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Monday, December 21, 2009

Allowing Audience Members On Stage

Most 'live' performances that I've witnessed don't include an audience member joining the band. While this is the 'safe' way to go, I'd like to suggest another path.

I recently played a solo-gig at a party. I set up an extra mic and announced many times that, 'there's another mic here, just waiting for you to join me!'

I didn't have any 'takers' until the very end. Of course, the drunk brother of the host wanted to knock out a number. He did a poor job of 'Mustang Sally.' But, everyone danced and they all loved the song.

The brother slid me a C-note and with a 'wink,' said, 'thanks for that.'

Musically, it was a disaster, but it ensured that I'll get the call the next time they throw a party. And, the cash didn't hurt either!

Monday, November 30, 2009

Backing Tracks

To use or not to use, that is the question with backing tracks. This is one topic that really gets musicians going.

The 'nay-sayers' on backing tracks typically opine that backing tracks detract from the 'live' performance. Likening backing tracks to 'karaoke' seems a bit harsh, but I've heard it said many times.

On the other side of the 'tracks' are those that hail backing tracks for their ability to create a full-band sound without having to enlist all of the usual suspects, thus delivering 'more bang for the buck.'

Here's how I see it...

If you're playing a solo-gig and you know that people are going to require 'dance music,' backing tracks are a good way to go. I think that for 'dance songs' it is very important that bass/drums be present. It doesn't mean that you can't pull it off without tracks, it's just better if you use them.

I would suggest staying away from backing tracks on ballads and non-dance tunes in most situations.

The most important thing is to 'read the room.' Figure what kind of crowds like/dislike the use of backing tracks.

I favor using 'authentic' bass/drum tracks, rather than midi-generated. It just sounds better.

Get a few tracks together and make sure that you're comfortable with them at home. Try it out at your next gig and see what works for you.

If you're using backing tracks, feel free to ignore the one musician-moron that gives you grief. He doesn't matter!

Monday, November 9, 2009

Share Your Stuff

I watched a PBS special last night. George Carlin was posthumously being given the Mark Twain award for comedy achievement.

George used to do a funny bit on 'stuff,' and it made me think of musicians and their 'stuff.'

I know a number of musicians that own multiple instruments. Some of them are eager to have others play their instruments, but others refuse to let anyone touch their prized possessions.

May I suggest that you freely let others use your gear? It's just 'stuff.' You can't take it with you. In a few hundred years it will probably be dust, just like you.

I'd rather have a few 'dings' on my instruments and share the joy of playing them, than to have a collection of 'pristine' instruments that only I played.

Give it try. The next time somebody asks to borrow a guitar or sit-in on the drums, be the first one to offer yours up. It's a 'freeing' experience.

And, BTW, George Carlin was a genius.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Electric Drums

Many drummers have given me their opinion of 'electric drums.' Some like them, some love them, some hate them.

I think they are awesome for one basic reason, volume control.

Unless you're playing a 'huge' venue, chances are that an acoustic drum kit, played 'hard,' will over-power the other instruments.

An electric kit allows the drummer to 'whale away' on the kit, while providing total volume control. This is extremely important to a band that is trying to 'make a living' doing gigs in bars.

If your band is just 'playing for fun,' bring out the full-kit and let it roll. Just don't expect to get too many 'call backs.'

Monday, September 21, 2009

Lead With A Cover

When people are hearing/seeing a performer for the first time, they are making their own judgment as to whether or not the performer is worthy of a listen. If the performer plays an original song first, the listener must then judge the quality of the song as well as the quality of the performance. Although this doesn't sound like a huge undertaking, it actually can be.

The average American is in 'sensory overload.' They are bombarded by media messages at every turn. They are forced to make split-second decisions on where to direct their attention.

If you lead with a popular cover song, the listener is drawn by the familiarity of the tune and will be more likely to pay attention long enough to pass judgment on your performance. Once they like you, they are more likely to listen to your original music and obscure covers.

