Adam Rafferty – Guitar and Spirit

All about music, guitar, spirituality, personal development and being happy

My Formula for Musical Audience Connection “C + Y = R”


I know I am making a very bold statement here about “musical success”  but I am speaking to you 100% earnestly and from life experience.

If you are in search of a wider audience, greater appreciation with your current audience, and maybe even a better “way”  to make a living as a musician, this will interest you.

I am about to help you remove a HUGE block and change your life….yes that’s right.

As they say, “if the show fits, wear it.”

I am going to teach you about my formula…

“C + Y = R”

But first…the proof.

In the last 6 years I’ve increased my joy, my feeling of aliveness, number and quality gigs and overall lifestyle due to this formula.

I’ll present you with the info, and then you decide.

I hope that by the end of this post, you’ll have a new understanding about connecting emotionally with your audience.

When you “connect”  emotionally to people with your music this is the start of all good things for them and for you.

Gig bookings, more students, more connection to your loved ones and yes (gulp)  more money, can come to you from doing what you love – playing music.

Maybe you are student and money doesn’t matter, but the RELATIONSHIP to your listeners still does.  This post is all about emotion and connection….money is just a potentially nice side effect.

Your audience can be your husband, wife, kids, friends, neighbors church group or even a club or concert audience.  This applies to you whether you are a hobby player or pro player!

This “C + Y = R” formula was (and still is) used by artists and bands like:

  • The Beatles
  • The Rolling Stones
  • Michael Jackson
  • Prince
  • Led Zeppelin
  • Chet Atkins
  • Tommy Emmanuel
  • Adele
  • and more…

Let me paint you a picture of how life was before “C + Y = R”

Years ago I played every little  gig I could.  I taught relentlessly, and it was as if my dreams of being a concert and festival performer just refused to become a reality.

I could hardly pay my rent!  What was I doing wrong?

Then, I learned solo pop arrangement (my first Youtube Video was “I Wish” by Stevie Wonder) and a “flood” of activity started.

Later, I’d find that even on a small gig I could get the room’s attention and sell a ton of CD’s by playing “I’ll Be There”  by the Jackson 5.

As if by magic, a whole audience of talkers would fall into silence and then applaud wildly after the song , as if it were some sacred ceremony sprinkled with gold fairy dust.

Why on earth did these little “ditties”  turn heads, get people to shut up…when I could spin out endless jazz standards that only served to be “background music?”

I’m not dissing jazz.  I am calling out musicians who overlook the all-important connection to the audience.  Jazz can and should have that, and in it’s heyday – it did.

Back to the Stevie & Jackson 5 tunes….

I knew I stumbled on something deep after years of toiling away.  Why did these tunes make life better?

Here’s my formula.

C + Y = R

Cover Song + You = Relationship

By playing a well known song, you access something ALREADY existing in your listeners mind, rather than teach them something new.

It’s like telling a little kid a bedtime story they already know…it provides a degree of security & comfort.

Rather than  “confront” with new information – you give them the “warm fuzzies” by accessing a “corresponding”  reality that they already know.  As a result…

THEY FEEL GOOD and become open to YOU!

Very Important – and the Catch 22

In order to do this properly, you must be VERY honest with yourself because your “cover”  songs must be infused with true love and dedication.

You have to let these ideas “sneak up”  on you – otherwise they will feel “hollow”  and “loveless”  to you & your audience.

I know this because I have learned tunes that did not “vibe”  with me.  As a result, I basically never want to play them.

Use your head and your heart together when learning cover songs.

If you infuse the song with your love, your dedication, your touch, and your sound – it becomes an easy vehicle for you to connect with your audience.

They get to feel the love, warmth and passion that you have put in over hours, weeks maybe years.

They react to the “human-ness” you give them….

By doing this you build “R” – relationship.

By making it easy for them, you are communicating to them that YOU want a RELATIONSHIP and are taking the first warm friendly step towards them.

What About Original Songs?

Of course you should play your own music too.

Once your RELATIONSHIP is “activated” with C + Y = R  your audiences will be open to your original music or more obscure tunes.  Once you have bridged the gap, almost anything can go!

On the surface level it sounds like I am saying “play cover tunes”,  and yes every wedding band does that.

