I am not a TV

Have you ever been in a nice restaurant and attempted to have a conversation with your dining companion but couldn’t because the table next to you was so loud? Have you ever tried to give an important presentation at work, only to have two co-workers busy with their own conversation? That’s what I feel like when I’m on stage performing my music and the crowd is so loud I can’t hear my guitar.

Mostly I’ve played to wonderful audiences at coffeehouses, colleges and in concert halls but there are those gigs, mostly in bars, that make me want to throw my guitar across the room. I once stopped a performance and stated bluntly, “I am NOT a TV” and fortunately, the fierce drag queen who was running my sound came over his mike and said “Listen up! She’s working hard up there.” The crowd only quieted for a song or two, though.

Another time an audience member had a very loud cell phone conversation though three of my songs as the rest of the crowd strained to hear me. I put my guitar down, walked into the audience and asked with a smile, “Who are you talking with?” She cheerfully told me and asked if I wanted to talk with them. I replied, “Sure,” then calmly said into the phone, “She can’t talk anymore; she’s listening to live music.” Then I slapped the phone shut and handed it back to a very surprised woman.

I spend hours writing each song and preparing for a performance. I sometimes drive for miles to get to a gig. I spend thousands of dollars on equipment, recording and promotion. I don’t want a few jerks to ruin it for me and for the folks who want to hear what I’m doing.

I don’t sell many CDs and downloads after a gig in a noisy bar. It’s not because I stunk up the place; people aren’t invested in what I’m doing because they can’t hear it well. When I play for a listening crowd, I sell a lot of CDs and the audience walks away smiling. They remember my performance. They’ll support that venue and my concerts again.

Loud dance bands doing covers or solo instrumentalists are sometimes different. They are meant to be that booty driving beat in a rowdy bar or that soothing music in the background at a quiet party. I write and perform original songs. You’ll miss the jokes, the emotions and the other subtleties if you’re busy yelling at your friend across the bar.

Next time you come to a show, use what your mama taught you. If you want to talk, go into another room. If you want to hear the music, listen quietly and encourage those around you to do the same. The rest of the audience will thank you. Me too.


Thank you for reading my rant. Writing it saved me hundreds of dollars in therapy bills.

Tell me about a time you were angry at a concert crowd, whether as a performer or an audience member. I’m happy to save you some money on therapy too.

About jamiebobamie

Musician - teacher - writer - gets bored easily. I write an almost-weekly blog that includes true stories gathered from 20-plus years of touring, how-to articles for musicians and profiles of performers. Also, I love dark chocolate, I can play "Brown Eyed Girl" behind my head, and I twirl the baton badly.
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30 Responses to I am not a TV

  1. mefoley says:

    OH, yes. What we need I think is to encourage the audience members to ask people to be quieter so that the performer(s) don’t have to.

    Worst time for me was when we’d driven all the way from Kentucky to Canada to the Stratford, Ontario, Shakespeare festival (and the tickets to the plays weren’t cheap) and as the curtains opened on the three witches, the guy next to me started reciting along with them “When shall we three meet again, in thunder, lightning or in rain?” Fortunately he ran out of lines he new before I recovered my composure enough to smack him.

    No, that wasn’t the worst. Okay, this is slightly tangential, but the worst was a Jethro Tull concert where the guy next to me turned out to be one of those primates who has to make noise enough to show the other apes that HE is THERE; he gave out one of those quite-literally ear piercing whistles and permanently damaged my hearing on that side.

    Okay, that’s totally different. I’ll shut up. Except to say that my worst experience from the performers’ perspective was being hired for a private party and, during part of the event, a couple just in front of me was kissing and groping and practically coupling sexually right in front of me, and my girl-with-a-guitar singer-songwriter routine couldn’t compete with that for audience attention.

    • jamiebobamie says:

      Yes, it really helps when audience members help out. I hate to be the police, I’d rather be the entertainment.

      I think I’ve sat next to that same guy only it was a Jerry Jeff Walker concert. Actually, I think it was everyone at that concert. I left before it was over.

      Funny about the couple in front of you. Well, maybe not funny at the time. 🙂 Not the same thing but it reminds me of the time I did a house concert and a woman laid on the floor right in front of me (and in the middle of the room) then pulled out her breast and fed her baby. I don’t have an issue about breast feeding in public – that’s what that body part is for – however, every eye in the room was on her through several of my songs. She couldn’t sit on the couch? After she finished feeding junior, she started eyeballing the diaper bag and I thought NO! Fortunately, she decided to take him in the next room to change him.

  2. Melissa says:

    I had to smile. It is one of the “natures of the beast” I guess, to get unruly idiots in a crowd. I was doing “okay” one night, with a small group of knuckleheads, right in front og my taling louder than the amped guitar. Finally, between songs, I introduced the enxt song and aded, as subtlely as I could, “You might actually want to listen to the lyrics on this one,” and some other people in the room chuckled. Pretty much anything can be said with a big stupid grin on my face!

