Who among us hasn’t dreamed of starting a band and rocking on a stage in front of hundreds of amped up friends? Starting a band and playing a great gig isn’t only for musical geniuses – it’s for anyone who wants to have a blast, show others a great time, and best yet – you don’t have to be a flawless musician.
The first thing to understand about starting and playing in a band is that playing a gig isn’t a concert – it’s a SHOW. What’s the difference? A concert is musical and focused on what you hear. But a show? Ah, a show is visual, and for entertaining! Audiences will relate to a show much more than just a concert (look at Lady Gaga!). So put aside the musician in you for a second and bring forth the showman!
Now I’m not knocking music by any means – if you’re an accomplished musician, you probably already have a following. These tips are for all the other guys out there, who can lay down some basic power chords and rock out some simple beats, and just want to start a band and rock out to an audience.
Now on to the tips. What’s the best way to put on a great show with your band? Wait for it… Pop-Punk Covers. Ok, let’s let the booing and tomato throwing die down for a second, and let me explain. I don’t mean go out and cover Sex Pistols songs, no no. A Pop-Punk Cover is just a cover of a popular song, played in an up-tempo, fun, beat. You can cover almost anything, from punk rock songs (duh), to top 40, to R&B and children’s songs if that’s your audience!
Here’s some specific tips on how to pull this off:
Play Popular Covers – This can’t be stressed enough! Next time you go to a concert, pay close attention to when the crowd screams the loudest. Is it when they play something obscure off the latest album? No, the crowd goes ballistic when they hear the band’s most popular songs (yes, even if they are overplayed on the radio)! If the fans know your song, they will be ten times more engaged. You may be thinking “no duh”, but lots of bands pick songs they like, not necessarily songs their _fans_ like. So be careful here – don’t cover classic rock if you’re playing in a high school band. Make sure you cover songs your specific audience knows.
Speed up the Beat – Uptempo songs get people up and jumping. Something in the 150-180 beat per minute range is just about right (Blink 182’s All the Small Things, for example, is right around 150 – although in a live version, I recommend speeding it up). If the original song is slow, speed it up – often this really gets audience going because they haven’t heard a sped up version before. Keep in mind that if it’s too fast, your audience will have a hard time following the beat (try dancing to a really fast punk song!!), too slow and your audience may disengage.
Make it Visual – Practice specific visual moves before you go on stage. If you’re a good dancer, set some time for a dance solo – the audience will love it. Another common visual technique is to end a song on a timed jump – everyone jumps on the final note (jump timing is usually led by the lead singer). One final easy idea is to have the entire band do something, in sync, to the beat (the stupider and funnier the better!). This can be as easy as jumping in place and turning in a circle – but be sure you’re synchronized!! Remember, visual is the key so it’s gotta be synchronized. Practice all these moves during band rehearsal, and make sure to agree on exactly when to do them. I definitely recommend easy moves, because you’ll have so many other things on your mind during a gig – I learned this one the hard way!
Simplify the Transcription – Finally, if you’re not an accomplished musician, don’t fret (is that a pun?). As many of you may know, many if not most popular songs today are based on very similar chord progressions – often a standard blues progression. Produced songs on an album have all kinds of complex harmonies and picking rhythms, but 90% of popular songs can be simplified to easy power chords, and still very much sound like the original (especially once vocals are added). As an easy example, Green Day’s popular “Time of Your Life” is picked with many notes in the intro, but the entire song can easily be played with just 4 power chords. The same applies to drum beats – as much as I hate to say it, the audience is only looking for the drummer to keep the beat. So feel free to simplify beats completely, and for most songs the audience won’t likely notice.
Starting and playing in a band is a ton of fun, and these tips should get you started to rockin! Granted, this isn’t for the virtuoso superstar musicians who write amazing originals – they don’t need to read no stinkin’ articles to start a band anyway. But if you’re one of the 90% of “just pretty good” musicians out there who want to start a band, be on stage, and rock out with your friends and fans, these tips should really bring the house down!