I’m saying something deeper because it’s based on giving and not taking.

Make the RELATIONSHIP the priority in your performances.

For example – if I play for school kids, I’ll play a popular tune like “Billie Jean”  so they feel “hey this guitar player guy is cool”  and they’ll then feel open to my offerings.

Were I to barge into a school and play all originals – how long could I keep the attention of high schoolers?

The point is this…3 or 4 songs deep – everyone feels groovy and THEN I can say “Hey gang, here’s one of my tunes.”

Imagine for instance you have never heard my tune “Ciao Bella”.

If I come out and play
1. Billie Jean
2. Superstition
3. I’ll Be There
4. Ciao Bella

You’d likely be MUCH more receptive than if I played 3 originals, and then a 4th. (I speak of the general public.)

For some this would seem “un artistic”, but for me this allows greater possibilities to have a hungry audience for my own music and compose more music.

But Rock Stars Don’t Play Covers…Why Should I?

Actually they do if you think about it.

And – The Beatles and Stones started as blues bands covering Muddy Waters and Chuck Berry tunes…and slowly brought their tunes in…

Big rock groups are expected to play their “hits”  in concert before they launch into the new album material.

Could You Imagine:

  • a Bon Jovi concert without “Livin on a Prayer?”
  • a Led Zeppelin Concert without “Stairway to Heaven?”
  • a Stevie Wonder concert without “Superstition” and “Isn’t She Lovely?”

Of course not.

Pull your audience in with well loved songs FIRST, and then anything can happen.

You are still free to play what you want…only you are in a better position to do so.

I bet you’ll be closer to being a flourishing and successful musician if you use  C + Y = R.

“Try it, you’ll like it!”


P.S. The All-New Volume II “How To Play Stevie Wonder for Fingerstyle Guitar DVD”  launches tomorrow June 27, 2012.

If you want to try out your C + Y = R  with 4 great new Stevie tunes (Isn’t She Lovely, Higher Ground, Cherie Amour, You Are the Sunshine of my Life), I’ve laid them all out or you in video lessons and written guitar tabs!

Coming June 27, 2012…

For More Info Visit


Author: Adam Rafferty

Adam Rafferty. Fingerstyle Guitarist. Recording and Concert Artist. Meditator. Philosopher. Lover of Groove.

12 thoughts on “My Formula for Musical Audience Connection “C + Y = R”

  1. Adam, you’ve nailed it on the head there buddy! Great blog post and I totally agree with you on this. I was a big fan of the BEach Boys growing up, so guess what? I put a lot of time and effort into creating some great arrangements of Beach Boy Tunes….

  2. Very true. If something does not work, you still need to learn something. This is a great lesson. Thanks!

  3. “You have to let these ideas “sneak up” on you – otherwise they will feel “hollow” and “loveless” to you & your audience.” – Adam Rafferty

    So true! Thanks for taking the time and sharing.

  4. Agreed. In fact I’ve gone so far as putting my original stuff aside altogether. There is plenty enough creativity and art in making your own arrangements!

    I think as a solo instrumentalist you also get an extra bonus with covers. When someone _sings_ a cover with their own voice and expression, even only slightly different from the original, the audience may not respond positively to “someone messing up my favourite song”. But when it is instrumental, an active listener will hear the song in their head as sung by the original singer as they work through the lyrics. Even if you’ve funked the tune up, slowed it down, or done anything crazy with it – they still hear the voice they grew to love, so you almost can’t go wrong!

    Audience relationship is everything to me. I’ve played all my songs hundreds if not thousands of times, I don’t need to impress me anymore; in fact I can grow tired of hearing me. But when I’ve caught the attention of just one audience member – I can’t help but put maximum love into each song, like I’m having a deep and meaningful conversation with them. I love playing for them. More than half the time they won’t give you any signal they are into it (why would you show emotion?) – but afterwards you get “the nod” – so I play with maximum love even if it looks like nobody cares, just in case somebody secretly is.

    Which makes Naudo a mystery to me. Absolute maximum expression comes through his covers, and yet in the few times I’ve emailed with him it seems like he scratches around for gigs. He should be touring the world! Perhaps it is the culture of where he lives…although where I live in Australia live music is borderline unaccepted, people don’t know what to do when they hear it – so it couldn’t be worse than that…he must be doing something wrong?

