When everyone wants to play in a band, is there room left for the solo musician in LOTRO?
It is Friday night at the Green Dragon. The crowd is merry, laughs are easy, and the level of drunkenness is just about right.
A young hobbit fidgets nervously with his lute, asks softly: Could he play a song, perhaps? Cheered on by the others, he gets ready, fumbles a bit, can’t make it work, stutters that this is the first time he plays in front of a crowd.
Finally, there is music. A content sigh from the audience. A familiar tune, one they have heard dozens, if not hundreds of times before. The first few chords of “Concerning Hobbits”, played using the same ABC file we all started out with back in the day.
This used to be a recurring thing. Now, though, you can spend days without seeing a solo musician in LOTRO. Should you run into one, chances are it is one of the game old-timers strumming an ancient favourite, likely waxing lyrical over times long gone. Rarer still is the sight of a new player offering to perform on his or her lonesome.
How did we end up here?
The rise of LOTRO band music
There are certainly many possible explanations for why seemingly fewer players embrace solo music. This might not be a universal issue, it could be limited to the server I play on or the locations I visit. It could be the fact that fewer people play the game. Or it could be the solo performers are still here, but drowning in the sea of band music.
The LOTRO music scene is stronger than ever. It is just that everyone plays in a band. The last couple of years, band music popularity has literally exploded, with new groups popping up everywhere.
On the Laurelin server, there used to be just a few bands around: The Shades, The Songburrow Strollers, and perhaps a couple more. Today, I can easily name fifteen bands playing here regularly without thinking real hard about it. There are probably more too.
Why this increase? Playing in a band is good social fun, of course, but there are a few other important reasons too:
- Playing band music is much easier than before, due to new plugins and MIDI to ABC converters.
- There are lots of player events now that cater more or less solely to band music. The promotion of these events grows increasingly professional and effective.
- For many, band music and related events is the new endgame in LOTRO, the main or even the only reason they are still playing.
LOTRO band music is everywhere. Bands are not just alternatives to solo performances; they are more or less the norm. Former solo performers seem reluctant to offer to play on their own, they’d rather have their band mates with them. Newcomers to the game see all the groups playing and figure that this is the way it should be. Perhaps they get the impression that a solo performance is inferior to the output of the large bands? Perhaps they lack the courage to turn up with a simple lute mere seconds after a seven-member ensemble has performed?
Is this a good thing?
The increased prevalence and professionalism of LOTRO band music has many good sides, but there are certainly a few drawbacks as well. One of my concerns is whether there is room left for the solo performer in LOTRO. I, for one, would be sad to lose them.
After all, I started out as one myself.
Lonely was the path of the bard, until…
Obviously, there are still solo performers around. Chances are that you will meet them by the fireplace in the Prancing Pony. We usually get one or two at the hobbit events on Laurelin, which is less than we used to (instead, we regularly get 3-4 bands signing up to play). Outside of that, out in the open world? The last solo musician you saw was probably someone jumping on-stage to play over and troll a band putting on a performance.
Which is a shame, because the solo route is the one that many of the first LOTRO musicians took, roleplaying as bards. Setting up on a village corner, inside the inns, by a campfire in the wilderness. Playing music, engaging with those passing by, seeing if someone would stop and listen.
When I first started with music in LOTRO, I made a habit of playing my lute in the Michel Delving square. Eventually, someone would come over. We would strike up a conversation about news, the weather, my songs, the crops, the constantly growing prices of ale, anything really. Sometimes they had their own instruments, their own songs. We alternated playing and listening to each other. Others came to and did the same. Sometimes we’d end up at the inn or going on an adventure together. Friendships were made.
One day, a wild-looking, boot-wearing, but quite friendly and enthusiastic hobbit called Lotti stopped by for a chat. She invited me to the Plough and Stars, to play during the first anniversary of Green Dragon Friday.
I was a bundle of nerves heading there. I couldn’t even bring myself to open the door, I set up near the signpost down by the road instead. Strumming for myself for a while, until another friendly hobbit named Simbo came by and more or less cheered me up the road and into the inn. Where 25-30 other hobbits were having the time of their life already. Eep!
Some might say that LOTRO player music is easy; it is just about pressing a button and waiting for things to happen. The first time I played in front of a larger crowd, though, I was all shakes. Would the others like the songs? I had converted one or two of them myself, would they work? I liked to chat a bit during the songs, would that go well? Most likely I would make a massive fool of myself, right? RIGHT?
Seeing the others dance to the songs and chat with me as I played made it all worth it, though. I was relieved and happy afterwards. It still is one of the best nights I have had in LOTRO.
The virtues of a solo performance
How many miss out on similar experiences these days? When they go the band route instead, where they are just another face in the group? When events grow bigger and more band-oriented, to the extent that casual, free, creative chats drown in dance and applause emotes? When a lot of player interaction ends up in band fellowships instead of the open world channels? When everyone are too busy being holed up rehearsing for or chasing their next big peformance, and don’t have the time to go meet a lone bard in the square?
A lot of small-scale roleplaying could be lost. Conversations that start between just a few, but develop once others come to and join in. Spontaneous, non-scripted stuff not bound by fixed event frameworks or time slots, not hidden in closed chat channels. The things that bring spice and life to a server. The things that help build a community.
Lone performances are good during events too. Solo play is flexible and nimble. You don’t have the logistical challenges with band members who have forgotten their instruments, who haven’t updated their song notes. Event planners can call on you immediately without fearing that your response will be “er yeah, we can play, but only in a hour when so and so has arrived”.
Solo music gives your character a chance to shine. The songs you play, the introductions you make, your chat and emotes, all of it lets the others know exactly who you are. Which can be scary the first few times. Being in the spotlight, the eyes of everyone upon you, might make you stop and think whether it is worth it.
I promise you it is.
Shout it out for the lone LOTRO musician
Another Friday night at the Green Dragon. The crowd is merry, laughs are easy, and the level of drunkenness is just about right. We just miss that lone performer, new or old. Sadly, we didn’t see any in the square earlier today either.
Lone bard, I hope you will still be here in the years to come. First-time performer, I hope you have the courage to play for us on your own. Know that you will be most welcome. Know that there is always room for you when we meet.
We will cheer for you even if you play “Concerning hobbits”.