We had the pleasure of having one of the world’s finest Steel players sit in with us a couple of weeks ago, Sarah Jory. Now, this doesn’t reflect on the quality of the band I am in, we are not so good we command the world’s greatest players to come and play, we’ve just known her for forever – in fact, the bass players Dad taught her how to play when she was a kid. So, when she’s not touring the world and we are playing locally to her, she rocks up and we jam.
Obviously, this is both a massive relief for me and hugely terrifying, because I get to throw a hard pass on 50% of the solos but then again, this is a musician that has literally just come back from playing with the world’s best players at any given moment, so I also feel exposed as a musician. Fortunately, we know each other well enough for that to be an issue, I know my place! (yeah right, my ego wishes she would say “Jay that was amazing, come and tour the world with us”)
The one thing that always amazes me when Sarah plays with us is that how adept she is in the concept of ‘jamming’ with the band. She’s played with us literally hundreds of times but as the core of the band has been together for 40 years, there are a lot of numbers available to be pulled out of the hat (fortunately, I’ve been playing with them on and off for about 30 years so I can usually keep up) without notice – as the only musician within the band that is a soloist (the band is drums, bass and the singer strums acoustic) she feeds from me all the time about when to play and when not too, so in a way, I’m kinda in control of it all and also have the best seat in the house to see how a real player reacts when stepping into a band… so with that in mind, I’ve come up with the 10 essentials of playing live with a band that is not your own or when jamming... As inspired by Sarah Jory!
- Respect those who are standing with you. You are part of a unit and the unit only ever sounds good when the entire unit is working together. Listen to the band, listen to what they are doing and only play when you can add something to it.
- Listen to the song. You are the bricks that make the building, you are not the building itself. If you listen to the song that you are playing, you’ll know at which point you are the foundation stone, the regular brick, the cornerstone or the decorative slab that makes everything perfectly pretty.
- Play with the feel the song requires. It’s very easy to see a gig as a chance to show off your chops, especially when you are in a new band situation. A seasoned musician will show more respect for you if you can play one note that destroys everyone in one song, and a thousand notes in the next… if the feel of the song calls for it, do it. If it doesn’t, then don’t.
- This is not a paid rehearsal. If you are lucky enough to be playing with other musicians and making a noise together, don’t step too far outside your comfort zone, if you respect those you are playing with, you’ll bring you to the gig, not the player you want to be. Perfect your stuff at home and then use that stuff in the best possible way. You can take risks, because what’s life without risk, but don’t push it too far.
- Play it like you wrote it. Even if you didn’t. Play what you play and own what you play. Even if you are doing a direct copy of the original, play it with conviction and the love it took to write it originally. There’s nothing worse than seeing a lacklustre performance of a song… I mean, you don’t have to jump around like a lunatic and do your bit to forward the beauty of the guitar gurn movement but play those notes like your life depends on them.
- Don’t be afraid to shut the hell up. Sometimes, there may not be anything to add to a certain part of a song. If you stop playing, when the time is right for you to come back in, the dynamics between of the space you left and the hole you now feel will sound amazing.
- Someone is leading it, and if it’s not you, watch them like a hawk. If you are not the one that is directing everyone on stage, look to them for cues – especially if you are sharing lead duties with someone. If you are standing into an established band and encroaching into someone else’s space, watch them for the cue’s. If they are worth their salt and respect you, they will give you ample room to shine, but don’t get into an ego fight with them, you’ll likely lose.
- Watch your stage volume. Make sure your stage levels are in tune with everyone else’s, they may run backline only, or through the PA as well, but you have to sit in the mix they are used too, if you are too loud, they’ll hate you quickly, if you are two quiet, they won’t see the point of playing with you. Communication is everything.
- Remember, people are watching. If not the audience, then the people you are playing with. Look up at them, even if you don’t know what the hell is going on, look up, engage with your band mates, engage with the audience. They’re more likely remember you smiling at them and making them feel like it’s for them than they are if you pull off a sweet diminished run at the end of a solo.
- Respect the music. If you are in a country band, your Yngwie licks ain’t gonna work. Just like your Brent licks aren’t going to work in a Nickelback cover. The band will have a style, or a voice, and remember that. If you don’t like the music you are playing, then ask yourself two questions. 1. Why are you playing in the band anyway? and 2. If you are there for the money, give the people who are paying you the value for the money they passing over to you. If you are playing in a band you don’t like, then I’m guessing it’s because of number 2. If you do dislike it, the guys you are playing with are likely to love this music, so show them the respect they deserve and play it like they want it to be played. If you are a guest on their stage, you want them to be happy with how you did it afterwards, especially if they know it’s really not your bag to begin with!
You can check our Sarah here!
I think like lots of people I’m totally and utterly ‘fed up’ (edited by request of the boss) with the price of concert tickets these days. I mean, it has been reported that on average people are paying nearly $400 to see Adele, nearly $240 to see Taylor Swift… the cheapest price for the Rolling Stones near me is about $160 (which you would need a telescope to actually see them) and so on and so forth. The question I’ve been asking myself recently is why?
