So, you can play that instrument pretty good and you find it kind-of fun to play in front of an audience. Perhaps you have some friends you play with and you all have a common set of tunes you can play well together. Where do you go from here?
What does it take to start (or join) a band?
Here is a list of things to keep in mind if you are planning to go on stage.
1. When creating a playlist, alternate fast and slow tunes ... too many back-to-back fast tunes can be exhausting. Too many back-to-back slow tunes can put your audience to sleep.
2. Make sure all band members are working from the same music. Of course, you are all the same key signature, but does everyone agree on the song order. Make sure everyone agrees on the repeats (is this tune played AABB or AAB?)
3. Is this music appropriate for the audience? Hint: don't play all those klezmer tunes if the audience is wearing Stetson hats and cowboy boots.
4. Key signatures. Some instruments "ahem! - banjo - cough!" are specific to a key signature, so you may want to keep some of your key-of-G tunes together so that someone is not having to re-tune or change instruments as much.
5. Have something to say for each tune. You don’t need to say it, but you should have it available if you need it. You may need to tell a story or a joke to keep the audience occupied while a band member re-tunes a string... or changes instrument. You may also need filler to extend a time slot.
6. Count-ins and intros are critical. It's important that everyone starts together so you don't sound like an old wind-up 78 record player that is playing while you are cranking it up to speed. Use a count-in or an intro to a piece to Set the beat so everyone knows it and then start the tune at that beat and keep that same beat.
7. Have an agreed upon signal to end a piece. It sounds sad when a piece just kind-of trails off as various instruments stop playing.
8. Do you need amplification to project your sound through the venue or the crowd noise? If so, does the venue have functional sound equipment, or do you need to provide you own sound system?
9. If you are responsible for your own sound amplification.
Here is a small list of some things you will need:
Amplifier & speakers - figure out how many watts of power it takes to project across the venue.
Don’t forget Power cords, Microphone, Microphone stand, Microphone cable or cable into you instrument pick-up.
10. If you are not responsible for your own sound system become good friends with your sound technician. Nothing ruins a performance as completely as electronic feedback. Make sure any microphones are out of the line-of-fire of the speakers. A good rule of thumb is to keep the microphones well behind the speakers... not in front of the speakers.
11. Monitors - this is a set of speakers which allows the band members to hear each other. The melodic instruments need to hear the beat, and the rhythmic instruments need to hear the melody for everyone to play together properly. If you don't have monitors your next option is to get up-close-and-personal and invade each other's bubbles. Next look to someone for the beat... a stamping foot or a bow movement.
I posed some questions about being in a band to Tim Wankel and he responded based on his experiences:
1. There are no hard rules for band dynamics. There are ego's involved. Remember that we all have egos because it takes a certain amount of ego to stand up in front of a crowd and perform.
2. If a band’s dynamics don't fit the artist, they pick or create their own band dynamic. When a band dynamics click for all members, there is a real high to the performance, if not, then it's just a damn job.
Q. How many tunes should you have in your repertoire? How diverse should that Playlist be? Or can you tailor yourself to one genre?
Tim W: In Bluegrass you need about 60 because of short length of the pieces, Rock or Blues 40. Playlist layouts vary a lot. If you have a captive audience as in warm-up band or any multi-band performance. Your song layout will be a continuation of music, you need to know what type of music is before you and what type is behind you. It is best to put your selections in such a manner that differentiates you from the other bands in the Multi-band performance. Be ready to adjust on the fly. (If a band before you does a number in your set list, you best not play it. If you cover a song that any Headliner act has done, don’t do it out of respect for the recording artist.)
Vary your song order so that the Keys/tempo/meter vary enough that there is a definite difference between each song/mood. You can pull songs of similarity into Medleys. Like play 2 verses of a song, transition key play parts of another song, transition key back and finish out on the song you started.
Alter your performance to match the audience's mood. Start Hot, gradually mellow out, make ‘em cry then lift the mood again. (Like every Disney movie made) ...
--Now if you are the Headline act: You have full control. Your set lists are pre-planned and are usually performed without variance for weeks/months same way, every time. That is why Pros/Headliners do not need set lists. It is well rehearsed including the segue and the between song banter.
Tim W: A wedding band has to be very versatile and cross genre. a dance band has its selections based on dance moves. You can't play electric instruments is some genres. A rock band will not play a polka.
Q. How much do you need to practice each day? Alone? With other members?
Tim W: Cover Band: Practice depends on the Skill level. If you are technically skilled but not so much into Improv / Pattern Recognition or Arrangement then you really got to work harder.
Tim W: Practice: Alone for Skill, Technique, Lead Breaks, Initial Song development, Original Song development. Amount varies. If you are learning a new instrument, I fit a daily routine 1/2 hour before day job every morning and 2 hours instead of TV at night.
