Lisa Loeb and me

It’s hard to sing in a trade show booth — that is, without all the trappings. At NAMM, everywhere you walked there was a musician playing in a booth, showing off the wares of his or her corporate sponsor.  Some had a better set-up than others: A small wooden circle stage, just 8 inches off the ground, or full-on risers, or a smoke machine, or massive speakers, or a simple sign with their name and brand as an official artist for the company. I had none of these trappings, because it was only last-minute that we decided I should sing in the booth.

On the first official day of the trade show, our neighboring booth brought a guitarist. He played a tune, and then I walked over with my melodica and asked if he wanted to play a standard. I called Autumn Leaves in C minor, and played melodica, then sang the French lyrics. I didn’t have a mic. It was early in the day and not too loud, and n appreciative crowd gathered round.  Little did I know, several of the men listening were French! I ended up having a long conversation with one of them, Algerian musician Djamel Laroussi. He spoke French, I spoke Franspañol.

After that, it was decided that we should rent a mic, mixer and speakers so that I could sing on the other days, as well as save my voice when giving demos of Tiggzi by Exadel. Talking is always harder on my voice than singing, as I tend to strain my neck, talk too loud and also use a lower register than I should. I’m really a soprano, but I speak in an alto range.

So the next day, I dialed up TV tracks of my latest album, I Wanna Work For You, hooked them up to the speaker and started singing. People stopped and listened, but I can’t say the response was the flash mob  some performers generated. I cracked jokes in-between lines of the song about how this was ahigh point of my career, and people laughed. The thing is, music, showmanship, soul — these are only part of the equation when attracting a crowd. There are so many other factors, and the more you perform live, the more you learn about them. For instance: Volume. People who made more noise, sometimes got more attention. I say sometimes, because I did see some black-haired, eye-linered male rockers on electric guitar who were head-banging and thrashing but attracting absolutely no attention.

But comparing my experience on the first day, jamming with the other musician, to the second day, singing alone to tracks, revealed what I already know to be true: Audiences love watching the collaborative aspect of music. Now, if I were a famous person singing a hit song, they might be able to fill in the blanks from memory of other situations where they’d seen or heard the song, and be glad to hear it straight from me only a few feet away from them. But I’m not, and the song’s unknown. Even for people in the music business, they’ll turn their head when they hear something familiar more often than not.

This was also evident in the evening shows. I watched a rock duo playing in the packed hotel lobby. The singer kept apologizing for bringing just a duo. It was clear that even though she was thrashing on her various guitars and playing an exciting set of music, that crowd wanted the energy of a full rock band. She finally brought the whole band up for the last song, and then the crowd fully focused and basked in the mutual energy exchange.

Without a car and working hard all day, NAMM’s nightlife was not much of a temptation. I needed my sleep or my voice wouldn’t last five days. And the crowds on the upper floors were hard to take for more than an hour at a time. Some musicians later were criticizing the electric, gear-heavy rock vibe of the conference. Since it was my first time, I expected it and enjoyed it. I’ve only ever gone to jazz, salsa, Afro-Cuban or Brazilian music conferences where acoustic music is the norm. But I adore music stores, and this was like being in a massive music store filled with sublime inventions. I love the innovative ways musicians come up with learning music, or making new sounds. It seems like a very healthy business, and I’m in need of a very healthy business!

The Remo percussion booth was vast and very orange!

The most special moment of NAMM came on the last day, as I was power-walking through the floor Sunday morning. I had a flight to catch in just a few hours, and had coordinated with my taxi to have him pick me up straight from the conference and take me to Long Beach airport (love flying from Long Beach to Oakland — that’s the low-key way to travel!). I had just discovered an amazing sounding melodica made by Hammond and another by Suzuki (in fact I suspect they are both made by Suzuki). Now I was high-tailing it down the carpeted aisles trying to get to the Tiggzi booth to cover for my co-worker for a few minutes.

I came across a crowd and some burly security guards standing between me and a grand piano.

“Who would need security?” I wondered. I asked someone who was behind the guards. “It’s Stevie Wonder,” he whispered.

I moved to the right a bit and sure enough there he was, playing jazzy chords on the piano, testing it out. I stood there in awe. He began to play various snippets of his songs such as Don’t You Worry ‘Bout A Thing (which I’ve sung for years on gigs). Then he broke into singing Ma Cherie Amour (with no mic, of course).

When he began to sing, tears started to roll down my face. I can’t explain exactly why. I never understood those films of young girls screaming and crying for the Beatles. Perhaps now I do. There he was, a genius, a man who has written unforgettable songs since before I was born. His voice is impeccable, unchanged. I aspire to that. His persona, unforgettable. There he was, 10 feet away, singing “You’re the only one that I adore, how I wish that you were mine…” Testing a piano.

It was a good show.