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Debbie Ridpath Ohi reads, writes and illustrates for young people. Every few weeks, she shares new art, writing and resources; subscribe below. Browse the archives here.

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Welcome to my Filk FAQ! If you stumbled here accidentally and aren't sure what this is all about, feel free to read What Is Filk? first. You can also browse all entries here.

Tuesday
Apr102007

How do I make people WANT to stay and listen to me perform?

Cleverly using some of the suggestions kindly offered by filkers about how to get a turn singing in an open filk circle, Grizelda starts performing. As she does, however, she notices several people getting up from the circle and leaving the room. After she finishes performing, she is also disappointed by the polite but unenthusiastic response.

"What can I do to make people -want- to stay and listen to me perform?" Grizelda wonders.

There are all kinds of reasons why filkers might be leaving the circle that have nothing to do with Grizelda: They needed to stretch after sitting for so long, for example. They have to use the bathroom. They want to greet a friend who has just arrived at the convention. They were overcome by a sudden craving for chocolate or Tully. Yes, it kind of sucks re: timing that they happened to choose Grizelda's performance slot in which to leave, but chances are good they actually do regret having to leave.

That's why I added the last bit to Grizelda's situation. If she still gets an enthusiastic response to her song/piece, then it's very likely the reasons for the audience members leaving had nothing to do with her at all. BUT if she notices a trend of people always leaving as well as consistent unenthusiastic response to her performing, I can't blame her for looking for a solution.

Some suggestions from other people...

From Mary:

"Sad to say, sometimes people are on their own schedules, and you *can't* make them stay. Mostly, though, the only thing that will make people really want to stay is improving your performance skills. These include, but are not limited to:

    * Getting rid of the attitude that it's Your Turn, So People Have to Listen to You Now. Strange, but true. It's one of the things that will drive people away most quickly.

    * Use a reasonable tempo. Slowing a song down too much loses your audience. To find out if you're doing so, tape yourself. Come back to the tape a week later and listen to it; decide if it's something you would want to listen to.

    * Use SHORT introductions if you must use one at all. If the audience gets the sense that you're wasting their time, you've lost them.

    * Practice your instrument. There are a number of "little" things you can do to make your guitar/mandolin/bazouki playing more interesting than a steady, flat strum.

    * Enunciate clearly. It's really boring to listen to a song when you can't understand half the words.

    * Don't wait for people to tell you how bad you sound. When you have that attitude, it shows. It cuts you off from the audience, puts you in a little box, and keeps you from achieving the connection necessary for a good performance.

    * Most importantly, put ENERGY into your performance. I have heard perfectly good singers sound perfectly boring simply because they were having an off day and weren't putting their energy into their performance.



This noted, EVERYONE has bad days. One song that I nailed at Marcon and which I tend to play too quickly I played waaaay too slowly at Confluence. It happens to everyone. Don't ever beat yourself up for not doing well enough. Performance is a thing that develops over time - just keep an open mind, and keep practicing."

From Lissa Allcock:

"And here we have the non-PC answer

Be honest with yourself about your talent level. If your voice is not great (yet, as most people's voices do improve the more often they use them) then it's best to stay away from long songs, regardless of how much you enjoy singing Horse Tamer's Daughter.

Before you go to the circle (or even the con) practice the songs you'd like to sing in a quiet environment so you can hear what you are doing with it and develop better control. As above, practice does improve, and people are more likely to stay and/or appreciate your song if you're not missing half the notes and if they can hear the words and understand what you're singing.

Singing along to a guitar helps you to stay in tune, so if you don't play yourself but have a friend who does (or the nerve to ask someone you don't know all that well to accompany you) then it's worth it (though again, it's a good idea to do a run through with them (outside the filk room) before starting so you both pace the music the same. People who are used to singing acapella (say, in the bathroom ) can develop their own feel for pace and this can cause accompanist confusion even if you're singing a well known song).

Usually if the room has developed a theme or a mood it's better to try and sing songs that keep with that. This is one of those unwritten rules that it's usually better to leave to the more popular performers to break, as people will more readily follow their diversions."

