All very good questions and I'm sure will have varied answers.
You do not want to try to overpower the audience. It'll be a power struggle and no one wins. Play whatever material you want. If you think more popular stuff might draw their attention, by all means, try it! But I'm thinking if you didn't get their attention from the get go then you're just background noise. Then again, they crowd might of been like this before you even got on stage.
As a courtesy to whoever is in charge, you might want to ask them beforehand what kind of levels they want. Let them know that after the first song or two you'll ask "How's it sounding?" Ask them to point up, down or do an OK hand signal. This tells them you are working with them to please the clientele. Most will care and do this.
Loop pedals: Yes! I do not own one - yet - but I've seen many performers (especially solo acts) use them very effectively. My one piece of advice if for you to become very intimate with it before introducing it on stage, metaphorically speaking. Practice with it often and be sure to do rehearsals just like you are playing in front of an audience. If something happens out of the ordinary play it out like you're on stage in front of an audience.
I play bass in an acoustic trio (guitar, mandolin, bass) and we do a lot of open mics, etc. We're primarily a cover band but we do our own "take" on covers which, I think, helps a lot. Our guitarist says "...we don't do covers, we do interpetations" Very few of our cover songs are popular hits - stuff by Butch Hancock, Townes VanZant, etc - but it seems to go over pretty well, and the two guys that sing have very different voices. When you do open mics, open stages, you get to hear a lot of other people. (I used to run sound at one of these places). When I see someone get on stage with only a guitar I think " aw, man...here comes another one." In other words, they all start sounding alike. Although they may be very sincere about their show, most of them around here are pretty lackluster and only a very few show any real originality - that's what I look for. I'm not sure where I'm going with this, but I would suggest try offering something that the audience may not expect right off hand.
I have a cheap looper at home that I fool around with but there's not much call for it in our show.
It never hurts your cause to throw in a Creedence song or a Beatles song..but, you would be surprised at how many people are actually listening to youeven while they seem immersed in their laptops. I also have an email list with a pen attached to it and make a point of announcing every 5 songs or so that they can sign your list...anyway that is my two cents!! Josh Sanders
I think sound impact is a huge issue in these venues. I tend to give myself a monitor and place a speaker angled upwards at a wall. This allows you to turn up a little more and keeps the speakers from blowing out anyone near you. Depending on the room this is a great technique to spread the sound out. You'll have to play with it for your different venues, but it does work.
@ Michael - interesting idea...so what you are saying is one speaker goes to audience, monitor faces you, and one speaker is angled against wall?
Depending how big the room is. If I am by myself I have a really nice 2 channel Acoustic amp I point towards a wall and I have a little self powered monitor I point towards myself.
The idea is to take away that booming peak from the first three to six feet around your speakers. People sitting close can hear without getting blasted.
My advice is have a friend come and go to the back of the room and give you a sound level. Do not yell. Second, If the age disparity is more than 20 years, play whatever you want. That kind of room is not easy to please. Older people tend to listen more than younger ones do. Play what YOU love and it will show and the crowd will respond in kind. One rule. Never. Never put your speaker where someone can sit in front of it. They will sit in front of it in an empty room and gripe about it all night. The older the person, the closer they will sit to it. Have fun and everyone else will. Talk to them. Tell them you'll try to play requests, but you don't know everything. Most of all smile. A lot. I've been a front man for a band and a solo artist for 34 years. Every crowd is different and if it looks like theyre not listening, doesn't mean they're not. Engage. Ask about birthdays and anniversaries. I better stop. I could go on all day.
Hey Mike that is excellent advice...yeah go on! What else you got, really helpful stuff you have written...
Thanks. People's attentions are pretty short toward songs they don't know. Play the standards. Jimmy Buffet, James Taylor, Croce, Cat Stevens, John Mayer, Jason Mraz, Bob Seger. If you tend toward country too many to list. Always Always Always have them tip their waitress or their barrista. The staff will want you back also. Don't play anything you scream(unless you're in a club). Wait till they get drunk berfore you do it, then you can play anything you want. Two pieces of advice. When they get drunk, you'll know, if you've been playing country throw in some old rock Skynyrd, Seger, Doors. If they are a rock crowd DO NOT play country they'll throw stuff at ya. Since "American Idol" the market has been flooded and everybody can sing. Everybody's a critic. Play what you know and you should do great.
I had posted some videos of this guy a couple weeks ago, don't know if you had a chance to view but as far as loopers go this is a great example of what you can do with some honed skills and a lot of practice. The pedal Jason uses is a Digitech GNX4. The only canned component in his performences are the drums which are built into the pedal. Jason plays mostly bar and club venues, probably a little bold for the coffee house. Anyway, I've never seen him play when the audience wasn't listening with rapt attention.