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Creating a Good Impression When Playing Live

Bob Craypoe (also known as R. L. Crepeau) is a musician, writer, webmaster, 3D artist, and creator of the Punksters comic strip series.

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When playing out live, there are a number of factors that come into play, as far as leaving a good impression is concerned. This is regarding the people who own or run the establishment where you are playing as well as the audience. I will discuss some of those factors in this article and make some suggestions regarding them.

Punctuality

If you really want to anger the venue owner or the person who handles the bookings at the venue, show up late. Especially on the first time you are scheduled to perform there. They usually book you for a specific time for a reason. They know what hours their usual crowd shows up and they generally want you to be there to perform for them during that time.

Punctuality, as far as playing out, is not just being there on time but being ready to play on time. So you need to be able to set everything up and be ready to play at the previously agreed-upon starting time. You also need to make sure you don’t take extended breaks. That’s another way to anger the owners or operators of the establishment.

Most people think punctuality is only important to the people who run the venue but it is also important to some of the customers who regularly attend the establishment. They also expect the entertainment to start at a specific time. Some may leave when it does not. If they leave early, the bar makes less money since they are not there to spend it.

A Good Quality Sound

It doesn’t matter if you are a technically great musician if your mix is poor and you sound terrible as a result. Make sure you know how to get the best sound possible with the equipment you have. Always strive to improve upon it as well. Try not to be too loud either. It can be difficult to hear things clearly when everything is blaring loud. It becomes one big audio blur.

If you feel you have some sound equipment that just isn’t cutting it as far as being able to produce a good quality sound, save up for better equipment. Reinvest your earnings from playing out and put it towards a better sound system or whatever else may be needed to produce a better sound.

In the beginning, I pieced a bunch of stuff together and called it a sound system. I did what I could to get the best possible sound out of it and with some experimentation, I think I got the best possible results out of what I had. But I took the money I made from those early gigs and put it towards a better sound system. Then I eventually learned how to get the best possible sound out of that.

Of course, I didn’t buy everything all at once. I had to prioritize things. I thought in terms of what I needed most to get a better sound. I also wanted to get equipment that would be easier and quicker to set up and use. I had enough decent equipment to play small venues and produce a good quality sound within just six months or so of paid gigs.

Know a Lot of Songs by a Lot of Different Artists

One thing I have learned when playing out is that you could never know too many songs. And regardless as to how many songs you know, someone will always request one that you don’t know. It’s just the way it is. But if you know a lot of songs, that will happen a lot less often. Also, if you know what a certain crowd of regulars at a certain venue like, you could play more of the type of music that goes over well there.

Not everyone likes the same music. It would be easy if that were so. Then you could just play what you know everyone likes and you could never miss. But musical tastes vary from person to person. So covering a lot of different artists helps to increase the likelihood that you will at least play something someone likes throughout the evening.

There are songs of all different tempos, keys, time signatures and so forth. Try mixing that up as well. Try not to play too many songs by the same group in a row unless you are doing some sort of medley or if it is something you really know the crowd wants to hear.

Do What Works Best for Each Song

Never approach every song with the same formula. Try to do what works best for each individual song. As an example, I use two different guitars when I play out. One is and acoustic guitar and the other is an electric guitar. The acoustic guitar I tune down a whole step from standard tuning. I do songs on that that I don’t usually do on my electric that is tuned to standard tuning. If I need to raise the acoustic up to standard tuning, I just put a capo on the second fret.

I have effects units that I use as well. I don’t use the same settings on those units for every song. I try to use the effects that work best for the song. I also will vary the way I sing the songs. I don’t always take the same approach when singing the songs. I try to sing in the keys that make my voice sound the best and well within my vocal range. So some songs may require that I transpose them to a different key in order to provide the best performance for the song. It’s all about what is best for the song.

Be Unique

If people can hear everything you do somewhere else, there is no real need for them to go see you specifically. So you need to be unique in some way. Think of everything about you that you think makes you unique and place some emphasis on it. That’s what I try to do for myself.

My main strength, musically, is my proficiency on fingerstyle guitar. Not everyone is proficient at that. However, there are certainly a good number of musicians out there that are. I will however, take some songs that were not originally performed on guitar or not using fingerstyle guitar techniques and apply fingerstyle guitar techniques to them in my own arrangement.

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I am able to transpose songs from one instrument to another as well as transposing from one key to another because I have a good understanding of music theory. Not everyone performing out there does to that extent. That is one more distinction I try to use to my advantage.

