I’ve received a few good questions from a few of my singing students these past 2 weeks. I thought this answer might benefit other students and budding performers as well. First thing to know is that if you perform in a bar or cafe or lounge, it is slightly different from running your own gig/concert. There are overlapping scenarios but for the purpose of answering the question, let’s talk about them based on each context.


How do you handle a song request if…..

a) it’s your own show

In the event you do receive you a request you don’t know well, how do you deal with it? The easiest thing to do is to replace it with a similar tune with a similar sentiment. If it’s an old song you used to do, a useful trick i’ve picked up over time is to prepare it during the break between sets, so you download the lyrics or run through your form/chart (with or without a backing band). If you aren’t familiar with the tune at all, but wish to give it a go seeing the customer/client is dying to hear you perform it, give it your own touch. Take the essence of the tune, and make it your own. That means, a lot of times, it’s not very authentic to its original recording, but you can express that honestly. However if you do get repeated requests for the same tune, my advice is to learn the tune properly, and then decide how you wish to present it. I’m big on authenticity, since being anything less than honest to your own abilities just shortchanges on personal growth.

b) you perform in somebody else’s cafe, bar or lounge

This is a little more interesting. I would usually first ask a student, on a scale of 0-10, how much of an ‘entertainer’ do you see yourself? This is a difficult question, but if you can answer it honestly, you can get to where you want to be more quickly. It also reveals how much you know about your music, your personality and how you see your future in this industry.

0: If you’re answer is 0, you would be better off just singing in your bedroom, recording Youtube videos, perhaps release an original album if you start to grow a following. Then you can work to having your own show. Busking is also another option. This could also often be a common starting point when you are not sure where you are, don’t have much to give, or just prefer to spend time building your repertoire and confidence. Good place to start. But not many stay on 0 after a while. If you continually turn down a customer’s request, you’re probably not going to be hired for very long….

1-3: You have a threshold but it’s humble at this point. You may not care to grow this threshold either. You like singing songs you enjoy and some requests from time to time, but only in your own terms, perhaps your own interpretations only. For whatever reasons, be it competency or by choice, you don’t see yourself as needing to ‘please’ a priority. You prefer to take it slow and easy. If you have a great following by now, you would probably have less of a problem playing requests. However if you are like most people growing your fanbase, it’s useful to keep a short list of popular tunes from popular artistes that get called often. A bar/cafe often has its own theme, and would give you a brief to follow. At the same time, you may have the concern that you end up like everyone else playing the same stuff like a jukebox. Strike a balance between what your boss wants and what you want out of the gig. Tip: I find it helpful when i first started out, to play the popular tunes i don’t quite fancy in a style i actually dig.

4-6: You enjoy the popular tunes, are pleasant and mildly entertaining on stage, and don’t mind sharing your own tunes every now and then. It’s nice and perhaps safe, to be lukewarm, to sustain a bar career, but most people who remain in this belt may have to make a decision in some point in their lives to decide where they want to go from here. You have the competency and the resources to go either way, but I would chance a question to my students, would you take a risk, be a songwriter of artiste level or be an entertainer/live performer with full-time professional dedication? When asked for a song, you probably could play/sing it, but how do you wish to be remembered by? Or, perhaps you are just happy to remain where you are sustaining a lifestyle of mediocrity? Personally, I find that challenges often work against your threshold and they are impetuses for growth, musically, stage-wise etc. Tip: to either i) increase the popular repertoire 2) improve your covers in terms of skill, authenticity, creativity 3) understand your following and grow your own original material that would speak to them

7-10: You are that storm trooper of cover tunes, and know their original arrangements inside out. You have a wide range of repertoire under your belt. Perhaps you write, perhaps you don’t. But it doesn’t matter. You have a following. When asked for a song, you can probably play it backwards. Your talent is definitely on stage. Most entertainers continue what they do as a lifelong career on stage, and don’t turn back on it. Tip: Industry changes so it’s important to keep up with the changing trends in music to be able to continue to be relevant. Before this contract, I hadn’t really witnessed what it takes to be an entertainer, and how there are a rare few who absolutely nail it and continue to relish it. For them it is a craft which they communicates and evokes joy, and creativity is the how-to behind it.

Understanding your music, and your crowd will help you sustain a career in the long run. You will also want to develop good relationships with your venue. It is plain stupidity if you continually work against the brief. And happier if you determine your threshold for being that entertainer from the very start.

Now that you know where you fall in the spectrum, how would you handle a song request?

Most people are somewhat entertainers and original artistes (of some degree) at once, just at different stages and different levels of commitment to either one category. In my own experience, one gives the other a training ground, offers opportunities for you to refine your stage persona, your music, your musical abilities/skills, ….and the other gives you a chance to use your own unique creative voice (For me the latter is ESSENTIAL and is what drives me to do the former). There are few that only do one or the other, but yes as with everything there are always exceptions.

It is what you make of it. Be authentic. Don’t be a fake, be honest to why you want to pursue music as career because don’t forget that you could be doing something else…. way better! Besides, playing music can always be a wonderful hobby. And if you really are hungry for it, dedicate yourself to becoming better at it. And ‘better’ isn’t becoming a monster-player overnight. Let’s put things in perspective. My husband often reminds me, the only person you have to better than is yourself yesterday. :) Knowing where you want to be and where you don’t want to be, helps you make that decision when you next get a song request.