Think of it in terms of the direct mail business. Getting people to open the 'junk mail' is the hardest part. Once they pop the envelope, the chance for a sale goes up exponentially.

Open with a cover and you'll find that you'll have more people paying attention to your performance.

Monday, August 31, 2009

A Little Secret That Will Increase Audience Participation

Whether your playing at a private party or bar gig, chances are, some folks will want to dance.

Nothing gets the 'energy' up like having people hit the dance floor. Many times, it will 'make or break' the night. If people dance, they smile and have a good time. If you leave 'em with a smile on their faces, they'll think you were great.

Many times I've played gigs and knocked out a 'sure thing' dance tune, like 'Brown Eyed Girl' or 'Mustang Sally,' only to have nobody dance. When this happens, I pull out a 'little secret' tactic.

I start by approaching a couple. If your playing a private party, it can be the host couple, but, if not, any couple will do. I ask them to dance to the next song, as a way to 'get things going.' Then, After one-verse/one-chorus I stop the music and tell them to both to, 'pick a new partner.'

I repeat the process until everyone in the room is dancing.

This tactic works time and time-again and always makes the event just a little better.

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Monday, August 17, 2009

Volume Control

Everyone knows that, "it goes to eleven," but rarely is it appropriate to do so!

I've played in dozens of venues and I've hosted thousands of open mics, and the most prevalent 'issue' with musicians is 'volume control.'

There's a time and a place for 'blowin' it out,' but that time/place is not in a small bar with twenty-five people sitting within thirty-feet of the stage.

Most people go to bars/restaurants to socialize. They can't socialize if they can't have a conversation. These are the people that approach management and complain about the volume.

At many of our Atlanta open mics, venues management uses them to audition new acts. The number-one reason that good acts don't get hired is that they were 'too loud.'

Try this... Purposely make your volume 'too low' and try to get someone to ask you to 'turn it up.' It's a weird feeling. You'll love it!

I know this sounds 'preachy,' but if this gets through to just one musician, then I've done my job.

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Sunday, July 12, 2009

Tribute Acts - Part 3

We've taken a look at how to create a tribute act. But the question remains, 'which band to emulate?'

When deciding which band will be the focus of tribute act, answer the following questions:
  • What is the target demographic of my intended audience?

  • How popular is the band with my intended audience?

  • Will my target demographic come out to venues to see my band or any band?

One of the most successful tribute bands around is the Bon Jovi tribute band, 'Slippery When Wet.' Let's take a look at why they have a good 'draw.'

  1. They've chosen a band to cover that has had an amazing career spanning two decades. They have a fan base with ages from the 20s-50s.

  2. Their lead-singer looks and sounds like Bon Jovi.

  3. They have gone out of their way to have to whole band look and sound like Bon Jovi.

  4. They book themselves into venues where their target audience will attend.

Another successful tribute band is A1A out of Atlanta. They have done an extraordinary job of capturing the essence of a live Jimmy Buffet show. They figured out why Jimmy Buffet is so popular after 30-years of performing, people like to party!

There are many successful tribute bands earning a good living making music. Do your research, choose wisely, practice, and you too can have a successful tribute act.

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Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Tribute Acts - Part 2

In my last post, I talked about the virtues and money-making potential of creating a 'tribute act.' Now that you've had some time to think about how you might take advantage of the 'tribute act revival,' let's look at what you'll need prior to launch.

Your Capabilities - Take a close look at the configuration and capabilities of your band, or of yourself if you're going solo. Make sure that everyone can play their role. It's not enough just to 'cover' songs. You must be able to convince the audienc that they're actually seeing and hearing a close replica of the original act.

Lead Singer - Since the lead singer is usually the 'front-man,' and therefore the person that is most recognizable by the audience, his/her role bears special consideration. Make sure that the lead singer is a very close match to the original act. If you get this part right, your chances of success rise exponentially. A vocal match is more important that an appearance match. Try to get both.

