Canadian Musician - September/October 2017 - Page 25

PHOTO: @BRADFORDHUNTERWRAY GUITAR Dru DeCaro is a Grammy-nominated guitarist and producer. He owns and operates a studio in Los Angeles and has worked alongside Snoop Dogg, Miguel, Will.I.Am, and Andy Grammer. Dru has a jazz performance degree from Cal State University and endorses Paul Reed Smith guitars, Westone in-ear monitors, Clayton Custom picks, and Monster products. For more from Dru, follow his band Falconry or tune in to his online lesson series, “Drutorials.” www.drudecaro.com, www.falconryjones.com. By Dru DeCaro Getting Comfortable Onstage T here is no “right” way to deliver a performance. There are times the James Brown approach is warrant- ed: lively, inciting, and explosive. Other times, the Adele school of grace, passion, and lyrical focus wins out. And let’s not forget the tight, ultra-rehearsed chore- ography of pop routines, or the reckless, break- neck abandon of a punk show. Some music is meant for background listening, but so much of it is brought to life and indeed created for the live environment. So, how do you get comfortable, even ex- cited, about getting onstage and baring your soul for all to see? You’ve practiced for hours in isolation, you’ve poured over lyrics and riffs and perfected your song until it’s become part of you. Now you need to ready yourself to present to the masses, to their scrutiny, criticism, and praise. And as the great performers know, that praise is infectious! I’ve whittled down a routine that gets me, my band, and the audience on the same page and leaves little room for self-doubt, discomfort, or worst of all, fear. 1. Backstage Routine The preshow routine can be one of the best moments of being in a band. If you’re nervous, chances are your bandmate is, too. Work each other through it. Create a pre-show routine. Lots of bands huddle, maybe the singer does his/her leadership thing, or they do the Mighty Ducks’ “quack, quack, QUACK” chant. Come up with your own thing that ensures all of you are on the same vibe. Your bassist may be fighting with his girlfriend. Don’t let him take that en- ergy onstage. Get him off the phone and into the zone. On tour with Miguel, we’d circle up, say a very secret and ridiculous mantra, then break loose and try to tackle one another and any- body too close to our huddle. That got us fired up and having fun. Backstage with Chrisette W W W. C A N A D I A N M U S I C I A N . CO M Michele, she would lead everyone in prayer, and given her gospel background, those moments were moving! The point is, go onstage as a unit and the audience will follow. Psychologists call it “social proof.” If you love one another onstage and boost each another up, you can make the crowd believers. 2. Gear Up Being preoccupied with your gear is the surest way to lose momentum and start questioning yourself. Where is your capo? Did you bring a power strip if there aren’t enough outlets? Is the mic cable wrapped so tightly around the stand that what could be a moment to break free from centre stage suddenly becomes the awk- ward “spin the mic around the stand” dance? Whatever your relationship to your guitar (yes, mine have names) or instrument of choice, doing a little bit of preproduction before the show ensures you’ll focus all your energy on the fun stuff. 3. The Approach The first two minutes onstage sets the tone for the whole show. Make your statement early. Don’t wait to feel out the crowd. Sometimes there is a curtain, and the first time you see the audience, you’re already playing your first song. In this case, give that opening tune about 75 per cent of your total intensity. Hit them hard, but leave room for the show to grow. Other times, you have to set up your gear while the audience watches. I consider this part of the performance, too. If you make no effort to en- gage them while you’re plugging in pedals and tuning, don’t be surprised when they give you a similarly blank stare during your first three songs. You already blew your first impression. I pick someone in the first few rows to connect with when I’m setting up, asking them how the last band did, or who they’re here to see. A little exchange before showtime can really get the crowd on your side. 4. Eye Contact Some performers can get away with ignoring the crowd. I am not one of them. I’ve seen artists avoid the crowd to great effect, playing on the art of distress and melodrama. (Artists like Jeff Buckley, Robert Smith, and Thom Yorke do this brilliantly). If that’s your style, get dark, but do it convincingly. Go to the place in your song or story that evokes those real feelings. Looking gloomy because it’s “cool” usually comes across as inauthentic, so if you’re going to ignore your crowd, you’d better at least be facing your de- mons. For those whose art is more buoyant and joyous, eye contact is key. It may be frightening, you might see something that throws you off, but when you connect with so meone, even for a glimmer, the energy they give back is tenfold. And other people see you connecting, and they too get in on that energy loop. Even if you can’t see anything, a little bit of facial expression goes a LONG way. 5. Joy in Repetition We enjoy doing things we’re good at. A surefire way to get good at anything is to do it a lot (short of selling your soul down at the crossroads). If you want to enjoy the stage, you’ve got to get onstage. Book shows, play coffeehouses, invite your friends to rehearsal. (You’ll be surprised how enthused those friends are at the next show when they feel they’re in on the secret.) Even for as many shows as I’ve played, one new person in rehearsal gives somewhere to channel my energy. Play for people as often as you can. It gets easier, and if it doesn’t, believe you’re getting better, even if your stomach still churns. Performing songs for an audience is fun. Allow it. Dress in a way that makes you feel good, eat food that makes you feel good. Give yourself the opportunity. A teacher told me, “95 per cent of the audience wants you to do great. They need you to set them free.” Focus entirely on those people and have fun. C A N A D I A N M U S I C I A N • 25