Saturday Serenata: Music in Waikiki

“A cool breeze enters the restaurant as we are lead to our tables. It’s a busy night at Lulus Waikiki, and a crowd has gathered from the weekend’s Pro Bowl festivities. It’s hard to make out, but there’s a hum of music above the bustle of voices. Who is it?”

When ManoaDNA started playing in Waikiki, our first adventure was to our Friday hangout, Lulus Waikiki. At the time, Lulus was a new restaurant and ManoaDNA was brought in to entertain the crowds Friday nights. None of us had ever really performed in Waikiki steadily, and we were all anxious to see what would come of it. Now looking back over four years of performing in Waikiki, I have become aware of what playing music in Waikiki is like.

The life of a Waikiki musician is a complicated one. It’s a blessing that every night we get to see hundreds of new faces and get our music into hundreds of ears. However, it’s such a constant battle of satisfying a large, diverse population of people, that it leads most people to buy your CD because they like your sound, not your music. Not really you’re goal when you are someone trying to make a name for yourself. That’s like saying to a fashion designer, “I like the fabric you use!” It’s a compliment to his choice of cotton, but their goal is to get you to enjoy their entire line of styles, colors and prints.

You would think, with a constant stream of new listeners and a captured audience, that its an easy “fish in a barrel” scenario. When we first started, I thought, ok, if we can sell ten CDs a night to 10 new listeners, then in a year, we would have 520 new fans! Simple exponential math would also assume that those ten would tell two friends, and their two friends, and so on. However, the average Waikiki restaurant CD purchaser does not become that referring fan. Your music now becomes associated with their overall Hawai’i experience, and they will remember not how your band or your music made them feel, but how it added to their trip. It’s great that we have the opportunity to add to their trip, and are honored to do so, but if we were looking just to highlight our music, playing in Waikiki is a tough way to do that.

I know this may come across to some people as whining, excuse-making, or even being conceited, and that’s not what I want to convey. I know there are a lot of people out there who would kill for a weekly gig, and definitely appreciate all the support places like Lulus and Kani Ka Pila give us. This is just a word of caution and encouragement to the future musicians of Hawai’i. If you get a chance to play in Waikiki, take it, but don’t assume that this is where you will be discovered, or where you will make your mark. Work hard on your music, believe in your product, and that will be what takes you to the next step. It’s the content, not the packaging.


  1. Aloha Nick!Thank you very much for your visit and performances at STUDIO RIM yesterday.
    By the way,
    I am very interested in reading your column. I think WAIKIKI is a kind of mega-stereo town where many kind of people stop by here and wrap up so many elements in their memories luggage.
    Therefore some people might be really impressed with Waikiki musicians’ just sound (you wrote down,,,)as one of piece of their paradise memories.

    But also Waikiki, I mean, is the big show case place for people of all of the world.
    I expect it may cause a big chance!!

    Finally I would like to say, our listeners really appreciate MANOA DNA continues to performance regularly on the same spots. Because they are the convenient place for meeting and enjoying MANOA DNA performances when they have a chance to visit here in Hawaii.

    But in future, I would like to propose and produce like a title of “MANOA DNA backyard party” on regular day (maybe FRIDAY Night?) at IOLANI on kona street! MANOA DNA will invite your music friends , too. I think it is good idea!
    I will talk you later my idea!


    • Reiko, you are always thinking of ManoaDNA!

      I agree that Lulus & Kani Ka Pila are great places for our fans to come and see us. We are very lucky to have great fans and two great places to showcase our music.