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In the last column, we discussed listening to your audience. Here, we concentrate on how to take that information and objectively (yeah, right) use it to assess ourselves.
Contrary to some thought, making music and enjoying the praise it brings are not incompatible. The human psyche wants to hear good things about itself - it is a crucial component of our ability to be a part of society. We all deserve to hear when we do well, and we should feel that internal glow that comes from a job well done.
Just the same, growth is important in any endeavor we choose to pursue. The amount of growth is not the point - there is nothing at all that says everyone who follows a particular path should aspire to the same level of accomplishment. The thing that makes such pursuit exciting (and an addition to the lifelong learning process) is an aspiration for constant improvement. By striving to be better, we are always looking to others for lessons (which adds to our listening ability!) and using our minds and talents to apply those lessons to ourselves.
In order to make this improvement, we need to be able to make an absolutely honest and fearless self-assessment to determine where we are starting and exactly what we need to work on.
Self-critique is very difficult. In any area, it tends to be the hardest thing for any human being to do - not least because we need to discard any internally held notions of our own abilities. Please note that this means we have to discard any idea that we are worse than we really are along with any delusions of grandeur. In fandom, many find it harder to believe they are really as good as others say than to believe in their own visions of deficiencies. Let me make it clear - when working with your own abilities, you are the only one hearing your criticism. An "aw, shucks, I ain't so good" attitude won't work here.
The problem that arises, then, is one of gathering information you can be fairly sure isn't biased by your own preconceived notions.
One common method is to tape your own activities and listen to them later. Be very careful when using tapes, especially when recorded under uncontrolled circumstances (like an open filk). If you've never heard your own voice played back to you before, you will hate it. Guaranteed. In your own head, you hear a symphony of resonances from your bone structure that simply aren't present in a recording. The sound of your voice in this situation is unpleasant because you aren't used to it - don't make a value judgement based on that reaction! Most recording artists (professional or not, it doesn't matter) have to spend a lot of time getting used to their own voices.
Remember also that such recordings don't show you under the best of circumstances. They are not an accurate reflection of the best you can do - even if the performance is fantastic the quality of the recording may cause it to sound horrible. You should realize that professional live recordings are often made on multiple nights - and even if all done on one night, the bad stuff is left out. You need to make sure that you use such recordings only to analyze things like your response to pressure situations, your choice of material, your performing technique, or your audience response, not the resonant quality of your voice.
Whether your voice or any other instrument you play, technical ability is actually the easiest thing to assess. Either you can hit that note or play that run, or you can't. This is one of the things practice is for - that's the place to find out you can't hit those notes like Frankie Valli can. Much less embarrassing than finding out in front of everyone in the filk, that's for sure.
Performance ability is harder to determine on your own. It isn't something you can test behind closed doors, and it isn't really very easy to practice. Some techniques can be developed - for example, the ability to talk while tuning - but the effectiveness of those techniques can only be gauged by watching the audience reaction.
Back to that audience response thing, huh.
Which brings us around to that list. Let's discuss some specific things you should look for in your own performance based on that list from last week:
I can't emphasize enough that I'm mentioning these things and encouraging you to look at them so that you can improve yourself. I am in no way saying that a filk is not a success without mastery of these factors - if we could master them all we'd be making money for this instead of just having a good time.
All I really hope is that you'll be able to take this information and apply it to yourself during a single song at your next filksing. With any luck, the insights you get will give you a long list of practical things to work on as you practice at home for your next convention or housefilk.
Next column: The Controversy Begins
Bill Sutton has been active in performing his own and others' music in public for fun and profit ... well, fun anyway ... for over 25 years. His column appears regularly as part of The Dandelion Report.