“I don’t have a band to play.” This is one of the biggest misconceptions in the music industry today. Since the beginning of music there have been solo artists. For example, a medieval singer: all they had to do was go to the city center or the market and start singing at the top of their lungs. Think of a trumpet player in modern-day New York City: all you have to do is buy a cheap subway ticket and play for people waiting for trains. These two examples relate to street performances, which despite their connotations have been a respectable start for hundreds of musicians.

Johnnie Mac is a great example of making a very profitable living by going solo and building the BuskerWorld website. Many restaurants have wanted the special atmosphere of live music, but not the cost of a full band, so they will have a solo or duet. This keeps the cost down for the restaurant and the artist. If a venue is willing to pay $50 an hour, why have a 10 piece set? If you’re a solo artist, $50 an hour is great pay and more than most people make at other jobs.

If you feel like you need backing for your solo performance, why not get some pre-recorded tracks? Prerecorded tracks are readily available and can come as a drum loop or full orchestra accompaniment. You can download them to an iPod or MP3 player and have the band literally at your fingertips. These tracks can be found on iTunes and Amazon, which has tracks for public domain songs. Many of these tracks come with an option to license them for other uses.

As a musician, you need to make a profitable business. This can be difficult, but by playing solo you are eliminating the costs of other musicians, the need for more equipment, and other things that reduce a band’s profits.

One of the best aspects of playing without a band is a valuable lesson: entertain yourself. It is not just about playing or singing, but about entertaining the public. When you have a gang, you can turn to them, talk to them, joke with them, trust them, blame them, etc. Without the band, your skills as a performer, musician, and speaker develop exponentially. About 10 years ago, it was normal for a renowned musician or singer to come out and sing a reduced, acoustic or simplified version of some songs.

All the colored lights and additional band members would fade and the spotlight would highlight the entertainer in a simple circle of light. All the focus would be on that entertainer, if they hadn’t learned how to entertain and capture the audience as a solo artist it would be a train wreck. Since most musicians start out as soloists, this isn’t the disaster it could be. Although we are seeing this spotlight more and more, solo performance is fading because today’s musicians are not comfortable being a solo artist.

Having a band is not an obstacle but a gift: monetarily, creatively and as a growth tool for entertainment. If you feel you need accompaniment, you can download tracks, but remember that they should not be used as a crutch, but rather as a little spice to your performance. The biggest lesson a musician can learn is how to entertain as a soloist.

In my own experience:

As a singer, she had always sung with a choir, band, orchestra, or some other form of accompaniment. I never thought that she would be able to perform as a soloist. My husband and I were asked to perform at a retirement home, and of course we accepted. After we accepted, we realized that we didn’t really have any musician friends in the area where we were going to perform. So we started to think of possibilities: sing a Capella, sing along with the original MP3s of the singer and the song, or play karaoke tracks. My husband has had a successful career as a music recording engineer and has recorded tracks for himself to record his own music and singing.

These tracks were paid for by him to record his voice and sell his own CDs. We took the vocals off and it sounded like a live band. So at our first performance at that retirement home, we played pre-recorded tracks or karaoke tracks. This opened our eyes to a broader market: playing solo or in a duo without hiring a band. Karaoke tracks now aren’t the cheesy-sounding synth tracks of yore. Instead, sometimes it’s the original tracks with just the vocals stripped down. In the case of Taylor Swift’s latest album, a karaoke company has the original music played by her studio band – you can sing along to the actual Taylor Swift tracks! Since we discovered the music and pre-recorded tracks, we have performed at hundreds of venues singing solo or as a duet.


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