Monday, March 26, 2012

Music Mishaps

I was in a show recently where my music cut in and out. I kept dancing. Whenever the music came back on, I was in the right place. I felt confident enough with how well I new my piece to just power through.
The only bad thing is the stress of "holy crap, what happened to my music?" shot my adrenaline up and then I crashed before the song was over. A combination that I struggle with on a good day looked like udder crap because I just didn't have it in me. But you know after all that, having only 16 counts off in an otherwise perfect performance - I'll take it.
After the show, I heard nothing but compliments on how I handled the music mix up and that's what I want to talk about.

#1 - I was at a show with Raksanna when her music did not play. 
This show was in an intimate setting. The dance space was at floor level with seating on two sides. Raksanna had already entered the dance space and was face to face with the audience when her music failed. After several tries she signaled her husband to go sort things out with the sound guy.
She then said that while they were getting that sorted out, why didn't we play a game. She divided the audience into groups and arranged is in sort of a clapping game so that we clapped out a rhythm. She then did a bit of improv to our clapping until the music got sorted. 
The way she dealt we a music mishap was graceful, fun and you know what? I remember it for all the right reasons.

#2 - I was a little involved with the backstage of this show and I recall that the CD player lacked a time signature. Somehow during the middle of a dancers piece, something happened to stop the song. She stopped, looked annoyed and told the sound man to go back to a certain part. He had to restart the song and forward it where everyone could hear it every time he stopped to let her listen if that was the right place. She got further frustrated and stormed offstage to yell at him. He reaction wasn't pretty, and those audience members setting so they could see behind the curtain on stage right (quite a few people actually) saw her continue to berate the poor sound man until her got it right. A lot of people remember this and still talk about it. 

I let both these instances be a lesson to me a long time before I myself ever had a problem onstage. Unfortunately, like wardrobe malfunctions, music mishaps are something that we have to prepare for. Here are some suggestions on how to handle it.

Music skips - Sometimes, like in my case, the music skips a little but then gets back on track. I chose to keep dancing. The first few skips were only a few seconds so I chose to hold on until they got too bad, and it actually got better by the 2nd half of the song. 
If the problems make the music undanceable then take a bow and walk off stage. You can ask the stage manager/organizer if they want you to get a back up of the music right away or go on later in the show instead.

Music stops - If you are near the end or it was a long piece anyway, its okay to make a face that says "this wasn't the end but oh well" do a big finish and take a graceful bow. 
If you are near the beginning or it is a very short piece, there is nothing wrong with starting over. You worked hard on your dance and the audience appreciates that. They want you to get to do it start to finish as much as they want to see it start to finish. 

Music won't play at all - I know organizers are busy, but there is no reason not to check all the music on the sound system before hand. Without taking breaks the music is never half as long as the show. Just let it play and listen for problems. Delegate it to the sound person. It also let's them become familiar with the equipment and music. 
But things happen and that's why we always bring back-ups. Again, exit the area and find out if they would like you to fetch your back-up while they stall or just squeeze you in to a later place in the show.
Or like in Raksanna's case where she was the headliner, she knew she had someone to get the back-up and get it handled so she did her own stalling.

They play the wrong music - Smile at the sound person and shake your head no. Or hold your pose/position  back stage in a way that says - that's not my music.

There is never a reason to get mad, and really never reason to get upset. I take exception to students and beginning performers whose nerves may be shot after a mishap. When that happens there is nothing wrong with gracefully walking off stage and telling the organizer that you just don't feel like your nerves recovered from the music problems and you will instead enjoy the show from the audience.

The only thing you can do is prepare yourself mentally and be prepared with music back-ups. Personally, I always go to a show with the three things. 
1. A CD with just my song. I burned it and tested it in my car and my very cheap CD player as well as my computer. I find cars and cheap players to be the most finicky of playback devices when it comes to homemade CDs.
I also label in BOLD sharpie marker
Bluegrass Bellydance
Time Signature
This helps me and the people running the show to keep it from getting confused.
I also keep all these in one box in my dance room so I don't have to burn more than one if I use the same number several times.
2. My iPod. My iPod has all my music. I know not every sound system can play one but just in case.
3. A couple of back up songs. I have never used one yet but better to prepare for the worst.

I would love to hear about any music mishaps I didn't mention or any scenarios where you learned from another dancer both what to do and what not do when there is a problem.

1 comment:

Najla said...

Great article, and such good advice to give regarding music mishaps. I was in a troupe for many years that performed a regular show every other week. Guests who came to the show were given specific instructions on bringing music (burned to a CD, nothing else on it; bring a back up...all that good stuff).

We even told them that we had an older, rather finicky CD player provided by the venue. Even with all those instructions I cannot tell you how many dancers didn't follow our notes and unfortunately had problems at the show. I could tells dozens of stories alone from that one, but this is one my favorite music mishaps:

I remember one night the CD player was literally possessed and we had a sound guy furiously trying to figure it out how to get anything to play. It was the type of player that would allow up to 5 CDs at once. That night it not only would pick a random CD, but also a random song, and only play snippets of it at best. We had stalled way too long with the audience so when the sound guy finally got something to play consistently and a dancer recognized the music, I literally shoved her out on stage and told her to go for it! Luckily all of the dancers performing that night were seasoned and we ended up making a game out of it...and the audience ended up loving the completely improvisational experience of the evening.