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Sep 27, 2021 - 7:03:44 AM

sethb

USA

618 posts since 2/16/2005

I've seen tons of posts here about playing a banjo, but virtually nothing about performing with a banjo.  And since I'm assuming that the goal of learning how to play a banjo is to perform with it in front of an audience, I think it would be helpful to have a thread or perhaps even a dedicated section about performance.  

As I've discovered, I needed to learn how to perform as well as how to play.  And I learned many things about performing the hard way, in the "school of hard knocks," by having more than a few "train wrecks" during gigs. 

So in the interest of getting things started, I'm recommending three books about performing that I have found very helpful.  All of them are available on Amazon for $10 or less as Kindle e-books, are well worth it, and may save you much embarrassment and "agida" down the road. 

THE MUSICIAN'S WAY by Gerald Klickstein   Although primarily intended for classical musicians, there is much good advice here for all musicians about dealing with stage fright, setting up concerts and shows, perfectionism and some great practice and performance tips, like "reading ahead." 

THE GIGGING MUSICIAN by Billy Mitchell    Excellent advice from a jazz pianist on what to do (and what not to do) on gigs.  Who knew you weren't supposed to bring your spouse or girlfriend to a private gig?  One of my band members did, causing a big problem!  Also deals with some of the common issues (like fear and envy) that performing musicians face, and some good advice on being an effective bandleader. 

THE GIGGER'S HANDBOOK by Naomi Long    More great advice on how to form a band and keep it together, as well as good information on playing gigs, including getting the job, deciding how much to charge, making up set lists, stage presence and stagecraft. 

I hope this information is helpful, and I would welcome posts with any other suggestions for further resources in this area.  Perhaps some "war stories" from other performers would be helpful, too!  SETH 

Edited by - sethb on 09/27/2021 07:17:45

Sep 27, 2021 - 8:13:58 AM

64 posts since 2/8/2016

I found Realties For Local Bands - Talent Is Not Enough by David Himes to be enlightining.

Also Pete Wernick wrote How To Make A Band Work for Mel Bay.  It appears to only be available used and I have yet to read it, but the author should certainly know what he is talking about.

Could be an interesting topic.

Sep 27, 2021 - 8:39:56 AM

2358 posts since 9/25/2006

quote:
Originally posted by JohnnyShayne

I found Realties For Local Bands - Talent Is Not Enough by David Himes to be enlightining.

Also Pete Wernick wrote How To Make A Band Work for Mel Bay.  It appears to only be available used and I have yet to read it, but the author should certainly know what he is talking about.

Could be an interesting topic.


I have a copy of Wernicks book

Sep 27, 2021 - 10:33:40 AM
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sethb

USA

618 posts since 2/16/2005

Since I also suggested that readers post some of their "war stories," I'll start off with two of my favorites.

1.  I was discussing a possible gig with a lady, and after getting all the details, I quoted her a price.  Then she asked me "How many people did you say are in the band?"  When I told her there were six band members, she asked me "Well, could you play with just three or four of them instead?"  I was going to ask her which instruments she wanted to leave out, but thought the better of it.  In the end I gave her a slightly reduced rate (for "nonprofit organizations"), which is what she was looking for in the first place. 

2.  We had agreed to play for a local assisted care facility, and I had sent our standard invoice, which states that "the fee is due and payable at the conclusion of the show."  When we arrived at the venue and had unloaded, were almost completely set up and ready to play, the Recreation Director who hired us whispered in my ear "By the way, we pay in 60-90 days."  I reminded her of our invoice, and asked her why she hadn't raised that point a month earlier.  She just shrugged and said "That's our policy."  We went ahead and played the date anyway, since we were already there.  Needless to say, our check did not arrive in 60 days or 90 days, so I called the owner of the company to complain.  She insisted there must have been a "misunderstanding," but said she would see that we were paid promptly.  Once I got the check and successfully cashed it, I called her back and told her we were never playing there again because we don't deal with people who act this way, and we would also alert other local musicians to their "policy."  

