Wednesday, 28 May 2014

From The Garage to The Stage Part 6: Set Times and the Sound Man

If you're just starting out as an artist, there are many hard lessons to be learned onstage that don't necessarily appear in the 'how to play' manuals or educational music books. To help you along, we've enlisted our very own Barney to impart his hard-earned gigging wisdom in this ongoing series of weekly blogs. If you're recently started playing live or even if you haven't yet done a gig yet, we at Songeist believe that these blogs will be a great asset to help you to consider all the aspects of your live show. We'll be posting a new entry every Wednesday around midday for the coming weeks so don't forget to visit!


Remember to comment and let us know any live tips and tricks you have...


Over the past five weeks we have talked about everything that goes into the conceptual side of planning a set. We've discussed tricks and tips to deal with stage-fright, the right way to address the crowd and even strategies to relate to your other band members. I hope that I’ve imparted at least a little hard-earned wisdom! But for the last piece of the puzzle I’m going to extend some advice about dealing with the people outside your band and crowd that are nonetheless essential participants to make sure that your gig goes well. The sound engineers, crew and tour managers.

A crucial thing to understand about live music is that the majority of crew, sound engineers and tour managers don’t really care about your music. They've heard quite enough music, thank you very much. They simply care that you don’t make their life any harder than it already is. Yet crucially, they are very the people who often hold the key to that sweet support slot you want to grab. It isn’t always writing the killer tune that gets you the tour. It’s getting on and offstage quickly and efficiently, acting courteously and professionally to crew and being friendly and respectful to the headline band. As with each of these blogs, there are exceptions to the rule. I’ve certainly met massively popular bands out there that act like a bunch of school kids (and, appropriately, they often are the ones who achieve fame just out of school). But if you follow the guidelines below you shouldn’t go far wrong.

How much tech would a drum tech tech, if a drum tech could tech drums? How much tech would a drum tech tech, if a drum tech could tech drums?
Let’s get this out of the way. Being a local band isn’t fair. Often the venue will promise you a soundcheck and you get bumped because time is running late. Often there are sound issues onstage. Often you get no dressing room at all and have to pile your gear in a tiny, spider-infested corner. But these are simply things you need to accept and attempt to overcome. The first thing to relate this week is that it’s always advantageous to show courtesy and respect to all the crew, from the roadies to the tour manager to the promoter but especially to the sound engineer. He or she has the power to make or break your set. Learn their name, be polite, and be considerate of what they need.

The first place to get this right is during soundcheck. If the crew are setting up the stage, be aware of this and try not to get in their way too much. You’d be amazed at the bands I’ve seen jamming, blissfully ignorant, at full blast as a visibly seething sound engineer changes drum mics. Drummers are often the worst, thrashing the hell out of their kits or tuning their snare while the sound man changes the kick drum mic at a distance that makes it tantamount to assault. Until you have your own crew and plenty of allotted time, this really isn’t the time to jam that tune from rehearsal while everyone else waits around because you read that U2 wrote 'One' during a soundcheck. Listen to the sound engineer when he asks you to play and be reasonable and intelligent with what you do play. Drummers, play a repeated groove that covers the full kit, guitarists and bassists play a riff that's a solid loop and covers a reasonable range. Granted, no matter how well-behaved you are, some sound engineers will inevitably treat you like an irritating nuisance. Some will be nice and laugh along with your japes and learn your name. You never know. Just be aware that whatever their demeanor, their experience with you is naturally likely to affect the work they do for you when you’re up on stage.

The sound engineer is your friend. The sound engineer is your friend, whether he likes it or not.

Every now and then, dealing with sound issues while onstage during the set will be necessary, but remember, just as we covered last week, nine times out of ten the crowd aren't hearing that squeal that comes from your monitor every time you lean over, so don't draw attention to it. If you look like things are falling apart just because there's a hum coming from a guitar amp then, even if they can't hear the difference, people are going to assume that things are falling apart. If you need to communicate monitor directions by using hand signals (pointing at your guitar, then to the monitor, and then up in the air to denote that you need more in the monitor for instance) remember to be as calm and clear as you can and stay in control. Don't even bother mouthing words as it will draw the crowd's attention to the issue. I’ve watched sets where the drummer has spent over half his time on stage scowling and pointing in different directions at the hapless monitor engineer and, although I as a musician feel his pain, I also realize he’s oblivious to the energy of his screwed-up face and attitude spilling all over the stage. If the sound is that bad, it's better to stop the set between songs, get it sorted and then move on than be in a constant gushing leak of panic and anger, letting the crowd that there was something wrong during the set, though they had no idea what it was.

If hand signals aren’t going to cut it, there is an art to speaking to the sound engineer between songs. Never start making demands through the mic the very second that a song finishes and the crowd is still clapping. This will confuse the audience and kill the appreciative energy in the room dead. Instead, being sure to indicate to the rest of the band that you want them to wait, calmly thank the crowd as normal, maybe even add a little comment about how the gig is going, and then address the sound engineer with a polite ‘Mr Soundman, I need a little more of me in my monitor’. Thank the crowd, let the mood settle, then put your demands out there in a clear and friendly tone, owning the moment.

