Sunday, August 30, 2009

Lessons Learned

We worked our first paying gig night before last. It was a karaoke show at a local bar called the 29th Street Bar and Grill. The manager, Ranell, is looking for new people to replace the one who was working there. Apparently, this woman had a bad attitude and faulty equipment and was actually driving customers away instead of pulling them in. Obviously, something had to change. I had given her our info a few months ago, so she contacted me and we made the arrangements. We had to wait until the end of the month because she had already booked other entertainment for the weeks prior to that. I was OK with that, though. I just wanted a chance to get out there and present myself and my talent to the public.

I would like to say that everything went off without a hitch, but in my world that never happens. There were several things that occurred that I can improve on, but that's all part of the process.

Lesson #1: Be Prepared

I have spent the last month or so trying to get everything ready so that on the day of the show we weren't running around like crazy trying to finish things. Of course, there's always one or two things that just don't seem to get done until the last minute. I had one person printing something out for me while the rest of us loaded the equipment. Somehow we managed to get everything in the car except for the TV (which, by the way, is an essential piece of equipment for a karaoke show). We have a Plymouth Neon, so I was actually amazed by this feat. Unfortunately, a second trip had to be made to retrieve the TV, and that slowed things down just a bit. But somehow we still managed to get the music started on time, even though the TV and my help arrived a few minutes late. They had an extra TV at the bar so we could still start on time.

Lesson #2: Be As Organized As Possible

Anyone who knows me well knows that I am not the most organized person in the world. I am not sure how, but I manage to find the things I need. I usually keep everything related to my music in one place so that I know where it is when I need it. I always seem to forget one or two writing the directions down but forgetting to bring them with me, or leaving my keys on the table inside the locked house. Well, if you have CD's of music that are unmarked, it might be a good idea to bring along the book that lists the songs that are on those CD's. When playing the CD that I had marked "Line Dances", no one knew which track was which. The first track was played and everyone heard "Happy Birthday". (I put just random songs on that disc that didn't really go anywhere else.) I had to take a minute while someone sang to listen to the disc tracks and write down what songs they were. I also forgot to show my helpers how my discs were organized, so they had a little trouble finding some of the songs. Things like that always slow down the pace of the show. For this reason, I am developing a checklist for future events. I also forgot to bring a notebook to keep track of the singers.

Lesson #3: When In Doubt, Bring It

We weren't sure if we would need our TV or if the bar had extras for us to use. That (and the space issue) is why we didn't bring it. Also, they did provide tables for us to use, but they were small and a little wobbly. We really didn't have enough room for everything, especially since we had to use one of the three tables for the TV. I have my own tables that I purchased that I feel more comfortable using, so we will be bringing those along next time, too. One more thing I will not forget in the future is a small footstool. The stage was at least two feet high. Since I am only 5'3", it made for a big step. They brought the stool back with the TV, but until it arrived I spent about an hour climbing up and down (and almost falling off of) the stage.

Lesson #4: Pay Attention

It's real easy to make stupid mistakes when you are nervous, so you should always pay attention to what's going on around you and in front of you. During one person's song, I didn't pay attention to which disc was playing. When I started to put in the next person's song, I hit the wrong button and turned off the one that was running. I could have prevented the interruption by just taking a moment to look at the displays....after all, that's why they are there.

Lesson #5: Set Up Early

Being there an hour before showtime is not necessarily early, especially if you have no idea where the electrical outlets are located in the building. Three hours gives you more time....four is even better. It also gives you the opportunity to park as close to the front entrance as possible for loading/unloading purposes.

Lesson #6: Neatness Counts

I'm not talking about keeping your area clean, although that does kind of play into it. I'm talking about making packing and unpacking equipment easier. With all of this equipment comes many types of cables and cords and several small pieces that connect all the bigger pieces together. I have a couple of large backpack/duffle type bags to tote all this stuff around in, but while in the bags the cables tend to get tangled around each other somewhat. When we take them out, we have to spend a few minutes unraveling them....a very annoying process if you're running late. I am going to seek out a reusable way of keeping them separated while in the bags.

Even with all the little stalls and hang-ups we experienced, the manager commented that she loved our show and booked two more dates with us for the coming months (Sept. 25th and Oct. 23rd). I hope to have all of these kinks worked out by then. We are also looking into renting a small U-Haul trailer for the next shows to move all the equipment with. It's a minimal expense that will allow us to bring what we need for the shows. It's better to have it and not need it than to need it and not have it.

When I woke up Saturday, I was totally exhausted and my muscles ached from all the climbing and lifting. But I still felt good. Waiting tables makes me exhausted and achy, too, but I don't feel good about it the next day. I just feel exhausted and achy. I don't mind being tired and achy from doing what I love to do. I am really looking forward to what the future may bring me.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Let There Be Light

July was a very lucrative month at work, so about two weeks ago I went to the local music store that I have been dealing with and purchased the headset mic that I have had my eyes on for the last year or so. Then, a couple days ago I went back and paid off my lights. I must say, it’s the coolest thing. My living room looks and sounds like a night club. That may sound strange to most folks, but to me it’s extremely exciting. Every time I get a new piece of equipment, it’s like a child with a new toy. It’s like Christmas morning, seriously. I probably could have waited, but I really wanted to have the chance to try them out and find out how they work. We are doing a karaoke show at a local bar on August 28th and I want to be ready. I don’t want to do this half-ass, I want to be as professional as I can be. People can tell if you don’t know what you are doing. I had a college professor who said “You can teach a monkey to turn knobs and push buttons. The difference between you and the monkey is that you know WHY you are turning the knobs and pushing the buttons.“ I have been to many shows where it was obvious that the performers didn’t put a lot of thought behind what they were doing. They were unsure of how to talk to the audience, they had no idea of what to say in between songs, they didn’t make eye contact with the people in the audience, there was too much time or “dead air” between songs, they didn’t give any thought at all to their wardrobe (I hate paying a lot of money to see a show where the performer is wearing ripped jeans and a t-shirt), and, one of my personal pet peeves, they introduce each song with “My next song is….”. Performing live isn’t the same as a chef in a restaurant making dinner for someone. If they don’t like what you cooked for them, you can always make them something else. But being on a stage live is a one-time deal. You either get it right or you don’t, and either way, you will leave a lasting impression on all in attendance. I want the impression I leave to be the best that it can be. Even if it’s just a karaoke show. Anyone can spin a disc and announce the name of the next singer. But what if it’s a slow night? What if there are only five singers? It’s hard to fill four hours with the same five people singing over and over, especially when most folks only have two or three songs in their repertoire. You have to know how to keep the crowd interested and make it a fun night. I remember a few years ago when I hosted a show for a friend. It was September and the show was at a marina at an outdoor bar on the banks of a river. It was a bit cold and it was drizzling now and then, and I think there might have been one person who wanted to sing. We spent the entire night singing songs ourselves. We had an audience of three or four people, maybe five. But, as they say, the show must go on. This show is no different, except that this time my name is on the product and how I present myself determines the reputation I leave behind. If you give the client a sub-standard product, then your reputation will be sub-standard. I’m a professional and I want my “product” to say that I'm a professional. A friend told me once, “Do what you can do”. So I have put everything I have into making it the best it can be….money, time, energy….whatever I can do. I may never get another chance to this, so I’m gonna do whatever I can to get it right the first time.