Playing live is one of the most rewarding parts of being a musician for many of us, but it can also be stressful and challenging. Here are 4 quick things your band can do before the gig to help the it go well.
Practice With Others
Every musician who makes it past the first few months has dedicated themselves to some serious woodshedding, spending hours alone to learn the movements and unlock the secrets of their instrument and voice. And while it would be impossible to understate the importance of all that alone time, it’s not always fun and it’s not always the best way to reach your goal. If you picked up an instrument to play in a band, you need to practice in a band.
Muscle memory isn’t just about the body, it’s about the head and the heart and the ears. When you’re working on a tune you want to nail at your next show, playing together in the same space helps build a sonic connection for your success. Because it’s not just about hitting the note, it’s about responding to your collaborators and hitting the notes together.
If you want to build that group muscle memory, it’s not enough to just set up some amps and blast it out. Rehearsal rooms often sound muddy, and competition for sonic space in the band can lead to the dreaded volume war where everyone turns themselves up in a futile attempt to be heard. Building muscle memory in an environment where you can’t accurately hear yourself or your bandmates will only make you sloppy. Rock stars to up and comers have struggled with this problem for a long time, now you can fix it.
"Can I have everything louder than everything else?" Ritchie Blackmore from Darker than Blue
Find a way to control the sound in your rehearsal space. Avoid mud and volume wars. Make it a priority for every musician to hear everyone else, even the drummer, who has the loudest instrument in the room right in front of them. Try turning down. Try playing in a room without concrete walls. Or make the switch to jamming with headphones or in-ear monitors to take control of the sound in the room entirely, no matter how big or small it is for a perfect mix every time.
Practice To A Goal
There’s an old saying, undoubtably attributed to someone much wiser than me, “Amateurs play it until they get it right, pros play it until they can't get it wrong.” I know some players who really love repetition, because they thrive on being tight with their band. I’m not personally one of them, but I’ve been doing this long enough to know that there’s truth in the cliche.
That’s why I always practice to a goal. Goals give repetition purpose. If tonight’s goal is to work on getting that new tune tight, then we can play it 3 or 4 times and know that we’re making progress. If we’ve got a gig coming up and will be sharing the stage with musicians in a different genre, maybe the goal of rehearsal is to sway our tunes over to a sound that their fans will appreciate. If the band really just needs to blow off some steam, if the goal is fun, let’s whip out the big book of songs none of us know and play them all as fast as we can late into the night so that we stumble into work the next day looking like we’d been run over by a tour bus. That’s my goal, anyway. Your mileage may vary.
Getting a group of people together for rehearsal can be difficult, today we all have a lot going on. Making rehearsal a reasonable priority and establishing a fun space to be productive in will help keep everyone happy. Put one person in charge of organizing practices. Be clear about your schedule. Keep a calendar in the cloud.
Is your room clean? Appropriately lit? Stocked with tasty beverages? Does your space sound good? Attending to these details will make it easier for everyone to say yes to practice, and the more often you can get together, the better you will be and the better you will perform.
If you can, keep it consistent. I play in a “dad band,” a five-piece with players who live as much as an hour away. That’s no small pony to wrangle. That’s why we made the decision to set ourselves up with one day for rehearsal. Every Tuesday at my place. Can’t make it? No problem, let me know ahead of time, but we’re not rescheduling. I really like the personal responsibility this places on each musician, and I also really like that it forces us to play in a variety of combinations. No drummer this week? Awesome, let’s practice our vocal harmonies. No bass player? Who wants to experiment? This sets up the expectation for each player and each player’s family that there will be music at a set time, and all other scheduling needs can be met in light of that expectation.