An actual conversation between a musician and an audience member;
Audience Member: “Play Some Johnny Cash!!!!”
Artist: “I don’t play any Johnny Cash!”
A.M.: “What!? You don’t!? You shouldn’t even have a guitar if you don’t play Johnny Cash”
*Artist finishes next song*
A.M.: “Mate, play some Johnny Cash”
This is an actual conversation between a musician mate of mine in Edinburgh (Shoutout to Ross!) and a member of the audience at one of his recent gigs. The fact of the matter is that often while we are performing live music we (very frequently) have to deal with assholes.
For the most part people are lovely. Unfortunately, however, a certain percentage of the population just haven’t learned manners. This gets exacerbated when alcohol comes into the mix, which is not an excuse, but rather a word of caution to all musicians! There are several forms of bad treatment that musicians are subjected to regularly and I’d like to share with you all some of the situations I’ve encountered (or heard of from friends). Here’s a list of ways not to treat a musician who is trying to provide you with the service of entertainment.
Here’s my list of ways not to treat musicians:
Uhhh, this song SUCKS!!!
This one is a huge pet peeve of mine. When people right in front of us nag at us and feel the need to let us know they do not like the song we are playing. We are doing our best to please everyone. Bear in mind everyone has different taste and we really are trying. We aren’t going to stop playing a song because you feel the need to have an overly verbalized negative attitude. You’d be surprised how often people get my attention and say “Stop playing this song it sucks”…lol…THANKS!
Can I play your guitar?
At least once a week I have a listener in a venue approach me asking if they can play my instrument and/or sing a song. Of course this is the discretion of the artist but I generally don’t allow people to do this. This often causes said person to get angry or aggressive towards me and that is not ok. I often hear things like “ya, you’re afraid everyone’s gonna know I’m better than you!”. That’s wrong on so many levels. This persons friend also love to give me a hard time. This is why I don’t want you to play my guitar/sing a tune:
- I don’t know you, and I don’t know how much you drank.
- If you damage my guitar or any other equipment you will just walk away after saying “sorry” (and taking no actual responsibility). Sorry doesn’t fix my instrument. I saved up and paid a lot of money for my instrument and I play music full-time. If you break it my livelihood is directly affected and I’m not willing to take that chance so that you can be self-indulgent or impress your friends. (My mate had his guitar broken by a staff member at a venue that asked to play his guitar, so be really careful lending it out). By saying no we aren’t being assholes.
- I’ve been hired by the venue to provide a certain standard of live music. When you come up and actually can’t sing or are too drunk to sing properly (or are just taking the piss) then it reflects super poorly on me, and the venue/other listeners don’t appreciate being subjected to that!
- If I let you play who else is going to want to come up and play/sing? In a room full of drunken people you can lose control of the situation. I’ve had a guy come up to play back in the day and all his mates gathered round pulling my mic/mic stand every which way, screaming into my mic, distorting the sound, and creating a terrible experience for my listeners. I felt so unprofessional. I had failed to maintain a proper standard for my audience.
- I’m hired to play and nowhere in that dynamic am I obliged to grant you access to come up and perform. I’m not being rude, I’m not scared you’re better than me, I’m just doing my job. Please respect the fact that I’m trying to get through my shift and provide my audience with a fun night of musical distraction from their everyday lives!
Hey pal can you play a song by the band “Punk Wielding Fire Pit Swell Dodgers? ….you never heard of them? Cmon play the song man!”
Uhm, sorry, I never heard of the band “Punk Wielding Fire Pit Swell Dodgers”. It’s impossible to know every song by every band ever. I try, as I’m sure most musicians do, to have a varied eclectic mix of songs. I also try to take requests where I can. That doesn’t mean it’s ok to have a go at us for not knowing a song, it isn’t personal, we just can’t play a song if we don’t know it. I’ve had the following conversation with Audience Members more times than I can count:
A.M.: “Play the song “random request” dude!”
Me: “I’m sorry, I don’t know that one”
A.M.: “C’mon man ya you do, just play it”
Me: “I can’t play it if I don’t know how to”
A.M. “Yeah you can, how do you not know that song?”
Me: “I never learned it”
A.M. “You can play it! Uhhh you suck dude” or some variation of insults designed at putting me down for not catering my performance to you and you alone.
