'From the Garage to the Stage' by Barney Sonic Boom Six
- 01/05/14 -
As we continue to build XMR Hub, giving all of you excellent things to read (hopefully) while you're stuck on rail replacement buses or Alt+Tab'ing between spreadsheets and internet at work, we'd also like to occasionally direct you to other things we love.
One such example is this new blog series by our very own Barney Boom (Paul "Barney" Barnes, to his dog) which is being written for and hosted by the Songeist blog. His 8 part series entitled 'From the Garage to the Stage' gives valuable real-life advice to musicians, especially in bands, who are starting out and wanting to make the most of their hard work and talent in the live arena.
The first part, published below, deals with 'Making A Splash'. Barney tells us how best to deal with those seemingly unimportant moments before you and your band get on stage. For the uninitiated, it can make a huge difference if you create an impact before you've even played a note. Barney tells you how you can do that.
If you enjoy it, bookmark the site (http://blog.songeist.com/) and return every Wednesday. You can also follow Songeist on Twitter. Barney also happens to be on Twitter on @SonicBoomSix. Part three of his excellent advice blog will be up next Wednesday.
So, here's the first part of 'From the Garage to the Stage'.
FROM THE GARAGE TO THE STAGE PART 1: MAKING A SPLASH
You’ve got your songs written. You’ve memorised your lyrics. You’ve rehearsed every verse, chorus and bridge so many times that you’ve got blisters on your fingertips. You’ve got your guitar, leads, spare strings and you’ve borrowed Uncle Barry’s van.
You’re ready to do a gig.
For the purposes of getting better as a band, there is no alternative to doing gigs. As soon as you are able, get out there and do it. Chances are, you’ll learn more in one gig than ten rehearsals. But the lessons learned during a live performance are subtle. Many of them are personal. You won’t find these lessons in a ‘100 Hot Guitar Licks’ book but they are just as important as nailing that gnarly bend during your extended solo. There are no hard-and-fast-rules to playing live, but across this series of blogs I’m going to attempt to impart some live music advice that I have picked up which, if nothing else, should stimulate a few thoughts about your approach to your live show.
OPENING THE SHOW
What better place to start than… the start! I can’t tell you the amount of times that I’ve witnessed this scene. The crowd stands in the venue, waiting for the next band to play after the opener has finished. The band is busy swapping around their equipment, tuning up, testing mics. The guitarist idly plays the riff from ‘Layla’. The drummer sits behind the kit and last-minute tunes his toms. BONG, BONG, PLOP. The crowd is murmuring, some watching this going on, some not watching. The band gradually settles into their places, still nervously playing little riffs and tapping away. At some point the singer mouths ‘you guys ready?’ to the rest of the band. They nod and the singer shuffles to the front and says ‘hello, er, we are The Ferrets and we hope you like us’. 1, 2, 3, 4 and it’s into the set. Half the crowd aren’t even watching. The performance fizzles into existence, rather than explodes.
Now, don’t get me wrong, there are a lot of amazing bands that, without even thinking about it, can storm the stage and say ‘hello, we are The Ferrets’ and kick into a deafening roar of rock that can knock the socks off everyone in the venue. But for most of us, we need to put a little thought behind how we can start the set with a bang.
DEALING WITH DRUMMERS (AND NOODLERS)
Once the preceding band’s gear is off the stage and your amp or drums are line-tested and set up and you have a few minutes to spare there is NO REASON to stay on the stage. Granted, in small venues there are times that a drummer may have a difficult route to negotiate so may need to stay on the stage. But there is no excuse for sitting there tuning drums and tapping unless absolutely necessary. A drummer will not understand why this is, so we may have to explain this to them. It is a truth of live music that the atmosphere of anticipation of a good, hard rocking is much more palpable and dramatic without the backdrop of BONG, BONG, PLOP reverberating across the venue.
Once your gear is set-up, get off the stage. Get into a group. Maybe even a little football-team huddle. Focus on what you’re about to do. When the time is right, storm the stage, with purpose, wave to the crowd, together. Would you believe that an experienced band can get a round of cheers to a room of complete strangers by doing this before even playing a note? They can, we can and YOU CAN just by looking the part and acting the part. Even if the venue is so small it has no backstage, or even stage, to speak of, a band can still get to the side and then, at the right time, descend on their gear together. This will still get a reaction.
Simply put, an empty stage is a metaphor. It symbolises the potential of the new band about to fill it. Stormed by a band with purpose and swagger at the right moment it fills with excitement. Then ‘Hello, we are The Ferret’s’ is performed, rather than just happening.
CREATE SOME IMPACT
Another question is, is the ‘Hello, we are The Ferret’s’ really what you want to do? As I said, many bands can pull this generic entrance off but there are so many alternatives to this that are way more effective. A great trick to grab the crowd’s attention is to simply crash down as loud and hard as you can together on crash cymbals and open strings repeatedly to really create some impact before kicking into the first song. Another way to approach it is opening with a short instrumental piece, perhaps simply an extended intro of your first song. I enjoy an instrumental set-opener because it allows you to get used to the sound of the room and the feel of your instrument before starting to sing or go into a song for real. The right piece of music can really build up an atmosphere before the songs start. A way that we will often approach an intro is to come on stage together, without the vocalist, and play a short instrumental before pausing and letting the vocalist walk on, which really ramps up the drama and aura around the singer.
A final option you might well want to think about is if your intro could be complimented by theme music? The intro music of a good TV show, film or such can work wonders to set the scene for the carnage you are about to unleash. Most sound guys will be totally happy to whack a CD on for you if you sort it in advance.
So there we are. Remember, it’s not my intention to say one way is right and one is wrong. It’s my intention to get you asking yourself which of these options is right for you, rather than not thinking about it until you’ve already started the gig.
Next week in ‘From The Garage to the Stage’ we’ll deal with the dark art of writing a setlist. Not just throwing a few songs on a list, but putting together a flow of music that will maximise the impact and impression you make with that thirty minutes you have up there. See you next Wednesday!