That's the face you get when you mouth 'I CAN'T HEAR ME!' That's the face you get when you start copping a 'tude at a sound engineer.

It seems strange to me that I even have to make a point of this, but I still go to gigs and at the stage time the support band are due onstage, someone from the venue is running around trying to find the band. That scenario is simply unacceptable to anyone involved in live music and, believe me, it’s absolutely abhorrent to the tour manager of the headline band. Unless otherwise clearly stated by the headline band’s TM or the promoter, the stage times are NOT a rough guideline of how they want the night to go. They are strict, absolute orders about where your slot is in the running of the night. Feckless local bands often break this rule because no one has ever really sat them down and pointed this out. It simply goes unspoken. You see it so often in live music, as a band or tour manager you sometimes can’t even be bothered saying anything until the band runs over by ten minutes. But here’s the rub, this isn’t school, you don’t get detention. YOU SIMPLY DON’T GET BOOKED AGAIN TO SUPPORT THE BAND. That ten minutes was ten minutes less time at the end of the night where the headline band could have sold their merch. You mess with their bottom line, and things get personal!

If you’re opening, you will have the luxury of leaving your gear set up, so in that instance there’s even less of a reason for lateness. Getting onstage when you're the second band on, with just a quarter-of-an-hour slot to do it in, is stressful so it’s absolutely essential you’ve planned in advance. Have your cables and gear ready and accessible so you can get straight on and give the band that preceded you space and time to get off. It’s totally acceptable to help them get their stuff off. Not only does it make things quicker, it asserts the point that you want them to move off the stage ASAP. There will be times when, through no fault of your own, the changeover overruns. Nine out of ten times in this situation, as long as the overrun wasn’t your fault, the tour manager or sound engineer will reimburse you an extra five minutes at the end of your set to compensate, especially at festivals. If this isn't forthcoming, there’s nothing wrong with asking if this is possible, but never assume. Overrunning is a bigger sin even than getting on late. In fact, it’s the most sure-fire way for you to never get booked as support to a professional band again.

There may be only two fans watching, but remember, the TM is ALWAYS WATCHING. There may be only two fans watching, but remember, the TM is ALWAYS WATCHING.

This is the most important rule in this whole series of blogs. If you follow every other point to a tee, but overrun your set by seven minutes at every show you’re going to be the greatest band in your local toilet venue for the next four decades. Get off on time. No ifs ands or buts. Drop a song if you need to. GET OFF ON TIME.

When you do get off, get off as quickly as possible. After the intensity of the set, you'll feel the world slow down. It's natural that getting off stage feels like it should be a stress-free, peaceful affair done with your face flushed with happiness, basking in the glory of your wonderful concert. But there's another band to get on! Getting offstage is a hurried, stressful and almost always slightly unpleasant chore and you must hustle as quickly as possible. Feel free to walk off stage to underline the end of your performance but then get straight back up there and work to get your gear off efficiently and into the designated zone. Help each other and be aware of the crew, who will almost always give you a hand. Get this job done, then go and chill. You've earned it!

The first time SB6 really experienced a hard lesson in getting offstage was touring with The Levellers in 2009. The Levellers are a big, cult band and their crew are professionals with no time for holding the hands of some punk band just because they can’t afford a crew. The change-over time was forty-five minutes, plenty of time we thought, seeing as though The Levellers were already set up. So on the first night we got off stage and afterwards we relaxed for a moment together, drinking water behind the curtains, ready to go back on and grab our gear. The crew proceeded to storm the stage, and, faced with our gear set-up, tore our guitar pedals off the floor and pretty much threw them at us. Suffice to say, we didn’t hang about after the set the next night and the lesson that we learned that day was a good one. There is simply no excuse. Get off stage on time and get off as quickly as humanly possible.

And, if you hadn’t already figured this out, if you are not the headlining band, never, ever, ever do an encore!

Follow all the rules, and this is how you'll feel. Follow all the rules, and this is how you'll feel.

There are ‘local band’ nights all over the country where venues simply want the friends and family of bands to come and drink at the bar to keep the business running. The venue and 'promoters' don't care about the bands, they care about the drinks being bought, and often the rules I've outlined above are not enforced or even laid out. At these nights, bands pick up bad habits. But you try pulling out those habits supporting a touring band with a tour manager and you simply aren’t going to get tours. And don't expect them to tell you why, because they don't have to.

At the beginning, being in a band is very tough. In the UK, at local gigs, you get treated as the lowest of the low, often not getting a dressing room, food or drinks. You see the headline band swanning about with their grub and lager and passes in their dressing room, not watching the local bands, and tend to think they’re stuck-up idiots. But what you need to remember is that they have all been in the same place as you have. And you’ll find that when you’ve not been home for three weeks and have driven for 7 hours previously, a beer and a sit down without having music blaring in your face is not that much to ask. By all means, politely introduce yourselves and ask them to watch you, but be prepared for the fact that they might choose not to, and that's their prerogative.

