Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Advice for underground bands.

I've been in and out of bands ever since I was 16 years old, and I've played some really incredible shows along with some really shitty ones. Over the years, I've seen a lot of audiences and venues. Now a great gig is a combination of many things, you need to have good sound, the crowd has got to be enthusiastic and the band has to be in the right mood. One thing we never have control over is that unnamed factor, I suppose I would have to define it as 'chemistry', where the energy between the band and the crowd is just right, and it makes all the difference between a good show and an incredible show.

With ADP, I can count on one hand the number of 'incredible' shows we've had, out of the 50 odd times we've performed, which either goes to show you how much we suck or how elusive that extra bit of brilliance is to find. And we keep searching for it, because the high you get after an incredible show is one that lasts for days and no other feeling compares to it.

Sure luck is something we all need. but every time I go to an underground show, I see a lot of the newer guys making some very basic mistakes and pissing off the crowd. Here's a couple of tips to underground bands to make sure you put on a great show every time. Some of them sound really basic but these are practices that ADP's adopted almost as policy.

1) Write a setlist.

This might sound like a no-brainer but there are so many bands out there that just have the song list in their head and then forget it when they're on stage. The result is that you have a bunch of dudes on stage scratching their heads to collectively agree on what the next song is. Write out a setlist with a big marker and make individual copies for each band member so that everyone on stage knows whats coming next and launch right into it. This ties in with my next tip...

2) Don't waste time in between songs.
Ugh, this one really gets me. So you've just played a rocking song, the crowd is sweaty and delirious from the sonic pounding they've received. And then the guitarist starts fiddling with his amp/ 15 pedals. The singer starts looking for lyrics sheets for the next song. The drummer starts playing irritating fills because drummers are like that and wont shut up. The bassist takes out his cell phone and checks for messages. End result = you lose the crowd and allow them to focus elsewehere. Now every time you start a new song you have to win them over again.

Concerts for me are like a big ball of energy thats being tossed back and forth between the band and the crowd. Everytime someone catches that ball of energy it grows bigger. But when you waste time, it's like you've dropped the energy ball, and now you have to start again to build it up to where it was.

So all you aspiring guitar heroes out there, keep your guitar effects to a minimum of three pedals that you can handle, know your amp setting stone cold before you go on stage. Singers, stop being pussies and learn the lyrics, no one ever looked cool holding up a sheet of A4 size paper in front of their face(although I have been guilty of doing this myself at acoustic shows) If you forget lyrcs, make something up, it's still better. Drummers, (this is a universal plea) please shut the fuck up when you're not playing a song.

And if you don't love rock'n'roll enough to turn your damn cell phone off when you're on stage you should quit music and kill yourself.

3) Guitarists, always use an amp and mic it wherever possible.

Most sound guys in Pakistan will discourage you from miking your amp. Don't listen to them. They're all choots. A guitar amp will always always always sound better than directly plugging in through a pedal or a amp-simulator. Sound techs in Pakistan just dont know how to handle miking. So ask them to give you a microphone and set it about 6 inches away from the amp speaker cabinet and point the mic at a 45 degree angle to the speaker cone. You'll get a rich, warm tone and you'll be able to hear yourself better on stage.

4) Don't be a choot during the soundcheck.

While sometimes its ok to tell the sound guy that he's full of shit, most of the time, you need to keep him happy. Go up to the sound tech an introduce yourself, and tell him the set-up your band needs so that he's prepared well ahead of time. For sound check, don't yell orders and complain the moment you hear the sound at the mic. It takes time to set the sound and nobody has the time to put up with snotty little kids yelling that their guitar isnt loud enough. Here' s the order in which you sound check.

- Drums. Starting from the bass to snare to toms.
- Bass.
- Keyboards
- Guitars
- Additional Percussion
- Vocals.

Do everything one by one till each member is satisfied with their individual sound and monitors. The for sound check PLAY A COMPLETE SONG. Don't just dick around for a jam. We usually do "Sultanat" or some Beatles song to check all our levels. Play at full energy and volume. And then stop. Ask everyone if they're happy. Whoever isn't, fix their levels individually while the rest of the band shuts up.

5) Don't criticize the crowd.

Look we all know crowds can be shitty, sometimes they can be just boring and apathetic and even downright hostile. You're not going to win them over by shouting "This is the most pathetic crowd I've ever seen"...or taunting them with "What are you guys dead or something?". Remember these people paid to see you, or at least a show. If they're not in the mood, its up to you to get them into it.

