(This was first published as part of the Weekly(ish) Note. Want to make sure you don’t miss one? Sign up on the form on the right…)
“This song spent 15 weeks at number one, but we’re going to do our version based on the original…”
The sparse crowd of parents and restless children at the village school’s spring fair waited. It was the post-lunch slot; blood sugar had spiked and slumped, and the teenagers had sloped off to buy cider.
As the PA system battled with the breeze, I began to sing about the feeling in my fingers and toes.
It was May 1995 and I’d been using the same song introduction since Love Is All Around left the UK chart top spot in September 1994. Since its release it was quick to win the nation’s affection—and eventual irritation as people grew sick of listening to it. But the song was popular with our parents so we kept it in the repertoire.
My unwavering grip on its introduction was as repetitive as the song and our band leader (the drummer’s father and owner of aforementioned PA) warmly encouraged me to shake things up.
“You don’t have to say the same thing every time, you can chat to people, ask the crowd questions.”
I vowed there and then to become more fluent in my song chat. I imagined how—with a swish of microphone wire and some pithy banter—I would create ripples of mirth, priming the crowd for the later excitement of my Nights in White Satin solo (rocked out on the tenor recorder, no less).
The next gig rolled round and we were warming up for the main band at the village social club.
Crisp packets crackled, wisps of smoke curled around flock wallpaper, and there was the meditative click of snooker balls from the back room. I stepped up, smiled confidently and noted a big thumbs up and ‘you can do it smile’ from our band leader.
It was time to unleash my confident patter…
“…This song spent 15 weeks at number one, but we’re going to do our version based on the original…”
No wire swish. No pithy banter. No ripples of mirth from the crowd. Instead, my knuckles were white as I hid behind the microphone stand, clinging to the familiar. The lads began to play, and this time the PA at least found a more welcoming acoustic in the hazy bar.
I was patter-less.
I’d daydreamed about this moment, but faced with reality my mind went blank. I couldn’t move away from my pre-prepared script.
When you want to reach an audience and engage them, do you plan everything in advance?
Or do you just go with the flow?
The reason I ask is because I see pitfalls in the extremes of both approaches whether you’re trying to reach people through speech, or the written word.
Take writing sales copy. If you started learning copywriting by studying the long-form sales pages of the direct mail masters, you may believe you have to produce a perfectly researched and plotted 2,000 word piece to sell your product. This expectation—plus sheer volume of work required to create such a piece—can paralyse you into procrastination. Or it can feel unjust if, after all that effort, clients want to change your words.
But without careful planning and forethought—if you just sit down to write—you risk relying on the familiar, which is likely to be those empty marketing phrases that everyone else is already using.
The balance of course, lies in between.
Years later a kind musician shared his secret to engaging banter.
He told me to work on some set pieces of interesting information for each song, and really work on them. Practice them, learn them, try to think of 1-2 new ones per show based on the audience / location. I wouldn’t use them all, but I should feel comfortable delivering any of them as though they were off the cuff.
That way—like building up some key phrases in a new language—I could have a “conversation” without needing a rigid script, and without having to pluck something out of the air.
I’ve found over the years, the same approach works wonders if you’re writing lots of copy for the same product or service. That’s why in this week’s podcast I share 6 key elements I think every sales “conversation” should have.
Nail these and it’s much easier to write faster, flexible copy. Whether you’re adding benefits to an option or sending a quick promo email, if you have these details to hand it will make it easier to build a sales conversation specific to your audience.
I can’t guarantee it will help you introduce songs, but if you do ever find yourself covering Love Is All Around (the Troggs version of course), feel free to steal my workhorse of an introduction.
Till next time, keep believing.