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People gush over my playing but I don't get asked back. What gives? (Read 1057 times)

Offline youngpianist

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Hello. I'm not playing any gigs now because of the pandemic. Before the pandemic, when I did play, I had a strange problem that I'm thinking about a lot now that people are getting vaccinated and everything.
Here's the problem. When I played gigs or concerts I would often get a lot of compliments from the audience. People say that they really like how I play, that it really grabbed them, it really made an impact. That's nice and everything but I don't care about that so much, I don't play to get compliments. It's just an observation that people often show enthusiasm about my playing. The problem is that they don't ever ask me back. That confuses me a lot, because since they like my playing, they should want me to come and play again right?
I don't often ask to come back because it seems needy to me. I understand that if people feel that you want it they don't want to give it to you. The few times I email them again later the same people who earlier were gushing about the experience I gave them seem reluctant to have me back.
What gives? Are there good strategies to make people more keen to ask you back? I already play well and make an impact based on the comments I get. I just don't understand what I need to do or how I need to ask to get asked back more?
Thank you for your time.

Offline dogperson

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Think critically about the venue and how you describe the musical preferences of the audience: does your selection of music fit the audience and the venue?  My uneducated guess is the audience finds you to be an excellent pianist, and enjoyed the evening but doesn’t want to hear the same type of musuc again. ‘I really enjoyed that, but that’s not really my kind of music’ may be what they are saying on the way home.

Also consider making the performance (depending on what you play) more interactive by adding s brief intro to each piece: the composer, the history, maybe an anecdote.

Just some stray thoughts.

Offline timothy42b

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The problem is that they don't ever ask me back. That confuses me a lot, because since they like my playing, they should want me to come and play again right?

That's exactly how I see it.  The only compliment I trust is if they hire me again.

Possibilities that occur to me:

You didn't play as well as you thought.  Unlikely, but you have to consider it.  Check this out on recordings.

More likely, what you played was done well but not suited to the audience - like Joshua Bell trying to busk in a subway with totally inappropriate music for that location.  If you played with a group you could check if the group got asked back. 

Third possibility.  I hesitate to bring this up but I've run into it more than a few times.  You played well, the music fit the event, but you personally are hard to work with.  There can be all sorts of reasons - you aren't friendly, you demand a lot of extra accommodations, you don't laugh at their jokes, you don't chat with the sponsor, you aren't on time, you don't stay sober, didn't dress the part, etc.  Those personal things can be just as important.

Fourth, you were great but somebody was 10% better, and now they own the job.  I lost a good gig when I moved overseas, and when I came back my replacement owned it.  Actually he's a little better than me, but until I moved away it was mine.

Fifth, they just don't have the bookings or cash available this year. 
Tim

Offline j_tour

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Fifth, they just don't have the bookings or cash available this year. 

I think this seems most likely.

Anyway, I don't know if you were playing at clubs or private parties, but club owners don't really care about the music:  drink sales!  And how far they can chisel the price down for musicians.  Ideally down to zero!

It seems overwhelmingly likely they found some sap who can play adequately but will work for a few free beers or a double sawbuck or two.  Or some kid who will just "play for exposure"!

Plus, they have friends and such who are likely pestering them (or their bartenders, or high-rolling regular patrons) for jobs, so who knows if there's any logic there at all?

Private parties?  IME those tend to be pretty sparse, for any given household.  And the "employer" is likely also pressured to give "breaks" to friends of friends and all that.

I wouldn't worry about it.

There's likely no single good explanation.
My name is Nellie, and I take pride in helping protect the children of my community through active leadership roles in my local church and in the Boy Scouts of America.  Bad word make me sad.

Online brogers70

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When I was young I played classical guitar in a restaurant. The customers loved it and told the management so a lot. And yet after a few months I got fired because I was hindering turnover - people were hanging around to listen, lingering over dessert and costing the place money. If I'd not been an insecure teenager I'd just have proposed taking more frequent breaks, but I didn't think of it, and lost a nice job.

So, yes, it may have nothing to do with you and more to do with the employer's bottom line.

Offline lostinidlewonder

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You have to get the people to like you and remember you and not only for your playing. If people don't really like you they probably will not want you back, if they are just acquainted with you and think nothing special of you you probably are not going to get asked back.
"The biggest risk in life is to take no risk at all."
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Offline timothy42b

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So, yes, it may have nothing to do with you and more to do with the employer's bottom line.

Ah, yes, I should have mentioned it.

When you are playing a gig, you are an employee.  Your purpose is to earn money for your employer, not to make art.  So if you don't, he will let you "succeed somewhere else."  But more subtly, if your attitude does not match his expectations - if you don't like thinking of yourself as "help," and it is detectable, you don't get asked back. 
Tim

Offline youngpianist

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Thanks so much for answering. I will reply to some of your comments with the reflections that came up.

