“The key is how you practice, how you analyze the results of your progress and learn from your mistakes that enables you to achieve greatness.”
—Geoff Colvin, Talent Is Overrated: What Really Separates World-Class Performers from Everybody Else
Continuing the discussion on practice and rehearsing, as author Geoff Colvin points out in his book, the key is “how you practice, how you analyze the results of your progress” and whether you “learn from your mistakes.”
We are living in an age of technology that allows us to assess our creative process in ways never imagined by Beethoven, Brahms or even Burt Bacharach. We can now instantly hear compositions as they are created, either digitally or analog. We can send MP3 files back and forth to collaborators. One of the co-hosts of my show, the Grammy nominated songwriter Pamela Oland, is co-writing songs with a composer in Holland and one in the Philippines.
Videotape and, if you can, record your rehearsals. Then you can watch and hear what you’re doing right and what you’re doing wrong. This is the time to be brutally honest and constructively critical of your performance.
If you’re in a new band and don’t have the money to get a fancy-schmancy Sony HD video camera, you’ve got a digital camera that is the size of a cell phone. And while we’re on the subject of cell phones, turn them off when you come to rehearsals! Nothing can be more annoying and distracting than the guitar player’s cell going off playing the intro to Coldplay’s Vida La Vida in the middle of rehearsing a “heartfelt” ballad.
Short of that, there is no excuse for you not to be able to video your rehearsals. And as the saying goes, the camera doesn’t lie. If you have someone outside of the band operating the camera, you’ll be able to see and hear everything that will tell you what needs to be worked on, especially those things your eyes and ears might miss in real time. Isn’t progress a beautiful thing?
Some important things to remember as you get close to show time… One thing that most new bands forget to do is to time the show, from beginning to end, including between-songs banter (and don’t forget to factor in applause). This is important because almost every venue has a time limit. If you hit that limit, some venues will either pull the plug on you or pull some extra dough out of your wallet. Either way, it’s an unpleasant experience. So please, time your sets!
Rehearse everything you’re going to do on stage. If you didn’t rehearse it, don’t do it! I’ve seen so many awkward situations happen on stage because somebody did something no one saw before and it threw everybody, or just the drummer, off. I’ve heard the excuse “well I just felt it right then…” That’s okay if you want to gamble looking like an amateur but all the pros I’ve ever worked with rehearsed everything, from the apparent “ad libbed” patter between tunes to where each performer moved on stage, to the length of solos. It’s always best to come in slightly under the amount of time you’re given, rather than over. (Remember the time constraints of sets.) Sure, some superstar acts have reputations of going on and on and on, Led Zeppelin and Bruce Springsteen come to mind. But hey, they are superstars and don’t mind paying the heavy fines when they go over the requisite time. And remember that attitude is for amateurs. With altitude, you don’t need attitude! You’ll fly higher without it.
Samm Brown III is a former record industry executive, a 10-time Gold/Platinum RIAA award-winning hit record producer and hit songwriter, arranger and conductor (Michael Jackson, Maxine Nightingale and New Edition). He’s also a film/TV composer and artist manager who hosts a weekly radio show on KPFK (90.7 fm), Sunday afternoon at 2pm called “Samm Brown’s For the Record.” He can be reached for songwriting/artist consultations or song evaluations at (818) 985-2711 ext.452 or sbrownKPFK@aol.com.