Seven Ways to Make Your Gig a Success

There has been an incredible run of really great gigs lately, and a few that only held my attention long enough to finish the plastic up of beer in my hand and muscle my way out of there. Obviously each act was interesting enough to get me through the door. So what happened between that promising first impression and the awkward second date?

Today I stumbled across 7 Ways To Make Money Singing Christmas Carols. It’s not too far removed from what makes a great gig. Here’s my reinterpretation:

  1. Dress up
    Common sense warning… first impressions count. If your brand’s first impression was a record release, complete with artwork worthy of a gallery wall, don’t ruin it because Mum refused to do your washing or you couldn’t afford an airfare for your stylist. It doesn’t have to be flashy – continuity and authenticity are key. If dressing yourself really is an unmanagable daily battle, plan to dress the stage: as simple as interesting lighting or as involved as custom made sets and props. The Grates do it very well.
  2. Don’t knock on doors
    Don’t over-commit on venue size. Tour Managers and Publicists aren’t fooling anyone when they call all local media two weeks from the show sweating down the phoneline like someone with a gambling problem, pushing 2-4-1 ticket offers.
  3. Pick your space
    Suss out the venue before you book it. I don’t want to get all shanty on you, but pick a space that has a vibe and a clear view of your performance for the audience. Elementary right? So boycott any venues that have more concrete pillars than walls.
  4. Don’t lie
    Publish set times, get organised and stick to the runsheet. It’s all about momentum. Thirty minutes between the appetiser and the main-meal should be plenty of time for everyone involved.
  5. Engage with hecklers
    Let’s assume the hecklers stayed home though. Engage with your audience! Reward the audience for turning up with short anecdotes between songs or (if you’re not much of a storyteller) some personal insights. CW Stoneking told friends at his recent Metro Theatre show in Sydney, to listen out for the large “chord solo” gap in the song he was about to play. It was intended for a harmonica solo, but written before he had secured a suitable harmonicist. At the arrival of said chord solo, a blusey, heart-bending harmonica rose out of the standing-room about halfway back. Gradually people craned around to discover the young, unassuming lad, head bowed and hands cupped over the silver comb on this chest. When the verse kicked in, the entire audience erupted in appreciation. It’s extra special and unexpected moments like this that make a performance memorable – a unique experience for those lucky enough to be in the room for the hour you’re on stage. It’s social currency for fans and you can guarantee they’ll tell their friends.
  6. Choose your material
    Remember one thing. It’s not about you. Give people what they want to hear. There’ll always be opportunity to indulge in your new, under-appreciated 10-minute epic. Bloc Party did it perfectly. They kicked-off their set with a few favourites that immediately lifted the crowd and had everyone singing along. This energy carried through the entire set and made the new material more pallatable. The theory fits in with research discussed in a great book called Made To Stick, that explains what makes people respond positively to new ideas.
  7. Enjoy yourself
    We all understand long tours are tiring. But when you’re on stage, you’re at work. Leave your baggage and bad mood side-stage. That’s right, you will enjoy yourself! Be professional about it or 500 people are going to take your bad mood home with them – and you can guarantee they’ll bitch about it with their friends.
  • http://www.adspace-pioneers.blogspot.com/ Julian Cole

    Wow, that harmonica sounds like it would of been awesome to see. I really like the book Made to Stick, it is a great read and I had totally forgot about it. Might have to dig it out.

    Really great set of rules!

  • http://www.adspace-pioneers.blogspot.com Julian Cole

    Wow, that harmonica sounds like it would of been awesome to see. I really like the book Made to Stick, it is a great read and I had totally forgot about it. Might have to dig it out.

    Really great set of rules!

  • http://pitythecool.com Andy

    Thanks for your comment Jules. The harmonica gave me tingles down my spine. Amazing.

    I’d be interested to hear from anyone else who has strong feelings on the rules, or more to add.

  • http://www.pitythecool.com Andy

    Thanks for your comment Jules. The harmonica gave me tingles down my spine. Amazing.

    I’d be interested to hear from anyone else who has strong feelings on the rules, or more to add.

  • http://piccoloniccolo.blogspot.com/ Nicole

    “Engage with hecklers” – YES!

    Love your new blog Andy, woohooo

  • http://piccoloniccolo.blogspot.com Nicole

    “Engage with hecklers” – YES!

    Love your new blog Andy, woohooo

  • http://sportshydrant.com/ Scott

    This is a great list Andy. The harmonica moment sounded fantastic and reminds me of Seth Godin’s Purple Cow concept.

    It’s a remarkable moment in the otherwise relatively formulaic ritual that can be a gig. It is a surprise (something out of the ordinary – Chris Brogan had a great post on this recently – http://www.chrisbrogan.com/why-jason-falls-rules/) and who doesn’t like surprises, right?