Think critically about the venue and how you describe the musical preferences of the audience: does your selection of music fit the audience and the venue?  My uneducated guess is the audience finds you to be an excellent pianist, and enjoyed the evening but doesn’t want to hear the same type of musuc again. ‘I really enjoyed that, but that’s not really my kind of music’ may be what they are saying on the way home.

That's a possibility. I try to mix up well known pieces and less known pieces that I like. I hope to strike a good balance between giving people something they recognize and discovering a new cool piece.

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Also consider making the performance (depending on what you play) more interactive by adding s brief intro to each piece: the composer, the history, maybe an anecdote.

This is something I do! I have gotten feedback that this is very appreciated, so I always try to say something about everything I play to help ease people into the music.

You didn't play as well as you thought.  Unlikely, but you have to consider it.  Check this out on recordings.

This is an interesting thought. I often am critical of things I hear in my own recordings, but the audience still seems very pleased.

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Third possibility.  I hesitate to bring this up but I've run into it more than a few times.  You played well, the music fit the event, but you personally are hard to work with.  There can be all sorts of reasons - you aren't friendly, you demand a lot of extra accommodations, you don't laugh at their jokes, you don't chat with the sponsor, you aren't on time, you don't stay sober, didn't dress the part, etc.  Those personal things can be just as important.

It is good that you bring it up. I think I am low maintenance and don't demand anything. I ask for very little. I like talking to people, I can be a little socially anxious sometimes but I talk and try to put everyone at ease. I'm on time, sober, and dress up in a relaxed fashion. I often ruminate if it's something with my personality when I don't get asked back. I have a hard time to figure out how to determine if that is the case, since I strive to be polite, personable and easy to work with.

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Fourth, you were great but somebody was 10% better, and now they own the job.  I lost a good gig when I moved overseas, and when I came back my replacement owned it.  Actually he's a little better than me, but until I moved away it was mine.

Fifth, they just don't have the bookings or cash available this year. 

Those all sound reasonable. Thank you.

When I was young I played classical guitar in a restaurant. The customers loved it and told the management so a lot. And yet after a few months I got fired because I was hindering turnover - people were hanging around to listen, lingering over dessert and costing the place money. If I'd not been an insecure teenager I'd just have proposed taking more frequent breaks, but I didn't think of it, and lost a nice job.

So, yes, it may have nothing to do with you and more to do with the employer's bottom line.

Man that sucks :( Fortunately I have not played this type of gig, my solo gigs have all been recitals or similar and not playing background music at parties or restaurants.

You have to get the people to like you and remember you and not only for your playing. If people don't really like you they probably will not want you back, if they are just acquainted with you and think nothing special of you you probably are not going to get asked back.

Do you have advice for this? I have been told that "trying to get people to like you" is manipulative and that it is important to be yourself.


Offline dogperson

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What type of venue are you playing in and what is the demographics of the audience?  What music are you playing?   Your choices must fit the crowd and the location, not what you like and not whether the crowd has heard it before.   If you are playing in a piano bar, for instance,  your audience will not appreciate classical music, even if they normally enjoy it.

There is an independent pianist here that was able to make a decent living even during Covid.  His gift for success?  He carefully chooses his music based on the location, type of event and age of his audience.  If in a piano bar, old time favorites like  ‘piano man’ and ‘Georgia in my mind’.

Think about your choices.

Offline j_tour

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I have been told that "trying to get people to like you" is manipulative and that it is important to be yourself.

I don't know where you heard that, but in a business (even informal, cash-based, under-the-table) you're selling a product.  You're the product:  and, let's be real, looks and attitude count for a whole lot.  At least for generic club dates and so forth.

Why do you think it is that "musicians" are constantly coming out of the woodwork with spammy links to their "Ancient Medicine Secret to Play Good"?

And why is it that, IME, a lot of very well known musicians (at the level of sidemen or accompanists) seem to randomly (often) be married to their publicists or managers, at a very literal level?  No, I wont name names, but it's not really a coďncidence, IMHO.
My name is Nellie, and I take pride in helping protect the children of my community through active leadership roles in my local church and in the Boy Scouts of America.  Bad word make me sad.

