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First Things First – The Best Way to Plan & Rehearse Your Show

We all know by this time in our lives, the importance of doing things in the right order…whether we DO that or not is another issue! Skipping a step or jumping ahead while baking a cake or putting together a piece of furniture will have a sad outcome, and won’t end up looking like the picture, or tasting like it should.

Same goes when it comes to putting your show together. If the core isn’t right, you’re just slapping glitter over cardboard….or something like that. Let me explain.

There have been a few times when Tom or I have been called in AFTER the song order has been determined, or after backing tracks and musical segues are produced, and are then expected to ‘do our thing’. But our hands are tied.

Anyone who is familiar with what we do, knows that when we work with an artist, we always start with the right arrangement of the song so we can extract the moments that people connect with. But if we’re locked into pre-determined stems/tracks and set order or a musical transition that’s already been produced, then forget it.

All we can do at that point is figure out some visual things, but even THAT will be limited since tweaking an arrangement gives us the freedom to create more compelling visuals.

For instance, let’s say your guitar player sings a lot of background vocal parts. That keeps him glued to his mic stand for much of the show. Since our goal is to change up what people in the audience see, to keep their interest we’ll look for ways to change things up occasionally and get him out from behind his stand and pedal board. This might mean for example, extending that chorus breakdown, ie: drummer keeps going, most instruments are out, he puts his guitar behind his back, takes the mic off the stand and walks over to the lead singer and they sing the chorus together over just the drums & bass to highlight the great vocal harmonies. Maybe they do it twice! Maybe they get the audience singing with them and that involves tripling that breakdown chorus – who knows?! We try it all in rehearsal and see what works best.

Now we have a nice moment. NOW whoever is producing your backing tracks can edit them to fit the new arrangement and you aren’t locked in by the original recorded version. And for sure – those musical segues and video content on big screens behind you can be a big asset if you have them, but they’ll come across even stronger if your base arrangements and order are right!

The moment created  affects where it lands in the set order, which in turn dictates how to end a song in a way that gets the reaction you want. There are certain places where you need a song to end big – either with a trash-can type thing or a sustained landing chord. Dead stop endings work in certain places too, but if an audience doesn’t know your songs, ending abruptly on an unresolved chord can leave a big question mark for the audience – ‘Is it over? Do I clap now?’ – and you get a tepid reaction. The reason we use a trash-can ending – for instance at the end of your first song – is to get an immediate response since it leaves no question on whether the song is over. Big trash, cut-off, applause. You will then get a read on where the audience is by listening to how enthusiastic the applause level is.

Amy Wolter

As a trained Live Music Producer for Tom Jackson Productions, Amy Wolter brings her years onstage as a lead singer & keyboardist - along with her experience as a producer, arranger, and songwriter - to singers and bands who won’t settle for ‘good enough’. She’s worked with artists at all levels, and genres ranging from Rock to Celtic, empowering them to have confidence and authority onstage, and put on memorable live shows, a few of whom have been on two of the largest US tours in recent history. Some of her clients include Grammy award winners The Band Perry & Lacrae, CMA and ACM –winning country acts, Gloriana & Thompson Square, 2016 The Voice contestant Mary Sarah, CCMA (Canada) winners High Valley, Jess Moskaluke & Chad Brownlee, and Winter Jam Tour veterans Sidewalk Prophets & Love and The Outcome.

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Greenroom Comments

  1. As always, wonderful information Amy (either for the beginner or the old war horse that needs an “Oh yeah – that!” moment.
    There was a lovely solo artist opening for us last weekend who could sing your socks off, but the entire time she was on stage I just wanted to give her your info (or suggest Tom’s book) so she could see the importance of moving her feet and working the mic! (Yes, I did after her set was over).
    Thank you for all you do to teach performers and inspire them. I’ll miss seeing you at The Objective this year (other commitments will be keeping us from attending).

    • Ha! Yep, it’s hard NOT to notice those details now that you know this stuff. Thanks for giving her a ‘heads up’ 😀
      Will miss you at the Objective this week!

  2. Thanks, Amy! Good reminder about song order and creating moments. I always have struggled with set song order. I play in an 80’s cover band called Bubbalove in Vancouver, Canada

    Question: We are playing a “Celebration of Life” for our friend’s Mom. Where in the set would you put “Happy Birthday” (trad.) and Birthday – “Beatles”? Somewhere in the middle of the set? At the end?

    Thank you

    • You’re welcome Tim! By ‘Celebration of life’ I assume your friend’s mom has passed on?
      If that’s the case, it could be a ‘touching moment'(#7 or 8 in your 45 min set) – that is if you talk about who she was, tell a story about her and possibly
      show some photos…then go into traditional Happy birthday song and ask the audience to sing with you. Back it up with either a band arrangement or at minimum a piano or acoustic guitar instead of acapella. If done right, there won’t be a dry eye in the house! THEN to bring everyone up after tears and applause, kick into Beatles b-day song and encourage everyone to celebrate her by dancing their hearts out! I love that song and you may want to extend it if everyone is into it. Make sense?

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