From Erica:

"Following on with the non-PC answers: it's also much easier to get by with weak performance skills if you have a funny song than if it's serious. I don't know why; maybe because people want to stay and hear the next clever line or silly joke. Maybe it's because if you're laughing, you're generally in a good mood and thus are more forgiving of slight defects in performance. But it's definitely something I've noticed."

From Phil Parker:

"One point that I don't think the responses up to now have given enough emphasis to is selecting material well. This has three parts: choosing a good song, choosing a song that fits you well, and choosing a song that fits the moment.

In choosing a song, there are some Grizeldas out there who insist on performing their own material. It's great that Grizelda has managed to write a song of her own, but she needs to ask herself if it's actually good enough to be worth sharing with other people, and be honest about the answer. As a listener (which I am far more of the time than I am a performer) I would much rather hear Grizelda sing a good song that someone else wrote than a bad one she wrote herself, and when she sings a bad song, I can't feign much enthusiasm in my reaction just out of my desire to encourage her to keep trying. Lest anyone deliberately misunderstand me, I'm not saying that Grizelda shouldn't sing her own song unless she really thinks it's better than last year's Pegasus winner. Her song doesn't have to be great, but it should actually be good.

Choosing a song that fits well has several parts. First, Grizelda should forget about any song (whether her own or another's) that she doesn't genuinely like and also genuinely believe is a good song. Singing a song without the confidence that it deserves to be sung is a job best left to professionals. Second, Grizelda should choose a song that's convincing coming from her. A song in the first person from a female point of view is more convincing from a female singer. A song meant to fire up the troops before battle is not very convincing coming from a quavery, quiet soprano. Third, Grizelda should gauge whether she wants active participation from others for the song, or whether she's better off by herself. Some people who sing a capella really would rather play with a guitar but can't play it themselves; other people find accompaniment a distraction. The same goes for people singing along, either in unison or in harmony. If Grizelda wants help, she should choose a song that is at least somewhat familiar, or if it's completely new, arrange outside of the filk to teach it to some people who'll help her. If she wants to perform strictly solo, it's at least OK and maybe better to choose something that's completely unfamiliar. Either way, she should say briefly in her introduction how much help she'd like.

Choosing the right moment for a song is more important than any of the other stuff I've mentioned here. Unfortunately, I'm not sure I have much good advice on this point, beyond emphasizing that it does matter and Grizelda should choose her moment carefully. She should try to avoid doing her song right after someone else has done a song that is very similar in mood, tempo, theme, etc., that is going to make her song look bad in comparison. Beyond that, she needs to either match a moment where the room is ready for more material on the current theme with a song that matches the theme, or a moment where the room is ready for a change of pace with a song that creatively either twists or shatters the theme. Following the theme may seem safer, but it's no guarantee, and insisting on only following the theme is likely to lead to frustration if Grizelda has one particular song she wants to sing.

One other point that I wanted to make in a separate comment is that unless Grizelda is either really good or really terrible, she will surely find a more enthusiastic reception while she's developing her technical skills and her confidence if she seeks out a small circle with other people who are at her own level rather than trying to run with the big dogs in that 50-guitar cutthroat main filk room. Without being intentionally elitist, we have to recognize that the audience in the room full of great musicians is going to be expecting a high level of performance skill. This is multiplied by the fact that half of that audience is themselves musicians who are impatiently waiting for their own turn because there are too many people in the room, and they're apt to resent (hopefully not consciously, but it will still be there) having to wait even longer for Grizelda's turn. Finally, Grizelda is probably going to be too intimidated by that crowd to perform at her best.

A great place to find a small and welcoming circle is at a housefilk. If Grizelda lives in a large metropolitan area, there's a fair chance that there are some other filkers in the area, so if there isn't a regular local housefilk, she ought to start one!"

From beige-alert:

"I think I tend to get the best reactions in response to songs that much or all of the audience hasn't heard before, or hasn't heard often or recently. At least if you sing something that hasn't been recorded you won't be, in some sense, competing for attention with a studio recording by very good performers. This advice might work best with silly songs. As a listener I find that funny songs are usually funny the first time while serious songs, unless I'm very familiar with the subject matter, I usually don't 'get' until I've heard them a few times and really understand the story. (I'd be interested in hearing if others feel the same way.) At least in my experience, the songs that seem to engage the audience best even with very weak performance skills are silly songs new to the audience (thank you, Kanefsky, for that wonderful web site).

