm to no response.

But quite often (when I'm hired as *a piano player that sings* ) I'll sing a relatively obscure Standard like "East of the Sun" or "I'm old fashioned" and get a warm response.

Just on (hopefully) the vocal quality and delivery.

 

And yes there are so many different variations of background gigs. I know, I've done them ALL. :D

 

Some of the solo piano at private parties , at least here in LA, can be quite hip. Because you never know who might be there in attendance. If they can hear the player is happening, they are more likely to come up and introduce themselves...or even sit in for a vocal or something. :cool:

 

I generally dig most of them. But I also know many times just sonic wallpaper is the order of the night. Again I'm ok with it as long as the dough is good, you are treated with some modicum of respect , the piano's not too brutal and the hours aren't too long.

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