MUSIC NOTES: Wild Bill Writes About “The Art of the Show”
Hello and welcome back everyone! This month I thought I would touch on the subject of the art of putting on a “show”. A lot of people and bands play gigs in Colorado on the local level. From corner bars, bigger nightclubs, to festival types shows. A lot of bands are very professional and put on an actual show. Many bands though simply get onstage and just play songs and think that is a “show”. There is a difference between just getting up and playing songs, verses putting on a complete, well thought out show. My goal here is not to criticize, but to give ideas on how to make the show better. I will be discussing entertaining the audience, professionalism, dead time during the show, show manners, and ways to make the show better.
We are very blessed in the State of Colorado, and particularly the Denver and Colorado Springs areas, in having a very rich and large musical community. The talent level overall is extremely high. I am very proud to be a small part of it. I have had a series of bands, though mostly jam at clubs now. I have seen many bands throughout the decades I have been here. Many put on great shows, while others just simply get up onstage and play songs. That is not really putting on a show. A show is a well thought out plan by the band to have a start, middle, and end to the show. Have a smooth and entertaining experience for the audience. Usually in bars, restaurants, and nightclubs, the standard practice is to have four sets during the show. The trend is moving towards three set nights though which I prefer, both as a player, and as an audience member. Four sets seems like too many stops from the band to me. People do not come to shows to watch breaks, and part of the audience always leaves during breaks. It makes sense to keep playing longer and keep the audience there.
So assuming there are three sets to the gig, the whole “show” will consist of three mini shows within the show. Each of these three mini shows (sets) will have a beginning, middle, and end. Often, bands start the night off by getting onstage, separately usually, tuning guitars, making racket on the drums and instruments, and testing mics. A very terrible way to start a show for an audience! That is very unprofessional! The start of a show should be like a switch being flipped on, and once flipped on, bam, the show is ON! I once saw Lynyrd Skynyrd and once they were introduced, they came onstage, put their guitars on, and instantly went right into “What’s Your Name”. That’s the way to hit the stage!
At this point, once the band has hit the stage, there will be no tuning of guitars, no drum noise before the first song, and no testing of mics! Everything onstage should be 100% ready before the band “takes” or “hits” the stage. Including all instruments tuned and ready! There is a reason for the term “hit or take the stage”. It means the show is ON! The flip has been switched, and it is time to entertain the audience. It is Showtime! The band should hit the stage “all together” and put their instruments on. Unified! The Beatles always hit the stage together! A band of Beatles. Once onstage, again, no tuning, no sound from the drums or any instruments until the first song starts. The second the instruments are on and ready, start the first song within 15 seconds of all members hitting the stage. Silence until the first song starts. Show is ON. The audience LOVES it when bands have everything set and the show starts in a powerful way!
Make each set have an exciting start. Hit the stage, 15 seconds later start the first song. Use a strong and popular opening song for each set. Use an exciting song. From there, mix the slow and fast songs, and build up to a strong song to end the set. The last four or five songs before the set ends, use songs to build up to the last song of the set. Beginning, middle and end for each set. During the sets, be professional. Do not say stupid things to the audience. Do not mumble to the audience. What you say is part of the show. Do not fumble on your iPad, etc. Everything the band does onstage is part of the show. Know exactly what songs the band is going to do, and do them well. All songs should have a clean start and “solid” ending. Have rock solid “tight” endings always! Cannot tell you how important a very tight ending is. It is vital for each song. A tight ending signals the audience that the song is over, and it is time to applaud. Let them. Do not say anything except maybe a quick thank you after they are done. Smile and nod to them and acknowledge their applause. It is stage manners!
Applause has stopped, so now time to go right into the next song. Do not have dead time onstage. It is unprofessional. If a guitarist needs to tune, do so extremely quick, and the front man/woman should say a few quick things to the audience to distract. “How’s everyone doing? Ready to Rock?” Talking to the audience is part of the show too. Maybe say “It’s always a great time being here!“ Whatever you say, be real clear and loud. Do not mumble. If you are speaking to the audience, they deserve to understand what you are saying! Absolutely stay on the mic! Do not talk away from the mic. Then, once the guitarist is tuned, start the next song right away. This way there is little break in the show. Remember, each set is a continuous mini show. After each song, acknowledge the audience’s applause. Then start right in to the next song with no dead time. If the band has two-songs in a row planned, make the transition smooth.
The show never stops until the last song for the set has ended. Remember that the show is for the audience. Look at each member of the audience and enjoy the songs with them. Make eye contact with as many as you can and smile with them. Last time I played at a jam, a young couple came up to me as they left and said “Thank you for playing to “us”! That made our night!” One of the highest compliments I ever had, and I thanked them very much. I was looking at them and others and smiling, and they liked that. Of course, I played to “everyone“. You want everyone to feel you are playing to them. That shows you are with them. All enjoying the songs together as one. When the set ends, guitarists tune your guitars for the next set and leave the stage right after tuning. No band members should hang around the stage. Unprofessional. The stage is for the show.
When the final song of the evening ends, do as other bands do at big concerts. Bow to their applause, hold your guitars in the air, and be appreciative. Then exit the stage “all at once“. Be a united band that leaves the stage together. That means the show is over, the switch has been flipped to off. Tear down the equipment a little later. Never right after the last song. Once again, when the last song ends, acknowledge the crowd applause, wave goodbye, and the band leaves the stage all at once. Stay off the stage for a while. Then a little later, tear down the equipment. If you tear down right away, it makes the band look like roadies (with no offense to roadies). Makes the band look better and together.
Well I hope this has inspired some of you to tighten the show up and make it better. There is always room to improve shows. Always remember that the show is for the audience and it is your “job” to entertain them! They need a break from regular life for a few hours. Do not “ever” bring up sad things either. They have enough sadness and do not need any of yours! So make things tight and happy for them and they will really appreciate that, and will see you again. Thanks very much and keep on Rocking!
By William McClintock (Wild Bill)
Photo: Wild Bill McClintock