Category: playing live

Six Solutions to Your Practice Space Problem

By NationWide Source - Estimated reading time: 6 minutes

I, like many other people, live in an apartment.

Unlike most other people in my apartment complex, I’m a musician.

This is unique challenge, because I am loud.

And not only am I loud, my band is loud.

Through more error than trial, I have learned that it is not a good idea for my band to rehearse in my apartment, even though this is the space most readily available to me. And I know I’m not alone. A major challenge for many bands is a lack of rehearsal space.

But the lack of rehearsal room doesn’t have to mean the end of an apartment dwelling band! With a little ingenuity, you will be making sweet tunes in no time!

Solution One: Professional Practice Space

Chances are, if you live in a big city, there are a few practice spaces that are available for rent. Typically rehearsal rooms are available to rent hourly, and some rehearsal spaces offer a monthly rental. These rooms often already have PA systems that you can use, and many offer 24 hour access.

If you are practicing a lot (which you should be) a professional rehearsal space might be a good investment for your band. The major downside is that these rooms can be expensive, and sometimes they are not the most well-kept facilities. However, if you can afford it, and there are professional rehearsal spaces in your city, I recommend renting one.

Solution Two: Demo Away!

If you’ve already got some home recording equipment, creating rehearsal demos might be the way to go for your band. Record simple versions of your songs, then give them to your band members to rehearse with.

These demos should be as close as possible to the live performance arrangement. You can even mute certain instruments so that the tracks are easier to rehearse to. For example, the vocalist might rehearse better with just an instrumental track, or the drummer might not want the distraction of pre-recorded drums in his mix.

Rehearsal demos have a few downsides. If this is your primary way of rehearsing, you have to have a lot of faith in your fellow band members to rehearse on their own time. It takes a lot of individual dedication.

You also have to find time for some full-band rehearsal as well. Though individual rehearsal with demos can drastically cut down on the time you need to spend in full rehearsal, getting the band totally locked in together is something that’s only going to happen when all the members of your band are actually together, fleshing out the music. This means that at some point, you will have to let your neighbors know you’re gonna be loud for a few hours, or you’ll need to rent a rehearsal space. Either way, using rehearsal demos can cut down on headaches, and on costs. Plus, you’ll already have good demos of all your songs!

Solution Three: Ask Your Place of Worship

Do you know what pretty much every place of worship has? A building that is mostly empty for a large part of the week, and a PA system. If you are a member of a church(or a mosque, or a temple, or a synagogue), and your music doesn’t offend any major doctrines or church staff, you might be able to practice in your church building for free, or for a small fee. This is especially true in smaller towns that might not have rehearsal spaces for rent. Even if it’s just an unused room with no PA system, a room to practice in is much better than no room to practice in.

Solution Four: Ask Your Drummer

I know it seems a little silly. And I will do my absolute best to avoid drummer stereotypes in this  short paragraph. But…

In all the bands that I’ve been a part of, and out of all the bands I’ve worked with, the drummer is not usually the person who organizes and schedules band practice. However, if your drummer keeps his kit set up in his place of residence, he probably already has A) a room big enough for a drum kit, and B) a place where loud noises are at least semi-tolerated.

If those two criteria are met, you might want to ask your drummer if you could practice at his place. It might be a little cramped, you might not be able to practice during prime-time hours, but a free rehearsal space is a free rehearsal space, no matter how you look at it.

Just make sure you ask your drummer to pick up his dirty socks before the whole band comes over.

Solution Five: Be A Good Neighbor

This solution might not apply if your apartment complex has a very strict noise policy. But it never hurts to simply reach out to your neighbors and let them know the situation you’re in. Try asking them if there is a specific evening when they won’t be home when you could schedule a rehearsal, or inquire about their work schedule, and try to fit in a daytime rehearsal with your band.

Ultimately, you need to respect your neighbors, so if there isn’t a time that works well for you to rehearse, you might need to bite the bullet and pay for a rehearsal space. After all, you don’t want to get kicked out of your home for too many noise complaints.

Solution Six: Acoustic Practice

An easy fix to a noisy practice? Practice more quietly. Ask your drummer to play with brushes or hot rods (or on a cajon/djembe) and rehearse with your other instruments unplugged, or turned down waaaaay low.

Electric guitarists, I know you need to turn your amp up to get a good tone. I know quieter practices might hurt your tone sensibilities. I get it. But rehearsal is for the good of the whole band, not just your ears. So keep that volume low!

Acoustic rehearsals can also help you hear your music in new ways, and might expose a problem area or two that you need to fix. I recommend having an acoustic rehearsal at least once a month to self-evaluate.

