It’s been awhile since I’ve received a reader blog request, but I’m so glad I did! A new blog reader recently emailed me with a question that not only has been an issue for me as a performer and as a teacher, but I know has affected many of you as well.
In short, she is singing for a gig at a location where no piano is provided. How can she ensure quality accompaniment then to have a successful gig?
While every situation will be slightly different, a few factors will remain constant. First, you’ll want to consider your options when it comes to what may count as portable accompaniments. Then, you’ll want to think about factors for the gig that may help you choose your accompaniment.
Although there are a number of options for accompaniment in any performance, let’s stick to the three options you’re most likely to use and talk about how flexible or inflexible they can be.
Pros: Portable, affordable
Cons: Lower quality, musically inflexible
Most classical singers are accustomed to working with a live accompanist who plays on a real piano. For many of us, our training provided us with such luxuries. However, a gigging singer will come to discover that this option is so rarely afforded to them in the real world. While an audio recording seems to offer so much less to the audience, consider its pros and cons more carefully.
For smaller gigs such as parties, weddings, and other private events, the audience may not think too much about what kind of accompaniment there is, choosing to focus on you – the singer – instead. Furthermore, if you’re doing a lot of these kinds of gigs, you’ll constantly need accompaniment and instrumental rentals and accompanist fees can add up quickly. Many singers use recorded accompaniments, and it’s a perfectly fine option.
Then there’s the issue of flexibility and quality in a recording. If you were to buy an accompaniment recording, you may not like the tempo or instrumentation. You might want to consider hiring an accompanist to record a number of your standards for you so that you have more control over the nature of the recording.
Keyboard with an Accompanist
Pros: Portable, musically more flexible
Cons: Set up, cost
Many gig instrumentalists may laugh at the singer’s plight over having to carry instruments, as this is something other musicians deal with all the time. This is why a portable keyboard may be a good option for the gig singer. Certain keyboards are of a higher quality than others, so purchasing a full-size weighted keyboard with a small amp and attachable pedals may be a worthwhile investment. That way, you can have the comfort of an accompanist with less hassle than a real piano. However, there will still be the issue of setup time and cost of said accompanist.
Full Sized Piano with an Accompanist
Pros: Great musical flexibility, quality
Cons: Cost, not portable
As mentioned before, most (if not all) classical singers would prefer this option to the other two. If you’re fortunate enough to have a lot of gigs but less fortunate to have them at locations without an in-house piano, then it most likely will not make sense to continually rent a piano. However, if you have a one time gig somewhere that can afford the extra fee, it might be worthwhile.
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There are a number of other factors to keep in mind when choosing your form of accompaniment for a gig, and some have already been addressed. It’s important to remember each issue separately though to make the best choice for you in the long run.
When you’re singing for a wedding that pays a few hundred dollars at most, you don’t want to spend all of that money on a piano and an accompanist. With that said, take into the account the budget of the event, the frequency, and the location. How much can the couple pay for? How much will they pay for? Would it be costly to rent a piano for the location? These kinds of questions can be asked for any event. If you regularly perform at these kinds of gigs, you may also consider putting an accompaniment fee into your price, or offer different accompaniment options for a sliding pay scale. Similarly, if you are not being paid for the event, or you are performing a self-promoted event, you may want to consider the benefit of certain accompaniments to the cost.
Find out as much about a location as you can before choosing a form of accompaniment. In some places, it wil
l be virtually impossible to rent a piano due to distance or space issues. In other places, it may be surprisingly easy. Learning as much as you can about a venue and its capacity options may make the decision for you.
While us singers always want the best of the best, the audience you’re singing for may be perfectly content with a recorded accompaniment. Others may expect a higher-end experience. Especially if this is an audience that may hire you for future events, consider their desires carefully.
How much time you have for set up, rehearsal, and performance can factor into your accompaniment choices as well. If you have very little time to set up, you may want to use that precious time for a soundcheck rather than tuning. Furthermore, a one-time performance versus a multi-day performance may have different options or needs. Renting a full piano would make more sense for a performance spanning a weekend rather than just a few hours, for example.
As you can see, there’s a lot to consider when weighing your portable accompaniment options. Each event and situation is unique, but the most important thing is to consider all of the factors before you perform, quote your client, or even accept a gig. By doing so, you’ll have a more enjoyable gigging experience all around.
What portable accompaniments do you use on gigs? Let us know!