Acoustic Music Community Message Board › Denise and Karel's response to meetup suggestions/comments
|Karel (dr. Z.||
Thanks, everyone, for all your responses to Karel’s request for feedback. It’s very helpful as we continue to strive to make this a really good jam. Some questions and misperceptions came up, so we thought we’d explain some of the whys and wherefores of how the jam is run, and also let you know about some things we’re considering in response to the feedback.
Our requirements for a venue are:
1. Located in Boulder
2. Free (although we may be expected to purchase food and drinks)
3. Sufficient free parking
4. Always available at the same time each week, but doesn’t mind if we occasionally cancel
5. Doesn’t impose a lot of restrictions or requirements or other hassles
6. Can accommodate groups ranging from about 2 to 12 people and their instruments
7. Offers a reasonably safe and supportive environment for people who may not know each other to get together and play music
A venue’s requirements from us are also important to consider. Generally, they are very minimal and include:
• Support the business. Purchase food and/or drinks and otherwise justify the precious retail space you’re taking up.
• Although a jam is not a performance, the management is hoping that the joyful noises we’re supposedly making will attract more business or, at the very least, not drive other business away.
• Be reliable (as hosts, we’ve got that part covered), courteous, and respectful.
Although it isn’t perfect, Folsom Street Coffee Company is the best option we have, for now. If we were to go to a private venue, such as a residence, it would most likely have to be an invitation-only jam.
If you find a spot that meets the requirements, please suggest it, and we’ll be happy to check it out.
THE SKILL LEVEL
In our extensive jamming experience, we’ve learned that the best jams have a core group of at least four advanced musicians who love to jam and show up on a regular basis. They play together often enough that they learn each others’ repertoires, and they provide a great foundation for newcomers and less advanced players to work with. The music at the best jams tends to be a mixture of easy, intermediate, and difficult, which helps keep everyone interested, learning, and improving their skills.
We’re relative newcomers to the Boulder music scene, so we don’t know many skilled musicians to invite and build that core. Instead, we were hoping to develop it mostly from the players who show up at the jam. We’re not there yet, for a variety of reasons:
• Except for bluegrass and jazz, there’s a mysterious dearth of other regular jams in the area where we can go and try to connect with other musicians and “recruit.”
• The few jams there are often turn out to be open mics, songwriter circles, onstage with the house band, or sing-alongs. These are all great ways to enjoy playing music, but the participants often don’t seem to understand or have interest in the jam format.
• This is a great place to live. There are so many distractions, music is less of a priority.
• We have some great talent within the group, but for various reasons—work, travel, family, etc.—some have been unable to show up regularly.
We may try a few other things to get that core group going. We’ll keep you posted.
The Saturday jam is open to all levels, but it isn’t a “beginners’ jam,” per se. We try to get leaders to sit where everyone can see and hear what they’re doing, and to call out the chords or write them on the white board, but sometimes we need to be reminded. If you want more guidance to be able to play along, it’s up to you to speak up and ask for it. Most of the time, the leader will be willing to run through the basics of the song. Now and then, it may be a little too complicated. In that case, please enjoy listening and practice identifying the chord positions, an essential jamming skill.
It can be a challenge to keep up with good musicians, but it’s a great opportunity to learn and improve, and the music is more enjoyable for everyone.
And by the way, if you feel strongly that there is a need and a demand for a beginners’ jam, we strongly encourage you to start one!
We received a few comments from people who didn’t seem to like this whole business of taking turns leading a song. This is fundamental jam etiquette. The leader may sing or may ask someone else to sing. Usually they don’t mind if others want to sing along and add harmonies, as long as you don’t drown them out! The leader directs the dynamics, passes out breaks, and determines when the song ends. We usually go in a circle so everyone knows when their turn is coming up and can be prepared. You can skip your turn if you don’t want to lead. You can even request that someone else lead a song on your turn. If you skip a few times in a row, people will start assuming you’re always going to skip—speak up, if that’s not the case! Occasionally, we adjust the protocol to expedite things, depending on how many people show up, the level of playing, the kinds of songs they know, etc.
ACOUSTIC OR PLUGGED IN?
A while back, we tried a strictly acoustic format at Folsom St. It was a disaster! No one could stay in time or in tune with the leaders, because they couldn’t hear them. Other customers in the shop started complaining to the manager, and we were in danger of losing the privilege of playing there.
Also, some instruments simply aren’t loud enough to be heard over the wall of sound produced by four guitars or even one violin.
On the other hand, when everyone brings their own amp, the volume levels tend to escalate and get out of balance. For some people, it makes it feel more like a performance than a jam, and that makes them uncomfortable.
The reality is that our venue has a lot of background noise and the natural acoustics aren’t very good. If we want the jam to be acoustic, we’ll have to limit the attendance to five players, because that’s about the biggest group that can sit close enough together to pull off a coherent song without a little amplification.
We’ve given this issue a great deal of consideration, and we’ve come up with a set-up that we hope will resolve some of the problems. Basically, all the instruments that have pickups as well as several mics will go through a mixer and one amp, with one person (usually Denise) managing the mix and sound levels. Whoever is leading or playing a break will be turned up a little louder, and turned back down when they’re done. The overall volume levels will be kept under control, just loud enough for everyone to be able to hear what they need. We’ve invested in some great equipment to make this possible. It’ll take a few jams to figure out how to use it and work out the kinks, so please bear with us.
SUPPLY AND DEMAND
Some people have suggested that once per week may be too often to generate a consistent attendance level.
That was a little surprising to us, having come from an area where you could find a jam or two every day of the week, if you wanted – and we usually joined at least two jams per week. We were also accustomed to seeing “the regulars;” people who showed up to play at their favorite jam, every week, without fail. Boulder is much smaller, though, and the music culture is different. If the jam was only monthly, it might seem more special and important to attend.
There are some really good reasons, though, to keep trying with the weekly jams:
• The weekly schedule prevents doubt, confusion, and disappointment. Is the jam this Saturday, or next? Some of our attendees drive up from Denver, but they may not chance it if they’re not sure about the schedule.
• It’s more disruptive for the venue. If the space is available sometimes, something else may be scheduled in place of the jam, and next thing you know, it’s no longer available for us.
• As musicians, we all improve with regular, frequent sessions. Play the same song with the same people a few weeks in a row, and it starts to sound pretty good—and that’s very gratifying.
• Most importantly, we love to jam! We look forward to it every week. We think Boulder needs more jams, not fewer.
Personally, I (Denise) think we just lost our rhythm because Karel and I were away for several weeks, and no jams happened during that time. The jam was going well and sounding better and better. I’m sure it will be back to that level soon, and continue to improve from there. Next time Karel and I are out of town, we’ll try to get other people to host the jam while we’re gone.
The sweet spot for a jam seems to be between five and eight players. The minimum is three or four. We may try setting a maximum, partly because the current venue can only accommodate so many. Your RSVPs are very helpful, so please try to let us know if you plan to be there on Saturday, and please, change your status if you change your mind. Of course, you’re still welcome to show up whether you RSVP’d or not, but if we have fewer than two RSVPs (other than us, of course) as of 24 hours before the jam, we may cancel.
OK, we hope this addresses the questions and gives everyone a better sense of what we’re trying to accomplish. We’ll continue to tweak things, recruit musicians, and otherwise try to make this an excellent and satisfying jam. We welcome your feedback, anytime. It’s a pleasure playing with you, and thanks for your support!
Denise & Karel