Play the crowd
I recently got back to Indy from a 10-day tour and we have a second one in two weeks. One thing I noticed on the first tour and talked with our drummer about was the need to play the crowd. The songs we recorded, the guitar parts I played, it becomes easy to just play and not analyze your surroundings. But environments change and so should how the band plays dynamically and sonically.
So, what do I mean by "Play The Crowd"? Well, if you have any percussive background you may know what I mean. Playing the crowd as a musician is simple and easy. On the flip side, it is easy not to do. If not taken into consideration, you could affect the atmosphere of the song or songs you play. Playing the crowd is reading your surroundings. Things like room acoustics, how people react, how the band and singers are reacting, the tonality you have in the room, etc. At every stop, we would set up our gear and then sound check, this is the time to start analyzing those things. When you start playing the set, watch the crowd, watch the band, listen to yourself interacting with the acoustics. As a guitar player, I like having a clean and consistent tone on my board and amp, I want it to sound the same everywhere. The fact is though, no platform is the same, no sound system is the same ... The environment will always affect your sound and tone. On most of our songs, I was using different drives than the last stop, just by how it felt in the room. Sometimes I would have to adjust my settings, and "re-tune" my rig. So why is it important to worry about how your tone sounds? The answer is, as a band member you are exactly that. A band "member" ... you are apart of a team, and on that team, it is your responsibility to support the song and build it, rather than overwhelm it and overpower it. I was watching a Hillsong Creative workshop, and it was said talking about the congregation, "...you need them to respond to what you're doing." They went on to say, "If you're the worship leader, you're trying to design everything for participation and it comes off like a rock show then people don't tend to participate ... So, our job as the musicians in the worship team is to find a way to grab the congregation and bring them with us." As a musician, listening and watching are imperatives things when playing at a church event, an event for fun, a concert, for your friends, wherever. We have to change our approach to suit what is needed.
I see two sides to this, the side of sonic change and the side of the crowd's perception of you're playing. Let's start with sonic change. I am no sound engineer by any means, but its pretty obvious to a musician when you play in a different room how it can affect your playing. The acoustics of a room can make you sound completely different than the last stop and be evidence of that will help you get the correct tone you're looking for. Example, if one show you play in a huge church, and the show after that a significantly smaller church, the decibels overall will be more overpowering in the smaller church if the band plays at the same intensity as the big church. Make sense? There was one show we played, and during practice, our director sat with a decibel meter and would make us stop and start over if we went over 100db. It was a small church, and we wanted to make sure that the crowd was not suffering by the volume on stage. I had to turn my amp down, change my dynamics on the strings, play less and lighter. I didn't use the same gain stages like I had, I wanted my playing to suit the scene of where we were playing. This leads to the second side of change, crowd perception. Obviously, you don't want to completely base your playing on the crowd. But being evidence of how you're being perceived is not something to overlook. Is the song about you? If it is, well then this isn't the blog for you. It's not your role in the band to stick out and completely overtake the song. Yes, there are moments, where the guitar has a solo, or a line, or something. But, if you're the only thing people hear the entire time, then there is an issue. Justin Lee once said, "Playing lead guitar is like being a ninja, you just come out of nowhere and then disappear again." You want people to hear when you're meant to be heard and to not hear you when you're not meant to be heard. This can be more of a personal thing too, sometimes and in my case, mostly ... people don't even hear the guitars. But, I can remember instances where I let pride take me, and I wanted my amp to be super loud and super present. That type of a spirit is not a spirit conducive to unity in a band. The most important thing to remember is unity. If you are unified with your group, then playing together will come more smoothly.