Broadcasting 101 with Reveler Chas Justus!
Chas Justus recently played an incredible show with his band, The Revelers. Here are his thoughts and insights on the process:
Let's start with the technical. I don't really know much at all about this, but there are a couple of things. I would like to think that anything worth doing is worth doing well, so there are aspects you should pay attention to.
None of us know very much about lighting, except that we shouldn’t be shrouded in shadows, and we shouldn't have so much light that we look shiny. Basically, fool around with the lights until you don't look like shit.
Set design and framing:
More stuff that we don't know much about, but are still worth paying attention to. It seems that you want a simple backdrop for the band and not much negative space. It seems like everything in the shot should have a purpose, but the shot shouldn't be cluttered. We pretty much used a combination of common sense and experimentation to get this together.
If you want to just use the mic on your computer, that's all well and good, but we were fortunate enough to have a good microphone with an audio interface going into the computer. If you want to up the ante on sound quality, you should consider getting a USB interface or mic and maybe having someone to help - if not someone in the band, then someone you know.
When dealing with video, try looking into the camera when you sing. It may seem cheesy, and I guess in a way it kind of is, but it's showbiz and that's your audience. If you're interested in entertainment, then you should address your audience as directly as possible.
Technical stuff aside, let's get down to the entertainment aspect of it all. I think we probably did something that many don't do which is create an entire show around the musical performance. Our inspiration harkens back as far as Vaudeville medicine shows, where there was a whole entertainment package in which to sell some kind of product. In our case, it was our accordion player’s homemade Cajun seasoning, and our hosts' fiddle lessons etc. These "advertisements" gave us a great excuse to write stupid - but endearing - skits that seemed to entertain as much as the music itself. It gave the whole thing a lightness that's really refreshing, in my opinion.
I also really like the idea of seeing different things. We would do a few songs then would put something in front of the screen...when we took it away there, would be another visual (the cast and props for the skit). It seems to me that people don't want to look at the same group of guys standing in the same place holding the same things for very long, so change the scene from time to time. We just held up some kind of piece of paper with something on it to keep you attention long enough to switch "the set" around. When the paper comes down and the visual is something completely different people are stimulated and, thus, entertained. A lot of what we did we probably got from variety shows we grew up on, eg. "Hee Haw", "The Muppets", and "Saturday Night Live", which were full entertainment packages.
Lastly, I'll talk about the performance by the band itself. We did ham it up a bit, but you don't even really need to do that. If you've ever seen a good bluegrass band work one single microphone, take note. Although it's out of necessity for sound each time a person's solo comes up, they step up to the mic the entire band physically shifts, making them not only the musical focus (by getting up on the mic), but the visual focus as well.The bass player in our group, Eric Frey, grew up in a bluegrass environment, and when we did this Concert Window show, while singing harmony, he brought his upright bass to the front to join in with whoever was singing lead. This not only made him more audible, but it also made it clear that he was singing harmony with the lead singer who was already in front.
When someone is taking a lead break or singing the lead vocal, everyone else on stage should focus their attention on them. It actually takes some discipline to do this, especially when you hear them do the same thing night after night, but it's a good habit in general that gives the audience a good idea who is supposed to be the center of their attention.
Another thing along these lines is entrances and exits. Now some groups or solo performers have one center of attention that you're supposed to watch all the time - when you're watching James Brown, you're pretty much watching James Brown all the time, but most of us don't have that kind of charisma. Consider soul duet, "Sam and Dave". Sam sings some and then he exits the front of the stage turning his back to the audience, signifying that he's not the center of attention, that it's Dave turn. It's these entrances and exits from the focal point that helped make them such a dynamic act.
Like I said, this whole Concert Window thing is really new to us, and we still have so much to learn, but I see so much potential in it and I know that, if you really entertain people, they'll keep coming back for more.