I like all kinds of music. If I wanted to be an "artist" I would probably go to jazz. I did that for a couple of years. The leader of the band taught jazz guitar at the University of Miami and also played for Ira Sullivan for a couple of years. Big stars came to sit in with us, people with chops so great they alternately either inspired me or made me want to give up ;) But we worked on Sunday afternoons while I had that 'day gig' as a CATV field engineer.
You can't live on Sunday afternoons.
You can live playing what the people want. Is it more of a sell-out to work a day job and play art music once a week, or to not have a day job and gig all week?
I could play Mustang Sally another million times. It gets the dance floor full and ton of love from the audience rushing over me. I consider the simplest pop tunes to be like junk food. A lot of fun but without a lot of nutritional content. It's like donuts for the soul ;)
We mix in some material for us in the sets, originals, jazz, whatever seems appropriate at the time.
I have fun at what I do. I get up in the morning, I go to bed at night, and in between I do what I want to do. I'm free. And that's also a definition of successful.
1. Play what the audience wants to hear
That depends on where you are. My current market is predominantly retirement communities, yacht clubs, country clubs, and so on. Florida is a big retirement state and I've played that market since the 1980s. At that time Glenn Miller and Frank Sinatra songs ruled. Now it's Rolling Stones and Eric Clapton era. Every year we learn a dozen new songs and find another dozen that don't work anymore.
But we are chameleons and can do Caribbean music (Afro and Latin), The American Songbook jazz tunes, and quite a few other genres. It's fun putting different musical hats on. It depends on our audience. We play what we think they want to hear.
It could be original material if you are in the right place. It could be the Country market which is also big in our area. It could be Musica Latina if there is a Hispanic community where you are. It could be ballroom dance music. If there is an audience, you can work it.
But you must choose something that there is a demand for, and then play what the people in your audience respond to. It's not a monologue, but a dialog. Give and take. Pay attention to what works and what doesn't work.
As an artist and/or entertainer you have to fill a demand. Supply and demand. Give them what they want. If you want them to listen, you need to give them what they want to listen to.
It all boils down to this, and it's the best advice I got a long, long time ago:
You can play for yourself, you can play for other musicians, or you can play for the general public -- if you are good enough at it you will get the audience you asked for.
(1. Play what the audience wants to hear)
Insights and incites by Notes