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Friday, September 30, 2011

Before You Die, You Gotta Play This Gig

Hi there,
Reverbnation just published the results of a survey on the venues where most artists want to perform. Top of the heap in New York? Madison Square Garden. Number one in LA? Whiskey a Go Go. Top dog in London? Wembley Stadium. No surprises there.

That would be that place in Sydney? It's not necessarily the biggest venue that holds the most appeal for everyone. For me, it was always The Basement - Sydney's iconic Circular Quay venue. It's dark but classy. It's the kind of place you could turn up and always know you'll see really good live music. Audiences know that and so artists on that stage always seem to be treated with respect. If Prince is coming to town with his stadium tour, he'll make sure he has time for a secret gig at The Basement. 

I have seen countless gigs at The Basement and I had always dreamed of playing there myself one day. I remember one night, quite a few years ago hanging out after watching a show there. Another singer girlfriend and I knew some of the guys in the band so we stayed on with them playing pool, after the rest of the audience had gone home.  

After quite a few drinks, my friend and I decided to explore. We snuck away from the rest of the group with a cigarette lighter showing our path through the now darkened stage area. With mischievous grins to each other (because I wasn't the only one who had always wanted to be on that stage) we opened the door to the backstage area. We marvelled at this cavern of gig posters and outrageous graffiti. After a few excited moments in the artists' den we decide that since we'd gone this far...we spotted the hole in the wall that led to the actual stage and giggling like schoolgirls, rushed each other to go through to the other side. When we got there we paused for a few moments in revered silence then jumped up and down (I believe there was some tap dancing and other Young Talent Time-style choreography) with absolute glee. We had been on the Basement stage!!
The Basement may well always be at the top of my heap. By the way, yes I did get to legitimately perform there - in fact I'm lucky enough to do so regularly, and on each occasion I still relive a bit of the thrill of that very first time.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

I'm a Which? I'm a Singer, I'm a Writer, I'm an 'Other'?

Aka 'Cover Bands Suck'

When I was a little girl I wanted to be a singer. I was persuaded pretty early on that singing should be considered as just a hobby, so it wasn't until my early 20s that I grew a backbone and did something about it. At that stage all I cared about was getting up in front of people and actually singing - and ideally having them like it. I was hugely envious of the duo at a local restaurant - they were actually getting paid to sing in front of people. I left my upwardly spiralling career in Public Relations. Microsoft Australia was my main client and they couldn't believe I'd leave them for the uncertain world of music. After a few months of said uncertainty (and Dad asking on a weekly basis 'Have you got a 'gig' yet?') I found myself in regular singing work and actually getting paid for it! Now have you ever noticed how your heart's desire, once realised, becomes simply a stepping stone to the next, even greater desire? So now the aim was to write, perform and record my own songs, be not just a singer, but a...wait for it - artist! Artiste? 

I did get to achieve my new heart's desire, still doing it, but I still 'just sing' too. I've talked about it before, but there's an amazing snobbery around singing covers, ie other people's songs. We definitely need to support new, original art whether it be music, theatre, literature etc, otherwise culture becomes stagnant. But I think there is a place for performance of all types. Even if that involves my third rendition of 'I Will Survive' this week thank you very much. 

I remember earlier on in my career being introduced to another singer-songwriter at a party. We naturally talked about our music and then he asked 'What do you do for a living?' because it is a rare person indeed who can make a decent living from their own music. I said proudly 'I'm a singer.' Suddenly I had a communicable disease going by my companion's reaction. He waxed lyrical about selling out, selling soul, selling just about everything - this is what I was charged with because I sang other people's songs? This was the first (of many) times I had come across this reaction and I wondered how he made his honourable, principled crust. 'I paint houses,' he said. Oh.

Of course, I've experienced the other side too. There have been more occasions than I'd like to count where I've been pouring my heart and soul into the performance of one of my self-penned tunes only to be interrupted by 'Do ya know 'Eye of the Tiger'?' from an enthusiastic audience member.

Anyway, I came across an interesting blog by Artist Manager (among other things) Corie Anziano on covers vs originals and there was quite a bit of heated commentary too. 

By the way, on that 'supporting original music' topic, I'm performing some brand new tunes at Lizotte's in Dee Why on Wednesday November 9 and El Rocco Jazz Cellar on Friday November 18...both fabulous Sydney venues - would sure be great to see you there!

Saturday, September 10, 2011

A Big Idea - Better than a Big Budget.

Hi there,

I remember so clearly the first time I stepped inside a video editing suite. It was in my past life as a journalism student and I've got to say, it really turned me on. There's something so amazing about having the tools to create an all-singing, all-dancing (albeit 2 dimensional) world of your own. A clever edit here, an effect and a cross-fade there, some emotive music underneath and my world looks exactly how it is meant to. Not sure if that makes me a computer geek or a control freak. Either way, I love it. Photoshop really does it for me too and most of my cravings until now have been satisfied by this more stationary universe-creating tool.

