Artist Development puzzle

Published on January 12th, 2012 | by Hugh Hession

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5 things you can do now to improve your band for immediate results

To me, it’s a waste of time to stay in a band that is not willing to acknowledge the very things that have obstructed their view. Now that the new year has arrived, it’s the perfect time to step out and take an objective look at what can be done to take your band up a couple notches.

I see a lot of live bands. What I tend to notice, is that many of them have exactly the same issues or similar ones that prevent them from reaching their potential. What’s frustrating, is that they can “up” their game by simply subtracting or adding certain elements.

A friend of mine that had a brief stint in the NFL once told me that the difference between an average player and a great player often comes down to a few seconds. To me, it’s no different with your music career. Often, the difference between a great band or artist vs. an average one is a few tweaks. After that, it’s about staying consistent.

Here are some actions that you can take to create massive and immediate change that will impact the quality of your band and particularly, your show.

1. Take hold of the “entertainer” mentality

Want to know the secret to getting more gigs, more fans, more downloads, more hits?  Stop thinking of yourself as merely a musician and more as an entertainer.

I know. You think I’m selling out the music, right? Nope. Nothing could be further from the truth. No one said you couldn’t have great music AND a great show. Both are equally important.

People want to be entertained. So do it! You’ll get more fans and attract more girls! Hey, it worked for me. This one change can make all the difference in how you are perceived. Club owners love entertainers. They sell drinks!

So when you ask yourself why a veteran band like Bon Jovi is still one of the biggest concert draws of the day, it’s because Jon has a keen understanding on the art of entertainment. He’s mastered it.

2. Close the gaps

Everyone has been guilty of it at one time or another. Some of us continue to do it. You end a song and turn your back to the audience, while tuning your guitar or saying something to you drummer about how he forgot the changes you practiced on the night before. Whatever it is, you’re creating dead air. On stage, 2 seconds of dead air is an eternity. Time to close the gaps.

It’s essential to understand that the flow of your sets is just as important as the quality of your songs. Take some time outside of your show to work out the details of how your song list will flow. Then, rehearse it.

Fact is, major recording artists place specific attention on the flow and continuity of their live show. This is why they spend months rehearsing it before going out on tour. They’re doing it…why wouldn’t you? Why not raise the bar (couldn’t resist that pun) and make this change now?

3. Downplay your weaknesses

I remember years back when Jennifer Aniston was on “Friends.” Her hairstyle was the craze. Now it’s obviously common, but at that time, it was unique. It seemed every girl wanted to have hair like Jennifer. The problem with this, is that this hairstyle doesn’t look good on everyone. Facial features have a lot to do with how a hairstyle looks on someone. That is why it’s always best to choose one that accentuates those features rather than draw them out.

So you see where I’m going with this. Some songs you just weren’t meant to play. Your vocalist sounds like crap singing them and your guitarist can’t play the riffs correctly. So why is it in your set? You have unfinished originals that you’re merely “trying out” on your audience, but you don’t necessarily have a firm grasp on each section. Your bass player is a bit overweight but continually thinks he can fit into skinny jeans. Your keyboardist is not a jazz player. So why would you force her into that role if it will diminish your sound?

The best bands and music artists know what works for them. They stay clear of anything that will shine the spotlight on their weaknesses. Why would you put yourself in the “average” category when you don’t have to?

4. Work on those harmonies

Tight harmonies can take a band to a completely different level. Audiences get stoked when you can nail them live. Understandably, not every band needs them, but I would say that in todays vocal driven music industry, most do.

What not to do, is just carelessly “throw” them into a song with no regard to where your interval is at. Only the Rolling Stones have latitude to do this! But seriously, don’t bother getting into the  mic if all you are going to do is “wing” a certain a backup part, especially if you just sing one or two words and then back off.

Make an effort in rehearsal to pick out the harmonies and then go over them, with say just a guitar for pitch or a keyboard. That way, you can hear everyone and make adjustments. It’s often advantageous to have a person in the band that can pick out and play the harmony parts on their instruments, or better yet, sing them individually to each singing member as a reference.

Utilize your vocalists strategically. For instance, I personally have a high head voice and falsetto which enables me to hit those higher backups. Understand the limitations of each vocalist and place them in the register they sound best in. Remember, it’s the overall blend that you are looking for. You don’t want one overpowering the other. And of course, pitch is everything.

If you only have say, one back up vocalist that is strong, then just use them instead of using an additional member that thinks he or she can sing, but can’t. Again, put into action #3 – downplay your weaknesses!

5. Replace your drummer

Too many bands pay little attention to the quality of their drummer. I mean, c’mon. Let’s be real here. They’re either too fast or worse, they change tempo. You have the ones that think they need to put fills in every pocket of space (which means they don’t understand their role), or others who just can’t seem to enter into that groove and sustain it. If you can identify, look into upgrading now.

A great drummer will impact the quality of your band substantially. You’ll find that everyone plays better. Anyone who has upgraded their drummer knows exactly what I’m talking about.

Oh yeah. There is only one downside to this. If you get a better drummer, make sure your bassist is on it. It’s a tough transition for many, because by default, bassists who play with bad drummers get complacent.  They’re either going to be very happy or pissed off. Either way, you’ll find out quickly!

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About the Author

owns and operates Emerging Artists Entertainment Marketing & Consulting, LLC - a company devoted to cultivating aspiring music artists, He is also the head of Hession Entertainment Group, LLC (artist management) and the Music Industry Liaison for the artist discovery site, TalentWatch (www.talentwatch.net). He has over 25 years experience in the music business as a performer, composer, producer and artist manager. Hugh holds a BA in Marketing and is a professional member of NARIP and a voting member of The Recording Academy. He often speaks at seminars and workshops on artist development.



2 Responses to 5 things you can do now to improve your band for immediate results

  1. Great advice. The main point I am taking away from this is about closing the gaps. I’ve recently been thinking more about this, for example linking songs into each other, or creating transitional bits etc. I think you are right, the performance needs to be one congruent things, not just a bunch of different songs. Nice post

    • Hugh Hession says:

      Thanks! A professional and well-rehearsed live show will put you above so many out there. It will help you create that emotional connection between you and your fans – helping you to get more gigs and sell more merch! People want to be entertained! As the great performance coach Tom Jackson says: People will see the music before they hear it. Check out my post on taking your live show to the next level for more on this!

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