CREATING A SOLID MUSIC PERFORMANCE SET:
Tips from a stone cold pro, 50 year vet of music/entertainment industry
by Marcia Singer ((former affiliate, afm, sag, aftra)
Preparing for a music gig after 30 months of lay off, this veteran of 50 years as a performance artist (and 3 decades of lecturing/presenting) shares her insights that may help you prep for any live presentation.
It’s been wild, rehearsing for two one-hour performances that I contracted for after being laid off since March 2020 from all my gigs. In that second music career incarnation (the first as a night club entertainer with international credits), I’d enjoyed all the jobs I wanted, or could sustain in my 70s, averaging 7–8 a week. For the past ten years, they took place in senior living and nursing communities, serving a dozen different audience populations. My repertoire consisted of three hundred-ish songs including country, pop rock, swing and oldies, in five languages. I made enough money to sustain a decent lifestyle (when added to a small pension and annuity), in spite of being an indie contractor with the inherent risks of only having verbal contracts, and no job benefits such as health care. (I do get $69.90 monthly from the AFM –my humble pension from my night clubbing/lounge act career…LOL! )
So when I got an offer to return to do two one-hour singalongs for a memory care unit, I was filled with mixed emotions. I’d probably only picked up my guitar a half dozen times since the layoffs, and no longer had the protective callouses on my left fingertips. While I had been singing sometimes when I hike or bike, my voice has atrophied, its deeper, raspier — and my lungs are less hardy. But I so missed singing and performing, and longed to air the part of my artistic and play-loving soul that had been shut in for two and a half years…
But could I pull it off? It seemed such a long shot. But I remembered years ago, having been invited by the music director of a SoCal church to perform a devotional song I’d written, and perform all the songs during the service. I was used to night club audiences, but a church? I was feeling insecure. “You’re a stone cold pro,” she canted. “I have no doubt you will be fine.” (And I was!)
But am I still?
Dear Reader, I’m sharing all this with you because I’m realizing what goes into putting together a professional, high class ‘show’ for a group of Alzheimer residents, are the same elements that made me a successful entertainer in past years on national and international stages. And that training is a part of me! And these elements are applicable to most any medium, not just music, or even lecturing. The prep is nearly identical.
HOW-TO TIPS for Professional Performance Success
!. Attitude: Respect your audience, genuinely care about uplifting them. Do your best, leave the rest. Choose your attire intelligently. My famous vocal coach told me that when I walk into the room, the audience should know I’m the entertainer. But sometimes, you may want to blend in. Have good hygiene, in either case! And sober.
2. Repertoire: Make sure it’s appropriate, relatable. Consider a variety of tunes, since audiences are not monolithic entities. Include humor with grace. Be mindful of your pacing, tempo, not too fast, nor so slow people get bored. Play songs in different keys, changing often enough to give flavor to the performance.
3. Instrumentation: Your voice is a primary instrument! Take care of it. (It was always the first thing to suffer, if I got too tired.) Drink lots of water, stay hydrated. Avoid acidic drinks like wine, grapefruit or lemon juice. They cut the natural lubrication from the mouth and throat. Hollering or whispering can induce laryngitis: Warm water with honey is a good lubricant. Play another instrument? (I play rhythm guitar). Clean (even shine) your ‘ax.’ Be (and stay) in tune if you can. Choose chords that are appropriate or correct, which does allow you to invent new arrangements. If possible, be able to transpose/play at least several numbers in an alternative key (higher or lower): You may need it yourself, or for your audience if they’re singing along. Be mindful of keeping a steady beat. Pace so that your audience can join in. Develop and note your body memory for each song — how the voice and guitar (piano, bass, etc) ‘feel’ together.
4. Creating a Performance Set: There are two main approaches to how you’ll deliver your music: Create a set list of songs beforehand, use it as is, or as a guide. (Use a music stand? Tape a list on your guitar?) Or, go in ‘cold’ and improvise. I’ve used and mixed both methods in my five decades long career. Experiment, do what gives you most confidence. Other tips: Start out ‘big’ with a production number, a show stopper, attention grabber, but then bring it down some to vary the intensity. Create energy peaks and valleys. Changing pacing and rhythms keeps audiences engaged. Build things up, go moderate, then do a ballad, quiet things down, get more intimate. And be ready at any time to shift, when something’s not going over. (Helps to have a larger repertoire!) I suggest too, walking in knowing your first three selections, and your closer –something memorable. Leave your audience wanting more.
Last note: I can verify that if you love what you do, and take to heart being a “stone cold pro,” Life will keep offering you ways to keep performing, making music, making other people happy, lifting everyone’s spirits, especially your own.
Shining deLight, Marcia
(Check out my memoir? Available on kdp. ♥ ON WITH THE SHOW: The Performance of A Lifetime (2018) Hindsights, tales, scrapbook. Examining her life as a professional singer-entertainer for 5 decades, Marcia discovers her life as an expressive woman at large, and an unexpected, sweet Life Review.