Build An Act - If you want to get serious about making money with a tribute act, build one. Start with yourself and advertise for exactly what you need. Use Craigslist and the host of music-related websites to get the word out.

Ad Example: Wanted: Lead singer for a new Journey tribute band. Must have the 'pipes' of Steve Perry and be dedicated to making a living on the road. Band is located in L.A. and performs throughout the Southwest.

In my next post, I'll examine tribute act genres in terms of their popularity and earnings potiential.

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Tribute Acts - Part 1

Tribute acts, a performer or band that primarily plays the music of one band, have been around forever. Over the last decade, or so, they've grown in popularity.

Elvis impersonaters are probably the best known purveyors of this craft. There's 'real money' in the tribute arena, so, let's take a closer look.

There's a chain of 'chicken joints' that feature 'live' music in the Southeast called, Wild Wing Cafe. They locate primarily around big-cities and colleges, drawing on the 20-something crowd. They have incredible draws by featuring 'big hair' tribute bands. A popular act is, 'Slipery When Wet,' a Bon Jovi tribute band.

Before you scoff and say, 'I ain't cheesy, I'm a musician,' know that these tribute bands are pulling up to $1,500 from bars for a single night!

In my next post, I'll give you some suggestions of what you'll need to do prior to launching your tribute act.

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Monday, June 1, 2009

Outdoor Gigs

The idea of playing a gig 'out by the pool' sounds very nice. And, it is nice, given the right preparations.

Shade - Make sure that your host has planned for your 'stage' to be out of the sun. Direct sun is bad for you and your gear.

Music Clip - If the wind is blowing, which it will, your music will blow away at just the wrong moment. A plastic 'chip clip' works well. Also, an extra capo does the trick.

Dry Surface - I've setup in the lawn for parties that go late into the night. We didn't have any rain, but the dew soaked all the gear. Lay down some plywood if you can't wrangle a covered patio.

Plan "B" - Make sure that your host has somewhere for you to setup if it rains. Also, make arrangements to get paid if the event is 'weather permitting.' I usually get 1/2 up-front, non-refundable.

Bring a Fan/Heater - If it's hot, a fan will save you. In the cold, a heater will keep the 'digits' moving.

Playing outside is great. Prepare well and enjoy!

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Monday, May 18, 2009

Voice Lessons

How many hours have you dedicated to learing how to play an instrument? How many hours have you spent learning how to sing properly?

If you're like most people, singing is just something that you do, not something that you have to learn to do. Wrong!

My mom, Sue Singleton, was a professional singer and a vocal coach for decades. I have watched mediocre singers blossom into great singers through coaching and practice.

Singing is all about technique and execution. First you learn the proper way to sing and then you practice. In time, your voice will improve dramatically.

Having the confidence that you are singing properly, will change your life.

Drop-dime on some voice lessons.

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Monday, May 4, 2009

Adding A Harmonica To Your Act

Bob Dylan, Steve Tyler, Neil Young, and John Popper, are just a few of the famous musicians that use a harmonica in their act.

A harmonica, played during select songs, can lend 'depth' to your performance. Audiences love it when a performer slides on the harp brace and goes to town.

Here a a few key reasons why you should consider adding a 'harp' to your act:
  • It's easy to play.
  • You can fill-up those pesky 'lead-breaks' with some lead of your own.
  • You'll be considered a 'multi-instrumentalist.'
  • Audiences love it.
  • It's cool.

I use a harmonica when I'm covering Neil Young songs. I love it!

Hohner just introduced a new harmonica model, the 'Blues Bender.' It is a pro-quality harp that retails for only $20. Go get one and start playing today!

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Monday, March 30, 2009

Using A Vocal Harmonizer

Over the last few years, a number of companies have come out with products that produce vocal harmonies and they are all quite amazing.

A vocal harmonizer uses complex technology to read both your voice and your guitar to produce 'spot on' harmonies. One, two, three, or more harmony parts can be achieved.

