Last month I wrote a blog that asked several of the writers on ContemporaryMusicalTheatre.com for their advice on on how to find performers and venues to sing their music, and how each of them first got their music “out there” (read that blog here). They gave some great insights, but one thing we didn’t talk about in those interviews was how to actually craft a concert.
As a director, I am surprised how few writers think to hire a director when they get ready to have a concert of their own music. Maybe they think they know their own songs so well that all they have to do is sit down on the piano bench, hire some performers and, “Bam!” they have a concert. But here’s the thing — putting together a concert is no different than putting together any other kind of show: It needs to have a beginning, a middle, and an end and it needs to tell a story. So if you are getting ready to plan your concert, here are some things to think about.
Why are you doing this concert now and what do you want your audience to walk away with?
These may seem like simple questions but I find a lot of people are unable to answer either of them at the start. It’s important for you to be clear about your intentions because the answers will help shape every single part of your concert. If you’re doing the concert because you need good quality videos to post on YouTube to help sell your music–that’s specific and it is going to inform the kind of venue you choose and the kind of performers you hire. If you want your audience to walk away thinking, “Wow, that was a fun night,” that’s going to be a different show than if your answer is, “I want the audience to see the breadth of my talent.”
What is the story you are telling?
Every show needs to take an audience on some kind of journey and a concert is no different. The story you decide to tell will help you figure out the concert’s framework. Is the story autobiographical? Are you going to walk through your work chronologically? Or do you want to group blocks of “like” songs either by show or by style?
Decide the lineup
This is one of the most tricky parts of crafting a concert–deciding the song order. There is definitely an art to this and you will probably try (and fail) a few times before coming up with a lineup that works. One trick I learned from David Sisco is to put recordings of all the songs into a playlist on iTunes. That way, I can move them around and “listen to the show” to see how things flow.
I am always adamant that the “patter” (connective narrative between songs) be scripted. No matter how gifted a performer you are, or how much you think you know what you’re going to say, it pays to write it down and to rehearse it as a script. In doing this, I advise referring back to your answers to: “What do you want your audience to walk away with?” and “What story are you telling?” Make sure what you say about each individual song is true to your overall show goals and tells the story you decided to tell.
Casting & Rehearsing
Your cast will be representing you so you don’t want them to be under rehearsed. It’s great to hire “name” performers, but just because someone has Broadway credits doesn’t mean they’re a quick study or even right for your song. A performer who knows (and can sing) your music well may be a better choice than the Broadway belter who can’t make any rehearsals then screlts through your song on stage. As for rehearsal, as a rule of thumb, I like to give each performer three rehearsals–one to learn the song/record it, then two more to run thru it. If time allows, I think the first rehearsal should be at least one month before the event because it takes that long to make a song your own and really get it into your body and voice. And don’t forget to rehearse things like entrances, exits, mic moves, and music stand ‘ography.
The Show Will Go On
As with any show, it helps to plan for the unexpected. One of your performers will develop a conflict (or a cold). You will replace him and the show will go on. When your show is over, take a few days to relax then sit and write down what you feel worked and what didn’t. That way you will have a map to help make your next concert even more successful.
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