Things to Keep in Mind Before Your First Band Performance

Whether this is your first stage performance or you are part of a seasoned band that has been regularly playing on the circuit, it takes a concerted effort to get over stage fear and pull off a memorable performance. Even an award winning highly decorated artist such as Adele says “I am sacred of audiences”! In this blog post we will share some advice for the first-timers or a newly performing band that can help overcome stage fear and have a successful live debut.

Before we look at how to pull off a successful live performance, let us first look at some of the main reasons that make it fail:

  1. Not having done a stage rehearsal: many times the band gets up on stage for the first time and are not even sure where each player needs to sit or stand. This is more pronounced when bands go for competitions and get on stage just when their name is announced!
  2. Not doing a priori sound check: in conjunction with (1), bands do not take the time to ensure if each of them can listen to themselves and others.
  3. Not having a planned song set: while it may be challenging for a new band to have a wide repertoire, it does not help if the band just plays through songs they know instead of songs that audience would like to listen to.
  4. Not aware of mistakes: if the band is making mistakes but is blissfully unaware it makes for a very uncomfortable (sometimes terrible) experience for the audience.
  5. Not being able to engage the audience: in conjunction with (4), people come to a live performance to be with the band. If they just want the music they can listen to it on their earbuds connected to their smartphones!

Even if you are a startup band and all you want to do is just play some songs “correctly” before getting off stage, if you do not take these issues seriously, all the hard work and preparation you put in it could go waste. So let us see how you can address them with some of the suggestions below:

Stage Rehearsal

First and foremost: try to do a stage rehearsal!

Do this a day or two or, at least a few hours before the event begins. Go up and look down from the stage towards the farthest corners of the room or venue where audience will be standing. Can you see them; can they see you? Just being on stage before the actual event will greatly reduce your stage anxiety.

Next decide who is going to stand (or sit) where and mark your positions with a duct tape. You will need this for the sound check. See an example in the figure below:

Notice how the rhythm section is set up on the right together. The Sax and Guitar leads are next to each other? Everyone can have a great eye contact with others!

Sound check
Next do a sound check of your instrument solo first, and then, with others playing.

Many a time a drummer can’t hear himself or herself properly even without anyone else playing! A pianist can’t hear the bass or the violin because their volumes are low.

To do a successful sound check pick a song or sections that together involves all instruments. Keep this as your Sound Check Song. This does not need to be the song you will play that day.

Can you all hear your song well from the feedback monitors? If so ask the sound engineer to record it once and listen to it immediately. Does it sound like how it should? Provide your feedback to the engineer and get any issues corrected. This is very critical to getting the levels and balancing right both for the audience as well as for your own feedback without which you won’t be able to play well!

Song list

Be prepared with a strong set for your performance

Whether it is an hour long performance or you have to play couple of songs for the event it is always necessary to have a set.

The set needs to include at least three songs of the following types:

  1. A Warm-up song: this is the first song you will play on stage. It needs to be the simplest, the easiest and a well-known song. This is the only song that you are playing for yourself! This is for you to warm-up with your instruments and for the audience to warm-up with your band.
  2. The Last song: this is your best song; one that you want to leave the stage feeling good and the audience asking for an encore performance!
  3. Song that reflects the event or competition: if you are playing at a wedding reception this is the song that toasts the couple. If you are playing in a hard rock competition this song is the anthem for the rock band fans in the audience!

Rehearse this set as many times as possible before you go to the event.

Awareness

Develop awareness of how you are sounding live but allow for mistakes!

Live performance means that you will make mistakes! Even the top most professionals make mistakes – begin with the wrong pitch, forget to play the interlude, etc. In our previous blog posts (http://www.manoke.com/blog/5-tips-boost-music-practice/ ) we gave some suggestions on practice. However to minimize mistakes the best approach is to practice together by listening to each other. Tape every song as you practice and listen to it immediately afterwards along with others and see how you sound. With smartphones etc this is today very easy to do.

Become aware of the mistakes you are typically making – starting late, rushing, not playing the dynamics well, losing pitch, etc. As you become aware you will find the mistakes magically disappear!

But what should you do if you make a mistake while on stage? If it is a huge mistake (say someone started a song with the wrong pitch) then just stop. Apologize and restart. No need to play through and make it worse.  Otherwise just move on and make it up in the next song.

Audience engagement

This is perhaps the most important but also the most challenging for a new band to achieve.

However there are few simple things you can do:

a. Introduce the band mates one by one in between your set (say after the second song); ask audience to cheer.
b. Call someone from the audience (could even be someone you know if no-one else steps forward) to get on stage and help start off the next song
c. If you are not playing for the first time and have developed stage confidence then in the song you are trying to improvise stop the rhythm section at some point and ask audience to clap and play along to the claps.
The only proven way to get over stage fright is to get on stage and not be worried about making mistakes. Everyone does including the very top professionals! But with good preparation and practice you can get over it and actually have a wonderful time on stage! Good luck!
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