Saturday, January 31, 2009

Your dreams vs. the lives of others

Your musical career will go a lot smoother if you get something ingrained in your head right now. You ready for this? Your goals and dreams are not the dreams of anyone else. Not your bandmates, not your girlfriend's, no one. What I mean to say is that as you assemble a band, perform with them and write songs with them, there's no guarantee of permanence. In fact, it's all pretty fluid.
A band is a microcosm whose chemistry is quite delicate. Its members must gel and have the capacity to respect each others' work and lifestyle. If this concept is impossible, I hate to be so blunt, but your band may be destined to fail. Or, the contrary might occur and you may be tormented with a cross-country tour with members you despise.
One night many years ago, Robert and I sat across from a theater group couple who, due to insanity, have been dropped from our lives since then. This couple had recently decided to turn themselves into a not-for-profit, we'll call them...Purple Raincloud Theater Group. In doing so, Purple Raincloud set out to obtain permanent members of their newly established organization. The woman of the couple stated her disappointment in the fact that her actors weren't interested in doing more for their organization. Her actors weren't willing to go out on a limb for Purple Raincloud or spend free time working on behalf of the organization.
I knew what she was saying. Back in the day when I was a perky, arrogant, ambitious 21 year old, I expected the same thing. Well, I'm still ambitious, I'm just more mellow now. I pointed out to this couple that their theater group was just that: their theater group. In other words, it is near impossible to expect other people to work for your visions if they are not being paid or are not reaping some immediate benefit.
People have their own lives to live. Every single person has their own dreams. And every single person's dreams vary. Maybe it was the potent margaritas, but I didn't really feel like what I told Purple Raincloud sunk in. Two years later they commended me for that comment so long ago. It was after another actor left a rehearsal, never to return, that they finally realized that no one is bound to their project in blood.
When I became pregnant in 2007 and announced it to our lineup, I experienced an unexpected surprise. Robert and I had to completely revise our lineup, because we were left with only half of the band's members. Perhaps they were upset about the possibility of losing momentum. Regardless, these things happen and you must prepare for them, mentally and also professionally. This may mean that you have to cancel shows or know other musicians who can sub for missing band members.
Life happens: job loss, the threat to behave like an adult and get into grad school, substance abuse problems can take over. Perhaps you may be confronted by a bandmate who wishes to move to another state. These are just a few examples of possible outcomes. All things are possible. What I’m trying to say is that bands are not really pragmatic. They are an organism whose members may oftentimes be temporary.
Blaming band members for their wishes to grow and/or change (if those plans don't include your band), I believe, is foolish. In a Buddhist sort of way, it only causes suffering for you. Think about it like this: while you're lamenting the absence of a bandmate, you may not be out searching for a replacement. Believe me, I've done my fair share of mourning the loss of bandmates. But, in most instances, a loss turned out to be hidden blessing. Sometimes I found even more dedicated, more talented and more professional replacements. Oh, and bandmates with better personalities and less baggage.
If your band members bail, there is no need for harassment or temper tantrums. Unless of course, they won't give back your gear. Sure, you are absolutely entitled to be frustrated and disappointed when band members move on. It happens. But I implore you to come back to the concept that your priorities are not the priorities of anyone else. Your musical experience will go a lot smoother when you realize that you alone hold the passion for your dreams. Likewise, I urge you to be grateful for the performers that have graced your path for the time that they have. You must realize that finding people to play your music or your ideas, even if for a small stretch of time, is a gift in itself.

Kristen Strezo

hecklers and haters.

First, let me say that you should be thankful that you're not a stand-up comedian. I thank myself at least once a month that I've never felt the urge to get up on stage and make people laugh. See, comedians understand that you have to take you knocks. You will get verbally beaten up on stage by hecklers. Often. Think about it: the comedy club environment encourages hecklers. Walking onto a stage in an attempt to make people laugh has to totally suck if you don't have your own Comedy Central special.
Unlike we musicians, comedians who tour the country have to adapt their acts to their ever changing demographics. The routine that worked in Boston may totally flop in Salt Lake City. And, there's only one way to test if a routine works or not...
Those who can grow thick skin (or are at least quick-witted enough to ward off rebuttals) eventually earn their place on stage amongst the weathered professionals.

