Bob Craypoe (also known as R. L. Crepeau) is a musician, writer, webmaster, 3D artist, and creator of the Punksters comic strip series.
I have personally experienced playing out live both as part of a band and as a solo act. There are pluses and minuses to doing both. However, I will concentrate on performing out as a solo act for this article. I will address both the pros and cons of doing it.
All the Equipment is Yours
When you are playing out as a solo act, generally, you are using all your own equipment. As part of a band situation, one guy might own the power amp and another might own the mixer, and so forth. So if you don’t already have all of the equipment you need to perform as a solo act, you may have to make some purchases in order to have the necessary equipment. Which means you have to fork out money before you even start making it.
Owning all of the equipment also means that you are the one who will also be lugging it all and setting it all up. I call it the speaker cabinet workout. One good thing about owning all of the equipment, though, is that you can always take it with you no matter what your band situation may be. At least at that point you will not have a lack of equipment being the reason for you not having options.
The Mix is All Yours
Unless you have your own sound man, you will be doing your own mix. That’s not too bad if you know something about what you are doing and might be bad until you learn how to do it properly. However, since it is just you as a solo act, there will obviously be less channels for you to mix. After all, the more instruments there are, the harder it is to mix.
One real big plus is the fact that you won’t have volume wars where the guitar player might turn up his amp to compete with the volume of the drummer and then everyone else starts to do the same until your eardrums bleed or it is so out of whack that it just sounds like a terrible, incoherent mess. Not to mention the fact that some people get mad when they think that they aren’t loud enough and start to argue with the other members of the band over it. That’s always a lot of fun.
When I set up to play as a solo acoustic performer, it is so easy. All I have is my acoustic guitar and my vocals. Two channels on the mixer are being used and that’s it. If I notice that my microphone is not loud enough, I could just get a little closer to it and if my microphone is too loud, I can just back away from it. So generally I put the mic up a little higher than might be necessary. Because I could always back away if it is too loud.
The Practice Schedule is All Yours
One of the things that are probably the most difficult to deal with in a band situation is trying to schedule rehearsals or gigs. You have to make sure everyone is available. I have seen a lot of band situations not work out because the members of the band could not get together enough because of the fact that some of the members had difficulty synchronizing their schedule with each other in order to be able to get together. One person might work nights and the rest of the band might work days. Someone might work weekends whereas everyone else might just work during the week. That’s because most musicians have a day job and are not doing only music full time.
When you are a solo act, you can practice your material alone, any time you and you alone are available to do so. It makes it much easier. You also don’t need to set up a lot of equipment to practice by yourself either. When I was an acoustic solo act, I would just grab my acoustic guitar, go out in the back yard and sing and play. Then, if the mosquitoes where chomping down on me too much, I would go back into the house and finish my practice. I would also go right down my song list too. The songs on my song list were basically in the same order I would play them out live and it works out pretty well when you get used to doing songs in a certain order.
All of the Mistakes Are Yours
When you are playing out as a solo act, you are alone on the stage. I know that sounds like a ridiculously obvious thing to mention but think about what it really means. That means if you screw up, everybody knows it was you. Sometimes in a band situation, where an entire band is playing live, someone may mess up but the other instruments may hide that. That doesn’t happen when you are alone. As a solo act, you own all of the mistakes.
However, just as you might own all of the mistakes, you also own the fact that a performance might have gone very well. There was nobody else there to save you or cover for you and you managed to pull it all off. That’s all you. Give yourself a pat on the back. Yeah, it’s a nice feeling when you’re playing with a band and you pull off a difficult song but when you do it by yourself, there is a much bigger sigh of relief.
Also, if you are the one doing all of the singing, then you are the one that has to learn all of the lyrics. That means there is more for you to have to remember. Just before I went solo, I was part of a music duo. I played guitar and sang and the other guy payed keyboards and sang. We would take turns doing the lead vocals. So he had to learn the lyrics for some songs and I had to know the lyrics for other songs. When I went solo, I had to learn a lot more lyrics. Learning takes time. So you might want to prepare for a while before you actually make that step from working in a band to going solo.
