Music Tips and Help for Burlesque Performers

We often get asked how to choose music for an act by new burlesque performers who are struggling to find something to dance to so we thought we’d put together a little info blog on music. 

 
Inspiration.
Performers stumble across their music in all sorts of way. In fact, your act might even be inspired by the track – in which case, you’ve chosen your music already… But if your act is inspired by something else (a costume piece, a place you’ve visited, something you’ve experienced or observed, etc…) then you might be feeling a little stuck.
Resources
No one’s CD collection is big enough to use as a library and you can guarantee you’ll never find the perfect track you are looking for even if it were. There are plenty of sites now who sell music. iTunes is probably the biggest (we wouldn’t recommend ‘stealing’ music from any free sites…) and you are able to search on a theme – eg type in a ‘key’ word to do with your act and thousands of possibilities will list themselves in front of you.
Key Considerations  
  • First of all, the most important thing is you have to like the track. You will hear it A LOT! from rehearsing and devising right through to performing it. You will need to like it.
  • The audience will need to like it. Yes, you might be really enchanted by some random black metal or speedthrash track but will the audience? Remember most shows attract an audience from a huge age range and diverse cultural background, you might be creating a very very tight niche for yourself where your act will not be booked.
  • In our experience, the audience reacts best to music with a bit of a groove – and it’s easier for you to choreograph an act to music like this, rather than some wishy-washy track with not much of a beat that the audience – or you – will just get lost or bored with.
  • Length. Yes, you might like a track because it’s chorus is relevant to your act but if it’s some 15 min prog rock epic it’ll be a bit unsuitable.
  • How the track ends. some of the most successful performances end with a full stop – it a definite pose with the music ending. A track that fades out is harder to end in this way and will have less impact. You want to end on a dramatic high, right?
Themes of the Song?
  • So you’ve found your music, now you need to choreograph your act to it. One of the easiest traps for new performers to fall into is to take the lyrics literally and mime out the actions (or worse, hold up a mountain of props relevant to certain lines in the song) to illustrate the act. Have you ever seen people dancing on the dancefloor with their mates miming out lines to a song? Yes? Looks a bit ‘wedding dancer’ doesn’t it? that is what it will look like on stage tenfold. Don’t take the lyrics literally. Use a song to illustrate or enhance your theme but don’t go all ‘musical theatre’ and act out the song.
  • Should you lip sync? While some performers can pull it off with larger than life characters, some can’t and it can look a bit drag act rather than you being lost in the music and enjoying it. So best leave lip sync-ing to the drag artists.
Editing
So the track is too long or you want to stick two parts of a song together to illustrate a change in character, narrative or mood. There are loads of great programmes online that will enable you to do it yourself rather than paying a lot of money to someone with a recording studio. Audacity and Free Audio Editor are ones that spring to mind and are easy to use, and they also save the edited file in the best quality WAV files (MP3 files are fine, however, they are less quality and sometimes need to be turned up louder by a sound engineer when you are performing). But always:
  • Edit the track so it makes sense. If you want it to end or start in a certain place, make sure that it’s in a logical break – ie don’t break a bar (count of 8) unless you act needs an interruption (it’s like the musical equivalent of interrupting a sentence)
  • When editing two tracks together, ensure that the act doesn’t then become 15 mins long! Have some idea of the choreography in mind so that you edit in the right place and you don’t have too much to fill or have edited too short and cut off a crucial bit. There is no ‘right length’ for an act but a lot of producers ask for acts to be less than 4 mins
  • Don’t mess with a musical arrangement -ie, if you are using one track, don’t then chop and change verses around, move bridges and choruses until it’s unregonisable.
  • Edit your track before you set your choreography in stone and then rehearse to the edit – obvious we know, but there are a lot of performers who don’t do this and when performing live expect the sound technician to  fade the track out on a certain word or worse – expect the sound engineer to DJ between two discs, and then are upset when it’s faded out at the wrong moment or there’s a massive pause in between tracks.
Performing with the track
We’ve already blogged about the type of CDs to use and how to present and preserve your music for a performance so we won’t go in depth again (you can search for the post here anyway), but the key points to remember are:
  • to do as instructed by the promoter re your track. If they want the music emailed, ensure that the track is clearly labelled with your performer name and the name of the act. Just the title of the track will not do. (and as a side note, always email over immediately… A producer who has to chase and chase for music or information will just drop you off the bill.)
  • If required to bring music on the night, most producers like a one track CD per act clearly labeled with your performer name and the name of the act.
  • Burn to good quality CDs (supermarket own brands are not reliable enough to play on all sound equipment – and generally if you can see through the CD it might not play), burn a fresh one per show (never re-use a CD until it’s scratched and peeling) and bring back ups. If you have no music you cannot perform!

and finally, PRS… 

This is the agent who collects royalties on behalf of the musician. Most venues have to have an entertainment license to put on any kind of show where an audience might be there and most will already be paying subscriptions to PRS. It’s worth checking as if the venue is not covered then you are responsible for paying PRS. You can check out all the rules regarding using other people’s music for your act or show here: http://www.prsformusic.com/users/businessesandliveevents/musicforbusinesses/pages/faq.aspx
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