It also helps to know more than just one or two songs, so that you are more likely to know something that fits the mood.

To bring up another issue, practice at home alone is vital, but to some extent getting used to having an audience requires an audience, painful as that may be at first to performer and audience alike. In my case, at least, stage fright has greatly diminished with experience, at the cost of a trail listeners who probably wondered if I suffered from a neuromuscular disorder and deafness besides."

Comments? Suggestions? Please post them below:
Tuesday
Apr102007

What's the best way to handle mistakes in the middle of a performance?

Everyone makes mistakes sometimes, and unfortunately this occasionally happens in the middle of a performance. This could range from a barely noticeable stumble to completely forgetting one's lyrics or chords two-thirds of the way through a song.

In Urban Tapestry, Allison, Jodi and I have learned that the best thing is to just keep going. More often than not, no one else realizes we made a mistake.

We've also realized that being technically perfect is not as important as making a connection with the audience. We used to obsess about not making ANY mistakes, and would let even the smallest errors throw us completely. Our performances ended up technically excellent but sterile. Now we have more fun and focus on connecting with the audience.

Here are what some other people answered when I asked:

What's the best way to handle performance mistakes?

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From Scott Snyder:

"Just keep on playing. Pick up where you stopped (if you stopped) and keep on going. If you stumble HARD and REALLY stop, just grin, pick a starting spot, and start over.

Your audience is really on your side. They want you to succeed and will forgive any error as long as you are sincere and keep going. They want to see you overcome the obstacles. Especially in filk, where many of your audience are also musicians, they empathize with your situation and want to see you get through it.

DO NOT apologize.

DO NOT point out the mistake. Either they caught it or they didn't - it doesn't matter.

DO NOT make derogatory comments about yourself, your playing or your instrument."

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From Paul Kwinn:

"This a piece of advice I got from Kathleen Sloan, who in turn got it from her voice teacher:

Practice making mistakes. Which is not to say you should deliberately make mistakes while practicing. Mistakes will just naturally happen while you're rehearsing. Take advantage of that fact, and practice how you're going to cover/handle a mistake if it happens in front of people."

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From Mike Whitaker:

"Depends to a large extent how catastrophic the mistake was.

Rule one, though, is don't apologise. Better people than you have screwed up far worse in public :)

Minor fluffs, or 'this is the last chord, it's the easiest one in the whole piece (a C) and I screwed it up. Twice."? Plough on, or if it's a repeating intro, sometimes it's better to loop round again so you're coming into a verse less rattled: the odds are 90%+ of your audience didn't notice. Trust me.

Frank Hayes disease or "What order DO the verses in Second Hand News go in?" syndrome: if you can, make it up and keep going: it's amazing how many folks won't notice. If you can't, then keep playing, loop the chords back to the start of the verse and try again: at this point a cheerful 'rewind!' or other light remark will probably earn you a sympathetic chuckle: we've all done it.

Oh-my-god-what-are-we-doing disease; a.k.a. he thinks it's in 4/4, she thinks it's in 3/4, he and she think it's in 2/4, he thinks it's in 6/8 and the singer's standing looking bemused. Or alternatively, 5 of the band are playing in C, and the keyboards player has forgotten to remove the transpose function on one synth, and her left hand's in C and her right in Eb. There is NO solution but to stop, laugh it off, make sure everyone's on the right page and start over.

In case you still believe that only you screw up? All the examples have happened to me, Phoenix or Fleetfoot Mike. In public, in front of (in at least one case) a paying audience. The overriding things to remember are 1) you are MUCH more critical of your mistakes than 98% of your audience. I have in the past come off stage to have a fellow band member REFUSE to go back on, despite the fact that the audience were clamouring for it, because they thought they'd played so badly. 2) If there's no way of not stopping, be it going back to start a verse, or a complete restart, laugh it off. even if you want to curl up and die. I make use of a cheery 'Ok. Shall we try that again with the *right* chords/words/notes".

But, to quote the lovely stevieannie and at risk of repeating myself: "amateurs practise till they get it right; professionals practice till they can't get it wrong". Or alternatively, Proper Preparation Prevents Poor Performance.