    When I saw the Prodigy at the Battersea Powers Station in London (22/12/1997), Keith Flint appeared towards the back of the crowd after being off-stage for one number and proceeded to wreak havoc around the mixing desk area.

    I was a couple of feet from him and he shot me the finger along with a trademark psychotic snarl/stare. But why was I hanging out at the sparsely populated back of the crowd during an insane Prodigy gig?

    Well, my friend Simon had seen the guys earlier in the tour and knew that at the particular point in the show, Keith would exit off-stage and appear one song later at the mixing desk.

    The Purple Cow moment was, for those in the know, actually not very surprising at all. It was still cool, but no longer truly surprising.

    So I guess my question to everyone is this: do bands need to think ahead and plan more and more Purple Cow/remarkable moments in an age of rampant information sharing through music blogs etc?

    Or is it OK to repeat the same ‘remarkable surprise’ at every gig in a tour?

  • http://sportshydrant.com Scott

    This is a great list Andy. The harmonica moment sounded fantastic and reminds me of Seth Godin’s Purple Cow concept.

    It’s a remarkable moment in the otherwise relatively formulaic ritual that can be a gig. It is a surprise (something out of the ordinary – Chris Brogan had a great post on this recently – http://www.chrisbrogan.com/why-jason-falls-rules/) and who doesn’t like surprises, right?

    When I saw the Prodigy at the Battersea Powers Station in London (22/12/1997), Keith Flint appeared towards the back of the crowd after being off-stage for one number and proceeded to wreak havoc around the mixing desk area.

    I was a couple of feet from him and he shot me the finger along with a trademark psychotic snarl/stare. But why was I hanging out at the sparsely populated back of the crowd during an insane Prodigy gig?

    Well, my friend Simon had seen the guys earlier in the tour and knew that at the particular point in the show, Keith would exit off-stage and appear one song later at the mixing desk.

    The Purple Cow moment was, for those in the know, actually not very surprising at all. It was still cool, but no longer truly surprising.

    So I guess my question to everyone is this: do bands need to think ahead and plan more and more Purple Cow/remarkable moments in an age of rampant information sharing through music blogs etc?

    Or is it OK to repeat the same ‘remarkable surprise’ at every gig in a tour?

  • http://pitythecool.com Andy

    Thanks for such a thoughtful comment Scott. Apologies for dropping the ball on a great conversation starter. Here are my thoughts.

    I think the type of stunt that Prodigy were replicating in the UK shows that you referred to is, in most instances, ‘enough’. But I think two factors help answer your question in more detail:

    1. Audience expectations — are you playing to an audience that appreciate a predictable performance without deviation from the studio sound/radio edit? Or is your audience expecting embellishment/improvisation/personality injected into the live performance at the risk of sacrificing vocal quality and accuracy alongside the studio recording. Obviously if the majority of your audience identify with the latter set of needs, you will be less likely to get away with ‘scripted’ spontaneity like the Prodigy example.

    2. Artist experience — while I believe that there is always an opportunity to do something remarkable and unexpected in a live performance, it’s also dependent on the expertise of the artist in question. As technical masters of their instruments and stage presence (growing stronger with experience) there should be great opportunity for unscripted spontaneity.

    Does anyone else think the suggested linear relationship between experience and spontaneity (above) becomes hyperbolic as factors such as enhanced security, larger venues and the expectations of corporate stakeholders like labels and sponsors come into play?

  • http://www.pitythecool.com Andy

    Thanks for such a thoughtful comment Scott. Apologies for dropping the ball on a great conversation starter. Here are my thoughts.

    I think the type of stunt that Prodigy were replicating in the UK shows that you referred to is, in most instances, ‘enough’. But I think two factors help answer your question in more detail:

    1. Audience expectations — are you playing to an audience that appreciate a predictable performance without deviation from the studio sound/radio edit? Or is your audience expecting embellishment/improvisation/personality injected into the live performance at the risk of sacrificing vocal quality and accuracy alongside the studio recording. Obviously if the majority of your audience identify with the latter set of needs, you will be less likely to get away with ‘scripted’ spontaneity like the Prodigy example.

    2. Artist experience — while I believe that there is always an opportunity to do something remarkable and unexpected in a live performance, it’s also dependent on the expertise of the artist in question. As technical masters of their instruments and stage presence (growing stronger with experience) there should be great opportunity for unscripted spontaneity.

    Does anyone else think the suggested linear relationship between experience and spontaneity (above) becomes hyperbolic as factors such as enhanced security, larger venues and the expectations of corporate stakeholders like labels and sponsors come into play?