They are making their public debut in a couple weeks at a big family party, which is a great idea as they are assured a friendly and encouraging audience. At his lesson last week he was asking me about a bunch of things related to performing, things like whether they needed a PA system (yes!) or could just plug mics into their guitar amps (no, this is a feedback nightmare). I told him he could use a small but serviceable PA I own.
I asked him to give me a set list, to which he said, huh…? Apparently they hadn’t thought that far, that it would make sense to have some idea in what order they’d play their songs. While I’ve played in a couple bands (early on) that actually abhorred set lists, thinking they stifled creativity and being in-the-moment, I soon learned that knowing what and when you’ll play songs goes a long way to ensuring a good performance. Set lists don’t have to be set in stone, so to speak. But knowing how to best use what you have comes with experience. Hold back your best tunes for a while, build momentum.
I tried to impress on him the importance of starting with something up-tempo, in a Major key. Virtually all good bands do this – audiences are excited or at the very least very interested to hear what you can do and by offering positive energy right from the start you make a statement: I’m glad to be here playing for you, I’m excited about my music and hope you will be too! Being slow, droning and generally disinterested may have worked for grunge bands in the 1990s but those days are gone (thank goodness!).
Tight beginnings and endings of songs make a hugely positive impression. They prove you’re well rehearsed and care about the finished product. A tight ending versus a random fading away usually leads to applause too, and isn’t that one of the reasons we do this?
Don’t waste time between tunes either, I told him. No need to jump into a new song seconds after you finish the previous one but audiences have short attention spans so be ready to move along. Again, this shows that you’re into the performance and like what you’re doing. Another transference of positive energy!
Be prepared to be nervous. Everyone is, myself included, but over time that feeling can and should be converted into focus and enthusiasm. I know from personal experience that the worst performances I’ve ever given happened when I wasn’t nervous at all when I started playing. Then, bad things happen, which makes a performer ten times MORE nervous than they might have been, leading to more disasters! Nervousness can and should be converted to enthusiasm. This doesn’t happen over night of course – it comes with experience. But that is what performing is all about, learning from what worked and what did not.
I’m sure they will be just fine and their debut will go fine. The next step (that I didn’t want to mention) is performing in front of their most critical audience of all: their young teenaged peers. I’ll warn him about that after they have a good show under their belts.
Peace & good music,