Plan the set lists with a faster tune at the beginning and end of each. As I mentioned last time, starting with something of a bang will show enthusiasm and this will be immediately picked up by your audience. Sets should be at least 45 minutes in total and a bit longer is better. If you’re going to be doing a “show” at a bar where the music doesn’t start until after 10 p.m. you should plan for one long set. If you’re fortunate enough to have a couple people who can handle lead vocals, try to split up the songs to feature each. Depending upon the type of music you’re playing of course, audiences are always impressed by tight arrangements, solid beginnings and endings and especially by vocal harmony. If you have a couple tunes that you see as your showpieces, hold them until at least the middle of the show – don’t play them too soon or you may have a tough time equaling the impact of those one or two tunes.
It’s time to go out there and hustle work. I won’t pull any punches here. This can be and usually is a frustrating, even maddening exercise. Utilize every connection you may have. Don’t be at all surprised if you have to contact the person making the decisions at least three times before you get something like a definite answer one way or another. That’s when the frustration can really be hard to take!
Of course I’m assuming you’re going out there armed with something like a CD to showcase your work. We are fortunate these days to have available to us inexpensive, absolutely excellent home recording units and computer interfaces that will allow you to make a pretty good demo CD, or to upload your songs to a site that hosts bands and music for low or no cost like MySpace. All you need is three or four tunes to use for this purpose; you can make your best selling album later!
In spite of having a CD or a slick web presence don’t be surprised if the bar owner or promoter wants you to do an unpaid audition or even play a night for free. This is a very, very delicate situation about which musicians have been arguing for generations. My own feelings about this have gone in each direction many times over the years. I know there are pro players who would disagree with me, but these days I say – sure, go ahead, do it. At worst you’ve lost a few hours time and at the very least you’ve tested yourself in front of a live audience. But understand this: by playing for free you have made a statement about the relative worth of your music. Bar owners recognize this and it sets you up to be paid less than you might be if you stick to your guns and risk rejection. It is totally your call and if you really, really want to play at a particular venue you should agree to the free audition. Don’t say I didn’t warn you!
Don’t fall for the line I’ve heard many times from bar owners and promoters that goes something like – play for a pittance now and I’ll pay you more when you’re established. If this has ever really happened I want to know about it! What you get paid at the first gig is what you’ll be paid for the last one. Believe it.
On a more positive note (no pun intended!) you can often find plenty of opportunities to play for no pay at events that may be excellent showcases for your act, things like local summer concert series or charity events. These can be really fun and in contrast to a bar situation you will have an audience that is attentive and receptive to what you play, and forgiving too if your act still needs some polishing. Charity events put your act in a good place in terms of the perception of the audience, too.
Really, the bottom line is this. Playing in a band is fun and absolutely essential for you to grow as a player. So take advantage of playing situations whenever you can, develop a thick skin when dealing with bar owners and promoters, and believe in what you’re doing. My guess is that the guys in the band that played at Caesar’s parties would tell you the same thing!
Peace & good music,