MemberMay 4, 2018 at 7:04 am
Updating for April/May
I’m back for an update. I did not do an open mic in April because the primary focus was hardening up a 15 song setlist to play at my yoga studio’s annual retreat.
Week of April 20th Performance: Two 7 song setlists at Yoga Retreat
Because I was the only one playing, I gave more weight to quantity than quality in preparing the setlist. With open mic, you have a song window to wow the audience with, but with an extended setlist you can more naturally build up to those high points. I reused about half of last year’s classic rock centric setlist and balanced it out with more pop elements to try and include things that more people would like (Billy Joel, Outkast, Elton John, etc.).
In practicing the set, I avoided the focused practice routine using a metronome, voice recorder and centering and just repeatedly drilled the songs in the ascending and descending order of the setlist. In this case, the focused practice routine would not be practicable because of the amount of material I had to have down for the set.
The Bulletproof musician course notes how varying levels of perceived pressure result in varying levels of activation anxiety. In this case, it turned out to be very low. Compared to last year, there were not as many people on the retreat, I had more performance experience under my belt, and I had a better command of the material. I was even able to notice that trivial factors like being able to set up my playing space and settle in beforehand were beneficial. The performances (I did it twice in the week) went very well with zero mistakes. Performing felt effortless for all the right reasons in that I didn’t spend any mental energy on anything but playing.
One year ago when I did my first major performance at the retreat, I went in blind. The only experience I’d had was playing for friends and family members on a very informal basis. Having formalized a performance practice and taken on higher pressure situations since then, going back to impromptu performances felt freeing in that I had much more muscle available to put into the music with less distracting overhead to deal with. I’m being optimistic in that continued open mic playing will put me at a similar point in formal performance situations a year from now.
May 1st Performance: Hotel California by the Eagles and Lights by Journey
Having just performed at the retreat recently, I decided to jump back into an open mic night with two fresh songs off my setlist.
There was about a week between getting back from the retreat and the open mic, so I did a focused practice routine on arpeggio and picking parts for the songs to enhance them for a bigger effect in the short playing window I had onstage. I also put a little more emphasis on my vocal quality because it would be crucial to pull off the Journey song. I was still out of the groove of centering, practicing with a metronome and using timed practice sprints, so practice mainly consisted of practicing the lead fills in isolation and then rehearsing the song with vocals included.
Having just done a low pressure performance in the past week, I became much more aware of how difficult the open mic scenario actually was in practice. You’re a name on a list, and when you’re called you have a short amount of time to get onstage, plug in, adjust the mic, strum a chord for the sound check and start playing. These things sound trivial, but being bombarded with this amount of uncertainty in 30 seconds will sap confidence in a way that follows you through the rest of the time onstage.
For Hotel California, I opened with the iconically known arpeggio intro. This was not hard to do in the practice room, but onstage the presence of amplification introduced a factor I was not entirely prepared for. Arpeggio picking requires hitting strings precisely at root notes and letting them ring out until the next chord shape. The amplification distorted my perception of the arpeggios as they were being played, causing me to hit a couple of wrong strings. The strings meant to ring out in the measure were unexpectedly louder than the plucked strings, throwing me off guard even more and making me play more tentatively. When the strumming parts started I felt much more on solid ground.
Vocally, the song felt more out of reach than in the practice room. It’s in a very high key and not easy to pull off, but my voice did not sound like itself in the PA system, causing me to be unsure and sing tentatively.
Another thing I was not anticipating was that the change in season had let a lot more natural light into the venue. In the winter and spring, the spotlights on stage and darkness indoors pretty much drowned out the whole room except for the tables directly in front of the stage. With sunlight later in the day, I could now see the entire room looking at me and could easily see people getting up to go out and smoke. I did, however, pull off the song with no more than a couple of sour notes in the intro.
For the Journey song, the amplification would pose an even larger problem. I performed the song in the original key of D, and although I was able to hit the notes vocally, it took a level of ferocity to hit them that overpowered the guitar part. I was able to hear the PA system clipping and feeding back from my voice, and a glance over at the soundboard showed that the sound guy was having a hard time keeping the guitar and microphone balanced.
When the picking solo part came, I missed the right string a couple of times and pushed through some muted notes. It was energetic, but definitely not clean sounding.
The more open mics I play, the more aware I become of how my practice habits have to consider the technical aspects of the venue. When playing in my practice room, I feel confident in my hand and vocal technique because I know what a given action will sound like. Onstage, the amplification adds another degree of uncertainty that my voice and playing technique do not know how to deal with unless the song is simplistic enough to crank at full throttle.
The amplification issue is definitely the largest choke point in progressing as a performer I’m dealing with right now, so I’m going to invest in a small PA system and see what results I get adapting my playing technique to it.