5 Reasons Why: Your Live Show Sucks

Seeing as how last week’s 5 Reasons Why was so well received, we asked you, our readers, for suggestions on more 5 Reasons. This week we delve into the tricky territory of live shows. So much can go wrong but if you are prepared, so much can go right. Here are some reasons why your last gig got terrible reviews.

You Haven’t Rehearsed
You’ve got your first gig at the 40 Watt. The place is sold out thanks to your incredible PR efforts. Everything is riding on this show. You’ve seen your name up in lights and it’s time to go on. The first few songs go alright and then WHUMP.

Your bassist is flubbing notes left and right. Your singer is hanging from the rafters singing a solo you’ve never heard. Your drummer has somehow managed to lodge his head in his snare drum. This is awful. The worst part? It’s all your fault. You didn’t practice.

Your Musical Career

Practice seems like such a small part of it all, huh? You’ve got writing, promoting, and everything else to worry about, why keep going over the same old songs? Because things happen. Strings break, you have technical problems, you’ve got an under or over responsive crowd and things need to change; these are the reasons why you have practice.

It doesn’t take much, maybe twice a week. Gather your bandmates and hash things out together. You’ll figure out new ways of playing old songs. You’ll be sharp and on your game the next time you’ve got a gig. So much is out of your control when you’re playing live, why in the world would you want something else unknown?

R.E.M.? More like REHearse.

You Can’t Dress Yourself
Whoo! You’ve gotten a second gig at the 40 Watt, despite that disastrous first performance and you’re all practiced up. You feel sharp. The gig is going great but the crowd is just staring a bit, turning back to the bar and shrugging. NO ONE IS LOOKING AT YOU. You’re whipping around like Stipe on a merry-go-round but you’re getting nothing. Later, you ask a buddy what everyone’s deal was.

“Look dude, you play well, but no one can take a metal band seriously when they’re decked out in Polos and cargo shorts.” AH. Oh. Okay. You don’t look the part. You glance in the mirror and try to see yourself as the crowd would. Yeah, you wouldn’t tap that either.

Ladies love a man in uniform, though.

Flagpole‘s a little late to the game. Fashion has been a massive part of Athens’ music scene since before the B-52s. Can you imagine the world’s greatest party band showing up in jeans and a t-shirt? Or of Montreal in Frat gear? Even if you’re not the type of band that needs a theatrical touch, it helps to have a bit of style. Even the jeans/t-shirt bands know that all their members need to wear something similar to everyone else in the band.

It doesn’t take much to stand out. If you’re a jeans band, try to get your group to riff on that. Someone can wear a vest or makeup. If you’re in a party band, make sure you look like a got dang party band.

GOT DANGED PARTY BAND STATUS UNLOCKED

You Forget About the Crowd
Okay, third time at the hypothetical 40 Watt. You look like a metal band, you sound like a metal band (practice, remember?) and now you’re read to rock and roll. The crowd was good for your opening band but it’s thinning out a bit. But whatever, you’re on a roll. You end the set with a roar and find that the only people around are the people being paid to be there. What the hell, dude?

Your Soul. Right now.

You’ve forgotten the most important part of the live performance: the crowd. Now, if there’s no crowd to begin with, you’re free to do pretty much anything your little rock heart desires. But if there is a group of people, standing in front of your stage, it’s your job to entertain them. You are there for them, not them for you. Blazing through your set might be fine and dandy but if you’re not interacting with the people there, you may as well be back at practice.

Different bands do this “interaction” thing by bantering with the crowd between songs, making eye contact with people, holding out your hand, swinging your bass, basically reading what the crowd responds to and doing more to encourage it.

You’d best be ready to rock, dude in the third row

You Don’t Have the Songs
Alrighty, the hypothetical 40 Watt has given you another chance. You’ve practiced your songs, gotten dressed, worked on the crowd a bit and you are feeling great. Suddenly, you get word that your second opener can’t make it because of a plague of frogs. Congrats! You’ve got extra time to fill in your slot! What a great opportunity! Oh wait, you’ve only got a half-hour’s worth of songs ready. Better hope the other band can cover your ass because you are out of songs. CRAP.

You only wish you had his back catalog.

Oddly enough, this exact thing happens quite frequently. Sometimes, you’ll even get the rare call for an encore (see, pay attention to what the crowd wants!). Part of being in a band is writing songs. If you’re having trouble filling a half-hour set, you may need to reevaluate what you are spending time on. Try not playing out for a bit and work on some material. Even if it’s just one more song, you’re saving yourself some frustration and embarrassment.

The love/hate relationship begins with these

You’re Not Having Fun
You had a great 40 Watt show (hypothetically, of course)! At the end of the night you head up to the booking agent and ask when you can play again. She sighs and tells you she’s not booking you again for a long while. Dejected, you gather your things and go home. As you’re sitting on the couch with your cheap beer, you begin to wonder what you were missing. You were so professional and so good. Why didn’t that get across? Your roommate sits down and asks, “Who died?” Then it hits you, you’ve forgotten how to have fun while you play.

Your bassist on the other hand has taken up creative writing

A few years ago, a band I was working with played a festival with a 90s one-hit wonder. The wonder band was polished, had good songs, and were doing everything right. However, they were dead inside. I’m not much for auras and the like but anyone around could see that the band wasn’t in it for anything but the money. It was the most depressing thing I saw that year (besides my paycheck, of course).

Being in a band is tough work. You will play to no one and get paid nothing. But a bit part of being in any sort of working creative relationship with a group is having fun. Make time to do some non-band stuff together. Learn how to work with each other onstage to lighten the mood. Even the moodiest bands like The National know how to crack a joke and enjoy what they’re doing. It’s not all sunshine, rainbows, and puppy kisses but you’ve got control over how you experience things. Sometime work will suck but your shows don’t have to.

Unlike these trees. Stupid, sucky trees
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