Acoustic rehearsals can also add to your versatility as a band. If you are ready to go—plugged or unplugged—you might have the opportunity to gig more often simply because you are adaptable.

For many bands, there is no perfect rehearsal solution. Space is limited, or expensive, and neighbors complain too much. But we hope that some of these solutions will help your band be able to rehearse more effectively, more often.

What rehearsal space problems have you solved? Are there any solutions we missed? Let us know in the comments below!




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A Musician’s Guide to Performing Live: 6 Things You Can’t Forget on Show Day

By NationWide Source - Estimated reading time: 4 minutes

It’s the day of your show. Huzzah! You sent the venue a confirmation email (last week hopefully!), you know when you’re supposed to start soundcheck, and your onstage banter is so hilarious you could make a cat cry tears of joy.

But as you sit eating your morning bowl of Wheaties, you begin to get the feeling that you’ve forgotten something. Or that you will forget something.

Show days can be stressful, whether you are on tour or playing a big event in your hometown. We’ve created a checklist for you to make sure that your show goes off as smoothly as possible.

1 – Grab Your Gear!

This may seem like a no-brainer. You know that you need your guitar for the show. So you grab it, toss it in your trunk, and head out to the show. Everything seems fine until you get to the venue and realize you didn’t put the cable or the guitar strap in your case like you usually do. Murphy’s Law says that if something can go wrong, it will. This is especially true for your gear.

Try creating a master packing list for all your shows, and go over it right before you pack up your gear to make sure you don’t need anything extra for this particular show.

Don’t forget the little stuff that can get easily overlooked! Petty cash for your merch table, extra guitar picks, a spare cable or two, and a sharpie are all important things you need to have when you load up the van!

2 – Get There Early!

Sound check is at 4? Awesome. Shoot for being there at 3 or 3:30. Musicians are not known for their punctuality, and you have the opportunity to break a mold here and impress the venue where you’re playing! No one is going to be upset that you were early. Plus you never know when traffic is going to get crazy or when you’ll have a flat tire. Always planning to be early can alleviate some of these stressors.

3 – Know Where to Park

I recommend asking the venue in advance about parking, either in that confirmation email you sent out (last week!) or with a simple phone call the day of the show. Since many venues are downtown, parking can be tricky, especially if you’re trying to park a large vehicle like a van. Plan for enough time to find a suitable parking space and to walk back to the venue. Don’t forget that you might have to pay for parking, so plan ahead!

4 – Set Up Your Merch

Don’t leave merch setup for the last minute. This is how you are going to make the majority of money for the majority of your gigs, so it should never be an afterthought. Ask the venue if there is a designated area for merch setup, and make sure everything is set up and looking good before the doors open.

5 – You Need to Eat

I used to get so confused when people would tell me that they just “forgot to eat!” I never forgot to eat…until I started playing shows regularly. Then I realized that between loading the van, unloading the van, sound checking, setting up merch, talking to fans before the show started, and actually playing the show, I did, in fact, forget to eat.

Setting aside a few minutes for dinner before a show is really important. No one wants the band to pass out on stage because they forgot to eat. Plan ahead by looking up restaurants near the venue, or prepping an easy on-the-go meal before you leave for the show. If the venue has a restaurant, food and drinks might be included with your performance, so make sure to ask your venue contact person if food is included.

**Even more important than food is water! Be proactive in your hydration, especially if the show is outdoors!

6 – Play Your Heart Out

It’s time to actually play the show you’ve been preparing for all day. So no matter what happened earlier-the forgotten cable, the parking mishap, the traffic jam-it’s time to get onstage and play the best show of your life!
Is there anything else that’s an absolute must for show day preparation? Got any stories about a show day that went totally wrong? Let us know in the comments below!


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10 Terms You Need to Know at Your Next Gig

By NationWide Source - Estimated reading time: 6 minutes

Have you ever listened to two computer programmers talk to each other? How about two or three people obsessed with the same video game? Maybe it was your Grandma and Great Aunt Betty talking about knitting techniques.

Often vocations or hobbies that have a very specific niche will also have a very specific vocabulary. The music industry is no different.

For musicians who are just beginning to venture into the world of live shows, the terms that get thrown around can be confusing. Even musicians who have been playing professionally for a while will occasionally stumble upon a phrase they’ve never heard before.

We’re going to help ease your mind as you prepare for your next gig by getting you familiar with the jargon before you head out for the venue.

Load In

Load in is the time when you are expected to be at the venue to bring all your equipment inside. This time is typically the same for all musicians, unless you’ve been specifically told that your load in will be directly before your soundcheck.