All the Songs Are Your Choice
One thing you won’t have to worry about when you are performing out as a solo act is fighting with another band member over what songs to do. You also won’t be fighting over who gets to sing each song. One band member might get angry if he does not get his fair share of songs to sing or won’t get to sing his favorite songs. That alone could cause band situations to go sour. Another issue is when the other band members aren’t learning their part for the songs. Sometimes they don’t learn the songs they don’t like in the hopes that you will decide to drop them from your set list.
Being a solo performer allows you to choose all of the songs you will be performing. That’s nice but, at the same time, you may be limited as to what songs you will be able to play since you are the only person performing. What works for a band situation will be harder to pull off as a solo act, in many cases. I have gone over a lot of songs to see which ones I would be able to pull off as a solo act and there have been a number of songs that I have thought of trying that I eventually gave up on because I felt I could not do the song justice as a solo performer. It’s disappointing but you have to be honest with yourself when you assess as to whether or not you think you could pull it off alone.
The Booking is All Your Responsibility
Unless you have your own booking agent, you will be responsible for booking your own gigs. I have seen a lot of good musicians not knowing the first thing about how to go about scoring gigs. It’s a shame when you see a talented person not getting the opportunities to play out more. Music is a business, not just a talent. Talent is great but nobody gets to see it if you can’t get any place to play.Sometimes in a band situation, you may have one member that handles all of the bookings and you won’t have to worry about it. But as a solo performer, it’s all you.
The plus about being the only one who handles the bookings is that you can set the price to whatever you want and won’t have to run it by the other band members. Also, you get to keep all of the money and won’t have to split it with anyone. That’s kind of nice. And as a solo act, you could play a lot of smaller venues that aren’t big enough for a full size band and you could charge places less that can’t afford a full size band. I played more solo gigs than I have ever played gigs with a band .
Auditioning for a solo gig can be easier as well. When I was a solo guy, there were a few places that I went to where I inquired about getting a gig and they asked me if I had a guitar in my car. Well, it just so happened that I did. I would go out to my car, grab the guitar and sit right at the bar and play. I did a live audition right there on the spot. I got booked into a few places that way and those places were steady gigs for a while . You always have to be ready when you inquire as a solo artist. You have to be ready to play anywhere at any time. It’s not for the bashful.
Speaking of things not being for the bashful. Being a solo act is not for the bashful. That is probably one of the things that prevent a lot of people from doing it. They might feel comfortable being in front of a crowd of people as part of a band but not so much by themselves. That’s how it was for me at first. When I started out, I was just the guitar player in a band. Eventually, I played and sang in front of people all by myself. It can be intimidating but you would be amazed at what you are capable of doing once you force yourself to do it
And That’s Pretty Much It
So it is obvious that there are some details you have to consider when you think about going out to perform as a solo act. Just like most things in life, there are pluses and minuses to doing it. It can be intimidating at first but you will never know if you are capable of doing it until you try. Fortunately, there are usually open mics a person can go to in order to try out and see how they can do on their own. It’s also great to use open mics as an opportunity to try out new material. That’s how I really got my start as a solo performer.
Overall, I’d have to say that my experience as a solo performer has been mostly positive. Sure, there are some difficult moments but there have been a lot of great ones as well. There have been a number of times when I was playing out and someone would come up to me while I was on break and would inquire about me performing at their party or something else and I have my list of scheduled dates with me, so I was able to see what days I was available. I always went to a gig with a printout of my scheduled gigs. Since I was the one doing all of the bookings and the only performer, I knew if I was available and could book something right on the spot. That alone allowed me to score more gigs. When I played private parties, I would get the opportunity to play another one the host was going to schedule in the nearby future. Being a solo act makes it easier to schedule things right away and it’s better that way because sometimes people change their mind and if you book it before they get a chance to reconsider, it’s generally a done deal.
I can’t guaranty that everyone will have a positive experience but I have to say that mine generally was. Besides, you will never know how things will work out until you try. That’s the chance we all have to take and nothing in life is guaranteed. I just thought I’d list some of the good points and bad points of going solo. That way you could give it some thought and make a somewhat informed decision.