All that being said, if you stick with performing you will eventually run into hecklers. Lucky for me in all the years that we've performed, I've only run into two. One time back in 2000 when we played an arts complex a guy yelled for me to show my boobs. The other time happened in 2006 at a rough rock club here in ATL. Just days after Thanksgiving, we picked up the show last minute. We didn't have our regular 4 piece, it was just Robert and I and a Roland recorder.
I heard it was a tough place to play. I'll be the first to admit that we were out of place there. We're more artsy-provocative. I mean, we had backing tracks and an acoustic guitar. This venue wanted rockabilly and domestic beer the regulars could afford. I heard the animals in there throw beer cans at you sometimes. Ladies and Gentlemen: this is where the grown-up neglected children of Georgia go to drink.
It started probably in the third song. One of the regulars started in on me and my outfit while I was on stage (at least they weren't slamming our music). They continued being disruptive through the whole set. It was one of the few times I didn't feel comfortable on stage.
Alright, fine. We cut the set short, got the fuck out of there and let the yokels have their drinking hole.

I wish I could tell you methods to debunk heclkers. But, there really aren't any. Every experience is different. You will see for yourself what I mean. My advice to you is to take it as it goes. Don't get discouraged. Or, if you do, you're slimming the herd for the rest of us.

Am I bitter about my heckling experiences? Yeah, probably a little bit. But, it would never stop me from continuing. I'd rather be on the stage having the time of my life rather than cowering in the dark trying to impress my friends. We all take our knocks. If you get on a stage and perform professionally, prepare. For one day you will be heckled. An old Improv friend once told me, "you can be on the stage or in the audience. Make your choice." And, I did.
At least I'm not doing improv.

Kristen Strezo

Friday, January 30, 2009

Important rules on sound guys.

As performers, we all need them. The sound guy (or gal) is an underpaid, skilled technician who would either be hanging out drinking or onstage himself if he wasn't babysitting your band. I think we should take a moment to validate the hard work that they have to do and the shit that they have to put up with. Below are a few suggestions on how to do your part (he has his part to not suck) before, during and after your performance.
Now, since I haven't worked with too many female sound people (though I know you exist somewhere), I'm using the gender as male in the following instances. You sound ladies know who you are. Come find me and I'll give you a sincere pat on the back or hug...

Rule #1: Don't piss them off.
The are a wide variety of ways in which you can go about not pissing off sound guys. Try to practice most of them.

Rule #2: Bite your tongue no matter how much of a dick he's being.
This one's the toughest to obey, but most valuable. Although surly sound guys are a dime a dozen, kiss his ass anyway. Remember: your goal for the night is to make it through your set sonically unscathed.

Rule #3: Get out of his way.
Don't be messing around onstage when he's trying to put his mics up. Step off the stage area and wait for his beckon call.

Rule #4: Do a good sound check.
Robert, my partner, advises: "Don't mumble into the mic. Don't yell into the mic. Sing your loudest song at the volume you plan on singing it onstage" I add: "no matter how much of a weenie you feel." Oh, and keep singing till he tells you to stop.
See, Rule #4 should be written for me. I don't do good sound checks. I feel like a dork sitting there singing a cappela. SO, I sing silly songs.
Ugh. And PLEASE don't do the "Yeah. Check. Hey. 1-2-3-4."
PLEASE don't do that. Engineers do that to check for sibilance in arena settings. We all know that this is the call of the arena rock roadie. Are you or were you once an arena rock roadie? No? Then, please don't do the call. Your sound check will not be permeating an acre's worth of land, so please don't do it. If you decide to do it anyway, know that somewhere out there I am snickering at you.

Rule #5: Introduce yourself.
Acknowledge him immediately. Don't act like you're too cool for Joe Schlub's Bar. He's responsible for making you sound good.

Rule #6: Watch your thumb while soundchecking.
Thumbs up doesn't mean "ok", it means "make this louder in the monitors". The little bunny rabbit symbol with the circle means "ok".

Rule #7 Don't act like a butthole.
Use the manners your parents gave you. If you weren't taught proper manners, well, I pity you and your band. Also, don't go around acting like numbskulls with your buddies. Mr. Sound Guy's seen it all before, probably last night, so you're not as witty as you think you are.

Rule #8: Don't be late.
You can put your makeup on in the car or in the can after you've done the sound check. Don't go around wasting everybody's time. Seriously.

Optional Rule #9: Show him some appreciation from stage.
Nothing boosts someone's confidence like feeling they're appreciated. If he's a sucky sound guy, don't sound sarcastic if you choose to do it. I've seen bands get the lights turned out on them while they were still playing. Of course that was in NYC at the Knitting Factory.

Rule #10: Burn no bridges.
You never know when you'll end up playing that venue again.
If Rule #2 applies, don't get in the last word before you load out, no matter how good it would feel. You never know if you'll end up at the same venue with the same jerk sound guy

Well, I think that's a good start. Abiding by at least a few of the rules should help your magical night run a lot smoother.

Feel free to email any questions you may have to

Kristen Strezo