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Need a Band? How to Sing or Play on Your Own
“I don’t have a band to play with.” This is one of the biggest misconceptions in the music industry today. Since the beginning of music there have been solo artists. Take a medieval singer: all they had to do was go to the city center or the market and start raising it. Take a trumpet player in actual New York City: all they have to do is buy a cheap subway ticket and play for people waiting for trains. These two examples relate to busking, or street performing, which despite its connotations has been the reputed start of hundreds of musicians.
Johnnie Mac is a great example of making a very profitable living performing solo and creating the BuskerWorld website. Many restaurants have requested the special atmosphere of live music, but not the cost of a full band, so they will have a solo or duo performance. This keeps the cost down for the restaurant and performer. If a venue is willing to pay $50 an hour, why have a 10-piece ensemble? If you’re a solo artist, $50 an hour is a great wage and more than most people make in other jobs.
If you feel you need accompaniment to play solo, why not get some pre-recorded songs? Pre-recorded tracks are readily available and can come as just a drum loop or a full orchestral accompaniment. You can download these to an iPod or MP3 player and have the set, literally, at your fingertips. These songs can be found on iTunes and Amazon which has tracks for public domain songs. Many of these songs come with an option to license them for other uses.
As a musician, you need to make a profitable business. This can be difficult, but by performing yourself you are eliminating the costs of other musicians, the need for more equipment, and other aspects of a band that drain the bottom line.
One of the best aspects of playing without a band is that it’s a valuable lesson – fun on its own. This is not just playing or singing, but entertaining the audience. When you have a group, you can turn to them, talk to them, joke with them, lean on them, blame them, etc. Without the band, your skills as a performer, musician and speaker develop exponentially. About 10 years ago, it was the norm for a famous musician or singer to come out and sing a stripped down, acoustic or stripped down version of some song.
All the colored lights and additional band members would disappear and the spotlight would highlight the entertainer in a simple circle of light. All the focus would be on that artist, if they hadn’t learned how to entertain and capture the audience as a solo artist, it would be a train wreck. Since most musicians start out as solo performers, this is not the disaster it could be. More and more, though we see this spotlight, the solo performance fades because musicians these days aren’t content with being a solo entertainer.
Having a band is not a hindrance, but rather a gift: monetarily, creatively, and as a growing means of entertainment. If you feel that you need accompaniment, you can download songs, but remember that they should not be used as a crutch, but as a little spice to your performance. The greatest lesson a musician can learn is how to have fun as a solo performer.
In my experience:
As a singer, I had always sung with a choir, band, orchestra or some other form of accompaniment. I never thought I would be able to perform as a solo artist. My husband and I were asked to perform at a nursing home and, of course, we accepted. After we accepted, we realized that we didn’t really have any musician friends in the area where we would be performing. So we decided to brainstorm possibilities: sing a Capella, sing along to the original MP3s of the singer and song, or play karaoke songs. My husband had a successful career as a music recording engineer and had recorded songs for himself on which to record his music and singing.
These songs were paid by him to record his vocals and sell his CDs. We removed the vocals and it sounded like a live band. So our first performance at that nursing home, we played to pre-recorded tracks or karaoke tracks. This opened our eyes to a wider market–playing as solo or duo artists without hiring a band. Karaoke tracks now aren’t the synth-sounding tracks they used to be. Instead, they are sometimes original songs with just the vocals stripped down. In the case of Taylor Swift’s latest album, a karaoke company has the original music that her band played in the studio — you can sing along to actual Taylor Swift songs! Since discovering pre-recorded music and songs, we have performed in hundreds of countries singing as solo or duo performers.
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