Soundcheck

This is your time before the show to get comfortable in the space on stage, make sure you can hear yourself well, and run over any last minute adjustments with the band. During soundcheck you will usually play each instrument individually, then play together so the sound guy can make sure that you sound amazing. Sound check is also when you need to let the sound engineer know if you have any special needs for your mix. If the violin needs to be cranked for the whole set, or if you have vocalists swapping microphones, they need to know about it.

Front of House

This is the mix of your music that the audience hears. The sound guy who makes all the magic happen for the audience is called the “FOH Engineer.” Always make sure you are extra polite and gracious to the FOH Engineer (and ALL the staff at the venue!), because they control how you sound. If you are playing a new venue, or you’ve never met the FOH Engineer at a venue you play often, take a few minutes and get to know them. Sound guys are the most important member of your band, regardless of where you are playing.

Monitors

Monitors are the speakers that are angled up at you onstage, and they are your best friends. Monitors allow you to hear a different mix from the audience, so that you can hear exactly what you need to perform well. This is called a monitor mix. If you are playing a small venue, they may only have one or two monitors. Bigger venues may have one for each member of the band. If possible, it’s a good idea to try and get a separate monitor mix for each member of the band. If that’s not possible, a drummer and bassist can usually share a monitor mix; guitars will probably have their own or share with keys, and vocalists will typically have their own. A keyboardist and vocalist can share a monitor mix if necessary. Some venues may also have a set up for in ear monitors, although the band usually brings that with them. Make sure you clarify what the monitor setup is going to be before the show so that there is no confusion when you get to your gig.

Green Room

This room may or may not be green, but it always refers to the room that performers can hang out in before they go onstage. In some venues, a green room may be replaced with dressing rooms, or there may be dressing rooms in addition to a green room. Sometimes only the headliner is given access to the green room, so if you aren’t headlining, you might want to clarify with the venue what their policy is.

Hold

This is a term that you will probably encounter as you are booking shows. This term is used most often by promoters and booking agents when they are talking to venues, but it’s important for musicians to understand what it means.

When a promoter (or band) asks for a “hold” they are asking that the venue not book anything else on that day. Typically holds are placed far in advance of the show date, and they happen on a first come, first served basis.

Many venues will place several holds on a date as they try to fill up their calendars. When this happens, each person with a hold is assigned a position–first, second, third etc.– based on when they contacted the venue. A first hold will have priority in booking the date. A second hold would only be able to book that date if the first hold decided they didn’t want it. For some venues, these holds can be 6 people deep as promoters compete for dates.

If you are booking yourself, and you’ve run into a “hold” on your perfect date, don’t worry. Just because there is a hold on a date doesn’t mean the date is booked. Be sure to follow up with the venue in a week or so to see if the hold is still there.

Guarantee

If you are getting a guarantee for your show, it means that no matter how many people show up, you are still going to get paid. This is every artist’s goal for each show they book, though a guarantee doesn’t always happen.

Door Cut

Door cut is not sawing the venue’s front doors into pieces and giving them to the band.

A door cut means that you are going to be paid a percentage of ticket sales. Your door cut might be a percentage of all ticket sales, or a percentage of the tickets sales for fans that came to see you specifically. Be sure to find out before you play, so you can tell your fans if they need to mention your name to the person selling tickets.

Set Time

This is the time you play, as opposed to when the show starts or when doors open. It can also refer to the amount of time you have to play.

Comp

Usually comps come in the form of drinks or food. A venue will usually “comp” each band member a drink or two for the evening.

Bonus! The Infamous Ceiling Point

This one really isn’t a term. It’s a gesture that you may have seen bands use during soundcheck. When it comes time to mix monitors, each musician will play individually, and then the other members of the band will either point up, down, or give a thumbs up to the engineer. This is a way of non-verbally signaling exactly what you need in your monitor. It’s much more efficient than constantly stopping to ask the monitor engineer to tweak something, especially for a band member who doesn’t have a microphone. Pretty much anytime you ask the sound engineer for a change in levels, you can use these simple signals to make sure you get your monitor levels where you want them. Just make sure you clarify what instrument you need turned up or down!




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Live Streaming Your Performance with Stageit, Periscope, and Google Hangouts for Musicians

By NationWide Source - Estimated reading time: 5 minutes

We live in an era where new technologies pop up quickly, and disappear just as fast. Everyone is always looking for the next awesome app that’s going to make their life a little easier, and a little more fun.

Enter live streaming.

