The pandemic froze many indie artists’ live concert careers. If you’re ready to start playing for in-person audiences again, the right preparation can set you up for success.
If you had to cancel tour dates, residencies, jam sessions, or house concerts due to COVID-19, you’re far from alone. Countless artists put their live performance careers in deep freeze when the pandemic started. And though the crisis continues to evolve around the world, many musicians are working hard to share their music again, live and in-person.
Coming back to the stage after over a year of forced hiatus can be no small feat. Here are some tips to help you get back to performing live and to creating safe, fun, and powerful shows that will make you proud.
Be up front about your risk assessment
One thing that’s made the pandemic so challenging is that risk and safety can mean vastly different things to different people.
One indie artist may be immunocompromised, live with elderly relatives or young kids, and regularly gig in an area where vaccinations are low and infection rates are high. Another indie artist could be fully healthy, fully vaccinated, and living in an area where vaccinations are through the roof and case numbers are negligible.
Chances are, these two artists are going to plan very different concerts when they first come back to performing live.
As you map out how to get back in front of a live audience, keep in mind your personal situation, the amount of risk you’re willing and able to take on, and what sorts of situations (if any) simply will not feel safe to you. The clearer your thinking is on all of this, the better positioned you’ll be to plan a performance that will keep you feeling comfortable and showcase your music at its best.
Plan your concert with your comfort in mind
As per the above, regardless of how much caution you feel is appropriate, bake those standards into the show you plan. If you only feel okay playing outdoors with the audience at least ten feet away from you, look for an open-spaced venue that will accommodate that sort of setup. If you’re fine playing indoors but want all of your audience members to be vaccinated and/or masked, have those criteria up front when you begin discussing with venues. Whatever your ideas about pandemic safety are, keep them in mind and plan your show accordingly.
Whatever level of safety you and your venue agree on, make sure to communicate expectations to your fans far ahead of time. If audience members will need to show up with masks and proof of vaccination, let them know. Similarly, if the show will be full to capacity, with no masking or vaccination protocols at all, it’s important for potential audience members to know that as well. Clear and comprehensive safety information will help your fans make the right choices for their own enjoyment and health.
Start slow and ramp up
Getting up in front of a crowd and playing music can be a lot of stimulation, and if you’ve been spending much of your time away from big crowds during the pandemic, suddenly getting on stage could feel intimidating. If you feel you need it, do what you can to re-familiarize yourself with performing as you work towards your show. Starting in low-key settings can help. Whether you’re playing a few songs for trusted friends and family members or setting up in a park to jam for passers-by, any time spent performing live for even a few people will help you when you find yourself in larger settings.
Similarly, take time to ramp up your practice regimen so you’re in solid physical shape when it comes time to perform. Going from no gigs for over a year to suddenly gigging again can set you up for injury if you’re not mindful of your limits — so pace yourself as you rebuild any chops you may have temporarily “misplaced” during lockdown.
Get to know your bandmates again
If you haven’t gigged in over a year, try to have a few solid rehearsals before the big day so you can reconnect with your bandmates. You and your collaborators have all evolved (or perhaps devolved), personally and musically, since you last played together in concert. Give yourself the space to reacclimatize to each others’ vibes and styles and to rediscover how to lock in together in a live setting.
Quality-check your gear
Your equipment may have worked perfectly at your last gig before the pandemic, but a year-and-a-half is a long time. Especially if a piece of gear sat unused for even part of that hiatus, double check every cable, connection, knob, dial, key, plug, and power supply for solid functionality. You don’t want to encounter malfunctions and technical difficulties once you step on stage.
Trust your gut and be patient with yourself
Just as people’s experiences of the pandemic can vary hugely, so can indie artists’ journeys back to the stage. Some musicians may feel pure exhilaration when getting back to performing live, while others may feel somewhat terrified. Some may slip right back into the groove, while others may take weeks, months, or longer to lock back in musically. Give yourself whatever space and time you need to be comfortable. As long as you’re taking steps towards performing in a safe and positive way, keep going.
Michael Gallant is a musician, writer, and entrepreneur living in New York City. His debut album for the Steinway & Sons label, Rock Rewind, features solo piano reinventions of Pearl Jam, U2, Halestorm, Janis Joplin, Bob Dylan, Radiohead, and more. Read his recent article for the National Endowment for the Arts and follow Michael on Twitter at @Michael_Gallant and Facebook.com/GallantMusic.
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