Finally, remember that at this stage, for you, watching the other bands is important. Grassroots music scenes work through friendships, not strength of demos, and the difference between being shunned by a scene and being immersed and accepted into it really is about what you put in. People can smell a band that are only out for themselves, so returning favours and being an active participant at live shows at this point will reap rewards that your songwriting might not.

And that's that. It's time to get out there and rock.


Thanks for reading this blog series and all your support and feedback. I have a special case study blog coming up where I impart some more general rules and philosophies to being in a band but what I’d really love right now is to hear any questions you guys have about music as it pertains to emerging artists.

Please email me your thoughts, suggestions and questions to
Drum Tech photo courtesy Gareth Harfoot's Flickr used under Creative Commons License.
Sound Engineer photo courtesy Howard Stanbury's Flickr used under Creative Commons License.
Sound Engineer 2 photo courtesy Andrei Rusu's Flickr used under Creative Commons License.
Tour Manager Photo courtesy David Jones's Flickr used under Creative Commons License.
Onstage photo courtesy Annais Ferreira's Flickr used under Creative Commons License.

Wednesday, 21 May 2014

From The Garage to The Stage Part 5: Camaraderie and Control

This article originally appeared on the blog at

If you're just starting out as an artist, there are many hard lessons to be learned onstage that don't necessarily appear in the 'how to play' manuals or educational music books. To help you along, we've enlisted our very own Barney to impart his hard-earned gigging wisdom in this ongoing series of weekly blogs. If you're recently started playing live or even if you haven't yet done a gig yet, we at Songeist believe that these blogs will be a great asset to help you to consider all the aspects of your live show. We'll be posting a new entry every Wednesday around midday for the coming weeks so don't forget to visit!


Remember to comment and let us know any live tips and tricks you have...


So far, we’ve covered how to write a setlist, how to structure your set, how to segue your songs and how to connect with a crowd. But what about the other connection that is happening onstage, the connection that many musicians don’t immediately consider but is the connection that is, above all, the most important part of being in a band? What about the connection with each other? You may have spent more hours in a garage and more miles on the road with these human beings than anyone else on earth but put you on stage together and you either pretend they don't exist or throw dirty looks at them every time they even look like they might mess up. Dealing with on-stage stress is a part of being in a band, especially for an emerging band, and the most natural thing in the world to do is to lean on your friends; your band-mates. One thing that you’ll have to accept as a band starting out and using in-house sound engineers is that sometimes, even often, onstage sound will be awful. That causes stress. The very task of performing in front of strangers causes stress. And these band-mates you call friends are going to make some musical mistakes that will cause you stress. Being onstage magnifies all these feelings of stress but, just as with last week’s blog, you need to focus those emotions to compose yourself and not sell an iota of that stress, let alone take it out on each other. We know we have to emote confidence, but we also need to emote a sense of camaraderie and control.

Horrors The Horrors, emerging from their spaceship, full of camaraderie yesterday.
Following on from last week’s talk of confidence and connection-building, nothing relaxes a crowd more than a band that appears at ease and in control of their environment. If you look like you know what you’re doing, they will believe you do. Nothing belies a band’s nervousness and sense of being at ill-at-ease more than negative body language towards each other. A band that appears united as a team and comfortable on stage with each other evokes that same energy to the crowd. That sense of camaraderie is key to a band and should be part of your overall philosophy and approach beyond the stage. Some of the best bands, think The Ramones, The Specials, The Horrors, actually look like they've emerged from a spaceship together to take over our world. A band that look uncomfortable with each other or even worse, visibly hostile, tutting and scowling at mistakes, are facing a huge uphill battle in winning over fans. Just as I relayed last week, the crowd WANTS to like you, just don’t give them reason not to. You might be the kind of player (I know I am) that can’t tune out the other band member’s performances and picks up on every fluffed note, every scuffed fill and every flat harmony. The vital thing to remember is that 99% of mistakes, no matter how bad they seem to you, the audience will either not pick up on, or not care about. A rock gig isn’t a piano recital. No rock gig has ever been ruined, or even badly affected, by a few rogue mistakes in a set. But you can ruin a gig by creating a tense, awkward atmosphere onstage between band members. A dirty look early in the set can have its negative energy increase exponentially across the performance, as the band member's become more reactive and angry at one another. No matter how well they think they're hiding it, this will sink the connection at a show even if the crowd can’t quite put their finger on what the problem is. You can feel a bad atmosphere, and feeling is more important at a gig than simply hearing.

