BEING PREPARED FOR NASHVILLE STYLE
WRITERS NIGHTS,OPEN MICS, AND AUDITIONS By MAB
In the current era of music, one of the most common events for performer and writer wanna be’s are OPEN STAGES, OPEN MICS, SONGWRITER’S NIGHTS OR SHOWCASES, as well as the dreaded AUDITION process, for everything from reality shows, contests, and the first and continuous steps of a performing music career. And you get ONE CHANCE TO MAKE A BAD FIRST IMPRESSION. So best to prepare. Just like a sports team getting ready to go out on the field, PRACTICE, PRACTICE, PRACTICE MAKES PERFECT.
#1. KNOW YOUR MATERIAL.
Practicing everything from your vocals, instrumentals, even your comments before, during and AFTER a performance is important. LEARN YOUR SONGS. While you can use lyric sheets in some instances, like new songs, you should be able to do your songs, have passion and feel. Lyric sheets take away from that. But if you must use a music stand, angle it down so it has the least amount of blockage from the audience point of view. Think about your lines, what you are saying. Live it.
#2. THREE TIMES A CHARM.
Going through songs THREE times, one with the lyrics close, then one with them a little farther from you, then one without the lyric sheets, will help you MENTALLY MEMORIZE the lyrics. Do it repeatedly three times and new song, rinse, lather, repeat.
#3. PLAY WITH DYNAMICS.
If you are a guitar player, vary your strum. Come down a bit volume wise in the verses, play a little louder in the choruses. Playing with a PICK helps with the percussive effect of a drum and the rhythm allows people to nod along. Keyboard players can “BLOCK” chords, and drive with the left (bass hand) on rhythm. Keeping the arpeggios to a minimum helps in this respect.
#4. WATCH THE “B” WORD.
BALLADS are the most common songs done. They are slower, often laborious, and when you have 80% slow songs, it can make a night A DRUDGERY. They are easier to play and more emotional. Which is fine, until there are sixty- five of them before you play. Then they start running together. So having a BIT OF TEMPO, particularly in your choruses, (POWER BALLADS) help drive even a slow song along. Again, playing with PASSION is essential. ONE ballad for EVERY THREE SONGS.
#5. BE ON TIME, IN TUNE, AND IN FOCUS
We have had a big problem in the past few years of people showing up five minutes before they play, play their songs, and leave. This is rude and self-defeating. WE are a community and if you want others to support YOU, you BETTER SUPPORT THEM. Getting to a show thirty minutes to an hour ahead of time and staying thirty minutes to an hour after is most desired. Getting to know your fellow performers and hearing what THEY do, is a way to make allies, co-writers, friends of life. And you are going to need ALL YOU CAN GET!
They make TUNERS VERY AFFORDABLE. Or borrow one. Be in tune BEFORE you go onstage. Very little as someone who eats up time, by doing the Chinese song “TUNE ING” There are approximately 25-30 writers PER event now. Sometimes over 60. Those are all people wanting to be HEARD. The longer each person takes, the less time, less audience there are.
#6. DON’T MAKE SPEECHES.
Until you are KNOWN, NO ONE really cares about how you wrote your song about your Mother’s Hamster from Nebraska. (no offense to Hamsters). You should say who you are, where you are from, set your song up. But KEEP it limited. LET YOUR MUSIC DO YOUR TALKING. DON’T BORE US, GET TO THE CHORUS!! The more you talk, the more your AUDIENCE will talk.
People have around an 8 second attention span, so if you want them to tune you out, just talk away. Your entire presentation per song should be no more than 5-6 minutes. If you can’t get it in that time, you need an editor!
#7. GET OFF THE STAGE.
If you are a keyboard player, having some people to give you a hand getting off the stage helps in a show. Guitar players, don’t bring too many extraneous things with you. You don’t need amps, pedals, bells and whistles for writers show. Keep it simple.
#8. BRING SOME PEOPLE.
The way these places stay in business is MONEY. You need to bring 1-4 people with you to support you and others. To eat and drink. To support the craft and the people who SUPPORT YOU. If you can’t mobilize a few people to come out with you, how do you think you are going to do with publishers, record deals or getting rebooked? The days of “everyone will come” went away when we got 30 million writers and artists out there and 1 BILLION songs a month on the Internet.
#9. WATCH YOUR SUBJECT MATTER.
Far from anyone wanting to tell anyone what or how to write. Taking on “issue oriented” or “challenging subject matter” can be a tough sell. People tend not to want to be preached or vented at in a bar. As politically divided as this country is, you are taking a real chance on alienating half your audience right off the bat. And the “practical effect is usually you will find people who have the same idea or song, trying to get YOU to listen to theirs, or take THEIR cd. Or to start a fight. All depends on how you want to approach a career. You have a right to say whatever you want. But NO RIGHT TO BE HEARD! The more confrontational, the more people tend to tune out. There is a time and place for that, but your first time out or trying to build your own network, might not be that time. Doesn’t mean everyone has to be SWEET, UP TEMPO AND POSITIVE. But when you hear a constant stream of “ACSS” (Angry Chick Singer Syndrome) “DDSS” (Depressed Dude Singer Syndrome) “MY ISSUE’S BIGGER THAN YOUR ISSUE”, you have a tendency to use those songs as a time to go to the bathroom, check your emails, take phone calls or leave.
#10. BE POLITE
Don Schlitz once told me “You hear the word POLITICS all the time in this business. But there is another word with the same root. POLITE. If you will just be polite you will get where you need to go. TREAT OTHERS AS YOU WANT TO BE TREATED. Common sense.
The most important thing to remember is to think about HOW YOUR AUDIENCE VIEWS YOU. Practice with a camera phone sometimes and videotape your performance. Watch YOU TUBE for other people’s performances and see how they do well and not so well. Keep your audience in mind. What THEY would like to hear. What THEY would like to see.
“Good luck and try not to suck!”- MAB
Marc-Alan Barnette, or MAB, is a “FORCE OF NATURE” when it comes to a singer/songwriter/teacher/mentor. Songs recorded by GRAMMY WINNER SHELBY LYNNE, country stars DAVID BALL,JOHN BERRY and FRANKIE BALLARD. His mentoring skills have helped the careers of WARNER BROTHERS RECORDING ARTIST FRANKIE BALLARD, “THE VOICE” finalist MEGAN LINSEY and “AMERICA’S GOT TALENT ALICIA MICHILLI.” He hosts his “Songwriter and artist tours of Nashville does workshops, seminars and shows for Nashville Songwriters Association International and many others, is involved with MUSIC STARTS HERE and INDIE CONNECT, a regular performer on THE FRANK BROWN SONGWRITERS FESTIVAL, SMOKEY MOUNTAIN SONGWRITERS FESTIVAL AND MISSISSIPPI SONGWRITERS FESTIVAL AND OTHERS.
As one industry person, has said, “IT IS NOT NECESSARY TO KNOW EVEYRONE IN NASHVILLE. It is only necessary to know ONE PERSON WHO KNOWS EVERYONE IN NASHVILLE. That person is MARC-ALAN BARNETTE.”