If you rehearse and practice before a big show, does this guarantee the show will be perfect? Absolutely not.
As all performing musicians know, there are so many uncontrollable moments when it comes to a live show. You can’t always anticipate a drunken audience member or your band member missing an entry that they have never missed before in their life.
What are the things that you may encounter at a live show?
It’s common to experience some or several of the following when performing regularly.
- Loud and vocal audience members
- Dim lights or incredibly bright and blinding lights
- Mistakes (yours and others!)
- Nerves (also yours and others!)
- Stage fright/forgetting lyrics or music
- Bad sound and not being able to hear yourself
- Other band members turned up too loud
- Unstable foldback or equipment that doesn’t work
- PA feedback
- A sound engineer who doesn’t understand the mix of the band
- The venue having sound leakage if it’s connected to another section where people are talking
- Short sets or longer sets
- Conversations between bar staff and audience members
- Not enough people showing up to absorb the sound
And the list goes on! 📝
What can you control?
Even with that hefty list of potential problems, there are a lot of ways you can prepare adequately for a show.
The more you practice alone as well as with your band members, the more comfortable you will be. Not just with playing the music but understanding the way the other members play. Just like a sports team, you need to practice together before the big game. You need to know the ins and outs of their moves and nuances to know how you might compliment them. Also, to pre-emptively understand where they may make mistakes and how to manage this when put on the spot.
Practice isn’t necessarily just picking up your instrument and playing, nor is it just rehearsing. It’s a combination of playing and listening. You may not have enough time to practice multiple times before a rehearsal, but even just listening to the song over and over again on Spotify or Apple Music and really listening counts as effective practice! 🤯
Beyond the practice
Once you practice a song enough times, it should become muscle memory. This is the stage you want to get to with every song. Ultimately, if you have memorized the music you won’t need notes or sheet music. This eliminates some of the potential problems of dim lights affecting your sight reading abilities. It will also allow for fewer mistakes. Even when you are nervous and overthinking, your muscle memory will kick in and save the day!
In addition, any rowdy audience members that might distract you from where you are on a piece of sheet music will also be easier to manage. It also looks more professional when you don’t have your head buried in a piece of sheet music. Often, the reason we use sheet music isn’t that we need it and don’t know the music. It comes down to the confidence we have in ourselves to recall that music at that moment without a safety net.
Practice at home by yourself without the music and then test it out in rehearsal with your band. Take steps to ingrain the music in your body – no one takes a test without studying first!
Practice perfection, so you can explore imperfection
Have you ever wondered why music teachers always ask you to practice your scales, long tones, and intervals repetitiously? These exercises are the key to musical freedom! Once you understand the fundamentals of your instrument and song structure, you can create freely. But you can only do this if your scales and technical exercises are second nature. This is where improvisation comes in. And, being comfortable enough to improvise can save you when you are center stage and have lost all notion of where you are in the song.
As long as you understand the chordal structure of a song and can identify what those chords sound like, you can figure out where you are in the form. By being perfectly aware of the structures in which you can explore – you can build, change and experiment as much as you want. You must first reach this level of perfection to dive into the improvisational world of imperfection.
Hire a sound engineer
Every band has a different sound. All venues have different layouts and setups. Most sound desks have different capabilities. How do you ensure that the sound you have built as a band stays consistent with all of these variables?
If you can afford it, hire a sound engineer who regularly mixes the live sound for your shows. If you can’t afford it for every show, then pick and choose the important ones and budget for a higher-end sound engineer. This can be the difference between a band sounding excellent or horrible in any given room.
Practice contingency plans
Sometimes support acts go over time and we have to cut our sets short. Or alternatively, sometimes the headline plays a killer show and the audience is begging for one more song.
You can prepare for both of these moments. Don’t be that band that didn’t take the time to prepare an extra encore song. There’s nothing more disappointing than a band ending a set because they didn’t prep an encore when the crowd is chanting for more. It’s a golden opportunity missed!
Do some audience research beforehand. Find out which songs are your audience’s favorites. Agree with your band that if you had to cut any songs, which ones they would be and why. Conversely, prepare not one but two encore songs just in case!
Learn from experience
No matter how long you practice in your room or how many rehearsals you book in with your band, the best way to learn is by doing. Play lots of gigs and debrief later with your band, venue staff, and the audience and ask them what could be improved in terms of the performance and sound. Ask lots of questions and take notes for next time! You can only get better every time you perform.
Want to know more about live performances? Read our latest Live performance checklist to make sure you have all promotional bases covered!