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12 Step Plan for
Improving Your Act

By Brett McCarron

(Continued from page 1)

  1. Dress up.
    Stage attire sets apart the band from the audience. In the old days, musicians often wore uniforms to identify them as a band. Remember all those cool Beatles publicity shots? The use of light colors will reflect stage lighting. Silky and shiny textures also look good, as they reflect highlights. Black is a good "mysterious" color. Tie-dyed clothes lend a retro or hippy look. Jeans and T-shirts can work, too, if you accessorize with beads, wrist bands, and cool shoes. While you don't have to go as far as KISS or Gwar, your stage personna can be as exciting and different as you want it to be (so long as it doesn't stray too far from the band's overall theme).

  2. Are your monitor speakers adequate?
    If you can't hear your vocals from the stage, then you have two options. Either turn down the stage volume of your instruments (easier said than done) or increase the volume of your monitors. Monitor volume can be increased by moving the monitor speakers closer to the performers, or by using an in-ear monitor system. Turning down the stage volume can be handled via a plexi shield around the drum kit, and using monitor speakers for the guitarists. Those small, mic stand-mounted monitor speakers for either instruments or voice can also help.

  3. Use a drum riser.
    This gets your drummer off the floor, putting his (or her) on a more even level with the rest of the band. Audiences like to see the drummer's antics. And most drummers don't mind being put on display. You can tack a fabric covering around the sides of the platform, providing a place to store guitar and equipment cases underneath. Even if it's only six or nine inches, a drum riser makes your act look more professional, which will result in better gigs. You can make it yourself, using free plans available online. Or you can pick one up from a school auction.

  4. Edit your set list.
    If you're only playing one set, make sure it's nothing but your best material. Start with an attention-getting song that will make the audience wake up and watch. Avoid the temptation to start out slow and get progressively better. That approach will fail if your audience leaves before you get to the best songs. Give the audience something good to make them want to stay. This means cutting out the "band favorite" that sounds terrible and any songs with weak vocals. There's no rule that says every member of the band needs to sing a song, either. Experiment with song placement by rehearsing your draft set list. You'll get band member input on what works for them. But don't expect there to be total agreement on the order of songs. Hopefully you have a leader who will have the final say.

  5. Banter between songs.
    The banter between songs helps keep the audience entertained, and can help hide annoying downtime during instrument swaps. You don't have to talk between every song, but introducing a song, the band members, or a quick menion of your band's web site, will make your act appear more professional. You'd also be surprised at the number of artists who have memorized their between song "banter" so that it appears effortless. If you think up a great ad-lib, add it to your act and use it for the next show. You'd be surprised how many off the cuff remarks and witty rejoinders have been rehearsed. If it sounds good, use it! (For more tips on what to say onstage, see this article.)

  6. Look like you're having a good time (even when you're not).
    Above all, smile and make eye contact with the audience. If it looks like you're having a great time, that will rub off on the audience, helping them to have a great time, too. Sometimes that means taking it upon yourself to whisper the punchline of an old joke to a bandmate to lighten the mood. Some artists use props to add a comic touch that audiences enjoy. Other artists may tell a funny story.

    Once a bass player had his backup instrument on the floor behind him. When he accidentally stepped back, he snapped the neck off his number-two instrument! Instead of being upset, during a drum solo, he picked up the broken bass. He held the neck to the body so that it appeared to be more or less intact. He then proceeded to smash the instrument on the stage. The audience was whipped to a frenzy, thinking that this was part of the show. Talk about making lemonade when life gives you lemons!

Have fun, and as always, good luck with your music career!


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