...and just in case I'm about to be accused of massive ego, no, I didn't mean me :) Lets see - there's a version of Love Me Tender that springs to mind. I have several bootlegs of Fleetwood Mac where certain bits just make me want to cringe... Even the pros screw up :)"

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From "redaxe" on LJ:

" A short list of folks I've heard (or have recordings of) forget or mess up the lyrics includes Paul McCartney, Peter Gabriel, David Byrne, Mark Knopfler, Maddy Prior, and Linda Ronstadt. And those are just the ones I can think of off the top of my head.

ALL of them either just went on, or finished a verse, got corrected by a band member and made a joke of it, then picked right back up.

For me, the key is to remember that the audience wants you to succeed. So give them the chance."

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From "cellio" on LJ:

"Yes, what he said. Don't angst about it; don't apologize; just fix it and go on. A quick comment to get them to laugh with you, like that "rewind!" or "oops, Frank Hayes dieseas" or whatever, does wonders.

Also, if you're part of a group, have an understanding before you go on stage of who's in charge. (This may vary from piece to piece, e.g. the lead singer is in charge, or the group may have a single leader.) If something catastrophic happens, like the key scenario above or a real bad tuning day or something, that person has the authority to say "you do X" (including "don't play", because the instrument is that far out of tune), and everyone else's job is to do it without arguing. Later, after the performance, you can discuss it to death -- but no discussions or arguments on stage.

Oh, and make sure the person in this role is in a position to hear everything. On the Mark once had a concert where we were on a wide stage with mikes and other equipment (that we don't normally play with) all around, and the instruments at opposite ends were out of tune with each other, but neither of us could hear that and the person in the middle didn't want to offend us by stopping us. Now she knows to do that; it's much better than annoying the audience. :-)"

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From "mdlbear" on LJ:

"As an amateur performer of limited talent, I get lots of practice handling performance mistakes. In almost all cases (flubbed chord, transposed lines, ...) the best thing is to keep going. Sing a little louder if you're having trouble with the chords.

Really amazing mistakes, like starting in the wrong key or with the wrong melody, can be covered with a humorous remark like "I'll have to remember that one for the blooper album"."

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From "randwolf" on LJ:

"John Hertz is fond of telling dancers, "think cat"--if possible, act like you meant to do it and go on."

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From "tigertoy" on LJ:

"It's already been said, but it bears repeating: if you make a minor mistake, just pretend it didn't happen and keep on playing. A minor mistake is any one where you can do this. Most of your audience won't notice, and the ones who do won't care if you don't stop and call attention to it.

Being able to ignore minor mistakes and keep playing takes practice. Once you've pretty much learned a song, make a conscious effort to keep going through your mistakes, instead of going back and immediately correcting them. Getting used to just singing/playing through mistakes when you practice makes it a lot easier to do it in front of an audience. If you can, try to do something to make the song harder than what you really mean to perform so you'll make more mistakes, and practice hanging onto the song in spite of the mistakes. One good way to do this is to do the song much faster than it's supposed to be. Not only do you get practice on ignoring errors, but the song will seem easier when you do it at the right speed. (Just don't get so used to doing it super-fast that you forget to do it normal speed when you perform it!)"

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From "catalana" on LJ:

"I agree with all the advice to keep going if possible. The other thing I've noticed is that, as screaming a mistake as it may seem to you, your audience may not have even noticed it. Did you sing a wrong line or a wrong word? Unless it's "Banned from Argo" (or something else similarly well-known), there's a good chance your audience didn't notice - you have the lyrics in front of you, but they don't. Similarly with playing a wrong chord, especially if it's fairly brief. You may know it was supposed to be a C, not a G, but your audience may not have noticed.

I once got asked to sing a really old song of mine (one that I hadn't sung in years) and I realized going into the chorus that I had no clue what the melody for the second and fourth lines of the chorus was. So I made something up. By the second repeat of the chorus I had remembered the correct music for the second line, and fixed it. I didn't remember the music for the fourth line until days later - but as far as I can tell, no one noticed. You can get away with a lot if you do it with confidence. *grin*"

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Comments? Other suggestions? Please post below:
Monday
Apr092007

What is the filk community?