As someone once told me, "Once you start playing for money, it's a whole different ball game."  He was right.  SETH  

Sep 27, 2021 - 10:41:13 AM
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YellowSkyBlueSun

Virgin Islands (U.S.)

417 posts since 5/11/2021

The biggest thing I've learned from playing for myself and also playing on stage for a few years, is that when you play on stage the primary function is 'the show'. For a musical performance, the music is a key part of the show, but it isn't the show itself. When I first started gigging I would spend 100% of my time making sure I get every note perfect and that the band was in sync and playing their parts together. Those things are obviously important, but they're not all there is to it. What I realized after a few bad shows, is that most attendees forget about your solo breaks about half a second after you play them. They really don't care, all that much, if the music is perfect, just so long as it's entertaining.

I think we've all probably seen musical acts that aren't actually that talented musically, but make up for it by being excellent showman. And some of us have probably sat through shows that were quite boring despite, the musician having amazing technical talent.

When I prepare for a gig, I remind myself to remember that playing a live music gig is not simply playing a series of songs on a stage. It's about presenting a full package of entertainment, from start to finish. How you walk on stage, what you do before that first song starts, what you say between the songs, pacing a setlist to keep things varied, how to keep the audience interested during an instrumental tune. All of these things are critical to putting together a good show, and are just as important as the specific songs you play or the solos breaks you take.

Edited by - YellowSkyBlueSun on 09/27/2021 10:42:24

Sep 27, 2021 - 8:35:55 PM

13542 posts since 4/15/2012

quote:
Originally posted by YellowSkyBlueSun

...when you play on stage the primary function is 'the show'...

 


One of the things that I do when performing for money in front of an audience of total strangers is to bring along several instruments to demonstrate the differences and similarities between them, and to explain some of their history and construction details. This lets the audience treat the additional instruments as a 'petting zoo' and keep them from getting bored or restless sitting in one place for the entire performance. They're usually delighted to have a chance to touch the instruments and get sounds from them, and it becomes a part of the show in which they can participate.

Sep 28, 2021 - 4:16:04 AM
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sethb

USA

618 posts since 2/16/2005

quote:
Originally posted by sethb

As someone once told me, "Once you start playing for money, it's a whole different ball game."  He was right.  SETH  


After I made the "war stories" post to this thread, I regretted it because it seemed very downbeat, cynical and negative, which was not the purpose of this thread.  It's true that you have to be a business person as well as an artist, and that you have to be hard sometimes.  But it's also true that there is no greater pleasure than performing for people and sharing your music with them, so it's all mostly good memories, and very few "horror stories." 

So here's an upbeat, positive and good "war story" :  When our band first started and we were playing Open Mic Nights and shows in coffeehouses, I didn't give much thought to how we looked or what we wore; T-shirts, shorts, polo shirts and jeans were fine.  But when we started playing concerts in public libraries, I knew we needed to upgrade our look. 

Since our group plays the music of the 1920's, 30's and 40's, we considered getting tuxedo shirts with the old-fashioned wing collars, and black tuxedo pants with black satin stripes down the sides.  But that stuff wasn't cheap, plus we didn't want to look like a bunch of off-duty waiters!  Then I remembered a suggestion in THE GIGGER'S HANDBOOK, which I recommended in a prior post.  The author suggested that everyone in the band should wear something that's the same, so they LOOK like a band --- same hats or same scarves, shirts, etc.  

When we eventually decided to wear white dress shirts and black pants (which everyone already owned), it occurred to me that we could also wear the same tie.  So I went on Amazon and ordered a dozen blue-and-black plaid ties -- one for each band member, plus spares for lost ties or additional future members.  The colorful ties were snappy without being stuffy, and they were only $8 each.  So with a minimal investment of under $100, we now LOOKED like a band, too (see attached photo)!   SETH


Edited by - sethb on 09/28/2021 04:32:19

Oct 3, 2021 - 6:29:35 AM
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sethb

USA

618 posts since 2/16/2005

I'd like to add another thought here on performing -- about mistakes. 

