Sometime, somewhere it will happen…for many of you at least. You enter a competition or get a chance to play as an opening act or at an event or showcase where you just get to do one song. Brutal decision.
You think, “How do I choose from ALL my incredible tunes, and decide THIS is the one to do…THIS is the song that will win and blow away the crowd?” It’s tough, but follow these guidelines for help.
First, find out who your audience will be. Knowing the age and makeup of the crowd may help you hone in on the right song. And, are you in front of judges? A panel? Regular people?
Do they know who you are or will this be the first time they are seeing/hearing you? For example, you probably won’t do your fun ‘get-someone-onstage’ moment in front of a bunch of ‘suits’ only (labels, A&R dudes, etc).
If there are enough ‘regular’ people in the audience, you may be able to try that, but that’s not going to go over if it’s strictly industry folks with their ‘hurry-up-and-impress-me-quick-cuz-I’m-busy’ faces.
Next, find out what type of venue it is. Are you outside at a fair where people are walking by, or are they seated and hanging on your every word in a small indoor theater? This would be the difference between choosing a feel-good ‘up’ tune, versus a chance to play your killer goose-bump inducing ‘touching’ moment.
Thirdly, within those parameters, choose the song that showcases best, who you are and your strengths. AND, a song that you know backwards and forward. This is not the time to experiment! Go with what you KNOW.
I recently worked with an artist who was opening a major country music show in an outdoor stadium. They were the FIRST artist to play; starting the evening off. No one would know who they were and the promoter wanted them to ‘get the crowd going’. Uh…no pressure THERE! The audience would be made up of families – all ages. They would be seated or standing and watching.
The artist picked a 4-5 rated original ‘hooky’ party tune she was comfortable with that I thought she sounded strong on. BUT, a couple of days before the gig, the promoter came back and said they HAD to do a cover tune as well…but they only had a TOTAL of four minutes. What??!! Threw us for a loop but we put our heads together.
I knew it would not be a good move to try and do 2 minute versions of 2 songs. That doesn’t allow the audience to get into a groove, OR create much of a moment. You’d short-change yourself on both counts.
Instead, we worked on an intro/chorus of a familiar pop tune that everyone would know, then segued easily into the country rock tune they planned on. I loosely use the term ‘easily’, since it required a lot of calculating/tempo compromise/key change experimentation, etc. (The rebel in me said, “Here’s your cover…a chorus!” – followed by me sticking my tongue out :-))
We created a fun breakdown moment in the middle, then ended the song with a chorus of the same cover tune they opened with. It’s a song the audience could be coaxed into singing along with, if the band saw the crowd was energized and ready.
We had to make a big impact in little time and I feel we chose well. Now, I have to admit, I broke the third point I talked about earlier. The artist had to learn that pop tune chorus, AND we experimented with her playing a super easy drum part along WITH the drummer.
I knew we had a whole day to work on this one song, and the singer was excited about trying it. If it hadn’t been working, we’d have time to go to plan B and still be okay.
However, PLEASE DON’T TAKE THE RISKS FOR THIS TYPE OF GIG IF YOU DON’T HAVE TIME TO REHEARSE THE PLAN!
This artist was a quick study and nailed both the new chorus and drum part, and every run-through got stronger. Once it was mapped out, it was a matter of repetition over several hours, to get her and the band to the point where they didn’t have to ‘think’ about it anymore.
Hope this helps when YOU have to choose well. Let us know if you have situations coming up and need some help nailing down the right song, or if you’ve had gigs like this…we’d like to hear how you were able to choose and how the audience reacted!