When I wanted music videos for my first set of song releases, I had to hire professional teams of filmmakers including camera operators, producers, directors, lighting technicians and editors. Hard to believe YouTube only started in 2005, but before it existed, the only place your music video was really going to be seen was on TV, so the production values had to be high.Of course it's still great to work with professionals and have your videos on the box but it's not the only way anymore. And if you're that way inclined, you can have an editing suite on your very own humble home computer.

One of Lady Gaga's recent music videos had a budget of $10 million. And yes, the result is outrageous and impressive. But please have a look at these couple of videos from friends of mine - two different Aussie independent artists.Their budgets were approximately, oh, 100% less than La Ga's and I think they're both fabulous - cute, warm and real reflections of the artists who created them.


Nowadays there's pretty much no excuse for an artist not to have a music video. Some are editing together Smartphone footage from their audiences - love it! My goal is to create a video for every song I release on the next album. And you know, I'm starting to harbour positively lascivious thoughts about YouTube's new editing tools ( Mmmm, animation. If you have a great idea for a music video, let me know - I'm collecting suggestions and inspirations!

Cheers, Amanda

Monday, September 5, 2011

7 Things You Need to know about Your Wedding Band (Part 2)

Hi! This week's blog is Part 2 of some tips a wedding planner friend asked me to put together. In Part 1 we tackled 1.What kind of a band should I book?  2.Where do I find a band? and  3.I love the band at my local, can I just go up and book them?

4. How much do bands cost? 
The price of a band will vary depending on the size of the band itself, how long you will need them for, whether they need to provide their own sound system and how far they may need to travel.

Most wedding bands will give you a quote based on a five hour call. They usually play up to four  x 40-minute sets during this time but should be happy to stop and start when required, to fit in with your order of events.

Part of a band’s fee will also be based on the kind of sound and lighting system they need to bring with them. Roughly, the bigger the band, venue and the greater the number of the guests, the bigger (and more expensive) the sound and lighting system will need to be. Sometimes the venue will already have a sound system (PA)  – if so, ask the venue for the ‘technical specs’ and pass those on to the band. If the band is providing the PA, you can also ask them if they would mind you using their system and microphones for speeches and MC duties.

Is your reception being held at a beautiful but isolated winery out of town? Accommodation and travel costs will have to be factored in. An experienced events band will ask you all they need to know and give you a quote based on all those details.

You still want to get an idea of how much you’re going to be up for though, don’t you? Well, prices vary hugely from band to band, but for an intimate wedding, you may be able to get a duo with their own small sound system at prices starting from $1000. The higher end could be more like $10,000, or a lot more if you want to hire somebody famous.

5. When do I need to book them?
It’s best to book at least a year in advance to ensure you get the band you want – particularly if your wedding is on a Saturday night at the most popular time of year (October – February in Sydney, Australia.) Most bands will ask for a deposit of around 20% which will ensure they will not take another booking on that day. Of course bands do sometimes break up or get offers to play in Fiji for 6 months and if something like this happens, they should be professional enough to help you to find the perfect replacement.

6. Can I choose the songs they play on the night?
A good band will be able to ‘read the crowd’ and pick the best songs to keep your guests happy on the dance floor. Or just the tune to have everyone crying with joy into their champagne flutes as they watch you spin across the floor as man and wife. It is usually best to trust a band to use their experience to play what they feel will 'work' at the right time.

But just like a chef needs to know what you’re allergic to before he creates your menu, make sure you tell a band if you’ve got very particular musical tastes or there’s something you simply would never want to hear on your special day. For example, ‘Celine Dion brings me out in hives!!’ or ‘ACDC are my idols’.

Before you book a band, ask to see a song list to find out what kinds of music they usually play. These lists will usually change and be updated quite often and are more to give you an idea of the band’s range of styles rather than being an exact plan for the night. Most bands will choose songs as they go, moving and changing to suit the ebb and flow of the night’s proceedings.

If you have a particular song that’s special to you both but is not on their song list, by all means, ask a band to learn it for you. A professional band will usually be more than happy to do that and there’s nothing like a live performance of ‘your song’ to charge the atmosphere.

7.What else do I need to know about booking a band?
Don’t forget to factor in the band’s set-up time (usually from one to three hours depending on the size of the band) into the running order for the day. They also need to be given parking or loading dock access so that they can haul in their heavy gear and have it ready to go well before the first guest arrives.

The band members (and a sound engineer and possibly lighting technician or roadie for bigger bands) will need to be fed and seated during breaks – this can be backstage if there is available space. Some bride and grooms choose to include musicians on the guest tables which can really make them feel included in the festivities and be quite nice for the other guests too.

Really, it should be as easy as finding a band whose look and sound you like and getting in contact. Once that’s done, they will be able to lead you through everything else to make sure everything’s covered.

If you find the right band for your wedding, the best possible choice of music will happen at the appropriate time, from your first entrance as an officially married couple right up to keeping the last diehard busting moves on the dance floor.  And when you’re sifting through all those wonderful memories in years to come, each one will come with its own special soundtrack.

Amanda Easton fronts Function and Wedding band ‘Dance Little Sister’. She has performed at at least 150 weddings, great and small, all over Australia and overseas.