A ‘Real’ Professional Musician in a Quiet City

As I come to the end of my time in Hanoi, I have finally remembered to post some reflections from the previous city: Vientiane, Laos.

Vientiane, for me, was a very stark contrast to both Bangkok, which I visited directly before, and Hanoi, which I went to directly after. In both population and layout, Vientiane is much smaller and much quieter. In most popular areas and neighbourhoods, there were no skyscrapers to find shade next to. I could use a bicycle without fear of getting run over. And I could walk down the middle of the road at night when the streets went completely empty. In terms of gathering audio for my project, this quietness was also a bit of a new challenge: there were no signature MRT announcements or overcrowded public spaces to listen to. As a result, along with the more slow-paced sounds of fruit vendors, food markets, lone motorbikes, and birds, I ended up incorporating lines from some conversations I had in my time there. My song written and recorded in Vientiane can be found here:


All in all, I probably spent significantly less time on this song than the others because I spent a lot more time playing music and having (gasp!) actual social interactions with people at the music venues and the hostel. Given the size of Vientiane, its nightlife is not exactly comparable to the other capital cities I’m visiting, so when I told people I was playing at a nearby bar, they usually had few other options but to join. Although my original plan was to play two gigs which I had booked beforehand, I ended up playing five nights in a row – which turned out to be both a challenging experiment and a really fun decision.

It was the first time I had ever been tasked with putting together two full 30-minute sets of (mostly) memorised songs, and furthermore doing so by myself, working with only one guitar and voice. It took much longer than I had expected to choose songs I knew well enough and decide upon an even mix and incorporation of both originals and different covers. However, I also realised that it gets a lot easier once some effort has been put in at the start. I now feel a lot more equipped to perform for long amounts of time, and I think one of my biggest takeaways from the week was that it’s really important to engage with the audience — if for no other reason than to avoid getting bored of playing the same hour of music on repeat.

These were the first solo, paid gigs I had ever played. And although doing five in a row was probably overkill, it helped me work through the uncertainties I had surrounding performing alone and not being a ‘real’ professional musician.  Musically, my summer is unorthodox. I’m touring with no real ambitions to perform, and writing an album with no real following. But nonetheless — as odd and barely-technically-accurate as it sounds to myself when I explain it to hostel-goers — I am, by definition, a ‘real’ traveling musician this summer. And that’s a pretty fun thing to be.