Production Advice For Live Bands.
Production Advice For Live Bands.
Having done live sound engineering for bands for over 30 years I have at least some insight into what makes a good performance from the audiences point of view.
Some very good talent is coming through at present and there is little doubt about this. Original bands are becoming more and more popular and the quality of some of the music being written is of a high standard and even world class in many cases. Our rehearsal studio is nearly always full as the various bands work hard on their music and as administrators we certainly enjoy hearing them developing their individuality.
Unfortunately however, we see so often that the stage presentation and the appearance of the band falls far short of their musical and compositional ability. Many bands completely fail to recognise that performing well means a lot more than just standing there straight faced wearing boring looking clothes and not moving very much. This is not so much the fault of the bands themselves, rather it would appear that there is nowhere to learn how to master the art of live performance that can support bands on a part time basis, helping them to acquire the necessary production skills.
I do not by any means present myself as an expert on this subject but in the absence of anything better, I will offer the following insights in the hope that these ideas may strike a chord with those interested and give some benefit to bands wishing to improve their image on stage.
Try to begin your show with some serious impact, ie: the lights are off and you hit the first chord at the same time they come on. Walk on quickly; pick up your instruments (that should already be perfectly tuned) and start playing a great opening number without making a sound. The idea being to try to get the audience sit up and take notice of you. You need to believe that 'you' rule the stage. After the first song the spokesman for the group, who should also be the best communicator should name the band, welcome the audience and with little further ado rip into the second number with no noise between the tracks and no discussion between the members. No twanging or tuning noises. No buzzes or bursts of hum or feedback. Look confidant, not sheepish!
Never tune up on stage if you can aviod it, nothing looks or sounds worse. Plug your instruments in with your amps turned right down. Face the audience with confidence and a look that says you are there to do business and never look bored or disinterested. Vocal adlibbing between the numbers needs to be carefully put together or done by a band member who is spontaneous, convincing and perhaps has a great sense of humor. Get this one wrong and you will just look stupid and unprepared. This is not easy to do and comes down to self-confidence and practice and experience. In a nice way you need to feel as though you own the audience. If you feel intimidated by them you will not show self-confidence and this makes it very difficult to break the ice and really reach them. If they think you look silly or nervous they will not take you seriously
If you play upbeat music you should learn to move while you play and this can require a lot of careful rehearsal as well or it can look contrived and unnatural. See if you can get help from a choreographer who understands the criteria. Try to video yourselves during rehearsals or use a large mirror so you can see how you look. Get interested friends or parents to watch you rehearse and listen to their feedback and comments carefully. Keep repeating things until they look and feel right and you can feel the natural flow happening. Move your bodies to suit the music.Artists like Mick Jagger and Bon Jovi are very good at this. Most of the movement should be done by the lead singer or the soloists. Having the singer motionless and the bass player leaping around like a frog is obviously quite stupid! Pick your numbers very carefully and plan the dynamics of the show. Do you want to end on a dull note or a crescendo? Don't hold lengthy discussions about what you are going to play next and never argue on stage unless you turn it into good comedy and take the audience with you by asking them questions. If you are going to use one liners then make sure they are bloody good ones. If you can get the audience laughing there is a much better chance of keeping their attention. They will love you. If you try this remember the humor must be first class, really funny, no flat jokes and keep them carefully spaced out.
Make sure the stage is very tidy as a messy one is distracting for an audience who you want focused on you. They will also think you are disorganized and not take you seriously or see you as being professional. You never want to trip over any of your tackle.
Avoid playing in poorly lit conditions. There is nothing worse than looking at a band who are nothing but silhouettes to the audience. You may as well be a Dee Jay. Hiring some lights for $150 may be well worth the extra cost if you are planning to be successful one day.
Organise a good backdrop that works well with the lighting. A 'black' always allows the lighting to illuminate the band itself and make you stand out well. Hide the empty sides or wings also if you can. Position the lights to avoid facial shadows if at all possible. If you use a chaser it needs to be set to match the beat of the song you are playing. Static lighting looks better than a poorly set chaser. Exciting lighting creates action and intrigue. You can never go to far with this aspect of performing.
Line the mic stands up along the front edge of the stage so you are as close as possible to your audience. This enhances ownership. Makes you look proud, forward and confidant.
Use a riser for the drummer. He is action personified and should always be on display. Light the kit if you can. Don't let him look buried or hidden by it if possible. Get him sitting up high.
Stand in a way that looks best for the band. Tallest in the center. Shortest to the left or right. Everything in harmony in both sight and sound.
This is a big one and one you should not overlook. It can also be expensive but you need to take everything very seriously if you wish to be successful. Don't fool yourselves, be bold, spend what you have to and get it right. Are you serious or are you here to just fool around? Don't waste your time if you are because you wont make it. Give it all away now. Just kidding!
I will never forget what a dresser working for TV One told me once, several years ago. She said she would love to dress a Rock Band. When I asked her about this she told me how she would go about it. This is what she said. Look at the member's faces, body shape and posture. Then ask yourself what in 'character' terms they look like. Does one look like a Cowboy, or a Highwayman or perhaps Wyatt Earp? Maybe one looks like a Mexican or a Bull Fighter or a Cat Burglar? Now she never once suggested that band members should actually dress up exactly like these characters but she did say the trick was to bias the clothing slightly towards that particular look. Make them look a bit like what they resemble naturally. Fat guys should wear baggy clothes not tight. Skinny guys should wear close fitting clothes rather than baggy ones. If you look great in a long jacket then wear one. If you look good with a headband, wear one. If Cuban heeled shoes look right on you then great, do it. How about a choker or a bandana? Do sun glasses work for you? Hair should suit the face rather than what you think is trendy. If makeup works well to highlight your bland eyes then wear it. Don't mess around just do it. Remember you are there to entertain people. You are the focus of attention while you are on stage so you need to look your very best to go down well with the audience. Now the final key to all this, and this is the tricky one, is to make it all gel together and look harmonious rather than a mismatched shambles. You may well need outside help to achieve this balance. Does all this sound too difficult? Well I'm sorry about that but you had better get used to the idea because there are literally hundreds of bands out there all striving to make it but in any one year you can count them on the fingers of one hand and you can bet your bottom dollar, that of those that make it, as well as sounding good they certainly look good too.
Even the really good bands seldom get everything right because it is very difficult to achieve a perfect balance. Think about the really big names in history and watch their video clips and their concert DVDs. Watch how they stand and move on stage and see how natural it all looks. They probably rehearsed every move or their experience means they cannot get it wrong because they know each other so well they can predict and preempt what is happening without even trying. It just seems to flow both musically and visually.
Don't think this all comes easily or you will be in for a rude awakening. It is important to realise that you have some hard work to do and you may need to spend a lot of time and some good money to get there, along with seeking out some professional advice and guidance. The more you put into your act the more convincing it will appear. Very few of the top bands are able to rely on their music alone to get to those high places. Production is very important indeed unless you are playing to a blind audience.