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Let the show begin! Getting ready to take the stage.
By Jeff Oxenford - 01/15/2007 - 01:51 PM EST

Songwriting has taken the back stage for the last month as Julie and I have been preparing to be the opening act at an upcoming Listen Room concert. We’re playing an hour-long set before Troy Schoenfelder of Buckskin Stallion (a leading local band) takes the stage. This is kind of like graduation after the past few years of work, studying, writing and practicing. I hope we get an A.

Putting the set together has taken a ton of work. The steps that we’ve taken to get the set ready include:

- Estimated that we need 10 songs. With most of our songs in the 3-4 minute range (i.e. 30-40 minutes), that gives us time for song intros, changing tunings, etc. We also have 2 songs for back-ups if we need to fill time or get an encore.

- Selected the songs so that there’s flow in the set as well as variety. We start at a moderate pace, slow down, get faster, slow down and the fastest toward the end. We have a mixture of folk, jazz, blues and rock songs. We’ve interspersed Julie singing with my singing and have spread out the humor songs. We’ve also identified where we can cut songs if we get short on time.

- Did the work to finish the songs. It amazed me that all the songs that I had thought of as being done, needed work before performing. There was typically a verse or two that I always wanted to change, or a bridge that keep moving around.

- Finalize the accompaniments – Since Julie accompanies me on a number of songs, we needed to work out live arrangements and nail down our timing. Another friend Rob Roper will be playing lead guitar on one song. I put a demo on my web site so that he has something to practice with.

- Selecting the appropriate cover songs. Even though the purpose of the set is to introduce our songs, we needed to add a few cover songs to give the audience a break. Cover songs gives the audience a chance to relax with something familiar, they know the words so don’t have to concentrate on what we’re trying to say.

- Preparing the song introductions. Nothing is worse than rambling, nonsense song introductions. Hopefully ours will be short and meaningful.

The next step has been practicing. We have about three weeks to prepare. Our preparation has consisted of:

- Nailing down the vocals – I’m working with my vocal and songwriting coach, Ben Senterfit on all the songs that have tricky vocals. I think I can hit most of the notes (maybe).

- Set up a PA in the living room. We borrowed a PA from Julie’s mom (how cool is it that my future mother-in-law has a PA) and are going through the set each day. This has really helped with my guitar. I typically play unplugged and the guitar sounds totally different coming through an amp.

- Going through the set each day – During a performance class at Swallow Hill, the instructor Christy Wessler, had us practice each song over a period of two months. She had explained that you go through a process with each song. First you love it but are not rock solid, for a while you hate the song, and finally you love the song and are rock solid with it. On stage you are only 60-80% of the musician you are at home, so by knowing the song in and out, you can nail it on stage (or at least know how to recover from mistakes).

- Practicing the introductions. This is definitely the least exciting thing, but will pay dividends on stage. My dog thinks I’m crazy as I say hi to the window and thank it for coming.

The final thing that we did was to invite a number of friends to be strategically placed in the audience. At least we can count on them for a positive reaction. Of course the beer that we need to buy them will cost more then we make on the evening.

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