Performance, Recording

Should I hire a musician to play my instrument?

Whether or not you play cards, perhaps the best advice you can hear as an artist is “play to your strong suit”.

For some artists, their strength is their musical ability, not their songwriting.  For others, it will be the opposite – some artists have greatly developed their songwriting voice, and/or their singing voice, but have only developed their instrumental ability sufficiently to serve their songwriting, or to accompany themselves at an open mic.

This is NOT a weakness!  Many savvy artists choose to specialize, dedicating themselves to excellence in a particular area – often with the benefit of developing a unique style or sound.  That becomes a tremendous strength.

So maybe you wrote your song with a guitar in your hand, and can accompany yourself at an open mic on that guitar.  That doesn’t mean you’re the best choice to play guitar on your recording, or the best choice to accompany yourself at an important live performance.  This concept even extends beyond musical accompaniment.  For some purposes, you may even want someone other than you to be the singer, the FOCUS of the performance, if it better serves the purpose of communicating your song with your desired audience.  This could be in an effort to pitch your song demo to a recording artist, to perform at a showcase event, or even your creative choice of how to prepare your song for public release (MANY songwriters have released records on which another artist is the lead singer).

Consider all your options.  If you can hire a specialist to play an instrument on the record, or on-stage, better than you can do it yourself, it is worth considering, for the sake of the quality of the record.  Do all you can do to make your art remarkable, and always play to your strong suit!

Performance

What Should I Say Between Songs?

You have spent a lot of time crafting your songs, and hopefully considerable time deciding on the songs that will make up your live show, and the order in which you will perform them.  Performing compelling songs, in the right order, will help you deliver a fantastic live music experience that will move your audience to fill the tip jar, buy your merch, and tell their friends about you.

One part of the live show that is too often neglected, is the transition from one song into another.  Concert flow involves a host of things to consider:

  • Allowing time for changing or re-tuning of instruments
  • Avoiding a lull in your concert, during which nothing happens on-stage and your audience gets restless and begins talking to one another, heading to the bar or the bathroom
  • Setting the right mood for each new song
  • Giving your audience something to remember, and especially something to tell their friends about

It is tremendously useful to visualize the transition between the songs in your show, before the show, and decide what you can do to keep your audience engaged at all times.  Just like making a set list, deciding in advance what you will say during song transitions will help your show, because it will take care of decision-making before you hit the stage and deal with the many distractions that must be managed while the show is live.

Consider how much time you spent crafting your songs, making them deliver the right experience for your audience.  Why not spend time crafting your song transitions?  Writing and rehearsing your stories and jokes will only improve your live show.  Maybe you’ll tell the same jokes and stories each time you perform, maybe you’ll write new ones, but planning and rehearsing these song transitions is the mark of a true performer.

What should you say?  Here are a few suggestions that are simply the opinion of this author:

  • AVOID lowering your audience’s expectations by nervously telling the audience how much you hope they like your song. You believe in your song’s strength, so give a confident introduction to help your audience believe as well.
  • When you’re going to play a song made famous by another artist, AVOID introducing the song as “a cover”. While this is a meaningful term between musicians, it tends to suggest to an audience that this next song will be something non-special.  Instead, introduce the song as a song you “wish you had written”, or a song that “really makes you feel something deeply”, to introduce the song as a special moment in your show.
  • AVOID telling too many long stories. If it truly helps set up the song, then pick your moments and make it special.
  • Make your transition between songs meaningful. Try to let the songs in your show come together into a larger story.
  • When introducing any song, try to give the audience a reason why the next song will be meaningful to them. It’s NOT ABOUT YOU, about how special you feel for having written it – your audience cannot share that feeling.  Give them a way to share the emotion of the song by offering a way for them to relate to it.  For example, “You know that feeling you get when someone tells you for the first time that they love you?  This next song is about deciding to say it back”.  Most of your audience will have first-hand experience of that feeling, and will be perfectly invited into your song.

Planning your transitions is not sacrificing spontaneity.  It is an exercise in serving your audience.