I’m still buzzing from my show this past Saturday night. I performed at this new series in LA called The Shine. They’ve been described “If TED Talk, Hotel Cafe and The Self-Realization Fellowship had a love child, it would be The Shine.” Pretty darn accurate. The Shine hosts bi-monthly (that’s every other month) events at various spaces around Los Angeles.
This event was unlike anything I’ve played in my 600+ shows.
On the bill for the night was a 15 minute guided meditation, philanthropic videos (from previous Shine event winners – more on this in a bit), a children’s book author/inspirational speaker (MIND=BLOWN), a featured performer (me), a DJ spinning trip hop, Q&A with the guests, and a drawing to win $400 for the “Shine On Challenge” and the emcee/host.
The event was sold out with 250 people. This month’s Shine was held at the new Wanderlust space in Hollywood. Wanderlust is a Yoga collective that hosts huge festivals around the world and has recently opened up a few studios.
The Hollywood space opened up just two months ago. The main room is a beautiful open space with hard wood floors, a large stage, a state of the art digital sound system, a giant screen and plenty of colored LED lighting. On paper this was set to be the perfect location for this event.
I got there 2.5 hours before doors to load in, sound check, meet the staff and eat dinner with attendees. There was a house sound guy and two other hired engineers at sound check. It took them a bit to get everything plugged in and wired properly (they don’t normally have musicians in there), but once it was all setup it sounded absolutely stellar in the space. I spent about 30 minutes on my sound check (I just played acoustic with my loop station – not a difficult setup). I had my monitors dialed in just right and they tuned the room to get my loops (with trumpet, guitar, keys, beat boxing and vocals). This is what I do.
10 minutes before the show was scheduled to start as people were finding their seats, one of the staff members ran up to me and said, “the sound system isn’t working.” I asked him what he meant because I heard house music. He said the system stopped working about 30 minutes prior and they setup a boom box on the stage. Apparently the house sound guy dipped out after sound check and wasn’t coming back. The two ringers were frantically trying to figure out what was wrong and how to turn the system back on. One of them was on the phone with who I can only assume was the house guy who for some reason couldn’t come back.
The show was supposed to start at 8:00. By 8:20 they finally got the system back on, but, because everything was digital, all settings were lost. My 30 minute sound check was done in vain. And the wireless mics were completely non-functional.
I was scheduled to play right after the guided meditation. Light Watkins (the host/founder) invited both the meditation guide and me to the stage. Now, I was somewhat terrified that my elaborate looping setup would just not work.
The guide finished his meditation, handed me the mic and I was supposed to start into my first song.
There were 250 people sitting, silently, staring at me.
So, first priority was to make sure everything worked. Well, issue number one, monitors were completely non-functional. I had nothing. Luckily I could hear a bit of bleed from the speakers, but it was very difficult. Especially because my looping show requires my timing to be perfectly on beat – with a necessity to hear the previous loop and layer instruments on top of it.
Well, I strained and struggled through the first song not really knowing how it sounded in the house because it just sounded like a faint muffle to me from where I stood. I couldn’t hear my vocals except for what bounced back to me from the way back of the house a few milliseconds after I sang. But I got a raucous applause after I finished, so I guess it sounded ok. Way to go sound engineer ringers who mixed me on the fly!
I finished the song, walked off stage and sighed a breath of relief. One song down, one more to go (after our Q&A).
The keynote speaker, Dallas Clayton, is an eccentric wayfarer who started off writing poetry on the street for donations. Now, he is one of the most successful children’s book authors of the past decade with his Awesome Book series.
The wireless mics were still out, so Dallas grabbed my mic on a short cable and he proclaimed “this tether is killing me!” Eventually, he dropped the mic, hopped off the stage and wandered through the audience belting the last part of his talk, channeling his infectious energy through every single attendee as he passed by.
I’d be lying if I didn’t say that I, and everyone else, were unbelievably inspired by his talk. He pushed us to remember what it’s like to be a kid. To reconnect with our true love, passion and joys of life. I felt high after his speech. He has a way about him and I highly recommend following him on Instagram (he has 120,000+ followers) and seeing him speak if you ever get the opportunity.
I had already performed my 2nd song, and was happy I didn’t have to follow him. Light said he was going to end the show with a video that he said “made me cry the first time I saw it.” But, the video alas wasn’t working either, so he called me back up, “since the video isn’t working, we’re going to have Ari come back up for another song.”
I decided to play a song on keys that builds into a 10 part vocal harmony loop where I repeat “love” over and over again. I sat down at the keys. Thanked Light, Dallas and everyone else, introduced the song and played the first chord of the song on my keyboard. Nothing. I saw the signal on my mixer and loop station, so I knew the problem wasn’t with my equipment. I said in the mic “Hey Justin, can we turn the DI on?” I waited. Waited. Waited. Of course they didn’t have a talk back mic and the sound board was 250 seated people back. Hmmm. So I thought ok, I guess I can sit on a stool setup the mic in front of me and play/sing into the only working mic in the space. As I set the mic up and turned around to grab my guitar, the mic stand came tumbling down and the mic popped off the stand and was ripped off the cord. Ok, so now I have no mic, no keys. Ahhhh fuck it.
I grabbed my guitar, stood at the edge of the stage and belted out a song off of my latest album that has a group sing a long. The phones came out and people seemed to love the spontaneity.
I ended up selling a ton of merch (this audience buys vinyl!) and got a bunch of mailing list names.
So what have we learned? You have to expect that no matter how perfect sound check is, how great the space, how wonderful the people, things will always go wrong. What sets the pros apart from the amateurs is how you handle a situation when everything goes to shit. Not once did Light proclaim “we’re having technical difficulties.” Or curse the venue that was hosting him. Never once did he apologize to the audience. He’s a pro. He knows to make the experience as awesome as possible for the audience no matter what.
Never apologize on stage for things that go wrong. The audience doesn’t want to hear it. You have to bring a great show no matter what. So practice with a shitty monitor mix. Practice with no monitors. Practice acoustic songs. Know your equipment inside and out so when something DOES go wrong (because it will), you know how to fix it immediately, signal to the sound guy what the issue is, or just move on if neither is possible. Have a B and a C plan.
You must command every room, every stage, every performance. Whether you’re performing in front of 10 people or 10,000, you should make sure you connect with every single person in the house. My favorite line from the Cameron Crowe film Almost Famous comes from lead singer of the fictional band Stillwater when he’s fighting with the guitar player. He said “I connect. I get people off. I look for the one guy who isn’t getting off and I MAKE him get off.”
From now on, every show, live by this mantra. Make sure every single person in your crowd gets off. And then you will too. You want to get to the point where your shows are spiritual experiences for every person in the room – yourself included.