Musicians are unique people. Very unique. Most people who are not creative may not understand the plights of being a busy and successful artist. But if you are one of the very few that are then this article from Alex will make sense. Alexander Nathan Skolnick is an American metal and jazz guitarist who is the lead guitarist of the Bay Area thrash metal band Testament, and heads the jazz band Alex Skolnick Trio. According to a Guitar World magazine reader’s poll he is considered one of the greatest guitarists of all time as well as one of the fastest guitarists in the world. His insight and experience are reputably noted with a career spanning from 1987 to present. So his words of wisdom are something we as working musicians should heed to. Without further delay here is Alex’s 10 Things Your Favorite Musician Won’t Tell You:
I recently stumbled across a 2010 article entitled 10 Things Your Flight Attendant Won’t Tell You. Reading it, I couldn’t help but draw certain parallels. Like those flight attendants described therein, musicians – and I’d imagine actors, media personalities, athletes, authors and others in the public eye as well – not wishing to appear rude or in any way diminish the experience of the customer (or fan in our case), occasionally hold back some of what we’re really thinking.
Don’t get me wrong – I and most musicians I know immensely enjoy meeting our fans. We’re grateful for the interactions, whether up close or afar, via stage or social media. We’re well aware of the fact that without our fans we’d be nothing, or more literally, artists performing to empty rooms (which, unless you’re a militant purist, seriously takes the fun away). Many of us, myself included, have never lost touch with how it feels to be a fan.
So it is in this spirit of fan appreciation, respect and total understanding, not to mention a grain of salt – (humor is a virtue, folks) – that I offer the following list, triggered by the aforementioned article, in hopes of a better musician/fan experience for all:
1. Know how to work your camera
Unless we’re disheveled, in a huge hurry or it’s otherwise not the right time, we’re usually pleased that you’d like your picture taken with us and happy to oblige. But there’s nothing more awkward than you and I posing in front of your camera while you or your friend struggles, squints and kvetches (to use an old Yiddish term for “complains”) like my grandpa when he couldn’t figure out how to work his VCR. This is especially true if we’re in a crowd and other fans – patiently waiting their turn – are having to witness this bumbling and fumbling. And if I’m being rushed into a vehicle or venue, this could cost someone else the chance at a photo. These days, your camera resides in your phone, so it’s with you at all times – take the time to learn how to work the thing.
2. Remove the cap from your pen
I take back what I said above. There is one thing more awkward and demeaning than standing in a pose trying to hold a smile during failed attempts at figuring out how to work your camera, and that’s being handed a pen with the cap on so tight, you might as well be asking me to open a new jar of pickles. Seriously, would it kill you to just uncap the thing? Otherwise, I look ridiculous wrestling with your pen in front of a crowd of fans who – rightfully so – will be hard pressed to not hold back chuckles (and who hopefully know better and have their pens uncapped and ready).
3. Don’t bring your entire album collection to be signed
At concerts and other appearances, we’re usually more than happy to sign a disc or two, perhaps a couple more if there’s time… but not ALL your albums! The same with magazines, posters and other items – if you bring so much that you could set up shop, open up your own store on the spot, it’s too much. It’s very cool that you collect all our stuff (seriously)- but how about just bringing a few items at a time? You have to consider our usually very tight schedule and the fact others may be waiting; isn’t it better that a couple dozen people can each get a signature than you get one on every one or your albums in every format- record, CD and cassette? Again we’re more than happy to provide an autograph for you but who said anything about underwriting an EBay auction?
4. If you’re trying to catch a pick or other item at a concert, show some tact
During shows, There are a few “throwing moments” where we might channel our inner softball pitcher, tossing items (guitar picks, drum sticks, setlists etc). At these intervals, pointing, waving, signaling and otherwise trying to get our attention is totally fine. But when right out of the gate, from the moment the lights go down, all you do is flail your arms, point at your fingers and constantly motion for us to throw you a pick – it’s pretty lame. Even more so is the guy who does nothing during the entire show except point to a homemade sign (“PICK PLEASE!!”) as though he’s a driver attempting to locate his passenger at the airport. Here’s a secret: achieving a pick is a bit like having “game” in the dating scene: if you appear desperate and clingy, it has an adverse affect. Be polite and cool about it, pay attention to the music and only gesture when its appropriate; that way you’ll be the one we’ll try throw the pick to.
