I was going to write a wrap-up to 2023, a sort of “Year-in-Review” kinda deal, until I realized that I’ve got one more post after this one to write this year. As a result, I’m completely unprepared for this month’s little diatribe. Sometimes, I am not a clever man.
November was busy and weird, as is most often the case. The Phoenix Scavenger Hunt was a rousing success, Erin made an excellent Judge, Paul was awesome in his support role, and my in-laws in Indiana won with a massive number of points. I’m already working on a couple of ideas for next year. The band played a couple of good shows, finally starting to get back into a rhythm of “practice and perform” whilst trying to plot out next steps. One of the shows was delightfully different, a private gig for a bunch of historical recreationists, specializing in the American Revolutionary War era. It was a fun challenge, working out a list of songs that wouldn’t sound out of place or anachronistic. Playing acoustic sets around a campfire, for people dressed for a different century…it really took me back to my SCA days, when I just started to dip my toe into performing. They were a delightful bunch of folks, and I look forward to the next opportunity to make merry with them.
November is always a little strange for me. It’s near the end of the year, and I think it’s not too strange to contemplate the possibilities that the coming months might hold. It’s also my birth month, which often leads me to ponder the past; where I’ve been, WHO I’ve been, all loom large in my mind, alongside thoughts of where I’m going and who I might yet become. It makes it a little challenging to focus on the “right here, right now”.
A lot of the geekery of my day-to-day life gets put on hold in November. D&D campaigns got put on hold, and we’re just now ready to get back to the table and tell stories together. The pauses in the story are both useful and frustrating. I want the story to continue on, chapter by chapter, I want to figure out what happens next. But the time to ponder, to wonder at HOW we’re going to do that, has been invaluable. I’ve a friend who’s considering trying their hand at running a game or two themselves. I tried to figure out what was the best advice to give them; functional stuff like “Bookmark these pages in the Player’s Handbook” ? Narrative seeds around which to build a campaign? Where to buy dice in bulk? Nah. The most important thing to keep in mind when running a game has nothing to do with math, mechanics, economics…it’s much more simple, and more profound. “When you sit in that chair,” I told them, pointing at the chair I usually occupy when I’m the DM, “Keep in mind that no matter how many hours you’ve spent crafting the narrative, building backstory, inventing challenges, developing plot, or even building and painting the scenery…it’s THEIR story. The players. They’re the heroes, they’re the main characters. You build the world, sure…but THEY play in it.”
Thinking about it, I think there’s some crossover regarding that idea. When the band is figuring out what music we want to play at any given show, we have to keep in mind what the audience wants. Only playing the music that WE most want to play is a little masturbatory, and isn’t likely to keep the audience engaged. We have to pay attention, and take into account what YOU respond to, what YOU enjoy. We have to shed some ego. It’s not about us. It’s about you.
I know that there are plenty of musicians that would disagree, musicians and acts whose names you would no doubt recognize. Performers who take the stance of “We play what we want to play, the way we want to play it, and if the audience doesn’t like it, they can go listen to someone else.” I don’t see anything morally wrong with that. But I know it’s not what works best for us. I think that Open Beta is at its best when we’re really connected to our fans. And y’all have proved to be pretty receptive to new material, so we still get to seed in stuff that we think is super cool even if no one’s ever heard it before.
It’s a fun little balancing act. Thanks for being a vital part of it!
What piece of music have you heard us play that you truly love? Please, this is for Science, be specific. (“Oh it’s all just great” is deeply flattering, but it doesn’t give us any insight into how we can get better.)