Offline lostinidlewonder

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Do you have advice for this? I have been told that "trying to get people to like you" is manipulative and that it is important to be yourself.
There are plenty of books written on this issue, one of the most famous ones is this: https://images.kw.com/docs/2/1/2/212345/1285134779158_htwfaip.pdf

Learning people skills and enjoying being around other people is not being manipulative at all. I guess it all can be done in a selfish, self centered manner but people see though that, if you have a sincere desire to like other people there is no danger in that happening.
"The biggest risk in life is to take no risk at all."
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Offline lelle

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As a general philosophy of life I find more peace in not worrying about why people do what they do so much. There can be some value to it but you don't actually know for sure and there can be a thousand different reasons why you get or do not get called back, why somebody likes you or doesn't like you or seem like they doesn't like you while in reality they like you etc etc

You can only really control how you show up. Do you have good intentions, did you do your best? If yes, I think you are fine. I mean, what else can you do?

Offline dogperson

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As a general philosophy of life I find more peace in not worrying about why people do what they do so much. There can be some value to it but you don't actually know for sure and there can be a thousand different reasons why you get or do not get called back, why somebody likes you or doesn't like you or seem like they doesn't like you while in reality they like you etc etc

You can only really control how you show up. Do you have good intentions, did you do your best? If yes, I think you are fine. I mean, what else can you do?


I agree with this for a seasoned performer , who has a long history of being invited back, so they know they have thought about what it takes to be invited to play again.  I do not agree with this advice for s young musician who is just starting out.  There should be some introspection of  ‘do I need to do anything differently next time?’  There May or may not be, but it should be thoughtfully considered. Doing your best with good intentions may not be enough for a repeat invitation.  The performance may not need to be better, it may need to be different.

Offline lelle

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I agree with this for a seasoned performer , who has a long history of being invited back, so they know they have thought about what it takes to be invited to play again.  I do not agree with this advice for s young musician who is just starting out.  There should be some introspection of  ‘do I need to do anything differently next time?’  There May or may not be, but it should be thoughtfully considered. Doing your best with good intentions may not be enough for a repeat invitation.  The performance may not need to be better, it may need to be different.

In terms of how you present, I can maybe agree to that. But I would never, ever, ever want to change how I play a piece to please an audience. I feel that is incredibly shallow and almost disrespectful to the listeners. Change the repertoire I choose to play, yes; how I play the piece, no. A performance needs to be an honest reflection of you, and if your sense of "you" in your performance is so flimsy that you can choose to modify it to make somebody else happy I can't help but feel that you are being incredibly fake.

If anything, a good performance gives people permission to be who they are and feel how they feel, IMO. And that requires absolute commitment to authenticity from the performer.

Offline dogperson

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In terms of how you present, I can maybe agree to that. But I would never, ever, ever want to change how I play a piece to please an audience. I feel that is incredibly shallow and almost disrespectful to the listeners. Change the repertoire I choose to play, yes; how I play the piece, no. A performance needs to be an honest reflection of you, and if your sense of "you" in your performance is so flimsy that you can choose to modify it to make somebody else happy I can't help but feel that you are being incredibly fake.

If anything, a good performance gives people permission to be who they are and feel how they feel, IMO. And that requires absolute commitment to authenticity from the performer.


I was not discussing HOW a piece is played, and do not believe that was inferred. The OP has not provided WHERE has played and not been invited back, the type of audience and the music he chose.  I suggested that it should be considered if the type of music or the pieces were appropriate for the event.

I have seen it happen more than once where an excellent musician makes the wrong choices. But there is no reason to discuss further if the OP doesn’t share details. The

Offline j_tour

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In terms of how you present, I can maybe agree to that. But I would never, ever, ever want to change how I play a piece to please an audience. I feel that is incredibly shallow and almost disrespectful to the listeners.

I think it's clear we're on a different level of engagement.

It seems your dates are for discriminating crowds (I hope they're crowds :)), but my experience is just as an entertainer.

There are some lines I won't cross, unless I see a crisp hundy up front, such as playing a Billy Joel tune like "Piano Man."

Other point:  audiences are often inscrutable and drunk.  One minute they want "Freebird," the next minute they want a note-perfect cover of their favorite Rolling Stones tune.  Yes, even if it's solo piano or a guitar+piano duo:  they don't know WTH they're talking about. 

It's a big world out scuffling for jobs, and I'm not sure I'm up to competing with the "grind" any longer.
My name is Nellie, and I take pride in helping protect the children of my community through active leadership roles in my local church and in the Boy Scouts of America.  Bad word make me sad.

Offline lostinidlewonder

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If you are playing in a setting where you are just background music then you need to play in a different manner and choose appropriate repertoire. If you are a pianst in a restaraunt playing relaxing background music you are going to play a lot softer and choose more soothing pieces. People are not there to listen to the music it is just in the background. You can be the best musician in the world but if your music is distrubing the reason why people are there you are not doing a good job.
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