I posted a question to rec.music.filk some years back, asking what the filk community meant to them. Here are just a few answers; if you'd like to add yours, please scroll to the bottom of this page and post a comment.

Dave Alway:

"(A Talkin' Blues to TTTO "Alice's Restaurant")

I was going to write- I was going to write a lengthy thesis (with footnotes and detailed quotations, and 8x10 colored glossy photos with circles and arrows and a paragraph on the back of each one telling what each one was) on why I like filking. But then I realized that Debbie- Debbie Ohi- was right: it all boils down to the camaraderie. So I didn't.

Instead- well, instead we was having a chat on filkhaven, and during that chat I heard Rob Wynne define 'filk' as 'the folk music of Science Fiction fandom.' I thought about that and the more I thought about that I realized it was fine. I mean, it was a very fine definition. That definition is a functional one, and- as I am an old coot- I mean I am old for my age, and that is old- it reminded me of another. Another definition I mean. I remember the folk-revival of the 1960s and its songs. And how those songs were associated with the activism of the 1960s. And before that the songs of the 1930s. And how those old old songs that were associated with the antifascist movements of the late 1920s and 1930s. And how the anti-fascist movement folks said that the fascists had all those armies and modern weapons of war, but the movement folks had the good songs.

It got me to think. It really did get me to think. I mean- here are all these songs. All these songs people have thought up over the years. I mean not just years! But decades! Centuries! Years of decades! Centuries of years! Years of centuries! And new ones all the time. And one weekend, on a park bench, I tried to see if some songs were filk songs and some were not. And I can't sort them out. No way! I tried to say- well, this one's a filk song, but that one isn't. And maybe yes, and maybe no. I was going crazy on the park bench in the park trying to see if some song- say a song like Alice's Restaurant- was a filk song or not.

So I gave up. And then I came to the realization, that maybe- just maybe- Rob might be right. So now I don't worry- too much about whether a song is a filk song or not. But then if filk isn't about songs, what is it about? And then I thought about all the other songs and what they were about. And then, then, I came to the realization that since the other songs were all about camaraderie and people- the dreamers and the rebels and all the people who nobody can really classify or even should ought to classify. Well, then, just maybe, so was filk about people and friends and why, why it was all about- camaraderie! And then I had an idea- an inspiration. So, someday, when you are at a science fiction convention, or maybe, if you are really daring- maybe just about anyplace with a park bench or a couch or a bed and you are sitting on it- well-

Wouldn't be great- I mean- wouldn't it be just fine- if one person- just ONE PERSON- stood up and said 'Camaraderie!' and sat down. They would think she was nuts. But if two people. Yes, TWO PEOPLE, stood up and said, together, duet-wise, with glissandoes, 'Camaraderie!' they might think that something was going on. And if three -- yes, THREE PEOPLE- all at once- sang, sang in three part harmony CAMARADERIE!' -- well, they just might think it was a ... a Movement!

And yes ma'am, I think that's what it just might be. The Science Fiction and Fantasy Filking Movement. Just think about that.

So we'll wait a bit- until after 10pm on this Saturday night- and set set a spell until it comes around again on this fine chronometer-10pm on this night- and then we'll sing, in complete and full camaraderie- until the morning dawn breaks.

So will you wait? And we'll sing it- sing filk- with feelin - !"

Jeff Bohnhoff:

"I see the filk community as a safe place for anyone to express themselves musically. Although as with any social group there are some lapses of manners and attempts to use the community for egotistical ends - for the most part people really are there to listen to each other, and embrace the diversity of styles, viewpoints and skill levels that all the different participants bring to a given circle. This is pretty uncommon in the general music making community where musicians tend to be very competitive and even cut-throat in their relationships with one another. In the filk community, most of the well known 'big names' are very nurturing of new faces. When Maya and I were first getting started, we invariably found the well known filkers, whether it be Kathy Mar, or Dr Jane and Cindy McQuillan, or Leslie Fish to be open and supportive, rather than defensive of their 'status', as we would have expected in many other musical situations. For me, the welcoming atmosphere was a breath of fresh air after having played for years in musical communities where there was a lot of back-stabbing and unhealthy competitiveness. After over 8 years, that feeling hasn't changed for me. I still see new people being welcomed and nurtured by the community, and that warms my heart."

