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A dedicated "dance" set? (long) NOT A GIG LIST THREAD

Discussion in 'Band Management [BG]' started by adouglas, Sep 11, 2005.

  1. adouglas


    Jun 23, 2003
    Bridgeport, CT
    This is about song choice methods, not set lists. Sorry for the long post, but you need some background to really understand the question. Trust me...it's relevant.

    Last night my acoustic-electric, 60s-70s-and a very few 80s pop band had a KICK ASS gig (best...gig...ever....), during which we learned some lessons. I'll describe the situation in a moment, but the up-front question is:

    Do any of you have a specific "danceable" set that you pull out of your back pocket when the hot drunk women hit the dance floor and start screaming for dance music?

    Read on....

    My band is middle-aged (we're all in our mid-40s), and none of us have ever been working musicians. You know...world's oldest garage band and all that. We've always treated music as a hobby, nothing more.

    With no illusions of stardom or even working-musician-dom, we play what we all like to play, with regard only to what we think sounds good...no special attention paid to what might please the crowd. What this means in practice is that our repertoire has very little to do with what works in a real gig situation.

    For example, we play truly obscure stuff by Mike Nesmith of the Monkees...and also well-known-but-never-covered-songs like "Story in Your Eyes" by the Moody Blues...and "Solsbury Hill" by Peter Gabriel...and "Hotel California"....and James Taylor's "Mexico." Ever heard a cover band that does these songs? Point being that while we're a cover band, the covers we do are NOT those you normally run across. No "Mustang Sally" here.

    We've played for audiences for several years, but they're people who know and like us...and an older crowd, at that. They're used to what we play, so it's hard to read their reactions at this point.

    Last night for the very first time we played for people who have never heard us before. It was a house party with maybe 80-100 people in a wealthy Connecticut suburb...aged early 30s and up.

    Much to our surprise we were a HUGE hit (and we even got shut down by the police...I'm SO proud! :) ).

    I guess we're better than we thought we were. We did it for free, just for fun, but to our astonishment they passed the hat and handed us a wad of cash at the end of the night. We've never ever made money before. And we had people begging us to come back.

    Be that as it may, here's what prompted this thread. We have one song ("My Music" by Loggins & Messina) that brings people out to dance, every single time. We're batting 1000. For our usual older-crowd audience, that's enough.

    But last night, there was this pack of women who were going nuts and literally screaming for more dance stuff ("B52s!! Oh, c'mon, SURELY you know some Stones!!!!" etc.). Trying to explain that we're not a dance band does not work when it gets to that point, so....

    We came up with an idea: Work up a whole set of dance music to deal with that situation. Say, 15 songs chosen specifically to meet the "drunk chick dance request" criterion, that we play as a set, then move on to our usual stuff. For crowds that aren't screaming for dance music, we just don't play that set.

    These would be songs that we would not normally play, but which would be sure to please an alcohol fueled, dance-crazed crowd, appeasing them for 30-45 minutes. Stuff like "I Want You To Want Me", "What I Like About You", etc. that will keep people bopping along until they run out of breath.

    We do NOT want to turn into just another cover band...we take pride in the fact that we play unusual stuff, and for that matter we never try to sound like the original recording. So we will never make this all about giving drunken partygoers what they want, all the time. But we do think there's value in working up some stuff to tap into the raw energy put out by a floor full of dancing people, even if we'd rather play something else.

    Comments? Feedback welcome.
  2. As a member of a successful dance-party band, I'll offer the view from my side of the fence.

    For years, I always said that there were certain songs I'd never play, certain types of gigs I would never do...until, as time went on, suddenly I found myself doing the songs I said I'd never do and playing gigs I wouldn't have ever thought of playing. And you know what...once you get over the mental hurdle, it's actually fun to play these gigs!

    So we do Mustang Sally, segued into Brickhouse. Play that Funky Music, Love Shack, etc. Sure we throw in some SRV and Beatles, but we try to keep the songs danceable all night. And yes, a few slow songs too, so they can slow dance. And a fair number of danceable country stuff.

    We make great money playing private parties, and it's a blast having "eye candy" dancing all night long in front of us. Sure it's not the kind of music I'd sit down and listen to on my stereo at home, but so what?

    Now back to your situation: I'd say you've gotten a taste of the kind of fun we have. But I don't know if you can just "turn on the dance music" for one quick set....then go back to your regular stuff. Once you start down the "dance band" route, you may not be able to stop!

    As far as selecting the music: I'd say the criteria would be:
    was it popular before (did it fill up dance floors?) Going through old Top 40 lists may be a good source of ideas.

    But maybe equally as important:
    can you play it and pull it off?

    People like to dance to songs they know, and the band has to be able to pull off a good dance groove. Mustang Sally is easy to groove to, the crowd knows it and likes to dance to it, so bands play it.

    But I would also offer this opinion: for dance tunes, a little bit of "adding your own interpretation" is good. But its been my experience that crowds generally prefer to hear dance songs the way they remember them.
  3. adouglas


    Jun 23, 2003
    Bridgeport, CT
    Thanks for the informative reply. Just FYI, I pulled "Mustang Sally" out of a hat as an example of an overworked cover tune, not something we're dead-set against.

    Anyway, I'd like to respond in detail even tough it might take things OT for a moment....your post strikes a number of chords. One thing that I've maintained for a long time is that there is no "absolute" great music...people like what they grew up with. Furthermore, I firmly believe that there is excellence to be found in all genres, even those one might personally dislike. I'm a 46-year-old white guy. I don't particularly respond to hip-hop (duh). But I am able to accept the idea that some of it does display true talent.

    To be sure, some music stands the test of time better...we still can easily recall the Beatles, for example, but who can remember Flock of Seagulls? Nevertheless, it's a mistake IMHO to deify any particular era or artist. Pop music is, always has been, and always will be a reflection of the times IMHO.

    The other thing in your post that has the ring of truth to it is the idea that it's entirely possible to have a lot of fun playing stuff that you would otherwise stay away from. I thoroughly enjoy playing in my band, even though we play a fair number of songs that I genuinely dislike in their original form. That does not matter...what matters is that they're a blast to play, and we sound great playing them our way. We call the process "encrustulation."

    To me as a bassist, the most important thing is having fun with the bass line. All else is ultimately secondary, though the other factors in song selection do matter.

    The only conditions under which we'd do the dance-set thing would be those we encountered last night: A clear and strong request for dance music from people who don't want to take "no" for an answer.
    While I respect and fully understand your point of view, I should emphasize for anyone else who might wish to respond that in my band's case, we're not willing to roll over and become a dance band full-time. As fun as it is (and the eye candy was marvelous), we enjoy playing OUR choices far too much to simply bow down to the requests of a small band of inebriated audience members.

    The core question is, have any of you done something like what we came up with?
  4. JimmyM


    Apr 11, 2005
    Apopka, FL
    Endorsing: Ampeg Amps, EMG Pickups
    I've never played in a band that pulled a "dance set" out of our back pocket. We only play danceable songs, so there was never a need to pull stuff out just for a single dance set. I tried your approach in my first band years ago, and it so didn't work. All we did was confuse people and cause an endless stream of people on and off the dance floor. I think you need to pick one or the other myself. If you're going to play gigs as a cover band, you need danceable stuff, and you need them to be hits, and it doesn't matter whether you think they suck or not. If you want to stick with what you already do, that's fine, but you're going to have to accept that people may not want to sit and listen to it and they'll be asking for dance music. So instead of one set, I'd say learn a night's worth and stick in an obscure song here and there rather than the other way around.