Music business and lockdown—has the industry gone digital?
Let's be honest: "After" the Corona Pandemic, we're all a little rusty. This article is for you if you want to learn some new tricks of the trade that will help you prepare professionally for your next live concert or gig. If you are well prepared and are confident that everything will go smoothly, you will not only play a flawless performance, but you will also be able to enjoy it much more.
Do you know what the tempo of your (or your) songs are? I'm not talking about gut feeling here, but Beats Per Minute. Since we musicians tend to play our songs faster than usual when we are in an exciting situation, it is especially important to practice the songs at the exact tempo they were written in. If you've ever recorded in a studio, you'll be familiar with the question, "How many BPM is the song?" from your producer. If the songs have never been recorded before and don't have an "official" tempo, you should set an exact BPM number during rehearsal and practice the song in question with a metronome. This will train you to always hit the perfect tempo. If you are playing in a band, it is a good idea to put headphones on the drummer with a metronome sound playing on them.
It's best to write down the tempos of the songs on what’s called a “setlist.” This is a piece of paper with the order of all the songs you will play at the live concert. Besides the tempo information, you can also make other marks there if it helps you. For example, which song you're playing an upbeat or intro on. As a drummer, I like to write down notes that remind me how a song starts when I don't know the setlist that well yet. For example, guitarists might write down when they need to retune or change guitars. Singers could make notes of when they say what, where they introduce the band, or write down lines of lyrics they're still a little unsure of.
Once all the songs in the live set are reasonably in place, it makes sense to rehearse the set as a whole exclusively. This is the best way to learn the show and its flow. Don't forget: Transitions between songs also need to be rehearsed to keep the tension at a live concert. The audience wants to see a complete work of art, not 12 individual songs with two minutes of silence in between, because everyone has to think about whether they have to tune their guitar to "drop D" again for the next song. Ideally, the audience should not even notice that kind of thing.
Speaking of smooth transitions: Songs in the same tempo or key can be played after each other. Not all—of course—but sometimes this allows direct transitions from song to song without a break. This can be a very cool effect, be careful to follow a certain arc of tension in the setlist though. Four songs in a row that are very similar in tempo and key can quickly become boring. So choose the song order and the transitions from song to song wisely.
"Did you remember sunscreen, sweetie? I wrote it specifically on your packing list, I bet you didn't even look at it again, did you?"
What we can learn from moms and family vacations (with really bad sunburns) is this: packing lists are annoying, but unfortunately pretty darn helpful. The bigger the gig gets, the more important the packing list becomes. The bass player of my former band once noticed during sound check that he forgot his bass. Unfortunately, that's no joke. Don't be like him, save yourself years of jokes at your expense and write down everything you need for the gig beforehand. Especially keyboardists and guitarists with big pedalboards can easily forget a certain power supply or a special cable. Or, the classic: "Who actually took the merch case?"
What belongs on this list above all are things that can break or wear out. That includes bass strings—even if you've never had one break, because bass strings "almost" never break. But when they do break in the middle of a punk rock set and you have to interrupt the live show to borrow a bass from another band (because you don't have spare strings or a spare bass) it's pretty embarrassing. Unfortunately, there is an even more unpleasant catch to this also true story: My band had booked a filmmaker especially at that time, because we wanted to put the live concert uncut on YouTube. Nobody has seen it (with the exception of my hard drive) to this day. We could have saved these 500 euros if we had been better prepared.
By the way, it's always the most elegant solution to have a spare instrument handy on stage. If you have two guitars or basses, it's best to take them both with you. Professionals also use individual instruments for each different tuning. This is pure luxury, of course, but allows the show to run the most smoothly.
So, once you've identified and written down all the wear parts and "breaking points" of your equipment, and have plenty of spares with you, it's time to prepare your gear. The best way to do this is to have all your instruments and necessary accessories cleaned and checked before a show. Every guitar gets new strings, cables are checked, and two new pairs of drumsticks are purchased. Everything that needs batteries gets new batteries and rechargeable devices are charged. By the way, cables, batteries, and accumulators are also classic examples in which backups are often forgotten.
Ideally, you'll also have cases for your gear, where you can store everything you need. Also, all your stuff should be marked with your name or the band name. Unmarked cables, plugs and loose adapters will be stolen faster than you can say “ten minute break,” especially on band contest stages.
Another topic that is often unconsciously neglected is set-up and tear-down. This is something you should practice as well. This may seem a bit strange to you, but I would like to encourage you to take a look at the set-up (and sound check) of professional bands, if you have the opportunity to do so. Professional musicians often have roadies do this, but they are especially easy to watch. You will quickly notice that every move is perfect. No one has to think about where to put what, every error in the system is found and eliminated in a flash. This requires a lot of practice, understanding of the equipment, and also preparation.
Ideally, the equipment is already prepared and set up correctly. Everything that can already be prepared should be prepared so that as little as possible has to be done on stage. The fewer cables that need to be plugged in, the better. In addition, cases often offer the possibility of permanently installing everything inside. So you only have to open the lid of amps and pedalboards or keyboards, connect a few cables and everything is ready for the gig.
The question "Where do I stand?" is not really one anyone should be asking. Also, "Where should I put this?" or "What should I bring you next?" are ideally already settled. For a classic rock band, my past experiences are as follows:
Mic the equipment only after is set up.
Now nothing stands in the way of your next live concert. Are your fingers already tingling? If you want to prepare yourself even better, I recommend this blog post by my colleague Philipp. It contains additional tips on how to optimize band rehearsals. If you'd like to perform, but don't have a band, or you're missing musicians, then check out the mukken musician search. Here you can find like-minded musicians with whom you can start new exciting projects.
Originally published on October 17, 2022, updated on October 17, 2022