A tight sound is one of the best attributes an independent band can possess. Here are 10 essential tips on how to make your band tighter:
1. Play Live On A Regular Basis
Instead of taking the cop-out approach of telling you to rehearse regularly, I’d advocate playing live regularly. Playing live is one of the best ways to tighten up your band for the following two reasons:
- It exposes you to a wide range of different conditions: If you’re playing live on a regular basis, you’ll know that no two shows are ever the same. Venues come in all shapes and sizes and you’ll often find yourself dealing with a wide range of different backlines, monitor mixes and stage setups. A regular gigging schedule will help you adapt to a wide range of different live conditions.
- It requires you to give your best effort: When rehearsing, it’s easy to take a more laid-back approach to playing. When you’re in front of a crowd of people, the pressure is on to give the best performance you possibly can. A regular gigging schedule will often tighten you up much faster than rehearsals alone ever could.
I’d advocate rehearsing at least once a week and playing live at least once a month if you’re looking to tighten your live sound up.
2.Play To A Metronome (Click Track)
Metronomes are becoming increasingly common amongst bands for both rehearsal & live performance. Many of the most well-known bands in the industry use metronomes when playing live for the following reasons:
- Keeps everyone strictly in time: A metronome serves as a fantastic guide to keep the band strictly in time.
- Establishes the correct tempo: This is especially beneficial for live performance. When you’re under the pressure of nerves, it’s all-too-easy to start a song off at the wrong tempo. Using a metronome prevents this.
- Allows for the use of backing tracks: If you’re incorporating pre-recorded backing tracks into your live shows, playing to a metronome ensures they’re synced up with the rest of the band.
If you’re planning on incorporating a metronome into your rehearsals or shows, you’ll need a set of in-ear monitors. These allow each band member to clearly hear the metronome without the audience having to hear it. Sennheiser’s IE 40 PRO Monitors (link to Amazon) are brilliant and the best value monitors I’ve used. If you’ve got a little more budget, it’s well-worth investing in a dedicated set for the entire band, such as the Audio2000’S AWM6306U (link to Amazon).
3. Show Up To Rehearsal Prepared
Showing up to rehearsal unprepared means you’ll spend the rehearsal learning the material instead of tightening it up. Additionally, it can be immensely frustrating for other members who have put the work in beforehand. Rehearsal should be viewed as an opportunity to tighten up pre-learned material as a full band instead of a time to learn material from scratch.
4. Use Breakout Groups During Rehearsal
Many bands make the mistake of rehearsing material by simply running through it as a full band. Whilst rehearsing material as a full band is of course necessary, it can limit your ability to fundamentally grasp each element of the arrangement (for example, you might not be nailing your backing vocal part if you’re focusing on your guitar part).
A simple solution is to include breakout groups for individual sections in your rehearsals. Examples of effective breakout groups include:
- The drummer and bassist rehearsing the groove
- Two guitarists rehearsing a complicated section
- Backing vocalists rehearsing their harmonies
Rehearsing material in isolated breakout groups allows each member to fully-grasp each element of the song before it’s incorporated into the full arrangement.
5. Rehearse At Low Volume
Whilst I can fully understand the temptation to turn things up to maximum volume during rehearsal, it can limit your ability to hear everything clearly and reduces the urge to fully-focus. Rehearsing at a lower volume will allow you to better-hear the rest of the band and force you to pay closer attention to what’s going on. Additionally, it’s well-worth investing in some quality ear protection that guards your hearing without muffling the sound of the band. The SureFire EP4’s (link to Amazon) are a great affordable option that effectively protect your hearing without compromising sound quality.
6. Rehearse Turnarounds & Stops
Both turnarounds and stops are two areas that will really stick out if they aren’t tight. It’s well-worth setting time aside during each rehearsal to simply rehearse turnarounds and stops. A great technique for rehearsing turnarounds and stops is to start with the drummer and bassist, then slowly add in other instruments with each successive run-through.
7. Record Your Rehearsals
Recording your rehearsals is one of the absolute best things you can do to both tighten up your sound and improve your stagecraft. When you’re actively performing, it can be difficult to pinpoint things that need improving. Having a reference recording allows you to view your band from an audience perspective and better-identify problem areas.
I’d advocate buying a dedicated video camera to record your rehearsals. Recording video has the added benefit of allowing you to view both your stage presence & positioning from an audience perspective. The best value camera I’ve found is the WEILIANTE Digital Camcorder (link to Amazon). It’s remote controlled and can store 30GB of data, which will be more than enough for each rehearsal.
8. Tweak The Arrangement
If you find that a certain section of a song just isn’t sounding tight, it might be due to a poor arrangement. Instead of simply trying to tighten the section up, it’s worth considering if the arrangement can be tweaked to allow for a tighter sound. It’s possible that a drum fill or a vocal turnaround might simply be a bad fit for the arrangement, causing the section to sound sloppy.
9. Reverse-Engineer The Arrangement To Locate Problem Areas
If you’re unsure why a certain section sounds sloppy, a great technique is to reverse-engineer the entire arrangement in order to pinpoint what isn’t working. Start with just the drummer and the bassist playing through the track, then slowly add the other instruments until things start sounding sloppy. Once you’ve found the point at which things start to loosen up, you can hone in on what’s going wrong and make the necessary changes.
10. Prioritize Group Sensitivity
When you’re playing in a band, it’s easy to get so immersed in your own part that you aren’t actually focused on the rest of the arrangement. Directing the majority of your attention to your fellow bandmates will help you lock in with the rest of the group and subsequently tighten up your own part. Group sensitivity is also immensely helpful for when things go wrong; knowing each member’s playing style and part will enable you to get the arrangement back on track if someone makes a bad mistake.