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12 Step Plan for
Improving Your Act

By Brett McCarron

Viewed from afar, the journey from where your band is now to where you want to be may seem impossibly long.

But by taking things one step at a time, you'll reach your destination before you know it.

Even if you only complete a few of these suggestions, you'll be miles ahead of where you were, and also more marketable to booking agents, event promoters, and audiences.

  1. Reduce the down time between songs.
    Too much time spent between songs really kills the momentum of your set. Practice playing two or three songs back-to-back so you get used to it. If a song requires some down-time (for example, to change to a guitar using nonstandard tuning, or for the singer to move from guitar to piano), try placing it at the beginning of a set. Or use it for an encore. Or move it to a position after you've played several songs with little or no pause between them.

  2. Record and critique your performance.
    Use a camcorder (or invite a friend) to record the entire show. Watch the entire show afterwards, with an eye to figuring out what areas can be improved. You'll be surprised how much different the show appears from the audience's perspective.

  3. Pare down your solos.
    Extended guitar solos may be fun to play in a jam situation, but any song that stretches out forever will make audiences restless. They came to hear variety. Unless you're forte' is improv jazz, or you're in a Grateful Dead cover band, keep the solos focused and to the point.

  4. Sing the words correctly.
    Hopefully your lead singer doesn't mumble the vocals, or forgets the words, sings the wrong words, or otherwise murder a good song arrangement. Many audience members key in on the lyrics, so thinking that the words are 'close enough' is certainly not the mark of a professional act. If memorization of the correct lyrics is impossible, a cue sheet or even a teleprompter (hiding a laptop PC inside an empty vocal monitor) can help salvage the song. (The free midi karaoke player from VanBasco can help with this, too. It can turn a discarded laptop into a great lyric prompter for your forgetful singer.)

  5. Use stage lighting.
    I'm amazed at how many bands don't use stage lighting to make ther live shows more exciting. Lights can be chased (sequenced) to add further impact. Lights can be concentrated on a particular performer for solos, or to add intimacy by putting the rest of the band in shadow. Turning off all the lights at the end of the song (a "blackout") tells the audience that the song is over, and is a sure-fire cue for applause. Different lighting colors for diferent songs helps set a mood to make each song different from the one before and after it. Lights can be operated from the stage using foot switches, or from the sound engineer's table. A really exciting innovation in recent years is LED lighting, which keeps stage temperatures down, and can use fewer lights if you use the color mixing (RGB) type.

  6. Is your band name visible?
    Invest in a professionally produced banner (custom-made vinyl banners can be produced from your computer artwork for less than you'd think. Local sign shops can do this, as well as most office supply stores. Short on cash? Put a logo on the bass drum. You can also spray paint the band name on monitor speakers and guitar cases. Bumper stickers are another idea, and you can also sell them at your band's merchandise table before, during, and after the gig.

    And if your band name just plain sucks, making it more visible isn't going to improve things a whole lot. Instead, why not find a name that you can all agree on? My free random band name generator has over TWO BILLION interesting names for your band. Check it out!

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