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Country Vocals Lessons: Creating a Show

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Country Vocals

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If you sing long enough, and
perform enough, eventually,
you are gonna find
yourself in the situation
where you have to design a performance,
an extended performance.
And you're gonna have to
end up writing a set list.
You get booked for a gig, or you've got
a cousin's wedding that you're gonna
perform at, and she wants you to play
half a dozen songs before the big dance.
At some point you're gonna
have to write a set list.
What we're gonna do in this exercise is
try to take it one step beyond,
just writing a set list.
A set list could be as simple as,
what songs do I know?
I'm gonna make a list of them,
and I'm gonna play all of them.
>> [LAUGH]
>> Because I don't really have enough
material to really think
about it a whole lot.
I'm just gonna play everything I know.
I've done those shows plenty of times.
But what we're gonna do in this exercise
is, I'm just gonna walk you through my
thought process in not just creating
a set list, but creating a show.
I'm gonna put on a show.
And it's my job,
either I'm the solo artist and
it's all on me, or
I'm the singer fronting the band.
And it's my gig, and I am responsible for
making the show happen.
So again, if you're just making up
a set list, it might be as simple as
just listing the songs that you know and
playing through them.
But in creating a show, here are some of
the things that we're gonna talk about and
think about, and
things that you want to consider,
information that you want to have going
into it that will help you make good
decisions in setting up your set list and
pacing your show so
that you end up with a set that's
interesting, and exiting, and
has some kind of energy flow,
takes your listeners on some kind
of emotional journey, and
you are in charge of that.
So, here's a few things that
we're gonna think about.
First, you wanna know,
who is your audience?
Are you playing for your extended
family at your cousin's wedding?
Are you playing a corporate date, where
really what they want is a human jukebox,
and you're supposed to be kind of
background music while the executives
have cocktails and network, or are you
an opening act in a certain kind
of stage or a certain kind?
Is it a festival?
Is it an outdoor show, an indoor show?
Is it a bar?
Is it a restaurant?
So knowing what your venue is and who
your audience, because that will give you
a lot of information about how to pace
your show, what kind of songs to include,
and what kind of show you want
to present for your listener.
Couple other things we wanna know,
what kind of time frame are we working in?
Do we have 15 minutes, where we're
supposed to set up a speaker that's
coming up, and we're supposed to
get the audience's attention, but
they're not really here to hear the music.
They're here to hear the speaker,
so we've got 15 minutes to kind of
rally the troops, and
get them focused on the upcoming event.
Or do we have an hour and a half set,
where we're really expected
to take this audience
on an extended journey,
and we're getting to plan a full concert,
and everything in between?
So how long is my set list?
That's gonna have a lot
to do with our pacing,
the decisions that we
make regarding pacing.
I like to think about segues,
getting from song to song.
Now, some artists, some performers,
don't ever think about this.
They let the song be the performance,
and then in between songs,
they let the audience talk
amongst themselves, and kind of
occupy themselves until they and the band
are ready to perform the next song.
I, personally,
like if I've got an audience's attention,
I don't wanna let it go in between songs.
If I have got them excited about
something with a song that I just sang,
I wanna keep their energy in my control.
I want to keep their energy occupied and
motivated so that when we go into the next
song I'm working from kind of
an energy base that's already started.
I'm not having to start over and
kind of re-invent the energy
wheel with every song.
So I like segues that keep the energy
flowing, either musically,
where one song quickly picks up into
another, or there's some kind of segue,
maybe just a drum beat, or a guitar riff,
or something that as soon as the audience
starts to die down their applause from the
previous song, I've got something going to
segue right out of that audience
applause into the next song.
It might not be music.
It might be a story.
It might be talking to the audience,
and telling a story, or
having some kind of joke, or some personal
moment that you're going to share.
That brings me to something that I
think is very, very important for
any performer to be conscious of and
very tender with.
And that is vulnerability,
vulnerability on stage.
We talked about Brene Brown and
her great work in vulnerability,
and listening to her TED Talk,
reading some books,
thinking about this concept
of being confident, and
knowing, having a presence on stage that
lets everyone know that you belong there,
that you're glad to be there, that you're
comfortable on the stage, but not that you
are dismissive of the audience, or you're
just doing your own thing on your own.