Nobody is perfect, and at some point in almost every show, something will probably go wrong. The PA will die, a string will break, a reed will squeak, the intro is in the wrong key, or someone drops a mic or misses a cue. You may be able to and should ignore minor mistakes, and most probably the audience either won’t notice them or will ignore them, too. But if you experience a train wreck that can’t be ignored, then deal with it,  but don’t apologize for it!  Don’t ever say “Sorry, we just learned this song last week,” or “Sorry, our PA is old and should have been replaced,” or “Sorry, that never happened before.” They all sound awful because they are awful.

        We have found that the best way to deal with mistakes is with humor. If it’s a musical mistake, I say “OK, that was the rehearsal, now here’s the tune!” or “This is why they call it live music; anything can happen.” If there’s a PA problem, I say “You know, we’re musicians, not electricians” and then try to resolve the issue as quickly as possible. A little humor goes a long way towards lightening up the situation and getting the audience on your good side.  SETH

Oct 3, 2021 - 7:18:46 AM

12296 posts since 6/2/2008

quote:
Originally posted by sethb
I remembered a suggestion in THE GIGGER'S HANDBOOK, which I recommended in a prior post.  The author suggested that everyone in the band should wear something that's the same, so they LOOK like a band --- same hats or same scarves, shirts, etc.  

That was the way we did it in my first kid bands back in junior high in the 60s. Sometimes the uniform was just dark pants, white shirt and tie. Sometimes vest and no tie. Sometimes short sleeve paisley shirts.

In college and immediately after, my bands took the every-man-for-himself approach that you'd see even in major touring acts. For a brief stretch maybe in 1977 my country-rock band went with a booking agency as a way to get more gigs beyond the local DC bars and college rathskellers. They required uniforms, so we got western shirts with quilted shoulders and yokes.

Most of my gigging, whether it's rock, country-rock, Celtic or bluegrass, has been dress as you want.

Oct 3, 2021 - 7:21:58 AM

12296 posts since 6/2/2008

quote:
Originally posted by sethb

A little humor goes a long way towards lightening up the situation and getting the audience on your good side. 


I don't remember where I first heard this line that I use a lot when having trouble retuning between songs: I don't understand. It was in tune when I bought it.

Oct 3, 2021 - 7:55:09 AM
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sethb

USA

618 posts since 2/16/2005

Ken --- I really like that crack about tuning, thanks for contributing!  It's a great line, and one that other musicians would understand and appreciate. 

It also reminded me of something one of my band members used to say.  He was a violinist, and after he had tuned up, he'd say "Hmmm, just like when it came from the factory!"  SETH

Edited by - sethb on 10/03/2021 08:03:47

Oct 3, 2021 - 10:21:40 AM

187 posts since 10/26/2018

- I am a big fan of "looking like a band" and wearing something that helps the band to stand out from the audience. It doesn't have to be matchy matchy, but try not to where what you were wearing all day before the gig. This is complicated when it's outdoors and 90 degrees. One bluegrass band I played in had us wearing suit pants & jackets, black shirts and cowboy hats for 3 sets in full summer heat. It sucked, no matter how nice it looked. 

- I often use that same tuning joke in some form or another. smiley "It might be time for a new banjo; I hear these days  the new ones come already tuned up."


Stage patter is a difficult thing and I applaud those who can seemingly do it with ease. I find it hard to feel natural doing it. I also don't think I could be in sales, so that might be part of my issue. 

One thing that looks good and professional is moving from one tune/song to the next with little fuss. Nothing worse than standing around looking at each other or down at a set list "what's next?"

At a recent show (2 weeks ago) I had myself booked for two gigs with two different bands that were essentially back to back. At the first gig one of the mates provided the PA, the second gig used mine which I usually have to set up by myself. I provided cables that were marked with different colored tape that coincided with where they plugged in, as well a a diagram showing the signal path. My mates got everything plugged in correctly and the system was pretty much ready to go when I arrived from across town except there was a feedback issue whenever it was turned up about 75% of where it is usually set. Did I mention it was outdoors, where feedback is almost never an issue? I spent too much time (10-15 minutes) trying to pull the frequency out using the full EQ unit (have a spectral analyzer to pinpoint which frequency) and it did not go away at all. We even moved the speakers farther from the mics (2 medium/large diaphragm condensers). THEN I remembered to check the mics, which had wind screens covering them, as there is a screw on the back side that gives an indicator of which side is the active one. Sure enough, they were turned both around and facing the audience! Eye rolls all around and a "geez I thought the screw would be toward us because you wouldn't want the audience to see it" and it was fixed.

