It used to be that gigs were the only way to get your music out. In the time before Internet, when terrestrial radio was one giant half of the introduction platform, the live show represented the huge other half. And in a symbiotic relationship of mutually beneficial musical-Zen, the show fed the radio which fed the show; all of which of course fed sales. In todays market, this is clearly far from the case. However, there is a secondary factor to the gig that cannot be overstated enough—it is simply great practice. Not the kind of practice you do late at night, rehearsing scales until your fingers bleed, but rather, the live or die by the reaction of the crowd in any given moment tenure, that assures you wont freeze up when something goes wrong—because inevitably, something always goes wrong.
So, what does that mean locally in places where there simply are not that many places to hone your musical skills? Perhaps it just means getting creative.
When it comes to local gigs there are basically 3-4 types of places that you can go. First, there is the open mic. While this is an often lauded venue that people scoff at for the sheer inclusionary nature of it (i.e. anyone can play), I think it is really one that should not be overlooked, for a couple of reasons. One, it is your best chance for an intro where absolutely nothing is on the line. You have a room full of people who, like you, only came to hear themselves. Beyond that though, you also have brothers in the same army. They, again like you, are honing their own skills and trying to gauge crowd’s reaction as they build confidence. I have heard these places dismissed time and again, but I truly find them the most valuable of all the beginning options.
Another local setting would be the embassy gigs. Many people enjoy these because they normally guarantee a larger audience than some of the other ones. Furthermore, they tend to be the best paying gigs in town, and because of that, they are also the most sought after. While these are both good points, there are also drawbacks to consider. First, the ever-present notion that the crowd, while physically there, is not there to see you, and because of that are significantly less like to be wooed by the new, unknown, soon-to-be-monster-of-a-hit that you just penned last night. Also, the load-in’s can be one big ‘ol hassle due to security, distance from vehicle, etc. Lastly, you’re almost always relegated to cover songs, which, while fun at first, can lose their allure after about the 1700th time you’ve played “Brown Eyed Girl” to a wayward crowd. All that said, the money is good, the gigs can be consistent, and people are normally glad to see you there. While there is often the occasional restaurant gig in town, I would put these in the exact same classification for all of the exact same reasons.
Lastly, we have the private function. Now this one really can be the blast of all of them or the most constraining, depending on the function itself and how you have organized it before hand. The real trick here is deciding what it is you will do or won’t do up front, letting the event organizer know, and sticking to your guns at the event. So, if they want a cover guy and you are looking to get your music out there, for example, you may or may not want the gig. Or, on the other hand, you may not get to play your songs, but you may get people to still hear your amazing voice. It also likely makes a difference if it is a private function at a public or private place too, you may be able to rock out a little more in someone’s home than you might be able to down at Bayt Lothan. Or you might find it’s the opposite, but it all comes down to setting expectations up front.
Between all of these, in order of your experience, I would say to use the open mic as starter or refresher course, you have private functions as middle school- it’s a lot more fun, but also a bit forgiving if you are still learning a bit; and you have the embassy as grad school. It is quite simply a little more boring, and the crowd is less forgiving—they demand you be a little more polished before you step up to the mic. All in all wherever you find your next gig, even if you are just streaming live online, it is an absolutely fundamental part of forging an artist out of the raw talent you start with. You have to be prepared so you don’t have a crazy embarrassing American Idol fall-on-your-face moment!
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