Build A Repertoire P1/2

Build A Repertoire P1/2

Congratulations to my student for nailing her first paying gig. Her question prompted me to share my advice with those who may have the same question. How does one prepare for your first paying live gig?

My answer is, first, build a repertoire.

These are some questions that will help you build an effective repertoire:
1) What is your current repertoire made of?
TIP: Write down every song, and the key you sing in. If you don’t know what is a key, you need to get some theory lessons. Pick up an instrument. Or find a good vocal coach with a foundation in at least some music theory.
2) Do you accompany yourself? If so, work out a chart for each song. If not, do the same. So many singers don’t realise this is quintessential.
TIP: If you don’t know any theory, work out your tunes with someone. Credit them or pay them, and learn from them. You need this important skill. My advice again, is to pick up an instrument even if you don’t accompany yourself on the gig.
3) How long is your gig? 1 set of 30/45min? or 4? Is it a one-timer or a resident gig?
TIP 1: If this is your first gig, be real, you don’t want to crush yourself at your first attempt. Build a good foundation and build your confidence. Be kind to yourself. The process of your training your voice, your stage presentation is a lifelong journey, so be patient even if you have enough repertoire to last 10 sets. Singing is an exercise, think of marathons. Mountain-climbing. It takes months to just prepare a climb on Mount Ophir, so think in gradation, when you think Mount Everest. You only need to be better than your yesterday. That’s all. Enjoy the process.
TIP 2: You should require about 10-12 songs for a 45min set depending on what sort of crowd and music it is. For jazz gigs where you can front a real solo and play til the cows go home, you probably need only 5-7 tunes to last the set, but for a pop gig, people want to hear the vocals more, so you need to standby about 12 songs. I like to keep a list for standbys, for different types of crowds. The list becomes invisible when you know your stuff well enough, but i like a real list so i don’t waste time digging through songs on stage.
4) What are you expected to play? Truth is if you’re playing for a wedding, you need to say no to all the sad tunes, sometimes even at the disappointment of drunken guests at the parties. I’ve had to turn down MLTR’s 25 Minutes (Too Late). Need one say more? I pray you have the discernment in choosing brilliantly for each occasion you play for.
TIP: Find out what you are hired for. What sort of music are you expected to play? What sort of clientele are you expecting to be play for? Ask, when in doubt.
5) What is your music like? Where do you seek to grow?
TIP: This should be the first and also the last question you ask. I continue to ask myself this question each day so that I refine the music i create and play. You can never truly just play for yourself when you are working musician, but you will find that as you get better, you get more chips to do so. Keep on keepin’ on as CT says.

Essentially plotting down all the above will give you an idea of how many songs you need to have on that first gig. You want to gravitate towards a repertoire that will serve you for a longer span of time. Factors include how much you enjoy the tunes, how much the audience would enjoy the tunes. After that first gig, take notes on the responses from the audience on the different tunes. Make a mark on the ones that seem popular. Take note of the ones you enjoy. Depending on the venue that you play for, try to strike a nice balance between the two. If there are song requests, you would take note of them, and see if you could include them in your repertoire the next round.

If this is your first paying gig, you should also start a simple practice/health regime if you don’t already have to take care of your voice, your health. Yes they all look hip, but the level-headed ones truly go the distance. Beyonce, Mariah Carey, Lady Gaga, Clark Terry, Herbie Hancock will all tell you that. Herbie had his own episodes of cool, but even he has known then to steer clear of those drug parties. I have great respect for his honesty in his biography “Possibilities“.
TIP: Have a simple practice regime, eat well, hydrate, sleep well. Find a vocal coach to oversee your training process every now and then even if you can’t manage regular sessions. I continue to find every opportunity to nab wonderful teachers when they are in town. They just help snapping things into place when you lose sight of certain things in the midst of all the gigging.

All the best to that first gig! Have fun!

Juliet Pang is a singer-songwriter, jazz vocalist, and educator.