original. acoustic. music.

Gigs and the Goldilocks Zone

There is a concept taken from a fairytale that has applications in many disparate fields: Astrophysics, Biology, Marketing… and gigging. It’s called The Goldilocks Zone.

The Goldilocks zone in astrophysical terms is the place within our solar system that the Earth inhabits; not too close to the sun to boil us into oblivion, and not too far away to freeze us to death. The Goldilocks zone is where everything is “just right”. The Baby Bear’s Porridge zone, in other words.

In ten years together Darrel and I have played many gigs as the opening act, a few as the headliner, and a couple buried within a massive festival line-up, not to mention many, many Open Mic nights.

There is a Goldilocks Zone in every gig, that moment when the Universe aligns perfectly bringing you the largest number of people in the audience engaged in what you are doing on stage.

In a headlining gig this ought to be, of course, the moment you take the stage. But it is not always the case - even a headliner has to get the crowd on side with the first song. Unless you can maintain that first burst of energy throughout, or provide the right ebb and flow to allow your audience to ride along with you, there is a good chance you’ll lose a few for a bit along the way. After all, you can’t please all of the people all of the time. The Goldilocks moment in a headlining gig is when you and the audience meet in the middle: you’re performing well, and the audience are doing their part to listen and encourage you.

In every other situation (opening act, festival line-up, Open Mic, etc.) the Goldilocks Zone is a little different.

Opening a gig, the Goldilocks Zone is the point before the regular crowd in the bar who have only really turned up for after work drinks and were never actually going to stay have not yet finished their drinks and left, the fans of the other bands on the bill have turned up early to get a seat, and your own fans are enthusiastically cheering you on. Basically (or rather, cynically) it’s the point with the greatest number of bums on seats.

In a Festival gig, it is all about timing. The Goldilocks Zone usually floats around food. If you are able to get a slot around lunch time you can be sure to pull a crowd of people with no special interest in your work (initially, of course, then you perform excellently and turn them into fans) but who are brought together by the more basic instinct of face-feeding. People will listen to anything, and will generally be a bit more attentive (or at least quiet) when they are eating.

Finding the Goldilocks Zone in an Invitation gig, i.e. you are asked to play in a small line-up of performers with disparate styles (a la Kroon for you Kai), again is a little more calculated. It is usually dead in the middle of the night. Not first on, not last on, but playing right smack in the middle. At that stage, pretty much everyone who is going to be at the gig is already there. As a performer you also get to support and enjoy the opening act while you secretly worry about your upcoming set, then relax and support and enjoy the last act when you’ve done your bit.

Open Mics can be much more random, as typically the largest number of people in the crowd are musicians waiting to perform, and you very rarely get to choose when you are on stage. The Goldilocks Zone in an Open Mic situation is a gift: the magic moment a few acts into the night when the place is full and everyone has settled into the groove and knows what they are supposed to do: performers giving their best and not wasting time, and audience giving their attention, encouragement and respect.

As a performer you might reach your own moment of nirvana in a gig (as I’ve spoken about before), but the Goldilocks Zone is that point in the gig when the connection is made with your audience and the whole thing becomes an experience to remember.

In ten years I’m pleased to say we’ve hit a few Goldilocks Zones but we’ll never stop looking for them. They may be fleeting, ephemeral, possibly even made up, but when you find yourself in one you want it to last forever. It’s what it’s all about.