How to play I Got A Gig by Hayes Carll. A Gig From Hell Story if I ever heard one.
Chord Chart: I Got a Gig
Tab For Opening Riff: I Got A Gig Lick
Other Songs You Might Like To Learn:
I was recently asked to judge a singer songwriter contest at a local coffee shop. Solo acts only, one singer/songwriter with one guitar. Skill levels varied greatly as did styles. According to the judges sheet I was to rate each performer on Originality/Creativity, Performance, and Songwriting. For 12 of the 18 contestants one aspect of their performance almost nullified any chance they had at demonstrating their genius in the other two categories; they mumbled.
I KNOW I’m an old choir director and prone to fuss about Proper Diction as if it were sacred creed, but the first time anybody hears your original song they need to hear the lyrics to understand it in all it’s original wonderfulness. If you want you could pass out a lyric sheet with poetic analysis but that kind of defeats the purpose of performing it in the first place (unless you do some kind of cool multimedia show with pop-up books, chocolate truffles and a fog machine, but I digress). If you write a song exposing the secret of the universe making use of poignantly clever but accessible poetic imagery backed by the tastiest most appropriate riffs and chord patterns but don’t actually SAY the words, at the end the audience goes “pretty, but what was it about?” Beauty and Truth cannot overcome a lack of communication caused by bad diction.
I’m well aware that there are Big Artists with huge hits in which the lyrics are easily misunderstood, or downright unintelligible. Heck, Louie Louie is one of my all time favs, and just try to transcribe those lyrics! Apples and oranges; we’re not talking recordings for repeated play but rather about YOU connecting with a crowd of people in a meaningful fashion. Under those circumstances you have to give it to them in the first try; sincerely, with feeling and intelligible lyrics!
It starts with the consonants; are you making them all? Dropped consonants at the end of phrases are the hallmark of an amateur singer. Record yourself singing your song. Listen to it while following the lyric sheet with a pen. Mark every consonant you can’t hear distinctly. Rerecord and OVER enunciate, really work your lips, teeth and tongue. Make it sound stupid clear with no regard for style. Listen and see what you missed. Repeat. Once you’ve got them all, back off the harsh consonants until your singing style comes through but your words are understandable.
Every performance might be the first time some one hears your song. Don’t blow the chance to impress them maybe even (dare I say it?) MOVE them emotionally by being too lazy to move your mouth. Pronounce the words!
“How will I know when I’m Ready?” One of my guitar class sophomores asked. The guest was Nick Stump of the Metropolitan Blues Allstars, one of the best Blues guitar players I’ve ever seen in person and I’ve been to more than a few concerts. The question seemed to puzzle him at first.
“Ready? Ready for what?”
“Ready to play out in public.”
“Oh good lord, son, if I waited until I was ready I’d still be in my kitchen!”
The truth is we’re all still improving, always striving to be better. Nobody ever reaches a lofty pinnacle where there is nothing else to learn. But at what point is it good enough to let other people hear?
The concept of performance is an odd social construct to begin with. One person gets “on stage”, that is separates themselves from the rest of the crowd while the rest of the crowd sits and watches. How we select the person is sort of a mass cultural decision. Most people assume that if a person is on stage that they’ve gone through some sort of screening process conducted by authorities who are Knowledgable, but it ain’t necessarily so. Mostly it’s a decision on the part of the performer. Some stages are harder to get on than others, but few actually shanghai performers, so that’s the key; deciding you want to perform. Choosing the venue is important too. The Carnegie Hall is probably a bad place to start even if you do have connections. If nothing else, the next gig will be a sharp step down. Avoid places you know to be overly critical. Even away from the internet, some people love to hate! There are plenty of friendly stages. Go see some shows and watch how the crowd reacts to the occasional bad performance.
When you decide to play a venue for the first time, you want to be prepared of course. Make sure you can get through your piece without stopping. Timing is far more crucial than intonation. While it is often acceptable to only get recognizably close to the notes, changing tempo and skipping beats will put the most forgiving audience on edge.
What else can you put into your first performance? You can easily be entertaining without being a virtuoso. Is there a funny story that introduces your song? Can you wear clothing that is attractive/colorful/goes with your act? Can you relate emotionally to your song in a way that will cause the audience to feel it? Do the best you can to engage the audience and you will have done your job. There is more to fear from succeeding in your first attempt than failing; performing in front of a crowd can be addicting!
Want to learn a sure hit for your first performance? Try Re: Your Brains
I have a horrible time with lyrics. I practice, write or type the words, rehearse with the band, listen while I’m driving, sing a cappella when I’m driving (used to have a bumper sticker that said “Caution, Driver Singing”) and STILL find myself standing onstage struggling with the second verse of Brown Eyed Girl. I cut myself two little chunks of slack that will apply to most working musicians, especially the pros.
First, I’ve been performing and teaching choir for over 30 years; how many songs have been in my head? How many have I memorized, performed, then shuffled aside to make way for the next set? Probably almost as many as Bob Dylan has written, and I have it on good authority that Mr. Dylan tours with a copy of all three bound volumes of his PUBLISHED works.
Second, I was at the Bluebird Cafe in Nashville for several of their “in the round” shows featuring professional songwriters. Forgive me for not remembering every performer (this IS a blog about memory probs) but Ray Stevens was in one of them to give you an idea that these were not amateur nights. Each night somebody had trouble remembering lyrics to a song they had written OR they had the words in front of them. OK, not Mr. Stevens, but we were all singing along on his.
We’re humans, not computers. These professional song writers work 8 or more hours a day to make up new songs. By necessity their minds NEED to be a little loose. Those of us still out here in the fields need to not only work at creativity every day but do most of our own support work too; schedule and contacts and promotion not to mention the dreaded Day Job that uses some of those precious ganglia as well.
With these two points in mind, isn’t it silly NOT to use the occasional memory helper? Note book, laptop, big-screen TV, poster-board held by fans, I say do what you have to the get the show on. I heard recently about a local cover band that used a laptop for a teleprompter. My only question is what software were they using? That would be MUCH better than my raft of notebooks!
How do you help your memory when performing? Leave suggestions in the comment box below!
Friday night Caribbean Blues played at Harvey’s downtown. We played “I’m a Believer” by the Monkees because it went so well at the last gig when we faked it by request. At the end of our show, 1:05 am, a couple who had just arrived tipped us $40 if we would play “that song where she winds up her bottom and goes like a rocket”. Drunk as they were, they were also amiable and generous so we put our heads together and managed a passable rendition of Jump In the Line by Harry Belafonte. Why that isn’t in our regular repertoire was a mystery to every one. It is now. On the well rehearsed side, we finally got a good video of Collin playing Freebird on the pan! See it at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=h8eCmZaTaxE
Saturday night at The Waterfront, I’m nursing what’s left of my voice as Caribbean Blues pulls off requests of Sunspot Baby, Everybody Loves to Cha Cha Cha and Some Kind of Wonderful, none of which we played before that evening. That last one took some vocal technique; which I was watching all night because I didn’t Friday night (more about that later).
It’s great to play with skilled musicians who are capable of trying a song they might have last heard years ago. Sure we don’t play them perfectly, but a solid drum beat, sincere vocals (on the chorus and half verse that I know) and good cooperative playing by all band members can sell a song and keep the crowd happy. Playing well rehearsed music is always satisfying, but there’s something special about taking a chance and pulling a crowd pleaser out of thin air.