I’ve had the occasional gig where, in the past, I used to describe the music as ‘wallpaper’. Some got cross at the phrase – until I suggested that people only take note of wallpaper if it’s been badly hung or is out-of-place. But the following experience made me realise that music was also performing a different function.
I was doing a solo gig for a drinks reception before a posh dinner. I had known the organiser for some time and she was quite happy for me to set the song list and liaise with the hotel management about setting up, access to power and space. I started playing, as agreed, about 15 minutes before the first guests arrived, which gave me the opportunity to check sound levels and balance between keys and vocals. The bar staff seemed to be enjoying what they were hearing and this is, in my experience, a major part of the performance dynamic. If the staff are enjoying it, you must be doing something right.
The room filled; people conversed without any apparent awareness that music was being played. I’m happy doing this kind of gig: especially when someone walks past the keyboard just as I was launching into another tune and says to no-one in particular “Ooh, I love this song!” and carries on walking.
A superficial analysis of the dynamic surrounding that performance would suggest that the music was irrelevant to that occasion. For her and as I later discovered for others, it was definitely not the case. The musical soundscape, although ambient, was crucial.