This guitar is the quintessential beginner guitar. Inexpensive, but well made and easy to play.
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Song writers; are you blocked? Staring at a blank sheet? Here’s a quick and dirty method to break that. Write a song a day for a month. The best way to have good ideas is to have lots of ideas.
According to Craig Wiseman, cowriter of “Live Like You Were Dying,” the way to write great songs is to write lots of songs. Some of you might be familiar with The Frustrated Songwriters Handbook by Karl Coryat and Nicholas Dobson. In it, they recommend that you and a friend set aside an entire day with no distractions and write 20 songs in one day. Good method; if you can ditch everything except song writing for a day. If you can, it’s not something most people can do very often.
You might have heard of Jonathan Coulter’s Thing a Week project, in which he produced a new, radio ready recording once every week. What I’m suggesting is a middle point between these that will spur your creativity and develop your artistic work habit.
Pick a time of day, sit down and write a song, every day for a month. The idea is to work quickly and consistently. Don’t worry about whether or not it’s a good song, you don’t have time. Let yourself play with ideas, different rhyme schemes, different forms. Let the songs happen. Don’t worry about whether or not it’s commercial or if any one will like it. All you have to do is write a song.
This is not an exercise for beginners; You already know how to write a song. Get the words down on paper, sing the melody, work out some chords. But that’s the order in which I compose; write the melody first if you want. It doesn’t matter, what ever works for you.
Get the song down, before bed, before dinner, in time to go to work, whenever. Release all constraints, all the rules you’ve made up for yourself, ditch all your self-imposed limitations. Just write a song.
The first few will be rough, probably not your best but as you get into the routine they will become steadily better. Then again, you never know; there might be a hit just waiting for you to let down your barriers so it can come out.
Live sound is just like booking the gig, tuning your guitar, or finding the place your supposed to play: just another problem to solve on the path to the perfect gig.
Let’s start with an example of a sound system for a dance band at a wedding. The band is guitar, keyboard, bass and drums and every one sings except the drummer. There are 500 invited guests and the reception is being held in a rectangular banquet hall of about 4000 sq ft. At a wedding the music needs enough volume to energize the dancers, yet there will be relatives and friends who haven’t seen each other in forever and want to talk. The gear we’re going to use is rented from the Doo Wop Shop here in Lexington, but equipment like the Graham slee hifi, which you can use to get old records back to life at any event is available at any music equipment store or online. Depending on the situation, the equipment may change, but you’ll always have you basics to get the party and the music started. Affording the gear if you don’t have access to a reasonable rental shop is a whole different blog post!
3 Shure SM58 microphones
3 Shure SM57 microphones
1 Yorkville M810 powered mixer
1 Yorkville MP6D powered mixer
2 Yorkville YX150 speakers
2 Yorkville YX12 speakers
All this rents for around $150 for 7 days, around $4000 to buy.
Each vocalist gets an SM58, on a stand in front of them. One SM57 is set in front of the guitar amp, one in front of the bass amp, one goes in the kick drum. The mixer (M810) sets up close to the side of the stage, if you are fortunate enough to have a friend to act as sound tech. If not, set it onstage so that some multitasking band member can adjust levels. The keyboard player is usually the best bet, since they can adjust levels with their left hand while still playing most of the notes.
Try not to stick the drummer with the job since the song stops when the beat does and the mix is impossible to hear accurately from behind the drums. At least two band members will need to walk out front while the rest of the band plays to get an idea of the the house levels. Remember; what you hear on stage isn’t the same thing they hear out front.
The M810 has 8 channels, each with an XLR or low impedance microphone input. Using 7 XLR microphone cables, connect each microphone into a channel on the M810. I like to use the first 3 for vocals, left to right, guitar in 4, Keyboard line in on 5 (using an instrument cable), bass on 6, Kick drum in channel 7. No real reason other than I’ve always done it this way and this consistent organization makes it easier to remember which knob controls who’s volume.
The speakers set up on stands in front of the stage, one to either side out of sight lines and well in front of the closest microphone to avoid feedback. The speakers plug into the outputs in back of the M810 with two 50’ speaker cables.
The MP6d powered mixer sits close to the M810, but can go on the floor since we won’t use it’s controls much. An instrument cable runs from the monitor out jack on the front of the M810 to channel 1 on the MP6d. We then run one speaker cable from the output on the back of the MP6d to the first monitor speaker which is placed on the stage between the keyboard player and the guitar player aimed more or less up at their faces.
Another speaker chord is run from the parallel out on that speaker to the other monitor speaker which is placed between the guitar player and the bass player. A simple power amp can be used for the monitor speakers, but the MP6d doesn’t cost much more and it’s the same rig we use for vocals in rehearsal.
There you have a sound system set up which should rock the wedding party right on into the honeymoon!
You’ve practiced, rehearsed and woodshedded. Your mom, significant other and best friends all agree that you sound as good as anything on the radio. You have garage recordings up on Myspace, Facebook and Youtube. You’re as ready as you’ll ever be. It’s time for your first gig!
There are infinitely different kinds of gigs, but three basic types are church, club and casual.
A church gig is easy to get. The only catch is, you have to play Christian based music. Write it yourself or play an old favorite, it doesn’t matter as long as the theological element is there. Here in the Bible Belt, Protestant churches have become pretty liberal in their acceptance of contemporary music styles. Praise Teams regularly rock out the sanctuary on Sunday morning and Icthus, the regional Contemporary Christian music festival, is one of the biggest draws of the year. Most people who play Contemporary Christian are passionate about it before they start playing and know all this without being told. However, even if you perform mostly secular (non-church) music, most churches are friendly and forgiving toward a first time performer, thus a good first gig.
