Musicians are a scattered bunch. I know you agree with me. Don’t lie.
I think some of them just glide through life with this “things are bound to happen!” mentality. I mean, optimism is great and all but you know what’s better?
Actually being in control of what’s going to happen.
Do you know how you can get more control over your music career?
Actually having a plan of action and some goals to reach. It’s like the musician stereotype is this person that still holds onto the crap theory they read in The Secret about letting “positive energy into their life” bullshit.
Sure, you might get lucky. But lucky people also win the lottery and those chances are slim as well.
Do you know what’s better than being lucky?
To quote the philosopher Seneca:
“Luck Is What Happens When Preparation Meets Opportunity”
So in this article we will be focusing on creating our own luck. The luck I’m talking about is when you’ll be offered your next gig.
When the booking promoter asks you: “Can you play a 30 minute set before BandEx?”
Your answer will not be “oh…we only have one jam song with three chords….but it’s 30 minutes long?”
Your answer will be a powerful “Yes! We will be there and we will be planned out and prepared.”
It all starts in your rehearsal room.
The reason you need effective and efficient rehearsals is so you can develop a killer set quickly.
You can’t get gigs before you have a set you can play at said gig now can you?
So before you go to your next rehearsal which is really just a badly disguised three-chord jam session, you need a plan of action so you can start playing in front of people instead of the posters on your walls.
Have a Plan
In the rehearsal context you should plan what you and your musicians will do at each rehearsal to make the most of your time.
The goal of my last post, How to Find Other Musicians to Play With, Even If You’re Introverted and Shy, was to find people to make music with so you could potentially build a band to play live.
The goal of this post is to create effective rehearsals so you end up with a set you can confidently play live when you get your first gig.
To quote Benjamin Franklin:
“By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail.”
So if you don’t plan to have a great set list for that first gig then you’ve already failed.
You not only need to sell the booking agent on the music you can play without them ever hearing it, you also need to deliver the goods when they book you to play their venue.
How Do You Plan Which Songs to Rehearse?
This really depends on what kind of band you are.
- Do you play only originals?
- Do you play only covers?
- Do you play a mix of songs?
- Do you play a specific genre?
Depending on how you answer these questions you’ll find out how to spend your rehearsal time.
Let’s use The Long Wait as an example because it’s easy for me to describe.
- We are mostly originals but we also play some covers.
- We play folk-rock.
That means that in order to really impress people at our next show we need to really nail our originals as well as play very convincing covers.
By narrowing down what kind of band you are, and what kind of gig you’re looking to book, you can narrow down the tasks you need to accomplish for your next practice.
Are Your Originals Well Rehearsed?
Can every band member knock out each of your original songs with no problem?
If not, focus on the songs that are actually giving you problems. Don’t waste time playing all your originals if they don’t actually need to be rehearsed.
If you have five originals and only one of them needs work you can play the troublesome song five times in the same amount of time it takes to run your whole set. So if you want to be efficient at your rehearsal you should only focus on improving upon that which needs improvement. Anything else is a waste of time.
How Are Your Covers?
As a mostly all-originals band we don’t play that many covers. However, saying yes to three hour gigs results in some scrambling around to fill time.
So far we’ve accomplished this in two ways:
Working on our between song banter with stories about our songs is a great way to fill up some time. By throwing in some shout-outs about our website, mailing list and the merchandise we have for sale we can often fill up a few extra minutes of time if we need.
However, this doesn’t just fill up our set time but it also creates engagement with our audience and sometimes yields some merchandise sales so it serves as a solid marketing tactic during your gigs as well.
Covers are the easiest way to add more time to your set list. Unless you’re a speed-demon songwriter that can conjure up compositions in five minutes then learning a few covers will always take less time.
Even if you’re hesitant about playing other people’s music because you’re a purist and your songs are the best (probably not), it’s still a good idea to add add them to your set. You can always put your your own spin on them instead of copying them directly so you feel like you added some originality to them.
Being known for your original twist on a cover song has skyrocketed many an artist. Even some covers have been so popular that they’ve actually skyrocketed the original artists’s music to a new level. Eric Clapton’s cover of “I Shot the Sheriff” by Bob Marley comes immediately to mind.
So look at adding covers to your repertoire not as filler material but as an original musical challenge in itself. Change the tempo, change the key, transform the arrangement or figure out any other way you can add your own musical style to it.
It’ll end up serving two purposes:
- Lengthens your set with songs people know (unless you’re really into obscure covers).
- Challenges you as a musician by transforming a known song into something that you can call yours.
Rehearse Away From Rehearsal
Here’s my #1 tip for more efficient band rehearsals:
Record one take of each song you rehearse and send it to all of your band members to practice on their own time.
Scheduling five people to rehearse one day a week can be a nightmare. We’re all busy with our personal lives and professional duties so I sometimes think it’s a miracle we even get one practice in.
The trick to getting more practice time is to have everyone practice on their own time by giving them recordings of the rehearsals to go over. You don’t need a fancy studio. You just need a smartphone placed in the middle of the room so it picks up every instrument. It doesn’t have to sound good. It just has to sound good enough for you to practice your own parts.
Does Everyone Have to Be there?
Because scheduling is such a bitch it might be worthwhile to see if you actually need all members of the band for every practice. It’s a lot easier to schedule two people than five.
If you’re just working on vocals harmonies or chord structure you don’t need everyone there. Having mini-practices around your normal weekly rehearsal can be a really effective way to iron out parts that only certain band members are struggling with.
For instance, if you have a new guitar player that you need to get up to speed you might want to schedule as much time with him as you can so that he feels more comfortable during the regular rehearsals.
Have a Plan Every Practice
At the start of every rehearsal it’s a good idea to outline the plan to all the members.
Break down the rehearsal into a few tasks that you need to get through:
- Outline of what you need to do today.
- Warmup. Play an easy song everybody knows to get you all warmed up.
- Problem solving. Work on the songs that need the most amount of practice until you have it figured out.
- Recording. Record the songs you want everyone to take home with them.
- Plan the next rehearsal and discuss future goals and gigs.
The Goal: Have a Set Ready for a Gig at a Moment’s Notice
If you practice efficiently and effectively you’ll get a set list together much faster. That means you won’t have to worry whether or not you have enough material when you get your first gig.
You’ll have planned and practiced with a purpose so that when the time comes you’ll be ready.
How do you structure your rehearsals? Do you plan them out as methodically as I do or do you waste a lot of time that you could use more effectively?
Let me know in the comments.