We get some band practice tips from Tom Jackson as he discusses striking the right balance between being under-rehearsed and over-rehearsed with DM Blog’s Andre Calilhanna.
A lot of what we’ve posted from you deals with a big crowd and a larger venue, working a room and working the stage. I’m curious how you would recommend an artist transition and be effective in band rehearsals in a small space when he or she needs to translate it to a large space for a show.
It begins with understanding the concepts. It’s like a football team that has gone up to New York to practice before a playoff game and there’s five feet of snow on the ground, so they can’t go outdoors. They’ve got to go indoors, they don’t have a big field, they can’t do all the drills, but if they understand what they’re trying to accomplish and understand the concepts, adjustments can be made. Same thing with band rehearsal. The plan is in the person’s head.
So for example: you’re a guitar player, you’re going on to a big stage, you’ve got 45 minutes, and you’ve got five solos during the set. You’ve got to conceptually understand that your solos don’t sound the same, so they shouldn’t look the same or be done from the exact same spot on stage every time. So you talk through… “during this solo I’m going to run over to this side of the stage, even though I can’t do it now.” You mentally make a note to make that adjustment.
One of the bands I was in, we used to open for some major acts, in some small stages, which was the irony. Because we would play some pretty big spaces on our own, in secondary markets, but when we were given a small stage, I fought for every inch onstage and I scaled it. Where I might have had to run to one side of the stage, I now took a step to that side. I was achieving the same thing, changing the pressure on the audience, making the song look a little different, communicating with people on that side of the stage, and I made that adjustment because I understood the concepts. I didn’t have to think through it, we had been doing it so long, I knew what I was doing. If you’re just learning to do this, you have to talk through it and walk through it.
You talk about finding the moment, and working for hours on one song, deconstructing it, finding the places you can develop and expand. How do you avoid turning a spontaneous moment into something that’s pre-meditated, completely architected? How do you avoid this turning into a routine or just acting out the part?
When people come to me for band practice tips, one of the questions I get asked a lot is, “What’s too much rehearsal? We want to keep it spontaneous.” Well, spontaneous is one thing, and winging it is another. And most people wing it. They might do something special onstage, but it doesn’t make the difference it could, it doesn’t have the impact in most cases, because you as the front man might do one thing, but if the players onstage don’t support it, react the right way and do the right things, it doesn’t have the full impact. Its like the wide receiver changes his route but the quarterback doesn’t react and the play fails. It was a brilliant move, it was spontaneous, but it needs to happen together as a team.
Let’s say you’re on stage and there is a moment in the night, something special happens, whether it’s verbal or physical or musical. It happens, it’s magic, and it’s the third show of a 20-day tour. The next night, when you go out, are you going to try that again? 99% of the time the answer is yes. And why? Because it worked. So where did the spontaneity come in the second time? It didn’t. But it was spontaneous to start with. The second time, it’s calculated. And I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that.
Now there will be places in the set and the songs where there will be form. There’s a verse here, there’s a chorus here, this makes sense. We’re setting up for the spontaneous parts. Yes, you can do something over and over so many times that you suck the life out of it. Sometimes, that’s when arranging something a little differently, changing it around a bit, challenging yourself a little, makes it fresh again.
So maybe the question is, when are you over-rehearsed?
The most canned shows are one of two things: 1) they’re over-rehearsed, or 2) they’re under-rehearsed. Now that may seem weird, but it’s true. Over-rehearsed, we’re getting into Disney stuff, usually with a young artist. They don’t have an identity, they’re just doing what people tell them to do, they want to be famous or be in show business or whatever. And then somebody rehearses them over and over and over again and it’s so obvious that it’s canned, and it has to be, because they’re not artists yet. So that’s the thing we hold up and say “Well, I don’t want to do that!” So we throw the baby out with the bathwater, we go completely to the opposite end and we become “spontaneous,” which in this case means we’re making it up as we go.
Well, when you’re making it up as you go onstage, instead of in rehearsal, you’ll never be great, consistently. There may be a great night because you’re talented and the planets align. But how many times have you gone out and had one of those magical nights, and then you go out the next night, and you try to capture that again, and it doesn’t happen. And you don’t know why.
So what happens then is, you rehearse it a little bit, until you’re like, “Oh, ok, I got it…” You design a show, but it’s not rehearsed enough, and then you watch that band onstage and they’re thinking about what they’re supposed to be doing because they learned it in rehearsal, but they don’t own it yet. It looks canned because it’s not rehearsed enough, they’re thinking about it, and they’re not in the flow.
So you’ve got to find that place in the middle, where you’ve rehearsed it enough, but it’s fresh onstage. And fresh in rehearsal and fresh onstage is not the same thing. Fresh in band rehearsal is like “Yeah, OK, I got it.” But you walk onstage, and 95% of the time people drop back to their old habits. Because adrenalin is flowing, it’s a different atmosphere than rehearsal, the stakes are higher. So that’s why you need to rehearse more than you think you need to, so when you’re doing it for the first time on stage, you don’t have to think about the part, and it is fresh.
Tom Jackson is a world renowned live music producer, author of the book Tom Jackson’s Live Music Method and the All Roads Lead to the Stage DVD series, and master at transforming an artist’s live show into a magical experience for the audience. Tom has worked with hundreds of artists in every genre, including major artists like Taylor Swift, The Band Perry, Jars of Clay, and more. He also shares his expertise as a speaker at colleges, conferences, and events worldwide. For more information, go to www.onstagesuccess.com.
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