I've use them and I've watched other performers using them. If used to enhance key parts of a song, say the chorus, audiences are quite impressed.

Like any technical 'gadget,' a vocal harmonizer should be used with restraint. Over-use will result in your performance slipping into the 'cheesy' category, and we don't want that, do we?

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Use A 'Looper' To Gain An 'Edge'

Most major metro areas are overrun with talented solo performers. These musicians often compete for a limited number of paid gigs. Finding a way to gain and 'edge' on the competition is always a challenge.

Whenever I observe a performer using a 'looper,' I notice that the audience seems to be more engaged than normal.

If you haven't looked into the possibilities that a 'looper' presents, you should. It enables you to record guitar/vocals 'on the fly,' and then play over top of the recorded 'loop' during a live-performance.

The most practical uses are to record rhythm for a couple of bars and then play lead over it, and to record percussion that you can then play over.

The 'looper' is technology that can give you the 'edge' over your competition.

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Dump the 'Lead Breaks'

A wise musician pointed out to me that when performing solo, I should, "leave out the lead breaks." I said, 'but, that's how they do it on the record.' To which he replied, 'No, on the record they have a screaming electric lead over the acoustic guitar.' Viva la difference!

Today's audiences have the attention span of a gnat. Don't give them an excuse to drift off and turn their attention away from your performance.

By leaving out the lead break, you'll be able to shorten the song, thus creating more space for additional tunes at the gig.

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Start With A Cover

When you're playing a gig, it's very important to draw the listeners attention to you. Most of today's venues are loaded with distractions, like TVs and video games, that interfere with your performance.

One way to gain the ear of the audience is to open with a cover song..

It's important that the song be mainstream and popular. Don't pick an obscure cover from an unknown band, just because you like it. The purpose of the song is to get the audience to identify with a familiar tune and, hopefully, sing along.

In my experience, once I've got them listening, I can then launch into my original songs. I like to drop in a few more covers throughout the set, just to please the masses.

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Monday, March 16, 2009

Mardi Gras Beads

On a recent trip to the French Quarter in the 'Big Easy,' I was reminded of a cool idea my friend, Scott Humphries, told me years ago.

Scott was a successful DJ and he hosted pool parties in conjuction with a local radio station in Charlotte.

Scott told me, 'I buy Mardi Gras beads in bulk. I hand them out for free at the shows. It puts everyone in a festive mood.'

Well, now you too can benefit from Scott's 'great idea.' Toss a bunch of beads out at your next gig and see if it doesn't 'electrify' the crowd.

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Monday, March 9, 2009

"Invite A Friend"

If you've got talented friends, invite them to your gigs. Ask them to 'sit-it' and perform a few songs with you.

They'll be more likely to attend your gig, and they will most likely bring people with them.

Doing this simple thing has many benefits, such as:
  • More people in the audience
  • Introducing someone from the crowd creates a sense of excitement
  • Strengthens bonds with your friends

I rarely perform an entire gig without at least one friend joining me on stage.

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Monday, March 2, 2009

Winning Over The Staff

You've sold the management team and you've got your self a gig. With all that you've got to think about, preparation, promotion, execution, etc., it's easy to overlook one very important item, 'winning over the staff.'

Getting the staff to like you is critical if you want to play a venue on an ongoing basis. Management relys heavily on the staff's opinion when deciding whether or not to have a performer return. In many cases, if the staff likes you, you're in. If they don't, you're out.

Here's a few pointers on how to 'win over the staff.'
  • Write down the names of the bartenders and waitstaff
  • At the end of each set, acknowledge the tremendous efforts that the staff has made to insure everyone's well-being
  • Politely ask the crowd to 'take care' of the staff as they close-out their tabs

'Winning over the staff' has paid dividends to me for years.

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Monday, February 16, 2009

Audience Participation - Part 2

Use music trivia to engage your audience.

Pick a great 'one-hit-wonder' tune, (I like, 'Hold Me Now' by the Thompson Twins.) Tell the audience, 'the first person to tell me the original band/artist for this next song wins one of my CDs!'

