LIve performance of any kind is a terrifying prospect to just about anyone. When performing music, there’s just so much that can go wrong on the night. The best attitude to go onto stage with is one of confidence, and confidence can only come from proper preparation.
Lots of Rehearsals – With Gear
Obviously the more you and your band rehearse – both together and separately – the better you are going to sound. But what can also help is practicing with microphones, amps, and any other electronic gear you plan to use on stage, like chorus pedals, effects boxes, and drum machines. It is a significantly different experience to performing acoustically.
As an example, singing well with a microphone means knowing the optimum distance between the singer and the microphone which both prevents distortion but allows clarity. This isn’t something that’s going to be discovered immediately on the night, and not knowing how to perform with microphones can ruin a vocalist’s performance.
Rehearsing with all the electronics also ensures the band will know exactly what they sound like with amplification, so they won’t lose concentration by the novelty of the experience. And it has the added benefit of testing your gear before the gig. The fact that the chorus pedal is on the way out is not something one wishes to find out two minutes into the first set!
Know Your Venue
The beginning of professionalism in live performance might be said to be knowing what the audience wants and making sure elements of the performance address those wants. By visiting the venue ahead of time, watching other performers play there, and getting to know the staff, it’s possible to then better tailor the performance to that prospective audience.
Playing on a small, intimate stage to a dozen people means a different style of performance and sound equipment setup to one performed in a noisy pub. Your song and tune choices for each set – and how you plan to perform them – should be altered accordingly.
Know Your Time
This again harks back to professionalism. As Paul Hardy remarks, performers should always arrive early for the gig, just in case there is an unforeseen problem. By arriving early and being prepared, it shows those who are organizing and financing the performance that the performance is taken very seriously, which increases the likelihood of them booking you again.
Knowing the amount of time the organizers have allowed for the set is vital. If the set is for forty five minutes, inclusive of set up time, the band may only get through six or seven songs. But the set might be for two hours. Knowing the time available is vital in the creation of the set list.
Create a Set List
This is the order of the songs or tunes the band plans to play during the performance. It serves several functions – it keeps the band organised and builds confidence, since everyone knows how the gig should go; it also gives the band a chance to warm up on easier/better known pieces before moving on to anything more demanding. The set list should be tailored for each gig, as noted above.
It’s a good idea to run straight through the set list a few times in rehearsal so that any problems can get fixed before the gig. If one tune is similar to another, and they are played back to back, it’s not unknown for those playing the melody line to get confused!
Keep in mind that (generally) live music performance isn’t just a matter of standing up, playing the song, and sitting back down again. You are expected to talk to the audience between songs. If you’re not a naturally chatty person then scribbling down a few interesting snippets about each song can give you more confidence about what you might say and keep the gig moving along.
The Sound Crew Are Your New Best Friends
Know the band’s equipment needs well before the gig. If at all possible, discuss the band’s needs with the sound crew beforehand; if not possible, bring as much in terms of microphones and leads as you can yourself. The goal is to leave nothing to chance.
You’ll also do a sound check just prior to performance; this is where the sound crew will check the sound coming through each microphone and adjust the front of house and stage monitor (fallback) systems. Never snooze through the sound check. Make sure that when you test your microphone you can clearly hear yourself on the fallback. If you can’t, you’re unlikely to be able to hear yourself play or sing at all, and you won’t be able to tell how you are performing.
Warm Up Beforehand
Never go on stage cold. Make sure the band arrives early enough to spend fifteen minutes together warming up the vocal cords and the fingers. Play or sing a few scales together. Not only will it better the musical performance, but being together just prior to going on will give you all that added psychological boost of knowing you aren’t having to do this alone.
Lastly, break a leg, have a ball, and remember that while live performance never stops being terrifying, it’s also wonderfully addictive.