Although live streaming video has been around for a while, it is beginning to gain popularity and traction, and some new live streaming apps have appeared in the last few months. Here’s a quick run-down of our favorite apps and websites, and how you can use them to promote your music, connect with fans, and even earn some cash.

Live Streaming Concerts With Stageit:

There are lots of different services that will allow you to stream a show live. UStream, Livestream, and Stageit are platforms that can put your concert directly onto your fan’s laptops. But Livestream and UStream are expensive to use.

This is why we recommend Stageit. Stageit is a great platform that was obviously built with musicians in mind. Artists like Jason Mraz, Ingrid Michaelson, and Bon Jovi have all used the platform. Stageit is simple to setup and use, and is free for artists. It allows you to choose ticket prices(or let fans choose a price) and fans can tip you during your show. Shows are defaulted to last for 30 minutes, although you can have up to a 20 minute “encore.”

There is also live commenting enabled for fans and artists so that you can interact with viewers during the show. You will also have access to information about the fans who tip the most during your show, and Stageit encourages you to give fans that tip generously a reward, like a signed CD or poster, when the show is over.

Stageit is available on mobile platforms as well as desktops and laptops, so your fans can watch from anywhere. All you need to get started is a webcam, but you can upgrade to a more complicated set up with more cameras and different audio sources if you like.

There are two downsides to Stageit. When you use Stageit to live stream a show, nothing is recorded and archived. This is a great thing to promote the exclusivity of the Stageit show,  but it can become a problem if something great happens and you have no means to capture and keep the video.

Stageit also uses their own “currency” during shows called notes. Fans pay for show tickets and tip during the show with notes that they pre-pay for. One note is equal to 10 cents, and fans can purchase them when they sign up for the site. While this isn’t a bad system, it can be a little confusing for new users, so you may want to explain it to your fans before your show.

If you want to get into live streaming shows, Stageit can be a powerful tool to connect with fans, and put a little extra cash in your pocket.

Periscope for Musicians:

Twitter’s newest app launched in March 2015 and it’s beginning to pick up a lot of buzz. Periscope is a social app that lets your broadcast live wherever and whenever you want. You simply login with your Twitter account information, give Periscope access to your phone’s camera and photo roll, and you’re good to go. Then other users can tune in to what you’re broadcasting live.

There are a couple of features in Periscope that help it to stand a little above its main competitor Meerkat.

  • Privacy Settings: You can allow anyone to watch your Periscope broadcasts, or you can invite specific users in. This is a really cool feature if you are offering a live broadcast as a reward to fans for a crowdfunding campaign, or if you only want members of your fan club or patrons to see your broadcasts.
  • Video Archival: Periscope lets other users see your broadcasts for up to 24 hours after you post them, a feature that Meerkat doesn’t have. It also gives you the option to save all your broadcasts to your phone. This means that your Periscope broadcasts are doing double duty capturing video that you can use later for YouTube or Facebook.

Periscope can help you communicate directly to fans like never before. People who love your music can experience moments with you as they are happening, and they can interact with those moments. Periscope displays comments in real time during your broadcast so users can communicate with you directly and affect what’s happening in your broadcast by giving their suggestions or asking questions. This is a fantastic way for artists to deepen their communication with fans.

Google+ Hangouts On Air and YouTube Live:

Google+’s live streaming feature is a great choice if you want your live stream to be recorded and archived, and if you want a little more flexibility in where your users can watch from. Since Google+ and YouTube are best friends(i.e. owned by the game company!), your Google+ Hangout On Air can go directly to your YouTube channel, and will be archived there. Live streaming with Google+ is also embeddable, so you can place the video into your website. This is a great way to encourage your fans to visit your website. Google+ Hangouts On Air are simple to set up (you can find instructions here). If Google+ isn’t your cup of tea you can set up your live stream directly through YouTube  (click here for details). They function essentially the same, although on YouTube fans will only be commenting, not engaging through video. You can also earn money for ad revenue during live broadcasts through YouTube if your channel is set up for monetization.

Closing The Gap

Having a dedicated set of fans is the number one key to having a  successful career in music. Giving your fans custom experiences through live streaming can help you strengthen bonds with existing fans, and open doors to creating new ones. And when fans are engaged with you and your music, you are one step closer to a sustainable music career.
Have you used live streaming before? How did fans react? Will you use it again? Let us know in the comments below!


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Keep Your Audience Listening: How To Add Interest to Your Live Show

By NationWide Source - Estimated reading time: 6 minutes

Last week I told you about a show I went to. I liked the artist’s music, but found it difficult to focus on his performance. I went home and began to ask myself why I wasn’t engaged with this artist’s show.