6) Don't acknowledge mistakes on stage.

Of course we fuck up. Everyone does. Its going to happen. In ADP, I remember when we first started, our personal philosophy was "Turn it up and play it loud, they won't hear the mistakes", so energy and performance will always come before playing a note perfect show. Heck, Omar Khalid's made it a point to drop the sticks at every show we do, and sometimes i'll jump and land on the wrong foot, and smash the wrong chord. Sometimes Yasirs Darbuka solo will just be completely out of sync with the rest of us. But you suck it up, put on a smile and act like its all part of the show, there's nothing worse than some prima donna singer in the band turning around and glaring at a drummer who missed a beat or a guitarist who started the solo in the wrong key. Some singers like to have a condescending smile for the person who screws up, (theres a singer in a popular cover band here who consistently does this and makes me want to punch his face). The bands a team, and when you're out there, you support each other.

7) Enjoy the show.

This is hardly a tip worth mentioning but in the end, thats what a show should be, pure exhiliration. It's ok to show that you're happy about playing music. I know Nirvana seemed cool when they were pissed off at the world and Radiohead probably never smile on days ending in "y", but its always better to look like you're enjoying it. If you're into it, the crowd will be into it to. I know i get criticized in the press because it looks like I'm faking my enthusiasm but to me its the best feeling in the world, being up there with my band and just rocking out. I cant imagine why people would want to get on stage and stare at their shoes. So go out there and smile, jump around, make eye contact with the audience, sing into each others mics and move your body to the beat.


Blogger KM said...

8. make sure both your feet are ready for you to land after a big jump.

9. make sure you hear the azaan.

I'm kidding. lol.
your shows are fun.

12:43 PM  
Blogger Ahsan said...

Great post. I wish you'd talk about being a musician a lot more on this blog than you actually do.

9:19 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

lol khizzy.

thank you, oba-san. i am going to make a zillion printouts of this and stick them all over anes jaleel.

9:56 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

am a little startled to find that my points for teaching a typogrpahy class and you advice to underground bands have everything in common.

after a particularly good class i feel completely high, but depleted, wrung out, and super buzzy - desperately in need of a major chocolate fix- :)

7:27 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I have to agree with Ahsan. I'd personally love to read what goes inside the head of a musician in Karachi ... and being a part of a 'struggling' rock band.

8:59 AM  
Blogger Tazeen said...

you forgot to mention that new bands should stay away from ill fitting leather pants.

6:31 PM  
Blogger Ahmed said...

good read omer.

12:00 PM  
Blogger Sami said...

10. Never sleep with the same groupie twice. It creates the illusion of a relationship and then other groupies will think you're off limits.

11. Wear rubber slippers while checking the live mic.

12. Sing "Tiny Dancer" when taking long road trips.

13. If your lead guitarist climbs on the roof and starts yelling about being a Golden God, drain the pool. He was a stage-hog anyway.

14. What do you love about music? All of it.

12:33 AM  
Blogger Farooq said...

Hail Satan!

11:47 AM  
Blogger for every reaction.... said...

in the end, it doesnt really matter! cos the most important hing is to play good music...Omar saab how was Lahore?

4:28 PM  
Blogger khiju said...

Celebrity bloggers. Cyber space communication. Globalization. Abridged distances. Pronto service. Reflex actions. Ahmed sneezes in Birmingham and Alia gets news in Calcutta - before he actually sneezes.

The novelty of "I met the band back stage" when two startled eyes narrate an encounter to a bunch of similarly mesmerised fans, has been robbed of its magic.

Dear celebrities,

Banish yourselves to your hermit holes. Distance yourselves from the maddening crowd. Develop your music in sanitized environments. Do all this and people will swarm to listen to your creations.

We all rise from amidst each other, of course. But we're not supposed to whisper that, let alone say it out loud. Tomorrow, when you surface out from your hermit hole, and become global celebrity from small town star, compile your diary and publish it. That is the path to monetary success at least.

However, if you're another sufi sort, who denies individulity and has abandoned himself to the whims of spirituality, then continue, please.

6:52 PM  
Blogger Unknown said...

great post .. very helpful

3:42 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

so whose the annoying singer for the the popular cover band?

8:27 PM  

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