Don’t get me wrong. Mistakes count. The fact that Steve went into the wrong part for the tenth gig on the row does matter, especially after you brought it up in rehearsal twenty times. It matters to you and so, ultimately, it matters to the performance and the band. But you’re kidding yourself if you think that if you turn around and shake your head at him onstage, anyone in the crowd is going to sympathise with your exasperation. You just look like a mean so-and-so and you’ve created a negative onstage vibe, all over a bass mistake in a room where the sound is so boomy not one single person noticed. To physically register it onstage does nothing but bring attention to it, increasing the tension and making the gig worse for everyone. Again, it’s a case of implosion, not explosion, and even thought that messed-up fill daftpot on the drum's has done for the whole tour feels like nails down your back, it’s your mistake if you let it throw your own performance off track.

I fully endorse the positive eye contact, if not the shorts, of this band.
I fully endorse the loving, positive, fully-in-control eye contact, if not the shorts, of this band.

Being onstage is stressful and in stressful situations, friends are mean to each other, and that doesn’t always stop between songs. One faux pas I’ve seen many times – and have been guilty of - is taking the mickey out of other members of the band over the mic between songs. We’ve all seen this, if judged correctly, be a fun addition to a live set but, just like erupting into synchronised head-banging from the second you get on stage, more often than not it only serves to highlight how vulnerable the musician feels at that point. What you imagine in your head is charming repartee between two band members, lifting the curtain into the group's lovable real-life personalities, is actually just two incoherent human beings, tuning guitars and mumbling 'dick head' at each other, like a pair of three-year-old siblings lashing out at each other because they're tired after a day out at the zoo. Of course, the crowd may smile. They may even laugh. Just like the raising a fist on stage is often mirrored in a crowd, the audience will attempt to follow suit at the pantomime of witty conversation that they perceive to probably be happening before them. But that doesn't mean it's anything but slightly embarrassing for all involved.

Speaking of addressing the room, sometimes the crowd will speak back. As we outlined last week, standing and conversing with mates does nothing but create a cliquey atmosphere. But if you play enough gigs, someone in the crowd, at some point, is going to say something bad about you. Just like reacting to a fluffed note from a band member, you do not sell it because you are in control of the stage, not the crowd. Follow the same rules as you would someone posting comments on YouTube; do not feed the troll. Granted, if someone is heckling to the extent it’s affecting the rest of the crowd’s enjoyment of the show, then perhaps, being as assertive and emphatic as you can, you need to face that. The crowd will thank you for it and facing down an idiot spoiling other people's fun can really bond a band and crowd. But if there’s one guy shouting abuse and giving you the V-sign in a crowd of hundreds, do not give him the satisfaction of knowing you have even seen him, even worse he's got you rattled. Ignore him completely. Focus your energy to keep in control of your own performance and don’t let him gain any influence over you. Just think; if a human being is so odious and has a life so bereft of happiness that he or she must stand in front of a stage and make gestures to bands they don’t like, they really do not deserve any validation for their actions, let alone the attention they crave. Ignore these sadsacks. They will get bored and, quietly and sullenly, wait for the headliner they came to see. They don't get out much, to be fair.

You might not manage it, but this is the post-gig atmosphere to aim for. You might not quite manage it, but this is the post-gig atmosphere to aim for.

The discipline of control and camaraderie should not stop the second you get off stage, you need to remain focused for at least a few hours afterwards. This is difficult because you've been affected emotionally and the music means a lot to you and once you come off stage, there's a temptation to let it all spill out. After internalising your chagrin towards the guitarist’s multiple musical indiscretions for half an hour, there's the desire to come off stage and immediately start rattling off a laundry list of his mistakes. But it's a bad idea. Emotions are so high that a post-gig conversation will be ferocious, overblown and erupt into something far more intense than is constructive when discussing specific drum fills or vocal harmonies. Not only will you be angry, the other band member will be defensive, especially after a disappointing performance, so a fight will inevitably erupt and, essentially, what you are saying and asking of them gets buried under a landslide of emo, feels and mardy-bum melodrama. Save it for the bedroom.

With great diplomacy and experience, it's possible to get your band's communication developed enough that you can manage to talk about the set quite sensibly within an hour or two after the show. It's not always mistakes that you want to discuss and important things do get forgotten if you set a cast-iron fatwa on talking in the dressing room about what went on on the stage for the last half an hour. But as a rule of thumb it’s generally better to simply wait until the next day. If the mistake or observation is important enough to comment on, it’s important enough for you to make it your responsibility to remember it for the following morning. You could even write it down or pop it in your phone notes, as I do. If you calmly and clearly express the problem the next day and the band member is still being a tart about it… well, that's their problem, not yours. But that’s the thing with band members, they’re human beings and part of being in a band is learning one-another’s limits, abilities and even short-comings and having the wisdom and will to work with them and around them.

Next week in From The Garage to The Stage we'll discuss the final details of being onstage, beyond the band and crowd. We'll explore speaking to sound engineers, the logistics of working with crews, getting on and offstage and all the subtle, unspoken stuff that's expected of you as a band at a gig that no one tells you beforehand.

