MOMUS in Chelsea, laptop performance

Laptop performance gigs: MOMUS displays one (atypical) way to present your live performance persona. We forgot the “Find a way to keep your face warm” tip. Photo by Tamara Weikel, taken in a Chelsea (NY?) gallery.

Getting good gigs is a challenge for all genres, and it touches even more issues when computers are involved. So, as we’d hoped, Liz’s tips for getting booked has generated a lot of discussion. In addition to comments here on CDM:

The wonderful community at EM411 has some discussion, including a great tip: bring VHS tapes or books to prop your computer atop the booth turntable.

LivePA, a great blog dedicated to these topics, takes issue with the “no dead air” advice. I’ll defend it, though: “dead air” might not mean the same thing if you’re not doing dance music, but it’s still essential to keep some connection with the audience. (And silence, I think, is not the same thing as dead air. I’ve had performances where I created each. Greatly prefer the former to the latter.)

I somehow missed it in the chaos of my RSS reader, but LivePA also has a beginner guide of its own. Whereas Liz focused on the practical, LivePA covers some of the questions to ask yourself about what music you’re making. It’s an ideal complement to Liz’s take:
My personal “Getting Started” for LivePA

There’s far too much for one comment thread or article, so I’ve also set up a new sticky discussion in the Create Digital Noise “Share Your Work” thread:

Getting good music/visual gigs — let’s share advice

Take the poll to let us know how you’re feeling, and let’s start sharing tips on (and challenges with) breaking into the scene, from Canberra to Arkansas City.


    Go to your local thrift store. Go through the first bin of records. By now you will have found at least the five copies you'll need of "No Jacket Required" by Phil Collins. "Whipped Cream & other delights" by Herb Alpert is also a dignified option.

    Take the five records out when you set up for your show and slowly put each one on, one on top of last until you have covered the spindle height of the turntable. Set your laptop down and feel good about yourself. This is known as "The "High Fidelity" method". Try to look like John Cusack while doing this. If you are a girl you will have to try harder.

    It may take more than five records. I haven't tried this yet myself. If you still need one more just say to the last DJ "Man, that last record you played was like lemonade made from mangoes can I see it for a sec." Then put it down on top of the others, place your laptop down, and feel good about yourself.

    Also, in between tracks when you have dead air announce "Hold on a minute guys I just have to answer this e-mail." or say "I'm totally gonna win this auction." and feel good about yourself.

    As for breaking in to doing visuals; just go up to any DJ and say "I can add visuals to your set." They will say yes. Do not let them see the Phil Collins records until you have the gig.

    One last thing I'll share. I was recently DEEing the Jay with Ableton and perpetrating some groovy breakdowns in well known Indie Prance tracks. A girl came up and asked "Hey, can I try that?" I don't know who was more surprised, me by where her head must have been at or her when she looked at the screen and saw what must have looked like sideways tetris.

    So my point is this. Man, when that girl asked to give it a try I would love to have just handed her one of the Phil Collins records. It would also work if someone asks you for a demo. "Try track five, I call it Sussudio. Its a rebel bruiser mate."

    How to look pro playing pubs and nightclubs: Smuggle in a flask. Bring in a few beers to sell. Two words: piss bottle. That one's also up for grabs, DJ Piss Bottle.

    Last thing I promise. Save money on poser pretend vinyl like Final Screetch and Serato. Again, put down the Phil Collins records and muck about furiously while winamp plays your tunes on the laptop. … and feel good about yourself.

  • Angstrom

    on the subject of 'dead air' , about 200 years ago in the mid 90's when I actually used to gig a lot our band made sure there was never any dead air between the relentless beats.

    We had a cassette of ambient chugging and noodling which was always running and could serve as atmospheric bridging / emergency reboot cover.

    Anyway, one time after we had worked our way up to quite large gigs the 'oh my god' tape (as it was known) failed. Track ends, complete deafening silence! There was a stunned pause and then a mighty roar of applause like we had never heard. We let that go on for ten amazed seconds before we started up again.

    I think we used that dramatic pause every night from then on.

    That 'pause' moment lets the crowd have their say, it is not just a one way conversation after that.