Two lessons: 1) make sure everyone is involved in learning how the PA works and how it is set up 2) the simple solution is the first one to check (is it plugged in/turned on?)! 
Oh, and also save yourself a headache by keeping your calendar up to date so you don't book back to back gigs. 

Oct 3, 2021 - 1:12:01 PM
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sethb

USA

618 posts since 2/16/2005

quote:
Originally posted by WVDreamin

One thing that looks good and professional is moving from one tune/song to the next with little fuss. Nothing worse than standing around looking at each other or down at a set list "what's next?"
 


Billy, you hit on a very important idea -- no pauses, no "dead air," as they say on the radio.  Twenty or thirty seconds with nothing happening may not seem like a long time on stage, but out in the audience, it's an eternity!   

I know we all have to turn the page, get a new lead sheet, wet the reed, get a mute, find another pick or whatever. But let's do it as quickly as possible!  Otherwise, we risk boring the audience and losing their attention. If other band members need to retune or can’t start right away for some reason, someone should at least get things rolling by introducing the next song and covering the pause as best they can.  SETH

Oct 4, 2021 - 12:53:08 PM
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394 posts since 10/8/2018

I used to play with a trumpet player who was a genius emcee. He used to make a shtick of teasing the guys in the band...

(OLD GUY) didn't have to study history back when he went to school... there wasn't any!

(NAME) made a pilgrimage to New Orleans, where jazz was born. When he came back, he told us all about how he spent the night in a warehouse!

(pause... )  (NAME) isn't a very good speller...

 

... and of course there's that old standby...

Hey! I'd like to introduce the guys in the band... Bill, this is Fred... Fred, this is Bill...

Edited by - guitarbanjoman on 10/04/2021 12:53:47

Oct 4, 2021 - 3:45:29 PM

sethb

USA

618 posts since 2/16/2005

I would also like to hear from folks about a performance topic that isn't discussed very often -- stage fright -- and how to deal with it.  

I do have some thoughts about this, but would like to hear from other performers first.  SETH

Oct 4, 2021 - 5:38:32 PM

6380 posts since 6/30/2020
Online Now

quote:
Originally posted by sethb

I would also like to hear from folks about a performance topic that isn't discussed very often -- stage fright -- and how to deal with it.  

I do have some thoughts about this, but would like to hear from other performers first.  SETH


Picture everyone in the audience naked. You'll be so amused that you'll forget about stage fright. 

Oct 4, 2021 - 6:03:19 PM

sethb

USA

618 posts since 2/16/2005

quote:
Originally posted by guitarbanjoman

... and of course there's that old standby...

Hey! I'd like to introduce the guys in the band... Bill, this is Fred... Fred, this is Bill...

 


Now we know why vaudeville died . . . it was murdered!  <grin>   SETH

Oct 4, 2021 - 6:09:29 PM

sethb

USA

618 posts since 2/16/2005

quote:
Originally posted by WVDreamin

One thing that looks good and professional is moving from one tune/song to the next with little fuss. Nothing worse than standing around looking at each other or down at a set list "what's next?"


I've also noticed that many bands will start another tune or spoken introduction just as the applause begins to die down from the previous number.  Assuming that you actually get some applause (!), that sounds like as good a plan as any, and keeps things moving along.  It seems like a nice move, if you can pull it off.  SETH

Oct 5, 2021 - 7:45:35 AM

64 posts since 2/8/2016

quote:
Originally posted by sethb

I would also like to hear from folks about a performance topic that isn't discussed very often -- stage fright -- and how to deal with it.  

