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Difference between playing live and playing in front of the camera

I have been mostly making music at home since 2009. I was very active in the live music scene prior to that but since 2009, due to other commitments, I have focused more on music teaching and my own practice.  And occasionally I was performing at home, ‘in front of the camera’ as opposed to performing in live gigs. Few weeks ago I had to play with a band after almost 5 or 6 years and in this post I will share what it is like to play and perform in live gigs compared to playing alone and how to improve live performances. The differences are very distinct!

  1. Band chemistry: The most important thing for good live performance is the band chemistry which develops from years of practising and playing together. Some decent musicians who have been playing as a band for few years will beat a bunch of more skilled musicians who got together to play a gig any day. The first lesson I got from this experience is that band chemistry is everything. You will need to practice and perform, preferably with the same lineup and over time the overall band output becomes so much more quantized. Personal musical prowess can never trump the synergy a band can create.

  2. Performance anxiety: Performance anxiety is a thing and it affects every musician alike. Doesn’t matter how well prepared you are, some level of performance anxiety will always be there. I have realised that the popular narrative which is ‘the more prepared you are the less nervous you will be’ to be completely wrong. Good preparation will help you push through the nervousness and be able to put up a decent performance, but won’t let you be free of the nervousness. You will perform at a level below your best as nervousness will hinder your performance. The key here is not just practice but experience. You will need to go on stage and perform on a regular basis. Once this becomes a normal thing, the performance anxiety will diminish and you will be able to give your best.

  3. On-stage monitoring: Being able to hear what you are playing is far more important than what amp or what effects you are using. You will feel completely handicapped if you realise that the on-stage monitoring has been compromised and you can’t hear yourself properly. No matter how good your preparation is, this one issue can make everything messy. Often you will find things to be different during sound checks and during the real performance. What I realised is that in-ear monitoring is not just a luxury but a necessity for any kind of live gig. Being able to hear your own guitar and the rest of the instruments in a good mix can improve your playing 10-20%.

  4. Minimalism is the key: At the studio you may want to use tens of different amps, a very complicated signal chain but during a live gig, you want things to be as simple as possible. A simple signal chain, less number of guitar cables etc genuinely helps. I personally prefer using wireless system during live gigs. Nobody is there to notice the loss of signal (if any) through a wireless system compared to a cable during a live gig. It makes performance so much easier and  more lively!

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