  • @McManus: "lol" doesn't even begin to cover it. 🙂

    @Angstrom: I agree, completely. But that's what I mean when I say silence isn't real dead air. In the dance stuff, sure, you want to keep some beat going as long as possible. Any of us with sets of songs, being afraid of pauses is definitely bad. But maybe that means finding a silence you control, rather than a silence your computer controls.

    I'm thinking out loud; I don't think there's a definitive answer here.

    And, of course, there are really no hard, fast rules. Reboots with enormous glitched-out crashing sounds can also render large applause with an appreciative audience. (Robert Henke aka Monolake described that happening once.) So maybe the tip here is, play to your audience. Whatever that means. No vegetable projectiles. Unless they're enthusiastic evangelizing vegans and the produce is fresh.

  • Nonsense

    Oh well (getting home after a night of heavy drinking)…

    My best advice to anyone doing computer based music is: skip the bent neck hovering over a lit up screen, and go with live midi-loops and guitar-pedal effects. Add a nice backdrop and you're nearly there!

    NOTHING is less attractive than musicians fiddling with their laptops. If the crowd can't see what you are doing, then what's the point?!

    Then perhaps that's just the alchohol talking…. zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz……….

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  • Aren Downie

    DJ McManus, That's some top notch funny!

  • Nonsense, I agree sober. Get me drunk and see what I say then. 🙂

    I don't think guitar effects pedals are necessary, but yes, you need some kind of physical control. It's not the laptop that's the problem, it's whether you have something to do beyond a trackpad. And crouching just hurts your neck.

  • Is silence such a bad thing really though or is it something that the masses has deemed unacceptable for electronic music.

    I can't even tell you how many rock concerts I have been to where the band has stopped in between songs. Sure the audience was applauding, but but they are sitting there talking to themselves on stage as if trying to figure out what song to do next.

    Do we just fear the applause? So many electronic musicians are of the introverted nature to begin with, and we have largely been relegated to the tiny DJ booth or the bedroom studio.

    One thing that most livePA artists seem to have never experienced is an audience sitting down, watching them, rather then just dancing too them.

    Are there no livePA artists anymore using hardware? I must be a dying breed from the discussions I am seeing on these boards.

    On a side note of the laptop screen.

    The boards have discussed for quite a while on how to perform with a computer and without a screen

    Live with no screen

    Artist Sneakthief has been particularly successful in developing a setup as such. Tiny Live Laptop

  • It's an interesting idea, and I see the appeal. But I'm not allergic to screens, or seeing other people with screens. I think if that helps you perform, go for it. But I'm as confused by the terror of screens as I am by the terror of silence. All this other hardware was up until very recently *also* very foreign to music making. Guitar pedals don't look terribly pretty on stage. But we accept them if it fits with performance. Computers ought to be able to do the same, provided (and this is important) we're not stumbling over them.

    And I'll say it again: there's such a thing as silence that's not "dead." If there's a pause that has energy in it, that makes sense with the music, great. If there's a pause the soul purpose of which is the software loading and you trying to figure out where the heck you are, that's no fun.

  • Michael Una

    LOL, McManus. You should write a regular column with pro-tips like this.

  • Yeah, I used to be a roadie for Milli Vanilli so I know my stuff.

  • dan s.

    Re:Dead Air and unintentional applause, this reminds me of when ravi shankar played woodstock. Ravi a classicaly trained sitarist was quite surprised by the cheers he got from tuning his instrument.

  • onyxashanti

    insanity…pure insanity is what gets you gigs. the pure lunacy to believe that you deserve to be heard, more than someones else believing that you dont. making venues where there were none before you. creating creative ways to promote yourself. and doing it all, contrary to lack of interest, income or incentive, for as long as it takes.


  • Umm.. ive replaced "just checking my email" with .. "just checking myspace". That usually gets an

    I think the nature of the gig that's more important. Is it high profile or low profile? A festival or just another club night?

    People would obviously feel let down to pay admission to see their favorite DJ play an hour long set through winamp at a huge festival..or worse yet to have a set crash and kill the mood. yet an average club night nobody would care or even know.

    Then on the performer side of things, where people are facing a stage looking at you, i've found that mishaps, jokes and the odd silence often enhance the performance unintentionaly. Somehow a mishap makes an otherwise flawless performance become more intimate and personal.