I have a couple of theories about this - and they may be crap, or I may be full of BS (likely), but something somewhere has changed. And that thing, I think, is mostly due to us. But I’ll get to that in a minute.
Ticket touts… Scalpers…. Whatever you call them. The advent of the internet and sales on the internet has made it very easy for third parties to get involved and make a quick buck or two (million). It’s really hard to tell which are the legit sites and which aren’t, legislation has been passed to restrict this from happening but the trouble with the law is that it doesn’t move as quick as the brains of the people who are trying to take our money for effectively nothing. Is this a fight we can ever win? Also, the promoters of the events charge what they can get, so why not maximise on ticket prices if they know it’s still going to sell out? Everyone would do it if they could.
Those of us who are of a certain age will remember the Napster ‘revolution’ and remember seeing Lars from Metallica on TV moaning about theft, copyright infringement (and the subsequent lawsuits that followed) and most people laughed at him and treating him pretty badly… I do believe this was when the whole “Lars is crap” thing came from (well, that and the snare sound from St Anger, but that’s a different story) as he was actively stopping everyone’s fun in getting free music, because everyone loves free stuff, right? It’s always been interesting as being a kid listening to rock music in the 80’s, Lars was a legend up until around this time, then everything changed.
Since the whole filesharing thing has been embedded into our psyche (and lets it, pretty certain that at one point everyone has either done it or is close to someone who has) the eventual response by the music industry was to provide streaming services (I know it’s much deeper than this, but let’s face it, it was all they could do) and everyone jumped on it as, well, for all intents and purposes, it was still free. These days a lot people pay a company like Spotify about £10 a month to lose the adverts but in my experience, in just talking to people, most people just put up with the adverts and have it for free, because right now, that concept of ‘free’ music, or a variation of it, is legal.
What does that do for the bands? And I know what you are all thinking, 99% of the bands didn’t get an income from record sales so this doesn’t apply, but I’m looking at the large-scale acts here… obviously, a massive chunk of their income has gone. Completely. There is that famous break down of payments from Spotify that shows that a band in 2016 who had their songs streamed over 1,000,000 times and received a total payment of just under $5000. At this point, I could list how much that would have broken down if those had been airs on the radio or physical sales, but I won’t, because we all know that an income from that would be well in excess of $5000.
You know what this means, don’t you? Of course, I mean that the bands, record companies, management etc etc have to reclaim their income from elsewhere (as they ain't going to take a pay cut) and the only viable place to do that is either via endorsement deals (rare that they pay that well), merch sales (and those are now pirated ridiculously – just check out all the many adverts in your FB feed of companies selling cool band related shirts) and touring. Before the Napster revolution a band used to tour to support the album in order to provoke sales, but these days it’s pretty well their only source of real income. This is a hard pill for us to swallow, especially when you consider that the most expensive tickets these days are bands like Rolling Stones (and I’m pretty certain they’re fairly comfortable financially) but they are still a business, and guys who manage them aren’t going to let them go out on a tour to support an album that won’t sell, so that income figure has to come from somewhere else.
The fans fault (and yes, this is a little tongue in cheek)
Our expectations of live shows are somewhat more complicated than they used to be… Long gone are the days when you see a band and it’s a bunch of people playing the hell out of their instruments with a few lights behind them, you now have full interactive shows with everything from massive custom built OLED video screens showing content aimed specifically to the night of the performance, to fireworks, light shows that are just incredible, complicated sets with raising platforms etc and just about everything else… Shows are now events. Each time we go to see a show we expect it to blow us clean off our feet, it has to be better than the last one we saw so touring bands are obliged to up their game every time. It all kinda adds up. As an amusing aside to this concept of crowd expectation, a mate of mine – Tim Stark - is the chief builder at Mansons Guitar Works, so he makes every guitar Matt Bellamy plays, both in the studio and on tour. Those of you who have caught a live show from Muse knows what this means, as it’s expected now by the crowd… Let’s just say that the expectation of the crowd keeps Tim a very busy man, and those guitars are hand built in the UK, so they aren’t a $100 Squier used for the final song of the night!
The sad thing is that due to the way everything pans out, we are unlikely to see concert tickets come down to a more sustainable level for your regular person any time soon. You will always be able to see your favourite band, well, I doubt you’ll see them, but you’ll be able to hear them as you’ll be SO far away from them you’ll end up just seeing the video screens. The reason many people took the Napster route, and all the services that followed them, was because they couldn’t afford to buy all the music they wanted so they downloaded it. Stole it. The people who could afford to buy the music still did… And now, the people who could afford to buy the music still can and now they are the only ones who can realistically afford to pay top dollar to see the best bands, actually see them. The irony is not lost on me.
Here’s a final thought - I travelled 400 miles (round trip) by bus to see 6 bands in 1988… Helloween, Guns and Roses (full original band), Megadeth, David Lee Roth (with Vai), Kiss (without makeup) and Iron Maiden (full “7th Tour of a 7th Tour” production) for a total cost of £31 (about $60 USD at the time). Even with inflation that only comes to £80 ($115 USD) today. I wonder what that show would cost now?