If you are a member of a church, ask to play special music one Sunday morning or offer to perform for a special event. If you’re not, don’t be afraid to call local churches and talk to the choir director or music minister. They’re usually more reasonable than bar owners and Mothers Of The Brides. Churches like music and they like getting together in groups. Again, maybe it’s because I live in the southern USA, but if you play any kind of Christian based music, it’s pretty easy to find a gig.
A club gig is usually a bar, lounge or other alcohol selling venue. They hire both original music and cover bands. Most of them pay the band a percentage of the door if they pay anything at all. Rare clubs will pay a guarantee (a set minimum fee) but, these are few and far between. If you play original material, this is where you develop your following. People go to clubs to hear new music and are always hungry for more.
The evening will usually include 2 or 3 bands which play for 40 minute to an hour each. Lesser known groups start first, opening the show while the more popular groups, the headliners close the evening. At many venues only the headliners is paid. The rest play for exposure and to sell “merch” (cd’s, t-shirts, drumsticks, logo underwear, etc.).
The downside is: bar owners only care about butts in seats. As the impresario of a local venue said to me “Country, Rock, Pop, Rap, it doesn’t matter; a beer is still five bucks.” A bar is a business. The purpose of the business is to make money for the owner, not to promote your band even if you are the next U2.
They don’t want you to play unless you can draw people into their club who will pay the cover charge and buy drinks. This is the main obstacle to playing clubs. You have to play out to develop a following, but you need a following to play out. In future blogs we’ll look at some different approaches to this problem.
The casual gig is a one night stand. The band is entertainment for an event rather than the center of attention. Weddings, parties, bar mitzvah; people getting together to celebrate and have fun. Usually these gigs are the realm of cover bands. The clients want music that they’ve heard on the radio and can dance to but they want the energy of live musicians. You need to be flexible; prepared to stop for toasts and speeches, adapt your playlist to the mood of the crowd, and attempt to play requests.
The usual gig is four hours of playing with three breaks. Casuals can be booked through local entertainment agencies. They charge a percentage and like bars they are a business, so realize that they aren’t managing or promoting your band. In fact it’s best to keep in mind that they aren’t necessarily working in your best interest. Some online booking services are starting to develop but I have yet to book a gig through any of the three that I’ve tried. One way to get your first casual is to play for free for a friend’s party. This lets you work on your stage craft while you gain exposure.
Usually, people at those parties will ask you to play for they’re parties and then you can start raising your fee. The downside; dealing with the Mother Of The Bride and other stressed out event planners can be difficult. You’re working as a party service; same as the caterer and inflatable funhouse guy. Your main job is to make the client happy by adding fun and energy to the party, not to show off your amazing vocal abilities, guitar shredding or poignant lyricism. Professionalism is essential; be on time, dress appropriately, have a neat stage set up, be personable to the crowd.
The GREAT thing about casuals is you get paid at the end of the evening, often times a reasonable sum. Money is a very validating type of applause!
These are three basic types of gigs available almost every where in the US. This is nothing like a definitive list of gigs. Every time I think I’ve played every type of gig this side of Carnegie Hall, somebody hires me to play for a prison or be a human karaoke for a crowd of visiting Japanese businessmen (last weekend, btw).There are no end of different places and audiences to perform for. I love to hear stories about other peoples gigs. Please feel free send me the story of your first gig in the comments.
Every Musician who’s played any number of gigs at all has gig stories; usually about the bad ones. I remember fondly the Kaintuck Trail Riders gig. it was with my college band, The Generics. We played a mix of originals and eclectic covers. We were just out on summer break when I got the call from a local agency asking if we were interested in playing a week long camp-out gig. Since we were all young and broke this sounded like a great idea. The booking agent said “ you guys play country, don’t you?”
“Uh, a couple of tunes, why?”
“Well, don’t worry about it, I’m sure you’ll be fine.”
Did I mention we were young? The gig was in a state park near the college we’d just left, but we had some trouble finding it. 3rd turn on the left after you enter the park, said the directions, but that was an empty parking lot for a picnic area, no trail riders in sight. On our third trip from the park entrance counting lefts, we noticed a gravel road on the left that disappeared up a steep bank with a sign that said “Authorized Vehicles Only”. John, the bass player was riding with me.
“Try it,” he insisted, “what are they going to do, fine us for being lost?” I gunned the truck, laden with PA and amps in the bed, up the incline onto the gravel which soon turned to dirt. At the top of the rise we looked down into a flat field full of pickup trucks, horse trailers, and cowboy hats.
Quoth John “We’re going to die!” He also made several references to the Blues Brothers movie, wondering if we’d have chicken wire in front of the stage and predicting that these cowboys would appreciate both kinds of music, country AND western.
As it turned out, the people involved with the trail ride were incredibly kind. It was a 5 night gig and they were very accepting of our eclectic mix of rock, pop and punk on the first night and our hastily learned renditions of their requests on the following nights. The rain started early Wednesday morning. Wednesday night, it let up from a downpour to a drizzle and we played under our awning while people danced in the wet. One lady was kind enough to give us a thick foam mattress which raised two band members above the water running through our borrowed cabin tent while the rest of us sought high ground.
Thursday, we drove into town to launder our sodden sleeping bags and damp clothes. They told us to quit playing that night because the heavy rain was back. Their motto about weather was “if we can see, we can ride” but while they admired our resilience, everyone had retired to their tents after a long day of riding in the rain. Friday night we played again. We had learned two entire sets of country tunes via combined band brain cudgeling and loaned 8-track tapes (1984, no internet at all!) and added a little twang to our regular playlist to close the weeklong gig with a good show. They thanked us, paid us (the most sincere applause) and we made our way out of the muddy campground; damp and sleep deprived, but wiser in the ways of gigging.