A tight sound is one of the strongest 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 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, meaning your monitor mix can vary greatly from show to show. Furthermore, you’ll likely find yourself dealing with a wide range of different backlines, monitor mixes and stage setups. A regular gigging schedule can help you adapt to a broad 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 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:
- They keep everyone strictly in time: A metronome serves as a fantastic guide to keep the band strictly in time.
- They establish 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 completely the wrong tempo. A metronome can effectively prevent this.
- They allow for the use of backing tracks: If you’re incorporating pre-recorded backing tracks into your live shows, playing to a metronome ensures they’ll be 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 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
3. Show Up To Rehearsal Prepared
In order for a band to tighten up, members will have to direct their attention to each other rather than themselves. If every rehearsal is spent with members trying to get to grips with the material, you’ll never get round to actually tightening it up. The best way to circumvent this is to make sure everyone thoroughly learns the material beforehand. That way, you’ll be able to spend the rehearsal tightening it up rather than trying to learn it.
If you don’t feel you have enough time to prepare for rehearsal, you’ll have to make time. This might mean giving up your Saturday night out with friends or your Sunday morning lie-in in order to prepare for an upcoming rehearsal. Here’s a quick guide on how to learn new material as quickly as possible:
- Listen to the song all the way through twice
- Split the song into sections and order them from least-complicated to most-complicated
- Start learning each section, working your way up from least-complicated to most-complicated.
- When dealing with complex sections, practice them at half-speed and slowly work up to full-speed using a metronome.
- If needed, make any notes or tabs required for rehearsal
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 too busy focussing on your guitar part).
A simple solution is to incorporate breakout groups for individual sections into 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 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 around you. 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 are a great affordable option, effectively preventing your hearing without compromising on sound quality.
6. Rehearse Turnarounds & Stops
Turnarounds and stops are two areas that will really stick out if they aren’t tight. As a result, it’s well-worth setting time aside during each rehearsal to focus on them. Here’s my go-to method for getting turnarounds and stops as tight as possible:
- Get the drummer and bass player to rehearse the turnaround or stop on a loop.
- Once the bassist and drummer have tightened things up between them, add the rhythm guitar in.
- Repeat the process and add successive instruments (lead guitar, keys, vocals etc.)
- If things start to loosen up after adding an instrument, repeat the entire process starting with just drums and the newly-introduced instrument.
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 performing, it can be difficult to gain an all-encompassing view of what your band actually looks and sounds like. Having a reference recording circumvents this, allowing 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; 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’re struggling to tighten up a section through rehearsal alone, it might be due to a poor arrangement. Often, a small change to the arrangement can allow for a much tighter sound. The main culprits are usually:
- Drum fills
- Contrasting guitar rhythms
- A poorly-written vocal line
When it comes to arranging, less is often more. The simpler you keep things, the better chance you stand of achieving a tight sound.
9. Reverse-Engineer The Arrangement To Locate Problem Areas
If you’re unsure why a song 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.
Here are a couple of common reasons why a song might sound sloppy:
- Poor arrangement
- Poor tone
- Lack of preparation
- Poor live mix (A member may not be able to clearly hear what’s going on)
10. Prioritize Group Sensitivity
When you’re playing in a band, it’s all-too-easy to get so immersed in your own part that you aren’t actually focussing 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 overcoming mistakes during a show; knowing each member’s playing style and part will enable you to get the arrangement back on track if someone makes a bad mistake.
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