I realized one of the main reasons I was having trouble paying attention was because his whole show looked exactly the same.

Most live shows have three key elements. The music, the script— the order you play the music in, and what you say between the music— and the visuals.

People come to see a show, not hear it.

Let me clarify: If your music is bad, it doesn’t matter how great your visuals are. Well rehearsed, well written music is absolutely essential. But your audience isn’t paying to hear an exact copy of your album. They bought a ticket because they want an experience. And the visual aspect of your show is crucial in keeping people engaged with what’s happening onstage, and giving a night they’ll remember.

The Essentials: Onstage Movement

Having a road map of changing visuals for each of your songs is a great idea. When you have a general idea of what everyone is doing for each song, you can make sure that you have lots of visual interest and diversity in your show. This will help keep your audience focused on you throughout your entire show.

During your rehearsals, try setting your self up as close as possible to how you will be set up for a gig. Then run through your set exactly like you would at a show. Play your music in the right order, and run through your transition exactly how you would if you were playing in front of an audience. As you’re rehearsing, find places you can add something visual to. Here are three starting points:

  • Try to figure out where you can interact with other members of your band. If you’re the singer, turn around and jam with your drummer. Or if your guitarist should walk over to the bassist. If your guitarist has a solo, or is being featured for a section, have the lead singer look at him, or even walk over to him. This action helps the audience know where to look, and signals them that something new and exciting is happening.
  • Visually highlight dynamic changes. Are you going from an upbeat and exciting part of your set to a quieter, more intimate section? Bring out a stool, have your drummer take a break, and show your audience visually that you’re about to take them to someplace completely new.
  • Make eye contact. In any kind of ensemble, a little eye contact goes a long way. When your band is a tight knit unit, and looks like one, the audience can feel that camaraderie, and you can invite them to participate in it. When they feel connected to— like they are a part of something— that’s when you’ve gained a fan.

Riding Solo

Now, not all of these suggestions are going to work for everyone. What if you play by yourself, or with one other person?

If you are in a smaller ensemble, and chained to an instrument and your mic stand, don’t despair! There are things that you can do to add visual interest to your show.

The first thing to do is look at your facial expressions. You might want to try rehearsing into a mirror, or a webcam. If you make the same face the whole time, work on matching your facial expressions to your lyrics. Maybe all you need to do is practice smiling. Looking like you’re enjoying yourself onstage goes a long way in getting the audience to enjoy your performance.

If you play an instrument, learn to move with that instrument. Bend over your guitar a little. Nod your head in time with your keys.Engage with it! After all, it’s part of  your band too.

Game Film

A great tool to help you plan these movements is to film your rehearsal. Perform just like you would in front of an audience, and then watch the footage. Take note of when two songs that are back to back look very similar. Try to pinpoint places that you can add contrast and focal points.

You can also imagine your show as a series of photographs. Where can you move that is going to create a great “picture” for your audience to remember?

The Extras

Your movement plays a huge part in making your live show interesting to watch. But you can also add some extras to enhance the way your show looks.

Lights are a great way to add visual contrast to your show. Though a light show is not a necessity, if you have the capabilities to add interest to your performance with a light show, use it! A full scale LED light show is awesome, but can get expensive. But lights don’t have to cost you a million dollars. In many smaller venues, a complete light show would distract from your performance instead of enhancing it.  Some small light boxes with your band’s name on them are simple to make, or you could create a distinct mood onstage by adding a few antique lamps. A backdrop or banner behind you can also help identify you and grab the audience’s attention. Even simple solutions can add lots of visual interest to your stage.  Lights and banners won’t be appropriate for every performance or venue, but done right, they can be a relatively inexpensive way for you to stand out from the crowd.

Stage Presence

Planning movement and adding in other visuals are important steps in creating an engaging live performance. But not every show can be perfectly planned. Sometimes movements that have been mapped out can’t happen because of space constraints. Your lights might malfunction, or your banner may fall.

Things will go wrong. But that doesn’t mean that your whole show has just lost its effectiveness. Learning to deal with the curve balls that get thrown while your onstage is an important skill to develop.

Sometimes, the plan changing might not be a mistake. Maybe you aren’t getting the reaction you want from the crowd, so you decide to change things up a little.  As a performer,  you have to learn to grab the audience’s attention, and keep it. This looks different for every performer, and there’s something intangible about it. When a musician can do this, we say they have a great stage presence.

Want to know a secret?

Stage presence isn’t a mystical quality bestowed on a lucky few by a magician with a magic music wand.

