There’s nothing worse than a band that sounds great on record but sounds like garbage live. Not only can this lead to a fan feeling cheated financially, but the band in question can might lose their credibility as talented artists as well. No performance is 100% perfect, but from my experience, there are things I’ve learned to overcome those mistakes and bumps in the road and still leave showgoers with the feeling that my band is halfway decent and knows what we’re doing. Here are a few of my suggestions. I know I have a different perspective than some, so if you feel the need to let me know you disagree, contact me on Twitter.
Good Instrumentation > Good Performance
Some bands have immense energy on stage, but its so much that they can’t play their instruments correctly. They’re off time from each other, they’re playing the wrong notes and chords, and the singer is off key! A lot of times, the reason for this is that they are too focused on looking crazy or putting on a good show. I’ve definitely heard “That band was fun to watch but I would never listen to them” a few times in my life. Of course, crazy stage presence is cool and fun (The Chariot, anyone?) – but should never be at the expense of an artist’s music. More often than not, this leaves people thinking of them as entertainers, not musicians and songwriters. And if you are an artist and want people to buy your records, then there has to be some signifier at the show to say they will enjoy your records.
Bad monitors or sound problems, playing the wrong chord, missing a strum or hit – things just happen. That said, my advice to anyone is to not get discouraged, and to start up at the next possible part of the song – which, for me personally, is the next chord change. In my experience as a guitarist, starting a chord or measure at the same time does an okay job at covering up strumming mistakes in the last chord or measure as well. Otherwise, I feel like I’m playing catch up – and there’s nothing worse than being that guy who starts a chord after everyone else does.
A drummer on time
Primal Scream’s Bobby Gillespie once said “A band is only as good as its drummer,” and I don’t think I’d argue with him. It is painfully noticeable when a band changes tempo dramatically while playing live – I’ve been bummed out one too many a time by a band I love slowing down dramatically and the song dragging to a lagged finish. So to you drummers out there, don’t let us down! Do you practice on your own time? Do you do warm ups (do you need to)? Do you ever practice with a track or a metronome? Just playing to an album that keeps you up to speed may help, or downloading a cheap metronome app for your phone or music-playing device.
Just. Keep. Going.
I find that it’s easy for bands, when falling off the horse so to speak, to have members go back and try to replay the mistake they just made. This isn’t necessarily intentional, but more of a natural reaction out of embarrassment. If this is you, try not to re-do anything. Instead, learn to play through your mistakes. This will mean acknowledging in your mind and conscience that, yes, a mistake happened, and it’s over. The rest of the song is not ruined because of it, so play the upcoming parts right. The song can only get better from there.