Lynn Gold:

"I liken it to the black American gospel music tradition.

If you ever go to a gospel service with choir, etc., you'll always see some folks doing solos. Some of them are better than others, but the room reacts with massive enthusiasm no matter how good or bad the soloist is.

Years ago I sang with a gospel choir because I wanted to know what that experience was all about. We were performing at a church when a little girl got up and did an awkward, mediocre quality solo. As she was performing, the "star" performer in our choir was remarking to one of the other gals in the group that this little girl's performance reminded her of her OWN first solo performance. I noticed that after the girl got done the room applauded wildly.

This is the same music tradition from which many black pop stars have come. Instead of being told to not sing if they're less than perfect, they're encouraged and nurtured.

When I first experienced the filk community I saw the same thing. No matter how awful your one-shot was (and my first one was truly frightening), people applauded. In a filk circle folks always applaud no matter how many keys your song (unintentionally) winds up being in. This kind of nurturing and encouragement has helped folks like me develop self-confidence I never would have had otherwise."

Perry:

"To me, it means a chance to push my creative skills to their logical, but absurd extent in front of (both virtually and physically) people who will understand (most of) where I'm coming from, and generally get the messages or emotions that I'm trying to express.

Musically, I still agree with Myra Stewart's assessment that filk is music performed by a filker in a filk circle...ANY music (as Sherman and the other Central Florida filkers will confirm, I do push the envelope on that)."

Tim Ryan:

"I feel that filk is as much being heard by the community as it is performing in it and the listen-only audience.

I feel there is a real loss to the community, when after a performer is rewarded with their own concert at a con, that they seem to ignore those not as fortunate, by not being around listen in the circle the night before or afterward.

When I first seen filk as all-circle / only circle, it was the only venue to be heard. A concert is a reward, not a replacement for the interactive experience. This interaction in our community is so much higher that what I seen when I would go attend the folk club open mike performances. There, a bunch of performers would be there, but not interacting as much with others as much as I see in filking. Their loss."

Alex Wittenberg:

"The filk community is a family to me. (I'd call if my fourth, after my birth family, my marriage family, and my family of local friends). OK, sometimes it's a dysfunctional family, but when I go to cons, the filk room is home. The cons I look forward to the most are the filk cons, which feel more and more like reunions. We sing, we laugh, we vent, we cry, we rage, we sing again.

My first con was a filk con (Contata '98, where UT was among the guests and sang about Marc Osier). The flock of strangers made me feel at home. They kept making me feel at home in Atlanta and Virginia and Ohio. They reached out on 9/11 to make sure we in NYC were okay, and they embraced up close and from a distance last weekend at the news of an engagement and of an unlikely pregnancy.

In short, the filk community is family, to those who need a break from their real families, to those who love lots of zany cousins, and to those who don't have family of the genetic sort.

Hope that wasn't too sappy."

Comments? Please post below.
Sunday
Apr082007

What is a "filkhog"? How can I avoid being one?

The term "filkhog" is usually applied to someone who performs more times during an open filk circle than their fair share. What exactly a "fair share" is, of course, varies from person to person. The term is also used as a verb, i.e. "Gomer sure was filkhogging in last night's circle, wasn't he?"

Sometimes people accused of being filkhogs defend themselves, saying that people in the circle WANTED to hear them, or that their songs were requested, or that they had the perfect followers so HAD to sing them right then and there. Let's take these arguments one at a time:

1. "But people in the circle WANTED to hear me!"

It's probably true that you had some fans in the filk circle who would have been happy if you had sung most of the songs during the evening. But (and I hope your ego can take this blow) chances are good that most of the people in the circle were hoping for a more balanced atmosphere, were looking forward to performing themselves, and/or were also looking forward to hearing a wide variety of performers.

2. "But all those songs were REQUESTED! I didn't want to disappoint the people who had made the requests."

It's always flattering to have one's songs requested. However, that still doesn't give you the excuse to filkhog. If you're unable to fulfill the request in the circle, then you can always apologize to the person later on and explain that you didn't want to filkhog. Offer to perform the song in the next open filk circle in the weekend, or even in the hallway if both of you are free (be sure to do this far enough from current programming so you don't disturb other attendees).