It doesn't really matter whether
audience is there or not.
You're kind of self contained.
What's much more interesting for an
audience is when a performer is confident
on stage but also vulnerable
enough to let the audience in and
exchange some kind of energy, some kind of
personal experience with their audience.
Another thing that I really like to do,
and I love to see other performers do,
is actually involving the audience.
Now that's not appropriate in
every situation, not every venue,
not every show is gonna be the right
place to get the audience to jump in and
sing along with you or
get up on their feet and dance.
But I find, when I'm in the audience,
that I love
those moments when I feel like
the performer has pulled me into
the performance itself by
encouraging me to sing,
or get up on my feet and dance and move,
and sharing that moment where every one in
the audience then becomes physically
part of the show that's happening.
I, as a performer, look for moments like
that to create for my audience so that I
can bring everybody into the experience
of performing together when I can.
I think the last secret weapon
that any performer has is humor.
If you can make an audience laugh,
you will
win them over like nobody's business.
There's just something about sharing a
laugh with someone that immediately says,
hey, we belong together.
We're on the same page.
We understand each other.
In fact, there's like anthropological
studies that laughter,
we evolved as human beings,
we evolved laughter to communicate.
You and I understand each other.
We're on the same page.
What a great experience to
share with your audience, to be
part of one another's experience, and
humor is a great way to make that happen.
That doesn't necessarily have to mean
telling a joke, although it can.
And if you are a good joke teller,
if you're good at telling jokes,
I think it's a great idea to incorporate
that into your show when you can, but
it doesn't have to be.
You don't have to be a comedian.
One of my favorite bits of
humor that I've seen used, and
one of my favorite performers, my husband
actually, uses it from time to time.
And it's, especially when he's up on
stage in front of a new audience,
maybe an audience or
a venue that he's not performed at before,
and no one in that particular
audience has seen him play, yet.
He's kind of a new, an unknown artist.
Sometimes he'll start his show
by getting up on stage, and
he'll be kind of tuning his guitar,
and kind of to himself, but
he'll look up to the audience and
he'll say, all right.
I know you're all out there,
kind of nervous,
maybe a little anxious,
wondering if I'm going to like you or not.
And of course everybody laughs.
And it's just a great ice breaker,
for him, and for the audience as well.
These may sound like things that are not
pertaining to,
I'm gonna get up on stage and make music.
Well, not all performers do
think about these things.
Plenty of artists get up on stage,
and they let the music speak for them.
They play their songs.
They sing.
They're instrument.
They're musicians.
They're all ready and on point,
and they share the music.
And that can be a magical and
profound performing experience.
But, you would be surprised at
how many performers actually do,
consciously, think about
these very things.
How am I gonna pace my set?
Who is my audience?
What story can I tell to break
the ice to make the audience laugh?
So, just know that you will find
your comfort zone as a performer,
and find what's comfortable and
authentic for
you, and
that's really the most important point.
Whatever you do on stage, make sure
it's real, make sure it's authentic,
even if it's KISS makeup,
elaborate, theatrical.
If that's your honest expression
as an artist, go for it.
Just make sure it feels right in your gut,
that it feels comfortable to you
So real quick, we're gonna do an exercise
here where I'm gonna talk you through my
thought process in my fictional situation
where I am an opening
act on a county fair.
Pinellas County Fair,
that's my home county.
And I'm a young country artist
whose just starting out.
I have one single, one song that's just
started to come out on the radio, but
not really many people have heard it yet.
But I'm hoping for the best for it.
I'm hoping it will perform well.
I'm on a county fair and
I'm playing on a big stage, but
I'm just the opening act for
a big famous country artist.
I only have 30 minutes.
It's an outdoor show, so
I know I need a show with a lot of energy.
At least that finishes
with a lot of energy,
because I've got people out in
the audience who are hot and sweaty.
And they've been on the Ferris wheel and
the bumper cars, and they're ready for
a big, a high energy show, it's outside.
And they've had a lot of cotton candy,
so they're jacked up on sugar.
So I'm trying to meet my audience where
they are and give them what they want.