    Anyway, still enjoying your posts (I’m that restaurant/cafe player you mentioned last time, I could give you a hundred excuses, but let’s just leave it at “everything in its time”). Best wishes from Oz!


    • JAW thanks man. You speak with the ring of having experienced this first hand.

      Let me add that I love playing small intimate gatherings for people, and restaurant playing and small gigs offer a satisfaction that big gigs don’t.

      I like playing both…big stage gigs have a totally different kind of stress and feel to them, so please don’t self depricate on that….they are fun.

      For Naudo – the answer is this…you need to have the vision. No matter what the level of talent, you have to aim for where you want to be. When he aims for a concert stage, he’ll get there.

  5. Don’t know about that Maestro Naudo seems to be doing well and he has TV guestings in Spain it seems.

    • Hey there….that means he’s doing great, and I am happy. We all win when one of us wins.

      I was only reacting to the above comment – something about him “scratching for gigs”….my point being – that if you “scratch for gigs” it’s the scratcher’s doing – not the gigs doing!


      • True that Adam, you’re a cool dude and I’m glad fingerstyle is becoming more popular and respected cause I play fingerstyle too and I hate it when some people tag it right away as “Elevator music” not fair at all because it takes a special skill to play and craft and interesting arrangement of a popular song on fingerstyle guitar but I guess you can’t really please everyone…I’m even seeing people busking it out fingerstyle here in our city which is awesome!!

  6. Great post Adam, you really nailed it with this one. People always seem to respond more to what they know.

    Any advice for those of us whose style does not lend itself to popular cover tunes? I play celtic music on guitar, and am also thinking of folks who play original instrumental compositions. Is it just a reality that there is going to be less of a market for what we do, and not as many folks interested in it?

    Keep up the good work.

    • Anton

      Good question.

      Is there ONE well known tune you could drop in as a little gem?

      Also – do your tunes vary in key?
      Vary in tempo?
      Vary in melody types?

      Another thing you can and should (and probably) do is tell stories and “shmooze” in between songs to strengthen your audience connection.

      I’d look for ONE tune that fits your style….try it, you’ll like it!


  7. Adam, this resonates with me. A few years ago when I was playing a regular restaurant gig my wife asked me which song I play that gets the most audience response. Now, I play standards (*my* favorite), bossas (my next favorite) and pop tunes (that speak to me). So I broke it down to this way: at that time the song I was most proud of was my arrangement of Bill Evans “Turn Out the Stars”, to that date the most challenging arrangement I had ever done. But when I would play it, then look up at the end, inwardly beaming with pride, to see no one paying attention.That song puts me in awe of Evan’s harmonic genius, but none of them had ever heard it before. But when I played “You’ve Got A Friend”, a song I’ve been playing since I was about 15, everyone would applaud, sometimes with tears in their eyes. It wasn’t because I had done an extradinary job, it was because the song evoked the emotion embedded in their memories of their youth (just as it still does for me). This got me to thinking about how tap into the emotion of the audience, as well as tap into my own emotional life as well, in my performance. I’m sure you understand what I’m talking about. It’s easy to be so concerned about the technical aspects of playing a piece that one never tries to access one’s emotion about the music and try to express *that* in the performance. Another instructive example what when the wife and I attended the Port Townsend jazz festival a number of years back. During one of the big evening concerts, it opened with a legendary pianist (who shall remain nameless) who proceeded to play the most extraoridary and awesomely technically masterful stuff I had ever heard. But he seemed completely unemotionally involved. It just seemed to spin off his fingers as he yawned. While intellectually awed, I was left cold by the performance. The program night ended with vocalist Nancy King and pianist Steve Christopherson who performed one of the most emotionally complex and stirring performances I’ve ever experienced. Technically, it was rudimentary compared to the first pianist, but lightyears beyond in emotion. Nancy’s performance of St. James Infirmary–a “simple” tune–was one of the most moving I’ve ever seen.

  8. Pingback: How to Kick Butt on Guitar – Creativity Plus Discipline « Adam Rafferty – Guitar and Spirit

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