Jam nights are an invaluable opportunity to improve your career as a singer. If you’re just starting out it’s obviously a great way to cut your teeth and get some performing experience. If you’re already gigging regularly with a band, it may be hard to see the value of going along to a local jam and singing unpaid on your night off. However, the skills you need for this kind of performing can be quite different and will undoubtedly make you a better all-round musician. JULES PITCHER shares seven reasons why singers should jam.
1 Communicating with a band you don’t know
One of the best feelings as a musician is when the whole band is in sync and everyone can read each other effortlessly. Sometimes this comes from years of working together. Sometimes this can also happen when a group of strangers come together who know how to communicate effectively; and this is undoubtedly one of the most useful skills you will learn from a jam night.
Some techniques are obvious and universal; others are more personal and subtle. Everyone is slightly different and the more different musicians you can jam with the better. This is particularly crucial if you are, or want to be, a session musician since you will often gig with zero introduction or rehearsal.
2 Learn from watching other singers
As a singer you don’t often get to see other singers perform. Going along to a jam night you’ll see a variety of different singers (and rappers) and every single one will have something you can learn from to improve your own voice and performance.
3 Learn repertoire and practise with a live band
When you’re starting out and building your repertoire you can use jams like the regular band rehearsal you don’t yet have. As a session musician, and the better you get, the less you will have the chance to rehearse songs with the band before you get to the stage or studio. Jam nights are a fantastic chance to practise new repertoire with live musicians.
4 Having fun performing as a singer in a low pressure environment
Gigging professionally can be quite stressful and the better you get, the bigger the gigs and the higher the stakes get. As a singer you’re the most exposed by far and there is so much to think about even besides singing (booking, gear, travel etc).
One of the best things about jam nights is that you can just turn up and sing. You’re not being paid to be there (unless you’re the host singer) so the onus is not on you to do anything except what you love. In busy gig season I recommend jams as a way to blow off some steam and just get back to the fun of performing.
5 Keeping performing at quiet times of year when confidence can drop
During dry gig season, say just after New Year, it’s lovely to have a break for a bit. But it’s also really easy to lose your edge as a performer if you have too much time away from the stage or studio. Jam nights are a useful way to keep your confidence up when you’re not gigging regularly. As Will Smith once said: “If you stay ready, you ain’t gotta get ready”.
6 Becoming more creative
We tend to sing the same set over and over and always do the songs in the same way; usually “just like the track”. Jam nights are a chance to try something new which might not be appropriate at a function because a) the bride expects her Prince first dance to sound like Prince, and b) because the cornerstone of creativity is that it has to be ok to mess up and you can’t do that when you’re being paid a grand for the pleasure.
Jams mean you can try a song in a different style; mess around with the groove or the structure; merge the song with something else; or riff and improv. As much as you can do this in a rehearsal, different things happen in front of a crowd, and the musical influences of instrumentalists at a jam are often more diverse so it can be a chance to stumble upon creative gold. From a band’s perspective, this is what makes a jam night the most fun for them. The best way to prepare for this? Get on YouTube and find live versions or alternative covers of songs you already know.
7 Making contacts and getting gigs
Jam nights can be a hub for musical talent and a great way to meet like-minded people. If you’re looking to start or join a band, you’ll meet loads of new musicians and get your name and voice known in the scene. If you gig a lot with the same people, it’s always useful to broaden your circle and you’ll get a chance to find out who would be good to work with in the future. You never know when you might need a backup bass player because yours gets the flu or when you need someone to lend you a PA for a last minute gig.
You might be amazed how much work comes from jam nights. Bands are often looking for deps for gigs and they’re more likely to book you (or recommend you) if they see you sing regularly. At least half my current gigs, and two of my regular bands, have come through people I met at a jam. If you’re lucky you may even get asked to host a jam night and then it becomes paid fun!