Stage presence is 40% confidence, and 60% experience. And that 40% confidence? It comes from experience. It comes from hours of hard work in rehearsal, and from knowing your music backwards and forwards. It comes from successful attempts, and failed attempts. It comes from being comfortable onstage.

Want to know another secret?

The best way to feel comfortable onstage is to get onstage. Over and over and over again.

The best way to master any skill it is to practice it. Performing live is no different. So get out there and perform! Give your heart, soul, and time to the music you create, and the audience will recognize it.

Have any other tips for performing live? Let us know in the comments below!




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Improving Your Live Show: What Should You Do In Between Songs?

By NationWide Source - Estimated reading time: 7 minutes

I curled up in the coffee shop’s armchair, took a sip from the mug in my hand, and looked around. The coffee shop was busy. In all honesty, it’s as much a venue as it is coffee shop; it has live music daily, a permanent stage and nice sound system, and a loyal group of customers who frequent the establishment to get their fix—both of caffeine and music.

On this particular evening, I was one of those customers. I was there to spend my evening with a few good friends and discover some (hopefully) good music. While I was there for the music, I did not know who would be playing.

As the artist took the stage and began to play his first song, I was pleasantly surprised. It was clear that he was talented and knew what he was doing, and you could tell he had spent countless hours writing and rehearsing the song. He quickly had my full attention.

The first song ended, and he launched into his second song. It was still good—all the key musical elements from the first song were in place—but my thoughts began to wander. By the third song I was occasionally whispering to my friends, and, by the fourth, I was ready for something new.

My fleeting interest had nothing to do with his musical ability. His songs were interesting, and he knew them well. I truly enjoyed the music. But, his performance didn’t catch and hold my interest. This bothered me. As someone who wants independent musicians to succeed, and as someone who is willing to support them in their efforts, I was disheartened.  What went wrong?

I realized that sometimes music alone isn’t enough to grab and keep a potential fan’s attention.  Sometimes, you have to entertain them.

Not Just the Music

As a general rule, all musicians—even the most reclusive artists—must perform in front of people, at least occasionally.  Live performances (and their accompanying merch sales) account for a huge percentage of income for today’s independent artists, and they are the best opportunity to make new fans and cement ties to old fans.

Many new or inexperienced musicians think that playing a successful show means getting in front of people and simply playing their music with minimal mistakes. They might tell a few stories, say a few song names, and introduce the band… or they might not. There is no “rest of the set” to plan, since they count on the music to carry their performance. To them, the music is all that matters.

And they aren’t wrong… Your music needs to be awesome. You need to spend hours rehearsing, getting to know each note so well that you could play your whole set in your sleep. That is a vital piece of the puzzle. It is huge piece of the puzzle.

But… it’s just one piece of the puzzle. Yes, great music can reel a person in. Yes, beautiful art can keep them engaged for your entire performance. But just because it can, doesn’t mean it will. Chances are, the majority of people you’re going to be playing in front of need more.

In today’s economy of short attention spans, 140 character updates, viral videos, and entire worlds on devices in every person’s hand or pocket, musicians face more performance challenges than ever before.  There are going to be other things happening during your performance, even in the best listening rooms.  So, how do you compete with the hundreds of distractions waiting to steal the focus off of your performance? You give them a great show.

Putting Together a Great Show

If you’ve ever been in a musical, you know that there is an order to the procedure.

  1. Make sure the music is great—each note should be perfect.
  2. When the music is nearly perfect, everyone starts learning the script. This includes the performers who don’t have lines; they still need to know exactly what’s going on.
  3. Once the music and lines are learned, the group comes together to work on blocking (the movement of and transitions between) each scene.

Without the music, there isn’t a musical. Without the lines and proper sequence, there’s no story. It’s nothing more than a collection of songs. Without the blocking, it’s disjointed and bumpy at best. At worst, it fails to capture the audience’s attention.

Why am I telling you this? Because your live show is not much different than a musical.

Creating A Pseudo Script

In a musical, the script dictates everything that goes on onstage. As an independent musician, though, you get to write your own script. You get to decide what goes on in your live shows. Your script includes what you say (and choose not to say) between songs, but it is more than that.

Your script starts with a set list. The right song order is incredibly important, whether you’re playing 30 songs or two songs. If you’re not sure where to start with creating a set list, you can read the article we recently wrote about it here.

The second part of your script is what you say in between songs. If you have original songs with particularly interesting stories behind them, you might tell those stories before starting the songs. You can introduce yourself and the band, talk about your latest release, or share funny stories from the road or past performances. The possibilities are limited only by your imagination. After all, this is your script and your show.

