Guide to getting and playing better gigs


   

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Many bands make the mistake of simply stringing their songs together and don't think of the set as something that can be worked on in the same way they work on their playing and songwriting skills. To get to the stage where a reasonable crowd of a couple of hundred punters will turn out in all weathers, and pay good money, to see you takes some doing - and you'll have to put together something pretty hot if you want to achieve that. Your audience has given up their time and probably money to sit through your show. Don't make them work to enjoy the gig. Every aspect of your show is worthy of attention paying attention to detail is a sign of respect for the crowd and they will respond very positively to a band who take the trouble to do this.

Get the band tight musically which means playing together well, in control of your timing. Nearly all inexperienced players rush ahead of the beat. This makes a band sound amateurish and kills the groove. Fix this by practising to a click track and nailing the parts. Watch out for those nightmare drummers who keep jamming around with their bass drum parts. If there's no solid foundation the bass player has nothing to lock into and you're doomed. Define and refine all rhythm section parts and work on them until they groove. Spontaneity can come a few gigs in when you're communicating well musically. Also work on all beginnings and endings. Never throw away a good tune with a scrappy ending. If the audience don't know when to clap the danger is they won't bother at all. The Chili Peppers, Rage Against The Machine, System Of A Down and Bryan Adams are just a few bands, off the top of my head, who all have a different approach to playing as a tight unit.

Work on what happens between songs. The gaps between tracks are still part of the gig. It looks bad if the tunes are broken up with: tuning up, drawn out guitar changes, a drummer fiddling with his high hat etc. Equally irritating is a singer who's not taken the trouble to work out what he or she is going to say. Unless you're an absolutely natural, then plan each word and the timing of each line. Again on a good night you can afford to be spontaneous, knowing that you have the safety net of some good lines if you need them. Also work out how to deal with an unplanned gap in the set due to a technical problem. Don't say, "Does anyone know any jokes?" as this just highlights the unprofessionalism of the situation.

Consider the tempos carefully. Many gigs come over as boring and dirgy because the band has too many down-tempo songs too close together. Many great live shows start off with three up-tempo tracks together. Think of the set as a line on a graph and decide where you want to take the crowd. Choose the points that you want to build the excitement and when you want to bring the mood down. Check out a Bruce Springsteen performance to see how he uses this idea to keep the audience's interest over a marathon gig.

So many gigs are needlessly boring because once you've seen the first song nothing else happens or develops during the show. A simple costume change, such as the singer removing an item of clothing, signals a change of mood in the performance and keeps audience interest up. Acoustic sections mid-set and a song that features another band member singing, or a solo slot can do the same job. Be careful of drum solos and guitar solo spots for obvious reasons! A classic rock gig finishes on a huge high that is then pushed to the limit during the encores that follow.

Pay attention to the visuals and think about your appearance. Don't waste an opportunity to make an impression. Have you chosen clothes that suit the vibe and size of the venue? Big and bold works in a large setting. T-shirts with a slogan on can often make a strong statement. Try not to go onstage looking like a roadie - your music is too important for the audience not to take you seriously because you haven't tried hard enough on your collective image. Why not get a professionally-made backdrop? Prices start from 400 and I guarantee it will separate your band from nearly all your local competition in one fell swoop.

Customised bass drum skins, amps and guitars can look cool - and think about what theatrical make-up and costume did for Slipknot! Projectors and video can work well too. Old sixties oil lamps and strobes are portable, cheap and easily available. Try a bit of lateral thinking - often the best ideas are not expensive. Anything that gets people talking after the show will help swell the number of punters at the next gig.

Don't forget gimmicks. Remember the Chili Peppers' sock trick, The Who's gear trashing, Def Leppard's show in the round, Ronnie James Dio's robot spider? What's to stop you coming up with such an outrageous idea that the whole town is talking about it next day? If it's strong enough it could get you in the local paper - and what could be better than free publicity for your next gig?

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