Wednesday, December 28, 2005

The Anatomy of Playing in the Mall...

It's been a little while since I've posted anything. The holidays are a REALLY busy time for us piano players! December is my busiest month of the year, bar none.

I thought it might be fun to tell you a thing or two about playing at the mall. I just spent about two weeks straight playing here in Eugene, Oregon at Valley River Center.

First, here's the set up:

I've got a Yamaha 5'6" baby grand to play (this one belongs to the mall and is one of the nicest pianos in town). Right beside me at a table, my wife sits, dressed very nicely and selling my CDs. All nine 0f the CDs are set out, and along with them are my business cards and fact sheets that people can read and take with them. Around the piano I have three easels set up with information for people to read about the music.

The idea is that people hear the music, read the information, browse the CDs and hopefully buy. I sell them at the following prices:

1 for $15
2 for $25
3 for $35
4 for $40

We do our best to encourage people to buy as many CDs as possible. It saves them money, plus helps support my family! And, as far as I'm concerned, the more of my music that gets "out there" the better.

The trick to being successful playing piano in the mall is do everything you can to gather a crowd. To do this, I play with as much movement and emotion as I can to draw the attention of passers by. If you can gather a crowd around the piano, MORE people notice and join the crowd. The crowd itself draws attention because people want to see what's going on. So, if I have a crowd, I sell more CDs. If I LOSE the crowd, then I have to work very hard to get them back.

It's VERY tiring work. Just imagine taking every bit of emotion you have and putting it into your performance - sometimes for several hours straight. On Christmas Eve, I put in about six hours of playing with very few breaks. It can wear you down emotionally and physically.

The most frustrating thing is when you give everything you have and people don't even notice. This happens on slower nights at the mall, especially. There are less people, so it's harder to get the crowd going, which makes it harder to get people's attention as they walk by.

Playing at the mall is a two-way street, emotionally. If you have a slow night, you walk away feeling a bit down because you just put all of yourself out there and few people noticed - you feel a bit like pretty wallpaper. On the other hand, if it's BUSY, you have a constant flow of people at the CD table and you walk away on an emotional high because not only do you sell a lot of CDs, you feel noticed and appreciated. I very much prefer when the latter happens!

I used to play the mall a lot more than I do now. These days, I limit myself to just the holidays. During normal weekends, it's just not quite busy enough - harder to get that crowd going. But, at Thanksgiving, Christmas time, Valentine's Day weekend and Mother's Day weekend - those have been our most successful weekends.

The greatest thing about playing the malls is all the people you get to meet and talk to. As an artist, there's nothing like getting that INSTANT feedback to your music. If people love it, they tell you, and it gives you a little boost. Quite often, people who have purchased your music before will come back and tell you stories about how the music has impacted their lives.

During this last week, I met a couple who had used one of my songs as their Wedding march. They were so jazzed to meet me in person - and I played the song for them (Wonderland from my Postcards from Germany CD) and they heard it "live" for the first time.

I also ran into the mother of a girl who used to sing and share the stage with my friend, the late Dax Johnson. The mother had just read my blog tribute that morning about Dax, went down to the mall and I happened to be there.

In another cool meeting, I met a teenage girl who had just purchased the sheet music for my song "While the Trees Sleep" from my web site. What made this meeting special was that she had just flown in from the U.K.. She just happened to be visiting Eugene and at the mall with some friends and then heard me playing that same song at the piano. She couldn't believe it. What were the odds of this girl from the U.K running into the composer of the song she had just downloaded from the Internet a few days previous? It was one of those weird coincidence things.

Another woman told me the story of how she had purchased my Overcome CD last year, and was listening to it the week after her brother passed away recently. She opened the liner notes to read my words of encouragement there and was touched and lifted up by them.

It goes on and on. Lots of great life stories.

And then there are the BAD things about playing the mall... Every once in awhile I meet someone who has a really odd vibe about them - something isn't quite right. For example, one girl I met during this last stint brought out this black "orb" and started telling the children sitting near the piano that it was the "eye of Goliath the giant" and scared them to death with her stories about it! And then she began chanting while I was playing and making some very odd noises. I have to tell you, she seemed quite possessed and possibly was.

Another guy went CRAZY for my music, and I mean crazy. He started yelling to everyone around - THIS GUY IS INCREDIBLE! GENIUS! AMAZING! and he was talking excitedly, frantic, manic, walking around to people nearby and going on and on about my piano playing - it was too much, and very embarassing. I was glad when, after about fifteen minutes, he finally went away.

And there are the kids that can't resist slamming the piano keys as they walk by. That REALLY gets to me. It's very disrespectful. So along with the good stuff a little frustrating stuff.

However, when you put it ALL together, it's a wonderful experience. I love doing it. It's good for my business, and the mall staff has been so incredibly supportive of me. They are fantastic people that work there!

So there you have it. A little insight on playing a mall gig from the pianist's perspective.



Anonymous darnesha said...

Hey, I had been wondering how you play at the mall. I lol'ed when I read this entry. Especially about the guy who was fanatical and the kids who would bang the piano keys walking by. And I have seen some weird stuff, so the girl, she just might have been posessed...
Thatnks for sharing the insight.

5:09 PM  
Blogger deepanjan said...

David, I managed to download a track of yours via Amazon. It's very touching indeed. I believe playing the solo piano is a supreme manifestation of music's purity.
BTW, I'm an atheist but respect your views on God.

11:29 PM  
Blogger deepanjan said...

David, I managed to download a track of yours via Amazon. It's very touching indeed. I believe playing the solo piano is a supreme manifestation of music's purity.
BTW, I'm an atheist but respect your views on God.

11:55 PM  
Blogger deepanjan said...

David, I managed to download a track of yours via Amazon. It's very touching indeed. I believe playing the solo piano is a supreme manifestation of music's purity.
BTW, I'm an atheist but respect your views on God.

11:55 PM  
OpenID ahmedfernando said...

I used to play a lot of mall gigs when to help me pay for music school.

What worked well for me was inviting some friends or family on the times I knew were busiest at the mall (lunch time, evening) to just come and stand around and enjoy the music.
Two or three people you know standing around and maybe clapping a bit do wonders for gathering a crowd.

Back then, I had no CDs to sell, I was paid by the mall. I did use a tip jar (to which I usually added a couple of bills before playing) and a small sign encouraging requests.

1:29 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I was wondering how you got your jobs at the mall. I'm looking to find ones around where I live, but i don't know how to begin.

9:29 PM  
Blogger David Nevue said...

How I got the jobs at the mall... simply went and talked to mall management.

For most malls these days, if you are going to be selling something, such as your CDs, you need at least a million dollars of insurance coverage. Plus, you have to pay to rent the space to play.

Yes, that's right, when I play at the mall, I actually PAY to be there. They treat me just like a kiosk. It's that way at most malls now.

During the holidays, when people are buying like crazy, I can sell enough CDs to make it worth it.

When it's NOT the holidays, however, I don't bother. The mall just isn't busy enough to justify the cost.

If you aren't selling anything, then you may be able to play without paying. They might even pay you. But you'll probably be limited to playing the holidays.

Again, you'll just have to talk to the management office. A lot of them might forward you to their "corporate office" as local management doesn't make a lot of those decisions anymore.

David Nevue

11:37 PM  

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