Put It Into Practice

A good show starts in rehearsal. You should be used to rehearsing your music, but it’s also important to rehearse your script. You should practice your songs in the order you want to play them at the show and practice the stories you will tell to take your audience from one song to the next. This will help your whole set be cohesive.

As you begin to rehearse and use your script, you will probably find that some ideas work better than others. Some stories make your audience sit up and listen to your song, while others make them turn to their friends to have a conversation. Discovering the right stories, the right balance between talking and music, the right balance between types of transitions, and the right way of talking to your audience are all things that take time and practice to figure out.

If you play with a band, they will probably be able to help you filter some of what will and won’t work. Ask for their honest opinions, and use your bandmates as a sounding board for other ideas you may have.

You can also try filming your rehearsal, script and all, and watching it back. Does your speaking voice sound natural? Do the songs make sense in the order you’re playing them in? Are you stumbling over parts of a story? Does the show have musical variety? You are usually your harshest critic; watching yourself can help you pinpoint the areas you need to work on.

After you’ve done some internal editing, ask your friends and family if you can play a house show for them. Ask them to give you honest feedback when the show is over. This can be a great tool to practice interacting with your audience with people who are excited to see you succeed. It will let you know where a punch line falls flat or where you may need to add or take away parts of what you will say. Trial and error is the best way to get your script exactly where it needs to be. Don’t worry if you don’t hit the ball out of the park on your first time up at bat.

Although it is necessary to know what you will say, and to practice incorporating your script into your set, don’t be afraid to change it on the fly. Every show is different, and every audience needs something in your show to make it personal for them. Don’t be afraid to try something new. It might not help… or it might take your show to new heights!

Live performance is an art unto itself, and the script is only half of what makes a live show great. Check back soon to learn how to capture your audience’s attention by creating a visually interesting live show.




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Crafting a Set List: Your First Step to a Great Gig

By NationWide Source - Estimated reading time: 9 minutes

You’ve gotten THE gig, and you’re super excited. You’ve been rehearsing, but now you’ve kicked rehearsals up a notch or twelve. You’ve also come to the place that most musicians dread but every musician must deal with: You have to make a set list.

Some bands don’t bother with set lists, but they are important. Why? A bad set list can ruin a show. A good set list can take a decent band and make it sound like a good band. A great set list can reel a listener in, keep them with you for the entire show, and win you new fans.

There are many different things to consider when creating a set list, but we are going to focus on five key elements for creating and using your set list to its fullest potential. These five elements are:

  • Purpose/Audience
  • The Technical Stuff
  • The “Feel” of the Song
  • Transitions
  • The Art of Spontaneity

The Basics

Before we send you off into the world of set list creating, we should go over a few basic concepts.

  • For the purposes of this article, a “set” is going to be 12 songs. Depending on your songs and what kind of set you are playing, this number will vary, and that’s okay. Once you’ve looked at the five key elements of creating a set list, and you know how much time you’ll have for your set, you can adjust your number accordingly.
  • Generally, a good set is divided into three or four parts, with each part having its own peaks and valleys. Let’s call them “set-sections.” The number of set-sections you will have will depend on the length of your set, but even a two song set needs to have contrast within it.
  • Not all sets will look the same. You may have a gig where it’s appropriate to play an album in its entirety. Or, you may have a gig where you only play covers. These rules are not one size fits all. Don’t be afraid to experiment and fit the set to the gig, whatever that may look like.

Now let’s look at what you can do to craft a great set list.

Purpose and Audience

When you create a set list, you need to determine the purpose of your set.

The first consideration is the setting or venue. A set for a coffeehouse will probably look different from what you would play at a wedding, and a wedding set list will look nothing like a set for a summer festival. The venue itself will help determine some of your decisions—a small stage with only enough room for two people might not be the best time to play a song that sounds best with your full band.

The second, and perhaps most important, consideration is the audience. At each of the places I mentioned above, the audience will react to you in very different ways. This is why you should create your set list with your audience in mind. They are, after all, the people who are (hopefully) paying to see you. If you are in a small room and people are paying attention, it might be all right to bust out the B-side from your second release that no one but your mom has heard. But, at a busy festival or in a crowded bar, you may want to play songs that are known attention-grabbers or fan favorites that have stood the test of time.

When you have a general idea of the audience you will be playing for, you have another factor to consider: How do you want the audience to respond? You are onstage and have a microphone to carry your voice across the murmur of the crowd. People will be listening to you, even if it’s only for a moment. There is some authority, however small it may be, that comes with your position. Do you want your audience to get up and have a good time? Great! Plan your set so they can get up and dance, and give them a couple slow songs to grab a drink.  You want to raise awareness for your favorite cause? Use your music to put people in a frame of mind that will allow them listen to you when you talk about that charity. You can’t force people’s responses, but if you have a purpose for your set, you can help guide your audience in the direction you want them to go.

