Once you decide to dedicate your life to music there are countless things to keep up with. In this era an artist does it all: songwriter, producer, manager, engineer, PR agent, marketer, performer and many other professional incarnations. Let’s take it one step at a time and look into what goes into performing live.
Let’s assume you don’t have a team of industry pros backing your every move. So you’re not quite ready to walk into Madison Square Garden and put an iconic show for generations to remember—yet. You think that coolness is just going to be handed to you on a silver platter? This is how you will make it happen.
We’re going to look at five important steps to a successful live performance: Rehearsals, Planning, Booking, Promotion, and The Show itself. Of course that’s too much to fit into just one post! This time we’ll take just the first step—but an important one…
When we think of rehearsing, often we think of those legendary band jams in garages, warehouse spaces, practice rooms and living rooms across the land. But one key to successful rehearsals is individual preparation.
More and more, there are increasing professional opportunities for musicians that can walk into a gig with no band rehearsals at all. You may even find yourself on stage rocking out with folks you’ve never met!
Be rehearsal and gig-ready with your own preparation:
1. Keep your instrumental and/or vocal chops up.
The last thing you want to be thinking about on stage is whether or not you’re going to hit that high note or stumble through that lead.
You also want to be ready in case someone else takes a left turn, or something technical goes wrong. By keeping up with your tone, technique, improvisation and ear training you’ll be ready to respond in the moment and carry the show.
2. Make sure you have access to the music.
Make sure you have recordings and sheet music if possible. Make your own if you need to! Notes, chord sheets, whatever works for you to help you remember your parts. Even if you’ll be playing without sheet music or your tablet, the act of writing down this info will help you commit it to memory.
3. Practice your own parts.
Aim to know them inside-out. The more you know your own part, the smoother rehearsal will go when you are together with the rest of the band.
4. Listen carefully to the other parts as well.
Remember, even if you rock your part, it’s not going to sound good if you’re not in sync with the others.
Make note of any special hooks, guitar lines, bass changes, and drum breaks. Also pay attention to dynamics, guitar or keyboard sounds—anything and everything that will help you orient yourself in rehearsal, and at the show.
5. Play along with the recordings as much as possible.
Even if you’re not rehearsing yet with real live musicians to record your own practice tracks, listening and interacting with studio versions or rough demo cuts will increase the jam factor exponentially when you do come together.
You’ve prepared yourself, and now you’re ready for one of the real highs in music making: coming together with others. Here are four tips to keep band practice running smoothly.
1. Listen to your band mates.
Of course you’re listening like crazy to what they’re playing, but also listen to what they’re saying! Once you’ve heard everyone’s take any given issue, you’ll be better able to contribute something that will bring it all together.
2. Be open.
Even if you’ve prepared to do things one way at home, you’ll want to make sure it works with the band. If you’ve worked on your skills, that last-minute key change or sudden addition of a new guitar solo will be no sweat.
3. Keep tabs on yourself.
Everyone may say you’re doing great, but you still know best what you need to work on. Sometimes, your bandmates will notice shortcomings that you didn’t know you had. Make notes during practice so you’ll remember what to work on at home.
4. Be playfully productive.
You wouldn’t even be reading this if making music wasn’t the most fun you’ve had since you learned how to walk. Having fun with your band outside of music creates bonds of friendship that spill over into the music.
That being said, remember the love of music that brought you all together. Keep on task to create the best musical experience for yourselves and your audience. Among other things, that means don’t mess about with your guitar lead at full volume while the drum and bass are trying to work out that tricky groove!
Remember: No one is an island
If you are a solo act, like a DJ or singer-songwriter, you may think that these steps do not apply. However, unless you’re giving a solo performance on a mountaintop, you will be working with other people. Try orchestrating all these relationships like a rehearsal and you’ll experience the same enjoyment and efficiency.
Let’s borrow an idea from the theatre. When play rehearsals move onto the stage, all the light, sound, and effects people come in. Rather than running the full show and stopping all the time to work out the technical aspects, directors plan for technical rehearsals.
A technical rehearsal works from cue to cue in the music. It’s not as exciting as making the music, but ironing out all those details of equipment, pedals, patches, lighting cues, and sound can make a big difference when you’re on stage.
As you go through this, prepare a simple cue sheet in rehearsal, and carry it with you to all your gigs. That way you’ll bring out the best in your engineers.
In the technical rehearsal, you’ll inventory your equipment and make sure everything is in tip-top shape. That way you’ll have ample opportunity to repair, replace, and bring extra mic cords, sets of guitar and bass strings, saxophone reeds, and batteries, batteries, batteries—and did I say “batteries?!”
Rehearse your Sound Check
Yes, there are many situations where you are not going to be able to do more on stage than have a brief sound check before that lights go up. In those circumstances, having as much tech worked out on your end as possible will make the job of the venue’s sound engineer that much easier.
Rehearsal is the place to prepare for sound check. Choose songs, or parts of songs, which are both representative of the general sound and mix of your show, and ones which demonstrate the exceptions.
Ready, set…oh, wait! Just a few more things…
Thorough personal preparation, productive band practice, detailed technical rehearsal—and fresh batteries!—are all essential to your musical success on stage. So now that you have yourself and your band ready, it’s time for the show, right?
Well, not exactly. There are still several aspects to consider that will burn your show into the memory of your audience. Our next article on “Planning for the Show” will cover these and more!
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