You’re putting on a great show, the sound is the best it has been in a long time, even the lighting dude is awake enough to throw some great atmospheric bling on you. The band sounds and looks awesome. The audience is hyped. The show is pumping.
And then it all stops.
Even the very best gigging band or musician can’t go all night. But what happens to your show in between sets? What happens to all your hard work on stage?
If you’re taking a professional approach then you’ll make sure that the show continues right through the entire night. You’ve won over your audience and you want to keep them in that happy place you now have them. Every one of your shows should be a complete experience.
For some, background music between sets is just something that happens. But the smart musician will see this as yet another opportunity to buy the affection of their audience by treating them right.
Yes, a pro sound tech will most likely bring their own house music with them. But that music might not be the best match for your hard-won audience. Best solution is to be like the good scout: always prepared. Bring your own background music, each time, every time. That way you’ll never be caught out.
What does your audience do when you are performing on stage? Hopefully, they are listening. But what do they do between sets? They talk, they go to the bar, the restroom, whatever. But the point is, they are still listening. And with that comes the opportunity to do it right.
Here are some tips to get your started on making the most of that listening opportunity in the most professional way possible.
1. Don’t use your mobile phone
Once upon a time there were just a few types of mobile phones that could double up as mp3 players, now there are hundreds of them – and each one different. You may know how to operate your phone, but a sound tech doesn’t – and doesn’t much care either for your hasty explanations. So, use a dedicated mp3 player. No private data on it. No calls. No notifications. Just music. And maybe one or two buttons to ease the learning curve.
2. Keep the volume low
You should be used to this. It’s the one thing we all hear, at almost every gig. Can you turn the volume down, please? Well this time, it’s our turn to turn the volume down. Think of your audience. They are most like there with their friends. They want to talk, right? This is their chance. Plus, it gives your sound tech somewhere to take you when you crank up your next set. Background music is background for a reason.
3. Have the songs play back normalised or pre-mastered
You know that sound when you launch into a mic that is too hot, or you hit your first chord and your monitor volume just about knocks over the rest of the band? The audience doesn’t like that either. Not professional. Make sure you pre-master the levels on all the songs, or if your mp3 players supports it, switch on auto volume normalisation.
4. Collect enough material to not repeat over 2 or 3 gigs
Make sure you have enough material on your player to cover before and after the show, and between all sets. Then multiply that by 3 gigs. That’s about how many songs you’re going to need. By that time, most people will have forgotten what was played last time and will just write off any songs they recognise as being simple, every day familiarity.
5. Use the shuffle feature on your mp3 player
Like most bands, you’ll have your faithful in the audience. Like most bands, the faithful will account for most of the people in the audience. So give them a break, mix it up for them. Along with having enough material for 3 gigs, shuffling songs every time will keep everyone thinking that the background material is fresh.
6. Play music that compliments your style
Your gig should be a complete experience for your audience. Don’t kill the vibe by hitting them with music that jars. They are there to see and hear you because they like your kind of music. So give them more of what they want. Keep your audience happy and in the zone all night.
7. Play music that has less energy than your live sets
Pick music that doesn’t quite reach the energy of your shows. Doesn’t matter whether you’re singing fast-paced hi-energy rock songs or smooth ballads, all songs still have an inherent energy in them. Make sure you pick songs that don’t have as much energy as the songs in your live sets. Be smart about this and pick material that tucks in nicely just behind where you are on the energy scale.
8. No, don’t play your own material
Even with the best efforts your live sound will never match the quality of your studio work. Playing your studio recordings between sets can make your live sets sound a little lack-lustre to the discerning punters’ ears. Why take that risk?
9. If you are doing covers, don’t include the originals
Covering other people’s songs? Playing arrangements of them? Well it’s human nature to compare everything to the original. That film you saw was never as good as the original book, was it? So why put yourself in the firing line with your audience? Play the game right. There’s only one way they can’t compare. Don’t give them the opportunity to.
10. Don’t play the competition’s material
This is an easy trap to fall into. When everyone is starting out it’s easy to throw your arms around everyone in friendship. But at the end of the day, only one person will get the gig. And perhaps the time will come when you wished you hadn’t spent one third of your gigs promoting the “other band”.
11. Don’t play rubbish material
Don’t fall into the trap of treating your audience as being musically dumb. They have better musical taste than you give them credit for – after all, they turned up to listen to you, didn’t they? The average person on the street is musically smarter than most musicians give them credit for. If you play background music that bombs you will do two things. One, you will annoy your audience. Bad karma sets in. Two, they may smell a rat. Choose material that is quality, perhaps even what you aspire to.
Follow these tips and you’ll keep the whole show sounding professional from before you hit the stage to the end of the last encore. Give your audience a complete experience.
12. It’s not my job?
Don’t get caught out. Make just one member of the band responsible for ensuring that the mp3 player is always there and is always charged and ready to go, with a selection of different cables to connect to the desk via XLR, mini phone jack, RCA Tape In, stereo TRS plug. You never know what channel you will be given for your background music.
And finally, give the job to someone responsible. Like the drummer perhaps.