I do have some thoughts about this, but would like to hear from other performers first.  SETH


For me it is all about preparation.  If i feel very prepared than I may be a little nervous but not afraid.  If I am unprepared, then yep, I am terrified of embarrassing myself in front of a bunch of people. 

Another thing is to remember that rehearsing is different from practicing.  When we practice we are trying to learn or improve technique or material.  You can stop, start, repeat, cuss etc.   Rehearsal should be an audience free performance. 

Oct 5, 2021 - 8:15:26 AM
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sethb

USA

618 posts since 2/16/2005

No question that being well prepared is a very important way and effective to deal with stage fright.  I've also found that public performance will always tell you whether you're really prepared or not. 

There have been a few times  when I thought I had a tune down cold, but it was really just a superficial knowledge.  The problem was, I found it out a little too late -- in the middle of a show!   Now I know that if I can't play a tune through from beginning to end in my head, while naming all the changes and making the chord shapes with my fingers (an "air banjo/guitar"), then I don't really know it well enough to perform it.  And I'm not just talking about memorizing the tune, but also "getting it under the fingers," as they say.  SETH

Edited by - sethb on 10/05/2021 08:17:39

Oct 5, 2021 - 8:50:40 AM
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187 posts since 10/26/2018

quote:
Originally posted by JohnnyShayne
quote:

Another thing is to remember that rehearsing is different from practicing.  When we practice we are trying to learn or improve technique or material.  You can stop, start, repeat, cuss etc.   Rehearsal should be an audience free performance. 


I am constantly saying this to my band but have a little different take in that you do your practicing before you come to rehearsal, which to me is preparing for a show. So rehearsal can involve focusing on a particular arrangement, possibly doing that part over and over as a group and maybe working out stage choreography (we use a "single mic" type set up with two close set mics) or transitioning from one number to the next, or even stage patter, even the "dress rehearsal" which is what I would call the set list run through -  working on the show. We do "group practice" while working up new songs, but I prefer not to have to go over the changes more than two group sessions in a row. Do your homework/woodshedding before you get here so you don't waste 5 other people's time that they've set aside for the group, and to respect those who did do their work on their own time.

 

Stage fright hasn't been a thing for me for decades, rarely ever have the nerves. I can tell you this: as was stated above - know your material! Put in the time needed to do it without much thought/effort. Learn to reframe those butterflies in your stomach from fear to excitement. You are excited to perform, or you should be. If you're not, then you've got issues I can't address other than to say, why are you preforming? 

The most recent butterflies I had were before getting on stage at the fiddle contest at Clifftop in 2017, my first time. The main reason was knowing that the audience was 90% players of the music I was about to perform. They passed the minute I walked on the stage because they have no place up there, "too late to turn back now" kind of thing smiley

Edited by - WVDreamin on 10/05/2021 09:11:15

Oct 5, 2021 - 1:31 PM
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sethb

USA

618 posts since 2/16/2005

quote:
Originally posted by JohnnyShayne
Another thing is to remember that rehearsing is different from practicing.  When we practice we are trying to learn or improve technique or material.  You can stop, start, repeat, cuss etc.   Rehearsal should be an audience free performance. 

This is something that really bugs me.  I can always tell when a band member hasn't practiced the material at home before coming to a rehearsal.  They aren't sure of which inversion to use, or how to finger a particular chord, or else they get caught on a tricky phrase.  It's very frustrating, and it often slows down the progress of the entire band.   

It reminds me of the old music teacher's joke:  TEACHER:  So Johnny, how often did you practice during the past week?

                                                                                   STUDENT:  Including today's lesson?  

Sad but true!  Do everyone (and yourself) a favor and don't "practice" at rehearsals!  SETH

Edited by - sethb on 10/05/2021 13:32:13

Oct 7, 2021 - 3:59:04 PM
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sethb

USA

618 posts since 2/16/2005

Back in the day, I sometimes had a fair amount of “stage fright.”  I’d be in the middle of a song and all of a sudden, I didn’t know where the 7th fret was or what a Bbm chord looked like.

