I saw a great show yesterday by the California Honeydrops, a local blues/soul/swing band with a bent toward brass, tight percussion and unbelievably soulful vocals. Though I’ve had the great pleasure of seeing them perform many times around the Bay, yesterday I discovered that the singer, Lech Wierzynski, had an admirable talent that extended beyond his impressive vocal abilities.
He made the audience feel amazing, that they were having the best time ever, and that this was the best band ever. Was this the best show ever? Not really. There were no surprise cameos, no pyrotechnics, no hot backup dancers, no free prizes. They were five mildly disorganized dudes: their set list seemed nonexistent, and one of their instruments broke during the show. So how did they pull off this feat?
Lech managed to do this, more or less singlehandedly, and not by his musical skills (impressive though they are): rather, he validated his audience.
What does this mean? Well, he reflected any praise, given to him outright or implied, back out: out onto the audience, out onto his fellow bandmates, out to the generous hosts of the show, out to their incredible fanbase. You know the feeling when you’re being flirted with so artfully that you are both aware of what’s happening, and yet powerless to resist? It was like that.
When the (admittedly middle-age-plus) audience wasn’t giving him the raucous applause and enthusiasm he had hoped for initially, instead of complaining, he thanked us, saying our focused and mellow energy gave the band the opportunity to slow down and express their emotional side with some little-played ballads. Instead of calling it as a bad night, he turned it into a gift to the audience. He gave his bandmates lots of opportunities to show off with solos, and then heaped on the individual praise. He let the audience in on behind-the-scenes secrets, casually letting slip that this was the first time this song had been performed live, making us feel like insiders. During intermission, he told us, “We’ll be in the back trying to sell you stuff, and once we feel we’ve sold enough, we’ll get back onstage.” This was not only humorous, and effective, it was another way to make the audience co-conspirators, agreeable pawns in the game. Later, like an over-emotional wedding guest, he made a heart-felt speech thanking the hosts of the show, pointing out that they had been supporters of the band since the very beginning, and that even though they play huge houses now, that this is their favorite place to play. He insisted that everyone got up to sing, worked his ass off to get us all to really get into it, as if he’d be personally offended if we didn’t, like a mother imploring that you take one bite of her signature dessert. When we finally acquiesced and joined the cacophony, he complimented the hell out of our efforts. And by golly, it worked. He made the audience feel good, he made the venue’s proprietor’s feel good, he made his band feel good. He’s a charmer, and a professional-grade one at that.
By sharing supposed secrets with the audience, Lech makes us feel we are in their inner circle. by heaping praise on our importance as fans, we feel like a foundational brick in their success. “He’s not pandering to me, he really likes me!” thinks every person in the audience. Now we have an emotional connection to this group, and to their success. I must point out that this is not the same as generic humility. To me, humility is being gracious, being grateful, and saying “thank you” while accepting whatever praise is thrown your way. Lech goes the next level, and in a way that is almost Zen-like, he volleys back any compliment that is lobbed his way. The result? They come flying.
This boomerang effect appears to be the most effective form of viral publicity there is. It’s not about being the best and impressing people with your amazing skills in order for them to support you and spread the word. By making people feel great, they will have a subconscious association with feel-good-ness whenever they think of you. They will go out of their way to book you, follow you, and support you. They will bring their friends to see you, so their friends will project that feel-good association onto them as well, being the indirect agent of good feelings.