This is a note from my friend Roland Vineyard. He has been singing and performing for quite a while. He also has been involved with booking folks for a variety of concert series, including a house concerrt series in his home.
I think folks like Ron Thomason or Roy Book Binder have extremely well-rehearsed patter, that they have taken great pains to first get the stories, then they hone them again and again to deliver them effectively. If you are not familiar with them, pick up a copy of a live show.
Here’s something. One of the things I do that you may not know about is adventure photography (I have a local show all January, in fact – a first for me) but mostly the pictures are shown to audiences as a slide show. 15-20 years ago, I did this quite a lot. Now, shooting digital, I make DVDs, add music and subtitles so they can be shown without me. Here’s where it begins to relate: if the sub-title is too long, it obscures a vital part of the image. And part of it will show on the computer but not on the 7X7′ screen. So, there is pressure to be succinct, to eliminate what does not really have to be said. I go through each show multiple times trying to shorten things and still keep them relevant.
They say the best novels are not written, but re-written. Same for patter. Plan for short attention spans; that’s why sound-bites work in politics Regular patter should not ramble on. Music on Mainstreet (summer concert series in Canajoharie, NY) has taught me that. I enjoy much patter, if it’s funny or I learn something I want to remember. But many folks out there just want us to get on with the music. Members on the committee were surprised that some folks attended the concerts by Ron (Dry Branch Fire Squad) and Roy just to hear their patter. They are the exception, I’m afraid. And there was a friend of mine, and an outstanding performer. She had a new band and we employed them. She obviously did not have enough music ready and she just rambled on and on, almost incoherently. It was the worst concert we have had, at least that I can remember. Folks even complained to us! That never happens. Then there was the only Rosalie Sorrels concert I ever went to. She talked and talked about the meaning of each song. I thought I’d die before she would start singing. But the audience seemed to expect it from her and took it better than I did.
Maybe a good way to handle this would be to time your patter. I haven’t gone that far. Last night we got in 14 songs in an hour, including patter. None were as long as 4 minutes. So maybe 10 minutes of that hour were devoted to patter. I’ll tell something about an unusual instrument, a short story about the song or the original singer, or mention how diverse a group those that recorded it were. Since we sing few that we wrote (rarely more than 2 in a night), there’s not much time devoted to the same things a songwriter might be saying. And sometimes we won’t say more than a word or two about the song. I keep it mixed up and lively as much as we can. I do that with the slides, having each one shown for it’s own interval.
Look at the audience and when eyes start to glaze or they start reading the menu or whatever, it’s time to wind it up! I’ve also seen that happen when on stage. If they are listening eagerly, then you can include more details.
Roland Vinyard (www.thebardrocks.com)