One time I even had my life threatened. I played 2 requests for one guy and I didn’t recognize the third song request. He gave me the regular “yeah, cmon man you know it”. When I assured him I didn’t he said he was going to get his gun and shoot me. No word of a lie. He didn’t do anything but he stood in front of me staring me down as I put away my equipment after I was done performing. I wanted to deck the guy. This is a very extreme case but it is to give you some kind of idea what we deal with sometimes while trying to entertain folk. It’s a fun job but we aren’t there to take people’s abuse. To some people we are an easy target and that kind of thing isn’t cool!
I can totally grab/touch/fondle the musician, no problem there!
This one really isn’t ok.
I laugh it off sometimes as listeners approach me with their hand up waiting for a high five while I’m in the middle of playing a guitar solo. I can’t shake your hand or high five you if I’m in the middle of doing my thing as musicians need their hands to make the sound keep going. Unfortunately that is just the tip of the iceberg.
It happens to guys and girl musicians alike. We do get quite a bit of attention playing music for a crowd but some people think it’s ok to act inappropriate and behave in ways that cross the lines of what is normally considered sexual abuse. You have no right to uninvitedly touch a performer. Whether grabbing their hand, rubbing their head, or grabbing their ass. I’ve had people do all the above. I’ve had a member of a hen party try to put their hands down my pants while I was playing once.
I get it, you’re excited. But we are just normal people so stop coming up to us and grabbing us, or being creepy towards us. The same rules and social conventions of everyday life apply when you deal with us. Keep your hands to yourselves folks, my goodness.
Let’s dance!! (right into the musician knocking him/her over).
Nothing makes me see red during a performance like having dancing people forget that I’m standing there and swirling right into me. It’s happened numerous times. I try to set up my mic and stuff in as good a position as I can to give people room. If you want to dance then great but please remember that we are there.
I’ve had countless people fall into me, or knock my mic stand over (With my iPad attached it it). When this happens the microphone can smash us in the face. I’ve gotten multiple bloody lips this way and know artists that have had their front teeth chipped. If you’re dancing then for the love of everything holy, PLEASE don’t fall into us. It hurts, damages our equipment, stops the song, and is the most annoying thing ever.
Thanks for requesting an encore, but we can stop playing whenever our shift is done.
I’m always flattered when a crowd wants an encore, but sometimes people demand more even if I’ve played one, two, or three extra songs. Again, it’s super flattering but we don’t owe you it. Some musicians play 2,3 gigs a night and we get tired too. We don’t go to your place of work and insist you work past the time your shift ends. Even if we did you wouldn’t care and might tell us where to go, seeing us as the wrong doer. Why is this any different. If the musicians gives an encore they’re a class act. If they don’t thats their right. I’ve been cursed at for not continuing to play after already offering up an encore. I don’t want to stop offering encores when I’m able so please know the flip side. Appreciate when you get one and please don’t be a jerk if you don’t.
Just generally being rude to the musician
I never understood people that go out for dinner and are just upset and pissed off the whole time. Treating the wait staff terribly. Isn’t the whole point of going out to dinner to unwind and relax and share a pleasant meal together? I feel the same way about people being rude to bar staff and to musicians.
We aren’t punching bags for you to unload your verbal abuse after a tough week, or whatever the problem is. Just the other day some man drinking in front of me went around asking everyone around if they knew the song I was playing. He then walked up to me and made the “cut it out” sign with his hands saying “mate nobody knows this song, shut it down”. What a prick! It’s especially funny since I had been playing songs like Ed Sheeran’s “Shape of you” and a ton of other upbeat covers. It was incredibly rude and showed no respect. There’s many instances where people are rude like this and all musicians should know that it’s going to happen.
Let’s help the musicians out…
We want everyone to have a good time so use your proper judgement. We all know there are those people who behave terribly in public with or without alcohol. Keep an eye out for the musicians if you see them being abused. It’s an awkward spot to be in as many musicians are scared to lose a gig if they say something rude to a (deserving) customer. Not everyone is confrontational so it’s nice when other people in the vicinity have our backs.
Most people are great, as I’ve said. You always get those few who have to spoil it for everyone. It boils down to basic consideration. Yes, we chose to be live performers, but we never chose to deal with being treated like crap. If you’re going out for an evening with your friends then appreciate their company, the venue, the staff, and the musician that is working hard to make your night fun and memorable.
These are just some of the things we go through as we try to make a living as music entrepreneurs. If you have anything to add please comment below, and share this article to spread the word about proper etiquette towards musicians. Cheers.