This does two things.
  1. It makes the audience pay attention to you and the song
  2. It draws attention to your CD without having to 'get in their face'

If you can engage your audience, you, and they, will have a better time.

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Monday, February 9, 2009

Audience Participation

In an earlier article I proposed that putting an extra mic on-stage is a good way of encouraging audience participation.

The more you can engage your audience, the better the experience will be for you and for them.

Here's another way to get your audience, 'in the game.'

1. Shaky Eggs - Purchase 10-20 percussive 'eggs' from Sam Ash or another retailer. LP makes a great 'egg' at a reasonable price. Distribute one-egg per table. Give a short demonstration to the crowd on their proper use. Encourage the audience to play along with your songs.

Collect the 'eggs' at the end of the show. You'll lose a couple on occasion, but the increased tips will more than cover the expense.

You can also order 'eggs' from LP with custom printing on them ( So, the 'eggs' that get 'legs' still have a lasting value to you.

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Thursday, January 22, 2009

Request Sheets

If you'd like to see your average tips rise by 20-40%, put out a request sheet.

Make a list of all of the songs that you play. List the song and the artist. Put 20-copies in plastic protective sleeves. Distribute the sheets on the tables and at the bar.

Make a game out of it...

Tell everyone that they must pick a song off of the list. You'll be choosing people at random, so they better be ready with their pick!

This gets the crowd buzzing and it will make for a more enjoyable/profitable gig for you.

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Thursday, January 8, 2009

Finding The Right Venue

In my years of talking with venue management regarding live-music, I've learned that not every 'music venue' is right for every musician/band. Here are some tips on how to find the right venue for your music.

  1. Genre - Ask what type of music the venue usually features. What's the average age of the venue's target market? Make sure you fit with the program.

  2. Draw - There are two basic types of music venues. The first type has an embedded base of music-loving customers that show up to hear quality acts. The second, and more prevelant type, needs the performers to bring their fan base with them. If you've got a good following, great, you can pick and choose where to play. If you don't, just tell the truth. Misleading managers will end badly for you and it reflects poorly on all musicians trying to earn a buck.

  3. Pay Scale - It may seem abrupt, but discussing the pay scale with management up front will save you a lot of time. Why go into great detail about how great your band is if you need $900 and they only pay $300?
Like it or not, selling yourself is an important part of getting gigs.

Craver runs the OpenMic.US Network, providing local, reliable open mic info. for musicians.

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Tuesday, January 6, 2009

3 Secrets to Selling Venues

Getting into a venue to perform solo, or with a band, is a daunting task.

I've been selling to bars/restaurants for years with quite a bit of success. Here are three secrets to successful venue selling.

1. Respect Their Time - Venue owners/managers are very busy people. They must manage every aspect of their operation. From finding a replacement for the dishwasher that didn't show up this morning to overseeing the delivery of beer and burgers, they do it all.

Call during their 'down time,' afternoons, 2 - 5, is the best time to call venues. You'll have the most success if you adhere to this time frame and venue operators will appreciate it.

2. Stand Out - Is there something about you act that sets you apart from the rest? If so, great. If not, develop something that makes you stand out. Once you've got it, push it! Venue operators typically want to know two things, 1. how much you charge, and 2. how many people can you bring.

Your 'stand out' item will help convince a manager/owner that you're worth the risk.

3. Audition - Way too many musicians rely on press kits as their only sales tool. In many cases, the press kit is only the start.

Many music venues have open mics. Lookup the open mics in the town where you want to play (OpenMic.US is a great place to start.). Pick the places that you most want to play and go to their open mic. Talk to the manager in advance of your performance and tell him you're auditioning. After you play, get with the manager and ask for a date.

Employ these three tactics with venue operators and you'll be getting booked on a regular basis.

Craver runs the OpenMic.US Network, providing local, reliable open mic info. for musicians.

Get FREE gig leads at PartyBand.US