  3. Excellent rant. I concur 100%! It is amazing in this time that some people don’t get it.

  4. Christine Martucci says:

    I notice when I play places like bars..clubs..I get the same talkers..it is a social environment, and I am just back ground music..it sux..but when I do shows in a listening environment, such as a coffee house or a theater, people paid to see me perform..TOTALLY different vibe, the room is quiet, when you are an entertainer in a bar..forget it, you might as well get used to being the TV..so I usullay like, have conversations with the people who are listening.. and of course crack a lot of jokes, I wonder if I dropped dead on stage would anyone notice!! LOL Just kidding..womens night is even worse, hate to say it but those girls can talk!! Cheese and Crackers!
    But when I headline a concert venue Then it is worth all the BS I get for doing the Noisy bar venues..bar venues are good cuase I paid and everyone who was listening comes back and brings more friends..the talkers will never go away…so maybe we should just get bean bags and throw them at them..HA!!Prolly wouldnt even notice.

    • jamiebobamie says:

      They might not notice. One time I had a table of people noisily playing cards right in front of the stage. I looked directly at them and dryly joked, “It’s so nice when family comes,” then dedicated a mean song to them. They didn’t even notice but everyone else laughed.

    • jamiebobamie says:

      Some of my noisiest crowds have been in women’s bars. I don’t get it either.

  5. Diane McAlpin says:

    I absolutely agree; people who talk through Jamie’s shows should be shot (BTW: I’m planning to become a sniper when my research gig ends). But what about the performer that does not reach Jamie’s level of excellence??

    Speaking as a non-musical Neanderthal (is this redundant?)…. Several years ago I met with some friends at a coffee house that occasionally hosted local talent. One night the ‘talent’ was a young man who sang very long ballads which he sandwiched between music history lessons. Ah, the joy of a college town. Our fun Friday evening turned interminable, as we stared miserably across the table at each other waiting for him to finish. I think he sang everything in his repertoire twice. In the middle of a particularly painful monologue (concerning his musical fusion of Celtic and Spanish influences in a post-modern framework- yeah, it was like that) , we simply left. I’m sure he went on to be an amazingly talented, albeit tortured, CPA.

    • jamiebobamie says:

      I’m so sorry, Diane. Yeah, not all musicians are Eric Clapton or even his garbage man. In your shoes I would’ve complained to the management. Could be they just hired their brother-in-law ’cause he works for beer.

    • mefoley says:

      Since I wasn’t actually *there* and get the benefit of hearing you tell the tale…that’s hysterical!

  6. Robin Renee says:

    Of course, I have been through this, too. I am so impressed, Jamie, at your confidence in telling people to shut the f— up, in whatever subtle or not-so-subtle way. Sometimes I have been guilty of letting the talking get to me so I don’t always respond in a way to turn the situation around as quickly as I could.

    The other issue this brings up for me, though, is how can I improve myself as a performer? There are artists out there for whom an audience will hang on every word. There are artists for whom people will come out in any weather and at any time of year (I sometimes get the “We don’t want to book you on this date because it’s close to a holiday… it’s summer and people will be at the beach, etc.” routine). I know that the not paying attention thing can happen at just about any level, but I also know that I want to find ways to make the emotional connections that can rise above it as much as possible. I am very much still learning.

    … and talk about the draw of the TV… I was once told on short notice that the time of my show would have to change because it had been scheduled at the same time that The L Word was on. They were going to just give me a short set beforehand, otherwise I could wait until the show was over (way past when the people I knew were coming had expected my gig to start). In this case, I was able to just tell the club to forget it!

    • jamiebobamie says:

      Speaking of the TV and such, I have learned not to schedule anything on Super Bowl weekend. Just because I’m not a sports fan doesn’t mean my fans aren’t.

      If your audience looks a little inattentive, that’s another thing. It helps to record myself so I can be more objective about the performance.

      Some performers garner the attention because people expect a big name performer to be good.

    • mefoley says:

      I am so impressed, Jamie, at your confidence

      Ain’t it the truth? But I think that’s what separates the sheep from the goats. You have to have it. That kind of confidance that says “I’m here, I’m good, and I’m worth listening to” is what I lack and that lack is the main reason I’m not in Jamie’s line of work.

      Thank goodness we’ve got Jamie!

  7. Pete says:

    I suppose it depends on the kind of gig and the kind of venue. I cut my teeth as a performer in dive bars in New Orleans, and I’ve always seen my role as to provide an atmosphere where people can be social, meet each other, possibly get lucky, etc. It’s my job as a performer to COMMAND their attention in some way, whether by being brazenly tasteless and funny or by playing so softly you can hear a pin drop. I don’t believe in shushing the crowd. Besides it will just annoy them unless you’ve already managed to win their sympathy.

