It was a beautiful blue sky day in East Nashville, and me and my friends Justin and Matt were hanging out at the trendy East Nashville coffeehouse Barista Parlor. As we sipped 6 dollar black coffees (no creme allowed at this place) Matt and Justin blew my mind with a few practice suggestions. Here’s a few tips from them:
Regardless of whether you’re a sideman or an artist, there’s some common things all musicians need to get hired and stay hired. Here are my top 7:
If you’re playing a long set, it’s easy to zone out and miss an important part live. Here’s a few tricks to avoid making an embarrassing mistake live:
1. Take notes beforehand.
When I say take notes, I mean chart out every song, write notes for every transition, write in the notes for every solo you play, include which patches you need for each song, etc. It’s very hard to take too many notes, and mentally writing down what you need to focus on in each song will keep you attentive at the gig.
I keep saying this in blogs because its so important: listen. Lock in as much as you can in the feel that the other band members are creating onstage, and blend in. Don’t go on autopilot with what you’re playing, or it will show. It’s easy to sonically get in the way of others when you stop listening to them.
3. Finesse your dynamics, not your notes.
By the time that you’re playing the gig, you’ve probably got all of your notes locked in. Rather than throwing off the other musicians in the group by switching your rhythms or notes, focusing on being subtle with your dynamics can keep you interested while locking in more tightly with the rest of the group.
4. Use self talk.
Keep the running dialogue in your head pointed in productive directions, and make it laser focus on your own musicianship instead of pointing out faults in other players. Above all, stay positive about your performance. Say stuff to yourself like “I’ve got this” and “you’re doing great”. It sounds stupid, but it will make a big difference in your performance.
This last weekend I played a show with a band from Nashville with over 50 songs in the set. I had about a week to get all of the songs worked up, and I had to really hone my technique to be ready. Here’s how I did it:
Performance anxiety is a job hazard for every musician, and can become crippling if left to fester. Here are a couple of tricks to use when you’re going to be under the gun:
I got a note this week from blog reader, worship leader and friend Kyle F.:
I am a pretty solid "rhythm" key player, but have never been good at improv and solos. Could you write a post with some tips on improvisation and soloing? Maybe some exercises you do or something like that? Anything would be helpful!
I was playing a set with a band a few weeks ago. The gig was going great- we were all getting along, and their was some top flight talent onstage. I was nervous, and overcompensating a bit by playing some of my more showy chops- this was one of my first breaks as a Nashville musician, and I wanted to make sure I put my best foot forward.
January is always a slow month for musicians, myself included. Last night, I got to play a show with a trio I lead- my first gig in about 3 weeks. Last night’s show made me realize several things that get rusty when you’re haven’t played with others in awhile:
Go as low volume as possible. This will protect your hearing, and if you're using floor wedges, it'll keep stage noise from getting too loud.
Give yourself headroom. Keeping the fader at about 70% will guarantee you'll have room to turn individual instruments up in your mix later.
Ask to have instruments turned down, not up. It's always better to turn down an overly loud instrument than to boost a quiet instrument, since it's wise to maintain the same volume level in your monitor mix.
Play relevant songs during sound check. You won't get an accurate idea of how you'll fit into the mix unless you play the same genre and patches as the set.
Always be super nice to the sound guy. Say please and thank you, and never get angry when something isn't right in the monitor.
Don't worry about perfection. You're don't need your mix to sound amazing to do a great set. Get a good enough of a mix to play well, then leave it be.
Don't change your levels after sound check. This can seriously screw up your mix, especially if you boost your own volume. Often a sound guy will be forced to drop the gain on your instrument if you turn up, which will mean you'll actually end up being quieter in the monitors.
If you have a stereo mix, use it. Panning instruments left and right can help you keep things clear and out of your instrument's sonic field.
Make sure you're sounds are consistent. If you change patches frequently, make sure the levels between patches are the same, or certain instruments will "disappear" in your mix. Not everything is the mix engineer's fault.
Work out some basic hand signals with your mix engineer to adjust levels during the show. Waving your hands and pointing at various members of the band won't communicate what you mean very clearly to the mix engineer.