Before diving in, it’s important to again reiterate the significance of playing live…a lot…seriously…over and over again…until it most likely gets a bit stale…and then keep doing it. Hey – that’s the gig people, if you don’t like playing out in front of an audience three or more nights each week, you should start tuning up your résumé and look for something you can more easily digest. Live performance is going to be where the lion’s share of your income is made, where you connect with and evangelize new fans and most importantly, that’s where you share your material in the most impactful way. That being said, it’s easy to let the live act become second nature and get a bit stale. The cure? Here’s 10 tips to get you thinking about how to win over your fans (and maybe even yourself) all over again.
1. Throw out your old arrangements-
Here’s my real “Captain Obvious” advice: switch up your stale arrangements.
If you play amplified and energetic, try acoustic and sedate. If you’re used to a big wall-of-sound production, try doing the same songs with just piano and voice. If you’re tired of the same old samples and beats, replace ‘em. If you normally “jam out”– don’t. If you don’t– do. Create medleys. Chop off long introductions and add them to other songs. If you’re a solo singer songwriter, hire a band of random instruments for one show and arrange your own little pop symphony.
2. Perform a night of other people’s music-
Whether you cherry-pick the cover songs from multiple artists, do a tribute to one band’s music, or perform a classic album from start to finish, these nights are fun for the music geeks in the audience, great learning experiences for the band, and can draw new fans to your original music if listeners liked what you did with hit songs they already know.
3. Cover one of your older albums in its entirety-
Tired of your same old set list? Head back into the archives and re-learn some of your forgotten gems. Play one of your own albums from start to finish. This is a great approach if you had an album in your dicsography that perhaps didn’t get the critical or promotional attention it deserved at the time.
4. Turn your set-list around 180 degrees-
You could interpret this to mean “Play the songs in the reverse order.” But here’s another possible interpretation: if you tend to change your setlist for every show, create a solid set instead and play it every night for a month. If you generally stick to the same set, shuffle the songs and change the order, mood, and transitions every night.
5. Shorten or lengthen your set-
Do you usually play a quick and dirty 30 minute set? Book yourself into a 2 or 3 hour bar-band/restaurant-type slot and see what you can do to fill out the time. Sometimes the long stretch helps bands relax. Do you usually play 2 or 3 sets over the course of an evening? Book yourself into a club that does 45 minute slots, pick your best tunes, and let it rip!
6. Play in a radically different kind of venue-
Here’s another obvious place to switch it up. If you’re accustomed to 300-500 capacity rooms, do a couple unannounced shows in a smaller venue that fits 50 people. If you’re used to coffee shops, try an opening slot at a club.
7. Extras, extras, extras-
Every once in a while you should go all out on a show. Lighting, props, stage-hands, abstract video, smoke machines, dancers! Do you have any big-production ideas that could be done well on a small budget? Do it! Then do something different 3 months later.
Ever performed on the street without amplification? Figure out if there’s a way to perform your material without electricity– then find a public space with lots of foot traffic. (Oh, and get a permit if it’s required in your town.) Whatever lessons you learn in this setting will be valuable and applicable to your regular performances.
9. Adjust your gig frequency-
If you tour non-stop, you probably get burned out. If you perform infrequently, you probably never get into the swing of things.
For the hardened road warrior, try to take a 2 or 3-month break from nightly gigs (if it works financially, of course)– and instead, put all your energy into one or two BIG shows per month.
If you’ve been practicing way more than gigging, go on a booking blitz and find some weekly gigs. By the 3rd or 4th gig, you’ll be amazed at how much tighter the band is, how much more confident the performance is, and how much more the audience will tune in.
10. Feature guest artists-
Have you ever seen The Last Waltz? Sure, The Band was amazing on their own tunes– but that was only half the movie. The other half was them backing up Bob Dylan, Neil Young, Van Morrison, Joni Mitchell, Muddy Waters, etc. Maybe you could invite a guest or two to perform with you at an upcoming show. Tailor your set around their particular talents. Back them up on a few of their tunes and have them collaborate or add to a few of your tunes.
What do you do to keep your music sets feeling fresh and exciting? Let us know in the comments section below.