  8. Bill Stella says:

    It really drives me bugfuck crazy, as an *audience* member, when I feel I have to be *the one* to stand up to others for screwing up the experience of listening to music. Bars are one thing, I’m not trying to impose an unrealistic environment on a place that’s typically noisy. And I’ve gotten used to all kinds of partying behaviors. It’s people in theaters who think their version of a good time is an excuse for ignoring the fact that most people around them are not interested in their shouted instructions — mid-song — for what to play next, their shouts to distant friends in the audience, and now their camera-phone entitlement to all sight-lines that drive me beyond distraction. Worse are the small events, where among 10-100 people, really, am I the only person willing to “risk” being seen as a “bad guy” for asking people to please shut up? I think *mefoley* made the point in their first comment. In settings like that, when most of the people there came to hear the performer, I don’t think it’s unreasonable for any audience member to engage clear offenders early with a mild scolding without being judged impatient or rude oneself, and I wish I wasn’t the one who always comes to that conclusion first.

  9. kama Linden says:

    I remember doing a gig at borders in cali. Two people asked me to keep it down because they were trying to have a conversation. The manager also said “these people are trying to have a conversation…could you play softer”…I’m like “are they buying anything? Why do you care”. “Well, we can hear you”. According to the sign with my lovely picture o
    n the poster it said ” kama Linden performs at borders at 8pm” not “two cheap assholes who aren’t buying any books trying to have a conversation”.

    I think when something is free it is not as appreciated as places where I am paid. Especially the types of places where people have headphones, books, and macbooks.

    I’ll take the roudy paid bar over the little white headphones and the “we’re trying to have a conversation” folk any day.

    The roudy folk will make requests and kibbitz with me. I like response. And if they get roo loud, I can blast my pa system.

  10. I learned over the years while performing that bars are socializing places and music is secondary for many people in them. I book my band in bars and I play solo in the listening rooms where people are enjoying the songs and lyrics. Restaurants are the same way. Most are enjoying their food and conversation and time with friends to talk and that just comes with the territory. Unless it is a listening dinner theatre type place like Bluebird Cafe in Nashville or Eddies Attic in Atlanta. They announce from the stage to shut off phones and do not talk during performances. Food is secondary.

    • jamiebobamie says:

      I’ve played in bars that were set up well for listening to music so when I get a gig in one where they charge a good sized cover or they have a separate room just for the music, I assume they’re not expecting Melissa Etheridge covers. Same for restaurants. I do my research. If they want background music I don’t do the gig.

      I totally get it that at some bars the patrons are going to be rowdy. I don’t begrudge them a good time. I just don’t want to play for them.

  11. Amelia Blake says:

    I play bars and restaurants to pay the bills; on some rare occasions I actually get to play to some listening audiences and I have to say that after being used to being ignored, people sitting there listening to me makes me mighty nervous!

    The worst are the people who stand directly in front of me (while waiting to be seated, for instance) and bump into my mike, or talk so loud that my mike picks it up. To them I’m totally invisible. Even if I’m not enjoying the music, I can’t imagine treating a performer as though they’re invisible. It amazes me how many people don’t even turn their heads in my direction when they hear live music.

    On the other hand, I’ve been at shows where the performer chastised the audience (“it’s fucking hard to do what we do, we’re pouring our hearts out!”) and it was embarrassing to behold. One of them then sent his daughter out to pass the hat. I don’t want sympathy! I can’t imagine I’d enjoyed pity listeners. hehe

    Enjoying your blog very much.

    • jamiebobamie says:

      Thanks, Amelia.

      I know what you mean. Back in the 80’s I did weddings and parties with another musician. There were times that we’d get requests for songs we’d already done, some just a few minutes before. Why some of them hired live music is beyond me. A radio would have garnered as much notice.

      Playing bars and restaurants are a good thing for many musicians, though, and I certainly don’t begrudge anyone trying to make a living in this hard business.

      I don’t go for pity parties either – it really does depend on the circumstances. If you’ve paid a decent cover and the whole room is quiet except your table, pay attention. That’s when I start slapping cell phones shut. 🙂

      Glad you’re enjoying the blog. Please send your friends.

  12. Jo Peterson says:

    Amen to all of the above! I crave the Listening Room environments, but sometimes even there, I am *the one* who has to say STFU! My partner and I have started carrying a popsicle stick with STFU written on it. We bring one with us every time we see live music, and, when it is a listening room situation, I will not hesitate to whip it out! If the loudmouth doesn’t understand what STFU means, they are quiet while trying to figure it out, and someone near them ultimately tells them what it means. It works…and their expression (as well as their friends who helped them figure it out) is always priceless! I find it less confrontational and dangerous than verbally saying it nicely.

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