Musician's Tips Index
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Playing for Free
Can translate to
more money for your act!
By Brett McCarron
It sounds counter-productive, but playing free gigs can end up making money for your band or solo act.
Everyone wants to make money with their musical talent. That's a given. But performing an occasional free gig -- especially one of your own choosing -- can enhance your press kit and make your act more valuable in the future. Here are some of the benefits of performing pro bono.
Improve the pacing and continuity of your performance
A free performance can help to fine tune the pacing of your show. The goal is to reduce the amount of downtime between songs to change instruments, set the patches for guitar FX and keyboards, tune up, etc. If you've recently added a new member, doing a free show or two helps that member iron out the kinks in his/her setup and in-between song scheduling. You may find that if you switch between standard and alternate tunings, that adding a guitar technician reduces the downtime and the number of instruments that you must carry to the gig. Otherwise, you may need to bring at least two instruments (main and a spare) for each special tuning.
It's not by accident that the major touring acts often do a free gig in a smaller venue before they kick off a major tour. After weeks of practicing, they do a dress rehearsal performance that's complete with band outfits, lighting, and all the staging and rigging to ensure it looks, works, and sounds as it should. This is a great time for the drummer to make sure he can hear the bass player (and vice versa), and to check the overall stage volumes so that one performer isn't so overly loud that it drowns out the rest of the band.
Some bands use a false name for the free "dress rehearsal" show. This keeps keeps audience expectations in check and lets the band members enjoy themselves. It also helps keep music reviewers out of the audience, so that mistakes don't get reported in the press. After all, it wasn't a Rolling Stones concert, it was a Twins of Glimmer performance.
Improve rapport with your audience
A free gig is a good way to practice the banter between the band leader or lead singer and the audience. Most often this is the lead singer. Let that person be the spokesperson while the band is on stage. And no moatter who it is, don't talk over the top or interrupt the person speaking. Not only is it considered bad manners, but it annoys the audience as often two people talking simultaneously over the PA turns the talk into intelligible gibberish.
And avoid dead air. Years after I stopped working as a radio deejay, I would wake up in the middle of the night, after dreaming of "dead air" because I was away from the mic when a song ended. By the same token, there is a balance between talking to the audience too much between songs, and not talking at all while the band takes several minutes between songs to talk among themselves, take a drink, switch instruments (see continuity above), replace a broken cable, etc. This is the time for the front person to tell a story about a particular song, introduce band members, thank the bar staff, or tell a joke about a band member or a past performance. If a joke or verbal segue falls flat on its face, no harm done. Just remember what works and what didn't work and don't make the same mistake twice. Decide before the gig who is fronting the band.
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