Last month we started talking about gigging and touched on stuff like playing anywhere you possibly can, getting your own soundman, having friends help carry your shit, transportation and networking. This month we’re gonna add more to this angle.
One thing that almost every good live band does is to structure their set to achieve maximum impact. Don’t just go out there and play your songs in any random order. Plan your set out so that it has peaks and valleys, especially if you’re in a high-energy band. Start with two or three “thrashers” and then maybe ease off a little and play something slower so you and the audience can rest.
The science of dynamics, or volume contrasts, dictates that if you come out blazing and then keep on blazing without pause, people will start becoming numb to it. Then, no matter how heavy your stuff gets, it’ll lack impact. But if you play something heavy and then follow it with something quieter, then go back to playing something heavy again, it will seem really heavy (listen to some Nirvana records-they were masters of this art). Also, once you’ve played out a couple of times and recorded some stuff for people to take home, you’ll probably have one or two songs that are your most popular; play one at the beginning of your set and one at the end-in with a bang, out with a bang.
Some bands like to keep things spontaneous and loose by playing gigs with no set list and deciding collectively what song they’re gonna play next while they’re actually on stage. That may be cool and adventurous for you, but it can also be really unfair to the audience if you have a lot of dead space between songs. PEOPLE NEED TO ROCK! Take your audience into consideration they came to see you to have a good time.
Obviously, when you’re playing live shows, something will go wrong with your gear sooner or later. Make sure you bring a spare of anything that could possibly break-you’ll be really, really glad that you did. If it can break, it will. Bring spare strings, instrument and speaker cables, picks, drum sticks, drum heads, a spare snare drum (if you can afford it), batteries (if you’re using stomp boxes), tubes (if you’re using a tube amp) and definitely amp fuses. The latter is something I never thought about until my Marshall head blew up. My advice is to get one of those little metal boxes that you store spare fuses in and tape it to the back of your amp.
Another thing you should definitely have a spare of, if at all possible, is a guitar. Even if your backup axe is really lame, it’s infinitely better to be able to continue your set with a less-than-perfect sound than to have to stop the gig altogether if something goes wrong. There’s nothing as bad as watching a show where the guitarist breaks a string and then has to actually stand there on stage and put a new one on. I once saw that happen to the guitar player in a band you’ve heard of: he snapped a string on a Jackson with a Floyd Rose locking system on it, which was his only guitar. Because he had the bridge set up to “float” (so he could pull the bar up as well as push it down), as soon as the string broke, the guitar went way out of tune. So, the band had to stop playing while he stood onstage, undid the locking nut, took the old string off, snipped the ball-end off the new string, put it on, stretched the new string out, re-tuned the guitar, locked the nut up again and re-tuned again. It took five long minutes and it sucked!
Can you imagine the most super-rich rock star you know of standing outside of a club handing out gig fliers in the middle of winter, freezing his or her ass off? Or running around at four o’clock in the morning with a bucket of wheat paste, putting up posters? Well, they all did it. Flyers for shows are good because they help let people know what’s going on when, where and for how much. It’s good to create some form of band logo (the Kiss and Metallica logos are great examples) or symbol that people will instantly identify with your band. There are countless computer graphics programs that can help make type look cool.
As well as handing out gig fliers at clubs and on the streets there may be guitar and record stores that will let you put one up on their bulletin board. You can also put fliers on telephone poles if there’s a hip neighborhood in your town where a lot of people will see them. Before you do this, though, check your town’s local laws regarding postering: there are a lot of places where it’s illegal!
Having a band is kind of like having a company. Unfortunately, especially at the beginning, you’re going to have to keep putting your money into the band without any return on your investment. No one’s paying you yet, but you have to buy equipment and maintain it, afford a practice space, transportation and so on. It sucks, but that’s just the way it is-it’s a test of faith, really. But, if you stick with it, one day you might actually start making some bucks and at that point you definitely want to have some form of band fund-maybe even a band bank account. This way, you’ll have a pool of money that you can tap into to pay for photocopying fliers, financing a demo, printing T-shirts, stickers, whatever. Decide who in the band is the most responsible, and designate him/her as band accountant. Damn. I’ve talked so much we don’t have much room left for playing this month. To make up for this, we’ll do a lot more playing next issue. FIGURE 1 is the “spy movie theme” verse riff of “Super-Charger Heaven” from Astro-Creep 2000 and is a good example of two ideas we’ve discussed in recent columns octaves and skronking. The octaves occur in bar 2, while the skronk (which is caused by the fretted Bb note on the low E string ringing against the open A note) happens at the end of bar 4.