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A Post-Gig Thought

un crowd at Finnegan's Oct2013

Don’t complain. It’s much cooler looking at the crowd than the band.

I missed a few rehearsals due to my day job and illness. So when packing my gear for our most recent gig, I blew off packing the video camera that I usually plant on a tripod and focus on the crowd during Sets 2 and 3.

It turned out that we had quite a “lovely” crowd. Like I’ve said in previous blog entries, we’re not making real money as musicians that gig every other month or so. Part of the “compensation” is having an “enthusiastic” crowd on the dance floor. Of course, it turns out that one of our loveliest (do I really need the quotes anymore?) crowds was on an evening when nobody brought a video camera.

Lesson learned. Don’t be lazy. Pack the darn video camera. It’s about the size of a wallet, for cryin’ out loud.

Oh yeah, the camera also records audio. Probably good for a band to have. Most nights, anyway.

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I Gigged Gratis Last Night

Throwback Benefit Gig, October 2013

One of the best things about playing a fundraiser is not worrying about whether people will attend.

For you readers who know me personally, that headline is not a misprint. You know that I’m all about getting paid a decent amount for a night’s work and, if that’s not possible, saying “Thanks, but no thanks” and do something else that night.

But every so often, it’s time to do something nice. Yes, I occasionally donate money and other items to worthy causes, but it’s a lot more fun to donate my talent (using the term loosely) and play at a benefit. I’ve done this a few times, usually to raise money for research against a disease or to help a family with someone undergoing costly medical treatment. Last night was the latter. A friend of Throwback has a family member with cancer and is facing medical and economic challenges. It was a good feeling helping out, plus we sounded tight. Visit http://www.facebook.com/Throwbackband for media.

Even better, the venue was an 8-minute drive from my house, so I was home before midnight! Unfortunately, as I’m in the midst of a horrendous head cold, my ears were completely blocked from the time I left my driveway until I left the venue on the drive home. Not cool, but how can I complain?

We’ve also had “regular” gigs for which we announced we’d be collecting Toys for Tots, and we’ve also collected donations for food pantries. If you’re a musician, you may wish to consider incorporating a charity component to your next gig or two. Everyone feels cool afterwards.

You Say It’s Your Birthday?

mike-hofner

Yes, it’s an older picture. So sue me.

It’s my birthday, too, yeah. No, really. Spending some of it practicing with my oft-neglected Hofner. Not a bad way to pass a few hours.

We had a fun time on the Rock Boat. Check www.UsuallyNormal.com soon for some pics. Very nice meeting a few of you. Thanks for coming by. Subsequent gigs will be on land until next August.

And if it’s your birthday too (yeah), like Chryssie Hynde and Buddy Holly!, have a great one!

It’s Summah…

…and I’m wimping out on posting. Ooh, wait: We’ve got our Rock Boat coming up on the 17th. That’s it. No time to post because I’m busy practicing. Yeah, that’s the ticket!

Mention this blog at the Rock Boat and I’ll either autograph a body part for free or leave you alone–your choice.

I’ll do better next month! Get out there and enjoy the warm weather.

Harmony and Me

3 stooges singing

These guys would’ve kicked
butt on American Idol.

If you’re in my age group, I apologize if you read this post’s title and cannot get a certain Elton John song out of your head.

Let’s talk (I’ll go first) about singing harmony. A band’s harmony singer is like a baseball team’s #2 pitcher: They may not get the spotlight as much as the lead singer, but you’re not really going that far without one –and he’ll occasionally prove invaluable. I admit I’m biased because I primarily have this role in one of my bands. My singing voice is pretty accurate, but I wish I had a wider range and more strength (Roger Daltrey-ish, please). I try to compensate with the ability to vary my voice a bit to approximate some of the artists we cover; I’m unsure if I’m simply a good listener or if my perfect pitch (technically, absolute pitch) is at work here. So I think I’m a decent part-time lead singer. For certain songs. At certain times. When Mercury is retrograde.

But Heavens to Murgatroyd, I’m one heckuva backup singer! I’m pretty darn proud of that. Singing harmony is usually harder than singing lead (assuming either is in one’s range). Pick a song with at least two voices from your teenage years that you know but never performed in a band. You already know what the melody sounds like! How about the harmony? For example, let’s consider this song that was filmed before a live audience…apparently at a cherub convention (view the clip to understand that reference):

The collarless suit would not be popular again until centuries later, when Star Trek: The Next Generation latched onto it for the first few voyages of the Enterprise-D.

If you have the slightest trace of singing ability (i.e., a non-lethal voice), you can sing the melody, or at least recognize it. At least in the chorus.

