Saturday, October 13, 2007

Gather round, kids. Let Uncle Ross tell you all about life.

I’m still working on a couple of recap/update blogs for recent shows. But all this recent touring has reminded me of some stuff.

At a recent Houston show (coming in the next blog), something weird happened. They wanted an encore. I have weird feelings about encores. I have rules about such things. Long story.

So I guess this is where I let you in on “Ross King’s Rules of Performance.” Yeah, that's right, I said "Rules." This is serious business.

Have I ever done this on the blog? I don’t think so. Anyway, here they are in no particular:

Rule 1: Never play a song you wrote that day.
Reasoning: Give it some time. Play it a few times; make sure you really know how it goes and what the words are and if you even really like it. Lots of songs that are "awesome" 10 minutes after I wrote them become "what was I thinking" a few days later.

I once saw a signed, semi-famous Christian musician make this error. He'd actually written the song backstage. I heard him doing it while we were having the catered dinner (I was opening up for him). During his show, he pulled out some wadded up paper and smoothed it out on his keyboard and proceeded to stumble and stutter thru a mediocre song that could’ve been great if he’d just waited. In fact, he later released the song and it was much better. But a few hundred people paid good money to watch him "experiment" with his not-even-close-to-ready tune. It was not pretty.

***One thing that I should say here is that I'm specifically talking about "written" songs, and not those weird things that can happen in worship where something spontaneous just comes to you out the wild blue yonder of Holy Spirit land. I would never fault someone for doing that. I've done it myself a time or two. I'm talking more about giving a concert and "trying out" the song you wrote that afternoon but haven't even memorized yet.***

Rule 2: Never say things like "I'm not any good at this,” or “I don’t know why they even let me be up here.”
Reasoning: For some reason, young performers think it’s humble and cute to act like they’re no good. But here’s the thing. If you’re no good at this, what are you doing up there on stage? People are giving you their time and their ears and, sometimes, their money. Humility is good. It’s like, godly, and stuff. But honestly, if you’re a performer, you probably think you’re good enough to be up there. And if you don’t think that, then you’re not being true to your callings and convictions. Let the audience decide if you’re good.

Rule 3: When you get to the end of your allotted time (only really popular musicians have unlimited time on stage; the rest of us usually get somewhere between 30 and 90 minutes), never, ever say something like “you guys care if we do a couple more?!?”

Reasoning: You’ve just boarded the fast train to Hack City. Do more songs or don’t (and if your agreed-upon time is up, don’t), but don’t ask the audience what they think. Because here’s what happens when you do, especially when you’re performing for Christians: the nerds in the front 2 rows will cheer, because they like everything. They go to Carman shows and give weepy hi-fives during “The Champion.” They think the gray-pony-tailed lead guitarist for their church band is “the best guitarist EVER!!!” They clap (on 1 and 3) their way thru every slow song that you play. The are not discerning.

The rest of the audience, torn between honesty and niceness, choose niceness and join in on the cheering, though with much less excitement. Nobody ever yells out, “No, we’d rather you didn't play any more songs.” That would be funny.

The point is that you’re never going to be able to count on an honest answer if you throw out that question. So the safe bet is to count on…

Rule 4: When in doubt, always leave them wanting more.
Reasoning: It’s obvious, I think. If you wear people out with too much of a good thing, you think they’re going to go buy a CD? Nope. They’re heard enough. But if you leave them wanting more, they’ll probably go pay for the “more” with their own money.

Rule 5: Encores are tricky. Use extreme caution.
Reasoning: This one probably seems especially silly. I mean, what could be wrong with encores? Allow me to explain. You ever waited to wash your car because you’re pretty sure it’s going to rain, and then it doesn’t rain, but it keeps looking, day after day, like it’s going to rain, so you just keep waiting, and your car just keeps getting nastier and cruddier?

It goes the other way, too.

Sometimes you’re totally sure that it’s not going to rain, so you wash your car and give it the royal treatment. Then of course it rains, right? Encores are kind of like that. If you plan your song list around the assurance of an encore, you won’t get asked to do one. Maybe you’re thinking, “big deal,” “so what?” That’s because you’ve never had to plan for an encore, o foolish child.

What are you supposed to play in an encore? YOUR BEST SONG, that’s what. So what if you save that BEST SONG for an encore, and then nobody asks for one?

It goes the other way, too.

What if you assume that there will be no encore, so you play all your good songs, including YOUR BEST ONE, and then they ask for an encore? What are you supposed to play now? Some B-side, anti-climactic dribble that wasn’t even good enough to fit into your song list? I don’t think so.

So here’s the safe bet (and this is really the kind of info that you ought to have to pay for). Play all your best songs, except the “odd” ones (for example, a love song about your spouse, or a song about your family or your kids or something; maybe even a really specific song or weirdly metaphorical song; or even a funny or silly song that usually makes people laugh but doesn’t fit that well into a really “spiritual” serious concert). These kinds of songs don’t usually fit into the set all that well, anyway.

Then, if they ask for an encore, you can be like, “well, I pretty much played everything that I came here to play, and I never really assume that I’m going to get asked to do an encore…” (which is totally true, and actually sounds really humble, cause it is) "… but if you guys really want another one, here’s one I wrote about my adopted boys.” I mean, genius, right? The crowd gets a peek into the more personal “you,” and everybody’s happy. And if they don’t ask for an encore, nobody loses anything.

So, yeah, encores. I’ll explain more in a day or two. I’m almost finished with that blog.



Johnny! said...

In my old band, we never did encores. We made them impossible by breaking strings and bass drum heads.

One of the best things a performer can do about that is...

Lance said...

My thought is this... your concert rules should be codified into some sort of "concert law"... enforced by a governing committee that has the authority to revoke the touring license of offending artists.

An addendum to the rules:

Never say, "I wrote this song and it goes a little something like this" WHY WOULDN'T IT GO EXACTLY LIKE YOU WROTE IT???

kathryn said...

I think Joe's group always was asked to do encores because the audience was entirely made up of those Christian nerds in the front rows of your concerts (think about the type of people who listen to Christian a cappella music... people like Joe and I).

My (symphonic) band director at A&M once solved that whole problem by ending a concert with Stars and Stripes Forever and having Corps guys in uniform march in with US and Texas flags. That ensured that every person was standing up and clapping (with patriotic vigor) when we finished => automatic encore.

If you need a flag-bearer, give us a call.

Alex Burdine said...

More Ross King Rules:

Rule #8 - Practice? Ross King does not "practice"

Rule #15 - Farts are always funny jokes, but never funny realities

Rule #23 - A Hand Shake and a "Thanks Man" isn't as nice as it sounds.

Rule #25 - Sense of Humor Mandatory: i.e. if you don't "get" Christopher Guest films, you need not apply.

rk said...

Rule #11: tell Brady to leave Alex alone.

Rule #16: what happens in Lancaster County, PA, stays in Lancaster County, PA.

Rule #20: Don't do drugs.

Todd Wright said...

For my encores, I try to do Ross King songs. Trust me, that adoption song plays well better for Ross that it does for me.