Until next time...

Horrors photo courtesy Neil Klug's Flickr used under Creative Commons License.
Lucacookus photo courtesy Mark Scott Austin TX's Flickr used under Creative Commons License.
Backstage photo courtesy Chillhiro's Flickr used under Creative Commons License.

Saturday, 17 May 2014

I Should Cocoa (Futures)

As part of our Songeist Showcase at The Great Escape last Saturday, COCOA FUTURES rocked The Mucky Duck alongside Haze, Mas Agua and Swell. The buzz around this new band from Tottenham (via Scotland) has all been generated by ‘Do Something’, a summery slice of politicised funk-pop that’s been played on Amazing Radio. As Killing Moon attests, ‘huge things are expected from this four piece’ and after the show Barney caught up with Greg for an interview where he lifted the lid on the past and present of Cocoa Futures.

B. I saw you live for the first time tonight. You were great! Did you enjoy the show? How did it go for you guys?G. Thanks Barney! Yeah, the gig was loads of the fun - apart from the power cutting out to half the stage in the first song. All the bands were really good, so thanks loads for having us. I think it was our eighth gig and our first in a festival setting. So it was great to come down to Brighton and be part of The Great Escape, and to meet the Songeist team. Very windy though, isn’t it?

B. That it is! And those damn seagulls! For those who haven't heard you, give us a brief rundown of Cocoa Futures history and your involvement, if any, in previous bands.G. Well, Dave the drummer and I moved down from Scotland a while back and started writing songs together last year. After a while, we met Zoe (Synth) and Jack (Guitar) through mutual friends. They’re both great musicians who whipped us into shape and moved us on a lot. It’s a good team. We’ve all played in bands before which has really helped in having an idea of what to do. With Cocoa Futures, we were really clear that wanted to have fun and play music we really enjoyed. Hopefully that comes across when you see us live.

Cocoa Futures. They don't give a solitary sh*t about hayfever.

B. It definitely came across. So, what bands have been an influence on Cocoa Futures?We’re into bands/artists like Talk Talk, Tom Tom Club, Tina Turner, Talking Heads and The Invisible.

B. You have a thing for bands with two Ts in their names. But no Tanita Tikaram. You call your style Yumcore? How did that intriguing little name come about?G. I just made it up. Are you allowed to make genres up?
B. I don't believe so.
G. Probably not. Sorry. We’re pretty indie to be honest! (laughs)

B. Well, one thing that was distinctive to me about Cocoa Futures was Greg's bass guitar playing. A lot of the bottom end was handled by the synths and Greg played funky bass with a pick in the middle of the sonic spectrum. It worked really well. Was this a conscious decision for the band or just something that evolved from your playing style?G. It definitely wasn’t a conscious decision. I used to play guitar, and I love getting fruity with the pick, so it just kinda happened. Someone did come up to me after our Notting Hill Arts Club gig and say ‘you need a proper bassist mate’ though, so I’m glad it works for you. Thanks Barney!

B. You're welcome. It worked for me, and it was unique. Tell us the details about your next single 'Do Something'.G. It comes out May 30th and you can have a listen on Songeist. We’ve got a lovely launch show at the Finsbury in Manor House. Forget the fact it’s at a tube station you’ve probably not been to, it’s a great venue so come along.  There's a Facebook EVENT for it. A band called Black Forest Ghetto are playing too. They’ll make you dance.

The single is backed up with a rework from a great young artist called Coby Sey. He’s taken the song to a very, very different and incredible place. We’d love to work with him again in the future. The rework is up on Songeist too, so check it out.

B. The lyrics of 'Do Something' discuss contemporary UK politics quite candidly. Not many pop bands dare touch these kind of topics. What is your perspective on this and what would be your respond to anyone suggesting that politics in music is commercially a bad idea?G. I’m pretty sure it’s a horrible idea commercially. I think quite a few people who are into pop would be uneasy with the subject matter. A song referencing Gordon Brown and Alan Greenspan is unlikely to get the fists pumping at V festival(!) But talking about corruption in politics was something that we wanted to talk about and get off our chests. And that’s what music is for, right? From the other perspective, people interested in the subject matter probably aren’t drawn to these issues being talked about in the context of a two minute pop song. So yeah, possibly a terrible idea all round. It’s bloody fun to play though.

B. I applaud you for it. And I think people will be into the honesty. I was struck by the contrast between 'Do Something' and some of the other songs in the set. It sounds like the album will be a darker affair and you've put your most poppy foot forward to make a first impression. Is this an accurate appraisal?
G. Yeah, spot on. There wasn’t a huge amount of thought behind it. We recorded three tunes and ‘Do Something’ turned out best. The other stuff is definitely a bit darker. I’m really looking forward to recording it and putting it out.

Greg's unique playing style is not apparent in this photo I took. You'll just have to check it out at a gig. Greg's unique playing style is not apparent in this photo I took. You'll just have to check it out at a gig.

