December/January 2017

by Caitlin Smith

Finding Your Voice: How Aotearoa Is Perfect For Touring!

by Caitlin Smith

Finding Your Voice: How Aotearoa Is Perfect For Touring!

I had the great privilege of recently touring Aotearoa with Arts on Tour and experienced tour veterans The Alpaca Social Club, stretching from Riverton to Kaitaia with 23 gigs in 26 daze! This column aims to offer up reflections on this marvellous adventure: the deflowering of a 45-year old touring virgin!

Try to retain your routine:

Eat when you’re hungry rather than when others do. I ate way more (and more unhealthily) than usual. Honour your own diet and metabolism. Pig-out on midnight feasts and greasy carbs, but you might well regret it later.

Exercise as much as you can:

Sitting in a van for hours on end is not an ideal get-fit regime. I incorporate yoga stretches as part of my vocal warm-up. Walking around the accommodation/venue allows you to check out the environs and engage with a town you’ll be in and out of in a flash! Finding a local swimming pool (if schedule allows) is also a Godsend.

Be yourself onstage:

People love you for who you are. The more ‘you’ you can be, the more you’ll stand out and be remembered. Allow your intuition to guide song selection rather than pandering to perceived audience preferences. Don’t try to present an uber professional version of yourself, when what people want is genuine, authentic, soul to soul connection.

Preserve your voice/pace yourself:

Damage can occur through talking loudly to be heard over van stereos/engine, or socialising in noisy venues. Be aware of the bigger picture, e.g. back to back gigs, and excuse yourself from the action. Use twang or go home!

Take good care of yourself:

Eat lightly two hours before singing. Get plenty of rest, water, nutritious food, fresh air and ‘you’ time.

Be flexible with the set list:

Allow events, demographics, venue and requests to inform song choice. Tailor your songs to the town you’re in… change lyrics (e.g. my song Prayer For A Miracle became Prayer For America in the aftermath of the US election.)

Be secure within your vocal technique:

With twang and openness, you can draw from an unlimited well of robust sound. I never felt like I had to hold back because I remained conscious of where my power was coming from – in inexhaustible supply!

Take a little extra time to sort your onstage sound:

Make sure you’ve got the right amount of gain on your mic and levels in the monitor/foldback. Build up profiles of what you need for different rooms; levels of reverb, placement of speakers or monitors. Don’t compromise, it’s your instrument!

Psychological prep:

You’ve got this. Don’t entertain fearful ideas of voice loss. Remain present so you don’t push or force out of panic and desperation.

Energy levels:

Keep ‘em appropriate by not over-caffeinating, over-drinking and then running on empty. Excitement and green tea’s my jam.

Don’t put yourself down:

I know, I know… it’s the Kiwi way. But audiences didn’t pay good money to see you have an existential crisis.

Make the most of what you’ve got:

Not driving because of partial sight meant I was chauffeured. Usually self-conscious and insecure about this, I reframed my ‘special needs’ in the positive: bouncing round the back seat, doing yoga. Self-advocate for accessibility.

Devise and stick with a tested and truly representative set list:

Curate your song choice with a strong consciousness of maximal impact, narrative arc, breathing space, genre fluidity, surprise, respect for the community you’re in. Take listeners on a journey.

Never presume to know what an audience wants:

They want what you want. I always presume that my audience is smarter and more musically savvy than I, viewing my role as one of ‘story-singer and song-poet’.

Freestyle with between-song banter:

Remain in the moment (as with stand up, incorporating elements of set-piece AND improvisation). Some fans come to more than one gig and smell a rat when intros are identical each time. Not all songs need explanation. Find the pithiest and most direct way of introducing songs so listeners are pulled into the experience.

Discuss each gig as a band afterwards:

Communicate what your needs are. If someone’s playing something you don’t like, tell them. If a dynamic map of a song isn’t working, change it. Don’t take feedback personally – focus on what best serves the song.


There’s usually a ‘band leader’ = dominant personality. This doesn’t mean that the preferences and voices of the more quiescent members of the band should be discounted or ignored. Aim for consensus so that there aren’t undercurrents of misrepresentation. Allow for all voices to be heard, valued and appreciated (representing diversity gives audiences more personalities to relate to).

Sound chicken:

Spend five or so minutes eradicating unwanted room frequencies. Put a mic in the middle of the room and run pink noise through the PA on your smartphone. Go through each fader of the graphic equalizer to identify and cut runaway feedback.

Rehearse at soundcheck:

Getting into the venue early so you’ve time to get back to the accom, eat, warm-up and arrive half an hour prior to playing so you’re not rushed. Run through trouble spots.

Be inclusive:

Even if you’re a lone wolf, let others know what you’re up to, so that ‘people-who-need-people’ types don’t feel alienated or left out.

Meet your peeps:

Spend time working the Merch table. Get to know your people. Make contact. Spread the love. Stick around. Get emails. Sign CDs. Press the flesh… Quite a few tears and hugs on this tour… very deep connections felt.

Delegate and share tasks:

Loading gear, liaising with venues/accom, organising, promo, sound, information. Make a very detailed itinerary available to everyone from the outset.

Be personally responsible:

Keep yourself in good condition. You’ll quickly burn out drinking, smoking, jamming all night long. Easy for me to say ’cause I got clean and sober over eight years ago. But you owe it to your band, your fans and your music to deliver the bikkies. Tour! It’s the biggest buzz EVER! 
Fb: caitlinsmithjazz and caitlinsmithmusic

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