A discussion on the importance of good stage lighting. Various types of lighting setups are discussed.
I’ve played in all types of places from basements and living rooms to concert halls and stadiums. I’ve experienced all types of lighting along the way. I’ve played under a single lightbulb as well as rooms using only a lava lamp for lighting. I’ve also played on huge stages that had individual spotlights for each member of the band and full concert lighting. I’ll tell you, the concert lighting was a lot nicer.
Most clubs that bands regularly play in have woefully inadequate lighting. They usually have a few dedicated stage lights and you’re lucky if more than half of them work. There are exceptions to that rule and I’ve played in some clubs with incredible stage and dance floor lighting. But like I said, those are exceptions and you’ll usually find yourself playing in dim light.
I’ve been playing in bands for 27 years now and have been to lots of band practices and rehearsals. Today I’m going to talk a bit about how your band sets up for practice and gigs. I want you to think about how your band sets up during a standard band practice. I’ll bet you that you stand in some kind of circle or oval facing each other with all the amplifiers and speakers pointing at you. That’s really the standard setup for a regular band practice.
I always figured if I practiced long and hard enough that I would become a good enough musician that my skills would guarantee a successful show every time I played. So I practiced and I became a good musician but I found that a good show doesn’t just depend on musical skill. A good show is a collective effort between several different factors.
One of the most important pieces of advice I can give to young musicians is simply to take good care of your hearing. I was diagnosed with a hearing loss when I was 16 years old and had only been playing in a band a couple of years. I was still pretty careless with my hearing for much of my early career. Finally the hearing specialists started telling me I needed hearing aids. That got my attention and I’ve been very careful with my hearing the last 15 years or so.
The best thing I’ve done for my hearing is to get a pair of custom molded, sonic filter type earplugs made specially for musicians. I have the Westone ES49 Custom Fit Earplugs. Mine are a light tan color and are barely visible from the audience. They sound fantastic and because they are custom molded to my ear they’re extremely comfortable.
I’ve had my bouts of stage fright over the course of my career although I’ve never had it really bad. I’ve played with other musicians who were just overwhelmed with stage fright. I’ve played with guys that were throwing up before every gig because they got so nervous.
Let me start off with a little quote from The King himself, Mr. Elvis Presley: “I’ve never gotten over what they call stage–fright. I go through it every show. I’m pretty concerned, I’m pretty much thinking about the show. I never get completely comfortable with it, and I don’t let the people around me get comfortable with it, in that I remind them that it’s a new crowd out there, it’s a new audience, and they haven’t seen us before. So it’s got to be like the first time we go on.” – taken from http://quotations.about.com
Man if I had $5 for every time I’ve been asked “Can I Play Your Guitar?” I’d be rich! I’ve had people stumble up to me at gigs drunk out of their mind and ask if they can sit in with the band, and of course play my guitar to do it. I once had a guy grab my 2nd guitar off the stage while I was playing and play air guitar with it. Lucky for that guy he was a visiting Japanese dignitary at a marketing convention that didn’t speak any english. I think he knew enough from my reaction to quickly put my guitar back. I guess some words are universal. So when somebody asks me “Can I Play Your Guitar?” my policy is to simply say “No”. There are several reasons I’ve learned to just say no over the years.
The greatest thing about playing live music is the interaction you have with the audience. There is no better feeling than to see the audience completely taken by what you’re doing onstage. It’s a very symbiotic relationship in the fact that the audience feeds off the bands energy and stage presence and the band feeds off the energy and appreciation they feel from the audience.
I remember at one particular gig, we had a fan that was completely into the music we were playing. I mean the guy was completely lost in the music. We’re talking borderline out of control.
One thing that you will have to deal with constantly as a live musician is obnoxious audience members. It seems like no matter how good you are you still have jerks in the crowd. There’s a funny scene in the Jack Black movie “Tenacious D And The Pick Of Destiny” where he’s training to play his first gig. He’s all decked out in a football helmet and his guitar. They’ve set up chairs with paper plates attached to them as peoples heads. Each plate has a mean face drawn on it to simulate an angry crowd. As Jack prepares to play his song, Kyle Gass plays heckles from a cassette tape. They say things like “Boooo!” and “Play something douche bag!!”. Needless to say this flusters Jack as he prepares to play. As he starts to play, beer bottles smash against his helmet. It’s hilarious and frightening in it’s honesty. Continue reading “How To Handle Jerks, Be Professional”
I like being comfortable. I’m the most comfortable in a pair of jeans and a t-shirt. I have to tell you that I don’t like wearing costumes and I hate dressing up. So for a long time I just wore jeans and a t-shirt onstage. Then I started opening for other bands and I really began to notice how cool they looked creating a look for when they played onstage. I remember thinking once at a gig that the band that opened for us just looked cooler than we did. They just seemed a lot more hip even though musically we blew them away. The real bummer was, the crowd was louder for that band than for us. Continue reading “Dressing For The Stage”