It's all about the mindset.
In the previous blog post, Jesse gave some advanced tips on how to improve your electronic music setup. This week, we will tackle the topic of live performance but from a beginner's point of view.
For every producer, transitioning from studio to stage can be quite daunting. There are a number of things surrounding live performance which are challenging to us, lone wolves bedroom producers. But putting yourself out there doesn't always imply having a nervous breakdown, and can actually be quite the fulfilling experience and help you move forward as an artist. Especially nowadays, when live performances are the main source of income for electronic musicians. Better get to it then!
I will always remember the first time I set foot on a stage. I was around 9 years old and it was for a classical piano recital. My heart was racing, my palms were sweaty, but I felt the thrill and the adrenaline. It was a feeling I had never experienced before. As my musical taste evolved and I got into electronic music, I had to re-learn what it meant to be on a stage and perform for an audience. It wasn't easy, to say the least.
Perhaps you have, or will ask yourself... what are the main things to keep in mind when preparing a live set? That's why I have gathered these 5 tips that will hopefully guide you through your first steps in the realm of live performance.
Know your technology
Perhaps the most important tip I can give, based on personal experience.
The first time I performed as my electronic music solo project Lakmé was quite the adventure. I had chosen a very minimal setup - my laptop running Ableton Live, a Nano Launchkey, a Shure SM58, a TC Helicon voice processor and a midi keyboard.
Only thing was, I had never used a Launchkey before, and as straightforward and simplistic as they are designed to be, I found myself in quite an awkward position when I wasn't able to launch my samples and had to do my entire live set improvising on the keyboard and singing.
One could argue that I brought this on myself by not practicing enough - and they would be right. But through this unfortunate experience, I have learned to always make sure that I know my gear thoroughly, and that I feel 100% comfortable with everything that I am using. It makes a massive difference, trust me.
Don't be scared of less is more
It seems natural to find huge setups with gear and cables everywhere impressive and, therefore, think that this will make a performance better or more exciting. Even though no one can deny that there is something magical about analog based live performances where you have trouble following and understanding what the performer is actually doing, it's also essential to stay realistic when getting started.
Adopting a simple and compact setup can be a great way of guaranteeing a smooth and successful performance - and it doesn't mean that you are being lazy or don't know what you are doing. It's just about finding the right tools which will help you achieve what you want, without adding anything unnecessary.
For instance, I use effects on pretty much all of my equipment - my synths, my microphone and even my midi devices. All of the effects processing is taken care of by my Duo. Makes things a lot lighter and headache-free and gives me mind space to focus on the music.
Adapt your sounds
We've all been to that one gig where the bass is way too loud, the vocals are buried and the high frequencies are so sharp that you might have damaged your hearing abilities. It may partly be that the sound engineer is doing a questionable job, but the way that you have mixed your own sounds and anticipated how they would render on a big PA system also impacts the overall quality of your performance.
When preparing my live set, and if I decide to play tracks that I have produced in my home setup, I always put some time into doing an updated mix. I usually make sure to EQ carefully the lows and the highs, as well as take some muddiness out in the mids so that my tracks sound as clean as possible when played live. It's always good to keep in mind, when preparing your live set, that the way your tracks sound at home is very likely going to be completely different when played on a stage.
Don't fake it
This might seem pretty obvious, but unfortunately, in the world of electronic music performance, isn't always a given. I'm not implying that you were considering going full playback mode - but we've all seen those DJs and producers overly tweak knobs that aren't assigned to anything or devices that aren't even turned on.
Fortunately, this still is pretty exceptional and not representative of all of the amazing work that's being done in the electronic music scene. But sometimes, looking busy on stage and delivering an actual performance can be challenging. The concept of playing live music with a laptop is pretty confusing to a lot of people, and even though you have put hours of work in programming crazy drum loops and designing amazing synths, this will most of the time not be visible to the spectator.
A simple way of making your performance seem more ‘alive’ is to not rely too much on the computer. It certainly is a great and often necessary asset, but see it more as a frame to your performance and not something to put too much focus on. Instead, try and highlight the more performative elements of your setup - the keyboard, the microphone, the effects unit, the electronic drum kit… You will then be more busy with actually playing around with your gear. Laptops are not enemies, but we can agree that they are not the most expressive performance tools.
Overall, it’s about being authentic and honest with your music. Be yourself, do your thing - your performance will reflect that.
One last thing, and perhaps most importantly, is to simply have fun and show it. Being on stage can be nerve-wrecking and your stress might prevent you from relaxing. But the more you perform, the more comfortable you get, and the more you can communicate your enthusiasm to the audience. So don't be scared to look at the people around you, smile a little and even crack a little dance move - remember that practice makes perfect!
What are you main tips for preparing a smooth live set? Tell us in the comments!