5. Online etiquette is essential
A. Don’t flood our feeds. Translation: avoid constant barrages of replies to our public Tweets, FB messages, comments, etc. We value crowd engagement; we wish to receive responses from as many of you as possible (minus haters, of course). But posting too many comments in too many places too quickly is a turn off. Think of it his way: a few relevant, constructive comments once in a blue moon makes us want to hear from you more often. But flooding our social media feeds makes us wish to take literally the words of a great British band (Iron Maiden) and run to the hills.
B. Reply accordingly, not overwhelmingly. If we Tweet back to you, don’t reply with ten Tweets. If we answer your comment with one or two sentences, don’t respond with several pages. And if we answer an email with a paragraph or two, don’t send us a massive missive whose size rivals the unabridged version of Moby Dick (or its subject).
C. Our public posts are directed towards everyone. Don’t reply to them as though they’re written just for you (they’re not). And don’t take them personally (that includes this post).
6. Don’t hand us things unsolicited
If your band is good, we’ll hear about you eventually; meanwhile, there’s nothing we can do to help, sorry (if someone we trust in the industry recommends your music, we’ll probably check it out, but there isn’t time to filter through the sea of demo CDs by newcomers). And if you’re someone of the opposite sex, don’t slip us your phone number with a sideways glance; should one of us be interested in you socially, we’ll make that clear or send someone over to relay the message – otherwise, it’s safe to assume we’re not.
7. Don’t stare at us as though we’re not human. (News Flash: We Are)
A popular young fiction writer, Maureen Johnson, shares the following words: “‘There’s a fine line between good eye contact and the piercing stare of a psychopath.” Johnson, whose Twitter account boasts that she’s “on the wrong side of it,” is using self-deprecating humor. You, on the other hand, do not want to be on the wrong side of that line. Appreciating our work is wonderful; obsessive worshiping is not. Just talk to us like we’re people and try not to stare too hard, especially once we’ve finished our conversation.
8. Be courteous to us and fellow fans when we meet – don’t interrupt and/or talk our ears off
We realize it can be overwhelming to meet, especially in a charged atmosphere full of other fans trying to edge their way in. Whatever the situation – meet & greet, chance encounter, party – as soon as you’ve had your interaction, however brief (even if it is just “hello”), please allow us to move on to another person. Don’t ramble incessantly, don’t follow, don’t hover and by all means, don’t butt into the next conversation (you wouldn’t like it if someone did that to you, right?). Those who practice respectful courtesy are the ones we tend to remember and hope to speak more to in the future.
9. There is nothing fun about interacting with someone who is 100% shitfaced drunk
Are you listening Europe? Not that this doesn’t occasionally happen in the US, but it seems that Europe (Scandinavia in particular), suffers from an epidemic of fans who go to shows, drink all day long and end up barely coherent – slurring, mumbling, repeating themselves, talking over others and when we meet, engaging in “conversations” like this:
Drunk fan: “You (hiccup) are the greatest!”
Artist: “Thank you. It’s nice to meet..”
Drunk fan: (Louder) “NO. I mean it. YOU… are… the… greatest (hiccup)”
Artist “That’s very kind. I appreciate…”
Drunk fan: (Yelling, causing heads to turn) “YOU don’t UNDERSTAND!! (hiccup) I.. (hiccup) MEAN it!! YOU… are… the GREATEST!! (hiccup)”
This scenario goes hand in hand with unwelcome bear hugs, handshake after handshake and repeated speech. And this is before the concert even begins! Want to get shitfaced? Fine. How about doing it on your own time overnight, after the show? Try this instead: go slow during the day with just a few drinks, pace yourself, enjoy hanging out and listen to the music with semi-clear coherency. You’ll not only enjoy the music more – you may even remember the experience the next day!
10. We love you and respect you (don’t forget that); respecting these boundaries makes things better for all
It is perhaps a great irony that rock’n’roll represents a form of sonic anarchy – diametrically opposed to concepts such as rules, courtesy and etiquette. Yet certain social boundaries must exist and be respected in order for the music and scene to thrive and not fall victim to dysfunction. Intense tones, riffs, note patterns, lyrics, screams and other components of the music itself represent a few of the places where rules are meant to be thrown out. It’s best to leave the unruliness there, as a healthy outlet expressed through real guitar, air guitar or otherwise. This creative chaos we make is to be enjoyed, but not meant to apply to every other aspect of your life – your social interactions, your drinking etc. This includes your interactions with those of us who make the music. Music enriches all of our lives; we can all benefit by making the atmosphere surrounding it a little better.
Well said Alex. Great info to personalize your fans experience with comfortable limitations. As always play well and play on!