As someone who books bands for a living, I can’t believe I am going to say this. “Acts that don’t actively monitor their volume drive me nuts.”
There I said it.
Now, I am specifically speaking to the artists who perform in “background music scenarios.” Performance spaces in hotel lobbies, small bars, and restaurants that typically don’t focus on the entertainment (e.g. they don’t have a stage and dancing isn’t encouraged). In these situations, it is crucial that the artist pay careful attention to their volume as they are not the center of attention. Unfortunately, many newer performers have trouble grasping this concept and I believe that inexperience is to blame.
If you were to observe a veteran performer against a greenhorn in a similar environment, you will likely see what I mean.
Thanks to years of trial and error, veterans have been psychologically conditioned to accept the fact that they are not the focus of the room, which places them in the proper headspace to handle the gig. This comes through in everything from their song choice to their banter with customers and even how they read the room. As such, a true club pro will read a “background music” gig differently. If they see patrons leaning in too close to talk or notice the overall volume has increased. They will intuitively pull back the dynamics to restore order. The true masters will even alter their song selection choosing keys with darker…less bright characteristics such as D over E Major. Notes that don’t conflict with the timbre of the average speaking voice and thus raise the overall decibel level in the venue.
As mentioned, seasoned pros typically fair better in these situations. However, other psychological factors come into play. Artists still seeking the coveted “record deal” will have more trouble adjusting to these situations as their professional focus is to break through the noise and get noticed. As such, many have (rightfully so) adopted a mentality where they seek to command the stage and everyone’s attention. Chances are if an entertainer has more original tunes in their catalog than covers. They may be inside that headspace and the booker should enact more due diligence and proceed with caution.
A final word of warning is this. When vetting an act propositioning you for a gig. Many will say anything to earn the job and that includes telling you that they can meet any volume requirements. It is always best to look beyond their puffery, especially if you notice that they are less-experience or more focused on the original music track of their career.
As for you artists out there. Don’t be discouraged by these gigs. For one, they can supplement your career and put food on the table. They are also an excellent way for you to better your room-reading skills and ability to perform at softer volumes, thus increasing your overall dynamic control. These skills will come into play in other avenues of your career.