The Technical Stuff

Okay, so you’ve identified your setting, your audience, and your purpose. Now it’s time to get into the nitty gritty of creating your list. There are a few rules to keep in mind that deal with the details of your songs.

Key

Though the average listener might not know what key you’re playing in, if you play too many songs in the same key consecutively, the audience will likely think everything sounded the same and lose interest—even if the songs have different tempos and a different feel.  A good rule of thumb is to never play more than two songs in a row that are in the same key.

Tempo

As with key, it makes a difference to vary the tempo within your set list. Try to categorize your songs into slow (60-80 BPM), mid-tempo (80-110 BPM), and fast (110 BPM and above). Then, in each of your set-sections, try to have a variety of tempos. You can also group tempos or have one slow set-section that has some tempo variation with its broader “slow” category. Maybe try slow-mid-slow in one section, or come way down and do a slow-slow-mid and ramp back up into a more energetic set-section. This variety keeps your audience from losing interest.

Complexity and Energy

If your drummer has gone crazy playing over 140 BPM for the last set-section, you may want to slow down a little bit and give his muscles a break. Really, it’s the same no matter what instrument you play.  The lead singer may enjoy nailing those difficult high notes, but—if you don’t bring it back to their comfort range—their voice will begin to tire, and your sound may suffer. Try to keep your more challenging numbers separated to give you and your band a break. Bring them back in when you need to re-capture your audience.

The “Feel” of the Song

In the same way that you don’t want too many songs in the same key played together, you also want to pay attention to the “feel” of the song. Though the term “feel” is subjective, there are a few concrete things we can look at.

Rhythm

Is the song shuffled? Does it have more of a dance beat? Are all the choruses played half-time? Try to separate rhythmically similar songs, or only play two back to back.

Timbre

In the same way that you can tell the difference between a flute and a trumpet, your lead singer’s voice has different timbres, or sounds, that fit together in different ways. Likewise, you can switch effects on an electric guitar or switch to an acoustic guitar to further vary the timbre of your set. Keep these differences in mind from song to song, and use timbre as a way to bring diversity to your set. By experimenting with timbre in a set-section, you may create a whole new feel that you and your band love.

Mix in these experiments with a tried-and-true song to keep your audience engaged.

Transitions

It’s important to consider how you are going to get from one song to another. Are you going to tell a story? Introduce your bandmates? Go straight from one song to the next? Planning your transitions will help your show run smoothly.

Transitions are also the main distinguishing factor between an amateur musician and a professional career musician.

Practical Tips:

  • Know who is going to start the song. Is you drummer counting off? Is the guitarist starting out with a riff? Assigning responsibility for the start of the song lets everyone be on the same page and helps eliminate empty time between songs.
  • Have an instrument play behind spoken transitions. This prepares your audience and your band for what’s happening next. It also adds sonic interest to the story.
  • Carefully craft a musical transition between songs. This can be difficult, but, when done well, it can impress your audience and keep them engaged with what’s happening onstage. It’s best to do this with songs that are in related keys. For example, if your current song is in C, and the next song is in G, a musical transition will work well since G is the dominant chord in the key of C.

The Art of Spontaneity

It’s important to have a plan for your set and transitions as you prepare for your show. But what happens when life throws a curve ball your direction? Perhaps your audience isn’t paying attention to your well-crafted set, or the sound man gives you a 10 minute warning 20 minutes from your big ending. What do you do then?

When a wrench gets thrown in the works (because sooner or later it will happen), you don’t have to be afraid IF you have rehearsed well. Being unprepared when challenges arise is when real problems begin. Knowing your whole set so well that you could play it in your sleep helps you recover quickly when things don’t go as planned.

If the audience isn’t listening the way you would like them to, try rearranging your set-sections or the individual songs in those sections. If you have to cut your set short, know what you want to eliminate and where you want to pick back up.

You may even find that a change in your set leads to something marvelous. If you forget a song in the middle of the set, you might find that the audience actually responds better without that song.

I can promise you that you will have problems, but they only stay problems when you don’t learn from them. If you can recover well and take stock of what happened, those problems become opportunities for you to play an even better show next time.

Creating a great set list is a skill that takes practice and lots of trial and error. The more shows you play, the better your sets will be. Don’t be afraid to get out there and try different sets, but pay attention to people’s reactions. Figure out what works for you, and you will be on your way to having a great live show.




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