It's been a long time since I wrote a blog posting, and one of my new year's resolutions is to get back to blogging on a more regular basis. For my first one this year, I'd like to reflect on two recent gigs I had in two different bands. In one band, I play bass for most of our songs and sing harmony vocals in many of them as well. I also played sax in 4 songs at our early December gig as well as a little bit of keyboard. In the other band I play saxophone exclusively, though I do sing a little bit of background vocals and have been known to pick up a tambourine or hit the congas occasionally. The bands both play rock/pop songs, though the first one I mentioned is mostly guitar based rock from the 80s (think Foreigner, U2, or The Police), while the second band deals more with 60s-80s with an overall lighter sound (think Elton John, Hall & Oates, or Neil Diamond).
If there's one thing that became abundantly clear playing two major gigs within a few weeks of each other in two different bands, it's how much variety your audiences will appreciate. Both groups play songs that the band members themselves like, but both groups also are aware of their audience's wants and needs. We both need enough faster songs to get people dancing, and we need a few ballads to let people have their slow dance. We both played some traditional songs, and we both had great success with lots of positive feedback from our audiences. People need variety in their music, just as we do in our food, our decorations, our clothes, and our television shows.
In both performances, another thing was clear. Audiences appreciate seeing a musician or singer who excels at what they are doing. There were many comments about the fabulous guitar solos, keyboard solos, sax solos, and great vocal work at both gigs. The opportunity to see an excellent singer or musician is not a daily event (or even weekly/monthly!) for most people. Sometimes I hear music on the radio today, and I find that one thing is missing. Excellent musicianship by instrumentalists is certainly not common today. We have a great focus on the singer these days, and to a lesser extent on producers. Top 40 radio is not exactly overflowing with guitar or keyboard solos, let alone any saxophone solos.
As with most things in popular music, this shift in focus is probably cyclical. I expect to see a shift back to the inclusion of the solo break in songs within a few years. All it takes is one big hit to start the trend and a few others to follow, then the shift starts to happen. I actually thought it might have started a little while ago with two sax solos from Lady Gaga and Katy Perry, but in the first case it was primarily a background riff and in the second they actually went so far as to digitize and/or autotune part of Kenny G's sax solo.
So if you've been listening to a lot of recent music, take a few minutes this week to go back to some older rock. Listen for the solos and let those musicians speak to you without using any words at all. Better yet, go listen to a local band play in a club or at a concert, and take a moment to appreciate the musicians playing live. It's worth it. If you like what you hear, approach the stage after the show and tell them you liked the show. It's worth it to do that too.