Posted by: Brad Nixon | March 14, 2010

Dream Gig, But the Work Is Real

This is the 2nd in a series of articles that will cover the progress of my company’s Global Jam band as we prepare for this year’s performance at the company’s annual technology conference. To read the initial post, select “Global Jam” from the “Categories” in the right-hand navigation column, or go HERE.

The Global Jam

The Global Jam

We’ve had the second of our biweekly conference calls: the very end of Sunday in Australia, a little before dawn on Sunday here in California, and in between, the 25 members of the band scattered across times zones on 6 continents. With the set list selected and with everyone having volunteered for the numbers they want to play, this call focused on making certain that the instrumental and vocal assignments correctly covered the parts for each tune. Most of the real work from this point will break down into smaller groups on a song-by-song basis. The music director and vocal director for each song will coordinate lead sheets, vocal parts and the all-important issue of how to start each number and, more difficult, how to end each number.

In this big group, we’re concerned about the common issues: rehearsal times, when we should arrive and when we should be ready to play, what sort of rental gear will we have, how will the sound check be conducted? Keep in mind that some of these folks will be traveling halfway across the world, and have to plan their flight schedules so that they can be on site at the right time and arrive with enough cushion so that jet lag doesn’t crush them 48 hours into their trip. For professionals who do this for a living, it’s simpler: producers, agents and managers make certain that all the details are covered, and that the musician is well taken care of en route. But our band is comprised of business people who, as it happens, are attending the conference because it’s part of their job. The band part is something they do on their own, and they have to compress their schedules in whatever way necessary in order to be able to play.

Everyone in the band has been listening to and learning the songs we’ll be playing. They’re starting to hear the subtleties in the songs, and there is some discussion about how many voices there are, whether or not that’s a synth or a flute, and what’s that strange instrument on the number that’s in Spanish? Oh, yes, a feature of having this global group from a variety of cultures is that each of the international members will do a song from their own country. We’ll have well-known rock and dance numbers from the U.S., but also songs performed in Dutch, Vietnamese, Spanish, German, Mandarin, and some truly arcane language few can master: Australian. One particular challenge is that non-speakers of some of those languages must learn the backing vocals in a foreign language.

As for that rental gear question, if you don’t know it, I’ll teach you a behind-the-scenes bit of touring band lingo: backline. Backline is the amps and rental instruments on stage. Touring musicians get off the bus or step out of the limo (no limos on our gig, but I’ve read about such things). They’re the front line, of course. On stage is all their gear. Guitar players and horn players might bring their own axes, but not amplifiers or keyboards or drum sets. In our case, traveling economy class for a business meeting, we can’t bring much stuff with us, so we need rental gear. That’s backline. If you depend on rented backline, you hope that the production manager has some good contacts and has specified good stuff. An unscrupulous producer, of course, could save a buck renting lousy gear. The life of the traveling band!

As a harmonica player, I have it pretty easy. One battered briefcase holds all the harps I need (12: one for each key) and my harmonica microphone. Harder for those on keyboards or baritone sax!

So, now the real work begins. For the complex songs with big instrumental and vocal arrangements, there are scores to study and there are vocal parts to learn. A couple of the songs are very long dance numbers: 8 or 9 minutes,  and they’ll have to be cut down. It’s the job of the music director for each number to lead the players on that song to reach an understanding of where the cuts are, and just how each song will end. It’s simpler and easier for straightforward rock numbers, but there still needs to be a common understand of where the solos occur and how many repeats of solo parts we’ll do.

Some people, I’m told, get paid to do this. What a life!

My colleague and fellow Global Jam member (and fellow harp-player), Niels, is also blogging about the process from his home in the Netherlands. You can follow him at http://hairycoo.wordpress.com.

Note: I regret that I will be unable to post audio of the band’s performance in June due to copyright restrictions (they’re all cover tunes). I expect to have some excellent photos, though.

The photo shows the band in 2008. That’s Blog Brother Niels, the blond at the microphone. Photo © 2012 by Ted Fowler. Photo may not be reused or copied without express permission.

© 2012 Brad Nixon

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