In the last three decades, the live music scenes all over the country have really taken a hit. Different types of entertainment like DJ’s and Karaoke now work in the clubs and dance halls that used to book live bands. Now, more than ever, live bands have to be at the top of their game if they intend to stay busy and make a decent income from their efforts.
That being said, here are some observations I have made over the years. This is not meant to be a lecture or a “slam” to anyone, just some things I have noticed that I hope to pass on to anyone that reads this.
- Turn it down…no one will sit there and have their hearing damaged by a band that is too loud. You may have all this huge, powerful gear in order to do outdoor shows, but you don’t need to bring it all to a club that barely seats 100 people. If you see people standing and leaning across a table yelling in each other’s ears to be heard, turn it down. They’ll stay longer and the venue manager/owner will be happier.
- Take a little time and get the PA EQ’d properly…make sure the highs are not piercing and the lows are not muddy sounding. Same rule applies to guitars…make sure they don’t override the PA and drown out the singer.
- Only play songs that you play and sing well…does this make sense?? It may be the #1 song in the country right now, but if you play it poorly, people will notice. Maybe there is a really high note that is just completely out of your singer’s range…pass on doing the song. Maybe there is this fantastic guitar solo that just has to be played exactly like the record to be effective and your guitarist screws it up every time…pass on doing the song. If there is a cool drum solo, and your drummer keeps dropping his sticks, pass on the song…etc. etc. No band will ever impress a crowd if they do any songs that are just “so-so.” They all have to sound good.
- Play songs that you have the instrumentation for. If you are a “guitar band” and do not have a synthesizer, you’ll need to avoid tunes that are heavily synth laden. Once I heard a band cover Van Halen’s “Jump” with only guitars and no synthesizer…it was awful!! Why would you play something you suck at??
- Learn some new or different material and mix up the order on the set list. Regardless of the genre, your regular followers will soon tire of your set list if you play the same songs in the same order every gig.
- Don’t stay in one place too long. Unless you are a “House Band” at a venue, if you play many, many gigs at the same place, you run the risk of becoming “stale” there. After a while, the crowd of regulars will know your set list better than you do. Move around and gain more fans. If you are lucky enough to snag a House Band job, keep in mind that you’ll need to constantly working up new and different tunes as often as possible or the concept will not work for any length of time. Also, the band members can and will get bored playing the same old stuff.
- Start on time and don’t make band breaks last too long…people will leave.
- If you are over 21 and playing the bars, keep alcohol consumption to a minimum. Drunken bands don’t work much and when they do, they don’t make a lot of money.
- Keep the set moving! Play one song after another with a minimum of “dead air”. If someone has to tune during the set, have a “front man” designated and make sure he is talking to the crowd about…anything!! Find out what specials the place may be running in the near future and use tuning time to promote the venue…they’ll love you for it!! Once I had an agent that explained it to me like this…”Let’s say you’re in your car and cruising down the Interstate listening to the radio. A song ends and you have nothing but silence coming from your speakers…no music…no announcer…nothing. What happens after, say, 10 seconds? What happens is that you change stations! Being on stage works the same way…if you treat your audience to a bunch of dead air and long pauses between songs…they change venues.” He was so right on this one! A mediocre band that keeps the show rolling will out draw a band of monster players, but they mess around between songs and have a lot of dead air.
- Have “hand out” sheets for the venue patrons with your upcoming schedule of shows.
Always do your best to be a crowd pleaser. Listen to your audience, particularly when they request tunes, and look at adding tunes you get a lot of requests for. You should always have fun in your band, but remember; it is still a business and needs to be treated like one.