B. Where can we follow Cocoa Futures and keep up to date with you and your releases?G. Come along to a show. Let Jack the guitarist buy you a rum. He’ll tell you about his Saab and probably rope you into doing some DIY. After the single launch, we’ve got Camden Crawl on June 21st which we’re all looking forward to. Oh and follow us on Twitter and Facebook.

You heard the man! Go follow Cocoa Futures and check them out on Songeist HERE. Their show at The Finsbury Pub on 30th May has limited free tickets so go and grab your now from the Facebook event HERE.

Wednesday, 14 May 2014

From The Garage to The Stage Part 4: Confidence and Connection

This article originally appeared on the blog at

If you're just starting out as an artist, there are many hard lessons to be learned onstage that don't necessarily appear in the 'how to play' manuals or educational music books. To help you along, we've enlisted our very own Barney to impart his hard-earned gigging wisdom in this ongoing series of weekly blogs. If you're recently started playing live or even if you haven't yet done a gig yet, we at Songeist believe that these blogs will be a great asset to help you to consider all the aspects of your live show. We'll be posting a new entry every Wednesday around midday for the coming weeks so don't forget to visit!


Remember to comment and let us know any live tips and tricks you have...


During a live gig, especially a club show, the dynamic between the crowd and act is very different from one of simply Performer and Audience. The relationship is probably more analogous to that of a stand-up comedy show than to a classical pianist and a hall full of patrons, or a crowd watching a game at a sports event. There is very little separation between the parties and a huge deal of direct interaction, both explicit and subliminal. Emotions are high and the audience and band feed and react to them. Sometimes the crowd speaks back. Bluff and self-assurance are essential and, like with so much in life, confidence is the key.

Consider this. A stand-up comedian can perform to a room with great material but if he stutters nervously through his set, avoids eye-contact with the room, or acts hostile and complains about the crowd’s sense of humour he will leave the stage to silence or boos. A comedian with poor material who projects confidence and a sense of ease, or simply a likeable presence, can create a bond with the crowd and leave the stage with polite applause or even cheers. It’s exactly the same with a band, especially in a support slot. A band's music is a smaller part of a live show than most music journalists get paid to tell you it is and certainly far less than most punters consciously realise when they watch a live show. The crowd wants to like you so don't give them a reason not to. If a band looks as if they’re enjoying their music and come across as confident and cocksure, that will convince a crowd as much as the songs. Conversely, bands that look shy and embarrassed will make the crowd feel awkward and that negative emotion becomes associated with their music. With this in mind, if, like me, you don’t have the kind of natural boundless confidence that lights up the room every time you walk in it, it could be time to put some strategies and concepts into action.

Matt Reynolds, ex-guitarist and singer of rock band Howard’s Alias and now fronting folk act Big Fin, played guitar for Sonic Boom Six for a few tours at the end of 2009. A veteran of live gigs, Matt conveyed a striking live music philosophy to me on stage in Europe that stopped me in my tracks. Its simplicity was its genius. He said ‘every second that you look away from the crowd during a live show is a moment that you are cheating from them’. Over time it's become clear to me that as a general mantra to follow, it's a tremendously effective motivator. Of course, it’s not advised to stand on the edge of the stage and stare dementedly at the crowd for the entirety of the set. And as musicians, it’s great to share eye-contact and moments with your fellow musicians during the performance. But it’s also important to bear in mind that if you look at each other for the whole set, you are depriving your attention from the very place it needs to go… into the audience. Matt’s philosophy is the perfect concept to keep pushing you to do that. And looking at the crowd and conveying your energy, passion and belief in your music is what creates connection.

Mat Reynolds, looking AT a crowd. Matt Reynolds, looking AT a crowd and not cheating them.

The idea of connection is a great way to conceptualise it. We've all been to sold-out arena gigs where there is a lack of a bond between the band and the audience, yet we've seen half-empty club shows where every single thing the band does has an effect on the mood and causes a reaction in the crowd. Equally we've watched festival headliners electrify thousands but stood through bands in tiny venues getting no reaction in a cold room. It's not the size of the show, it's the connection that creates a truly exhilarating live performance. For those of us petrified of performing that find ourselves looking down and smiling nervously throughout a live set, we need to put some thought into ways of avoiding this behaviour because it inhibits our connection. A good trick to start with can simply be looking over the audience, choosing a spot on the back wall of the venue just above the crowd's eye line and literally performing to that. Initially, your main goal is simply to get the energy out there and not elsewhere on the stage and to get comfortable doing it.

Eye contact is difficult for many people and feeling exposed on stage can increase one's self-consciousness. You may have heard how, to keep eye contact in police interviews, hardened criminals look between the eyes or at the eyebrows of those giving them a grilling. Start by using this technique. Smile at people. Connect with people. You don’t want to give all your attention to the same group of people through the entire set; look to the spot in the back of the room, then to the mass of people in the centre of the room, then give some time to those at the front. There have been times on stage where I have consciously tested this, observing the visceral difference in the body language of the people before me when I look and emote to them as opposed to looking elsewhere. You really do have the power in your body language to convey the energy of your music and to will people to enjoy it the way that you enjoy it. But you have to work at it.

