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Musician Tips Tips & Suggestions, Part 3: SOLO GIGS

1) Playing solo, you can't rely on killer beats or sheer gut-thumping volume to convince the unconverted. Alone and exposed on an emotional tightrope (with no safety net) you have to win people over with guile, great tunes and sheer force of personality. That needs all the help you can get. You can learn loads by watching other performers, good or bad. Either steal their techniques or make sure you learn from their mistakes. And visuals, presentation, lighting - even the seating plan - all drastically affect the way your performance gets across: much more than with bands. Very few solo artists bother with this stuff, so if you put in enough thought, preparation and commitment, you'll wipe the floor with the opposition every time.

2) Create your space. Choose an area on the stage where you can see - and be seen by - the whole room. If there's no stage, mark out your performing area on the floor with a line of black gaffa tape. Oh and always carry your own black gaffa tape. Move all unneccessary guitar cases, beer crates, mike stands etc. out of the way to give you a clear working area of floor space. Also move any chairs and tables in the venue closer together and nearer to the stage. You'll always get the best response when the audience are a) comfortable b) close to you and c) close to each other.

3) Buy ten metres of thin lightweight black fabric for at your local department store - it'll cost about 30 quid. Cut it into four and hang it along the back wall of your stage, covering all the usual scuzzy, gaffa-flecked wallpaper. A black backdrop absorbs stray light and looks instantly professional: watching the stage, an audience sees you and nothing else. Photos of your show will look better afterwards, too.

4) It may sound obvious, but point the stage lights at where you're standing. Remove all the dusty mauve and crinkly green filters, and either use white light or carry crisp new filters of your own. Lighting gel is absurdly cheap and makes a huge difference to the way your show looks. Try Lee 103 (straw) for warm front lighting, or Lee 181 (congo blue) with 1kw lamps for deep atmosphere. For a stockist, call Lee Filters on 01-264-366-245.

5) Carry your own Shure Beta 58 mike and use it always. I can't recommend these highly enough - clear, crisp and loud with unbeatable feedback rejection. However crap the PA is, a decent mike gives you a fighting chance. You'd spend half a grand on a decent guitar or keyboard, why not a couple of hundred on your voice ? And no, I don't have an endorsement deal with Shure.

6) Even small PAs can be drastically improved by "tuning" them to the room. Most systems feed the front-of-house desk output through a 31 band graphic equaliser for this purpose. If possible, get to the gig early, take your mike out into the middle of the room and send it through through a flat (no EQ) channel on the desk. If the PA sounds reasonably hi-fi, you're home and dry. But if (more likely) it sounds muffled and boomy, you'll need all your tact and diplomacy to get your hands on the house graphics. Boost each frequency in turn - talking down the mike - until you find all those nasty ringing overtones (160 hz is a common culprit). Work by subtly subtracting ugly frequencies, rather than boosting the sweet ones. A well tuned PA is more important than any amount of flashy reverb, delays or compression.

7) Shoot the monitor engineer. Seriously, there are far more foldback systems in the world than there are good monitor engineers. On the pub and club circuit any engineer with decent ears and a grain of intelligence inevitably gets recruited to do Front of House sound, not monitors. Result: at most small gigs, your monitors will - depressingly often - sound like shite. If they're awful at soundcheck, they won't improve by showtime. For a solo gig you can always turn them off, move the main PA speakers back and inwards - and listen to the front of house sound instead. The monitor dickhead will tell you this "causes feedback". But - because you are using your own Shure Beta 58 - it won't!

8) Mixing it. If you're serious about your front of house sound but can't afford your own engineer, consider doing it yourself. What's there to mix - your voice, your instrument & maybe a bit of reverb ? Carry a little Mackie or Spirit Folio and do it all yourself from on stage. If it sounds good to you, chances are it'll sound good to the audience. Self mixing like this will never sound as good as having a great engineer of your own out front. But it will always sound much better than some complete stranger who isn't very good at their job and doesn't give a toss. And there's a lot of them about.

9) Don't write off your audience in advance, even if the venue's half empty - or stuffed with drunks. Perform with style and dignity for anybody who's interested and listening, even if you can't see them for the lights. if even one person claps, joins in, or laughs at something you say, acknowledge it - a little flicker of response needs nurturing, fanning, feeding. Glance in that general direction and give a quick nod or grin. In years to come, people will come up and say they first saw you playing at the Turd & Bogbrush in 2007. Even a gig that feels like a complete disaster can win you lifelong fans.

10) Anything you do, do big. Don't be feeble or apologetic. Take possession of your performing area, own it, fill the space. Who the hell wants to watch something half-hearted ? The world is not waiting for another sensitive songwriter to perch on a stool, pick lifelessly at an acoustic guitar and warble inaudible platitudes about man's inhumanity to man. The essence of great performance is energy, passion and total commitment, whether you're Suzanne Vega or Henry Rollins. You don't have to be note perfect, or even massively talented, to pull it off. But whatever you do, it does need to be very, very real.


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