A: Rehearsal: (you call it band practice as a group). Proposing and Presenting New Songs, Agreeing on set arrangement for upcoming shows. Defining song starts/ends/arrangements/segues/transitions. Set list run-throughs. Wardrobe. Working the microphone dynamics (Single Mic Band -vs- Individual Mic) My current band is Single Mic just like "Monroe Crossing and High 48s"
Tim W: Rehearsal is once a week every week to keep sharp: More often when a big event prep or special type event. I.E. We might go to a 2x schedule for Mainstage prep, whereas just the 1x for House concert or showcase performance. "Showcase means Unpaid or Volunteer performance)
Q. How do you find gigs?
Tim W: Tough one: Media, Business cards / Mailings / Personal Connections and Hitting the pavement. Start-ups have a harder time than Established groups.
Q. Do you need separate play lists for different venues? Do you need alternate pieces to fill time for a gig?
Tim W: for a first time appearance, you go with top songs or your standard canned set list. Repeat performances need about 80% different songs. You keep your signature songs and mix in based on what you learned from the venue last time you were there.
Q. What's the roll of and the importance of a group manager?
Tim W: The keeper of the materials, Calenders. Financial. Control over What gigs to pursue. Logistics.
Q. What is the importance of sound equipment, even for an acoustic band?
Tim W: Minimal for House Concert. High for Larger venues. You spent $5,000 on a certain tone of the instrument and it will sound like $100.00 if the sound system is not right. You don't get blend of instruments if one is too loud or too soft. Your microphone has to suit the purpose. Mic for a Bass is Waaaay different than a mic for a violin and vocal is yet another type.
Q. What is the most fun part about performing on stage as a band?
Tim W: It's all about the collective sound and appeal of a finished song. No one can do it alone. (Every kid has the dream of being popular and well liked, we are all just kids when on stage living out our egos and dreams)
Q. What is the most challenging part of performing in a band?
Tim W: You do not have control of the song. You cannot control what notes are performed when. If you try to control a musician’s playing, you have sucked the life out of the creative spirit and therefore you have turned a live performance into a record on repeat. No drama, no highs, no lows ---aka why bother
Q. How do you promote your group?
Tim W: Have a Shtick, Something memorable or unique about your group. Use Social media, Get a Webpage. Send out printed materials. Have handouts/business cards with you at all events. When in public as a group, Look like a group. Be recognizable. Have signage on stage. Talk to people after and during your performance ENGAGE/ENGAGE. Be available to attendees after the show. Have your closing song be something that someone might attribute to only you, have a final song that someone might be humming to themselves even after the show is over.
Q. What strategies do you use to keep the group starting & ending together? Timing is everything...
Tim W: Bluegrass has a drummer It's called the mandolin chuck or the violin chop or a guitarist has a prominent down stroke. Bassists can alter tempo by the way chord changes are transitioned. Starts and stops are agreed upon in the Rehearsal.
Q. Backup instruments? Horror stories of broken instruments, broken strings, and fast tunings.
Tim W: We don't have an issue in my current group. If I have a mando string break, I play the song out with whatever strings are left, Then I adjust the subsequent song order to avoid mando songs, or I play banjo or guitar or just sing. If the Bass quits, We adjust our set list to tunes than can be without bass. We have 2 guitars already so no biggie.
Here's the CRUX: If your voice gives out. You may drop keys on your lead vocal songs and on backups you get real close to the mic and sing your parts without breath support using another technique. If you can’t sing at all your band mates have to suck it up and do all their songs and scrap yours. (If your front man is good at improv, You can change a string while he's telling a story. You can adjust your set list to a song that you have minimal participation on and change your strings then. As a group, you should know ahead of time what your Emergency songs are. You can do acapella songs or Solo performances as well) In short in a group the impact is not terrible. We played Harriet Brewing once when the power grid went down, We Yelled out, everyone come up close, bring your chairs were going Unplugged up-close and personal. The show went on and they loved us for it.) Remember the rains at Homegrown kickoff ? Those brave enough to venture out were invited on stage for the shows.
Q. How close to home should gigs be, at what point does it make sense to "hit the road?"
Tim W: Depends on Finance / Risk / Reward.
Tim W: This is a seriously LOADED Question >>> A Public appearance that may have the possibility of P.R. or future bookings we might go at lesser rate. A Gig that is logistically between two major gigs, may book at band expenses only, because we are already in the neighborhood. A charity gig Senior Housing/ Hospice or Hospitals in the area of a paid gig are pro-Bono. we are in the area anyway and need to occupy time away from home during off hours.