3. "But I had the perfect follower!"

Many of us have been in this position. You just sang a song shortly before, but suddenly you have THE PERFECT FOLLOWER and are dying to perform it. My advice: gauge the atmosphere of the room before you leap in. If there are a lot of people who have been waiting to perform their songs, they're unlikely to appreciate you jumping the queue, no matter how perfect your follower might be.

From Phil Parker:

"A filkhog is someone who is perceived by the other filkers as taking more than his fair share of turns at the filksing and making other people unhappy thereby. I don't think it's at all possible to produce a useful objective definition, because behavior that everyone was happy with by performer A on night X might make lots of people unhappy if performer B on night Y did exactly the same thing.

If you're a brash, confident performer who doesn't have any trouble getting songs in in a busy chaos circle, you could be a filkhog if you don't watch yourself. If you have enough of a repertoire that you're never at a loss for something to sing, and you're not restraining yourself from jumping in every time you have something that fits, there's a good chance you are a filkhog. The tricky part is figuring out how often you need to restrain yourself. Steve Macdonald's rule of thumb is a good place to start: If there are N active performers in the circle, and you last did a song less than N-2 songs back, you should probably wait unless there's some really special reason why your life will be ruined if you don't chime in right then. If you do do two songs closer than N-2 apart, you really need to wait some extra time. This rule is based on the assumption that you only are really wanting to jump in some of the time; if you are always ready to follow any song, you would be doing a song every N-2 turns, and you're probably filkhogging if you keep that up.

If it's hard to find the line where one starts being a filkhog on one's own, it's really hard to find the line where one starts being a filkhog by taking too many requests. My own feeling is that you can take a couple of requests without counting them as your own turns for deciding if you're a filkhog, but if you do more than a couple of requests in the evening, you have to count the rest of them as your own turns. If you get more requests than you can do without either being a filkhog or not doing the songs that you yourself want to do, it is better to not do all of the requests than to either frustrate yourself because you didn't sing the songs you wanted or to make everybody hate you (a little bit at lesat) by being a filkhog."

Suggestions? Comments? Please post them below:
Sunday
Apr082007

How can I get the most out of a filk convention?

Let me say straight off that my answer to the question will not satisfy everyone. Everyone is unique, with their own expectations and likes/dislikes. I'm hoping, though, that at least some of this might be useful to at least some of you. :-) Please PLEASE do share your own advice and experience in the comments section!

Expect ups AND downs.
No convention is going to the Perfect Filk Convention experience. There will be glitches here and there, some bigger than others. Rather than let any get you down and ruin the rest of your weekend, try to focus on the positive instead of spending the time complaining and being miserable.

Don't focus only on performing.
This is the most popular way of setting yourself up for disappointment at a filk convention, especially at one with huge filk circles. It's inevitable that you won't perform as much as you'd like to, and that there will be songs you'd like to perform but can't for whatever reason. From Phil Parker: "If you want to sing more than a couple of songs, look for a small friendly circle (usually in an alternate room). The main room sing with 30 or more performers will probably have great music, but you won't get to sing much."

Make a point of talking with at least three people you've never talked with before.
Shy people can aim for one person, the more outgoing might want to aim for more. Who knows? You might make a new friend or two.

Visit the con suite.
I've always found the atmosphere in the con suite to be very friendly, welcoming. People in the con suite are there to relax and chat, munch on munchables. They also tend to be very open to newcomers and lots of conversation.

Make a point of listening to at least three filkers you've never heard before.
And I mean -really- listen, not just listen to out of one ear as you're idly flipping through your music book, looking for something to play. The one-shots are always a great way to do this, and so is the song contest.

If you are working the convention, remember to also attend the convention.
This tip is from Heather Munn: "When working the con, plan which events at the con you Will Not Miss, and remember to get someone else to do your job for you for those times so that you can catch the parts of the con that are important to your relaxation and enjoyment."

Schedule downtime.
Tough to do in a busy convention, but I find this essential, at least for me. It may mean having to miss some programming, but every so often during a hectic con weekend I find I need to retreat to our hotel room for some quiet time, or go for a coffee or a meal with one person. Big group dinners aren't relaxing for me, though I know they are for some people.