But I found a fairly simple solution that has helped most of the time: I try to remember that people have come in order to have a good time and enjoy the music.  They aren’t there to see me fail; on the contrary, they want me to succeed.  So if I view a show as a time to share my music with an audience, instead of some kind of test that I need to pass, it changes the whole dynamic of the situation.  SETH

Oct 8, 2021 - 6:24 AM

Ybanjo

USA

692 posts since 11/15/2009

As some others have stated, when performing a show, the "show" is the main attraction, not the players. What the players do makes up the show!

I have been to shows that had some of the best musicians around, but they played like they were zombies! No smiles, no laughter, no conversations, just music. They seemed to be really bored to be there.

And then I've been to shows that were very mediocre in talent, but the show was a blast! Band seemed more personable and like we all knew each other. Everybody had a great time

Our band goes out of our way to joke and interact with the audience. We advertise that when we play it's more party than a concert. And that's true! We always have some humor-based songs, and try to incorporate some "different" instruments when possible... like an electric kazoo! Quite often we will celebrate our mistakes! We've actually stopped playing a song when someone screws up, and make a big joke about it. Audience loves it! It makes us more "real". We usually try to get someone in the audience to get up and sing with us. Especially kids! Get a kid on stage and audiences go crazy! If we see a good dancer, we do our best to get them on stage with us.

We never have problems getting local bookings. We're not a great band, musically, but we do try to deliver the full package. One local restaurant that was booking us said that they always look forward to us playing because we look like we are having such a good time, and that makes the audience have a good time. And because of that, we tend to pull in more customers than most! Restaurants love that!

I firmly believe that the audience will only have as much fun as the band has. And we have a blast!

Oct 8, 2021 - 7:19:13 AM
Players Union Member

Eric A

USA

1318 posts since 10/15/2019
Online Now

quote:
Originally posted by sethb

Since I also suggested that readers post some of their "war stories," I'll start off with two of my favorites.

1.  I was discussing a possible gig with a lady, and after getting all the details, I quoted her a price.  Then she asked me "How many people did you say are in the band?"  When I told her there were six band members, she asked me "Well, could you play with just three or four of them instead?"  I was going to ask her which instruments she wanted to leave out, but thought the better of it.  In the end I gave her a slightly reduced rate (for "nonprofit organizations"), which is what she was looking for in the first place. 

2.  We had agreed to play for a local assisted care facility, and I had sent our standard invoice, which states that "the fee is due and payable at the conclusion of the show."  When we arrived at the venue and had unloaded, were almost completely set up and ready to play, the Recreation Director who hired us whispered in my ear "By the way, we pay in 60-90 days."  I reminded her of our invoice, and asked her why she hadn't raised that point a month earlier.  She just shrugged and said "That's our policy."  We went ahead and played the date anyway, since we were already there.  Needless to say, our check did not arrive in 60 days or 90 days, so I called the owner of the company to complain.  She insisted there must have been a "misunderstanding," but said she would see that we were paid promptly.  Once I got the check and successfully cashed it, I called her back and told her we were never playing there again because we don't deal with people who act this way, and we would also alert other local musicians to their "policy."  

As someone once told me, "Once you start playing for money, it's a whole different ball game."  He was right.  SETH  


That's the way it always is, isn't it?   Everybody wants you to play for free or cheap because it's for a cause, a fundraiser, etc. 

Oct 8, 2021 - 8:33:29 AM

Ybanjo

USA

692 posts since 11/15/2009

quote:
Originally posted by Eric A

That's the way it always is, isn't it?   Everybody wants you to play for free or cheap because it's for a cause, a fundraiser, etc. 


We recently had a local place want us to play on a Tuesday evening, for one hour.  We had to supply all sound equipment and do all set-up.  We knew that they assumed we would play for the whole evening, but for 1 hour of pay.  Plus, we had to move all our equipment to their location, set it up, do all the sound checks, etc.  All for one hour.  We declined.  Just not worth the effort.  They acted like they were doing us a favor.  Sometimes you just gotta know when to decline.

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