962259711_c5516d10cf_b Look, a lovely bunch of foreheads to connect with.

The paradox of creating connection, is that it's an exercise in controlling energy rather than unleashing it. We've all seen bands that think the key to a great live performance is to leap around the stage and thrash about like maniacs. Rather than encouraging the crowd to get involved, this can have the opposite effect, serving only to underline the lack of excitement in the rest of the room. The contrast between the energy of an act trying so hard and the ambivalent atmosphere in a venue can seem absurd, pathetic even, and this breaks the connection. Onstage, you may feel like you want to leap out of your skin but you need to harness that nervousness and adrenaline and focus your energy to coax the crowd to get involved, not to compel them to.

At the risk of sounding a little 'New Age', the best live acts can adapt to the vibrations in a room, focus them and then amplify them. This goes right back to the 'turning of the screw' through the first part of the setlist that we discussed in Part 2. When you hit the right vibration and take a cold, still room to a heaving mass of sweaty bodies in the space of three songs, it's the greatest feeling in the world. The gigs we all live for are those when the crowd erupts and you no longer need to worry about any of these blog subjects and you can lose yourself completely. But it's important to remember that you and the crowd go through the process together, not separately. Physical reaction and dancing from the crowd is a goal that inexperienced bands often pursue above all else, yet movement is not always the indicator of the best show. A gig's overall connection can even be broken by over-enthusiastic pockets of fans being super-served, moshing violently or chanting louder than the rest of the crowd. The most powerful, memorable and life-affirming gigs are those where the connection across the room between crowd and band is strongest. And the trick to connecting is more often implosion than explosion. It's reaction rather than action.

A mic, between songs. Remember, you don't HAVE to use it. A mic, between songs. Remember, you don't HAVE to use it.

If there's one place where even the best bands lose their confidence, let their guard down and break the spell of the connection, it's between songs. There’s always a certain amount of discomfort in the act of being on stage with a mic and talking to a crowd and it’s only natural that it feels odd. I don’t want to belabour the point, but to emote clearly and briefly is far preferable than mumbling. If what you do and say between songs is affecting the connection between you and the crowd, then just say very little. There's no rule saying you have to say anything. Don't ruin the mood with stupid jokes if you're not a natural comedian, or, as we covered in Part 3, don't say the same thing again and again for the sake of it. Don't create a cliquey atmosphere by sharing private conversations between you and your friends in the crowd. It's a tempting crutch to lean on but the people in the audience that aren't in your close circle of friends will not know about that mad thing that happened to Batshit Barry at Reading 2007, and frankly won't care, so don't bring it up.

A good way to look at it is that if you get the feeling that you might possibly, maybe, perhaps, just a little bit, be mumbling rubbish into a mic between songs then you definitely are. Next week we'll continue these ideas about projecting a good positive atmosphere onstage and communicating with each other, and others, with efficiency and wisdom before, during and after the show.

Until next time...

Crowd shot courtesy Cabaret Voltaire's Flickr used under Creative Commons License.
Mic shot courtesty Ashley Collins' Flickr used under Creative Commons License.

Wednesday, 7 May 2014

From The Garage to the Stage Part 3: Segues and Speeches

This article originally appeared on the blog at

If you're just starting out as an artist, there are many hard lessons to be learned onstage that don't necessarily appear in the 'how to play' manuals or educational music books. To help you along, we've enlisted our very own Barney to impart his hard-earned gigging wisdom in this ongoing series of weekly blogs. If you're recently started playing live or even if you haven't yet done a gig yet, we at Songeist believe that these blogs will be a great asset to help you to consider all the aspects of your live show. We'll be posting a new entry every Wednesday around midday for the coming weeks so don't forget to visit!


Remember to comment and let us know any live tips and tricks you have...


Last week we discussed the concept of writing a killer setlist and my advice was to break the set into three sections. While this is a technique that works perfectly just to get the songs down into an effective order on paper, this structure can exist within the show itself, creating a set that comes across as a half-hour performance rather than a 'stop-start' affair.

You only have a limited amount of time in the set so stopping for a chat and a tune-up after every song is not an efficient use of anyone's time. Without planning beforehand, bands tend to meander between songs. It’s not engaging as an audience member to look at a group of musicians whose heads are scanning each other from left to right with the singer mouthing ‘are you ready?’ This doesn’t have the same sense of performance as you can achieve if you have your transitions organised. In my experience, a crowd can enjoy two or three songs played back-to-back quite comfortably so the perfect time for a chat or a breather is between the setlist sections outlined last week. So, for that half-an-hour-length, seven-song support set, leaving a gap between songs three and four, then between five and six, and finally saying a goodbye during a breakdown in the last song is a great way to lay the set out in terms of 'breaks' (you can revise your understanding of this standard support-set structure in my last blog HERE).

