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Being an Adaptable Musician

Updated on February 11, 2018
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Bob Craypoe (also known as R. L. Crepeau) is a musician, writer, webmaster, 3D artist, and creator of the Punksters comic strip series.

Circumstances change over time but they also sometimes have a funny way of changing at the drop of a dime. This happens in everyday life and it also happens to musicians regardless of their band situation or professionals status. But being able to adapt to the various changes whether they be gradual or instantaneous may be one thing that separates the pros from the wannabes.

Gradual Changes Over Time

There are various things in the music or entertainment business that are constantly changing over time. Various styles of music become popular and other styles may become less popular. A musician that is capable of adjusting to these changes might add newer songs to his repertoire in order to adapt to the current trends. Regardless as to what your style of music is, there are usually changes within that genre going on all the time. New artists pop up and, before you know it, people at your gigs will start making requests for some of their songs. It happens all the time.

Maybe in your band situation, you will see certain trends like a band member being difficult to work with or his enthusiasm or attitude gradually worsens over time. Sometimes you may get a sense that his heart is no longer in it and you may feel that it is probably just a matter of time before the guy quits. This creates a situation where a certain void may eventually be created. What the band will have to do upon that person’s departure is find a way to fill whatever voids are created by that departure. It’s really not a bad idea to try to develop various contingency plans for scenarios such as that.

Over time, you may notice that there is an increase in competition regarding the acquisition of paid gigs. I once read, a number of years back, that there are approximately ten bands for every paid gig. The statistics regarding that may have even worsened since then and may be worse in some areas than in others. You may find that you will have to hustle a little bit more, as a result of increased competition, to score those paid gigs.

Some areas are also better than others as far as having venues that hire live entertainment. A lot of places drop live bands only to replace them with karaoke or DJ’s. This may mean that you will have to travel further outside of your local area in order to book paid gigs. If you notice that trend in your local area, it may be time to start looking for those new places to play in order to replace the ones that are going away. You would be better off starting that process as soon as possible in order to maintain a steady gig schedule.

Adapting to Quick Changes

Dealing with gradual changes can be challenging enough but it’s the quick changes that really get you. Maybe your bass player suddenly quits or your singer decides he wants to start going to technical school for air conditioning and refrigeration repair and he is giving up on the music thing. In any case, the sudden departure of a band member can pose a serious challenge to the future of a band situation. The first thing you may want to do is at least find out if the person is able to perform for the shows that have already been booked. Hopefully that will be the case. If not, you need to immediately look for a replacement.

Finding a quick replacement for any band member can be tough. But sometimes we are lucky and may have already had someone in mind to replace the person who is leaving. If you are able to work that person into the act quickly enough to avoid canceling shows, then by all means do it. Life goes on and so must the show. Sure it can be a significant challenge to work someone in quickly as a replacement but if it is really doable, go for it. There may be some compromise involved though. For example, this new person you will be trying to work into the band situation may not know some of the material you do but there may be some songs he knows that you don’t. So, for the sake of getting things together more quickly, you learn some of what he knows and he learns some of what you know and you kind of meet somewhere in the middle. I believe they call that compromise.

One example of adapting to personnel changes is when the band Genesis lost Peter Gabriel as the lead singer. Phil Collins stepped forward and began to do the lead vocals. You may have a band member that is capable of doing some of those things that the departing band member does. If that person is reluctant to fill that void, you may want to try to encourage him to do so. Sure, he may be leaving his comfort zone by stepping forward to fill that void but you’d be surprised at what you are capable of doing when certain events suddenly force you to adapt.

Becoming the New Front Man or Solo Act

Some people love being the front man of a band or what they think is the center of attention. Others just like to lay low and let the front man get all of the attention. From what I have read, Phil Collins was reluctant, initially, to step forward to be the new lead singer of Genesis. Yet, he did it and there was no looking back after that. Of course, after having done that, it really positioned him to eventually have a solo career.

I used to be just a guitarist. I had absolutely no problem with letting the singer get all of the attention. I just liked being the guy in the background playing the guitar. Sure, I did what I could to try to be a good guitar player and always tried to maintain a high level of musicianship but the thought of being the lead singer for even so much as a single song never really appealed to me.

Over time, I realized how working within band situations that involved some unreliable people was really holding me back. When you have people who aren’t learning the songs as they should be or showing up late to gigs or rehearsals, you begin to realize sometimes that the only person you can really count on is yourself. This forced me to eventually go solo.

As I have already stated, I never wanted to be the front man of a band or a solo act. But, as they say, necessity is the mother of invention. As a result of my circumstances, I kind of had to reinvent myself. Since I was really mostly a guitar player, I had to start working on my vocals in order to eventually go solo. I began to practice singing in my car on the way back and forth to work. I would even practice singing scales while I was driving down the road.

My transformation from just being the guy in the background playing guitar to being a solo act did not happen over night. It took some practice and I did some open mics where I had begun singing in front of an audience and, over time, I became more comfortable with it. I had to step well outside of my comfort zone but eventually it all became easier to do.

Could You Go Solo if You Needed To?

Equipment and Sound

There are some changes you may have to make regarding your equipment and your sound. For me, since I was going solo, I had to have all my own equipment. So a few purchases had to be made to accommodate that. I also had a certain sound that I wanted to achieve as well and that also required the purchase of some new equipment.

When mixing yourself as a solo act, you try to attain as full of a sound as is possible for a single person. So there was a lot of experimentation regarding that. It was a bit of a process for me. I was initially just playing acoustic guitar and singing. So I would try to give the acoustic guitar a nice full sound. It was mostly mid range and a bit of bass. On my vocals, I would add a bit of treble to help it stand out in the mix. I would also use a bit of reverb on the vocals as well to try to give the sound more depth.

Lately, I have been using a Fender Stratocaster for solo gigs. I like the clarity I get from the single-coil pickups when I finger pick the guitar. To add more depth, I use an Electro-Harmonix Synth 9 pedal and have it on the Synth Strings patch. So most of the signal is the clean guitar sound but it also has a strings sound mixed in with it. I also add a bit of delay as well as reverb. Rather than using just either reverb or delay, it’s nice to use a hint of both together. It really gives the sound a lot of depth. I try not to use too much of either though. I still want to maintain as much clarity as possible.

On my vocals, I like to use just a hint of compression to try to maintain consistent volume levels when I sing. There are times when I go to hit the highs when I am singing where I may have a tendency to get louder. The compression helps to keep that somewhat in check. The rest is done by pulling away from the mic a little when I know I am going to get a bit louder. The compression can also add a bit of warmth as well. But, like I said, I try not to use too much compression because it takes away from the dynamics if you apply too much of it.

I am always working to develop my sound for live performance. I am also always looking to have as much depth to it as I can. This involves experimentation. So I would have to say that experimentation may be an important part of adapting to your situation as far as your equipment and sound are concerned.

Get the Equipment You Need and Learn How to Use It

So, Are You an Adaptive Musician?

As you can see, I have forced myself to adapt to changing circumstances. Some changes were easier to make than others and some may have taken longer to make than others but, overall, I have adapted to those changes in a way that has worked out somewhat well for me. I also expect that I will continue to do so in the future, as a matter of necessity as well as a matter of preference.

The thing is that if you really want to have some form of longevity in the music business, you have to be able to adapt adequately to changing circumstances. Are you able to do that? You might want to take a look at yourself and make that assessment. It could pay off for you in the long run.

© 2018 Bob Craypoe

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