I also try to do my own take on the songs I perform. I don’t believe in doing something exactly as it is on a band’s CD. I figure that there are enough tribute bands out there that try to do songs exactly as they are on the original band’s CD. That’s their niche and I have no criticism to offer regarding that. If that’s your thing, go for it. Do it to the best of your abilities. If you do that well, you are still unique in the fact that you do that sort of thing well. I’ve seen some so-called tribute bands live that didn’t really sound like the bands they were trying to emulate.

Doing anything well is a distinguishing factor. So if there is something that you think you do very well, let it be seen and let it be heard. No point in being shy about it. Always be willing to push yourself to become a better musician. Always try to learn something new, try to do it well and apply it to what you are doing live.

I have taken a number of songs that were not done acoustically and performed them on an acoustic guitar, using my own arrangement. That is something that has worked out very well for me. It can be a challenge sometimes but when you pull it off, it gives a great feeling of accomplishment.

Gimmicks

Sometimes gimmicks work and sometimes they don’t. The makeup thing worked well for the band Kiss, as well as some of their onstage antics like spitting fire and spitting out blood. Some bands have a certain look that will set them apart from other bands. Like the band Twisted Sister when they basically dressed up to look like a bunch of ugly women. It certainly got them noticed and it provided quite the contrast when you consider how wild and crazy they acted on stage. Not very lady like.

The thing about gimmicks, though, is that they can only take you just so far and if there is no real substance there musically, then the novelty kind of wears off and you are left with nothing.

Know What You Do and Don’t Do Well

Look, there is no musician in the world that can do it all. It’s just not humanly possible. My talents really revolve primarily around stringed instruments. I also play keyboards as well. I even sing with a satisfactory level of quality. However, I am not good at percussion at all. I can’t play hand percussion well or a standard drum kit. I have no aptitude towards either and I am pretty sure that no matter how hard I could work to develop myself as a percussionist of any sort, I probably would not excel at it. However, there are some people who have a natural knck for percussion. I’m just not one of them.

So, in order to make the best overall impression, I avoid doing the things that make me siound bad and do more of the things that make me sound good. I know what keys work best for my voice to sing in. I know what my vocal range is and I never try to sing out of it. If there is a song I like that is in a difficult key for me to sing in, I will change the key to one that works much better for my voice. Sometimes it takes a bit of work to transpose a song to a different key but it often works well. If it still doesn’t sound right, I will drop the song.

You have to be honest with yourself. Assess as to whether or not you are really pulling a song off. If you are not, drop it. It just makes you look bad if you perform a song poorly. Sure, you might really like that song but if you can’t do it justice, just give it up. It’s not the end of the world if you have to drop a song here and there that you love. I’ve had to do that a number of times. I've gotten over it.

On the other hand, there have been some songs that I transposed from one key into another that worked better for my voice and my voice sounded great. When you sing in the right key and well within your vocal range, it can make you sound like a better singer than you really are. It is also true that even a great singer can sound terrible if trying to sing out of his or her range or in the wrong key. Just remember what you do and don’t do well.

Attend to the Finer Details

Not paying attention to the finer details can come back to bite you on the you know what. One example is when I set up my equipment for a gig, I neglected to check the settings on the mixer and they were off. The mic was unbelievably hot. I had to back way off from it. I adjusted it as soon as the first song was over but the mix was considerably off on the first song.

On another gig, I accidentally stepped on my effects pedal and the distortion came on. It was a mello song that had no business using distortion. So the next time around I made a point of placing the pedal in a location where it was less likely to be stepped on accidentally.

Sometimes things work out better when your speakers or monitors are placed in a specific location in relation to where you may be sitting or standing when performing. I’ve noticed that when I place my speakers in the right spot, I can hear myself much better and I am able to perform with much more confidence when I can hear myself better. These are just some of the finer details. Often, I will make a mistake like the ones listed above and I try not to repeat them in the future.

Rehearse, Rehearse, Rehearse

I personally never perform anything I haven’t really rehearsed. It’s just the way I am. I find that my level of confidence when performing a song live is much better that way. Sure’ you are always going to be at least a little bit nervous when you play a song live for the first time. But you can minimize that by making sure you really know it before doing so.

Admittedly, it is easier for me as a solo performer than it would be for a band to be well rehearsed. With a band, you have to synchronize yout schedules in order to be able to get together for a band rehearsal. I can just practice just about any time I want or when I am in the mood to do so. Most working bands I know get together at least once or twice a week, every week to practice. It shows when a band is well rehearsed or not. You usually got it together or you don’t and most people can tell when they see you play live.

That’s it for Now

I think I have covered a lot in this article. there’s no way to cover it all in one article and probably not even in a number of articles. But there are a lot of ways to maximize the likelihood of you making a good impression when you play live. Give it some thought.

© 2021 Bob Craypoe

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