Sometimes playing something new for an audience is like a parent sending their son/daughter off to college, complete with hard times and awkward but valuable experiences. But its an important step for everyone involved to take.
When I look at my time playing in the local scene, I can honestly say that most of my lessons I learned came from playing live. I was able to hone my skills of “winging it”, dealing with the random and sometimes highly distracting elements of the audience, and became far more aware of how prepared you need to be in order to have a great show.
It also taught me how much i needed to improve on, whether that be my technical skills on my instrument, my awareness and preparedness for the setlist, or the performance of the set be it clothing, banter, or song transitions.
But even still with my massive amount of playing experience (500+ gigs), all I would tell my younger self is to play out MORE. Play live as much as possible, if you can get performing in front of people to feel as comfortable as you do watching Netflix alone, you’re getting somewhere. Today we’re going to take a look at 3 reasons today why it’s important to play out.
Every city has a couple of music venues in it, the big ones have many. It’s important to get to know your city and the music scene it contains, this will allow you to know where to start playing that’s most suited for your music.
If you’re a producer where are the hotspots in town where producers are getting together, if you want to DJ what clubs are playing the kinds of music you want to DJ, If you’re a songwriter where are the best open mics in town.
These are important things to look at since you don’t want your first time playing out to be at a place that’s at a way higher level then you’re currently at. If you’re getting comfortable, DJing somewhere where you can make a couple mistakes and learn the craft is far better then putting yourself in a situation where you have to be perfect, and where those mistakes will really shine to the audience.
When I got into DJing I started at a small dingy basement underneath my local club, I played the Friday night underground night while the top 40 dance party was going on upstairs. But I made SO MANY mistakes when i first started and it was a great place to practice (sometimes for 5 of my friends only), but as the night grew and I got better some nights went really well and I had a full dance floor. The point is I really had to grind the craft and art of DJing because I was just so trash at it, and It was a really great atmosphere cause everyone knew this is where up and comers were playing and trying.
So the easiest way to start is go to your local venues, talk to artists, fans, bar owners, venue owners. Talk to everyone you can and make as many connections as possible, these people will be integral in your success as a local artist.
2. The Performance
So you’ve booked your first open mic night, dj set, or band performance. Now that you have the gig its key to look at how you’re going to perform your songs, your productions, or your bands music.
Don’t forget variety, nothing gets an audience snoozing like six ballads in a row. Not to mention it doesn’t help that most people starting out performing are struggling from poor banter, lack of humor, and generally watching someone who makes you feel uncomfortable
If you are not naturally humorous, settle for being interesting. You can start by telling the audience a small detail about yourself that leads into a song with some energy or something up-beat. Planning a story or two will also help heal some of that performance anxiety, having something prepared that you can talk about will allow you to focus more of your energy on playing and performing.
Another important aspect that I see a lot of new artists fail at is assuming your audience is really into what you’re doing. Keep it short, having the audience scream for another song or an encore is WAY BETTER than people in the audience feeling like “whens this F***** going to wrap it up”
No matter how big or small your city is, there is networking to be done. There are writers you could be meeting, owners of local restaurants and bars who may want to hire you to play at their establishment. Even making new friends and connections is great because they may be able to recommend studios in town, or even just giving you advice/tips on how to improve.
Networking can also be the easiest way to fast track a lot of the “paying your dues” aspects of the music industry. You never know who’s going to be in the audience, and playing your ass off at every show is going to be the easiest way to attract the attention of other writers, label execs, other artists, and even people involved in marketing and promotion. All of these people are always looking for the next hot new thing, so if you satisfy any of the things they’re looking for then its perfect for you.
Networking can also be a really great way to gradually improve your performance craft, you’ll be able to get an array of opinions. Songwriters will have an entirely different set of advice, then say a producer would, or a label executive, or even just a local music fan. All of the advice you’d receive from these sources is invaluable, and most likely will be massively different.
People often only listen to people in music who have “made it” or have something to show for their success. But it’s undervalued how useful a person saying “your set seemed kind of bumpy” or “that one tune sounded a little off”. I honestly love getting feedback like this because it seems really unspecific and a lot of people i know would say “could you expand on that” or “what specifically sounded off to you”. But in reality hearing that a tune sounded a little off is amazing for you as a developing artist because now you can go back home listen to it and critique it until you’re satisfied that either the tune is fixed or at least altered to be better, or that you actually disagree with the critique and really like that aspect (This is only applicable if you’ve spent a significant amount of time going through your song and analyzing/critiquing it)
3 Things You Should Not Do
- Don’t be the guy people need to force off stage
- Don’t roll your eyes or scoff at the next performers song, rather stay focused and if you don’t like it try to figure out what you don’t like and use that to improve your own performance.
- Don’t over explain your song to the crowd. The song should speak for itself.
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