On SB6 setlists, our we denote the section breaks by drawing a line between the songs. Between the songs that have no line on the setlist, there is no break in the set. We may drag out the last note of the song before and start the next song immediately. We may have a backing track bubbling underneath and just say a few words over that to introduce the next song. The important thing is that the flow keeps going until we see the line on the setlist. Only where there is a line do we know that we’re free to relax, have a drink of water and address the crowd in a free-form way. It’s worth noting that having these gaps after playing three songs or so back-to-back is as important for the crowd as it is for the band. They need to catch their breath too and it’s amazing how the atmosphere of the room can change from exhausted to expectant in something as small as a thirty-second breather.

See how Muse structure their sets with sections divided by breaks.

Some bands are natural comedians and turn their bluff and banter between songs into a charming feature of the set. Most of us aren’t, or at least have to work very hard at it, so it’s great to have some tricks up our sleeves. If you’re a little shy with the crowd, that’s a perfect reason to define where in the set you are going to chat and what your subject is. It's a good idea to write a subject down next to the section-break line on your setlist to denote what to speak about. The main thing that this avoids (and I see it all the time) is bands repeating themselves. A way you could do it could be cheat-sheet style notes such as ‘thank previous band’, ‘chat to crowd’ or ‘mention merch / website’. You could even leave the notes as just a word to inspire or remind you of your subject and let yourself wax lyrical from there. This might feel contrived to some but I’m not suggesting you script anything, in fact it's best to avoid over-scripting. Not only does scripting sound unnatural in execution, but scripted setlists grabbed by members of the crowd may end up the source of much amusement and ridicule if the fan posts them on the internet, which genuinely happened to some friends in a leading UK punk band some years ago (but, to be fair, even for a control freak like me, having 'spray beer' on the setlist was too much information!)

When playing a support slot, as a rule of thumb, the less breaks the better, but remember that every break doesn't need to taken after three songs or more, particularly on a longer set. You can see on the example below that SB6 choose to break after song six, then again after song seven. The point is that we all know where we are going to break, and Laila has a subject to chat about, because it's laid out for her on the setlist.

Laila's SB6 setlist, complete with break lines and banter notes.

There are several common errors to avoid when talking to crowds. Saying the exact same thing after every other song is the most usual mistake that inexperienced bands make. It conveys nerves and a lack of sincerity. The most glaring example I can give that many support bands fall back on (I’m sure we all have) is to continuously thank the main band. During the breakdown of the last song is a great place to thank or ‘big up’ the main act. It’s so tempting to do it throughout, because the fans are waiting for them and you’ll get a cheap cheer, but to most people in the room it comes across as fawning and amateurish, almost as if you can barely believe you’re getting to play with your heroes. That’s not how your potential fans want to see you. Once, or twice at most, (once at the start, once at the end if you absolutely must) is more than enough.

Much more of a cardinal sin of onstage banter is the behaviour of bands who attempt to scold the crowd for not reacting to them the way that they want them to. I’ve seen support bands call crowds ‘lazy’ for not dancing to them, I’ve seen hardcore bands call crowds ‘p*****s’ for not moshing. This is not the way to deal with these situations. As far as playing a support set goes, you really are on an emotional knife-edge with a room full of strangers; they want to like you, but you shouldn’t give them reason not to.

Hands up who is ready to see the MAIN BAND! WOOOOO! Hands up who is ready to see the MAIN BAND! WOOOOO!

Also in the ‘expecting too much from a support crowd' category is a peculiar no-no I used to see a lot, especially among punk bands. Bands would attempt to guilt-trip the audience into buying their CD based on the simple fact that they had made the effort to play a gig. Politely suggesting that the crowd might want to buy a CD or support the scene is one thing but saying ‘we’ve driven 500 miles to get here and we have no money and the only way that bands like us and the ones you will see later tonight can keep going is for you to buy our merch’ is just a downer. No one twisted your arm to join a band. We paid our money to get in. Entertain us! There is a more positive way to get that notion across than to come out and say it in those terms. Rock the crowd as hard as you can, come across as affable and positive, tell them about your merch and let them work it out for themselves.

If the room does turn against you, it’s far better to come across as blissfully ignorant of a contemptuous venue, lost in the joy of your own music, than it is to discuss that elephant in the room. Those fans paid for their ticket. It’s not the crowd’s duty to dance to you, to shout your name, or to like you. This isn’t just a one way conversation. Often the crowd will answer back… but that’s a story for next week where we will discuss the subliminal discourse that goes on between crowd and audience at every gig. That might sound a little like psychobabble but I'm simply talking about the unspoken contract between performer and onlooker that goes on in every kind of performance.

Until next time…

Cheers to Theo Araby Kirkpatrick for the SB6 setlist shot.
Crowd shot courtesy Chad Cooper's Flickr used under Creative Commons License.