I've got 30 minutes to do it and
I'm a young band,
so I don't have a lot
of songs to work with.
So I'm just gonna walk you through my
thought process as this young artist.
All right,
here's what I've got to work with.
I have a 30-minute set at
the Pinellas County Fair.
It's outdoors, I need high energy.
The audience isn't really
familiar with me yet, but
some of them may have heard my first
single, which is called That's My Baby.
That's my new single.
Here's the other songs I know.
I know I sing Amazing Grace.
I usually start it a cappella, just vocal
by myself, and then I bring my band in.
So that's good.
It starts out kinda low energy but
it builds into higher energy.
Don't Stop Believing.
We all learned Don't Stop Believing cuz
we learned all those four-chord songs and
we all love them.
That's a really fun song and it's got
a lot of energy, and I can actually
play that trick where I incorporate
a bunch of other four song melodies in it.
The audience really
likes it when I do that.
I also know Will the Circle Be Unbroken,
and that's a classic.
I find that all my country audiences,
old and young, no matter where I am,
they all know that song.
And you know what,
people like to sing that one.
And all I have to do is encourage
them a little bit, just
hold the microphone out to the audience
and say, okay, you've got this chorus.
And they start singing along on that one,
so that's a good one.
That's My Baby I've gotta play,
because that's my new single and
I wanna remind people that they should ask
for it on the radio and listen for me.
I want them to know who I am.
Then I've got this other great song,
Angel from Montgomery.
It's a little more soulful.
It's a mid tempo,
it's not like a super high energy song.
But it is a great song,
it's a great story song.
So I love to do that one.
Okay, here's how I'm going through
my decision-making process.
I want to start with good high
energy cuz it's an outdoor show and
I need to grab their attention
really fast, and they don't know me.
So I'm gonna start with
Don't Stop Believing,
because I know they're
gonna know that song.
And I can always play that fun game
of the four chord song mash-up,
and play a lot of different
recognizable melodies.
Sing a lot of little recognizable
melodies over Don't Stop Believing.
That'll get them going really good.
And I've only got 30 minutes to work with,
I think at this point I want to
start thinking about what
I want my closer to be.
I actually think a lot about what
I want to leave the audience with.
So I know I don't want to leave
them with Amazing Grace cuz
that doesn't have enough high energy.
I don't wanna leave them
with That's My Baby,
although I want it late in the set
cuz I want them to remember it.
Angel from Montgomery
doesn't have enough energy.
It's a good, maybe some where
in the middle of the set song.
But I wanna leave them with
something like the sing along,
like Will the Circle Be Unbroken.
Plus, it has the added benefit
of being very repetitive.
And the act that I'm opening for,
there's been a rumor that their bus has
broken down and they might not be on time.
So I might have to stretch my
set like five or ten minutes.
I've heard from my stage manager
that they're on the way but
we might have to stretch
our set a little bit.
And since I don't know any other songs,
this would be a good one to close with,
Will the Circle Be Unbroken,
because I can stretch that one out.
Everybody in the band can take a solo.
I can get the audience to sing.
We can just have a big jam on that one for
15 minutes if I need to.
That's a great closer.
Think I'm gonna put
That's My Baby right before that,
because that way I will have
worked up their affection.
I'll have them on my side, hopefully,
by that point in the set, and
I can talk to them and tell them, hey,
listen for my new song on the radio.
Call and make a request for
That's My Baby, and
then I can go into Will
the Circle Be Unbroken.
All right, this is feeling good so far.
How am I gonna pace these middle songs?
I don't want to put Amazing Grace
this deep into the set because I'd
kinda like to have the energy build
all the way through from here.
But I like the idea of starting this a
cappella right after Don't Stop Believing,
and then bringing the band in.
If I start a cappella and then bring
the band in, I can build the energy
all the way through the set to the end,
and that feels really good.
So that means Angel from Montgomery
goes here, and that's nice because
Amazing Grace is a gospel song and
Angel from Montgomery kinda got that
resonance there with the angel.
All right, this is feeling good.
I like this,
I think I'm ready to go play my set.
Actually, I think I'm
ready to go play my show.