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Saturday, 21 November 2015

How Should I Better My Performance?

So, I had a gig on Friday night. It was a solo acoustic covers job at the local pub, the kind that I've done many, many times before. I love playing these gigs, but I feel like my show is getting a bit stale and I thought I'd try a few new things to get more from the experience.

In almost all of these gigs that I've played before, I would book the gig, make up a similar poster on photoshop, make an event on Facebook and promote to my friends. Then, on the day before, or the day of, I’d change my strings, pick the songs from the iPad and quickly go through a few that I wasn't sure of and that would be it. I'd get to the gig, quickly set up, play the gig while getting heckled by my friends and then pack up and go home. 

This time I wanted to do things a little differently. I wanted to make a GREAT show. I wanted to try some new things to improve myself and I wanted to mix things up a bit. Not only to try and make things a bit more fun and challenging for myself, but to find new things that might work in the future.

Stand Up!

One of the things I decided a bit earlier on in preparation for the gig was to change how I was performing. Every show I’ve done previously, I’ve been sitting down. There was no real conscious decision to play sitting down, it was just for natural. I kind of saw myself as background music, so I figured that being small and in the corner worked for me. I had made a Cajon that I would sit on and play using a kick pedal to make the beat for my sound.

The problem with that was that I tended to shy away a bit too much. I became the background music in the corner and would be less likely to chat to the audience, and less likely to get into the music I was playing as much. It became apparent that if I wanted people in the crowd to be more interesting, then I’d have to be more interesting.

So I went out and bought myself a stomp pad and got a strap for the guitar. The stomp pad is a great little device that gives you a bit of percussion during your set by just tapping on the pad with your toe. This particular one is called a Wazinator, and it’s a big flat piece of wood with a hollow section in the middle. At the end the hollow part funnels into a speaker driver that then has an output jack attached to it. This means that the woody tone of your tap then shoots into the driver, where you can then plug it into your PA system.

Standing up was a bit of a change. I’m used to standing up while playing electric guitar, but haven’t done it much playing acoustic. Trying to tap along to each song was another challenge, as if you try to do it for the 2+ hours of playing time, can get a bit tiring, but we persevere.

I found that standing up really brought my performance up a notch. I felt that I had a better connection to the audience, I wasn’t staring at the lyrics too much and I just had more energy and more fun on stage. That’s going to be a definite change that I’ll continue with and would recommend it for any performer looking to add a bit more pizzazz to your show.

Get a New Promo Pic

For this one, I actually didn’t take a whole new photo, but I played around with photoshop to make something a little bit cooler and interesting than just a picture of myself. I knocked this poster up in about an hour, just using a couple of pictures taken by my Dad (who you should definitely check out at and played around with filters and blending options until I got a cool result. Having something a bit more artsy encourages people to look a bit more and see what’s going on, and hopefully make you a bit more memorable.

As far as the rest of the promo goes, I didn’t go too far different to my normal attempts. I made the Facebook page and promoted it in any way I could, I put up posters at the venue and I texted all of the contacts in my phone for the ten-thousandth time to come to my gig. 

If it was original music, I could probably go a bit further, take an ad out in the local music classifieds and pay for Facebook advertising, but for a covers gig, it’s probably not worth it. Plus, this is to make money, and you don’t want to spend all the cash you get before you hit the stage.

Engaging The Audience

I made a conscious effort to chat to the audience this gig. It’s hard sometimes when noone is paying attention. For the most part I only had 4-6 people in the room, but it’s important to try to make it work with those people. While playing, I tried to make a note of introducing each song before I played it, talking a little bit of banter about each song and telling some terrible jokes.

Give the audience a say in your set. During the break I thought I should take my iPad with all my lyrics and chords out to the crowd and let them choose a few songs that they would like to hear, without having them yell out songs that I don’t know throughout the set. This worked out great! I got a bit of interaction with the audience, they got to hear some songs that they like and everybody had a better time because of it. One of the guys in the audience actually said “We were going to go home, but when you came out and gave us a view of the set, we had to stay”. What better feedback can you get?

This wasn’t exactly intentional, but I managed to get one of the more drunk audience members up for a sing-a-long. He got up during Tenacious D’s “Tribute”, which worked out well because he did the voice of the Devil. He was a decent singer, which helped, but it’s understandable that sometimes these kind of things can get out of hand where drunk people want to stay up all night on the stage, but getting up for a song is alright. Especially if it’s something with 2 parts (Grease, anyone?)

Finally, you should try to chat to the audience members as much as possible. Before the show, during the breaks and at the end. Sometimes it’s easier than others, but if you build a rapport and a regular fanbase, it’ll get easier and easier. 

Filming yourself

I really wanted to make the most of this gig. I wanted to get as much out of it as possible, so I thought it would be a good idea to film/record it.

I did this for two main reasons. One was to use as a reference for myself to see what I needed improvement on. I can watch this back and go through each of the songs and see what I should change in my performance of the songs. It’s easy to pick up little mannerisms that you don’t notice yourself until you watch it back. So from my posture, to my performance, to my banter, I can really scrutinise how I perform.

The other reason I recorded myself is to have some content for more advertising and online presence. I can take the tracks I recorded (at least the ones that are any good) and release them one at a time on Youtube. This gives me more likelihood of growing an audience on the internet, and if potential venues want to see that you can perform well live, you can shoot them a link to your Youtube page and they’ll see all the tracks that you’ve got up there.

This can be a little harder to do because you’ll need a certain amount of equipment to do it and I may have gone a little overboard. I ran a computer using my TC Helicon Acoustic Play as an interface and recorded my vocals and guitar using Reaper. I then had the stomp pad running DI into my Zoom H4 that was also recording a stereo of the room sound. This meant that I have quite a bit of sound to works with. Unfortunately, Reaper did a bit of a weird thing where it cut out bits of track every so often in the recording, which meant I had to go through the whole thing and edit it so they lined up perfectly. I think next time I’ll just run directly into the Zoom recorder, as it’ll be a bit smaller and easier. Film wise, my friend just brought along a handheld camcorder and that worked great to get a decent image (I’ve got my own camera on the way thanks to my lovely girlfriend).

Tell me, how do you perform? Do you have anything you’ve changed in your set to step it up a notch? I’d love to hear from you guys in the comments below.

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