If you like someone's music, tell them so.
Even if it means having to hunt them down later in the convention.

Do good for someone.
Introduce yourself to someone who is shy or a newcomer, help introduce them to others. Volunteer to help with set-up or to carry something or clean-up. I find that when I'm feeling down or cranky for whatever reason at a convention, this is a sure-fire way to snap myself out of it.

Get enough sleep.
Yeah, ok, I can already hear some of you yelling at me, "Sleep is for the weak and sickly!" And it's true that some of my favourite filks have been all-nighters. But nowadays, I find that I can't enjoy a convention as much running on a quarter tank of gas for several days in a row. From Phil Parker: "Leave the filk soon enough at night that you can stand to get up when you need to the next morning. If you can't stand to leave the filk so early, take a nap during the day. You can't really enjoy the con if you're so tired you can barely function. Remember the point is to enjoy what you do, not to try to do everything."

Lastalda suggests: "Find out what you enjoy most. If it’s the small late night circles it might be a good idea to stay up till the circle is really dead and go to bed late, then sleep past breakfast until the first program point you really want to attend. If you’re planning to do that, you should either bring some food for a late breakfast to con or have a friend and/or room mate save you something from the breakfast tables."

Get enough to eat.
Tough to do sometimes, especially in a heavily-programmed convention. But I find that diet really affects my mood, so I generally try to make sure I have at least two solid meals a day at conventions: breakfast and dinner. From Phil Parker: "Meals are a great time to actually spend time with friends, too. It's a good idea to arrange meals well in advance, it can be difficult and occasionally rude to join a dinner party at the last minute."

Drink lots of water.
From Alex Wittenberg: "The function spaces are dry too often, and the best way to fight 'con crud' aside from getting lots of sleep is keeping your throat in good shape."

Get some exercise.
Stop laughing, I'm serious. Sitting all day makes me restless and bitchy, not sure about the rest of you. I generally try to get at least one decent walk outside, or even inside the hotel.

Explore.
From Alex Wittenberg: "Visit the con suite many times. Roam from circle to circle at larger cons. As much as you not obligated to do everything, you are also not obligated to stay in one track." From Sue Cochran: "Attend the song contest(s), and if you can afford to, go to the banquet. It helps support the con, and it's also a nice place to meet new people and/or spend some time with old friends."

Don't try to do ALL the programming.
I find that this is impossible without burning yourself out (especially if the programming is multitracked! :-)). When you get the program schedule at the convention, check it over carefully and prioritize. From Alex Wittenberg: "Don't try to do everything and see everthing. Even though filk cons are not as packed as general cons, there is a lot going on, and you can drive yourself crazy if you feel like you need to take it all in. This is especially the case for concerts. Keep in mind that odds are the filkers you want to hear will be in the circles, so if you want to do something else, you are not necessarily missing something after all."

If you're not happy in a particular concert or circle or workshop, go ELSEWHERE.
From Alex Wittenberg: "Don't be afraid to not like something. If a concert is not to your taste, I don't think you are obliged to stay. Just don't make a scene. :) At the same time, though, don't be afraid to try something new (which I am guilty of doing to often. In retrospect, I really should have gone to Chris Malme's concert at Conterpoint)."

Focus on what positive things you did, not what you missed.
From Phil Parker: "The most important thing for me to have a good experience at any convention where there's a lot of cool stuff to do is to convince myself that the measure of a good experience is how much I enjoyed what I actually did, not how much I missed. If I was having fun all of the time I was able to stay awake, it was a great con, even if I realize afterwards that I didn't get to this great programming item or that wonderful party. I only allow myself to think negative thoughts about the con if there was time when I was not enjoying myself."

If you have a crummy time anyway, move on.
If you end up having a bad convention despite all attempts, don't dwell on it. Don't lie and say you enjoyed yourself if asked, of course, but don't try to drag everyone else down with you. Chalk the experience up to bad karma and move on. Figure out what went wrong and resolve to do what you can not to let it happen again. Focus on the positive.

Life's too short, after all. :-)

Comments? Suggestions? Please post them below:

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