Now try the harmony. Did you (a) recognize it and (2) sing it without drifting into the melody? Half the time my biggest problem singing harmony is avoiding drifting into the melody. Beatles songs especially have really nice parts that are sometimes difficult to discern harmony and melody. Ditto for Everly Brothers, Simon and Garfunkel, The Beach Boys… Hmm, I notice a trend. Those are all artists with great vocals.

Yes, I enjoy taking a few lead vocals per set, but it’s more rewarding for me when the harmony rings. It’s quite a challenge to harmonize well on songs like “If I Fell” or on this number by the Dave Clark Five:

You counted the band members, didn’t you?

So whether you sing lead or harmony, sing like nobody’s listening. Unless you’re on stage in front of people. Then you should either sing well or call yourself a rapper.

Making a List, Checking it Twice

ImageI know it’s finally spring in New England. The headline refers to the best strategy that I’ve found so that I don’t forget anything for a gig.  It’s not idiot proof (I can be very resourceful), but it’s darn close. It goes my many names, but for simplicity, let’s call it a gig list.

Your gig list itself may be incomplete at first, but should be darn near perfect after a gig or two. If you play in multiple bands or otherwise require different equipment on different times, you may need multiple lists—or just ignore part of it. For example, I play bass in both bands, but keys in only one, so I ignore the keyboard-related items when that stays at home.

Here are some pointers that you may find helpful when creating your gig list:

  • Think about your gear in order of your “sound path.” For example, a singing bassist will need such items as: microphone, mic stand, bass, effects/tuner/pedals, amp.
  • Don’t forget the cables. Pack 2-3 times as many as you need.
  • Consider your power needs. If your gear uses batteries, make sure you’ve got ample spares of the various types you use. If you plug in, consider bringing spare power cords and adapters.
  • Speaking of power cords, make sure you have enough cords and a power strip or two. (Not every venue was designed with enough electrical outlets for a band.)
  • If you use song charts during a gig, don’t forget those. Also, don’t assume there will be sufficient lighting; bring a light(s) to clip to the music stand that you should also bring.
  • If you use a laptop for charts or instrument control, pack that carefully and don’t forget its power adapter.
  • Make sure you clean your earplugs and pack them in your pants pocket or a readily accessible compartment (e.g., the outside pocket of the backpack that will be near you on stage). These are easy to forget in those seconds before the set starts.
  • You do use earplugs (or in-ear monitors), right? Maybe we’ll cover that another time.
  • Of course, don’t forget your instrument(s) and amp(s).

Other non-gear supplies that are good to have with you:

  • Electric fan (I leave mine in the car. Don’t count on venues to be cool in the winter, either!)
  • Spare t-shirt or other clothing
  • Hair brush, tooth paste/brush, deodorant, and other personal care items
  • Band promotional items, such as business cards
  • Basic tools (screwdriver, pliers, etc.)
  • Flashlight (go to the Dollar Store and splurge on a few)
  • If you play more than one guitar (i.e., just about everybody), bring a guitar stand and a strap for each one.  You don’t want to deal with taking one out of the case during a change. (I read somewhere that most guitar damage involves case-related mishaps.)
  • Instrument “consumable parts” (e.g., strings, picks, reeds, sticks, etc.)

A final thought: Some people swear by bringing a spare instrument. I used to bring a spare bass and leave it in the car, but I stopped  doing this after a half-dozen times.

Okay, was this helpful? What did I leave out (ooh, aspirin!)?

Panic! on the Gig Week

This pic is quite possibly the worst pun related to a weak headline for a blog entry ever!(This blog entry is a few days late because the gig in question was a few days ago, as regular readers know.  If only my parents were alive, we could double that number!) 

Throwback recently had a gig right before which our singing drummer wouldn’t be able to make due to a family emergency.  We were bummed for his loss, but also for a gig that looked like we’d have to cancel.  Long story short, Dave Bowman, frontman of Usually Normal was available to cover vocals.  I’ve been singing with Dave for years in UN and wasn’t concerned about him.  Several inquiries later drummer friends, we were still goose-egged on the skins.  Fortunately, we found Sebastian Kossak at the 11th hour.

One rehearsal later and we were ready for the gig.  Yes, it meant altering our setlist to reflect songs we all knew (pretty much).  The gig really went well.  If we hadn’t told them, I’m not sure people would’ve known we had a 3 whopping hours together as a band prior to the gig.  It was a nice little milestone for the 3 of us core members.  Dave and Seb did a great job and it was a blast.

That’s one advantage of playing a cover band that focuses on older songs that people (in the band and in the audience) are pretty familiar with!